Dharma

Dharma is an advanced Ransomware that has been observed in the wild since 2016. It is considered to be the second most profitable RaaS operation by the FBI. The malware targets hospitals and state organizations, encrypts files and demands a payment to restore access to lost information.

Type
Ransomware
Origin
Unknown
First seen
24 August, 2017
Last seen
15 January, 2021
Global rank
26
Week rank
15
Month rank
17
IOCs
297

What is Dharma Ransomware?

Dharma is a ransomware-type malware. A malicious program that encrypted files and demands a ransom to restore information. Dharma, a member of the CrySIS family, has been around since august 2017, targeting organizations, such as hospitals, it managed to earn attackers over $25 million in ransom payments.

General description of Dharma Ransomware

Dharma is considered to be advanced ransomware, that uses very strong encryption. As a new variant of the CrySIS family, it was first spotted in the wild in 2017. It was operated by an unknown cyber gang who managed to remain mostly in the shadows to this day. CrySIS was offered as a RaaS (Ransomware-as-a-Service), meaning that “clients” could use it, if they purchased the ransomware from the attackers. Meaning, that it is those that purchase the malware, who carry out the actual attacks, rather than original creators.

Threat actors changed the name over to Dharma after decryption keys for CrySIS were leaked in late 2016. That was the first, but not the only time somebody published the decryption keys, but it was the only time attackers renamed the malware and re-branded the product.

Some researchers believe that Dharma is one of the most popular RaaS malware out there right now. The popularity of this Ransomware is partly due to the constant updates that attackers have been rolling out throughout the years it was active.

In fact, there were instances, where three new versions of the malware were reported during the same week. In addition, Dharma proved to be very adaptive, changing distribution channels as the underground community moved from mass spam emails to more targeted attacks in 2018 and 2019.

Another part that contributed to the popularity of Dharma is its flexibility. Although the ransom amount is usually set to one Bitcoin, it can be customized depending on the victim profile. This means that for smaller organizations that can’t pay this much (mind you, Bitcoin cost almost 20,000 USD in 2017), the payment amount can be lowered.

Although not completely unique to this malware, this flexibility and customization greatly enhanced its effectiveness. In fact, the FBI named Dharma the second most profitable Ransomware operation.

Now, despite all of the above Dharma has never really been available to the general public. The only places it could be found were inconspicuous underground forums. At least, until recently.

In late 2019, the source code of Dharma was observed being put for sale for 2,000 USD.

This made a lot of researchers worried, as some predicted that putting the source code for sale will result in somebody uploading it to the public internet. If ransomware as advanced as Dharma gets in the hands of a mass audience, we can be up for a lot of trouble.

It should also be noted that in 2019 researchers reported new ransomware called Phobos, which has almost exactly the same code as Dharma. Although some speculated that this could be another rebranding, Dharma samples are still constantly being found about as often as instances of Phobos malware use.

Dharma malware analysis

A video recorded in the ANY.RUN interactive malware hunting service shows how the execution of this ransomware unfolds from the victim’s point of view.

raccoon_process_graph

Figure 1: Displays the execution process of the Dharma Ransomware This graph was generated by ANY.RUN.

raccoon_process_graph

Figure 2: Displays the Dharma Ransomware ransom note

Dharma Ransomware execution process

The execution process of the Dharma ransomware is relatively typical for this type of malware. After the executable file makes its way into an infected system and runs, the main malicious activity begins. After the start of execution, the Ransomware deletes shadow copies. After it encrypts all targeted files, Dharma drops a ransom note on the desktop.

Dharma Ransomware distribution

Dharma has been observed using multiple distribution methods, but the following three are the most common.

  • Targeted emails with malicious attachments or links.
  • Use of compromised legitimate software, often antiviruses.
  • Targeted campaigns that abuse the RDP protocol.

Out of the three distribution channels, spam email campaigns are the most straightforward. It is also the way that threat actors relied on the most during the first years of malware operation, launching widespread campaigns and relying on sheer numbers of potential recipients.

However, as users and organizations become more educated about the dangers of cyber attacks, spam emails lose effectiveness. Dharma operators quickly adapted and restored to the other two methods for payload delivery.

Another method that Dharma is known to use is utilizing real compromised software. For example, some attacks involved targeted email campaigns that contained a download link. What made these attacks stand out is that upon clicking the link, the payload would be downloaded along with a compromised legitimate program. The program then would launch an installer designed to direct the attention of the victim, while the executable file is running in the background.

Finally, the last common distribution method is through the use of compromised RDP. RDP is a protocol developed by Microsoft that is used to establish a connection between multiple PCs over a network. It’s a completely legitimate protocol which is used by technicians to carry out remote technical support, among other uses. However, if a session becomes compromised it gives hackers the ability to download and execute the malicious file as long as they have access to the remotely connected PC.

Conclusion

Dharma is dangerous ransomware. Since 2017 it’s popularity has been only growing and continued use indicates that members of the underground hacking community see it as a reliable option. Given the fact that even the FBI considers Dharma to be one of the most effective malware in its class, it’s no wonder that this malware is in demand.

However, even more, worrying is the fact that despite all the attention that Dharma has been getting over the years, creators of this ransomware managed to continually evade researchers and evolve the ransomware along the way.

Although decryptors do exist for some version of Dharma, the only reason that they could be created is because somebody from the inside leaked master keys. Apart from these instances, little progress has been made to crack the encryption algorithm used by Dharma.

And now, with the source code appearing for sale, we run the risk of it popping up in the global internet which can spawn a new, massive wave of Dharma attacks.

Keeping this in mind, researchers should take time to carefully study Dharma behavior to prepare for potential attacks. Thankfully, ANY.RUN provides all the necessary tools to carry out Dharma analysis in a secure online environment.

IOCs

IP addresses

No IP adresses found

Hashes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No hashes found

HAVE A LOOK AT

Adwind screenshot
Adwind
adwind trojan
Adwind RAT, sometimes also called Unrecom, Sockrat, Frutas, jRat and JSocket is a Malware As A Service Remote Access Trojan that attackers can use to collect information from infected machines. It was one of the most popular RATs in the market in 2015.
Read More
Agent Tesla screenshot
Agent Tesla
agenttesla trojan rat stealer
Agent Tesla is spyware that collects information about the actions of its victims by recording keystrokes and user interactions. It is falsely marketed as a legitimate software on the dedicated website where this malware is sold.
Read More
Ave Maria screenshot
Ave Maria
avemaria stealer trojan rat
Ave Maria malware is a Remote Access Trojan that is also called WARZONE RAT. Hackers use it to control PCs of their victims remotely and steal information from infected PCs. For example, they can remotely activate the camera to take pictures of a victim and send them to a control server
Read More
Azorult screenshot
Azorult
azorult trojan rat
AZORult can steal banking information including passwords and credit card details as well as cryptocurrency. This constantly updated information stealer malware should not be taken lightly, as it continues to be an active threat.
Read More
Crimson RAT screenshot
Crimson RAT
crimson rat trojan
Crimson is a Remote Access Trojan — a malware that is used to take remote control of infected systems and steal data. This particular RAT is known to be used by a Pakistani founded cybergang that targets Indian military objects to steal sensitive information.
Read More
Danabot screenshot
Danabot
danabot trojan stealer
Danabot is an advanced banking Trojan malware that was designed to steal financial information from victims. Out of the Trojans in the wild this is one of the most advanced thanks to the modular design and a complex delivery method.
Read More