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Ransomware Gang Hits Exposed MySQL Databases

Exploiting weak credentials on MySQL servers connected to the Internet, an ongoing ransomware campaign has compromised more than 250,000 databases to date, according to a warning from security vendor Guardicore.

Dubbed PLEASE_READ_ME, Guardicore said the campaign started as early as January 2020, with more than 83,000 victims successfully breached to date. 

With more than five million Internet-facing MySQL servers on the internet, the attacks are expected to continue against those with weak authentication credentials.

Guardicore security researchers say that the attackers are engaging in double extortion in an attempt to force victims into paying the ransom demand for the encrypted data.

Originating from 11 IP addresses, most located in Ireland and the UK, the attacks appear to have resulted in 7TB of data.

Between January and November, the attackers would include a Bitcoin wallet in the ransom note, instructing the victim to make payments there. This resulted in roughly $25,000 being paid to the attackers.

Starting in October, the victims were being directed to a TOR website, hn4wg4o6s5nc7763.onion, where the attackers list all databases for which a ransom was not paid. A total of 250,000 entries from 83,000 MySQL servers were identified.

The attackers gain access to the targeted databases by brute-forcing the passwords for the MySQL servers. Next, they run queries to gather information on tables and users, and to archive and exfiltrate the victim’s data. Next, the database is swept clean and a ransom note is left, demanding a ransom of up to 0.08 BTC.

A backdoor is also added to the database, so that the adversary can re-access it if needed.

On their TOR website, the attackers offer the stolen databases for sale at 0.03 Bitcoin (roughly $520). All entries are listed per token, with approximately 83,000 unique tokens identified, Guardicore said.

The attacks are not targeted, with the adversary lacking interest in the victim’s identity or size. Researchers surmise that the immediate focus is compromising as many victims as possible, for financial gain (but they are making less money per victim, the security researchers note).

“The PLEASE_READ_ME operators are trying to up their game by using double extortion in scale. Factoring their operation will render the campaign more scalable and profitable,” Guardicore Labs concludes.

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