North Korean APT targets US healthcare sector with Maui ransomware

North Korean APT targets US healthcare sector with Maui ransomware

State-sponsored North Korean threat actors have been targeting the US Healthcare and Public Health (HPH) sector for the past year using the Maui ransomware, according to a joint cybersecurity advisory (CSA) from the FBI, Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), and the Department of the Treasury.

CISA Director Jen Easterly also announced the CSA on Twitter.

The FBI started responding to incidents involving Maui in May 2021. This ransomware, which threat intelligence firm Stairwell first profiled, is relatively new.

North Korean state-sponsored cyber-actors used Maui ransomware in these incidents to encrypt servers responsible for healthcare services—including electronic health records services, diagnostics services, imaging services, and intranet services. In some cases, these incidents disrupted the services provided by the targeted HPH Sector organizations for prolonged periods.

– CSA Alert (AA22-187A)

Unlike the ransomware we usually see, that plagues organizations and regularly hits the news, Maui is never sold or offered to affiliates as a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) tool. It is, instead, developed and used privately for state-backed actors.

Most notably, attackers operate Maui manually. This is on purpose, so attackers have more control over which files to encrypt when Maui is executed.

“When executed at the command line without any arguments, Maui prints usage information, detailing supported command-line parameters,” Stairwell Principal Research Engineer Silas Cutler wrote in the report. “The only required argument is a folder path, which Maui will parse and encrypt identified files.”

“Embedded usage instructions and the assessed use of a builder is common when there is an operational separation between developers and users of a malware family.”

Maui also has other unusual features—it doesn’t drop a ransom note, and uses a three-layer encryption methodology reminiscent of Conti and ShiOne.

“Instead of relying upon external infrastructure to receive encryption keys, Maui creates three files in the same directory it was executed from containing the results of its execution. These files are likely exfiltrated by Maui operators and processed by private tooling to generate associated decryption tooling,” Cutler said.

The FBI shared the indicators of compromise (IOCs) in its advisory.

Malwarebytes detects Maui ransomware as Ransom.Maui.

Dealing with Maui ransomware

The advisory also provides mitigation steps organizations can to prepare for, or deal with attacks using Maui ransomware. Thankfully, although Maui may be a little different from run-of-the-mill ransomware, the steps to protect against it are not:

  • Maintain off-site, offline backups of data and test them regularly.
  • Create a cybersecurity response plan.
  • Keep operating systems, applications, and firmware up to date.
  • Disable or harden remote desktop protocol (RDP).
  • Require multi-factor authentication (MFA) for as many services as possible.
  • Require administrator credentials to install software.
  • Report ransomware incidents to your local FBI field office.

The various agencies involved also made it clear, once again, that they strongly discourage victims from paying ransoms. It does not guarantee you will get your data back, does not free you from recovery costs (because you still have to harden your system against the next attack), and it marks you as a target for repeat attacks.

Stay safe!