Authorities across Europe on Tuesday said they’d seized control over Emotet, a prolific malware strain and cybercrime-as-service operation. Investigators say the action could help quarantine more than a million Microsoft Windows systems currently compromised with malware tied to Emotet infections.
First surfacing in 2014, Emotet began as a banking trojan, but over the years it has evolved into one of the more aggressive platforms for spreading malware that lays the groundwork for ransomware attacks.
In a statement published Wednesday morning on an action dubbed “Operation Ladybird,” the European police agency Europol said the investigation involved authorities in the Netherlands, Germany, United States, the United Kingdom, France, Lithuania, Canada and Ukraine.
“The EMOTET infrastructure essentially acted as a primary door opener for computer systems on a global scale,” Europol said. “Once this unauthorised access was established, these were sold to other top-level criminal groups to deploy further illicit activities such data theft and extortion through ransomware.”
Experts say Emotet is a pay-per-install botnet that is used by several distinct cybercrime groups to deploy secondary malware — most notably the ransomware strain Ryuk and Trickbot, a powerful banking trojan. It propagates mainly via malicious links and attachments sent through compromised email accounts, blasting out tens of thousands of malware-laced missives daily.
Emotet relies on several hierarchical tiers of control servers that communicate with infected systems. Those controllers coordinate the dissemination of second-stage malware and the theft of passwords and other data, and their distributed nature is designed to make the crimeware infrastructure more difficult to dismantle or commandeer.
In a separate statement on the malware takeover, the Dutch National police said two of the three primary servers were located in the Netherlands.
“A software update is placed on the Dutch central servers for all infected computer systems,” the Dutch authorities wrote. “All infected computer systems will automatically retrieve the update there, after which the Emotet infection will be quarantined. Simultaneous action in all the countries concerned was necessary to be able to effectively dismantle the network and thwart any reconstruction.” Continue reading