Nov 15

Hilton Acknowledges Credit Card Breach

Two months after KrebsOnSecurity first reported that multiple banks suspected a credit card breach at Hilton Hotel properties across the country, Hilton has acknowledged an intrusion involving malicious software found on some point-of-sale systems.

hiltonAccording to a statement released after markets closed on Tuesday, the breach persisted over a 17-week period from Nov. 18, 2014 to Dec. 5, 2014, or April 21 to July 27, 2015.

“Hilton Worldwide (NYSE: HLT) has identified and taken action to eradicate unauthorized malware that targeted payment card information in some point-of-sale systems,” the company said. “Hilton immediately launched an investigation and has further strengthened its systems.”

Hilton said the data stolen includes cardholder names, payment card numbers, security codes and expiration dates, but no addresses or personal identification numbers (PINs).

The company did not say how many Hilton locations or brands were impacted, or whether the breach was limited to compromised point-of-sale devices inside of franchised restaurants, coffee bars and gift shops within Hilton properties — as previously reported here.

The announcement from Hilton comes just five days after Starwood Hotel & Resorts Worldwide — including some 50 Sheraton and Westin locations — was hit by a similar breach that lasted nearly six months.

Starwood and Hilton join several other major hotel brands in announcing a malware-driven credit card data breach over the past year. In October 2015, The Trump Hotel Collection confirmed a report first published by KrebsOnSecurity in June about a possible card breach at the luxury hotel chain.

In March, upscale hotel chain Mandarin Oriental acknowledged a similar breach. The following month, hotel franchising firm White Lodging allowed that — for the second time in 12 months — card processing systems at several of its locations were breached by hackers.

Readers should remember that they are not liable for unauthorized debit or credit card charges, but with one big caveat: the onus is on the cardholder to spot and report any unauthorized charges. Keep a close eye on your monthly statements and report any bogus activity immediately. Many card issuers now let customers receive text alerts for each card purchase and/or for any account changes. Take a moment to review the notification options available to you from your bank or card issuer.

Nov 15

Security Bug in Dell PCs Shipped Since 8/15

All new Dell laptops and desktops shipped since August 2015 contain a serious security vulnerability that exposes users to online eavesdropping and malware attacks. Dell says it is prepping a fix for the issue, but experts say the threat may ultimately need to be stomped out by the major Web browser makers.

d3llAt issue is a root certificate installed on newer Dell computers that also includes the private cryptographic key for that certificate. Clever attackers can use this key from Dell to sign phony browser security certificates for any HTTPS-protected site.

Translation: A malicious hacker could exploit this flaw on open, public networks (think WiFi hotspots, coffee shops, airports) to impersonate any Web site to a Dell user, and to quietly intercept, read and modify all of a vulnerable Dell system’s Web traffic.

According to Joe Nord, the computer security researcher credited with discovering the problem, the trouble stems from a certificate Dell installed named “eDellRoot.”

Dell says the eDellRoot certificate was installed on all new desktop and laptops shipped from August 2015 to the present day. According to the company, the certificate was intended to make it easier for Dell customer support to assist customers in troubleshooting technical issues with their computers.

“We began loading the current version on our consumer and commercial devices in August to make servicing PC issues faster and easier for customers,” Dell spokesperson David Frink said. “When a PC engages with Dell online support, the certificate provides the system service tag allowing Dell online support to immediately identify the PC model, drivers, OS, hard drive, etc. making it easier and faster to service.”

“Unfortunately, the certificate introduced an unintended security vulnerability,” the company said in a written statement. “To address this, we are providing our customers with instructions to permanently remove the certificate from their systems via direct email, on our support site and Technical Support.”

In the meantime, Dell says it is removing the certificate from all Dell systems going forward. Continue reading →

Nov 15

How to Enable Multifactor Security on Amazon

Amazon has added multi-factor authentication to help customers better secure their accounts from hackers. With this new feature enabled, thieves would have to know your username, password, and have access to your mobile device or impersonate you to your mobile provider in order to hijack your Amazon account. The security feature allows users to receive a one-time code via text message, automated phone call, or third-party app — such as Google Authenticator.

Step one of enabling multi-factor identification on your Amazon account.

Step one of enabling multi-factor identification on your Amazon account.

Multi-factor authentication, also often called “two-step” or “two factor” authentication, is a great way to improve the security of your various online accounts (where available). With multi-factor logins enabled, even if thieves somehow steal your account username and password they’ll still need access to the second factor — your mobile phone — to successfully hijack your account.

