Security Experts:

Middle East Governments Targeted With RanRan Ransomware

Researchers at Palo Alto Networks have come across a new piece of ransomware that has been used in targeted attacks aimed at multiple government organizations in the Middle East. Instead of asking for money, the attackers behind this campaign instruct victims to make a political statement on their website.

The ransomware, dubbed “RanRan,” is designed to encrypt various types of files stored on the infected system, including documents, archives, images, executables, logs, databases, source code and video files. A .zXz extension is assigned to encrypted files and an HTML file containing instructions on how to recover the files is dropped onto the device.

Victims are told not to shut down their computer or run any antivirus program as this can lead to “accidental damage on files.” Unlike other ransomware, which typically ask for money, the threat group behind RanRan instructs victims to create a subdomain with a politically inflammatory name on their website.

Victims are also instructed to upload to this subdomain a file named “Ransomware.txt” with the text “Hacked!” and their email address.

“By performing these actions, the victim, a Middle Eastern government organization, has to generate a political statement against the leader of the country,” said Palo Alto Networks researchers. “It also forces the victim to publicly announce that they have been hacked by hosting the Ransomware.txt file.”

Palo Alto Networks has not named any of the targeted government organizations and it has not made links to known threat groups. However, the security firm did say that it had not found any connection between these attacks and the recent Shamoon 2 campaign.

According to researchers, the RanRan malware is not sophisticated and its developers have made some mistakes when implementing the file encryption mechanism, which appears to be based on publicly available source code.

“RanRan makes a number of mistakes when encryption occurs,” researchers said. “For one, they use a symmetric cipher (RC4) with a re-used key. Additionally, some files are encrypted, but the originals are not deleted. This is due to a number of reasons, one of which being that encryption is attempted against system files and other files that are opened by running processes.”

Palo Alto Networks said victims of this ransomware may be able to decrypt some of the files if certain conditions are met.

Related: Shamoon-Linked "StoneDrill" Malware Allows Spying, Destruction

Related: Users in Middle East Targeted in "Moonlight" Espionage Campaign

Related: Gaza Cybergang Uses QuasarRAT to Target Governments

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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.