Organizations across the country are on edge today after a flurry of phony bomb threats hit several public entities Thursday, such as universities, schools and news outlets, among others. The attackers distributed malicious emails claiming to have placed some type of explosive materials in the recipient's building. The emails stated the attackers would detonate these explosives unless the victim made a Bitcoin payment of several thousand dollars.
Cisco Talos discovered that this campaign is actually an evolution of sextortion and extortion attacks that we reported on in October. The claims in the emails we've seen from this actor are completely false, yet they have caused untold amounts of damage as organizations have evacuated buildings and called upon law enforcement to investigate.
What makes these particular extortion messages unique from other extortion scams we've monitored is that, previously, the attackers threatened only the individual — the attackers would threaten to expose sensitive data, or even attack the recipient physically, but there was never any threat of harm to a larger group of people, and certainly not the threat of a bomb. Talos has discovered 17 distinct Bitcoin wallets that were used in the bomb extortion attack. Only two of the wallets have a positive balance, both from transactions received Dec. 13, the day the attacks were distributed. However, the amounts of each transaction were under $1, so it is evident the victims in this case declined to pay the $20,000 extortion payment price demanded by the attackers. So far, all of the samples Talos has found to be associated with the bomb threat attack were sent from IP addresses belonging to the domain registrar and hosting company reg.ru, suggesting that the attackers in this case may have compromised credentials for domains that are hosted at this particular domain registrar. Multiple IPs involved in sending these bomb threats also sent various types of sextortion email that we saw in the previous campaign. In those cases, the attackers sent out emails claiming to have compromising videos of the victim and will release them to the public unless the attacker receives a Bitcoin payment. As of late yesterday, the bomb threat email attack morphed. The attackers have returned to their empty threats of harming the individual recipient. This time, they threaten to throw acid on the victim.