#StopRansomware: Akira Ransomware

SUMMARY

Note: This joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) is part of an ongoing #StopRansomware effort to publish advisories for network defenders that detail various ransomware variants and ransomware threat actors. These #StopRansomware advisories include recently and historically observed tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) and indicators of compromise (IOCs) to help organizations protect against ransomware. Visit stopransomware.gov to see all #StopRansomware advisories and to learn more about other ransomware threats and no-cost resources.

The United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3), and the Netherlands’ National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC-NL) are releasing this joint CSA to disseminate known Akira ransomware IOCs and TTPs identified through FBI investigations and trusted third party reporting as recently as February 2024.

Since March 2023, Akira ransomware has impacted a wide range of businesses and critical infrastructure entities in North America, Europe, and Australia. In April 2023, following an initial focus on Windows systems, Akira threat actors deployed a Linux variant targeting VMware ESXi virtual machines. As of January 1, 2024, the ransomware group has impacted over 250 organizations and claimed approximately $42 million (USD) in ransomware proceeds.

Early versions of the Akira ransomware variant were written in C++ and encrypted files with a .akira extension; however, beginning in August 2023, some Akira attacks began deploying Megazord, using Rust-based code which encrypts files with a .powerranges extension.  Akira threat actors have continued to use both Megazord and Akira, including Akira_v2 (identified by trusted third party investigations) interchangeably.

The FBI, CISA, EC3, and NCSC-NL encourage organizations to implement the recommendations in the Mitigations section of this CSA to reduce the likelihood and impact of ransomware incidents.

Download the PDF version of this report:

TECHNICAL DETAILS

Note: This advisory uses the MITRE ATT&CK® for Enterprise framework, version 14. See MITRE ATT&CK for Enterprise for all referenced tactics and techniques.

Initial Access

The FBI and cybersecurity researchers have observed Akira threat actors obtaining initial access to organizations through a virtual private network (VPN) service without multifactor authentication (MFA) configured[1], mostly using known Cisco vulnerabilities [T1190CVE-2020-3259 and CVE-2023-20269.[2],[3],[4] Additional methods of initial access include the use of external-facing services such as Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) [T1133], spear phishing [T1566.001][T1566.002], and the abuse of valid credentials[T1078].[4]

Persistence and Discovery

Once initial access is obtained, Akira threat actors attempt to abuse the functions of domain controllers by creating new domain accounts [T1136.002] to establish persistence. In some instances, the FBI identified Akira threat actors creating an administrative account named itadm.

According to FBI and open source reporting, Akira threat actors leverage post-exploitation attack techniques, such as Kerberoasting[5], to extract credentials stored in the process memory of the Local Security Authority Subsystem Service (LSASS) [T1003.001].[6] Akira threat actors also use credential scraping tools [T1003] like Mimikatz and LaZagne to aid in privilege escalation. Tools like SoftPerfect and Advanced IP Scanner are often used for network device discovery (reconnaissance) purposes [T1016] and net Windows commands are used to identify domain controllers [T1018] and gather information on domain trust relationships [T1482].

See Table 1 for a descriptive listing of these tools.

Defense Evasion

Based on trusted third party investigations, Akira threat actors have been observed deploying two distinct ransomware variants against different system architectures within the same compromise event. This marks a shift from recently reported Akira ransomware activity. Akira threat actors were first observed deploying the Windows-specific “Megazord” ransomware, with further analysis revealing that a second payload was concurrently deployed in this attack (which was later identified as a novel variant of the Akira ESXi encryptor, “Akira_v2”).

As Akira threat actors prepare for lateral movement, they commonly disable security software to avoid detection. Cybersecurity researchers have observed Akira threat actors using PowerTool to exploit the Zemana AntiMalware driver[4] and terminate antivirus-related processes [T1562.001].

Exfiltration and Impact

Akira threat actors leverage tools such as FileZilla, WinRAR [T1560.001], WinSCP, and RClone to exfiltrate data [T1048]. To establish command and control channels, threat actors leverage readily available tools like AnyDesk, MobaXterm, RustDesk, Ngrok, and Cloudflare Tunnel, enabling exfiltration through various protocols such as File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP), and cloud storage services like Mega [T1537] to connect to exfiltration servers.

