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Monday, 21 September 2020 09:10

Maze suspected in German ransomware attack that caused woman's death

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Maze suspected in German ransomware attack that caused woman's death Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

The ransomware used in an attack on Duesseldorf University Clinic last week, which led to the death of a woman, appears to be Maze, security sources have told iTWire.

The woman sought treatment for a life-threatening condition, but could not be treated because the ransomware attack meant the hospital could not operate normally.

She was forced to go to another hospital about 20 miles away. The one-hour delay in being treated killed her.

AP said a report from the justice minister of North Rhine-Westphalia state, claimed about 30 servers in the hospital were hit in the attack. A message was left for the Heinrich Heine University, to which the hospital is affiliated, to make contact with the criminals behind the attack.

Police managed to contact the attackers and informed them that the attack had affected a hospital. The attackers then provided an decryption key, after which they could not be contacted.

The security sources said the attackers were reported to have used CVE-2019-19781, a flaw in the Citrix application delivery controller, to gain access, adding that this particular vulnerability was commonly used by four ransomware groups: Ragnar Locker (aka Ragnarok), Nefilim, REvil and Maze.

Given the paucity of information, the sources said it was difficult to narrow things down but there were indications that Maze was ransomware used.

To come to this conclusion, the sources pointed out the following:

  • Ragnar Locker is less prolific than the other groups.
  • Nefilim previously said, "We work very diligently in choosing our targets. We never target non-profits, hospitals, schools, government organisations. If we ever encrypted one of those organisations by accident we would provide decryption for free and would delete all data downloaded. But as you probably understand the process of choosing and downloading data makes it unlikely that we would encrypt something by accident. The pandemic has not changed our stance on our targets since we believe that hospitals are off limits in any situation."
  • Nefilim was known to never intentionally or unintentionally have hit an organisation in the education, healthcare sectors or a non-profit.
  • REvil mostly attacked the private sector.
  • Maze had attacked multiple organisations in both the health and education sectors, and had continued to attack them during the pandemic.

hospital hitAs an example, the sources provided the screenshot seen on the right.

"So, playing the odds and based on the groups' past methodologies and victim profiles, Maze is a very likely candidate," they concluded.

Contacted for comment, iTWire's regular commentator on ransomware issues, Brett Callow, said: "Ransomware attacks on hospitals may result in a loss of life. That's obvious. The only surprise is that a tragedy such as this didn't happen much sooner, especially given the number of attacks on the health sector in recent years.

"In this particular case, it appears the cockwombles believed they were hitting a university rather than a hospital, and supplied a decryption key at no cost when the police advised them of their error. A number of groups make similar promises – Clop, for example, say this, 'We have never attacked hospitals, orphanages, nursing homes, charitable foundations, and we will not. Commercial pharmaceutical organisations are not eligible for this list; they are the only ones who benefit from the current pandemic. If an attack mistakenly occurs on one of the foregoing organisations, we will provide the decryptor for free, apologise and help fix the vulnerabilities'.

"So, they'll even say they're sorry! What absolutely great guys! The only problem is, even if the crims kindly supply a key at no cost, recovering systems after an attack is not quick, and that means there's a window of time during which people may die."

Callow, who work for the New Zealand-headquartered security shop Emsisoft, added: "Many ransomware groups like to present themselves as Robin Hood-like who redistribute the wealth unfairly possessed by corporations. They're not. They are conscienceless criminal scumbags and every attack they carry out has the potential to significantly affect people's lives in one way or another."


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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