THREAT ALERT: HavanaCrypt Ransomware Masquerading as Google Update

The Cybereason Global Security Operations Center (SOC) Team issues Cybereason Threat Alerts to inform customers of emerging impacting threats. The Alerts summarize these threats and provide practical recommendations for protecting against them. 

In this article, the Cybereason Research team exposes HavanaCrypt, an advanced ransomware with extensive command and control capabilities.

What's Happening?

The Cybereason GSOC is investigating a newly discovered strain of ransomware dubbed HavanaCrypt. First observed in June 2022 in the wild, HavanaCrypt masquerades as a legitimate Google Chrome update in order to gain access to a system and encrypt files for impact.

It contains sophisticated anti-analysis techniques and uses open source cryptographic functions to operate. However, its lack of a ransom note renders it unprofitable for its author. Other functionality that may be used for data exfiltration and privilege escalation, as well as file decryption capabilities, ostensibly used upon the victim meeting the attacker’s demands has been observed. 

Key Observations


A sample of HavanaCrypt that we obtained from VirusTotal (MD5: 220c8e5c43ae9c9fecbb1b1af9e5abbd) masquerades as a Google software update, and maintains the icon for Google Chrome for its execution:

image4-Aug-22-2022-06-15-31-61-PMHavanaCrypt masquerading as a legitimate Google update

Upon execution, HavanaCrypt begins execution in a hidden window and run a check to see if the registry entry (SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run, GoogleUpdate) is present on the machine, which could indicate HavanaCrypt is already present in the affected machine. 

If an instance of HavanaCrypt is present, the version being run stops execution. However, if there is not already a version of HavanaCrypt on the machine, the program proceeds to start its anti-analysis techniques.

Anti-Analysis Techniques

Static Anti-Analysis

The executable itself contains several anti-analysis techniques. Samples have been observed obfuscated via the .NET binary obfuscator, Obfuscar. In addition, HavanaCrypt uses a sophisticated group of internal functions that obfuscate strings used throughout the code in order to hinder static analysis:


Obfuscated code snippet (note the <module>.decrypt and <module>.search functions)

image1-Aug-22-2022-06-18-20-21-PMThe same code snippet, decoded

Runtime Anti-Analysis

Upon execution, HavanaCrypt implements several other anti-analysis techniques that check for indicators of execution on a virtual machine. It first checks to see if services, processes, or files commonly used by virtual machines are present:

image16-Aug-22-2022-06-20-08-38-PMA list of processes queried by HavanaCrypt

If that check is passed HavanaCrypt then queries the machine MAC address and compares the Organizationally Unique Identifier (OUI) portion to those commonly associated with virtual machines:

image3-Aug-22-2022-06-20-59-36-PMQueried OUIs

If any of these checks reveals indicators of the file being run on a virtual machine HavanaCrypt kills the current execution, hindering analysis. If not, execution continues. 

Later on during its execution the attribute [DebuggerStepThrough] forces a debugger to step through the code as opposed to stepping into it in an attempt to evade analysis via debugger:

image7-Aug-22-2022-06-22-00-69-PMDebuggerStepThrough attribute

Execution Flow

Initial Setup

With the anti-analysis checks complete, HavanaCrypt begins its execution by downloading the file 2.txt from the IP address 20.227.128[.]33, an address that is used for Microsoft web hosting.

This file is saved as a .bat file with a 20 character-long randomly generated file name and is run with the /c parameter via cmd.exe. This file contains functionality to add Windows Defender exclusions for activity in the “C:\Windows” and “C:\User” directories in order to allow its further execution.

Once this is complete, HavanaCrypt attempts to kill the following processes:

serverview, sqlservr, ragui, supervise, culture, rtvscan, defwatch, winword, qbw32, qbdbmgr, qbupdate, qbcfmonitorservice, axlbridge, qbidpservice, httpd, fdlauncher, msdtsrvr, tomcat6, zhudongfangyu, vmware-usbarbitator64, vmware-converter, dbsrv12, msftesql, sqlagent, sqlbrowser, sqlwriter, oracle, ocssd, dbsnmp, synctime, agntsvc, mydesktopqos, isqlplussvc, xfssvccon, mydesktopservice, ocautoupds, agntsvc, encsvc, firefoxconfig, tbirdconfig, ocomm, mysqld, mysqld-nt, mysqld-opt, dbeng50, sqbcoreservice, excel, infopath, msaccess, mspub, onenote, outlook, powerpnt, steam, thebat, thebat64, thunderbird, visio, winword, word, wordpad, defwatch, ccevtmgr, ccsetmgr, savroam, sqlserv, sqlagent, sqladhlp, culserver, rtvscan, sqlbrowser, sqladhlp, qbidpservice, quickboooks.fcs, qbcfmonitorservice, sqlwriter, msmdsrv, tomcat6, zhundongfangyu, vmware-usbarbitator64, vmware-converter, dbsrv12, dbeng8, wrapper, mssqlserver,  mssql,  contoso1,  msdtc,  sqlserveragent,  vds


Of note are processes associated with desktop applications like Outlook and Microsoft Word, as well as several processes associated with databases and servers. These processes are likely killed to remove locks from associated files and free process handles to access information related to those processes.