Akira threat actors use a double-extortion model [T1657] and encrypt systems [T1486] after exfiltrating data. The Akira ransom note provides each company with a unique code and instructions to contact the threat actors via a .onion URL. Akira threat actors do not leave an initial ransom demand or payment instructions on compromised networks, and do not relay this information until contacted by the victim. Ransom payments are paid in Bitcoin to cryptocurrency wallet addresses provided by the threat actors. To further apply pressure, Akira threat actors threaten to publish exfiltrated data on the Tor network, and in some instances have called victimized companies, according to FBI reporting.

Encryption

Akira threat actors utilize a sophisticated hybrid encryption scheme to lock data. This involves combining a ChaCha20 stream cipher with an RSA public-key cryptosystem for speed and secure key exchange [T1486]. This multilayered approach tailors encryption methods based on file type and size and is capable of full or partial encryption. Encrypted files are appended with either a .akira or .powerranges extension. To further inhibit system recovery, Akira’s encryptor (w.exe) utilizes PowerShell commands to delete volume shadow copies (VSS) on Windows systems [T1490]. Additionally, a ransom note named fn.txt appears in both the root directory (C:) and each users’ home directory (C:Users).

Trusted third party analysis identified that the Akira_v2 encryptor is an upgrade from its previous version, which includes additional functionalities due to the language it’s written in (Rust). Previous versions of the encryptor provided options to insert arguments at runtime, including:

  • -p --encryption_path (targeted file/folder paths)
  • -s --share_file (targeted network drive path)
  • -n --encryption_percent (percentage of encryption)
  • --fork (create a child process for encryption

The ability to insert additional threads allows Akira threat actors to have more granular control over the number of CPU cores in use, increasing the speed and efficiency of the encryption process. The new version also adds a layer of protection, utilizing the Build ID as a run condition to hinder dynamic analysis. The encryptor is unable to execute successfully without the unique Build ID. The ability to deploy against only virtual machines using “vmonly” and the ability to stop running virtual machines with “stopvm” functionalities have also been observed implemented for Akira_v2. After encryption, the Linux ESXi variant may include the file extension “akiranew” or add a ransom note named “akiranew.txt” in directories where files were encrypted with the new nomenclature.

Leveraged Tools

Table 1 lists publicly available tools and applications Akira threat actors have used, including legitimate tools repurposed for their operations. Use of these tools and applications should not be attributed as malicious without analytical evidence to support threat actor use and/or control.

Table 1: Tools Leveraged by Akira Ransomware Actors
NameDescription
AdFindAdFind.exe is used to query and retrieve information from Active Directory.
Advanced IP ScannerA network scanner is used to locate all the computers on a network and conduct a scan of their ports. The program shows all network devices, gives access to shared folders, and provides remote control of computers (via RDP and Radmin).
AnyDeskA common software that can be maliciously used by threat actors to obtain remote access and maintain persistence [T1219]. AnyDesk also supports remote file transfer.
LaZagneAllows users to recover stored passwords on Windows, Linux, and OSX systems.
PCHunter64A tool used to acquire detailed process and system information [T1082].[7]
PowerShellA cross-platform task automation solution made up of a command line shell, a scripting language, and a configuration management framework, which runs on Windows, Linux, and macOS.
MimikatzAllows users to view and save authentication credentials such as Kerberos tickets.
NgrokA reverse proxy tool [T1090] used to create a secure tunnel to servers behind firewalls or local machines without a public IP address.
RCloneA command line program used to sync files with cloud storage services [T1567.002] such as Mega.
SoftPerfectA network scanner (netscan.exe) used to ping computers, scan ports, discover shared folders, and retrieve information about network devices via Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP), HTTP, Secure Shell (SSH) and PowerShell. It also scans for remote services, registry, files, and performance counters.
WinRARUsed to split compromised data into segments and to compress [T1560.001] files into .RAR format for exfiltration.
WinSCPWindows Secure Copy is a free and open source SSH File Transfer Protocol, File Transfer Protocol, WebDAV, Amazon S3, and secure copy protocol client. Akira threat actors have used it to transfer data [T1048] from a compromised network to actor-controlled accounts.

