26
Dec 14

Cowards Attack Sony PlayStation, Microsoft xBox Networks

A gaggle of young misfits that has long tried to silence this Web site now is taking credit for preventing millions of users from playing Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox Live games this holiday season.

The group, which calls itself LizardSquad, started attacking the gaming networks on or around Christmas Day. Various statements posted by self-described LizardSquad members on their open online chat forum — chat.lizardpatrol.com — suggest that these misguided individuals launched the attack for no other reason than because they thought it would be amusing to annoy and disappoint people who received new Xbox and Playstation consoles as holiday gifts.

Such assaults, known as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks — harness the Internet connectivity of many hacked or misconfigured systems so that those systems are forced to simultaneously flood a target network with junk internet traffic. The goal, of course, is to prevent legitimate visitors from being able to load the site or or use the service under attack.

It’s unfortunate that some companies which specialize in DDoS protection services have chosen to promote their products by categorizing these latest attacks as “herculean” and “sophisticated;” these adjectives describe neither the attackers nor their attacks. The sad truth is that these attacks take advantage of compromised and misconfigured systems online, and there are tens of millions of these systems that can be freely leveraged to launch such attacks. What’s more, the tools and instructions for launching such assaults are widely available.

The LizardSquad leadership is closely tied to a cybercrime forum called Darkode[dot]com, a network of ne’er-do-wells that I have written about extensively. So much so, in fact, that the LizardSquad has made attacking KrebsOnSecurity.com and keeping it offline for at least 30 minutes a prerequisite “proof of skills” for any new members who wish to join their ranks (see the screen shot below).

LizardSquad wannabes trying to prove their "skills" by knocking my site offline.

LizardSquad wannabes trying to prove their “skills” by knocking my site offline.

Continue reading →


26
Dec 14

Payday Loan Network Sold Info to Scammers

The Federal Trade Commission announced this week it is suing a consumer data broker that sold payday loan application data to scammers who used the information to pull money out of consumer bank accounts. The scam brings to mind an underground identity theft service I wrote about in 2012 that was gathering its data from a network of payday loan sites.

Usearching.info sold sensitive data taken from payday loan networks.

Usearching.info sold sensitive data taken from payday loan networks.

According to the FTC’s complaint, data broker LeapLab bought payday loan applications of financially strapped consumers, and then sold that information to marketers whom it knew had no legitimate need for it. “At least one of those marketers, Ideal Financial Solutions – a defendant in another FTC case – allegedly used the information to withdraw millions of dollars from consumers’ accounts without their authorization,” the FTC said.

The FTC charges that the defendants sold approximately five percent of these loan applications to online lenders, who paid them between $10 and $150 per lead. But the defendants also allegedly sold the remaining 95 percent for approximately $0.50 each to third parties who were not online lenders and had no legitimate need for this financial information.

In Sept. 2012, I published a blog post about “Usearching[dot]info,” a now-defunct ID theft service that offered the ability to purchase personal information on countless Americans, including SSN, mother’s maiden name, date of birth, email address, and physical address, as well as and driver license data for approximately 75 million citizens in Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.

That story noted that Usearching[dot]info also included data that appeared to come from another source — more than 330,000 consumer bank account records pulled from an archipelago of satellite Web sites that negotiate with a variety of lenders to offer payday loans. From that piece:

“I first began to suspect the information was coming from loan sites when I had a look at the data fields available in each record. A trusted source opened and funded an account at Usearching.info, and purchased 80 of these records, at a total cost of about $20. Each includes the following data: A record number, date of record acquisition, status of application (rejected/appproved/pending), applicant’s name, email address, physical address, phone number, Social Security number, date of birth, bank name, account and routing number, employer name, and the length of time at the current job. These records are sold in bulk, with per-record prices ranging from 16 to 25 cents depending on volume.”

“But it wasn’t until I started calling the people listed in the records that a clearer picture began to emerge. I spoke with more than a dozen individuals whose data was being sold, and found that all had applied for payday loans on or around the date in their respective records. The trouble was, the records my source obtained were all dated October 2011, and almost nobody I spoke with could recall the name of the site they’d used to apply for the loan. All said, however, that they’d initially provided their information to one site, and then were redirected to a number of different payday loan options.”

