The Nastiest Malware of 2020

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For the third year running, we’ve examined the year’s biggest cyber threats and ranked them to determine which ones are the absolute worst. Somewhat unsurprisingly, phishing and RDP-related breaches remain the top methods we’ve seen cybercriminals using to launch their attacks. Additionally, while new examples of malware and cybercriminal tactics crop up each day, plenty of the same old players, such as ransomware, continue to get upgrades and dominate the scene.

For example, a new trend in ransomware this year is the addition of a data leak/auction website, where criminals will reveal or auction off data they’ve stolen in a ransomware attack if the victim refuses to pay. The threat of data exposure creates a further incentive for victims to pay ransoms, lest they face embarrassing damage to their personal or professional reputations, not to mention hefty fines from privacy-related regulatory bodies like GDPR.

But the main trend we’ll highlight here is that of modularity. Today’s malicious actors have adopted a more modular malware methodology, in which they combine attack methods and mix-and-match tactics to ensure maximum damage and/or financial success.

Here are a few of nastiest characters and a breakdown of how they can work together.

Emotet botnet + TrickBot Trojan + Conti/Ryuk ransomware
There’s a reason Emotet has topped our list for 3 years in a row. Even though it’s not a ransomware payload itself, it’s the botnet that is responsible for the most ransomware infections, making it pretty darn nasty. It’s often seen with TrickBot, Dridex, QakBot, Conti/Ryuk, BitPaymer and REvil.

Here’s how an attack might start with Emotet and end with ransomware. The botnet is used in a malicious spam campaign. An unwitting employee at a company receives the spam email, accidentally downloads the malicious payload. With its foot in the door, Emotet drops TrickBot, an info-stealing Trojan. TrickBot spreads laterally through the network like a worm, infecting every machine it encounters. It “listens” for login credentials (and steals them), aiming to get domain-level access. From there, attackers can perform recon on the network, disable protections, and drop Conti/Ryuk ransomware at their leisure.

Ursnif Trojan + IcedID Trojan + Maze ransomware
Ursnif, also known as Gozi or Dreambot, is a banking Trojan that has resurfaced after being mostly dormant for a few years. In an attack featuring this troublesome trio, Ursnif might land on a machine via a malicious spam email, botnet, or even TrickBot, and then drop the IcedID Trojan to improve the attackers’ chances of getting the credentials or intel they want. (Interestingly, IcedID has been upgraded to use steganographic payloads. Steganography in malware refers to concealing malicious code inside another file, message, image or video.) Let’s say the Trojans obtain the RDP credentials for the network they’ve infected. In this scenario, the attackers can now sell those credentials to other bad actors and/or deploy ransomware, typically Maze. (Fun fact: Maze is believed to have “pioneered” the data leak/auction website trend.)Dridex/Emotet malspam + Dridex Trojan + BitPaymer/DoppelPaymer ransomware

Like TrickBot, Dridex is another very popular banking/info-stealing Trojan that’s been around for years. When Dridex is in play, it is either dropped via Emotet or its authors’ own malicious spam campaign. Also like TrickBot, Dridex spreads laterally, listens for credentials, and typically deploys ransomware like BitPaymer/DoppelPaymer.

As you can see, there are a

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