As everybody else winds down for the holidays, the cybercriminals behind Cerber are busy ramping up their operations.

Following our discovery of a spam campaign that takes advantage of holiday shopping, we found two new campaigns that continue distributing the latest variants of Cerber ransomware. These campaigns are the latest in a series of persistent cybercriminal efforts that keep Cerber constantly active.


Figure 1. Cerber activity trending in the past three months

First, we detected a fresh spam campaign that delivers document files in password-protected .zip archives. The emails use simple subject lines like “Howdy” or “Hello”, while the email body seem to keep the holiday shopping theme with messages like “your order should be delivered today” and “Statement is attached”. The password to the archive, which is usually “6666” in this campaign, is in the email body.


Figure 2. Sample spam email from recent Donoff campaign that distributes a new version of Cerber

When extracted, the document files run malicious macro code detected by Windows Defender as TrojanDownloader:O97M/Donoff. Donoff is a Trojan downloader that installs malware; in this campaign, it downloads and executes Cerber.

Our tracking of Donoff activity shows a spike corresponding to the email campaign.


Figure 3. Donoff activity for the past 30 days

The second campaign that we discovered distributing Cerber ransomware uses the RIG exploit kit, which Windows Defender detects as Exploit:HTML/Meadgive. When a user accesses a compromised page or an attacker-controlled website hosting the exploit kit, vulnerabilities like CVE-2015-8651 are exploited, and Cerber is downloaded and executed on the computer.

Telemetry from Windows Defender shows that this latest exploit kit attack that leads to Cerber largely affects Asia and Europe.


Figure 4. Geographic distribution of victims of recent RIG exploit kit distributing Cerber

The two campaigns deliver variants of the new version of Cerber ransomware. These new iterations of the malware sport updated configuration and behavior, demonstrating that the cybercriminals behind them are not slowing down in evolving the malware.

Below are the notable updates seen in the latest version of Cerber:

  1. As with the holiday-themed campaign from a few weeks ago, these new Cerber variants arrive with a wallpaper that is noticeably modified from previous versions’ green palette to red:

    Figure 5. New Cerber wallpaper, which changed its color palette
  2. Another level of obfuscation is used: UPX on the top of the Nullsoft installer and custom encryption used by older versions.
  3. The configuration, which contains the most important data that determine the behavior of the ransomware, are encrypted using RC4 just like older versions, but using Crypto APIs instead of custom implementation.
  4. Threat version information, which has been useful in tracking the evolution of Cerber, is nowhere to be found in the configuration.
  5. More than 50 new file name extensions are added as targets for encryption; on the other hand, several file name extensions, including .exe., .cmd, and .msi, are exempted from the encryption routine; this latter behavior has been observed in other prominent ransomware families, but we’re seeing it for the first time with Cerber.
  6. Folders that are prioritized during encryption include new ones, like microsoft\onenotemicrosoft\outlook, and \microsoft\excel\, among others; however, folders that are exempted from the encryption routine now include “$windows.~ws”, “intel”, and “windows10upgrade”, among others
  7. Shadow copies are no longer deleted.
  8. Payment site provided is now a single Tor proxy site, compared to three proxy sites in older versions.
  9. The cybercriminals added two new sets of IP ranges where command-and-control (C&C) servers reside.

For cybercriminals, releasing a new version of malware not only increases likelihood of evading antivirus detection; it’s also a way of increasing the complexity of malware. Cerber’s long list of updated behavior indicates that the cybercriminals are highly motivated to continue improving the malware and the campaigns that deliver it.

It is important to note that one of the most critical updates in this latest version of Cerber is the new folders it prioritizes during encryption. The added folders, which include microsoft\onenotemicrosoft\outlook, and \microsoft\excel\ among others, is further indication that the malware is designed to look for critical Microsoft Office files to encrypt in enterprise environments.

Stopping Cerber infection in Windows 10

Windows 10 has security technologies that can detect this new batch of updated Cerber ransomwre. Keep your computers up-to-date in order to get the benefits from the latest features and proactive mitigation built into the latest versions of Windows.

