SecurityBrief Asia logo
Asia's leading source of cybersecurity and cyber-attack news
Story image

Expert insight from the author of the ESET TeslaCrypt decryptor

FYI, this story is more than a year old

Our news about ransomware TeslaCrypt operators shutting up shop attracted a lot of attention and prompted several additional questions.

So we've approached the best-placed person to address them – Igor Kabina, the ESET malware researcher who first noticed that things had started to change around TeslaCrypt ransomware and ultimately created the universal ESET TeslaCrypt decryption tool.

TeslaCrypt ended happily – with internet users rid of this ransomware, and its victims able to take advantage of a free decryptor. And you played a crucial role in the latter, correct?

I asked TeslaCrypt's operators to release the universal master decryption key for the latest, undecryptable version of TeslaCrypt. And they made it public. Having the key, I immediately started creating a decryption tool in order to make it possible and more convenient for ransomware victims to recover their files.

Put in a nutshell, it sounds simple. But it's not that common to ask ransomware operators for decryption keys…

Yes, decryption keys are the ‘key' – literally! – to the whole ransomware business. It's what the victims must pay for, if they fall victim to ransomware and don't have a functional backup of their data. If you fall victim of this kind of cybercrime and you're not prepared, you will find yourself in serious trouble.

But we quite often read about decryptors that enable victims to recover their files.

Yes, sometimes the bad guys employ weak encryption or make an implementation mistake that enables us to come up with a decryptor. But such solutions usually make use of a particular hole in the ransomware attack – and holes like these tend to get closed in the next version of the ransomware.

That's what makes this case different – thanks to the master key, I was able to implement a tool that can decrypt several of the latest TeslaCrypt versions at the same time.

Okay, let's get back to how you got the universal decryption key. We've learned that you simply requested it from the malware's operators. Was it really that simple?

For quite a long time, I'd been keeping an eye on TeslaCrypt ransomware – it's my job to keep pace with developments in malware, in order to help keep ESET clients safe. I witnessed earlier versions of this ransomware, which, thanks to bugs inside them, allowed a decryptor to be created. Unfortunately, the latest versions of TeslaCrypt came with an improved key protection algorithm and so were really powerful.

Knowing how a typical malware lifecycle looks, I expected further development of TeslaCrypt. But several weeks ago, I noticed that development had started to slow. It seemed to me that the operators were about to quit – incidentally, some of the groups who distributed TeslaCrypt had started to switch to another brand of ransomware, CryptProjectXXX.

On April 27th, a version that later turned out to be the very last version of TeslaCrypt was compiled. Soon after that, I noticed that the people behind it had stop spreading this version and that all the links they used were slowly dying. So I tried my luck, pretended to be one of their victims and asked them if they would be so kind as to release all four of the private keys they had been using since TeslaCrypt started. They answered me in one day, which was their usual response time, but provided me only with the key for the victim I was pretending to be. I asked them again If they could, as a gesture, release at least the latest (4th) universal private key. A day and a half later I noticed that a “Project closed” announcement had been posted on the TeslaCrypt page. At first I didn't believe they had really released the key, but after I checked the corresponding public key I was 100% sure it was the right one.

One question comes to mind as you speak about your contacts with these malware operators. Is it common for malware researchers to talk to the guys on the dirty side of the business?

Let me be clear that all the communications ran via the official channel that the bad guys had created for communicating with their victims. Think of it as normal software help desk. Since it's anonymous, the operators had no idea who they were communicating with – I was pretending to be a random victim of TeslaCrypt.

And now let me answer your question: no, it's not common for malware researchers get in touch with the bad guys, but in this case it seemed to be worth a shot.

