Research Output
Evaluation of Live Forensic Techniques in Ransomware Attack Mitigation
  Ransomware continues to grow in both scale, cost, complexity and impact since its initial discovery nearly 30 years ago. Security practitioners are engaged in a continual "arms race" with the ransomware developers attempting to defend their digital infrastructure against such attacks. Recent manifestations of ransomware have started to employ a hybrid combination of symmetric and asymmetric encryption to encode user's files.

This paper describes an investigation that tried to determine if the techniques currently employed in the field of digital forensics could be leveraged to discover the encryption keys used by these types of malicious software thus mitigating the effects of a ransomware attack.

Memory was captured from a system infected by ransomware and its contents was examined using live forensic tools, with the intent of identifying the symmetric encryption keys being used. NotPetya, Bad Rabbit and Phobos hybrid ransomware samples were tested during the investigation. If keys were discovered, the following two steps were also performed. Firstly, a timeline was manually created by combining data from multiple sources to illustrate the ransomware's behaviour as well as showing when the encryption keys were present in memory and how long they remained there. Secondly, an attempt was made to decrypt the files encrypted by the ransomware using the found keys. In all cases, the investigation was able to confirm that it was possible to identify the encryption keys used. A description of how these found keys were then used to successfully decrypt files that had been encrypted during the execution of the ransomware is also given.

The resulting generated timelines provided a excellent way to visualise the behaviour of the ransomware and the encryption key management practices it employed, and from a forensic investigation and possible mitigation point of view, when the encryption keys are in memory.

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  • Date:

    29 May 2020

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  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Davies, S. R., Macfarlane, R., & Buchanan, W. J. (2020). Evaluation of Live Forensic Techniques in Ransomware Attack Mitigation. Forensic Science International: Digital Investigation, 33,



Live Forensics, Ransomware

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