MarsJoke ransomware is a vicious threat targeting Windows

By: Madeleine Dean
2 minute read

A new ransomare recently reared its ugly head, targeting government agencies and educational institutions, as well as regular users. MarsJoke ransomware is viciously attacking millions of users by sending scam emails, pretending to be from an airline company.

Victims are informed somebody sent them a parcel and are kindly invited to click on a link in order to track that parcel. Unsuspecting victims, pushed by curiosity, click on the link and open the Hell’s gates. The link redirects them to a file hosting website to download an executable file named “file_6.exe.”  Of course, once the file is downloaded, the MarsJoke ransomware takes over your files and immediately encrypts them.

The encrypted files will then carry the ‘.a19’ and ‘.ap19’ extensions. Moreover, the MarsJoke ransomware also takes over the desktop background, and displays a message informing users that their files have been encrypted, alongside a 96-hour timer. If the victims don’t pay the ransom in 96 hours, their files are permanently encrypted.

The MarsJoke ransomware is extremely dangerous because it exploits a well-known weakness in the computer network of government agencies. Microsoft has warned organisations countless times about the security risks they are exposing themselves to by choosing to run old, unsupported operating systems. As a quick reminder, the US is the leading country in the world when it comes to technological innovation, yet US government agencies still using unsupported Windows versions.

[…] Beginning on September 22, 2016, we detected the first large-scale email campaign distributing MarsJoke. This ongoing campaign appears to target primarily state and local government agencies and educational institutions in the United States.

Companies are in the same boat, as many are still relying on Windows Server 2003 with Windows Server 2016 knocking on the door. Moreover, companies are also using outdated Windows and IE versions. As you can see, this is the perfect recipe for disaster.

This situation is valid all over the world, for example London cops spend over $2 million to stick with Windows XP, paying for a Microsoft Custom Support Agreement in order to keep receiving security updates for the old operating system. Image what could happen if the MarsJoke ransomware took over these computers. You may say it’s highly unlikely that a Police employee falls in MarsJoke’s trap, but you know what Murphy’s laws say.

Meanwhile, do avoid opening suspicious emails and clicking on suspicious links and install one of these anti-malware programs on your computer for an extra-layer of protection.

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