New 'Breaking Bad' ransom Trojan is no laughing matter, says Symantec

Encrypts files, demands $800 and tells users "I am the one who knocks"

Windows users across the English-speaking world have been warned to be on the lookout for a new Trojan campaign that borrows imagery from the TV show Breaking Bad as part of a not-so-amusing attempt to extort money from anyone infected by it.

In truth if it weren't for the TV gimmick noticed by Symantec, the fact that Cryptolocker.S is spreading in Australia would probably have been just another one of the steady stream of ransom Trojans nobody pays much attention to among many threats in an average week.

The hook this time is that the Trojan uses a splash screen ransom demand for between $450 and $1,000 Australian dollars (up to $800) based on the fictional restaurant chain Los Pollos Hermanos used in the TV show.

It's not clear why the criminals adopted Breaking Bad but their use of it is no accident - the extortion email address even references a quote by main character Walter White, "I am the one who knocks."

Beyond the Breaking Bad theme, there is nothing surprising about CryptoLocker.S. It encrypts a wide range of data files it finds using a random AES encryption key which itself is then encrypted using a public key.

PC users can encounter the malware as they do almost every other ransom Trojan by clicking on a booby-trapped zip file that arrives via email. This also opens a legitimate PDF file to convince users that nothing untoward just happened.

Currently, Symantec has detected the campaign in Australia at very low levels but past experience suggests that this is probably a precursor to a wider distribution across English-speaking countries and beyond.

Ransom malware has established itself as a constant threat to users but one that has lost some of its shock value. Users are now more likely to have backups for encrypted files than they were when this class of threat first accelerated during its heyday of 2012 while security firms are now better at spotting it earlier in the cycle.

In this instance, using Breaking Bad as a reference point was probably a bad idea that got it noticed and written about to a far greater degree than would have been the case had it adopted the generic approach of impersonating local police forces.

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