The victim shaming site operated by the Snatch ransomware group is leaking data about its true online location and internal operations, as well as the Internet addresses of its visitors, KrebsOnSecurity has found. The leaked data suggest that Snatch is one of several ransomware groups using paid ads on Google.com to trick people into installing malware disguised as popular free software, such as Microsoft Teams, Adobe Reader, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Discord.
First spotted in 2018, the Snatch ransomware group has published data stolen from hundreds of organizations that refused to pay a ransom demand. Snatch publishes its stolen data at a website on the open Internet, and that content is mirrored on the Snatch team’s darknet site, which is only reachable using the global anonymity network Tor.
KrebsOnSecurity has learned that Snatch’s darknet site exposes its “server status” page, which includes information about the true Internet addresses of users accessing the website.
Refreshing this page every few seconds shows that the Snatch darknet site generates a decent amount of traffic, often attracting thousands of visitors each day. But by far the most frequent repeat visitors are coming from Internet addresses in Russia that either currently host Snatch’s clear web domain names or recently did.
Probably the most active Internet address accessing Snatch’s darknet site is 193.108.114[.]41, which is a server in Yekaterinburg, Russia that hosts several Snatch domains, including snatchteam[.]top, sntech2ch[.]top, dwhyj2[.]top and sn76930193ch[.]top. It could well be that this Internet address is showing up frequently because Snatch’s clear-web site features a toggle button at the top that lets visitors switch over to accessing the site via Tor.
Another Internet address that showed up frequently in the Snatch server status page was 194.168.175[.]226, currently assigned to Matrix Telekom in Russia. According to DomainTools.com, this address also hosts or else recently hosted the usual coterie of Snatch domains, as well as quite a few domains phishing known brands such as Amazon and Cashapp.
The Moscow Internet address 80.66.64[.]15 accessed the Snatch darknet site all day long, and that address also housed the appropriate Snatch clear-web domains. More interestingly, that address is home to multiple recent domains that appear confusingly similar to known software companies, including libreoff1ce[.]com and www-discord[.]com.
This is interesting because the phishing domains associated with the Snatch ransomware gang were all registered to the same Russian name — Mihail Kolesnikov, a name that is somewhat synonymous with recent phishing domains tied to malicious Google ads.
Kolesnikov could be a nod to a Russian general made famous during Boris Yeltsin’s reign. Either way, it’s clearly a pseudonym, but there are some other commonalities among these domains that may provide insight into how Snatch and other ransomware groups are sourcing their victims.
DomainTools says there are more than 1,300 current and former domain names registered to Mihail Kolesnikov between 2013 and July 2023. About half of the domains appear to be older websites advertising female escort services in major cities around the United States (e.g. the now-defunct pittsburghcitygirls[.]com).
The other half of the Kolesnikov websites are far more recent phishing domains mostly ending in “.top” and “.app” that appear designed to mimic the domains of major software companies, including www-citrix[.]top, www-microsofteams[.]top, www-fortinet[.]top, ibreoffice[.]top, www-docker[.]top, www-basecamp[.]top, ccleaner-cdn[.]top, adobeusa[.]top, and www.real-vnc[.]top.
But it appears multiple crime groups may be using these domains to phish people and disseminate all kinds of information-stealing malware. In February 2023, Spamhaus warned of a huge surge in malicious ads that were hijacking search results in Google.com, and being used to distribute at least five different families of information stealing trojans, including AuroraStealer, IcedID/Bokbot, Meta Stealer, RedLine Stealer and Vidar.
For example, Spamhaus said victims of these malicious ads would search for Microsoft Teams in Google.com, and the search engine would often return a paid ad spoofing Microsoft or Microsoft Teams as the first result — above all other results. The malicious ad would include a logo for Microsoft and at first glance appear to be a safe and trusted place to download the Microsoft Teams client.
However, anyone who clicked on the result was whisked away instead to mlcrosofteams-us[.]top — yet another malicious domain registered to Mr. Kolesnikov. And while visitors to this website may believe they are only downloading the Microsoft Teams client, the installer file includes a copy of the IcedID malware, which is really good at stealing passwords and authentication tokens from the victim’s web browser.
The founder of the Swiss anti-abuse website abuse.ch told Spamhaus it is likely that some cybercriminals have started to sell “malvertising as a service” on the dark web, and that there is a great deal of demand for this service.
In other words, someone appears to have built a very profitable business churning out and promoting new software-themed phishing domains and selling that as a service to other cybercriminals. Or perhaps they are simply selling any stolen data (and any corporate access) to active and hungry ransomware group affiliates.
The tip about the exposed “server status” page on the Snatch darkweb site came from @htmalgae, the same security researcher who alerted KrebsOnSecurity earlier this month that the darknet victim shaming site run by the 8Base ransomware gang was inadvertently left in development mode.
That oversight revealed not only the true Internet address of the hidden 8Base site (in Russia, naturally), but also the identity of a programmer in Moldova who apparently helped to develop the 8Base code.
@htmalgae said the idea of a ransomware group’s victim shaming site leaking data that they did not intend to expose is deliciously ironic.
“This is a criminal group that shames others for not protecting user data,” @htmalgae said. “And here they are leaking their user data.”
All of the malware mentioned in this story is designed to run on Microsoft Windows devices. But Malwarebytes recently covered the emergence of a Mac-based information stealer trojan called AtomicStealer that was being advertised through malicious Google ads and domains that were confusingly similar to software brands.
Please be extra careful when you are searching online for popular software titles. Cracked, pirated copies of major software titles are a frequent source of infostealer infections, as are these rogue ads masquerading as search results. Make sure to double-check you are actually at the domain you believe you’re visiting *before* you download and install anything.
Stay tuned for Part II of this post, which includes a closer look at the Snatch ransomware group and their founder.