• Cisco Talos observed a surge in GhostSec, a hacking group’s malicious activities since this past year.
  • GhostSec has evolved with a new GhostLocker 2.0 ransomware, a Golang variant of the GhostLocker ransomware.
  • The GhostSec and Stormous ransomware groups are jointly conducting double extortion ransomware attacks on various business verticals in multiple countries. 
  • GhostLocker and Stormous ransomware have started a new ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) program STMX_GhostLocker, providing various options for their affiliates. 
  • Talos also discovered two new tools in GhostSec arsenal, the “GhostSec Deep Scan tool” and “GhostPresser,” both likely being used in the attacks against websites.

Victimology of ransomware attacks

Talos observed the GhostSec and Stormous ransomware groups operating together to conduct several double extortion attacks using the GhostLocker and StormousX ransomware programs against the victims in Cuba, Argentina, Poland, China, Lebanon, Israel, Uzbekistan, India, South Africa, Brazil, Morocco, Qatar, Turkiye, Egypt, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia according to our assessment of the disclosure messages posted by the group in their Telegram channels and Stormous ransomware data leak site.  

The collaborative operation affected victims across various business verticals, according to disclosures made by the groups in their Telegram channels.

Talos’ observation in GhostSec’s Telegram channels highlighted the group’s continued attacks on Israel’s Industrial systems, critical infrastructure and technology companies. On Nov. 12, 2023, they claimed that the affected organizations also included the Ministry of Defense in Israel.

Example of GhostSec’s Telegram chat message.

GhostSec has remained active since this past year

GhostSec is a hacker group that claims to be one of a modern-day Five Families group that includes ThreatSec, Stormous, Blackforums and SiegedSec on their Telegram channels. GhostSec is financially motivated, conducting single and double extortion attacks on victims across various geographies. They have also conducted several denial-of-service (DoS) attacks and have taken down victims’ websites, according to their Telegram channel messages. Their claims also showed us that their primary focus is raising funds for hacktivists and threat actors through their cybercriminal activities. 

The actor’s name, GhostSec, resembles the well-known hacktivist Ghost Security Group, primarily focusing on counterterrorism efforts and targeting pro-ISIS websites. The Ghost Security Group mentioned in their blog that another hacking group mimics their identity. 

In October 2023, GhostSec announced a new ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) framework called GhostLocker. After their successful collaborative operations with the Stormous ransomware group in July 2023 against Cuban ministries, on Oct. 14, 2023, the Stormous gang announced that they would use the GhostLocker ransomware program in addition to their StormousX program. 

Stormous ransomware Telegram chat message.

Since then, the GhostSec and Stormous ransomware groups have jointly conducted double extortion ransomware attacks targeting victims across various business verticals in multiple countries. Along with the ransomware attacks, GhostSec seemed to be conducting attacks against corporate websites, including a national railway operator in Indonesia and one of Canada’s leading energy companies. They have likely leveraged their GhostPresser tool along with the cross-site scripting attack technique to compromise the websites. 

On Feb. 24, 2024, Stormous group mentioned on “The Five Families” Telegram channel that they have started their new ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) program “STMX_GhostLocker” along with their partners in GhostSec. The new program is made up of three categories of services for the affiliates: paid, free, and another for the individuals without a program who only want to sell or publish data on their blog (PYV service). 

The group has shared their working model flow diagrams for member and non-member affiliates on their Telegram channels.

Stmx_GhostLocker member affiliate working model.
Stmx_GhostLocker non-member affiliate working model.

Stormous ransomware and GhostSec have rebuilt the new official blog of their RAAS program Stmx_GhostLocker on the TOR network, with features for the affiliates to join their program and disclose their victim’s data. Their blog dashboard shows the count of victims and disclosures of victims’ information with a link to their leaked data. They also display the largest ransom as $500,000 USD — we are not sure if that is the highest ransom payment they have received. 

Redacted picture of Stmx_GhostLocker blog. 

