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4 tips to counter Matrix ransomware, a next-gen targeted malware

In a new report, security software firm Sophos claims to have tracked 96 samples of Matrix ransomware in the wild

SNS | New Delhi |

Matrix ransomware, which has been operating since 2016 and gives nightmares to the IT world, hit the database of the University of Madras last week. The attacker demanded a ransom of Rs 18 lakh to restore access to the data.

According to British security software and hardware firm Sophos, the attackers who are infecting computers with Matrix have been breaking in to enterprise networks and “infecting those computers over Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), a built-in remote access tool for Windows computers”.

In a new report about Matrix ransomware released on Tuesday, Sophos claims to have tracked 96 samples of Matrix ransomware in the wild.

Unlike the previous targeted ransomware including BitPaymer, Dharma and SamSam, Sophos claims, Matrix only targets a single machine on the network, rather than spreading widely through an organization.

“In its latest paper, SophosLabs reverse engineered the evolving code and techniques employed by the attackers, as well as the methods and ransom notes used to attempt to extract money from victims,” the company has said in a statement, adding: “The Matrix criminals evolved their attack parameters over time, with new files and scripts added to deploy different tasks and payloads onto the network.”

According to Sophos, Matrix ransom notes are embedded in the attack code, but victims don’t know how much they should pay until they contact the attackers. “For most of Matrix’s existence, the authors used a cryptographically-protected anonymous instant messaging service, called, but that service has now been discontinued and the authors have reverted to using normal email accounts,” says the security software company.

Matrix, it says, is like the Swiss Army Knife of the ransomware world, “with newer variants able to scan and find potential computer victims once inserted into the network”.

Matrix has been evolving since 2016 and its newer versions are appearing every now and then.

In the Sophos 2019 Threat Report, it was highlighted that targeted ransomware would be driving the hacker behaviour, and organisations needed to remain vigilant and work to ensure they were not an easy target.

Sophos recommends the following 4 security tips to counter Matrix ransomware:

  • Restrict access to remote control applications such as Remote Desktop (RDP) and VNC
  • Complete, regular vulnerability scans and penetration tests across the network; if you haven’t followed through on recent pen-testing reports, do it now. If you don’t heed the advice of your pentesters, the cybercriminals will win
  • Multi-factor authentication for sensitive internal systems, even for employees on the LAN or VPN
  • Create back-ups that are offline and offsite, and develop a disaster recovery plan that covers the restoration of data and systems for whole organizations, all at once