Conti is a new strain of ransomware recently discovered by Carbon Black’s Threat Analysis Unit (TAU). Most features of the ransomware are commonly used by other ransomware, but what stands out are some of its features for speed and efficiency. Analysis by TAU revealed that Conti uses 32 threads for encryption. Multi-threading in malware is nothing new, but rarely do we ever see samples attempt to use that much of the CPU.
A second notable feature is that Conti has command line switches for running in local-only, network-only, and a more manual mode that accepts a list of hosts. While it can be run without any command line arguments, these switches suggest that Conti may also be run by the actor at times, rather than complete automation with the goal of spreading across the enterprise. If run with the “-h” switch to specify hosts, Conti will first port scan the provided list to look for open SMB shares. Rather than connecting to every network share, it retrieves the ARP cache of the victim’s system to focus only on network shares that the victim normally connects to.
The most notable feature pointed out by TAU is Conti’s use of the Windows Restart Manager. Not many other malware families currently use this feature, but it can be abused to ensure maximum damage is caused. Some applications on Windows can “lock” files so that only that process can make changes, preventing corruption. With the Windows Restart Manager, however, an application could forcefully unlock a file. Abuse of this would allow ransomware to encrypt files that would have otherwise been safe.
Many attacks (not just ransomware) can be prevented through a combination of email gateway monitoring and security education focused on phishing. Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) is also a common vector of attack in ransom cases. RDP should only be accessible from within an organization’s network, using a VPN to provide secure remote connectivity, rather than allowing direct connections from the Internet. Organizations should also consider deploying an endpoint monitoring solution to monitor for suspicious actions taken by malicious actors. Managed security services such as the Binary Defense Security Operations Center (SOC) can provide 24/7 monitoring to quickly detect, contain, and alert security teams to threats before they have the chance to spread throughout the network.