Check Point Research (CPR) warns of potential ransomware attacks, as it sees samples of Emotet fast-spreading via Trickbot.

Since Emotet’s takedown by law enforcement, CPR estimates there have been 140 000 victims of Trickbot, across 149 countries in only 10 months.

New Emotet samples spreading through Trickbot were discovered by CPR on 15 November 2021, and it is a strong indicator of future ransomware attacks, as the malware provides ransomware gangs a backdoor into compromised machines.

Trickbot’s top industry targets are government, finance and manufacturing, and it has been particularly active in Portugal and the US. It relies heavily on a small number of IP addresses for distribution.

Check Point Research (CPR) sees samples of Emotet fast-spreading through surges in Trickbot activity. Once described as the “world’s most dangerous malware”, Emotet provides threat actors with a backdoor into compromised machines, which could be leased out to ransomware gang to use for their own campaigns. Hence, Emotet’s return is a strong indicator of future ransomware attacks.

At the beginning of the year, an international law enforcement action coordinated by Europol and Eurojust took over the Emotet infrastructure and arrested two individuals. Ten months later, on 15 November 2021, Trickbot infected machines started to drop Emotet samples by promoting users to download password protect zip files, containing malicious documents that are rebuilding Emotet’s botnet network.

Emotet has also upgraded its operations, adding some new tricks to its toolbox.

Trickbot has demonstrated a persistent rate of growth in activity. CPR spotted more than 140 000 victims affected by Trickbot all around the globe since the botnet takedown, including organisations and individuals. Trickbot affected 149 countries in total, which marks more than 75% of all the countries on the world.

Lotem Finkelstein, head of threat intelligence at Check Point Software, comments: “Emotet was the strongest botnet in the history of cybercrime with a rich infection base. Now, Emotet has resold its infection base to other threat actors to spread their malware; and most of the time, it’s been to ransomware gangs.

“Emotet’s comeback is a major warning sign for yet another surge in ransomware attacks as go into 2022. Trickbot, who has always collaborated with Emotet, is facilitating Emotet’s comeback by dropping it on infected victims. This has allowed Emotet to start from a very firm position, and not from scratch. In only two weeks, Emotet became the seventh most popular malware, as see in our recent Most Wanted Malware List .

“Emotet is our best indicator for future ransomware attacks,” he adds. “We should treat Emotet and Trickbot infections like they are ransomware. Otherwise, it is only a matter of time before we have to deal with an actual ransomware attack.”