Users can instruct Amazon to “remember” each device, which disables future prompts for the second factor on that device going forward. If Amazon later detects a login attempt from a device it does not recognize as associated with that account, it will prompt for the code from the second factor — text message, voice call, or app (whichever you choose). Continue reading →

Nov 15

ISIS Jihadi Helpdesk Customer Log, Nov. 20

From NBC News come revelations that ISIS has its very own web-savvy, 24-hour Jihadi Help Desk manned by a half-dozen senior operatives to assist foot soldiers in spreading their message far and wide. My first reaction to this story was disbelief, then envy (hey, where the heck is my 24/7 support?). But soon enough I forgot about all that, my mind racing with other possibilities.

jihadihelpdeskImagine the epic trolling opportunities available to a bored or disgruntled Jihadi Help Desk operator. For this persona, we need to reach way back into the annals of Internet history to the Bastard Operator from Hell (BOFH) — a megalomaniacal system administrator who constantly toyed with the very co-workers he was paid to support. What might a conversation between a jihadi and the Bastard Jihadi Operator from Hell (BJOFH) sound like?

[RECORDED MESSAGE]: Thank you for contacting the ISIS Jihadi Help Desk. We are currently experiencing higher than normal call volume. Please wait and your inquiry will be answered in the order that it was received. This call may be monitored for customer service and Jihadi training purposes.

JIHADI: [audible sigh].


BJOFH: ISIS Jihadi Helpdesk, Mohammed speaking, how may I help you?

JIHADI: Finally! I thought someone would never answer! I’ve been sitting here sweating bullets and listening to the same infidel hold music over and over.

BJOFH: My sincerest apologies, sir. Someone hit “reply-all” on an operational email, and that really lit up our switchboard this morning. Also, most of the encrypted email services we use are under attack by some other terrorist group and are offline at the moment.

JIHADI: Too bad for them. Seriously, you guys call this 24/7 support?? I’ve been parked on this couch for hours waiting for some son-of-a-dog to answer!

BJOFH: [Pause. Deep breath.]…Well, you’ve got me now, sir. What can I do to…er…for you?

JIHADI: Right. So I’ve got a hardware problem. This itchy vest I have on..it keeps beeping, really loud. It’s getting super annoying, and I’ve got to have some quiet prayer…you know….me-time…pretty soon now, understand?

BJOFH: Yes, I see. Well, good news, brother! I think I can help you. Tell me…is there a mobile phone attached to the vest? Continue reading →

Nov 15

Starwood Hotels Warns of Credit Card Breach

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide today warned that malware designed to help cyber thieves steal credit and debit card data was found on point-of-sale cash registers at some of the company’s hotels in North America. The disclosure makes Starwood just the latest in a recent string of hotel chains to acknowledge credit card breach investigations, and comes days after the company announced its acquisition by Marriott International.


Starwood published a list (PDF) of more than 50 of its hotel properties — mostly Sheraton and Westin locations across the United States and Canada — that were impacted by the breach. According to that list, the breach started as early as November 2014 in some locations, ending sometime in April or May for all affected hotels.

As with other ongoing hotel breaches, the malware that hit Starwood properties affected certain restaurants, gift shops and other point of sale systems at the relevant Starwood properties.

“We have no indication at this time that our guest reservation or Starwood Preferred Guest membership systems were impacted,” Starwood President Sergio Rivera wrote in a letter to affected customers. “The malware was designed to collect certain payment card information, including cardholder name, payment card number, security code and expiration date. There is no evidence that other customer information, such as contact information, Social Security numbers or PINs, were affected by this issue.” Continue reading →

Nov 15

Federal Legislation Targets “Swatting” Hoaxes

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday targets “swatting,” an increasingly common and costly hoax in which perpetrators spoof a communication to authorities about a hostage situation or other violent crime in progress in the hopes of tricking police into responding at a particular address with deadly force.


The Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), targets what proponents call a loophole in current law. “While federal law prohibits using the telecommunications system to falsely report a bomb threat hoax or terrorist attack, falsely reporting other emergency situations is not currently prohibited,” reads a statement by the House co-sponsors.

To address this shortcoming, the bill “would close this loophole by prohibiting the use of the internet telecommunications system to knowingly transmit false information with the intent to cause an emergency law enforcement response.” Continue reading →

Nov 15

Report: Everyone Should Get a Security Freeze

This author has frequently urged readers to place a security freeze on their credit files as a means of proactively preventing identity theft. Now, a major consumer advocacy group is recommending the same: The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US-PIRG) recently issued a call for all consumers to request credit file freezes before becoming victims of ID theft.


Each time news of a major data breach breaks, the hacked organization arranges free credit monitoring for all customers potentially at risk from the intrusion. But as I’ve echoed time and again, credit monitoring services do little if anything to stop thieves from stealing your identity. The best you can hope for from these services is that they will alert you when a thief opens or tries to open a new line of credit in your name.

