Money Message Ransomware Gang Reportedly Hacks MSI: Demands $4 Million

Have you ever wondered what would happen if the sensitive inner workings of your organization‘s most valuable products and assets fell into the wrong hands? For globally renowned hardware manufacturer MSI, this may no longer be just a hypothetical. MSI now finds itself at the center of a potentially devastating cyber extortion plot after a brazen network infiltration by a notorious ransomware gang.

In this guide, we‘ll unpack the details of the reported MSI breach, assess the threat actors and their motives, analyze the potential business impacts and supply chain risks, and outline ransomware resilience best practices to help your organization prepare for and withstand similar attacks.

MSI: An Electronics Industry Leader Under Attack

MSI (Micro-Star International Co Ltd) is one of Taiwan‘s great tech success stories. Founded in 1986, the company has grown into a leading global brand for computers, laptops, graphics cards, motherboards and other cutting-edge hardware. Their stylish, high-performance products have won numerous awards and drive billions in annual revenues.

But MSI now faces a critical crisis. A ransomware group calling itself Money Message claims to have breached MSI‘s network and exfiltrated sensitive data including product source code and internal databases. The attackers threaten to leak the stolen data unless MSI pays a colossal $4 million ransom within 5 days.

This attack leverages two alarming cybercrime trends:

  • Ransomware – Malicious software that encrypts data until ransoms are paid, increasingly via cryptocurrency. Attacks are up 105% in 2021.
  • Double extortion – After stealing data, attackers threaten to publish it unless ransoms are met. Even if backups exist, data exposure can still cause massive damage.

For MSI, the stakes could not be higher. Let‘s analyze this unfolding crisis and its larger implications.

Money Message: Aggressive Extortionists with a Taste for Tech

Money Message is a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) group that first surfaced in August 2022 on Russian cybercrime forums. They likely have ties to the now defunct Black Basta ransomware operation.

The group uses "military-grade encryption", consults for other ransomware developers, and partners with affiliates to compromise targets. Their ransom notes contain the ".sfile" extension.

In a short period, Money Message has hit a number of major companies:

  • Entertainment firm AMC Networks – leaked unaired TV episodes after ransom talks stalled.
  • Supermarket chain Wegmans – demanded $10 million and threatened leak of sensitive data.
  • Fashion company Moncler – claimed theft of 2TB of data and demanded multi-million dollar ransom.

The group has earned millions of dollars from these schemes. Cybersecurity experts warn Money Message exhibits a higher level of operational security and technological sophistication compared to other ransomware groups.

"Money Message has quickly proven to be one of most aggressive and capable ransomware operations we‘ve seen lately," said Brian Hansen, Director of Threat Intelligence for Anthropic.

Inside the Reported MSI Breach

On November 5th, Money Message added MSI to their darknet data leak site. They uploaded file directories allegedly containing:

  • Product source code
  • BIOS firmware code
  • Customer tracking databases
  • Financial documents

Screenshots purport to show MSI source code repositories, software binaries, and product specifications.

If genuine, this may comprise MSI‘s crown jewels – the formulae behind their award-winning hardware innovations.

Alleged screenshot of MSI source code leak

Alleged screenshot of MSI source code leak – via BleepingComputer

But how did the breach occur in the first place? Let‘s analyze Money Message‘s potential tactics.

Initial access vectors – Money Message may have leveraged:

  • Phishing emails with malicious attachments or links
  • Exploiting vulnerabilities in MSI‘s internet-facing systems
  • Purchasing credentials on dark web marketplaces
  • Insider access from recruited or compromised employees

Network traversal – Once inside, Money Message likely employed techniques like:

  • Credential dumping for account takeovers
  • Lateral movement using tools like Mimikatz
  • Abusing backup systems and cloud storage
  • Disabling logs and security tools

Data exfiltration – The hackers may have located and extracted sensitive data by:

  • Scanning file shares for keywords, like "source code"
  • Targeting document management systems
  • Stealing databases and repositories

Finally, they deployed the SFile ransomware payload and encrypted systems. A profitable, if highly illegal, data heist.

"From initial intrusion to data theft took likely took weeks of stealthy persistence inside MSI‘s network," said Casey Ellis, founder of Bugcrowd. "Warning signs may have been missed until it was too late."

MSI‘s Tough Choice: Pay, Negotiate or Refuse?

