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    Ransomware attacks are growing in popularity these days. French users were a recent target of an attack that impersonated the Gendarmerie nationale. A few months ago, Japanese users were also hit by ransomware in a one-click billing fraud scheme targeted for Android smartphones.

    Last year we documented two ransomware campaigns that targeted Russian users. One attack involved payment via premium SMS services, while another campaign instructed users to pay the ransom via payment terminals. A payment terminal allows users to perform transactions like paying phone bills, which is commonplace in Russia.

    However, the more recent ransomware variants appear to be targeting other European countries. They are disguised as notifications from country-specific law enforcement agencies such as eCops of Belgium and Bundespolizei of Germany.

    Based on data from the Trend Micro™ Smart Protection Network™ , a majority of the top eight countries infected with ransomware are from Europe:

    Traditionally, ransomware has been a threat largely to Russian users. In the past, ransomware attacks were mainly concentrated in Russia in the form of Winlock variants which we discussed here and here. These Winlock variants used Russian language in their ransom pages.

    The growth of ransomware outside of Russia may be attributed to the growing difficulties associated with payment methods and fake antivirus. FAKEAV as a business is composed of an economic ecosystem that involves ring leaders, developers, middle men (affiliate networks), advertisers, etc. Because of these challenges, some criminal groups involved with FAKEAV may seek alternative underground businesses such as the ransomware business, thereby making the ransomware market expand and flourish.

    Monetization through E-money

    While ransomware are also being distributed through affiliate networks like FAKEAVs, these attacks operate using payments outside of traditional credit card payments, specifically via Ukash and Paysafecard vouchers. Ukash and Paysafecard are widely used online payment methods that do not require personal details. Such level of anonymity has naturally earned the attention of cybercriminals and, as we can see, is now being abused for the ransomware business. Ukash and Paysafecard vouchers can also be exchanged for other forms of e-money as well as for traditional currencies through various exchange sites.

    Taken together, these developments illustrate the persistence of specific malware families such as ransomware and how they keep pace with the present threat landscape. But with continuous monitoring of developments and identifying prospective targets of these threats, we can anticipate their tactics and ultimately, protect users.

    Update as of March 8, 2012, 10:08 a.m. (PST)

    The above data from the Trend Micro™ Smart Protection Network™ was based on feedback taken from the past 30 days.

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