31
Oct 14

KrebsOnSecurity Honored for Fraud Reporting

The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners today announced they have selected Yours Truly as the recipient of this year’s “Guardian Award,” an honor given annually to a journalist “whose determination, perseverance, and commitment to the truth have contributed significantly to the fight against fraud.”

acfeThe Guardian Award bears the inscription “For Vigilance in Fraud Reporting.”

Previous honorees include former Washington Post investigative reporter and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Susan Schmidt; Diana Henriques, a New York Times contributing writer and author of The Wizard of Lies (a book about Bernie Madoff); and Allan Dodds Frank, a regular contributor to Fortune.com and The Daily Beast.

I’d like to thank the ACFE for this prestigious award, and offer a special note of thanks to all of you dear readers who continue to support my work as an independent journalist.

The ACFE’s blog post about the award is here.


30
Oct 14

Chip & PIN vs. Chip & Signature

The Obama administration recently issued an executive order requiring that federal agencies migrate to more secure chip-and-PIN based credit cards for all federal employees that are issued payment cards. The move marks a departure from the far more prevalent “chip-and-signature” standard, an approach that has been overwhelmingly adopted by a majority of U.S. banks that are currently issuing chip-based cards. This post seeks to explore some of the possible reasons for the disparity.

emvkeyChip-based cards are designed to be far more expensive and difficult for thieves to counterfeit than regular credit cards that most U.S. consumers have in their wallets. Non-chip cards store cardholder data on a magnetic stripe, which can be trivially copied and re-encoded onto virtually anything else with a magnetic stripe.

Magnetic-stripe based cards are the primary target for hackers who have been breaking into retailers like Target and Home Depot and installing malicious software on the cash registers: The data is quite valuable to crooks because it can be sold to thieves who encode the information onto new plastic and go shopping at big box stores for stuff they can easily resell for cash (think high-dollar gift cards and electronics).

The United States is the last of the G20 nations to move to more secure chip-based cards. Other countries that have made this shift have done so by government fiat mandating the use of chip-and-PIN. Requiring a PIN at each transaction addresses both the card counterfeiting problem, as well as the use of lost or stolen cards.

Here in the States, however, the movement to chip-based cards has evolved overwhelmingly toward the chip-and-signature approach. Naturally, if your chip-and-signature card is lost or stolen and used fraudulently, there is little likelihood that a $9-per-hour checkout clerk is going to bat an eyelash at a thief who signs your name when using your stolen card to buy stuff at retailers. Nor will a signature card stop thieves from using a counterfeit card at automated payment terminals (think gas pumps).

But just how broadly adopted is chip-and-signature versus chip-and-PIN in the United States? According to an unscientific poll that’s been running for the past two years at the travel forum Flyertalk, only a handful of major U.S. banks issue chip-and-PIN cards; most have pushed chip-and-signature. Check out Flyertalk’s comprehensive Google Docs spreadsheet here for a member-contributed rundown of which banks support chip-and-PIN versus chip-and-signature.

I’ve been getting lots of questions from readers who are curious or upset at the prevalence of chip-and-signature over chip-and-PIN cards here in the United States, and I realized I didn’t know much about the reasons behind the disparity vis-a-vis other nations that have already made the switch to chip cards. So  I reached out to several experts to get their take on it.

Julie Conroy, a fraud analyst with The Aite Group, said that by and large Visa has been pushing chip-and-signature and that MasterCard has been promoting chip-and-PIN. Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said MasterCard is neutral on the technology. For its part, Visa maintains that it is agnostic on the technology, saying in an emailed statement that the company believes “requiring stakeholders to use just one form of cardholder authentication may unnecessarily complicate the adoption of this important technology.”

BK: A lot of readers seem confused about why more banks wouldn’t adopt chip-and-PIN over chip-and-signature, given that the former protects against more forms of fraud.

Conroy: The PIN only addresses fraud when the card is lost or stolen, and in the U.S. market lost-and-stolen fraud is very small in comparison with counterfeit card fraud. Also, as we looked at other geographies — and our research has substantiated this — as you see these geographies go chip-and-PIN, the lost-and-stolen fraud dips a little bit but then the criminals adjust. So in the UK, the lost-and-stolen fraud is now back above where was before the migration. The criminals there have adjusted. and that increased focus on capturing the PIN gives them more opportunity, because if they do figure out ways to compromise that PIN, then they can perpetrate ATM fraud and get more bang for their buck.

So, PIN at the end of the day is a static data element, and it only goes so far from a security perspective. And as you weigh that potential for attrition versus the potential to address the relatively small amount of fraud that is lost and stolen fraud, the business case for chip and signature is really a no-brainer.

Litan: Most card issuing banks and Visa don’t want PINs because the PINs can be stolen and used with the magnetic stripe data on the same cards (that also have a chip card) to withdraw cash from ATM machines. Banks eat the ATM fraud costs. This scenario has happened with the roll-out of chip cards with PIN – in Europe and in Canada. Continue reading →


27
Oct 14

‘Replay’ Attacks Spoof Chip Card Charges

An odd new pattern of credit card fraud emanating from Brazil and targeting U.S. financial institutions could spell costly trouble for banks that are just beginning to issue customers more secure chip-based credit and debit cards.

emvblueOver the past week, at least three U.S. financial institutions reported receiving tens of thousands of dollars in fraudulent credit and debit card transactions coming from Brazil and hitting card accounts stolen in recent retail heists, principally cards compromised as part of the breach at Home Depot.

The most puzzling aspect of these unauthorized charges? They were all submitted through Visa and MasterCard‘s networks as chip-enabled transactions, even though the banks that issued the cards in question haven’t even yet begun sending customers chip-enabled cards.