Evolution of GhostLocker 2.0 ransomware 

In November 2023, GhostSec announced a newer version of their GhostLocker ransomware called GhostLocker 2.0. Recently we observed that they have again started advertising their latest Golang version “GhostLocker 2.0” by calling it “GhostLocker V2” and mentioning their ongoing work on the GhostLocker V3, indicating their continuous evolution in developing their toolset. 

GhostLocker 2.0 encrypts the files on the victim’s machine using the file extension “.ghost” and drops and opens a ransom note. The ransom note has changed from its previous version, where the operator tells users to secure the encryption ID displayed in the ransom note and share it with them in their chat service during the negotiation by clicking “Click me.” The operator also mentions that the victim’s stolen data will be disclosed if they fail to contact them in seven days. 

Ransom Note of GhostLocker (left) and ransom Note of GhostLocker 2.0 (right).

The GhostLocker RAAS has a C2 panel where the affiliates can get an overview of their attacks and gains. When deployed on the victim’s machine, the ransomware binaries will register to the C2 panel, and the affiliates can track the encryption status on the victim’s machine. Talos discovered the GhostLocker 2.0 C2 server with the IP address 94[.]103[.]91[.]246 located in Moscow, Russia. We observed that the geolocation of the C2 server is similar to that of the C2 servers of earlier versions of the GhostLocker ransomware that security researchers at Uptycs reported. 

GhostLocker C2 panels.

GhostLocker RAAS provides its affiliates with the ransomware builder, which contains configuration options, including the mode of persistence that the ransomware binary can establish after being successfully run on the victim machine, target directories to encrypt, and techniques to evade the detections, such as killing the defined processes or services or running the arbitrary command to kill the scheduled task or bypass the User Account Controls (UAC). 

GhostLocker 2.0 ransomware builder panel.

Talos discovered the new variant of GhostLocker ransomware, “GhostLocker 2.0” in the wild on Nov. 15, 2023. The majority of the ransomware functionality of GhostLocker 2.0 remains the same as that of its earlier version GhostLocker, which was written in Python, excluding the watchdog component that the operator had used in earlier versions to start the dropped ransomware binary from the victim’s machine Windows Startup location and the AES encryption key length of 256 bits with that of 128 bits in the earlier version. 

During the initial execution, GhostLocker 2.0 copies itself to the Windows Startup folder to establish persistence. It also generates a random string of 32 bytes and uses the generated string as the filename for its dropped copy in the Windows Startup folder. 

After establishing the persistence, the ransomware establishes the connection to the C2 server through the URL hxxp[://]94[.]103[.]91[.]246[/]incrementLaunch.

A function that initiates the connection to C2.

After establishing a successful connection with the C2 server, the ransomware generates the secret key and the encryption ID and gathers the victim’s IP address, infection date and other information from its configuration parameters, including encryption status, ransom amount and a victim identifier string, to create a JSON file in the victim’s machine memory.

JSON file generated in the machine’s memory.

The generated JSON file is sent to the C2 server through the URL hxxp[://]94[.]103[.]91[.]246[/]addInfection to register the victim’s machine infection in the C2 panel.

Function to register the infection to the C2 by sending the JSON file.

After registering the victim’s machine infection with the C2 panel, the ransomware attempts to terminate the defined processes or services or Windows scheduled tasks from its configuration parameters in the victim’s machine to evade detection. 

Functions to stop Windows scheduled tasks. 

GhostLocker 2.0 searches for the target files on the victim’s machine according to the file extension list defined by the threat actor, and before the encryption routine starts, it will upload the target files to the C2 server through the URL “hxxp[://]94[.]103[.]91[.]246[/]upload” using HTTP post method. In the GhostLocker 2.0 sample we analyzed, the actor has configured the ransomware to exfiltrate and encrypt the files that have file extensions .doc, .docx, .xls and .xlsx. 

Function to exfiltrate the target files to the C2 server. 

After successfully exfiltrating, GhostLocker 2.0 encrypts the targeted files and appends “.ghost” as the file extension for the encrypted files. During the encryption process, GhostLocker 2.0 skips the “C:\Windows” folder. After completing the encryption routine, the ransomware drops the embedded ransom note to an HTML file with the filename “Ransomnote.html” on the victim’s desktop and launches it using the Windows `Start` command. 