With the damaging data breach reported, MSI faces high-stakes options:

Pay the ransom – At $4 million, the payment is heavy but prevents sensitive data exposure. It also funds more criminal activity.

Negotiate – MSI could attempt to lower the ransom in exchange for quick payment. But risks breakdown in talks.

Refuse payment – MSI may choose not to engage the ransomware gang, potentially triggering data leaks.

Restore backups – If backups exist, MSI can restore compromised systems. But data remains stolen.

There are merits and drawbacks to each approach. MSI leadership is likely doing rapid risk analysis with cybersecurity advisors to decide their best course of action.

"In intrusions of this magnitude, there are no easy choices. MSI must weigh all options to protect shareholders, customers, supply chains and their reputation," said Nabiha Syed, CEO of Marshmallow.

Why Source Code Theft Changes the Game

The reported theft of MSI‘s source code and intellectual property raises the stakes exponentially. If leaked online, it could have devastating consequences:

  • Competitive advantage erased – The source code is MSI‘s secret recipe. Rivals could inspect it and mimic product designs.
  • Security risks – The code likely contains flaws. Attackers can inspect it and create exploits. MSI may have to rewrite codebases from scratch.
  • Counterfeiting – Criminals could manufacture knockoff products and defraud customers. Brand reputation suffers greatly.
  • Liabilities – Leaked code that exposes customer data or regulated information creates massive legal liabilities.
  • Financial losses – MSI may suffer huge drops in sales, stock price, brand value and partner trust if code leaks.

Source code theft enables immense long-term damage. Paying ransoms often emerges as the lesser evil.

"Source code is the keys to the kingdom. Its loss represents an existential crisis for tech manufacturers," said Daniel Cronk, CISSP and cyber risk advisor.

Tech Sector Increasingly in Ransomware Crosshairs

The reported cyberattack on MSI mirrors an alarming trend – the targeting of tech manufacturers and service providers by ransomware groups:


  • Paid $5 million ransom to prevent release of stolen source code in 2018.


  • Suffered source code and confidential data theft earlier this year.


  • 2021 attack on the meat supplier risked food supply chain disruptions. They paid an $11 million ransom.


  • Breach of this IT management firm disrupted over 1,500 businesses.

Ransomware actors realize that technology vendors are prime targets. Disrupting their operations creates ripple effects across industries. Source code theft grants valuable insights into proprietary systems other companies rely upon.

"Technology providers are extremely high-value marks for ransomware groups looking to capitalize on supply chain connections and privileged data access," said Matt Mosley, Lead Data Scientist at Sonrai Security.

Ransomware Resilience: Protecting People, Data and Systems

The reported MSI breach highlights the surging danger of targeted ransomware. All organizations should systematically assess and bolster their preparedness:

Ready your people

  • Conduct cybersecurity awareness training
  • Promote identification of phishing attempts
  • Ensure staff can recognize social engineering

Lock down your data

  • Classify and inventory all sensitive data
  • Enforce least privilege and strict access controls
  • Encrypt data flows and sensitive data stores
  • Maintain immutable offline backups

Harden your environment

  • Patch and upgrade systems promptly
  • Segment networks and isolate key systems
  • Deploy endpoint detection and antivirus tools
  • Monitor logs and activity patterns for anomalies

Prepare incident response

  • Develop and exercise an incident response plan
  • Retain external experts for rapid response
  • Know your reporting obligations and have PR strategy

"True ransomware resilience requires a symbiotic relationship between vigilant people, resilient data and hardened systems," said Alison Cossette, Principal Cybersecurity Architect at ZeroNorth.

The MSI Breach: A Case Study in Modern Extortion

The reported network intrusion at MSI represents a watershed moment – a confluence of ransomware extortion, supply chain instability and loss of intellectual property on a massive scale.

As MSI responds to contain the damage, technology companies globally must recognize the increasingly organized, motivated and technologically sophisticated threat ransomware poses. Attacks that once targeted individual computers now take aim at the very digital infrastructure, data and IP underpinning the world‘s most influential organizations.

Ransomware resilience must become a top strategic priority. Leaders must empower people, secure data flows and harden systems against intrusion. And government action is urgently needed to disrupt ransomware‘s lucrative criminal enterprise model.

The MSI breach may serve as a wake-up call. Our interconnected world demands we work collectively to defeat ransomware before the damage is irreversible.

Written by Jason Striegel

C/C++, Java, Python, Linux developer for 18 years, A-Tech enthusiast love to share some useful tech hacks.