Technical issues compel ransomware operator to switch to good ol' data theft and extortion

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Unable to fine tune their decryptor, the threat actors behind the Babuk ransomware (opens in new tab) have changed their business model, and are no longer encrypting their victim’s data, according to cybersecurity (opens in new tab) researchers.

While it initially attacked Windows machines (opens in new tab), the ransomware (opens in new tab) had added a cross-platform binary that allowed it to target Linux (opens in new tab) machines as well as VMware ESXi-powered virtual machines (VM (opens in new tab)).

However, the researchers observed that Babuk’s decryptor had numerous issues, which meant the files they encrypted weren’t always recoverable, even by their own decryptor.

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“Ultimately, the difficulties faced by the Babuk developers in creating ESXi ransomware may have led to a change in business model, from encryption to data theft and extortion,” reason the researchers in a blog post (opens in new tab).

Forced change

McAfee (opens in new tab) Advanced Threat Research (ATR) team has been tracking the relatively new Babuk ransomware, which has targeted at least five major businesses (opens in new tab) in 2021. 

According to the researchers, the ransomware is written in the open source (opens in new tab) Go programming language, which enables the threat actors to have a single codebase that can be compiled under different operating systems.

In their technical analysis (opens in new tab) of the Babulk ransomware, the researchers unravel its poorly designed decryptor, which they believe is the main reason behind the threat actor switching strategies. 

The researchers claim that Babuk has itself shared its intentions to cease its ransomware operations and move to a different business model built around data exfiltration, in its website on the dark web.

Moving from a pure encryption, on to a double-extortion scheme, the researchers conclude that “it is interesting to see threat actors now moving towards a scheme where their sole source of pressure to extort victims is the exfiltration of sensitive data.” 

With almost two decades of writing and reporting on Linux, Mayank Sharma would like everyone to think he’s TechRadar Pro’s expert on the topic. Of course, he’s just as interested in other computing topics, particularly cybersecurity, cloud, containers, and coding.