Microsoft issues warning about new PonyFinal ransomware attacks

PonyFinal attackers “looking for targets of opportunity," says Misner

Microsoft Security Intelligence posted a series of tweets urging companies to implement protections against PonyFinal, a new ransomware that’s been active for the last two months. 

PonyFinal, according to Microsoft Security Intelligence, is not an automated threat. Rather, it has humans pulling its reins. Hackers must manually propagate the ransomware via an MSI file containing two batch files and the ransomware payload.

Per the experts, PonyFinal uses a secure encryption scheme, meaning that encrypted files can’t be recovered either. Unfortunately, Microsoft says, these attackers have compromised their targets for several months and been patiently waiting for the perfect opportunity to monetize their cyberattacks.  

“PonyFinal is at the tail end of protracted human-operated ransomware campaigns that are known to stay dormant and wait for the most opportune time to deploy the payload,” a tweet from Microsoft Security Intelligence reads.

"These attackers are looking for targets of opportunity," Phillip Misner, Security Program Manager at Microsoft explained in an interview with Dark Reading.

Misner added that PonyFinal operators don’t discriminate when it comes to choosing targets either. PonyFinal has already targeted victims in the U.S., India and Iran. It’s taken aim at the health care and financial sectors specifically. 

“So far, the attacks have affected aid organizations, medical billing companies, manufacturing, transport, government institutions and educational software providers, showing that these ransomware groups give little regard to the critical services they impact, global crisis notwithstanding,” researchers explained in April. “These attacks, however, are not limited to critical services, so organizations should be vigilant for signs of compromise.”

Human-operated ransomware like PonyFinal is nothing new. Ransomware similar to PonyFinal has been growing more popular as attackers try to maximize ransom from individual targets. Other human-operated ransomware campaigns similar to PonyFinal include Bitpaymer, Ryuk, REvil and Samas.

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