Threat Research Blog

Locky Gets Clever!

As discussed in an earlier FireEye blog, we have seen Locky ransomware rise to fame in recent months. Locky is aggressively distributed via a JavaScript-based downloader sent as an attachment in spam emails, and may have overshadowed the Dridex banking Trojan as the top spam contributor.

FireEye Labs recently observed a new development in the way this ransomware communicates with its control server.  Recent samples of Locky are once again being delivered via “Invoice”-related email campaigns, as seen in Figure 1. When the user runs the attached JavaScript, the JavaScript will attempt to download and execute the Locky ransomware payload from hxxp://

Figure 1. Locky email campaigns

This new Locky variant was observed to be highly evasive in its network communication. It uses both symmetric and asymmetric encryption – unlike previous versions that use custom encoding – to communicate with its control server.

Technical Details of Encryption Mechanism

To start encrypting the victim files, Locky obtains a public key from the control server. The POST data before encryption appears as:


To encrypt the request, Locky performs the following actions:

PHASE 1: Generate AES keys and encrypt the plaintext request.

1.     Generate a single random byte using CryptGenRandom() API. This byte decides how many NULL bytes are added to the plaintext request before encryption.

2.     Generate a random binary blob of size 32, again using the CryptGenRandom() API. These bytes serve a dual purpose, as they are used as the key for both AES encryption and HMAC hash calculation.

3.     Append NULL bytes to the plaintext request depending on the random byte generated in step 1.

4.     Encrypt the (plaintext request + NULL bytes) with AES encryption using the random 32 bytes calculated in step 2 as the key.

PHASE 2: Encrypt the generated AES keys.

5.     Obtain a public key (RSA 1024 bits) from a decoded binary blob embedded inside the binary.

6.     Create a PUBLICKEYSTRUCT blob header, add the random  bytes generated in step 2, and then call the CryptImportKey() API to create an RC2 key HANDLE that is used for HMAC calculation.

7.     Calculate the HMAC of (plaintext request + NULL bytes) using the key generated in step 6.

8.     Using the RSA public key from step 5, encrypt  (32-byte AES key [step 2] + random byte [step 1] + HMAC [step 7])

9.     Combine the data from step 4 and step 8 and send it through the POST request. See Figure 2 for an example of the POST request and Figure 3 for the format of the encrypted POST data.

Figure 2. Example POST request

Figure 3. POST data encryption overview

Interestingly, this Locky variant uses the AES-NI extended instruction set – as opposed to software implementation – to generate the encryption round keys and encrypt the text.

AES Round Keys Generation

Locky uses the opcode instruction aeskeygenassist for AES round key generation, as seen in Figure 4.

Figure 4.  AES encryption using AES ENC and AES ENC LAST hardware instructions

AES Encryption Rounds

A total of 14 encryption rounds are used to encrypt the plaintext, which amounts to the use of a 256 bit key. Each round is carried by aesenc instruction and the last round is done by aesenclast, as seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5.  AES round keys generation from primary key            


Crimeware authors are constantly improving their malware. In this case, we see them evolving to protect their malware while maximizing its infection potential. Locky has moved from using simple encoding to obfuscate its network traffic to a complex encryption algorithm using hardware instructions that are very hard to crack.

These types of advancements highlight the importance of remaining vigilant against suspicious emails and using advanced technologies to prevent infections.



  • Zip downloader 638f70d173f10b2e8c9313fe20d6a440
  • Locky e4c51f20d07fc010a425e392d2acae16