Yanluowang ransomware leaks suggest pseudo Chinese persona, REvil links

A simple graphic of a white laptop on a red background, with a distorted red padlock showing on the laptop's otherwise black screen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Chat data from the Yanluowang ransomware organisation has been leaked online revealing a fake Chinese persona and potential links with other ransomware organisations.

Yanluowang is named after the Chinese and Buddhist mythological figure Yanluo Wang but chat data revealed those involved in the organisation spoke in Russian.


The big book of ZTNA security use cases

Know your ZTNA protection index


In February 2022, the most prominent member of the group who operates using the alias ‘Saint’ also responded in a discussion related to arrests of former REvil members saying five of the individuals in a linked news report were “former classmates”.

REvil is still in operation but its dominance of the ransomware landscape ended in 2021 following a coordinated international law enforcement operation to arrest many of its core members.

It’s believed the remaining lower-level cyber criminals either stayed with the organisation or moved on to work for more lucrative rivals.

The leaked messages did not explicitly tie Saint to the REvil gang nor does it reveal any more about the relationship between Saint and the arrested REvil members.

Many additional messages using the Russian language were leaked and more active aliases were also named, including ‘Killanas’ which was the second most-active user in the organisation behind Saint.

Killanas is believed to have had a role in handling code assignments, according to KELA’s analysis, which also identified ‘Felix’ as a tester and ‘Stealer’ as another organisation member.

Chat logs between Felix and Stealer appeared to indicate that an ESXi version of Yanluowang ransomware was under development - an approach VMware recently branded “a devastating threat”.

A conversation between Saint and Killanas also hinted at the group's use of Nyx ransomware, KELA said.

Also included in the leak were what the leaker claimed to be source code snippets from both the ransomware locker program's builder and decryption process but the authenticity of these has yet to be verified.

The security community has never confidently or publicly identified the location of the hackers behind the Yanluowang ransomware operation to be either Russia or China and using a false persona to evade attribution is an uncommon tactic.

Publication of the stolen files came as security researchers noticed Yanluowang’s leak blog was defaced on Monday to show the gang itself had been hacked. The hacker left the message “Time’s up!” along with links to download the stolen chat files.

Yanluowang was previously known for successfully conducting ransomware attacks on high-profile organisations such as Cisco and its security arm Cisco Talos. The data from the former was made public last month.

The ransomware group also becomes the second major organisation to have its internal chat data leaked this year.

Russia-linked Conti dominated the ransomware landscape for much of 2021 and the start of 2022 until a Ukrainian cyber security researcher leaked a trove of chat logs and later its source code that led to the group’s demise.

The incident was dubbed “the Panama Papers of ransomware” and was thought to have been a politically motivated attack following Conti’s public support of Russia in its invasion of Ukraine.

Conti and its affiliates were able to conduct a small number of other high-profile attacks before it shut down for good in June 2022.

Connor Jones

Connor Jones has been at the forefront of global cyber security news coverage for the past few years, breaking developments on major stories such as LockBit’s ransomware attack on Royal Mail International, and many others. He has also made sporadic appearances on the ITPro Podcast discussing topics from home desk setups all the way to hacking systems using prosthetic limbs. He has a master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield, and has previously written for the likes of Red Bull Esports and UNILAD tech during his career that started in 2015.