Indicators of Compromise

Disclaimer: Investigation or vetting of these indicators is recommended prior to taking action, such as blocking.

Table 2a: Malicious Files Affiliated with Akira Ransomware
File NameHash (SHA-256)Description
w.exed2fd0654710c27dcf37b6c1437880020824e161dd0bf28e3a133ed777242a0caAkira ransomware
Win.exedcfa2800754e5722acf94987bb03e814edcb9acebda37df6da1987bf48e5b05eAkira ransomware encryptor
AnyDesk.exebc747e3bf7b6e02c09f3d18bdd0e64eef62b940b2f16c9c72e647eec85cf0138Remote desktop application
Gcapi.dll73170761d6776c0debacfbbc61b6988cb8270a20174bf5c049768a264bb8ffafDLL file that assists with the execution of AnyDesk.exe
Sysmon.exe1b60097bf1ccb15a952e5bcc3522cf5c162da68c381a76abc2d5985659e4d386Ngrok tool for persistence
Config.ymlVaries by useNgrok configuration file
Rclone.exeaaa647327ba5b855bedea8e889b3fafdc05a6ca75d1cfd98869432006d6fecc9Exfiltration tool
Winscp.rnd7d6959bb7a9482e1caa83b16ee01103d982d47c70c72fdd03708e2b7f4c552c4Network file transfer program
WinSCP-6.1.2-Setup.exe36cc31f0ab65b745f25c7e785df9e72d1c8919d35a1d7bd4ce8050c8c068b13cNetwork file transfer program
Akira_v2

3298d203c2acb68c474e5fdad8379181890b4403d6491c523c13730129be3f75

0ee1d284ed663073872012c7bde7fac5ca1121403f1a5d2d5411317df282796c

Akira_v2 ransomware
Megazord

ffd9f58e5fe8502249c67cad0123ceeeaa6e9f69b4ec9f9e21511809849eb8fc

dfe6fddc67bdc93b9947430b966da2877fda094edf3e21e6f0ba98a84bc53198

131da83b521f610819141d5c740313ce46578374abb22ef504a7593955a65f07

9f393516edf6b8e011df6ee991758480c5b99a0efbfd68347786061f0e04426c

9585af44c3ff8fd921c713680b0c2b3bbc9d56add848ed62164f7c9b9f23d065

2f629395fdfa11e713ea8bf11d40f6f240acf2f5fcf9a2ac50b6f7fbc7521c83

7f731cc11f8e4d249142e99a44b9da7a48505ce32c4ee4881041beeddb3760be

95477703e789e6182096a09bc98853e0a70b680a4f19fa2bf86cbb9280e8ec5a

0c0e0f9b09b80d87ebc88e2870907b6cacb4cd7703584baf8f2be1fd9438696d

C9c94ac5e1991a7db42c7973e328fceeb6f163d9f644031bdfd4123c7b3898b0

Akira “Megazord” ransomware
VeeamHax.exeaaa6041912a6ba3cf167ecdb90a434a62feaf08639c59705847706b9f492015dPlaintext credential leaking tool
Veeam-Get-Creds.ps118051333e658c4816ff3576a2e9d97fe2a1196ac0ea5ed9ba386c46defafdb88PowerShell script for obtaining and decrypting accounts from Veeam servers
PowershellKerberos TicketDumper5e1e3bf6999126ae4aa52146280fdb913912632e8bac4f54e98c58821a307d32Kerberos ticket dumping tool from LSA cache
sshd.exe8317ff6416af8ab6eb35df3529689671a700fdb61a5e6436f4d6ea8ee002d694OpenSSH Backdoor
sshd.exe8317ff6416af8ab6eb35df3529689671a700fdb61a5e6436f4d6ea8ee002d694OpenSSH Backdoor
ipscan-3.9.1-setup.exe892405573aa34dfc49b37e4c35b655543e88ec1c5e8ffb27ab8d1bbf90fc6ae0Network scanner that scans IP addresses and ports
Table 2b: Malicious Files Affiliated with Akira Ransomware
File NameHash (MD5)Description
winrar-x64-623.exe7a647af3c112ad805296a22b2a276e7cNetwork file transfer program
Table 3a: Commands Affiliated with Akira Ransomware
Persistence and Discovery
nltest /dclist: [T1018]
nltest /DOMAIN_TRUSTS [T1482]
net group “Domain admins” /dom [T1069.002]
net localgroup “Administrators” /dom [T1069.001]
tasklist [T1057]
rundll32.exe c:WindowsSystem32comsvcs.dll, MiniDump ((Get-Process lsass).Id) C:windowstemplsass.dmp full [T1003.001]
Table 3b: Commands Affiliated with Akira Ransomware
Credential Access