A function that drops and opens ransom notes.

Other tools likely used to scan and compromise websites 

Talos’ research uncovered two new tools in GhostSec’s arsenal that the hacking group claimed to have used in compromising legitimate websites. One of them is the “GhostSec Deep Scan toolset” to scan legitimate websites recursively, and another is a hack tool to perform cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks called “GhostPresser.”

GhostSec Deep Scan Tool

The GhostSec deep scan toolset is a Python utility that an attacker can use to scan the websites of their potential targets. 

The tool has several modules to perform the following scans on the targeted websites:

  • Perform a user-specific search. 
  • Scans multiple websites.
  • Extract the hyperlinks on the website. 
  • Performs a deep scan and analyzes the technologies used to build the web page.
  • Scans the security protocols to detect the SSL/TLS and HSTS (HTTP Strict Transport Security).
  • Perform the website content analysis and extract the contents to a file.
  • Performs a WhoIs lookup.
  • Checks for the existence of any broken links in the website.

The tool also contains placeholders to perform specific functions including SSL analysis, DNS lookup, checks for robots.txt and sitemap.xml, CVE scans on the targeted website, and an advanced search based on the file type, date range and the custom criteria of the websites, indicating the GhostSec’s continuous evolution of tools in their arsenal. 

One of the modules that stood out to us is the `deep_scan` function that the actor has defined to parse and scrape information from the targeted web pages and assess the technologies used in the web page. It is done by using the Python libraries Beautiful Soup, a Python package used for parsing data out of HTML and XML files, and the BuiltWith Python library, a Python package used to detect the technology used by a website, such as Apache, JQuery and WordPress. 

A function to parse and identify the technology used in the webpage.

GhostPresser: A WordPress hack tool 

GhostPresser, an admin bypass and hacking tool targeting the WordPress content management system, is a shell script that GhostSec claims to have used in an XSS attack against a legitimate website in Canada. The tool appears to be under enhancement process as we spotted several placeholders in the tool to include functionalities to perform audits on the targeted websites. We are not sure at this moment about what type of audits the threat actor intends to implement in their tool. 

GhostPresser tool.

A threat actor can achieve the following actions after successfully injecting the GhostPresser into a targeted website on WordPress. 

  • Bypass logins and perform actions such as test cookies. 
  • Activate and deactivate a plugin. 
  • Change WordPress settings.
  • Create a new user. 
  • Update WordPress core information. 
  • Functions to install a new theme.

Below is an example of the function in the GhostPresser to install new themes in WordPress.

Function to install new WordPress theme.


Cisco Secure Endpoint (formerly AMP for Endpoints) is ideally suited to prevent the execution of the malware detailed in this post. Try Secure Endpoint for free here.

Cisco Secure Web Appliance web scanning prevents access to malicious websites and detects malware used in these attacks.

Cisco Secure Email (formerly Cisco Email Security) can block malicious emails sent by threat actors as part of their campaign. You can try Secure Email for free here.

Cisco Secure Firewall (formerly Next-Generation Firewall and Firepower NGFW) appliances such as Threat Defense Virtual, Adaptive Security Appliance and Meraki MX can detect malicious activity associated with this threat.

Cisco Secure Malware Analytics (Threat Grid) identifies malicious binaries and builds protection into all Cisco Secure products.

Umbrella, Cisco's secure internet gateway (SIG), blocks users from connecting to malicious domains, IPs and URLs, whether users are on or off the corporate network. Sign up for a free trial of Umbrella here.

Cisco Secure Web Appliance (formerly Web Security Appliance) automatically blocks potentially dangerous sites and tests suspicious sites before users access them.

Additional protections with context to your specific environment and threat data are available from the Firewall Management Center.

Cisco Duo provides multi-factor authentication for users to ensure only those authorized are accessing your network.

Open-source Snort Subscriber Rule Set customers can stay up to date by downloading the latest rule pack available for purchase on Snort.org. Snort SIDs for this threat are 62983-62989, and 300818-300820. 

ClamAV detections are also available for this threat:


Indicators of Compromise

Indicators of Compromise associated with this threat can be found here.