CryptoWall Strikes Back!

A new variant of Cryptowall ransomware has been observed in recent phishing campaigns by the security community. The image below illustrates one of these emails where the sender falsely states that your domain name is going to be suspended due to abuse policy. This email attempt to lure the recipient into clicking into the link.


The link points to a compromised web server using a scheme like

When clicking on the link the HTTP answer uses a Content-Disposition field. Using this technique the answer to the PHP request will be a file. Download of content like executables is does not need this field  but in this way the malware authors attempt to camouflage the file in the GET request.


When executed, CryptoWall uses several memory management techniques to inject into benign processes. It starts by making a copy of itself and then invoking a new explorer.exe process which by its turn will invoke a new svchost.exe. These two new processes (see below figure) are valid process initiated using the legitimate system binary but have been injected with malicious code using hollowing technique. Svchost.exe in this case is invoked “-k netsvcs” but the process parent is  not services.exe which should always be the case.


Before the encryption starts,  it will execute three commands that will make recovery of files even more difficult. It starts by deleting all Volume Shadow Copies that exists on the system by running the following command:

  • vssadmin.exe Delete Shadows /All /Quiet

Then runs the following commands in order to disable the Windows Error Recovery during startup:

  • bcdedit /set {default} recoveryenabled No
  • bcdedit /set {default} bootstatuspolicy ignoreallfailures

To achieve persistence, a copy of the malware is placed into a directory named with a random hexadecimal  number under c:\. The Hidden attribute is set to the folder. Inside will store the malicious executable using a an equal filename e.g., c:\826a933e\826a933e.exe. It addition another copy of the malware is placed into the directory %APPDATA%\Roaming. Then it creates a Run key under HKLM or HKCU registry hive (depending on the admin rights) that points to this executable. This will make sure the executable is launched either during boot or during user login.


CryptoWall then starts its communications and will determine the victim public IP address and its geo-location using sites like, and Following that will try to reach out one of the many C&C addresses that are hard-coded into the binary.

The following picture illustrates the messages that are sent over HTTP on TCP port 80.


After the encryption process is finished the user is presented with the ransom messages. For each folder that CryptoWall processes it will leave its ransom note on the following files HELP_YOUR_FILES.HTML, HELP_YOUR_FILES.PNG, HELP_YOUR_FILES.TXT. One example is below.


If the user follows the ransom note instructions he will be redirected to the decryption service and is prompted to pay in Bitcoins. The decryption service will allow to decrypt one file for free.


What can you do? The most effective defense against these type of threats is to have proper backups. This type of malware has the capability to encrypt any attached storage such as USB drives or network drives – make sure you do your backups and keep that external drive disconnected. You back up your data once a day, right? at least weekly? maybe monthly? For enterprises the tools and processes used to backup and restore information in a timely manner need to be in place. Please note that Windows has a feature called Volume Shadow Copy that allows you to restore files to their previous state however the newer variants of this malware delete shadow copies and disable the service prior to encrypting the files.

Other things can be done, like educating users to not open attachments or links in emails from unknown senders and be suspicious about unexpected attachments and links from known senders. Also make sure to keep your software updated. Other techniques might include hardening your system using Microsoft AppLocker to introduce software whiltelisting.

MD5 of the malware used in this article:
3548959f1100a0d818f91b6502a7fdd3 ab-cp.com_copy_of_complaints.pdf.scr

At this stage the majority of the web filtering vendors have categorized the C&C addresses as malicious. This will prevent an infected computer  from becoming encrypted if you prevent your users to surf to malicious websites. For example the malicious binary used in this exercise had 58 C&C hard-coded.


One thought on “CryptoWall Strikes Back!

  1. […] few sites havent called it 4.0, though. Instead, they have merely noted this is a new variant [10, 11]. However, the vast majority of people have reported the new CryptoWall variant as […]


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