A new variant of the HC7 Ransomware is in the wild that encrypts a victim's files and appends the .PLANETARY extension to the filename. What makes this particular ransomware variant unique is that it may be the first one that accepts Ethereum as a ransom payment.
Almost all ransomware utilize Bitcoin for the ransom payment, with a few requesting Monero. Now that Ethereum is currently selling for over $1,200 per coin and rising in price and popularity, it's not surprising that we see criminals accepting it as a payment.
While a cryptocurrency like Monero, or even Verge, makes more sense due to their greater privacy and being less traceable, Ethereum's smart contract feature could make ransomware payment processing more efficient. Using Ethereum's smart contracts, a criminal could make a "honest ransomware", where a victim guarantees payment if the developer actually decrypts the victim's files.
While no ransomware currently uses Ethereum smart contracts for payments and most likely will not due to its complexity, that is really the only good reason to use Ethereum over other cryptocurrencies. In the future, I would expect developers to move away from Bitcoin and start moving more towards Monero and XVG due to them being "privacy" related coins.
As for the HC7 Planetary variant, we do not know much more than it is currently being distributed via the developer hacking into networks using remote desktop. Once they gain access to the network they will manually install the ransomware on all machines they can gain access to.
As the ransomware is manually installed and typically cleaned up by the developer afterwards, finding a sample is not easy. Bleeping Computer only learned about this variant because a victim reached out to us for help.
When infected, the developers allow a victim to decrypt a single machine for a set price or the entire network for another price. As you can see from the ransom note below, the current ransom amount is $700 per machine or $5,000 for all of the machines on the network.
In the past, a method to decrypt HC7 encrypted files was discovered by performing memory forensics on a victim's computer in order to retrieve the password used on the command line when the ransomware was installed. The change of success using this method, though, diminishes the longer the computer is in use and no longer works at all if the computer has been rebooted.
ALL FILES ARE ENCRYPTED. TO RESTORE, YOU MUST SEND $700 EQUIVALENT FOR ONE COMPUTER OR $5,000 FOR ALL NETWORK PAYMENTS ACCEPTED VIA BITCOIN, MONERO AND ETHEREUM BTC ADDRESS: [bitcoin_address] MONERO (XMR) ADDRESS: [monero_address] CONTACT US WHEN ETHEREUM PAYMENT INFORMATION BEFORE PAYMENT SENT EMAIL email@example.com ALONG WITH YOUR IDENTITY: [base64_encoded_computer_name] INCLUDE SAMPLE ENCRYPTED FILE FOR PROOF OF DECRYPT NOT TO SHUT OFF YOUR COMPUTER, UNLESS IT WILL BREAK