The Florida company whose software was exploited in the devastating Fourth of July weekend ransomware attack, Kaseya, has received a universal key that will decrypt all of the more than 1,000 businesses and public organizations crippled in the global incident.
Kaseya spokeswoman Dana Liedholm would not say Thursday how the key was obtained or whether a ransom was paid. She said only that it came from a “trusted third party” and that Kaseya was distributing it to all victims. The cybersecurity firm Emsisoft confirmed that the key worked and was providing support.
Ransomware analysts offered multiple possible explanations for why the master key, which can unlock the scrambled data of all the attack's victims, has now appeared. They include: Kaseya paid; a government paid; a number of victims pooled funds; the Kremlin seized the key from the criminals and handed it over through intermediaries — or perhaps the attack's principle protagonist didn't get paid by the gang whose ransomware was used.
Q&A: How ransomware works
What is ransomware and how does it work?
Ransomware scrambles the target organization's data with encryption. The criminals leave instructions on infected computers for negotiating ransom payments. Once paid, they provide decryption keys for unlocking those files.
Ransomware crooks have also expanded into data-theft blackmail. Before triggering encryption, they sometimes quietly copy sensitive files and threaten to post them publicly unless they get their ransom payments.
How do ransomware gangs operate?
The criminal syndicates that dominate the ransomware business are mostly Russian-speaking and operate with near impunity out of Russia and allied countries. Though barely a blip three years ago, the syndicates have grown in sophistication and skill. They leverage dark web forums to organize and recruit while hiding their identities and movements with sophisticated tools and cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin that make payments — and their laundering — harder to track.
Most experts have tied the Kaseya attack to a group known as REvil, the same ransomware provider that the FBI linked to an attack on JBS SA, a major global meat processor, amid the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
Active since April 2019, the group provides ransomware-as-a-service, meaning it develops the network-paralyzing software and leases it to so-called affiliates who infect targets and earn the lion's share of ransoms.
Who is most often targeted?
The scale of the attack affecting Kaseya is not yet clear, but it's already been blamed for closing stores across a grocery chain in Sweden because their cash registers weren't working.
Last year alone in the U.S., ransomware gangs hit more than 100 federal, state and municipal agencies, upwards of 500 health care centers, 1,680 educational institutions and untold thousands of businesses, according to the cybersecurity firm Emsisoft. Dollar losses are in the tens of billions.
Accurate numbers are elusive. Many victims shun reporting, fearing the reputational blight.