HavanaCrypt then utilizes vssadmin.exe to delete shadow copies, backups of files and volumes saved on the machine created by the operating system that may be used as restore points. It then sets the maximum storage size to 401MB, and deletes Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) system restore points, all to ensure that the system cannot be brought back to a pre-infected state via these measures:

image6-Aug-22-2022-06-23-17-46-PMShadow Copy Deletion

Furthermore, HavanaCrypt drops copies of itself to the StartUp and ProgramData folders with a name 10 random alphabetical characters long with the file type set to “System file” and the attribute set to “Hidden”. It also drops the file vallo.bat to the startup folder. This file contains functionality to disable the task manager:

image10-Aug-22-2022-06-23-52-68-PMvallo.bat content

At this point in the execution, HavanaCrypt runs a function to identify the infected machine and gathers the following information:

  • Number of cores
  • Processor ID
  • Processor name
  • Socket designation
  • Motherboard Identification information


Some information gathered by HavanaCrypt

This information is then hashed. Index.php is then replaced with ham.php and the GET request (20.227.128[.]33/ham.php) under the User-Agent Havana/0.1 is sent to the HavanaCrypt C2 server for token retrieval:

HavanaCrypt GET request

If a response is received, it is decrypted using the following AES algorithm:


Ham.php decryption algorithm

Note that the first array is used as the token and the second as the date, delimited by a “-”. A POST request is then made to 20.227.128[.]33/index.php, and upon success HavanaCrypt receives its secret key and encryption key.

Encryption Strategy

HavanaCrypt leverages the cryptographic capabilities of the open-source password manager KeePass for its encryption. The calls to this library can be seen throughout the code:


Function used by HavanaCrypt for thread encryption. Note the appended file extension .havana

These functions are used to encrypt from thread to file, directory, drive, and disk in ascending order. It keeps track of the directories which have been successfully encrypted via the text file foo.txt. In this way, HavanaCrypt ensures that it thoroughly iterates through all parseable files and appends them with the .Havana extension. However, a few notable exceptions are made:

image5-Aug-22-2022-06-28-17-69-PMPaths ignored by HavanaCrypt

image13-Aug-22-2022-06-29-21-82-PMFile types ignored by HavanaCrypt

In particular, the omission of the Tor browser from encryption may suggest that the malware authors intend upon using this for C2 communications including possible data exfiltration.

Cybereason Recommendations

The Cybereason Defense Platform detects and prevents HavanaCrypt infections through the Anti-ransomware and Anti-malware feature. 

Cybereason recommends the following:

  • Enable Anti-Ransomware in your environment’s policies, set the Anti-Ransomware mode to Prevent, and enable Shadow Copy detection to ensure maximum protection against ransomware.
  • In the Cybereason Defense Platform, enable Application Control to block the execution of malicious files.
  • To hunt proactively, use the Investigation screen in the Cybereason Defense Platform and the queries in the Hunting Queries section to search for machines that are potentially infected with HavanaCrypt. Based on the search results, take further remediation actions, such as isolating the infected machines and deleting the payload file.








About The Researchers

image15-Aug-22-2022-06-31-31-05-PMRalph Villanueva, Security Analyst, Cybereason Global SOC

Ralph Villanueva is a Security Analyst with the Cybereason Global SOC team. He works hunting and combating emerging threats in the cybersecurity space. His interests include malware reverse engineering, digital forensics, and studying APTs. He earned his Masters in Network Security from Florida International University.  

image2-3Loïc Castel, Principal Security Analyst, Cybereason Global SOC

 Loïc Castel is a Principal Security Analyst with the Cybereason Global SOC team. Loïc analyses and researches critical incidents and cybercriminals, in order to better detect compromises. In his career, Loïc worked as a security auditor in well-known organizations such as ANSSI (French National Agency for the Security of Information Systems) and as Lead Digital Forensics & Incident Response at Atos. Loïc loves digital forensics and incident response, but is also interested in offensive aspects such as vulnerability research.

Cybereason Global SOC Team
About the Author

Cybereason Global SOC Team

The Cybereason Global SOC Team delivers 24/7 Managed Detection and Response services to customers on every continent. Led by cybersecurity experts with experience working for government, the military and multiple industry verticals, the Cybereason Global SOC Team continuously hunts for the most sophisticated and pervasive threats to support our mission to end cyberattacks on the endpoint, across the enterprise, and everywhere the battle moves.

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