Windows Defender detects the new version of Cerber ransomware as Win32/Cerber. It also detects files related to the two campaigns that deliver the ransomware: the malicious attachments used in the spam campaign as TrojanDownloader:O97M/Donoff, and the RIG exploit kit as Exploit:HTML/Meadgive.

Microsoft Edge can help prevent exploit kits from running and executing ransomware on computers. SmartScreen Filter uses URL reputation to block access to malicious sites, such as those hosting exploit kits.

Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection blocks malicious emails that spread malicious documents that could eventually install Cerber.

Device guard protects systems from malicious applications like ransomware by maintaining a custom catalog of known good applications and stopping kernel-level malware with virtualization-based security.

IT administrators can use Group Policy in Office 2016 to block known malicious macros, such as the documents in password-protected email attachments used in this campaign, from running. They can also use AppLocker group policy to prevent dubious software from running.

IT administrators can also use Windows Defender Advanced Threat Protection to get alerts when suspicious activities are observed in the network, allowing them detect, investigate, and respond to ransomware infection and other advanced attacks on enterprise networks.

An in-depth look at the spam campaign

Beyond providing protection, Microsoft Malware Protection Center (MMPC) monitors and analyzes Cerber and related campaigns in-depth in order to discern trends and gain deeper understanding of cybercriminal activity. This is how we were able to trace the evolution of Cerber and see the signs that it’s not letting up.

Cerber has historically heavily used email as a primary infection vector. It is no different in this campaign.


Figure 6. Another sample spam email from recent Donoff campaign that distributes a new version of Cerber

The attachment is usually a password-protected .zip archive that contains a macro malware in the form of a Microsoft Word document. When opened, the archive prompts for a password, which is indicated in the email body. This is a change from past campaigns, which password-protected the document, rather than the .zip file itself.


Figure 7. Attachment is a password-protected .zip archive

When extracted and executed, the document attempts to run its malicious macro code. Thus, Microsoft Office warns users about manually enabling macro, empowering users to block infection at this point. The document lures users to enable macro by faking a Microsoft Word message.


Figure 8. Malicious document lures users into enabling macro

The macro code contains obfuscated downloading routines, as seen below.


Figure 9. Malware code showing obfuscated download link

The macro code executes the following PowerShell command to attempt to download and execute Cerber in the %AppData% folder:


Figure 10. Malware code showing PowerShell command

An in-depth look at the new Cerber version

The latest version of Cerber protects the configuration data embedded in the malware binary using RC4. However, while older versions use custom codes to implement RC4, this new version uses Crypto APIs. The RC4 key is still embedded in the malware binary.


Figure 11. Code to pass RC4key and encrypted config data to the decryptor


Figure 12. RC4 decryption using crypto APIs

Cerber adds more than 50 file name extensions to its file encryption routine, bringing the total number of target file types to 493:

































However, new to this version is a list of file name extensions exempted from encryption:

  • .bat
  • .cmd
  • .com
  • .cpl
  • .dll
  • .exe
  • .hta
  • .msc
  • .msi
  • .msp
  • .pif
  • .scf
  • .scr
  • .sys

It adds new folders to a list that it prioritizes when searching for files to encrypt, indicating this new version is particularly going after Microsoft Office documents:

  • \bitcoin\ (new)
  • \excel\
  • \microsoft sql server\
  • \microsoft\excel\ (new)
  • \microsoft\microsoft sql server\
  • \microsoft\office\ (new)
  • \microsoft\onenote\ (new)
  • \microsoft\outlook\ (new)
  • \microsoft\powerpoint\ (new)
  • \microsoft\word\ (new)
  • \office\ (new)
  • \onenote\
  • \outlook\
  • \powerpoint\
  • \steam\
  • \the bat!\
  • \thunderbird\
  • \word\ (new)

But it adds a few more folders to its list of exemptions:

