A new and very dangerous ransomware threat to deal called Spore has been discovered.

Locky and Samas ransomware have certainly been major headaches for IT departments. Both forms of ransomware have a host of smart features designed to prevent detection, grow infections, and inflict the most damage possible, leaving companies with little option but pay the ransom demand.

However, there is now a new ransomware threat to address, and it could well be even bigger than Locky and Samas. Luckily, the ransomware authors only seem to be targeting Russian users, but that is likely to change. While a Russian version has been used in hacking attacks so far, an English language version has now been created. Spora ransomware attacks will soon be a global issue.

A massive portion of time and effort has gone into producing this very dangerous new ransomware variant and a decryptor is unlikely to be created due to the way that the ransomware encrypts data.

As opposed to many new ransomware attacks that rely on a Command and Control server to receive instructions, Spora ransomware can encrypt files even if the user is offline. Closing down Internet access will not stop an infection. It is also not possible to restrict access to the C&C server to prevent infection.

Earlier Ransomware variants have been created that can encrypt without C&C communication, although unique decryption keys are not necessary. That means one key will unlock all infections. Spora ransomware on the other hand needs all victims to use a unique key to unlock the encryption.  A hard-coded RSA public key is used to create a unique AES key for every user. That process happens locally. The AES key is then used to encrypt the private key from a public/private RSA key pair set up with each victim, without C&C communications. The RSA key also encrypts the separate AES keys for each user. Without the key supplied by the hackers, you cannot unlock the encryption.

This complex encryption process only represents part of what makes Spora ransomware unique. Different to many other ransomware variants, the hackers have not set the ransom amount. This gives the hackers a degree of flexibility and importantly this process occurs automatically. Security experts believe the degree of automation will see the ransomware provided on an affiliate model.

The flexibility allows companies to be charged a different amount to a person. The ransom set is calculated based on the extent of the infection and types of files that have been encrypted. Since Spora ransomware gathers data on the user, when contact is made to pay the ransom, amounts could easily be changed.

When victims visit the hacker’s payment portal to pay the ransom, they must supply the key file that is set up by the ransomware. The key files contains a range of data on the user, including details of the campaign used. The hackers can therefore carefully monitor infections and campaigns. Those campaigns that are successful and result in more payments can then be repeated. Less effective campaigns can be brought to an end.

At present there are a number of different payment options, including something quite different. Victims can pay to unlock the encryption, or pay extra to avoid future attacks, essentially being given immunity.

Emisoft Internet experts who have analyzed Spora ransomware say it is far from a run of the mill variant that has been quickly thrown together. It is the work of a highly knowledgeable group. The encryption process contains no weaknesses – uncommon for a new ransomware variant – the design of the HTML ransom demand and the payment portal is highly sophisticated, and the payment portal also contains a chat option to allow communication with the hackers. This degree of professionalism only comes from a lot of investment and massive work. This threat is unlikely to disappear soon. In fact, it could prove to be one of the most serious threats in 2017 and into the future.

Infection currently takes place through spam email containing malicious attachments or links. Currently the attachments look like PDF invoices, although they are HTA files including JavaScript code. Preventing emails from being sent is the best form of defense. Since no decryptor is available for Spora, a backup will be necessary to recover for the infection or the ransom will need to be met.