Home Cyber Balkans LockBit, Alphv, and BlackCat shine in February ransomware attacks

LockBit, Alphv, and BlackCat shine in February ransomware attacks

LockBit, Alphv, and BlackCat shine in February ransomware attacks

February witnessed a surge in ransomware activity, characterized by significant threat campaigns and the dramatic developments within one of the most notorious criminal gangs worldwide.

As the month progressed, the data revealed a notable reversal of the declining trend in ransomware operations observed in 2022. This shift was highlighted in a report released early in February by blockchain analytics company Chainalysis. The report labeled 2023 as a pivotal year for ransomware, emphasizing that ransomware payments had soared to $1.1 billion the previous year. Furthermore, the landscape of ransomware activities witnessed an expansion in ransomware-as-a-service offerings and a spike in big-game attacks.

One of the most remarkable events in February was the swift yet short-lived takedown of the LockBit ransomware group. This group, as stated by U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, had victimized over 2,000 entities and extorted a staggering $120 million in payments. Operation Cronos, an international enforcement initiative spearheaded by the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA), generated headlines on February 20. This operation resulted in the arrest of two suspected LockBit operators in Poland and Ukraine, dismantling 28 servers across three countries and shutting down the gang’s data leak site and other online platforms.

Despite the apparent setback dealt to LockBit, the group managed to restore its servers and websites merely four days post the initial disruption. In a bold move, a LockBit administrator attributed the hack to the FBI, insinuating that the gang had acquired sensitive data pertaining to former U.S. President Donald Trump during their recent assault on Fulton County, Ga. Authorities in the county are actively pursuing legal action against Trump and multiple associates for their alleged involvement in undermining the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Despite the resilient comeback of LockBit, authorities consider the operation a partial success, as the NCA reported the acquisition of LockBit’s source code, a substantial trove of intelligence, and over 1,000 decryption keys to aid victims in recovering encrypted data. The FBI, endorsing these efforts, affirmed their commitment to assisting impacted victims and focusing on network decryption as a priority in a statement to TechTarget Editorial.

Security experts and officials hailed the operation as a significant blow to LockBit’s credibility within the cybercriminal community, potentially tarnishing the gang’s reputation irreparably.

Another enforcement-related development emerged concerning the Alphv/BlackCat ransomware gang. Post a takedown orchestrated by the FBI and international law enforcement agencies, CISA warned of heightened targeting of hospitals by the gang in a recent advisory. The aftermath of this takedown saw healthcare facilities being the prime targets of Alphv/BlackCat, with a substantial increase noted in attacks against the healthcare sector on its data leak site post mid-December.

The healthcare software giant, Change Healthcare, found itself at the receiving end of an Alphv/BlackCat attack, listing the company on its data leak site. The ensuing disruption wreaked havoc, causing significant operational challenges for healthcare entities, including pharmacies. The gang refuted allegations of exploiting recent ConnectWise ScreenConnect vulnerabilities in the attack on Change Healthcare, amidst ongoing concerns surrounding two critical flaws, CVE-2024-1709 and CVE-2024-1708, affecting ConnectWise products.

As ransomware gangs exploit these vulnerabilities, security vendors have linked threat activities to notable groups like LockBit, Black Basta, and Bl00dy. The usage of malicious payloads, commands, and tools like PowerShell and Cobalt Strike underscores the severity of these security lapses.

Trend Micro researchers issued a stern warning, emphasizing the critical imperative of immediate patching to safeguard against the identified threats. In light of these developments, it is imperative for organizations to remain vigilant and proactive in fortifying their cybersecurity defenses.

Apart from Alphv/BlackCat, the Rhysida gang also targeted healthcare entities in February, perpetrating a debilitating attack on Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago. This incident precipitated service disruptions and underscored the rampant threat posed by ransomware to critical infrastructure.

In conclusion, the ransomware landscape continues to evolve, with law enforcement agencies engaged in an ongoing battle to mitigate threats and protect vulnerable entities. The proactive stance of security practitioners and organizations is crucial in fortifying defenses and thwarting cybercriminal activities in an increasingly hostile digital environment.

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