  • \$getcurrent\ (new)
  • \$recycle.bin\ (new)
  • \$windows.~bt\
  • \$windows.~ws\ (new)
  • \boot\
  • \documents and settings\all users\
  • \documents and settings\default user\
  • \documents and settings\localservice\
  • \documents and settings\networkservice\
  • \intel\ (new)
  • \msocache\ (new)
  • \perflogs\ (new)
  • \program files (x86)\
  • \program files\
  • \programdata\
  • \recovery\ (new)
  • \recycled\ (new)
  • \recycler\ (new)
  • \system volume information\ (new)
  • \temp\ (new)
  • \users\all users\
  • \windows.old\
  • \windows10upgrade\ (new)
  • \windows\
  • \winnt\ (new)
  • \appdata\local\
  • \appdata\locallow\
  • \appdata\roaming\ (made more generic)
  • \local settings\
  • \public\music\sample music\
  • \public\pictures\sample pictures\
  • \public\videos\sample videos\
  • \tor browser\

It drops the ransom note, which contains instruction for decryption, as _README_{RAND}_.hta; for example, _README_2Rg927_.hta.


Figure 13. Ransom note

As of this writing, Cerber uses two new sets of IP ranges where C&C server could reside:

  • (new)
  • (new)
  • (new)
  • (new)
  • (new)

Indicators of compromise

The following files were used for this analysis:

Malicious .zip attachment:

  • 7be5e805c5bcb57fcfc3a9ab37292603d73086c4

Extracted document with macro code:

  • 6a9e8990add357af0621dcd04600e5fcc9ebac23

Cerber variants downloaded by macro malware from hxxps://

  • 4f02e747bc68262c2cf24dffaf792d51a57b02bd
  • 60c4c6e3f6d196278c0fd111aec0faafb003c4a0
  • 99f49b70685803e019734c457b1c77e9c7de5531
  • 55f72229d0552daf28744c97c88585b585fa159b
  • 8994e43317df691ad9796c95700a827ca613bdca
  • 7b318f8a59dc2a6ecd261ffd9b6ab27287a811d6
  • e049242200300dbce7aaf80c2235b94d0cea582a
  • ab0e408c2fc40996c8b9c3ab6e3aa1f88d22b656
  • 9d5ae07111c8c89d4fa92160c00f669f8eb15ddd
  • c46a426459c170c886e9f49b0c07cd3f1cc61ff2
  • 3fc3b16b915a17cb1c2c8e853c3f0a0c11c3715b
  • 3352c25b4dc695a344d4ca34c3efdc1e95a7b0ce
  • 5a7116673ab853505e2861240bf3a3d6cfccfc27
  • 5c09449b2413c41cf8f1ec64698d9bc4571ed744
  • 350ee3cee88cb1bb11cddc5c7e55eccadd3dc8fe
  • 67c948556bc2fabfcdc4e4dbcf2bf14cdbe73d51
  • f39b72e853ed743b8a9a2946d79f4fa1c91bfd5e

Cerber variants installed by RIG (aka Meadgive) exploit kit:

  • 9952b68f6d7965f9775946ba6d78638efa00d5e4
  • 75dcf470ef61b63f76865df9c1ed8edcf1c3f6d9
Posted on January 6, 2017 .

Call 1-800-xxx-xxxx Scam

The 1-800 pop-ups are caused by an ad-supported extension for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome, which is distributed through various monetization platforms during installation. The malicious browser extensions is typically added when you install another free software (video recording/streaming, download-managers or PDF creators) that had bundled into their installation this adware program.
When an adware extension is installed on your computer, whenever you will open a new tab within Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome, an ad from 1-800 will pop-up.
1-800 is a malicious website which is used by cyber criminals to promote their remote support services. The 1-800 bogus pop-up ad will state that you computer is infected and that you need to call their paid support service to remove the infection. This is a bogus claim, and an attempt to make you pay $199 for their “services”.
Other common symptoms include:


  • Advertising banners are injected with the web pages that you are visiting.
  • Random web page text is turned into hyperlinks.
  • Browser popups appear which recommend fake updates or other software.
  • Other unwanted adware programs might get installed without the user’s knowledge.

