German investigators have reportedly identified a Russian man whom they believe to be one of REvil ransomware gang’s core members, one of the most notorious and successful ransomware groups in recent years. The man is presenting himself as a cryptocurrency investor and trader, but German authorities (including Bundeskriminalamt and Landeskriminalamt Baden-Württemberg) think otherwise after tracking some of the Bitcoin payments he made over the years. While the suspect’s real identity has not been revealed, German media is calling him by the fictitious name ‘Nikolay K.’, and report that investigators linked him to Bitcoin ransom payments associated with the GandCrab ransomware group. Law enforcement tracked these payments following attacks against a software development firm and the State Theater in Stuttgart. The same sources claim that the investigators have found strong links between REvil and GandCrab, something that has been suggested numerous times by security researchers and analysts. Nikolay K. didn’t hold back when it came to boasting on social media and showcasing his holidays on the Mediterranean, posting images from lavish yacht parties. But he wasn’t careful enough when it came to hiding his true identity, falsely assuming that masking his links to ransomware operations with crypto-investment would be enough.
Even as authorities crack down on major ransomware groups like REvil, ransomware continues to be a large threat to any business. Initial footholds into networks are often achieved by brute forcing Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) and Virtual Private Network (VPN) access points, or through malicious documents attached to phishing emails. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) should be enabled for all remote access points and educate users to be able to recognize and report phishing emails. Furthermore, have multiple backups, including offline backups, and practice an Incident Response plan to be prepared to get back up and running quickly after a ransomware incident. Having good endpoint detection with an EDR product and a service like Binary Defense to triage alerts is also important. Since ransomware threat actors exfiltrate data and release it on their websites, it is all the more important to prevent a ransomware incident from happening in the first place rather than simply being prepared to restore from backups.