Article by Peter Stancik, ESET security expert

Related stories
Top stories
Story image
Security Information and Event Management
LogRhythm announces LogRhythm Axon and new solution enhancements
According to the company, Axon provides an easier way for security teams to achieve better visibility across both cloud and on-prem log sources, helping further establish a foundation for their security practices.
Story image
Virtual Private Network
BT enhances global Cardway portfolio with Mako Networks
BT has announced a significant enhancement to its Cardway portfolio of payment solutions following the signing of a global agreement with Mako Networks.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Swift successfully pilots its Securities View capability
The new capability significantly increases transparency in post-trade processing while preventing costly settlement fails; it will be widely available in 2023.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Continuous attack attempts discovered on Atlassian Confluence zero day
Following a coordinated disclosure of a zero-day vulnerability by Volexity in Atlassian Confluence, attackers went wild to exploit it.
Story image
Ransomware
Commonwealth tackling rising cybercrime threat in Asia
Ransomware, identity theft, and virtual security attacks identified as growing threats to security and economic growth.
Story image
Microsoft
Yubico research finds concerning trends around authentication security practices
A new global survey from Yubico has found that 59% of employees still rely on usernames and passwords as the primary method to authenticate their accounts.
Story image
Apple
Jamf shows intent to acquire mobile security firm ZecOps
This acquisition positions Jamf to help IT and security teams strengthen their organisation’s mobile security posture.
Story image
Work from home
Jamf showcases new products to simplify and secure work
At the 13th annual Jamf Nation User Conference, the company shared how its continuous product innovation is helping organisations succeed with Apple.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Employees unsure who to go to to report security incident
A new study shows more than 20% of the untrained global workforce do not know who to contact during a security breach.
Story image
Artificial Intelligence
Fortinet advances AIOps to aid the hybrid workforce
"We’re continuing our commitment to AI innovation by delivering AIOps capabilities across our robust portfolio of enterprise networking technology."
Story image
Data Protection
Cloudflare brings Data Localisation Suite to more APAC businesses
This allows any business in these countries to service their data locally while benefiting from the speed, security, and scalability of Cloudflare’s global network.
Story image
Data Protection
99% of security experts unhappy with tokenisation investment
Cybersecurity experts are looking for a solution that provides the strength of tokenisation while removing the friction that has accompanied it in the past.
Story image
Virtual Private Network
95% of organisation rely on VPN as threats continue - report
There is a growing number of VPN-specific security threats and a need for Zero Trust security architecture in enterprise-level organisations.
Story image
Software-as-a-Service
Varonis adds secrets discovery to data classification
The data security firm announces enhancements that detect and remediate overexposed private keys, encryption certificates, API keys, and authentication tokens.
Aws Marketplace
Learn how to implement a backup and recovery plan for a new generation of Kubernetes-based modern applications
Link image
Story image
Cybersecurity
Ransomware attacks continue to increase, report finds
Nearly a quarter of businesses have suffered a ransomware attack, with a fifth occurring in the past 12 months.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Test your API Security with Infinite API Scanner
The effectiveness of API scanning technology can mean the difference between successful and unsuccessful programming outcomes, and often enterprises and IT leaders struggle to get it right.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Video: 10 Minute IT Jams - An update from SearchInform
Val Novoselova joins us today to to discuss new trends in the information security space, and how SearchInform is adapting to some of the new trends we are seeing.
Story image
Enterprise
Delinea shares the importance of PAM, partners and security for modern enterprise
Identity-based security is becoming a crucial tool for modern enterprises as they continue to adapt to different working environments.
Story image
Firewall
Forrester names Akamai as web application firewall leader
"We continually monitor and improve our capabilities to defend customers from new threats, while enabling customers to protect evolving attack surfaces."
Story image
Cloud
How modern IT architectures are moving beyond network visibility
Dealing with multiple cloud providers makes it difficult to identify security threats and performance bottlenecks and troubleshoot issues.
Story image
Network Management
Fortinet introduces enhanced AIOps across its gateways
FortiAIOps builds on Fortinet's rich history of developing artificial intelligence to deliver actionable network insights for self-optimising management.
Story image
Partner Programmes
Trellix set to launch new unified partner program in 2023
"We co-developed the Xtend program with our partners to create the right business model for deploying Trellix XDR."
AWS Marketplace
Whitepaper: A practical guide for mitigating risk in today’s modern applications
Link image
Story image
Mobile Device Management
How to easily scale your mobile workforce and devices for the peak shopping season
Retailers are under constant pressure to streamline processes and become more efficient while looking for ways to improve customer satisfaction levels.
Story image
Cybersecurity
De-risking the innovation cycle – a modern, real-time approach to security
Many organisations see cybersecurity as an inhibitor of innovation, with burdensome protection measures standing in the way of progress and speed.
Story image
Legacy
Trellix enables greater cyber resiliency with extended XDR platform
"Legacy SIEM technology has failed to modernise security operations. We are confident Trellix XDR fills this critical gap.”
Story image
Edge Security
Security practices for modernising the “spaghetti” of on-premises IT
Many organisations are wondering how to securely modernise their workload, often made up of a “spaghetti” of on-premises applications and management consoles.
Story image
Malware
Decrease in malware volume, but surge in encrypted malware
The Q2 Internet Security Report found office exploits continue to spread more than any other category of malware.
Story image
IT Training
Six ways to transform your cybersecurity training and influence lasting change
If the goal is to win hearts and minds, formal awareness training can fall short and often doesn’t inspire people to care.
Story image
Kaspersky
Cybersecurity loopholes prevalent in South East Asia
In terms of the share of vulnerabilities with publicly available exploits, three countries out of top five are located in Southeast Asia.
Story image
Secure Code Warrior
Secure Code Warrior announces Coding Labs innovation
Coding Labs mechanisms allow developers to move from learning to applying secure coding knowledge more efficiently, leading to fewer code vulnerabilities.
Story image
Hybrid Cloud
Hybrid cloud security driving need for deep observability
Gigamon is bringing application and network-level intelligence together to help network, security, and cloud IT operations teams eliminate security blind spots.
Story image
Cloud Security
75% of AU companies had cloud security incident in past year
According to new Venafi research, complexity is due to increase, as companies plan to host more applications in the cloud.
Story image
Threat intelligence
Trellix advances threat intelligence with new research centre
Trellix has announced the establishment of the Trellix Advanced Research Center to advance global threat intelligence.
Story image
Software-as-a-Service
Enterprises yet to fully commit to cybersecurity - CompTIA
“Digital transformation driven by cloud and mobile adoption requires a new strategic approach to cybersecurity, but this poses significant challenges."
Story image
Ransomware
Delinea updates DevOps security, remote access more seamless
New enhancements include development support on the most recent Mac computers and improved secrets' management usability through automation.
Story image
Firewall
Barracuda accelerates growth in its data protection business
Barracuda cloud-to-cloud backup protects against evolving cyber threats, such as ransomware, and is now transactable in the Azure Marketplace.
Story image
Distributed Denial of Service
Sysdig reveals a loss of $53 for every $1 cryptojackers gain
The 2022 Sysdig Cloud Native Threat Report breaks down supply chain attacks against containers and how geopolitical conflict influences attacker behaviours.
Story image
Cybersecurity
Best practices for industrial cyber resilience
Operational technology (OT) security is gaining more attention than ever before, but sufficient understanding of what it takes to prevent breaches is still lacking amongst many organisations.
Story image
Malware
Kaspersky uncovers new malicious malware NullMixer
Kaspersky researchers have uncovered a new malware stealing users credentials, address, credit card data, cryptocurrencies, and accounts.
Story image
Phishing
Vectra Protect team finds Microsoft Teams vulnerability
The Vectra Protect team identified a post-exploitation opportunity in August, allowing malicious actors to steal valid user credentials from Microsoft Teams.