Security Experts:

Conti Ransomware Activity Surges Despite Exposure of Group's Operations

Conti ransomware activity has surged in the past weeks despite the recent exposure of the group’s operations by a pro-Ukraine hacktivist.

An individual claiming to be a Ukrainian cybersecurity researcher has leaked vast amounts of data belonging to the Conti group, including malware source code, chat logs, credentials, email addresses, and C&C server details. The files were leaked in response to the hackers expressing support for the Russian government as it began its invasion of Ukraine.

The leaked information showed that the cybercrime gang operates just like a regular company, with contractors, employees and HR problems.

While some industry professionals believed the leaks could have a significant impact on Conti operations, that does not appear to be the case.

In a recent post on an underground hacker forum, one of the group’s members claimed that the leak has had very little impact on their operations. The cybercriminals are allegedly working on new locker malware, new penetration methods, and new approaches to working with the data they steal.

The forum post was seen by researchers at Secureworks, who noted that the number of new victims added to Conti’s “news” website in March 2022 exceeded 70, significantly more than the average of 43 victims per month seen in 2021. Secureworks tracks the Conti group as “Gold Ulrick.”

The cybercriminals claim that 50% of their victims pay the ransom, with an average payout of $700,000. If this is true, the group targeted well over 100 organizations in March and they made millions of dollars.

More than 30 new victims have already been announced on the Conti website in April. Recent attacks targeted wind turbine giant Nordex, industrial components provider Parker Hannifin, and cookware and bakeware distribution giant Meyer Corporation. The group has also taken responsibility for a highly disruptive attack on Costa Rican government systems.

“If GOLD ULRICK operations continue at that pace, the group will continue to pose one of the most significant cybercrime threats to organizations globally,” Secureworks warned.

The recent leaks also shed more light on the relationship between the Emotet malware and Conti. Threat intelligence company Intel 471 has determined — based on an analysis of the leaked information and its monitoring of Emotet campaigns — that Emotet victims are added to a pool of potential Conti ransomware victims.

The Emotet malware operation is separate from Conti, but Intel 471 research showed that Conti likely relies on Emotet to find many of its victims. Specifically, when Emotet infects a computer, it collects information about that device and sends it back to its operators. The system information harvested by Emotet is used by Conti to select the next victims, and the access obtained by Emotet is also leveraged by Conti.

“While not every instance of Emotet means that a ransomware attack is imminent, our research shows that there is a heightened chance of an attack if Emotet is spotted on organizations’ systems,” Intel 471 said.

As for Emotet, Proofpoint reported on Tuesday that the cybercriminals are testing new malware delivery techniques.

Related: Analysis Shows How Fast Various Ransomware Strains Encrypt 100,000 Files

Related: U.S. Warns of Conti Ransomware Attacks as Gang Deals With Leak Fallout

Related: Conti Ransomware 'Acquires' TrickBot as It Thrives Amid Crackdowns

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.