Anatomy of Ransomware Attack: Chat Support, a Discount and a Surcharge for Bitcoin

Blockchain analytics firm Elliptic tracks a small business being contacted by REvil ransomware attackers demanding $50,000 in crypto for a decryption tool.

AccessTimeIconJul 19, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 1:27 p.m. UTC

A new study of a ransomware attack reveals the dialogue that takes place between the attacker and the victim including live chat support, a negotiated discount and a surcharge for paying in bitcoin.

Research by blockchain analytics firm Elliptic published Monday examines the case of a small business being contacted by REvil ransomware attackers demanding $50,000 in monero for a decryption tool.

In the ensuing dialogue on a "victim portal" reminiscent of live chat support on an IT help website:

  • The victim stated that $50,000 was too steep and asked for a reduction, to which the attacked replied "My boss can offer 20% discount."
  • Rather than paying in the anonymity-focused crypto monero, the victim asked to pay in bitcoin as it was easier to obtain. The attacker accepted the request, albeit with a 10% surcharge, reflecting the increased traceability of bitcoin.
  • The victim asked for reassurance that the attacker could perform the decryption by requesting a demonstration with two of the affected files, which the attacker appeared to oblige.
  • The attacker rejected a request to cut the payment to $10,000 or $20,000, finally agreeing to "25K and okay not lower."

Elliptic's research then shows the steps REvil took to launder the bitcoin received, splitting it into different streams, transferring it to different wallets and combining it with bitcoins from other sources. The analytics firms said it was able to make the information available to law-enforcement bodies, crypto exchanges and financial institutions to identify coins and wallets associated with cybercrime to take appropriate steps in preventing the criminals from being able to cash-out.

"This laundering process in this case is still ongoing, but nevertheless we can already trace some of the funds to exchanges," the report said. "Those exchanges will have information on the identities of people whose accounts received the funds – providing strong leads for law enforcement."

While high-profile attacks on large companies and critical infrastructure, such as the one that hit Colonial Pipeline in May attain widespread attention, small businesses account for 50%-75% of ransomware victims, according to Elliptic's report.


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