ALPHV / BLACKCAT: THREAT ASSESSMENT AND PROFILE

BlackCat / ALPHV is known for high-profile attacks like those conducted against the italian luxury brand Moncler, the aviation company Swissport and more recently against GSE (Gestore Servizi Energetici SpA). The ransomware payload includes a lot of advanced features and is able to support a wide range of offensive operations and to impact different environment . It’s command-line driven and human-operated with the ability to use different encryption routines, spread between devices, and kill hypervisors. The collective appeared in early December 2021 announcing the start of its activities in DDW (Deep / Dark Web) forum. It’s a group very well integrated in the criminal community and among its affiliates there are probably a lot of experienced individuals in the panorama of ransomware operations as coming from cartels that over the time have dismantled their activities. In this regard, it is quite probable that the collective has, at least in part, benefited from the closure of the Conti cartel as some former elements of the latter have certainly chosen to join the BlackCat / ALPHV project, probably maintaining accesses, tools, victims matrix and visibility acquired within the previous “brand“.

BlackCat / ALPHV R-a-a-S model consists of multiple players:

  • Access Broker (Engaged to provide first access to victim networks)
  • RaaS Operators (Responsible for the development of tools and infrastructures to support the cartel)
  • RaaS Affiliates (Responsible for operations within the affected networks. They deploy the ransomware payload, exfiltrate data and move laterally; usually not in this order ;])

Since this collective is therefore based on a plethora of different affiliates (as common with others similar criminal organizations), the ways in which a BlackCat / ALPHV payload could impact an infrastructure vary greatly depending on the affiliate who delivered it. Initial access methods may also differ; some intrusions, for example, have seen the exploitation of leaked credentials, misconfigured or vulnerable VPN concentrators, exposed RDP services, or Exchange server vulnerabilities.

PAYLOAD OVERVIEW

As already said, BlackCat / Alphv is one of the first ransomware developed in the RUST programming language (by using this language problably the attackers tried to increase the chances to remain undetected and, by leveraging this programming language, operators are able to easily compile it against various operating system architectures.) Based on some personal considerations deriving from the analysis of some samples, I can say that it was written by very experienced malware developers. This malware can impact Windows / Linux devices and VMWare instances and has been developed with extensive capabilities, including self-propagation ones configurable by the attackers in order to align with the variables of the environment in which it operates. It’s based on a combination of Salsa20/AES and RSA in order to perform the cryptographic operations. This malware family quickly has achieved high levels of notoriety for its sophistication and innovation but also because the operators of the RaaS allowed the affiliates to withhold very high percentage for each ransomware payment (up to 90%). The combination of a payload written from scratch in an uncommon language as well as aggressive “market” offers (and very advantageous for affiliates) have allowed this project to immediately carve out a good slice of users.

VICTIMOLOGY

BlackCat / APLHV victims  include organizations operating in at least the following sectors:

  • Technology
  • Industry
  • Transportation
  • Pharmaceutical
  • Energy
  • Telco
  • Automotive
  • Retail

Usually the gang adopts a rather aggressive approach in handling the information stolen from victims and in relations with them; this is likely to increase the chances of obtaining the required payments. The ransoms usually run in the millions of dollars, but the gang has often accepted payments far less than initially requested.

RECRUITMENT AND AFFILIATION PROCEDURES

BlackCat / Alphv has been observed to look for affiliates and pentesters via well-known cybercrime forums. Affiliates, as already stated, can keep up to the 90% of the ransom payment, while the rest goes to the BlackCat/Alphv operators. Every affiliates and collaborators are interviewed (sometime more than once) and vetted before being accepted into the collective. If the affiliate is accepted, it is granted a login to a Tor-based control panel that hosts the affiliate’s space. This TOR-based web portal is completely written in Russian and is used by operators to share update, announcements, tips, tutorial about how to use the BlackCat / Alphv ransomware and information relating to the victims with the affiliates.

GEOGRAPHICAL DISTRIBUTION

It is not easy to pinpoint the geographic distribution of BlackCat / Alphv affiliates. Some of them have been observed to distribute other payloads in parallel (such as, for example, Hive) and therefore do not have an exclusive affiliation. However, most of them are believed to operate from Russia and Eastern Europe. The project, as far as the origins are concerned, was born from a rib of what was ReVil (dismantled by an FSB raids in early 2022). However, it is interesting to note how the former ReVil‘s operators have tried to move away from it in building the new BlackCat / Aphv, avoiding making some mistakes of the past, creating a new ransomware from scratch and encouraging policies aimed at solving the some common problems that are affecting these cartels, such as that the ever-increasing detection capabilities of common attack tools the affiliates are used to rely on such as Mimikatz and CobaltStrike.

CONCLUSIONS

BlackCat is an sophisticated ransomware cartel that can count on an highly customized and personalized payload. By using the RUST programming operators are able to compile it easily against various operating system architectures which facilitates the group’s ability to switch between victims and adapt the payload against different environment. BlackCat/Alphv operates under a R-a-a-S model and uses multiple extortion techniques. It is composed of several affiliates, some of which have been observed delivering payloads other than BlackCat / Alphv’s, such as, for example, Hive. Some of these affiliates have previous experience with others groups, such as BlackMatter and Conti.

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