I have no idea whether LeapLab sold information to this identity theft service, or whether Ideal Financial was a customer of Usearching[dot]info. LeapLab is no longer in business, and Ideal’s assets are frozen and in receivership. But it’s clear Ideal obtained consumer data from multiple sources: The FTC says LeapLab provided Ideal Financial with financial account information for only about 16 percent of Ideal Financial’s victims.

In this, as with so many financial scams, the people least able to afford it get scammed and fleeced. The FTC charges that Ideal Financial purchased information on at least 2.2 million consumers from data brokers and used it to make more than $43 million in unauthorized debits and charges for purported financial products that the consumers never purchased. Sadly, these “financial products” were mostly about how consumers could manage their money better or get themselves out of debt. Continue reading →


23
Dec 14

The Case for N. Korea’s Role in Sony Hack

There are still many unanswered questions about the recent attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, such as how the attackers broke in, how long they were inside Sony’s network, whether they had inside help, and how the attackers managed to steal terabytes of data without notice. To date, a sizable number of readers remain unconvinced about the one conclusion that many security experts and the U.S. government now agree upon: That North Korea was to blame. This post examines some compelling evidence from past such attacks that has helped inform that conclusion.

An image from HP, captioned "North Korean students training for cyberwar."

An image from HP, captioned “North Korean students training for cyberwar.”

The last time the world saw an attack like the one that slammed SPE was on March 20, 2013, when computer networks running three major South Korean banks and two of the country’s largest television broadcasters were hit with crippling attacks that knocked them offline and left many South Koreans unable to withdraw money from ATMs. The attacks came as American and South Korean military forces were conducting joint exercises in the Korean Peninsula.

That attack relied in part on malware dubbed “Dark Seoul,” which was designed to overwrite the initial sections of an infected computer’s hard drive. The data wiping component used in the attack overwrote information on infected hard drives by repeating the words “hastati” or “principes,” depending on which version of the wiper malware was uploaded to the compromised host.

Both of those terms reference the military classes of ancient Rome: “hastati” were the younger, poorer soldiers typically on the front lines; the “principes” referred to more hardened, seasoned soldiers. According to a detailed white paper from McAfee, the attackers left a calling card a day after the attacks in the form of a web pop-up message claiming that the NewRomanic Cyber Army Team was responsible and had leaked private information from several banks and media companies and destroyed data on a large number of machines.

The message read:

“Hi, Dear Friends, We are very happy to inform you the following news. We, NewRomanic Cyber Army Team, verified our #OPFuckKorea2003. We have now a great deal of personal information in our hands. Those includes; 2.49M of [redacted by Mcafee] member table data, cms_info more than 50M from [redacted]. Much information from [redacted] Bank. We destroyed more than 0.18M of PCs. Many auth Hope you are lucky. 11th, 12th, 13th, 21st, 23rd and 27th HASTATI Detachment. Part of PRINCIPES Elements. p.s For more information, please visit www.dropbox.com login with joseph.r.ulatoski@gmail.com::lqaz@WSX3edc$RFV. Please also visit pastebin.com.”

The McAfee report, and a similarly in-depth report from HP Security, mentions that another group calling itself the Whois Team — which defaced a South Korean network provider during the attack — also took responsibility for the destructive Dark Seoul attacks in 2013. But both companies say they believe the NewRomanic Cyber Army Team and the Whois Team are essentially the same group. As Russian security firm Kaspersky notes, the images used by the WhoisTeam and the warning messages left for Sony are remarkably similar:

The defacement message left by the Whois Team in the 2013 Dark Seoul attacks (left) and the message left for Sony (right).

The defacement message left by the Whois Team in the 2013 Dark Seoul attacks (left) and the message left for Sony (right).

Interestingly, the attacks on Sony also were preceded by the theft of data that was later leaked on Pastebin and via Dropbox. But how long were the attackers in the Sony case inside Sony’s network before they began wiping drives? And how did they move tens of terabytes of data off of Sony’s network without notice? Those questions remain unanswered, but the McAfee paper holds a few possible clues. Continue reading →


22
Dec 14

Alleged Counterfeiter “Willy Clock” Arrested

In September 2014, I wrote about receiving a package of $500 in counterfeit U.S. currency from an unknown sender, after mentioning in a blog post about a rash of funny money resellers flooding underground cybercrime markets. Last week, U.S. authorities announced the arrest of a Texas man charged with leading the international counterfeit currency operation from a location in the Republic of Uganda.