cmd.exe /Q /c esentutl.exe /y

“C:UsersAppDataRoamingMozillaFirefoxProfiles.default-releasekey4.db” /d

“C:UsersAppDataRoamingMozillaFirefoxProfiles.default-releasekey4.db.tmp”

Note: Used for accessing Firefox data.

Table 3c: Commands Affiliated with Akira Ransomware
Impact
powershell.exe -Command “Get-WmiObject Win32_Shadowcopy | Remove-WmiObject” [T1490]

MITRE ATT&CK TACTICS AND TECHNIQUES

See Tables 4 -12 for all referenced Akira threat actor tactics and techniques for enterprise environments in this advisory. For assistance with mapping malicious cyber activity to the MITRE ATT&CK framework, see CISA and MITRE ATT&CK’s Best Practices for MITRE ATT&CK Mapping and CISA’s Decider Tool.

Table 4: Initial Access
Technique TitleIDUse
Valid AccountsT1078Akira threat actors obtain and abuse credentials of existing accounts as a means of gaining initial access.
Exploit Public Facing ApplicationT1190Akira threat actors exploit vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems to gain access to systems.
External Remote ServicesT1133Akira threat actors have used remote access services, such as RDP/VPN connection to gain initial access.
Phishing: Spearphishing Attachment T1566.001Akira threat actors use phishing emails with malicious attachments to gain access to networks.
Phishing: Spearphishing Link T1566.002Akira threat actors use phishing emails with malicious links to gain access to networks. 
Table 5: Credential Access
Technique TitleIDUse
OS Credential DumpingT1003Akira threat actors use tools like Mimikatz and LaZagne to dump credentials.

OS Credential Dumping:

LSASS Memory

T1003.001Akira threat actors attempt to access credential material stored in the process memory of the LSASS.
Table 6: Discovery
Technique TitleIDUse
System Network Configuration Discovery T1016Akira threat actors use tools to scan systems and identify services running on remote hosts and local network infrastructure.
System Information DiscoveryT1082Akira threat actors use tools like PCHunter64 to acquire detailed process and system information.
Domain Trust DiscoveryT1482Akira threat actors use the net Windows command to enumerate domain information.
Process DiscoveryT1057Akira threat actors use the Tasklist utility to obtain details on running processes via PowerShell.
Permission Groups Discovery: Local GroupsT1069.001Akira threat actors use the net localgroup /dom to find local system groups and permission settings.
Permission Groups Discovery: Domain Groups T1069.002Akira threat actors use the net group /domain command to attempt to find domain level groups and permission settings.
Remote System DiscoveryT1018Akira threat actors use nltest / dclist to amass a listing of other systems by IP address, hostname, or other logical identifiers on a network.
Table 7: Persistence
Technique TitleIDUse
Create Account: Domain AccountT1136.002Akira threat actors attempt to abuse the functions of domain controllers by creating new domain accounts to establish persistence.
Table 8: Defense Evasion
Technique TitleIDUse
Impair Defenses: Disable or Modify ToolsT1562.001Akira threat actors use BYOVD attacks to disable antivirus software.
Table 9: Command and Control
Technique TitleIDUse
Remote Access SoftwareT1219Akira threat actors use legitimate desktop support software like AnyDesk to obtain remote access to victim systems.
ProxyT1090Akira threat actors utilized Ngrok to create a secure tunnel to servers that aided in exfiltration of data. 
Table 10: Collection
Technique TitleIDUse
Archive Collected Data: Archive via UtilityT1560.001Akira threat actors use tools like WinRAR to compress files.
Table 11: Exfiltration
Technique TitleIDUse
Exfiltration Over Alternative ProtocolT1048Akira threat actors use file transfer tools like WinSCP to transfer data.
Transfer Data to Cloud AccountT1537Akira threat actors use tools like CloudZilla to exfiltrate data to a cloud account and connect to exfil servers they control.
Exfiltration Over Web Service: Exfiltration to Cloud StorageT1567.002Akira threat actors leveraged RClone to sync files with cloud storage services to exfiltrate data. 
Table 12: Impact
Technique TitleIDUse
Date Encrypted for ImpactT1486Akira threat actors encrypt data on target systems to interrupt availability to system and network resources.
Inhibit System RecoveryT1490Akira threat actors delete volume shadow copies on Windows systems.
Financial TheftT1657Akira threat actors use a double-extortion model for financial gain.

