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Black Basta Ransomware Becomes Major Threat in Two Months

Black Basta Ransomware

Security researchers have assessed the Black Basta ransomware threat level as HIGH, and the number of victims is still rising

Black Basta ransomware has become a major new threat in just a couple months. Evidence suggests it was still in development in February 2022, and only became operational in April 2022. Since then, the Black Basta group has claimed responsibility for 36 victims in English-speaking countries, and the number is growing.

On April 20, 2022, a user named BlackBasta announced on underground forums an intention to purchase corporate network accesses for a share of the profits. This helps explain its rapid rise. Researchers at Cybereason have reported that it became known in early June that the new Black Basta group has partnered with the QBot malware operation to spread their ransomware.

A QBot partnership is a well-worn path, with criminal groups including MegaCortex, ProLock, DoppelPaymer, Conti and Egregor all having done the same. “QBot has many built-in capabilities that are very useful for attackers,” say Cybereason researchers in a report. “Some of them used to perform reconnaissance, collect data and credentials, move laterally, and download and execute payloads.”

The suggestion is that Black Basta is copying the techniques of the major ransomware gangs. Its rapid rise has led to some speculation that this is not their first time on the dance floor – with some suggestions that the gang might be related to Conti. There are several similarities between the two operations, including the appearance of the leak Tor site, the ransom note, the payment site and behavior of the support team. Conti has denied this, saying, “BlackBasta is not conti it’s… kids.”

Nevertheless, “Black Basta is likely operated by former members of the defunct Conti and REvil gangs, the two most profitable ransomware gangs in 2021,” comments Lior Div, Cybereason CEO and co-founder.

Like most groups operating targeted attacks, Black Basta employs the double extortion strategy. It’s too early to know how successful it is at gaining ransom payments, but the group has been seen demanding millions of dollars as the ransom fee.

The alliance with QBot saves the group time and effort in its attacks. QBot’s capabilities can be used to perform reconnaissance, collect data and credentials, move laterally, and download and execute payloads. Once inside the network, Black Basta targets the Domain Controller, and moves laterally using PsExec. On compromised DCs, it creates a Group Policy Object (GPO) to disable Windows Defender while it also tries to take down any anti-virus products – a technique also used by QBot-Egregor attacks.

The final stage is to deploy the ransomware on targeted endpoints. It does this with an encoded PowerShell command that uses WMI to push the payload to the selected IP addresses. Once executed, the ransomware deletes the virtual shadow copies and other backup files before performing the encryption.

Basta Ransomware NoteIt changes the background image of the desktop to include the message, ‘your network is encrypted by the Black Basta group. Instructions in the file readme.txt’. This is the ransom note, and a copy is dropped into each folder. The ransom note is tailored for each different victim and includes a unique id for the victim to use in the negotiation chat.

In early June 2022, Black Basta added support for encrypting VMware ESXi virtual machines running on enterprise Linux servers. This meshes with ransomware gangs’ big game hunting for targeting enterprises. It also enables faster encryption of multiple servers with a single command. Other gangs doing similar include LockBit, Hive, and Cheerscrypt.

Not much is yet known for certain about Black Basta. The gang has not begun marketing its operation nor recruiting affiliates on hacking forums. If it does start hiring out its code, the threat will increase rapidly. The Cybereason Nocturnus researchers have already assessed the threat level as HIGH, and the number of victims is still rising.

The initial BlackBasta forum post looking to buy corporate accesses was written in Russian, while the accesses sought are for companies in ‘the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand’. The implication, unstated by Cybereason, is that this is likely to be a group with Russian sympathies, or a Russian group trying to make sure it doesn’t upset the Russian authorities.

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Kevin Townsend is a Senior Contributor at SecurityWeek. He has been writing about high tech issues since before the birth of Microsoft. For the last 15 years he has specialized in information security; and has had many thousands of articles published in dozens of different magazines – from The Times and the Financial Times to current and long-gone computer magazines.