Counterfeit $100s and $50s from "Willy Clock," allegedly the online alias of a Texas man living in Uganda.

Counterfeit $100s and $50s from “Willy Clock,” allegedly the online alias of a Texas man living in Uganda.

U.S. prosecutors say 27-year-old Ryan Andrew Gustafson – a.k.a. “Jack Farrel” and “Willy Clock” — is a U.S. citizen currently residing in Kampala, Uganda. Gustafson was arrested on Dec. 16 by Ugandan authorities and charged with conspiracy, counterfeiting, and unlawful possession of ammunition.

The defendant and his alleged accomplices are suspected of passing approximately $270,000 in fake U.S. currency in Uganda. In total, Ugandan authorities say they seized some $1.8 million in funny money from Gustafson’s operation.

The U.S. Secret Service, which investigates currency counterfeiting, said the investigation began in December 2013 when agents were alerted to the passing of counterfeit notes at retail stores and businesses in the Pittsburgh area. A press release from the Justice Department outlines the rest of the investigation:

“Agents determined that an individual identified as J.G. had passed these notes and was renting a postal box at The UPS Store on Pittsburgh’s South Side.  On Feb 19, 2014, law enforcement learned that J.G. received three packages addressed from Beyond Computers, located in Kampala, Uganda.  Agents executing a search warrant on the packages found $7,000 in counterfeit $100, $50 and $20 FRNs located in two hidden compartments within the packaging envelopes.  A fingerprint on a document inside one of the packages was identified as belonging to Ryan Andrew Gustafson.”

Jack Farrel's Facebook page. The U.S. Secret Service alleges that Farrel is Gustafson, a.k.a. counterfeiter "Willy Clock."

Jack Farrel’s Facebook page. The U.S. Secret Service alleges that Farrel is Gustafson, a.k.a. counterfeiter “Willy Clock.”

“The Secret Service subsequently worked with Ugandan authorities to identify the source of the counterfeit [cash].  Their efforts led to A.B., who admitted to sending the packages, explaining that an American named “Jack Farrel,” and another person, provided him the counterfeit notes to ship.  Based on information provided by A.B., the Secret Service used facial recognition to identify Jack Farrel as Ryan Andrew Gustafson.”

The government says Gustafson sold the bills through the Tor Carding Forum, a cybercrime shop that is unreachable from the regular Internet. Rather, visiting the Tor Carding Forum requires the visitor to route his communications through Tor, a free software-based service that helps users maintain anonymity by obfuscating their true location online. Continue reading →


22
Dec 14

Gang Hacked ATMs from Inside Banks

An organized gang of hackers from Russia and Ukraine has broken into internal networks at dozens of financial institutions and installed malicious software that allowed the gang to drain bank ATMs of cash. While none of the victim institutions were in the United States or Western Europe, experts say the stealthy methods used by the attackers in these heists would likely work across a broad range of western banks.

robotrobkbMost cybercrime targets consumers and businesses, stealing account information such as passwords and other data that lets thieves cash out hijacked bank accounts, as well as credit and debit cards. But this gang specializes in hacking into banks directly, and then working out ingenious ways to funnel cash directly from the financial institution itself.

A number of the gang’s members are believed to be tied to a group of Eastern European hackers accused of stealing more than USD $2 million from Russian banks using a powerful, custom-made banking trojan known as Carberp. Eight men in Moscow were arrested in 2012 and accused of building and using Carberp, but sources say the core members of the gang were out of jail within hours after their arrest and have been busy rebuilding their crime machine ever since.

According to report released today by Fox-IT and Group-IB, security firms based in The Netherlands and Russia, respectively, the Carberp guys have since changed their tactics: Instead of stealing from thousands of bank account holders, this gang has decided to focus on siphoning funds right out of banks’ coffers. So far, the security firms report, the gang has stolen more than $15 million from Eastern European banks.