MITIGATIONS

Network Defenders

The FBI, CISA, EC3, and NCSC-NL recommend organizations apply the following mitigations to limit potential adversarial use of common system and network discovery techniques, and to reduce the risk of compromise by Akira ransomware. These mitigations align with the Cross-Sector Cybersecurity Performance Goals (CPGs) developed by CISA and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The CPGs provide a minimum set of practices and protections that CISA and NIST recommend all organizations implement. CISA and NIST based the CPGs on existing cybersecurity frameworks and guidance to protect against the most common and impactful threats and TTPs. Visit CISA’s Cross-Sector Cybersecurity Performance Goals for more information on the CPGs, including additional recommended baseline protections.

  • Implement a recovery plan to maintain and retain multiple copies of sensitive or proprietary data and servers in a physically separate, segmented, and secure location (e.g., hard drive, storage device, the cloud) [CPG 2.F, 2.R, 2.S].
  • Require all accounts with password logins (e.g., service accounts, admin accounts, and domain admin accounts) to comply with NIST’s standards. In particular, require employees to use long passwords and consider not requiring recurring password changes, as these can weaken security [CPG 2.C].
  • Require multifactor authentication for all services to the extent possible, particularly for webmail, virtual private networks, and accounts that access critical systems [CPG 2.H].
  • Keep all operating systems, software, and firmware up to date. Timely patching is one of the most efficient and cost effective steps an organization can take to minimize its exposure to cybersecurity threats. Prioritize patching known exploited vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems. [CPG 1.E].
  • Segment networks to prevent the spread of ransomware. Network segmentation can help prevent the spread of ransomware by controlling traffic flows between—and access to—various subnetworks and by restricting adversary lateral movement [CPG 2.F].
  • Identify, detect, and investigate abnormal activity and potential traversal of the indicated ransomware with a networking monitoring tool. To aid in detecting the ransomware, implement a tool that logs and reports all network traffic, including lateral movement activity on a network. Endpoint detection and response (EDR) tools are particularly useful for detecting lateral connections as they have insight into common and uncommon network connections for each host [CPG 3.A].
  • Filter network traffic by preventing unknown or untrusted origins from accessing remote services on internal systems. This prevents threat actors from directly connecting to remote access services that they have established for persistence.
  • Install, regularly update, and enable real time detection for antivirus software on all hosts.
  • Review domain controllers, servers, workstations, and active directories for new and/or unrecognized accounts [CPG 1.A, 2.O].
  • Audit user accounts with administrative privileges and configure access controls according to the principle of least privilege [CPG 2.E].
  • Disable unused ports [CPG 2.V].
  • Consider adding an email banner to emails received from outside of your organization [CPG 2.M].
  • Disable hyperlinks in received emails.
  • Implement time-based access for accounts set at the admin level and higher. For example, the Just-in-Time (JIT) access method provisions privileged access when needed and can support enforcement of the principle of least privilege (as well as the Zero Trust model). This is a process where a network-wide policy is set in place to automatically disable admin accounts at the Active Directory level when the account is not in direct need. Individual users may submit their requests through an automated process that grants them access to a specified system for a set timeframe when they need to support the completion of a certain task.
  • Disable command-line and scripting activities and permissions. Privilege escalation and lateral movement often depend on software utilities running from the command line. If threat actors are not able to run these tools, they will have difficulty escalating privileges and/or moving laterally [CPG 2.E, 2.N].
  • Maintain offline backups of data, and regularly maintain backup and restoration [CPG 2.R]. By instituting this practice, the organization helps ensure they will not be severely interrupted, and/or only have irretrievable data. 
  • Ensure all backup data is encrypted, immutable (i.e., cannot be altered or deleted), and covers the entire organization’s data infrastructure [CPG 2.K, 2.L, 2.R].