But with a “security freeze” on your credit file at the four major credit bureaus, creditors won’t even be able to look at your file in order to grant that phony new line of credit to ID thieves.

Thankfully, US-PIRG — the federation of state public interest research groups — also is now recommending that consumers file proactive security freezes on their credit files.

“These constant breaches reveal what’s wrong with data security and data breach response. Agencies and companies hold too much information for too long and don’t protect it adequately,” the organization wrote in a report (PDF) issued late last month. “Then, they might wait months or even years before informing victims. Then, they make things worse by offering weak, short-term help such as credit monitoring services.”

The report continues: “Whether your personal information has been stolen or not, your best protection against someone opening new credit accounts in your name is the security freeze (also known as the credit freeze), not the often-offered, under-achieving credit monitoring. Paid credit monitoring services in particular are not necessary because federal law requires each of the three major credit bureaus to provide a free credit report every year to all customers who request one. You can use those free reports as a form of do-it-yourself credit monitoring.”

Check out the USPIRG’s full report, Why You Should Get Security Freezes Before Your Information is Stolen (PDF) for more good advice. In case anything in that report is unclear, in June I posted a Q&A on security freezes, explaining how they work, how to place them and the benefits and potential drawbacks of placing a freeze.

Have you frozen your credit file? If so, sound off about the experience in the comments. If not, why not?

Nov 15

Paris Terror Attacks Stoke Encryption Debate

U.S. state and federal law enforcement officials appear poised to tap into public concern over the terror attacks in France last week to garner support for proposals that would fundamentally weaken the security of encryption technology used by U.S. corporations and citizens. Here’s a closer look at what’s going on, and why readers should be tuned in and asking questions.

encryptedeyeDespite early and widely repeated media reports that the terrorists who killed at least 128 people in Paris used strong encryption to disguise their communications, the evidence of this has failed to materialize. An initial report on Nov. 14 from Forbes titled “Why the Paris ISIS Terrorists Used PlayStation4 to Plan Attacks” was later backpedalled to “How Paris ISIS Terrorists May Have Used PlayStation 4 to Discuss and Plan.” Turns out there was actually nothing to indicate the attackers used gaming consoles to hide their communications; only that they could do that if they wanted to.

Politico ran a piece on Sunday that quoted a Belgian government official saying French authorities had confiscated at least one PlayStation 4 gaming console from one of the attacker’s belongings (hat tip to Insidesources.com).

“It’s unclear if the suspects in the attacks used PlayStation as a means of communication,” the Politico story explained. “But the sophistication of the attacks raises questions about the ability of law enforcement to detect plots as extremists use new and different forms of technology to elude investigators.”

Also on Sunday, The New York Times published a story that included this bit:

“The attackers are believed to have communicated using encryption technology, according to European officials who had been briefed on the investigation but were not authorized to speak publicly. It was not clear whether the encryption was part of widely used communications tools, like WhatsApp, which the authorities have a hard time monitoring, or something more elaborate. Intelligence officials have been pressing for more leeway to counter the growing use of encryption.”

After heavy criticism of the story on Twitter, The Times later removed the story from the site (it is archived here). That paragraph was softened into the following text, which was included in a different Times story later in the day: “European officials said they believed the Paris attackers had used some kind of encrypted communication, but offered no evidence.” To its credit, the Times today published a more detailed look at the encryption debate.

The media may be unwittingly playing into the hands of folks that former NBC reporter Bob Sullivan lovingly calls the “anti-encryption opportunists,” i.e., those who support weakening data encryption standards to make it easier for law enforcement officials to lawfully monitor people suspected of terrorist activity.

The directors of the FBI , Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency have repeated warned Congress and the technology community that they’re facing a yawning intelligence gap from smart phone and internet communication technologies that use encryption which investigators cannot crack — even after being granted the authority to do so by the U.S. courts.

For its part, the Obama administration has reportedly backed down in its bitter dispute with Silicon Valley over the encryption of data on iPhones and other digital devices.

“While the administration said it would continue to try to persuade companies like Apple and Google to assist in criminal and national security investigations, it determined that the government should not force them to breach the security of their products,” wrote Nicole Perlroth and David Sanger for The New York Times in October. “In essence, investigators will have to hope they find other ways to get what they need, from data stored in the cloud in unencrypted form or transmitted over phone lines, which are covered by a law that affects telecommunications providers but not the technology giants.”

But this hasn’t stopped proponents of weakening encryption from identifying opportunities to advance their cause. In a memo obtained in August by The Washington PostRobert Litt, a lawyer in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, wrote that the public support for weakening encryption “could turn in the event of a terrorist attack or criminal event where strong encryption can be shown to have hindered law enforcement.”

