FortiGuard Labs Threat Research

Cracking Locky’s New Anti-Sandbox Technique

By Floser Bacurio and Roland Dela Paz | June 30, 2016

The last few weeks saw new variants of the Locky ransomware that employs a new anti-sandbox technique. In these new variants, Locky’s loader code uses a seed parameter from its JavaScript downloader in order to decrypt embedded malicious code and execute it properly. For example, the downloaded Locky executable is executed by the JavaScript in the following manner:

sample.exe 123

Below is a screenshot of it in action:

This new trick may pose challenges for automated Locky tracking systems that utilize sandboxing due to the following considerations:

  1. New Locky binaries will not execute properly without the correct parameter.
  2. JavaScript downloaders may fail to download if the download locations are already down.

Currently, the in-the-wild JavaScript downloaders we have seen are using the parameters “123” and “321”. Of course, this can be easily changed by Locky’s perpetrators. So the question this raises is – how do we get around this anti-sandbox mechanism?

Digging a Little Bit Deeper

First, let’s understand its decryption routine. The three-digit argument passed to the malware binary is first converted to an integer value:

This is then used as the key for the loader’s decryption routine, shown below:


Whenever the malware receives an invalid argument value, the decrypted payload will be incorrect and consequently causes the malware execution to crash. If Windows Error Reporting popup is enabled, the following message box appears when the application crashes (note that “Product Activation” is a fake file property for this specific sample):

While receiving this sort of error message may be unpleasant, we can actually use it to our advantage to brute force the correct parameter (decryption key). Specifically, the absence of this popup during a brute force session means that the Locky executable has executed correctly!

Furthermore, we can see in the following decryption code snippet  that this malware only uses the lower 8 bits from the key by moving one HEX byte to the register “al”:

This means that for the decimal parameter “321” (0x141 H), only 0x41 H will be used as the decryption key. This also means that the parameters “65” (0x41 H) and “577” (0x241 H) will work as well!

Finally, since the key only uses one byte length, we can brute force the 256 possibilities.

Putting the Theory into Practice

To test our theory, we put together a Python script that brute forces Locky binary without its JavaScript downloaders. It brute forces a 0-255 range and monitors the Windows Error popup (and at the same time suppresses it). If the Windows Error popup does not appear, it means that the correct key has been found and the script halts.

In a matter of milliseconds, our script was able to identify the correct key for a Locky sample that expected the seed “123” (0x7B H):

The key “379” (0x17B H) also works for the same sample:

For a sample that expects a “321” parameter, it was able to identify “65” as a correct key:


While Locky’s new anti-sandbox technique may prove effective in circumventing sandboxes, understanding its code allows us to come up with simplistic approaches to continue to support the sandboxing of new variants. Fortinet detects Locky binaries as W32/Locky variants and blocks Locky C&C communication via the IPS signature Locky.Botnet.

If you want to learn more about Locky, you can catch our upcoming Virus Bulletin 2016 presentation this coming October. Our presentation will also detail the system we built to monitor and extract intelligence from Locky samples. Catch you there!

-=Fortiguard Lion Team=-