ProPublica recently reported that two U.S. firms, which professed to use their own data recovery methods to help ransomware victims regain access to infected files, instead paid the hackers.
Now there’s new evidence that a U.K. firm takes a similar approach. Fabian Wosar, a cyber security researcher, told ProPublica this month that, in a sting operation he conducted in April, Scotland-based Red Mosquito Data Recovery said it was “running tests” to unlock files while actually negotiating a ransom payment. Wosar, the head of research at anti-virus provider Emsisoft, said he posed as both hacker and victim so he could review the company’s communications to both sides.
Red Mosquito Data Recovery “made no effort to not pay the ransom” and instead went “straight to the ransomware author literally within minutes,” Wosar said.
On its website, Red Mosquito Data Recovery calls itself a “one-stop data recovery and consultancy service” and says it has dealt with hundreds of ransomware cases worldwide in the past year. It advertised last week that its “international service” offers “experts who can offer honest, free advice.” It said it offers a “professional alternative” to paying a ransom, but cautioned that “paying the ransom may be the only viable option for getting your files decrypted.”
It does “not recommend negotiating directly with criminals since this can further compromise security,” it added.
Red Mosquito Data Recovery did not respond to emailed questions, and hung up when we called the number listed on its website. After being contacted by ProPublica, the company removed the statement from its website that it provides an alternative to paying hackers. It also changed “honest, free advice” to “simple free advice,” and the “hundreds” of ransomware cases it has handled to “many.”
documents show, Lairg wrote to Wosar’s victim email address, saying he was “pleased to confirm that we can recover your encrypted files” for $3,950 — four times as much as the agreed-upon ransom.