Request a Demo Cybersecurity Assessment Latest Trellix Events Contact Us


The latest cybersecurity trends, best practices, security vulnerabilities, and more


Is There Really Such a Thing as a Low-Paid Ransomware Operator?


Going by recent headlines you could be forgiven for thinking all ransomware operators are raking in millions of ill-gotten dollars each year from their nefarious activities.

Lurking in the shadows of every large-scale attack by organized gangs of cybercriminals, however, there can be found a multitude of smaller actors who do not have access to the latest ransomware samples, the ability to be affiliates in the post-DarkSide RaaS world or the financial clout to tool up at speed.

So what is a low-paid ransomware operator to do in such circumstances?

By getting creative and looking out for the latest malware and builder leaks they can be just as devastating to their victims and, in this blog, we will track the criminal career of one such actor as they evolve from homemade ransomware to utilizing major ransomware through the use of publicly leaked builders.

The Rich Get Richer

For years, the McAfee Enterprise Advanced Threat Research (ATR) team has observed the proliferation of ransomware and the birth and (apparent) death of large organized gangs of operators. The most notorious of these gangs have extorted huge sums of money from their victims, by charging for decryption of data or by holding the data itself to ransom against the threat of publication on their ‘leak’ websites.

With the income of such tactics sometimes running into the millions of dollars, such as with the Netwalker ransomware that generated 25 million USD between 1 March and 27 July 2020, we speculate that much of those ill-gotten funds are subsequently used to build and maintain arsenals of offensive cyber tools, allowing the most successful cybercriminals to stay one step ahead of the chasing pack

Figure 1. Babuk group looking for a corporate VPN 0-Day

Figure 1. Babuk group looking for a corporate VPN 0-Day

As seen in the image above, cybercriminals with access to underground forums and deep pockets have the means to pay top dollar for the tools they need to continually generate more income, with this particular Babuk operator offering up 50,000 USD for a 0-day targeting a corporate virtual private network (VPN) which would allow easy access to a new victim.

The Lowly-Paid Don’t Necessarily Stay That Way

For smaller ransomware operators, who do not have affiliation with a large group, the technical skills to create their own devastating malware or the financial muscle to buy what they need, the landscape looks rather different.

Unable to build equally effective attack chains, from initial access through to data exfiltration, their opportunities to make illegal profits are far slimmer in comparison to the behemoths of the ransomware market.

Away from the gaze of researchers who typically focus on the larger ransomware groups, many individuals and smaller groups are toiling in the background, attempting to evolve their own operations any way they can. One such method we have observed is through the use of leaks, such as the recent online posting of Babuk’s builder and source code.

Figure 2. Babuk builder public leak on Twitter

Figure 2. Babuk builder public leak on Twitter

Figure 3. Babuk source code leak on underground forum

Figure 3. Babuk source code leak on underground forum

McAfee Enterprise ATR has seen two distinct types of cybercriminal taking advantage of leaks such as this. The first group, which we presume to be less tech-savvy, has merely copied and pasted the builder, substituting the Bitcoin address in the ransom note with their own. The second group has gone further, using the source material to iterate their own versions of Babuk, complete with additional features and new packers.

Thus, even those operators at the bottom of the ransomware food chain have the opportunity to build on others’ work, to stake their claim on a proportion of the money to be made from data exfiltration and extortion.

ATR’s Theory of Evolution

A Yara rule dedicated to Babuk ransomware triggered a new sample uploaded on VirusTotal, which brings us to our ‘lowly-paid’ ransomware actor.

From a quick glance at the sample we can deduce that it is a copied and pasted binary output from Babuk’s builder, with an edited ransom note naming the version “Delta Plus”, two recovery email addresses and a new Bitcoin address for payments:

Figure 4. Strings content of “Delta Plus” named version of Babuk

Figure 4. Strings content of “Delta Plus” named version of Babuk

We’ve seen the two email recovery addresses before – they have been used to deliver random ransomware in the past and, by using them to pivot, we were able to delve into the actor’s resume:

The first email address,, has been used to drop a .NET ransomware mentioning “Delta Plus”:

Figure 5. Strings content of .NET ransomware related to previous Delta ransomware activities

Figure 5. Strings content of .NET ransomware related to previous Delta ransomware activities

Filename Setup.exe
Compiled Time Tue Sep  7 17:58:34 2021
FileType Win32 EXE
FileSize 22.50 KB
Sha256 94fe0825f26234511b19d6f68999d8598a9c21d3e14953731ea0b5ae4ab93c4d

The ransomware is pretty simple to analyze; all mechanisms are declared, and command lines, registry modification, etc., are hardcoded in the binary.

Figure 6.

Figure 7. .NET analysis with command line details

Figure 7. .NET analysis with command line details

In fact, the actor’s own ransomware is so poorly developed (no packing, no obfuscation, command lines embedded in the binary and the fact that the .NET language is easy to analyze) that it is hardly surprising they started using the Babuk builder instead.

By way of contrast, their new project is well developed, easy to use and efficient, no to mention painful to analyze (as it is written in the Golang language) and provides executables for Windows, Linux and network attached storage (NAS) systems.

