'Malwareless' ransomware campaign operators pwned 83k victims' MySQL servers, 250k databases up for sale

$500 a pop, $25k 'earned' and not much of a trace left, says Guardicore

A “malwareless” ransomware campaign delivered from UK IP addresses targeting weak security controls around internet-facing SQL servers successfully pwned 83,000 victims, according to Israeli infosec biz Guardicore.

“The attack chain is extremely simple and exploits weak credentials on internet-facing MySQL servers” said Guardicore’s Ophir Harpaz in a technical advisory today, estimating that there around five million MySQL servers accessible from the public internet.

Once the database servers are compromised, the miscreants operating the campaign begin a so-called “double extortion” attack, threatening to publish data exfiltrated from the SQL silos unless victims pay a ransom, which also apparently will lead to the restoration of that data.

Holding people's files and records to ransom has become synonymous with application-level malware infections. What we have here is a reminder that crooks can scramble information from afar without having to run bad apps on employees' workstations or host servers.

Beginning in January, Guardicore observed the crime spree evolve over the course of the year through two different strains. “In the first, which lasted from January till the end of November, the attackers left a ransom note with their [Bitcoin] wallet address, the amount of Bitcoin to pay and an email address for technical support,” wrote Harpaz, who said victims were typically given 10 days to stump up.


Forget Snow Day: Baltimore's 115,000+ public school kids get Ransomware Day, must check Win PCs for infection


Typical ransoms were around 0.03 Bitcoins, or about $500 at the time of writing.

Around 1.2 Bitcoins (~$25,000) was deposited to wallet addresses mentioned in ransom notes seen by Guardicore’s researchers, with a total of 250,000 breached databases being offered for sale. Over time the campaign stepped up, sharply increasing in October with the apparent release of a second version.

“The [extortionists'] website is a good example of a double extortion mechanism – it contains all leaked databases for which ransom was not paid. The website lists 250k different databases from 83k MySQL servers, with 7TB of stolen data. Up till now, [Guardicore’s sensor network] captured 29 incidents of this variant, originating from 7 different IP addresses,” added Harpaz.

Version 2’s ransom note, planted inside compromised databases in an unscrambled column, read:

INSERT INTO `WARNING` (`id`, `warning`, `website`, `token`) VALUES (1, ‘To recover your lost databases and avoid leaking it: visit http[.]//hn4wg4o6s5nc7763.onion and enter your unique token ffc7e276a3c7ef27 and pay the required amount of Bitcoin to get it back. Databases that we have: . Your databases are downloaded and backed up on our servers. If we dont receive your payment in the next 9 Days, we will sell your database to the highest bidder or use them otherwise. To access this site you have use the tor browser https://www.torproject.org/projects/torbrowser.html’, ‘http://hn4wg4o6s5nc7763.onion’, ‘ffc7e276a3c7ef27’);

Hailing the attack’s simplicity and the fact that it is seemingly automated and transient, Harpaz concluded: “There are no binary payloads involved in the attack chain, making the attack ‘malwareless’. Only a simple script which breaks in the database, steals information, and leaves a message.”

Internet-facing MySQL databases used by Wordpress are pretty common. Contained in those databases are username and login information for the site they power, which could prove troublesome if users – not just site admins but also article authors and comment posters – recycle their credential pairs elsewhere.

“Double extortion” was last in the news when footie super-club Manchester United was struck by ransomware last month. The technique isn’t new but the handy name for it is relatively so. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022