CryptoLocker – a new ransomware variant

  • September 10, 2013
  • 4 min read

Over the past few days Emsisoft’s malware research team has received numerous reports of a new file encrypting ransomware strain. This new family of ransomware is commonly referred to as CryptoLocker or Trojan:Win32/Crilock.A.

Ransom note as presented by CryptoLocker

Ransom note as presented by CryptoLocker

Like all file encrypting ransomware (also known as crypto malware) the goal of the attacker is to encrypt important files on the victim’s system in order to compel them to pay a ransom in return for their files.

Initial infection and establishing communication

Based on the data we have gathered so far, the infection is mainly spread via social engineering techniques. Multiple victims received emails with alleged customer complaints containing an attachment that is in fact a malware downloader. This downloader then downloads and installs the actual CryptoLocker malware. Once CryptoLocker has been downloaded and executed by the downloader, it ensures its automatic start during boot by using the following registry value:

Once the system is infected, CryptoLocker tries to establish a connection with its command and control server. The malware has two possible ways to contact its master: First by contacting the hardcoded IP, which has since been taken down.

Partial domain generation algorithm

Partial domain generation algorithm

If that fails the malware will start generating seemingly random domain names using a domain generation algorithm. This is done by creating a seemingly random string of characters based on the current system time and prepending it to one of the following seven possible top level domains:

If you know the algorithm, you are able to predict which domain name the malware is going to contact on any given day, thus allowing the attacker to set up new domains in case old domains or the abovementioned fixed IP is taken down. At the time this blog post was written, we found the following randomly generated domain names to be active:

Once a suitable command and control server has been found, the malware will start to communicate through regular HTTP POST requests.

Public key used by the malware for communication with its command and control server

Public key used by the malware for communication with its command and control server

HTTP merely acts as a wrapper though. All actual data exchanged during the communication between the bot and its command and control server is encrypted using RSA. The public key used for the encryption of the communication is thereby embedded inside the malware file. Using RSA based encryption for the communication not only allows the attacker to obfuscate the actual conversation between the malware and its server, but also makes sure the malware is talking to the attacker’s server and not a blackhole controlled by malware researchers.

File encryption

Decoded initial request to obtain RSA public key used for encryption

Decoded initial request to obtain RSA public key used for encryption

Once the system has been successfully infected and a communication channel to the command and control server has been established, the malware will start the encryption process by requesting an encryption key. A typical request includes the version of the malware, a numeric id, the system’s network name, a group id as well as the language of the system.

Decoded reply send by the server to a key request

Decoded reply send by the server to a key request

The command and control server replies with the victim’s IP address, as well as a unique RSA public key, that will be used by the malware during the further encryption process.

As soon as the infection specific RSA key has been obtained, the malware will look for files to encrypt. It does so by searching through all connected drives, including mapped network shares, for files matching one of the following patterns:

*.odt, *.ods, *.odp, *.odm, *.odc, *.odb, *.doc, *.docx, *.docm, 
*.wps, *.xls, *.xlsx, *.xlsm, *.xlsb, *.xlk, *.ppt, *.pptx, 
*.pptm, *.mdb, *.accdb, *.pst, *.dwg, *.dxf, *.dxg, *.wpd, 
*.rtf, *.wb2, *.mdf, *.dbf, *.psd, *.pdd, *.eps, *.ai, *.indd, 
*.cdr, ????????.jpg, ????????.jpe, img_*.jpg, *.dng, *.3fr, 
*.arw, *.srf, *.sr2, *.bay, *.crw, *.cr2, *.dcr, *.kdc, *.erf, 
*.mef, *.mrw, *.nef, *.nrw, *.orf, *.raf, *.raw, *.rwl, *.rw2, 
*.r3d, *.ptx, *.pef, *.srw, *.x3f, *.der, *.cer, *.crt, *.pem, 
*.pfx, *.p12, *.p7b, *.p7c

For each file matching one of these patterns, the malware will generate a new 256 bit AES key. This key will then be used to encrypt the content of the file using the AES algorithm. The AES key is then encrypted using the unique RSA public key obtained earlier. Both the RSA encrypted AES key, as well as the AES encrypted file content together with some additional header information are then written back to the file.  Last but not least the malware will log the encryption of the file within the HKEY_CURRENT_USERSoftwareCryptoLockerFiles registry key. This key is later used by the malware to present the list of encrypted files to the user and to speed up decryption.

Based on the file types list, it is also clear that business users are specifically targeted. Crypto malware intended for home users will target music, picture, and video files. This malware though primarily targets file formats used by companies, completely ignoring common home user file types.


Unfortunately, once the encryption of the data is complete, decryption is not feasible. To obtain the file specific AES key to decrypt a file, you need the private RSA key corresponding to the RSA public key generated for the victim’s system by the command and control server. However, this key never leaves the command and control server, putting it out of reach of everyone except the attacker. The recommended solution is to restore encrypted files from a backup.

In order to clean the actual infection, run a full scan with Emsisoft Anti-Malware or the Emsisoft Emergency Kit and quarantine all detected objects.


Especially when decryption of encrypted files is impossible, prevention is of the utmost importance. An offline backup as well as adequate protection are imperative.

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Emsisoft Anti-Malware behavior blocker alerting about suspicious behavior of CryptoLocker

Emsisoft Anti-Malware behavior blocker alerting about suspicious behavior of CryptoLocker

Users of Emsisoft Anti-Malware or Online Armor are not at risk of falling victim to either CryptoLocker or the malware downloader from the initial email campaign, unnoticed, as both are no match for our award winning behavior blocking technology.



Malware analyst. I've always been interested in computers, especially anything (anti-)malware related and am usually the go-to computer person for everyone who knows me. The first virus I encountered was on DOS when I was 12 years old. The fact that our AV back then could "magically" make it go away sparked my interest.

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