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Akira Ransomware Racks Up at Least 63 Victims in 4 Months | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

The Akira ransomware group, which launched four months ago, has racked up at least 63 victims, most of which are small and midsize businesses, according to a new report from Arctic Wolf.

The bulk of the targeted companies – 45 – come from the United States, though the group’s reach extends to such counties as Australia and South Africa, and 80% fall into the SMB category. Twenty-two of them have between 51 and 200 employees.

At the same time, researchers with the cybersecurity firm analyzed blockchain information to further tie Akira to some members of the high-profile Conti ransomware group, challenging task given that much of the source code for Conti’s ransomware was leaked early last year, convincing many members to either migrate to other groups or start their own.

“Although Conti disbanded after increased pressure due to internal conflict and the publishing of their source code, many of the Conti members have continued to wreak havoc on organizations in 2023 through their activity with other ransomware-as-a-service groups, including Akira,” Arctic Wolf researchers Steven Campbell, Akshay Suthar, and Connor Belfiore wrote, adding that Akira itself “continues to evolve and grow as a ransomware group by changing its tactics to evade detection.”

The threat group is a known quantity, with research teams taking look at it since it came on the scene in March. Like other ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) gangs, Akira runs double-extortion campaigns, exfiltrating a victim’s data before encrypting it on the devices.

“The group does not insist on a company paying for both decryption assistance and the deletion of data,” the researchers wrote. “Instead, Akira offers victims the opportunity to pick and choose what they would like to pay for.”

Arctic Wolf said the group targets organizations in such industries as manufacturing, education, and financial services, with ransoms ranging from $200,000 to $4 million. If the victim doesn’t pay a ransom, their name and data are published on Akira’s leak site. In an earlier report, SentinelOne threat researchers said the group hosts its leak site on TOR, with victims told to contact the attacker through the TOR-based portal by entering unique identifier given in the ransom note.

Unlike what Arctic Wolf has found, SentinelOne wrote that Akira “is known to require outrageous payments, reaching hundreds of millions of dollars.”

An ‘Opportunistic’ Threat

Looking at the group, the Arctic Wolf researchers said “Akira is likely an opportunistic ransomware group due to their victimology and negotiation tactics. In nearly every incident response case Arctic Wolf investigated, the threat actors claimed that they needed time to review the exfiltrated data to determine a ransom demand.”

In most of the attacks that the cybersecurity vendor has seen since April, the threat actors used stolen credential to gain initial access into their victims’ systems, most of which were not protected by multi-factor authentication (MFA) on their VPNs. It’s not known how the group got the credentials, though the researchers speculated that they could have bought access or the credential themselves on the dark web.

Once in, the group also uses a range of tools for discovery (such as PCHunter, SharpHound, and AdFind), credential access (Mimikatz and LaZagne), command and control (AnyDesk, Radmin, and Cloudflare Tunnel), and exfiltration (WinSCP, Rclone, and FileZilla).

The researchers noted that in late June, cybersecurity firm Avast released a decryptor for the Akira ransomware that organizations can use on files decrypted by the group. However, the threat actors appear to have modified its encryption operation since and the decryptor may note work on files encrypted after June 29.

Links Between Akira and Conti

Normally, threat researchers can trace cyberattacks to a specific group by identifying where the ransomware code overlaps with that of other ransomware variants. However, with the Conti code leaked and picked up by so many groups for their own uses, linking a variant back to Conti players is difficult.

That said, Arctic Wolf there is some code resemblance between the Akira and Conti ransomwares, from ignoring the same file types and directories to similar functions to the use of the ChaCha algorithm for encrypting files.

In addition, the researchers ran pattern analyses of transactions from the cryptocurrency wallets of known threat actors, which turned up other wallet addresses and showed addresses being reused between groups. This suggested that “the individual controlling the address or wallet has either splintered off from the original group or is working with another group at the same time,” they wrote.

Through this, they found multiple overlaps between Akira and Conti members.

“In at least three separate transactions, Akira threat actors sent the full amount of their ransom payment [more than $600,000] to Conti-affiliated addresses,” the researchers wrote, adding that “all the Conti-affiliated addresses conduct transactions with a group of shared intermediary wallets that were used to cash out funds from the ransom payments or transfer funds within the group.”

They used the same analysis method in 2022 to find links between the Karakurt and Diavol groups and Conti.

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