VALIDATE SECURITY CONTROLS

In addition to applying mitigations, the FBI, CISA, EC3, and NCSC-NL recommend exercising, testing, and validating your organization’s security program against the threat behaviors mapped to the MITRE ATT&CK for Enterprise framework in this advisory. The FBI, CISA, EC3 and NCSC-NL recommend testing your existing security controls inventory to assess how they perform against the ATT&CK techniques described in this advisory.

To get started:

  1. Select an ATT&CK technique described in this advisory (see Tables 4 -12).
  2. Align your security technologies against the technique.
  3. Test your technologies against the technique.
  4. Analyze your detection and prevention technologies’ performance.
  5. Repeat the process for all security technologies to obtain a set of comprehensive performance data.
  6. Tune your security program, including people, processes, and technologies, based on the data generated by this process.

The FBI, CISA, EC3, and NCSC-NL recommend continually testing your security program, at scale, in a production environment to ensure optimal performance against the MITRE ATT&CK techniques identified in this advisory.

RESOURCES

REFERENCES

  1. Fortinet: Ransomware Roundup – Akira
  2. Cisco: Akira Ransomware Targeting VPNs without MFA
  3. Truesec: Indications of Akira Ransomware Group Actively Exploiting Cisco AnyConnect CVE-2020-3259
  4. TrendMicro: Akira Ransomware Spotlight
  5. CrowdStrike: What is a Kerberoasting Attack?
  6. Sophos: Akira, again: The ransomware that keeps on taking
  7. Sophos: Akira Ransomware is “bringin’ 1988 back”

REPORTING

Your organization has no obligation to respond or provide information back to the FBI in response to this joint CSA. If, after reviewing the information provided, your organization decides to provide information to the FBI, reporting must be consistent with applicable state and federal laws.

The FBI is interested in any information that can be shared, to include boundary logs showing communication to and from foreign IP addresses, a sample ransom note, communications with Akira threat actors, Bitcoin wallet information, decryptor files, and/or a benign sample of an encrypted file.

Additional details of interest include: a targeted company point of contact, status and scope of infection, estimated loss, operational impact, transaction IDs, date of infection, date detected, initial attack vector, and host- and network-based indicators.

The FBI, CISA, EC3, and NCSC-NL do not encourage paying ransom as payment does not guarantee victim files will be recovered. Furthermore, payment may also embolden adversaries to target additional organizations, encourage other criminal actors to engage in the distribution of ransomware, and/or fund illicit activities. Regardless of whether you or your organization have decided to pay the ransom, the FBI and CISA urge you to promptly report ransomware incidents to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complain Center (IC3), a local FBI Field Office, or CISA via the agency’s Incident Reporting System or its 24/7 Operations Center (report@cisa.gov or (888) 282-0870).

DISCLAIMER

The information in this report is being provided “as is” for informational purposes only. The FBI, CISA, EC3, and NCSC-NL do not endorse any commercial entity, product, company, or service, including any entities, products, or services linked within this document. Any reference to specific commercial products, processes, or services by service mark, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the FBI or CISA.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Cisco and Sophos contributed to this advisory.

VERSION HISTORY

April 18, 2024: Initial version.

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