To that apparent end, law enforcement officials from Manhattan and the City of London are expected on Wednesday to release a “white paper on smartphone encryption,” during an annual financial crimes and cybersecurity symposium at The Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A media notice (PDF) about the event was sent out by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., one of the speakers at the event and a vocal proponent of building special access for law enforcement into encrypted communications. Here’s Vance in a recent New York Times op-ed on the need for the expanded surveillance powers.

Continue reading →

Nov 15

Chipotle Serves Up Chips, Guac & HR Email

The restaurant chain Chipotle Mexican Grill seems pretty good at churning out huge numbers of huge burritos, but the company may need to revisit some basic corporate cybersecurity concepts. For starters, Chipotle’s human resources department has been replying to new job applicants using the domain “chipotlehr.com” — a Web site name that the company has never owned or controlled.

chipemailTranslation: Until last week, anyone could have read email destined for the company’s HR department just by registering the domain “chipotlehr.com”. Worse, Chipotle itself has inadvertently been pointing this out for months in emails to everyone who’s applied for a job via the company’s Web site.

This security oversight by Chipotle was brought to light by KrebsOnSecurity.com reader Michael Kohlman, a professional IT expert who discovered the bug after applying for a job at the food retailer.

Kohlman, who’s between jobs at the moment, said he submitted his resume and application to Chipotle’s online HR department not necessarily because he wanted to be a restaurant employee, but more to satisfy the terms of his unemployment benefits (which require him to regularly show proof that he is actively looking for work).

Kohlman said after submitting his resume and application, he received an email from Chipotle Careers that bore the return address @chipotlehr.com. The Minnesota native said he became curious about the source of the Chipotle HR email when a reply sent to that address generated an error or “bounce” message saying his missive was undeliverable.

“The canned response was very odd,” Kohlman said. “Rather than indicating the email didn’t exist, [the bounced message] just came back and said it could not resolve the DNS settings.”

A quick search for ownership records on the domain showed that it had never before been registered. So, Kohlman said, on a whim he plunked down $30 to purchase it.

The welcome message that one receives upon successfully submitting an application for a job at Chipotle discourages users from replying to the message. But Kohlman said a brief look at the incoming email associated with that domain revealed a steady stream of wayward emails to chipotlehr.com — mainly from job seekers and people seeking password assistance to the Chipotle HR portal.

Continue reading →

Nov 15

JPMorgan Hackers Breached Anti-Fraud Vendor G2 Web Services

Buried in the federal indictments unsealed this week against four men accused of stealing tens of millions of consumer records from JPMorgan Chase and other brokerage firms are other unnamed companies that were similarly victimized by the accused. One of them, identified in the indictments only as “Victim #12,” is an entity that helps banks block transactions for dodgy goods advertised in spam. Turns out, the hackers targeted this company so that they could more easily push through payments for spam-advertised prescription drugs and fake antivirus schemes.

g2webAccording to multiple sources, Victim #12 is none other than Bellevue, Wash. based G2 Web Services LLC, a company that helps banks figure out if a website is fraudulent or is selling contraband. G2 Web Services has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

In the final chapters of my book, Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime, I detailed the work of The International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC), a non-profit organization dedicated to combating product counterfeiting and piracy.

In 2011, G2 Web Services landed a contract to help the IACC conduct “test buys” at sites with products that were being advertised via spam. The company would identify which banks (mostly in Asia) were processing payments for these sites, and then Visa and MasterCard would rain down steep fines on the banks for violating their contracts with the credit card companies. The idea was to follow the money from schemes tied to cybercrime, deter banks from accepting funds from fraudulent transactions, and make it difficult for spammers to maintain stable credit card processing for those endeavors.

Prosecutors say the ringleader of the cybercrime gang accused of breaking into JPMC, Scottrade, E-Trade and others is 31-year-old Gery Shalon, a resident of Tel Aviv and Moscow. Investigators allege Shalon and his co-conspirators monitored credit card transactions processed through their payment processing business to attempt to discern which, if any, were undercover transactions made on behalf of credit card companies attempting to identify unlawful merchants. The government also charges that beginning in or about 2012, Shalon and his co-conspirators hacked into the computer networks of Victim-12 (G2 Web Services).

Shalon and his gang allegedly monitored Victim-12’s detection efforts, including reading emails of Victim-12 employees so they could take steps to evade detection.

“In particular, through their unlawful intrusion into Victim-12’s network, Shalon and his co-conspirators determined which credit and debit card numbers Victim-12 employees were using the make undercover purchases of illicit goods in the course of their effort to detect unlawful merchants,” Shalon’s indictment explains. “Upon identifying those credit and debit card numbers, Shalon and his co-conspirators blacklisted the numbers from their payment processing business, automatically declining any transaction for which payment was offered through one of those credit or debit card numbers.” Continue reading →