The second email address,, has been used to drop an earlier version of the .NET ransomware

Figure 8. Strings content from first version of .NET ransomware

Figure 8. Strings content from first version of .NET ransomware

Filename test2.exe
Compiled Time Mon Aug 30 19:49:54 2021
FileType Win32 EXE
FileSize 15.50 KB
Sha256 e1c449aa607f70a9677fe23822204817d0ff41ed3047d951d4f34fc9c502f761

Tactics, Techniques and Procedures

By checking the relationships between “Delta ransomware”, the Babuk iteration and the domains contacted during process execution, we can observe some domains related to our sample:

Thanks to a misconfiguration, files hosted on those two domains are accessible through Open Directory (OpenDir), which is a list of direct links to files stored on a server:

Figure 9.

Figure 10. Open Directories website where samples are hosted

Figure 10. Open Directories website where samples are hosted

  • bat.rar: A PowerShell script used to perform several operations:
    • Try to disable Windows Defender
    • Bypass User Account Control (UAC)
    • Get system rights via runasti

Figure 11. Privilege escalation to get system rights

Figure 11. Privilege escalation to get system rights

  • exe.rar: Delta Plus ransomware
  • reg.rar: Registry values used to disable Windows Defender

Figure 12. Registry value modifications to disable Windows Defender

Figure 12. Registry value modifications to disable Windows Defender

Other domains where files are hosted contain different tools used during attack operations:

  • We’ve found two methods employed by the operator, which we assume to be used for initial access: First, a fake Flash Player installer and, secondly, a fake Anydesk remote tool installer used to drop the ransomware. Our theory about Flash Player initial access has been confirmed by checking the IP that hosts most of the domains:

Figure 13. Fake Flash website used to download fake Flash installer

Figure 13. Fake Flash website used to download fake Flash installer

When logging in, the website warns you that your Flash Player version is outdated and tries to download the Fake Flash Player installer:

Figure 14. JavaScript variables used to drop fake Flash Installer

Figure 14. JavaScript variables used to drop fake Flash Installer

A secondary site appears to have also been utilized in propagating the fake Flash Player, though it is currently offline :

Figure 15. JavaScript function to download the fake Flash Installer from another website

Figure 15. JavaScript function to download the fake Flash Installer from another website

  • Portable Executable (PE) files used to launch PowerShell command lines to delete shadow copies, exclude Windows Defender and import registry keys from “Update.reg.rar” to disable Windows defender.
  • A PE file used for several purposes: Exfiltrating files from the victim, keylogging, checking if the system has already been held to ransom, getting system information, obtaining user information and to create and stop processes.

Figure 16.

Figure 17. Functions and C2 configuration from ransomware sample

Figure 17. Functions and C2 configuration from ransomware sample

(host used for extraction)

  • In addition to the above, we also found evidence that this actor tried to leverage another ransomware builder leak, Chaos ransomware.


The majority of domains used by this actor are hosted on the same IP: “” (AS 270564 / MASTER DA WEB DATACENTER LTDA).

But as we saw by “analyzing” the extraction tool used by the actor, another IP is mentioned: “149.56147.236” (AS 16276 / OVH SAS). On this IP, some ports are open, such as FTP (probably used to store exfiltrated data), SSH, etc.

By looking at this IP with Shodan, we can get a dedicated hash for the SSH service, plus fingerprints to use on this IP, and then find other IPs used by the actor during their operations.

By using this hash, we were able to map the infrastructure by looking for other IPs sharing the same SSH key + fingerprintings.

At least 174 IPs are sharing the same SSH pattern (key, fingerprint, etc.); all findings are available in the IOCs section.

Some IPs are hosting different file types, maybe related to previous campaigns:

Figure 18. Open Directory website probably used by the same actor for previous campaigns

Figure 18. Open Directory website probably used by the same actor for previous campaigns

Bitcoin Interests

Most of the ransomware samples used by the actor mention different Bitcoin (BTC) addresses which we assume is an effort to obscure their activity.

By looking for transactions between those BTC addresses with CipherTrace, we can observe that all the addresses we extracted (see the circle highlighted with a yellow “1” below) from the samples we’ve found are related and eventually point to a single Bitcoin wallet, probably under control of the same threat actor.

From the three samples we researched, we were able to extract the following BTC addresses:

  • 3JG36KY6abZTnHBdQCon1hheC3Wa2bdyqs
  • 1Faiem4tYq7JQki1qeL1djjenSx3gCu1vk
  • bc1q2n23xxx2u8hqsnvezl9rewh2t8myz4rqvmdzh2

Figure 19. Follow the money with CipherTrace

Figure 19. Follow the money with CipherTrace

Ransomware Isn’t Just About Survival of the Fittest

As we have seen above, our example threat actor has evolved over time, moving from simplistic ransomware and demands in the hundreds of dollars, to toying with at least two builder leaks and ransom amounts in the thousands of dollars range.

While their activity to date suggests a low level of technical skill, the profits of their cybercrime may well prove large enough for them to make another level jump in the future.