To gain a foothold inside financial institutions, this crime group — dubbed the “Anunak group” — sent bank employees targeted, malware-laced emails made to look like the missives were sent by Russian banking regulators. The phishing emails contained malicious software designed to exploit recently-patched security holes in Microsoft Office products.

Incredibly, the group also reportedly bought access to Windows PCs at targeted banks that were already compromised by opportunistic malware spread by other cyber criminals. Indeed, Fox-IT and Group-IB report that the Anunak gang routinely purchased installations of their banking malware from other cybercriminals who operated massive botnets (collections of hacked PCs).

Once inside a financial institution, the criminals typically abused that access to launch even more convincing spear-phishing attacks against other banks. They also gained access to isolated bank network segments that handled ATM transactions, downloading malicious programs made to work specifically with Wincor ATMs. The hackers used that malware — along with a modified legitimate program for managing ATM cash trays — to change the denomination settings for bank notes in 52 different ATMs.

As a result, they were able to make it so that when co-conspirators went to affected ATMs to withdraw 10 bills totaling 100 Russian rubles, they were instead issued 10 bank notes with the denomination of 5,000 rubles, the report notes.

The Anunak gang reportedly modified this legitimate program for managing bill denominations in ATMs.

The Anunak gang reportedly modified this legitimate program for managing bill denominations in ATMs.

Continue reading →


19
Dec 14

Staples: 6-Month Breach, 1.16 Million Cards

Office supply chain Staples Inc. today finally acknowledged that a malware intrusion this year at some of its stores resulted in a credit card breach. The company now says some 119 stores were impacted between April and September 2014, and that as many as 1.16 million customer credit and debit cards may have been stolen as a result.

staplesKrebsOnSecurity first reported the suspected breach on Oct. 20, 2014, after hearing from multiple banks that had identified a pattern of credit and debit card fraud suggesting that several Staples office supply locations in the Northeastern United States were dealing with a data breach. At the time, Staples would say only that it was investigating “a potential issue” and had contacted law enforcement.

In a statement issued today, Staples released a list of stores (PDF) hit with the card-stealing malware, and the stores are not limited to the Northeastern United States.

“At 113 stores, the malware may have allowed access to this data for purchases made from August 10, 2014 through September 16, 2014,” Staples disclosed. “At two stores, the malware may have allowed access to data from purchases made from July 20, 2014 through September 16, 2014.”

However, the company did say that during the investigation Staples also received reports of fraudulent payment card use related to four stores in Manhattan, New York at various times from April through September 2014. Continue reading →


19
Dec 14

FBI: North Korea to Blame for Sony Hack

The FBI today said it has determined that the North Korean government is responsible for the devastating recent hack attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. Here’s a brief look the FBI’s statement, what experts are learning about North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities, and what this incident means for other corporations going forward.

In a statement released early Friday afternoon, the FBI said that its investigation — along with information shared by Sony and other U.S. government departments and agencies — found that the North Korean government was responsible.

The FBI said it couldn’t disclose all of its sources and methods, but that the conclusion was based, in part, on the following:

-“Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.”

-“The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

-“Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.”

The agency added that it was “deeply concerned” about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who work there, and that the FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential information.

“Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States,” the FBI said. “Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt—whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise—to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.”

SPE was hit with a strain of malware designed to wipe all computer hard drives within the company’s network. The attackers then began releasing huge troves of sensitive SPE internal documents, and, more recently, started threatening physical violence against anyone who viewed the Sony movie “The Interview,” a comedy that involves a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Not long after a number of top movie theater chains said they would not show the film, Sony announced that it would cancel the movie’s theatrical release.

Apparently emboldened by Sony’s capitulation, the attackers are now making even more demands. According to CNN, Sony executives on Thursday received an email apparently from the attackers said they would no longer release additional stolen Sony Pictures data if the company announced that it would also cancel any plans to release the movie on DVD, Netflix or elsewhere. The attackers also reportedly demanded that any teasers and trailers about The Interview online be removed from the Internet.

