VMware ESXi Under Siege: The Rising Threat of Abyss Locker Ransomware


As cyber threats continue to evolve, the risk to critical infrastructure and businesses has reached new heights with the emergence of the Abyss Locker ransomware gang. This sophisticated group has honed its attack methods, posing a serious danger to industrial control systems (ICS), enterprises, and public-sector organizations. The most alarming aspect of their recent exploits is the development of a custom Linux encryptor explicitly aimed at VMware’s ESXi virtualized environments.

The Menace of Abyss Locker Ransomware

Originating in March, Abyss Locker quickly gained notoriety for its double-extortion tactics. This involves encrypting sensitive data and threatening to leak it if the ransom demands are not met. Now, with the advent of Abyss Locker Version 2, the group has unleashed a specialized Linux ELF encryptor variant targeting VMware ESXi virtual machines (VMs). The combination of advanced encryption techniques and the increased prevalence of the ESXi platform makes this ransomware a formidable threat.

The Appeal of Targeting VMware ESXi

VMware’s ESXi has become a prime target for ransomware operators due to its widespread adoption and the absence of built-in malware detection capabilities. As the hypervisor responsible for managing virtual machines, it lacks the ability to detect and protect against third-party threats effectively. This leaves ESXi environments highly vulnerable to ransomware attacks, making them an enticing prospect for malicious actors seeking to maximize their impact.

A Growing Trend in Ransomware Landscape

Abyss Locker is not alone in its pursuit of ESXi systems. A trend has emerged in the ransomware landscape, with multiple threat actors shifting their focus to VMware’s virtualization platform. Various ransomware collectives, such as Akira, Black Basta, Cl0p, HelloKitty, IceFire, Hive, LockBit, MichaelKors, Royal, REvil, and others, have followed suit, inflicting damage on ESXi machines. The surge in ESXi-targeted attacks can be partially attributed to the availability of the Babuk source code, which has spawned at least 10 ESXi-ready ransomware variants.

Unraveling the Abyss Locker Linux Encryptor

Security experts and ransomware hunters have revealed that the Linux encryptor used by Abyss Locker appears to have roots in the older HelloKitty ransomware. HelloKitty previously executed high-profile attacks, including the infamous Cyberpunk 2077 gaming attack. This indicates that ransomware operators are learning from past successes and adapting their tools to exploit new opportunities, like ESXi environments.

Implications for Industrial Control Systems and Enterprises

The heightened focus on VMware ESXi poses significant risks for both industrial control systems and enterprises. ICS environments, which are instrumental in managing critical infrastructure like power plants and water treatment facilities, now face the threat of crippling ransomware attacks. The potential consequences include disruption of essential services and the potential for extortion through the exposure of sensitive data. For enterprises, the loss of critical data and the ensuing downtime could lead to severe financial and reputational damage.

Defending Against the Abyss Locker Menace

To protect against the rising tide of Abyss Locker and similar ransomware threats targeting VMware ESXi, organizations must take proactive measures:

Harden ESXi Systems: Implement best security practices for ESXi environments, including regular patching, disabling unnecessary services, and restricting access.

Network Segmentation: Isolate ESXi systems from other critical infrastructure to contain potential ransomware infections.

Backup and Disaster Recovery: Regularly back up critical data and maintain offline backups to restore systems in case of an attack.

Endpoint Protection: Deploy advanced endpoint protection solutions capable of detecting and neutralizing ransomware before it spreads.

Incident Response Preparedness: Develop and test an incident response plan to ensure a swift and effective response to ransomware incidents.


As ransomware gangs continue to evolve and find new targets, the rise of the Abyss Locker ransomware gang and its focus on VMware ESXi environments is a grave concern. Organizations must prioritize the security of their ESXi systems and take proactive steps to defend against these threats. By raising awareness, fostering collaboration, and employing robust cybersecurity measures, we can collectively safeguard critical infrastructure, businesses, and data from the ever-looming menace of ransomware attacks on VMware ESXi.

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