Even if they stick with copy-pasting builders and crafting ‘stagers’, they will have the means at their disposal to create an efficient attack chain with which to compromise a company, extort money and improve their income to the point of becoming a bigger fish in a small pond, just like the larger RaaS crews.

In the meantime, such opportunitistic actors will continue to bait their hooks and catch any fish they can as, unlike affiliated ransomware operators, they do not have to follow any rules in return for support (pentest documentation, software, infrastructure, etc.) from the gang’s operators. Thus, they have a free hand to carry out their attacks and, if a victim wants to bite, they don’t care about ethics or who they target.

The good news for everyone else, however, is the fact that global law enforcement isn’t gonna need a bigger boat, as it already casts its nets far and wide.


Mitre Att&ck

Technique ID Technique Description Observable
T1189 Drive By Compromise The actor is using a fake Flash website to spread fake a Flash installer.
T1059.001 Command Scripting Interpreter: PowerShell PowerShell is used to launch command lines (delete shadow copies, etc.).
T1059.007 Command and Scripting Interpreter: JavaScript JavaScript is used in the fake Flash website to download the fake Flash installer.
T1112 Modify Registry To disable Windows Defender, the actor modifies registry. “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows Defender” and “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows Defender\Real-Time Protection”.
T1083 File and Directory Discovery The actor is listing files on the victim system.
T1057 Process Discovery The actor is listing running processes on the victim system.
T1012 Query Registry To perform some registry modifications, the actor is first querying registry path.
T1082 System Information Discovery Before encrypting files, the actor is listing hard drives.
T1056.001 Input Capture: Keylogging The exfiltration tool has the capability to log user keystrokes.
T1005 Data from Local System
T1571 Non-Standard Port The actor is using port “1177” to exfiltrate data.
T1048 Exfiltration Over Alternative Protocol
T1486 Data Encrypted for Impact Data encrypted by ransomware.
T1490 Inhibit System Recovery Delete Shadow Copies.


Detection Mechanisms

Sigma Rules

–          Shadow Copies Deletion Using Operating Systems Utilities:

–          Drops Script at Startup Location:

–          File Created with System Process Name:

–          Suspicious Svchost Process:

–          System File Execution Location Anomaly:

–          Delete Shadow copy via WMIC:

–          Always Install Elevated Windows Installer:


Yara Rules

Babuk Ransomware Windows

rule Ransom_Babuk {


description = “Rule to detect Babuk Locker”

author = “TS @ McAfee Enterprise ATR”

date = “2021-01-19”

hash = “e10713a4a5f635767dcd54d609bed977”

rule_version = “v2”

malware_family = “Ransom:Win/Babuk”

malware_type = “Ransom”

mitre_attack = “T1027, T1083, T1057, T1082, T1129, T1490, T1543.003”



$s1 = {005C0048006F007700200054006F00200052006500730074006F0072006500200059006F00750072002000460069006C00650073002E007400780074}

//  \ How To Restore Your Files .txt

$s2 = “delete shadows /all /quiet” fullword wide


$pattern1 = {006D656D74617300006D65706F63730000736F70686F730000766565616D0000006261636B7570000047785673730000004778426C7200

$pattern2 = {004163725363683253766300004163726F6E69734167656E74000000004341534144324457656253766300000043414152435570646174655376630000730071}

$pattern3 = {FFB0154000C78584FDFFFFB8154000C78588FDFFFFC0154000C7858CFDFFFFC8154000C78590FDFFFFD0154000C78594FDFFFFD8154

$pattern4 ={400010104000181040002010400028104000301040003810400040104000481040005010400058104000601040006C104000781040008



filesize >= 15KB and filesize <= 90KB and

1 of ($s*) and 3 of ($pattern*)



Exfiltration Tool

rule CRIME_Exfiltration_Tool_Oct2021 {


description = “Rule to detect tool used to exfiltrate data from victim systems”

author = “TS @ McAfee Enterprise ATR”

date = “2021-10-04”

hash = “ceb0e01d96f87af0e9b61955792139f8672cf788d506c71da968ca172ebddccd”



$pattern1 = {79FA442F5FB140695D7ED6FC6A61F3D52F37F24B2F454960F5D4810C05D7A83D4DD8E6118ABDE2055E4D

$pattern2 = {B4A6D4DD1BBEA16473940FC2DA103CD64579DD1A7EBDF30638A59E547B136E5AD113835B8294F53B8C3A

$pattern3 = {262E476A45A14D4AFA448AF81894459F7296633644F5FD061A647C6EF1BA950FF1ED48436D1BD4976BF8

$pattern4 = {F2A113713CCB049AFE352DB8F99160855125E5A045C9F6AC0DCA0AB615BD34367F2CA5156DCE5CA286CC



3 of ($pattern*)





Infrastructure URLs


Infrastructure Domains


Infrastructure IPs


Ransomware Hashes












Bitcoin Addresses









PowerShell Script



Exfiltration Tool




Fake Flash Player installer



Fake Anydesk Installer


Get the latest

We’re no strangers to cybersecurity. But we are a new company.
Stay up to date as we evolve.

Please enter a valid email address.

Zero spam. Unsubscribe at any time.