February 6, 2020 By David Bisson 2 min read

Security researchers observed that EKANS ransomware has the ability to stop processes related to an organization’s industrial control systems (ICS).

In its analysis, Dragos observed that EKANS ransomware first checks for the “EKANS” Mutex value on a victim’s machine. If it uncovers this value, the threat ceases its activity. Otherwise, it sets the Mutex value and then kills several processes associated with ICS operations.

The sample analyzed by Dragos lacked the ability to inject commands into or otherwise change those ICS processes. Even so, researchers noted that the threat could render a loss of view condition on the network if executed on the right type of system. At that point, EKANS proceeded with its file encryption process before dropping its ransom note.

Dragos noted that the ransomware was not programmed to reboot or shut down the system or to close remote access channels. The lack of this capability makes the EKANS sample analyzed by the security firm less disruptive than some ransomware families that have previously targeted ICS systems. Even so, researchers noted that there’s still uncertainty over whether EKANS can produce what they called “inadvertent loss of control situations.”

Ties to Another Ransomware Family

While investigating the ransomware, Dragos discovered that the EKANS sample behaved like the MegaCortex family in that it didn’t come with a built-in propagation mechanism. It found that the threat spread using scripts or an Active Directory compromise instead. This technique enabled EKANS to perpetrate a large-scale compromise of an enterprise’s network, the researchers noted.

That’s not the only connection that Dragos found between EKANS and MegaCortex, the ransomware that attracted the attention of Trend Micro in May 2019 when it began targeting enterprise networks. The security firm noted that EKANS’ process kill activity was similar to functionality observed by Accenture in “version 2” of MegaCortex back in mid-2019. Additionally, Dragos discovered that all of the processes listed in EKANS’ list appeared in MegaCortex’s kill list.

How to Defend Against EKANS Ransomware

Security professionals can help their organizations defend against an EKANS ransomware infection by using the latest threat intelligence to track the emergence of new ransomware families and techniques. Companies with connections to critical infrastructure or with large operational technology environments should also invest in additional staff education and the creation of a testing program for evaluating the security preparedness of their organization’s critical ICS components.

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