A ‘MAGIC WEAPON’

Little is publicly known about North Korea’s cyber warfare and hacking capabilities, but experts say North Korean leaders view cyber warfare capabilities as an important asymmetric asset in the face of its perceived enemies — the United States and South Korea. An in-depth report (PDF) released earlier this year by HP Security Research notes that in November 2013, North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong Un referred to cyber warfare capabilities as a “magic weapon” in conjunction with nuclear weapons and missiles.

“Although North Korea’s limited online presence makes a thorough analysis of their cyber warfare capabilities a difficult task, it must be noted that what is known of those capabilities closely mirrors their kinetic warfare tactics,” HP notes. “Cyber warfare is simply the modern chapter in North Korea’s long history of asymmetrical warfare. North Korea has used various unconventional tactics in the past, such as guerilla warfare, strategic use of terrain, and psychological operations. The regime also aspires to create viable nuclear weapons.”

Sources familiar with the investigation tell KrebsOnSecurity that the investigators believe there may have been as many as several dozen individuals involved in the attack, the bulk of whom hail from North Korea. Nearly a dozen of them are believed to reside in Japan.

Headquarters of the Chongryon in Japan.

Headquarters of the Chongryon in Japan.

According to HP, a group of ethnic North Koreans residing in Japan known as the Chongryon are critical to North Korea’s cyber and intelligence programs, and help generate hard currency for the regime. The report quotes Japanese intelligence officials stating that “the Chongryon are vital to North Korea’s military budget, raising funds via weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, and other black market activities.” HP today published much more detail about specific North Korean hacking groups that may have played a key role in the Sony incident given previous such attacks. Continue reading →


18
Dec 14

Complex Solutions to a Simple Problem

My inbox has been flooded of late with pitches for new technologies aimed at making credit cards safer and more secure. Many of these solutions are exceedingly complex and overwrought — if well-intentioned — responses to a problem that we already know how to solve. Here’s a look at a few of the more elaborate approaches.

A promotion for the Siren Swipe technology.

A promotion for the Siren Swipe technology.

Some of these ideas may have benefited from additional research into where financial institutions actually experience most of their fraud losses. Hint: Lost-and-stolen fraud is minuscule compared to losses from other types of fraud, such as counterfeit cards and online fraud. Case in point: A new product called Safe Swipe. From their pitch:

“The basic premise of our solution, Safe Swipe…is a technology which ‘marries’ your smart mobile device, phone, tablet and or computer to your credit/debit card(s). We’ve developed a Geo-Locator software program which triangulates your location with the POS device and your mobile phone so that if your phone and credit card are not within a certain predetermined range of one another the purchase would be challenged. In addition, we incorporated an ON/OFF type switch where you can ‘Lock Down’ your credit/debit card from your mobile device making it useless should it ever be stolen.”

The truth is that you can “lock down” your credit card if it’s lost or stolen by calling your credit card company and reporting it as such.  Along these lines, I received multiple pitches from the folks who dreamed up a product/service called “Siren Swipe.” Check it out:

“The SIREN SWIPE system immediately notifies local police (via the local 911 center) of a thief’s location (ie merchant address) once heswipes a card that has already been reported stolen,” the folks at this company said in an email pitch to KrebsOnSecurity. “SIREN SWIPE has the potential to drastically impact the credit card fraud landscape because although card credentials being stolen is a forgone conclusion, which cards thieves decide to actually use is not.  For a thief browsing a site like Rescator, the knowledge that using certain banks’ cards could result in an immediate police response can make thieves avoid using these banks’ stolen cards over and over again.  And in the best case scenario, a carder site admin could just decide not to sell subscribing banks’ cards in the interest of customer service.”

The sad truth is that, for the most part, cops generally have more important things to do than chase around the street urchins who end up using stolen credit and debit cards, and they’re not going to turn on the dome lights and siren over something like this. Also, the signals for fraud are all backwards here: The fraudsters know to use criminal card-checking services before buying and/or using stolen cards, so they don’t generally end up using a pile of cards that have already been cancelled.

A diagram explaining Quantum Secure Authentication.

A diagram explaining Quantum Secure Authentication.

