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Cybercriminals Use RansomWeb Attacks to Hold Website Databases Hostage

18/02/15 12:10 pm

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DAVID BISSON (HTTP://WWW.TRIPWIRE.COM/STATE-OF-SECURITY/CONTRIBUTORS/DAVID-BISSON/)


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A security firm has identified a new method of attack in which hackers encrypt the data
stored on website servers and demand a ransom payment for the decryption key.
In an article posted on its blog
(https://www.htbridge.com/blog/ransomweb_emerging_website_threat.html), High-Tech
Bridge explains how its security experts first detected the attack back in December of
2014.
According to the firms research, the attackers were able to successfully compromise a
web application belonging to a financial companys website
(http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/03/hackers-websites-ransom-

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Page 1 of 4

Cybercriminals Use RansomWeb Attacks to Hold Website Databases Hostage

18/02/15 12:10 pm

switching-encryption-keys). They then used that unauthorized access to modify several


scripts to encrypt data that went into the database. The attackers also stored the
decryption key on a remote server accessible only via HTTPS.
For six months, the attackers overwrote existing backups with the recent versions of the
database until Day X, when the hackers removed the key from the remote server, causing
the websites database to go down. Shortly thereafter, the attackers contacted the web
admins and demanded a ransom payment of $50,000 for the key.
Ultimately, the financial company was able to recover the key due to a mistake on the part
of the attackers.
Since that time, High-Tech Bridge has identified another attack in which hackers encrypted
and held for ransom a phpBB forum used by a SMB for customer service. It was
discovered that two phpBB backdoors
(http://www.theregister.co.uk/2015/02/03/web_ransomware_scum_now_lay_waste_to_your_backups/)
on the business server helped facilitate the attack.
Brian Honan (https://twitter.com/brianhonan), a security consultant and one of Tripwires
Top Influencers in Security (http://www.tripwire.com/state-of-security/featured/topinfluencers-in-security-you-should-be-following-in-2015/), observes that this method of
attack gives only a limited number of choices to its victims: At this stage, the backups are
no longer useful as they contain no workable data to restore the systems, thus leaving the
victim companies with the choice of either losing all their data and rebuilding it from
scratch, or paying the ransom.
However, there is hope. Ransomweb can easily be detected by file integrity monitoring,
although few companies implement this solution with dynamic web applications. To learn
more about how Tripwires file integrity monitoring solutions can protect companies from
ransomweb and other threats, please click here (http://www.tripwire.com/it-securitysoftware/scm/file-integrity-monitoring/).
Its important to note that attackers holding sensitive data hostage is nothing new.
Beginning with CryptoLocker in 2013, attackers have been sending out ransomware via
email to encrypt users personal computers. To read more about ransomware, including
how you can protect against this particular form of malware, please click here
(http://www.tripwire.com/state-of-security/security-awareness/ransomware-refusing-tonegotiate-with-attackers/).
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