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Windows Native Ransomware – Encrypting with Bitlocker


Bitlocker encryption exploited by cybercriminals for ransom demands.

Bitlocker is a native windows application intended to secure data through full volume encryption. However, threat actors have leveraged the capability to encrypt files before demanding a ransom payment for decryption. While this is not a novel concept, the question arises of why an actor would use this capability when so many ransomware encryptors are readily available with more advanced capabilities, and exactly what an actor would have to gain by using Bitlocker over another encryption capability. Even though not a novel concept, Bitlocker is still being used as the primary encryption capability for emerging actors such as the recently identified actor dubbed “Shrinklocker.”

Bitlocker Pros

  • Bitlocker has the inherent benefit of being a native windows application. By utilizing living off the land techniques, such as encrypting files using Bitlocker, the malicious activity is less likely to be detected by EDR tools.
  • Assuming Bitlocker is enabled within the environment the threat actor doesn’t have to join a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) program, seek out a leaked ransomware builder, or attempt to create their own encryption capability.
  • The use of Bitlocker to encrypt an environment often offers an additional layer of anonymity versus using an encryptor associated with an existing ransomware operation.

Bitlocker Cons

  • While it would be easy to assume that utilizing an existing tool within the environment for encryption may be easier than deploying a custom encryptor, that is not always the case. For an actor to encrypt an environment with Bitlocker it often requires an in-depth knowledge of the Windows operating system.
  • While Bitlocker certainly has the ability to encrypt files, many ransomware encryptors have additional capabilities that lead to increased chances of the victim paying the ransom. Often times, as victims consider whether to pay a ransom, they look at what data was encrypted, and what the associated business impact is. If the actor doesn’t effectively encrypt important files within the environment, they will be less likely to receive payment for their efforts.

Bitlocker – A Use Case

A recurring theme in ransomware incidents involving Bitlocker is the threat actor attempting to masquerade as well-known ransomware groups to add credibility to their operation, and in turn increase their chances of the victim paying the ransom. Often claiming to be whichever threat actor is dominating the news cycle, Arete has observed unidentified actors claiming to be ALPHV/BlackCat on several occasions. These tactics employed by cybercriminals place additional importance on threat analysis and the attribution process. Ransomware incidents should not be taken at surface level by simply looking at a ransom note and attributing the incident to the proclaimed ransomware. A process of malware analysis, identification of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), negotiation analysis, and other analytical observations should be undertaken and cross-referenced with historical data to build as accurate of an assessment as possible.

Analyst Comments

While not a new capability, threat actors continue to employ Bitlocker as an encryption alternative to proprietary encryptors. The ability for actors to encrypt files with a native application continues to be an interesting prospect as they attempt to evade antivirus and EDR software. However, as many organizations continue to mature their cybersecurity programs, they are able to detect the use of Bitlocker with their endpoint detection mechanisms. This forces threat actors hoping to use Bitlocker for encryption to learn new ways to obfuscate their actions, thus increasing the level of sophistication required to successfully navigate the everchanging blue team tactics.