The Clop Threat Actor Group


The Clop threat actor group has emerged as a prominent and sophisticated player. Known for their ransomware attacks and data exfiltration tactics, Clop poses a significant risk to organizations worldwide. Let’s take a look at the inner workings of the Clop group, exploring their tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) to gain a deeper understanding of their modus operandi and the implications for targeted entities.

The Clop group, first identified in 2019, specializes in deploying ransomware and conducting data exfiltration operations. They have been attributed to several high-profile attacks on organizations across various sectors, including finance, healthcare, and manufacturing. Clop is known for employing advanced techniques and demonstrating a high level of operational sophistication, making them a formidable threat.

The Clop threat actor group has been known to target organizations across various sectors. While their specific targets may vary, Clop generally focuses on organizations that possess valuable data or have the potential to yield substantial financial gain. Here are some types of organizations commonly targeted by Clop:

  • Large Enterprises: Clop often targets large multinational corporations across industries such as finance, manufacturing, technology, healthcare, and retail. These organizations typically hold vast amounts of sensitive data, intellectual property, and financial resources, making them attractive targets for data exfiltration and ransomware operations.
  • Financial Institutions: Banks, insurance companies, investment firms, and other financial institutions are prime targets for Clop. These organizations store vast amounts of valuable customer financial data, making them lucrative targets for data theft and ransom demands.
  • Healthcare Providers: Clop recognizes the value of sensitive patient data stored by healthcare organizations. Hospitals, medical centers, clinics, and pharmaceutical companies are targeted due to the high demand for patient records on the black market and the potential impact on patient care if access to critical systems is disrupted.
  • Educational Institutions: Universities, colleges, and research institutions are not immune to Clop’s attacks. These organizations often possess valuable research data, intellectual property, and sensitive student information. Clop’s motive may involve stealing research findings or targeting financial resources available to educational institutions.
  • Manufacturing and Industrial Companies: Organizations involved in manufacturing, energy, and critical infrastructure may fall victim to Clop’s attacks. Disrupting the operations of these entities can have severe financial and societal consequences, making them attractive targets for ransom demands.
  • Government and Public Sector: Clop has also targeted government agencies, local municipalities, and public sector entities. Breaching government networks can yield access to sensitive information, classified documents, and critical infrastructure systems, allowing the threat actors to exert significant influence and potentially disrupt essential services.
  • It is important to note that the targets of Clop attacks can evolve over time as their strategies and motivations adapt to emerging opportunities and shifting trends in the cyber threat landscape. Organizations across industries should remain vigilant, prioritize cybersecurity measures, and stay informed about the latest threat intelligence to mitigate the risk posed by the Clop threat actor group.

Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures

Initial Access and Reconnaissance

The Clop group utilizes various initial access vectors to breach their targets’ defenses:

  • Phishing Campaigns: Clop initiates attacks through targeted phishing emails, employing social engineering techniques to trick victims into opening malicious attachments or clicking on malicious links. These emails often mimic legitimate communications and exploit human vulnerabilities.
  • Exploitation of Vulnerabilities: Clop actively exploits vulnerabilities in software, including remote desktop protocol (RDP) and VPN vulnerabilities, to gain unauthorized access to targeted systems.
  • Supply Chain Compromises: Clop leverages supply chain attacks, compromising trusted software vendors or service providers to gain access to their customers’ networks.

Lateral Movement and Persistence

Once inside the targeted network, Clop employs various tactics to move laterally and establish persistence:

  • Credential Theft and Privilege Escalation: Clop employs techniques like credential dumping, password spraying, and brute-force attacks to steal user credentials. They also exploit misconfigurations and vulnerabilities to escalate privileges, gaining broader access within the network.
  • Living-off-the-Land Techniques: Clop leverages legitimate tools and operating system functionalities, such as PowerShell, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), and scripting languages, to evade detection and move laterally.
  • Malware Deployment: Clop deploys custom-built or off-the-shelf malware, including ransomware variants such as Clop, to encrypt victim data and demand ransom payments. They often use living-off-the-land techniques to deploy and execute their malware payloads.

Data Exfiltration and Ransomware Operations

Data exfiltration and ransomware deployment are central to Clop’s operations:

  • Data Exfiltration: Clop exfiltrates sensitive data before deploying ransomware. This approach allows them to threaten victims with data leaks to increase the pressure for ransom payment. They selectively target valuable intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII), and financial data for maximum impact.
  • Encryption and Ransom Demands: Clop employs strong encryption algorithms to encrypt victim data, rendering it inaccessible. Following the encryption, they issue ransom demands demanding payment in cryptocurrencies. Clop often employs double extortion tactics, threatening to leak sensitive data if the ransom is not paid.
  • Leak Sites and Media Campaigns: In some instances, Clop establishes leak sites where they publicly disclose stolen data to further pressure victims. They may also engage in media campaigns to tarnish the reputation of victim organizations and coerce them into paying the ransom.

Evading Detection and Countermeasures

Clop employs several techniques to evade detection and counter traditional security measures:

  • Anti-Forensic Measures: Clop utilizes anti-forensic techniques, such as disk wiping, deletion of logs, and obfuscation, to hinder incident response efforts and impede forensic analysis.
  • Use of Secure Communication Channels: Clop employs encrypted communication channels, including Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and anonymous messaging platforms, to maintain operational security and avoid detection.
  • Rapidly Changing Tactics: Clop continuously evolves their TTPs, making it challenging for security solutions to detect and mitigate their attacks. They adapt to security updates, modify their code, and adjust their tactics to stay one step ahead.

Ever Evolving Threats

The Clop threat actor group has solidified its position as a prominent and sophisticated adversary in the cybersecurity landscape. Their utilization of advanced TTPs, including targeted phishing campaigns, data exfiltration, and ransomware operations, makes them a formidable threat to organizations across various sectors. Understanding their tactics, techniques, and procedures is essential for organizations to enhance their defenses, implement proactive security measures, and develop effective incident response plans. By staying vigilant, leveraging threat intelligence, and adopting comprehensive security practices, organizations can fortify their resilience against the Clop group and other emerging cyber threats in the ever-changing threat landscape.

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About Joe Sullivan 35 Articles
Joe Sullivan has worked in information security for over two decades. He holds numerous certifications and has worked in various roles during that time. Joe is a SANS instructor and senior security consultant for TrustedSec. Joe regularly contributes to SecFlux and shares some of his experiences, knowledge, and insight into current cyber events.