You should always pay attention when installing software because often, a software installer includes optional installs, such as this program that is causing the 1-800 redirect. Be very careful what you agree to install.
Always opt for the custom installation and deselect anything that is not familiar, especially optional software that you never wanted to download and install in the first place. It goes without saying that you should not install software that you don’t trust.

A simple CTRL ALT Delete key stroke will get your task manager up and you can then close the Browser from there. as they have made it where you can not close it the normal way.

Posted on August 17, 2016 .

Microsoft will NOT call you !

This Microsoft impersonation scam has been around since at least 2009 and has been run on computer users in numerous countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and England. The usual setup is for the scammers to call you and identify themselves as technicians from Microsoft (or some Microsoft-related company), then tell you that your Windows-based computer has a virus (or other problem) that is causing it to generate all sorts of error messages on the Internet and many bad things will happen if you don't correct the issue immediately. And the handy techs who just called you are ready to step in and solve your problem — for a fee, of course. 

In short, Microsoft does not contact people out of the blue to tell them there's something wrong with their computers. Ergo, unless you've initiated contact with Microsoft about a computer problem you're having, you should dismiss as frauds any phone calls, e-mails, online chat dialogues, and the like from folks who claim they work for Microsoft and have spotted something wrong with your computer. 

The scammers running this type of fraud pretend they're from the software company's technical support department when they telephone to inform householders that their computers have been infected with a virus. Often the scam pitch begins "I'm calling for Microsoft. We've had a report from your internet service provider of serious virus problems from your computer." The caller warns that if the problem is not solved the computer will become unusable and then offers to repair the problem. 

The ultimate goal of the fraud varies depending upon which con artists are running it. Some crossroaders set up the confused householders to buy overpriced (and worthless) anti-virus protection. Others, under the guise of selling a solution to the victim's computer virus "problem," go after their pigeons' bank account info, then make hefty withdrawals once they have it. Yet others look to take remote control of the computers belonging to those they dupe. The last of these appears to be the most common form of the scam; in that iteration, con artists direct their intended victims to access a particular website and download a program from it. By doing so, those users enable remote access to their computers. 

These scammers are known for being tenacious. I once received a call from one such scammer, and even after I identified myself, informed the caller that I knew he was running a scam, pointed out that I write about scams like these for a living, threatened to call the FTC and report him, and told him I knew he was lying because I had no Windows-based PC at home, he still wouldn't give up on trying to sell me his "service" or acknowledge he was a scammer. 

Microsoft says about this fraud that: 



Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls to help you fix your computer 

In this scam cybercriminals call you and claim to be from Microsoft Tech Support. They offer to help solve your computer problems. Once the crooks have gained your trust, they attempt to steal from you and damage your computer with malware including viruses and spyware. 

Although law enforcement can trace phone numbers, perpetrators often use pay phones, disposable cellular phones, or stolen cellular phone numbers. It's better to avoid being conned rather than try to repair damage afterwards. 

Treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism. Do not provide any personal information. 

If you receive an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft Tech Support, hang up. We do not make these kinds of calls.

Posted on January 12, 2016 .

Change Your Facebook Password

A Lot of Facebook accounts are being hacked recently. It's a good idea to change your Facebook password.

Hackers put on spam as you and some of it you sure don't want people to think it's coming from you. BTW it does not show up on your timeline so you don't see it. Just go to your home page and hit the gear in the upper right.

Remember passwords with letters and numbers small case and upper and special keys are the hardest to crack. Be sure to safely save your passwords. That means don't name a file "All my Passwords" and put it in my documents folder. Only saying cause people do ... LOL.

Posted on March 14, 2014 .

Be My Friend (Again?)

If you have a friend that now is asking you to friend them again ... beware ... that may not be the person you think they are. Look at their profile ... Does it list their town they are in ... Birthday ... etc ... Are they messaging you and never have in the past?

All signs they are not who you think they are. Do Not add them as a friend and if you have, you will see you them twice in your Facebook friends ... Unfriendly the bad one ... when the person changes their password it will ask them if they want to sign out everywhere and they say YES ... they will not be able to get back in to become them.

Posted on March 7, 2014 .