My favorite overwrought solution to making credit cards more secure comes from researchers in the Netherlands, who recently put out a paper announcing a card security idea they’re calling Quantum-Secure Authentication. According to its creators, this approach relies on “the unique quantum properties of light to create a secure question-and-answer exchange that cannot be spoofed or copied. From their literature:

“Traditional magnetic-stripe-only cards are relatively simple to use but simple to copy. Recently, banks have begun issuing so-called ‘smart cards’ that include a microprocessor chip to authenticate, identify & enhance security. But regardless of how complex the code or how many layers of security, the problem remains that an attacker who obtains the information stored inside the card can copy or emulate it. The new approach…avoids this risk entirely by using the peculiar quantum properties of photons that allow them to be in multiple locations at the same time to convey the authentication questions & answers. Though difficult to reconcile with our everyday experiences, this strange property of light can create a fraud-proof Q&A exchange, like those used to authorize credit card transactions.” Continue reading →


16
Dec 14

Banks: Park-n-Fly Online Card Breach

Multiple financial institutions say they are seeing a pattern of fraud that indicates an online credit card breach has hit Park-n-Fly, an Atlanta-based offsite airport parking service that allows customers to reserve spots in advance of travel via an Internet-based reservation system. The security incident, if confirmed, would be the latest in a string of card breaches involving compromised payment systems at parking services nationwide.

park-n-flyIn response to questions from KrebsOnSecurity, Park-n-Fly said it recently engaged multiple outside security firms to investigate breach claims made by financial institutions, but so far has been unable to find a breach of its systems.

“We have been unable to find any specific issues related to the cards or transactions reported to us and by the financial institutions,” wrote Michael Robinson, the company’s senior director of information technology, said in an emailed statement. “While this kind of incident is rare for us based on our thousands of daily transactions, we do take every instance very seriously. Like any reputable company involved in e-commerce today we recognize that we must be constantly vigilant and research every claim to root out any vulnerabilities or potential gaps.”

Park-n-Fly’s statement continues:

“While we believe that our systems are very secure, including SLL encryption, we have recently engaged multiple outside security firms to identify and resolve any possible gaps in our systems and as always will take any action indicated. We have made all necessary precautionary upgrades and we just upgraded on 12/9 to the latest EV SSL certificate from Entrust, one of the leading certificate issuers in the industry.”

Nevertheless, two different banks shared information with KrebsOnSecurity that suggests Park-n-Fly — or some component of its online card processing system — has indeed experienced a breach. Both banks saw fraud on a significant number of customer cards that previously  — and quite recently — had been used online to make reservations at a number of more than 50 Park-n-Fly locations nationwide. Continue reading →


15
Dec 14

In Damage Control, Sony Targets Reporters

Over the weekend I received a nice holiday letter from lawyers representing Sony Pictures Entertainment, demanding that I cease publishing detailed stories about the company’s recent hacking and delete any company data collected in the process of reporting on the breach. While I have not been the most prolific writer about this incident to date, rest assured such threats will not deter this reporter from covering important news and facts related to the breach.

A letter from Sony's lawyers.

A letter from Sony’s lawyers.

“SPE does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading, or making any use of the Stolen information, and to request your cooperation in destroying the Stolen Information,” wrote SPE’s lawyers, who hail from the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

This letter reminds me of one that I received several years back from the lawyers of Igor Gusev, one of the main characters in my book, Spam Nation. Mr. Gusev’s attorneys insisted that I was publishing stolen information — pictures of him, financial records from his spam empire “SpamIt” — and that I remove all offending items and publish an apology. My lawyer in that instance called Gusev’s threat a “blivit,” a term coined by the late, great author Kurt Vonnegut, who defined it as “two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag.”

For a more nuanced and scholarly look at whether reporters and bloggers who write about Sony’s hacking should be concerned after receiving this letter, I turn to an analysis by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who posits that Sony “probably” does not have a legal leg to stand on here in demanding that reporters refrain from writing about the extent of SPE’s hacking in great detail. But Volokh includes some useful caveats to this conclusion (and exceptions to those exceptions), notably:

“Some particular publications of specific information in the Sony material might lead to a successful lawsuit,” Volokh writes. “First, disclosure of facts about particular people that are seen as highly private (e.g., medical or sexual information) and not newsworthy might be actionable under the ‘disclosure of private facts’ tort.” Continue reading →