The most frustrating aspect of these unauthorized charges? They’re far harder for the bank to dispute. Banks usually end up eating the cost of fraud from unauthorized transactions when scammers counterfeit and use stolen credit cards. Even so, a bank may be able to recover some of that loss through dispute mechanisms set up by Visa and MasterCard, as long as the bank can show that the fraud was the result of a breach at a specific merchant (in this case Home Depot).

However, banks are responsible for all of the fraud costs that occur from any fraudulent use of their customers’ chip-enabled credit/debit cards — even fraudulent charges disguised as these pseudo-chip transactions.

CLONED CHIP CARDS, OR CLONED TRANSACTIONS?

The bank I first heard from about this fraud — a small financial institution in New England — battled some $120,000 in fraudulent charges from Brazilian stores in less than two days beginning last week. The bank managed to block $80,000 of those fraudulent charges, but the bank’s processor, which approves incoming transactions when the bank’s core systems are offline, let through the other $40,000. All of the transactions were debit charges, and all came across MasterCard’s network looking to MasterCard like chip transactions without a PIN.

The fraud expert with the New England bank said the institution had decided against reissuing customer cards that were potentially compromised in the five-month breach at Home Depot, mainly because that would mean reissuing a sizable chunk of the bank’s overall card base and because the bank had until that point seen virtually no fraud on the accounts.

“We saw very low penetration rates on our Home Depot cards, so we didn’t do a mass reissue,” the expert said. “And then in one day we matched a month’s worth of fraud on those cards thanks to these charges from Brazil.” Continue reading →


23
Oct 14

‘Spam Nation’ Publisher Discloses Card Breach

In the interests of full disclosure: Sourcebooks – the company that on Nov. 18 is publishing my upcoming book about organized cybercrime — disclosed last week that a breach of its Web site shopping cart software may have exposed customer credit card and personal information.

Fortunately, this breach does not affect readers who have pre-ordered Spam Nation through the retailers I’ve been recommending — Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Politics & Prose.  I mention this breach mainly to get out in front of it, and because of the irony and timing of this unfortunate incident.

From Sourcebooks’ disclosure (PDF) with the California Attorney General’s office:

“Sourcebooks recently learned that there was a breach of the shopping cart software that supports several of our websites on April 16, 2014 – June 19, 2014 and unauthorized parties were able to gain access to customer credit card information. The credit card information included card number, expiration date, cardholder name and card verification value (CVV2). The billing account information included first name, last name, email address, phone number, and address. In some cases, shipping information was included as first name, last name, phone number, and address. In some cases, account password was obtained too. To our knowledge, the data accessed did not include any Track Data, PIN Number, Printed Card Verification Data (CVD). We are currently in the process of having a third-party forensic audit done to determine the extent of this breach.”

So again, if you have pre-ordered the book from somewhere other than Sourcebook’s site (and that is probably 99.9999 percent of you who have already pre-ordered), you are unaffected.

I think there are some hard but important lessons here about the wisdom of smaller online merchants handling credit card transactions. According to Sourcebooks founder Dominique Raccah, the breach affected approximately 5,100 people who ordered from the company’s Web site between mid-April and mid-June of this year. Raccah said the breach occurred after hackers found a security vulnerability in the site’s shopping cart software.

Shopping-Cart-iconExperts say tens of thousands of businesses that rely on shopping cart software are a major target for malicious hackers, mainly because shopping cart software is generally hard to do well.

“Shopping cart software is extremely complicated and tricky to get right from a security perspective,” said Jeremiah Grossman, founder and chief technology officer for WhiteHat Security, a company that gets paid to test the security of Web sites.  “In fact, no one in my experience gets it right their first time out. That software must undergo serious battlefield testing.”

Grossman suggests that smaller merchants consider outsourcing the handling of credit cards to a solid and reputable third-party. Sourcebooks’ Raccah said the company is in the process of doing just that. Continue reading →


22
Oct 14

Google Accounts Now Support Security Keys

People who use Gmail and other Google services now have an extra layer of security available when logging into Google accounts. The company today incorporated into these services the open Universal 2nd Factor (U2F) standard, a physical USB-based second factor sign-in component that only works after verifying the login site is truly a Google site.

A $17 U2F device made by Yubikey.

A $17 U2F device made by Yubico.

The U2F standard (PDF) is a product of the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance, an industry consortium that’s been working to come up with specifications that support a range of more robust authentication technologies, including biometric identifiers and USB security tokens.

The approach announced by Google today essentially offers a more secure way of using the company’s 2-step authentication process. For several years, Google has offered an approach that it calls “2-step verification,” which sends a one-time pass code to the user’s mobile or land line phone.

2-step verification makes it so that even if thieves manage to steal your password, they still need access to your mobile or land line phone if they’re trying to log in with your credentials from a device that Google has not previously seen associated with your account. As Google notes in a support document, security key “offers better protection against this kind of attack, because it uses cryptography instead of verification codes and automatically works only with the website it’s supposed to work with.”

Unlike a one-time token approach, the security key does not rely on mobile phones (so no batteries needed), but the downside is that it doesn’t work for mobile-only users because it requires a USB port. Also, the security key doesn’t work for Google properties on anything other than Chrome. Continue reading →


20
Oct 14

Banks: Credit Card Breach at Staples Stores

Multiple banks say they have identified a pattern of credit and debit card fraud suggesting that several Staples Inc. office supply locations in the Northeastern United States are currently dealing with a data breach. Staples says it is investigating “a potential issue” and has contacted law enforcement.

staplesAccording to more than a half-dozen sources at banks operating on the East Coast, it appears likely that fraudsters have succeeded in stealing customer card data from some subset of Staples locations, including seven Staples stores in Pennsylvania, at least three in New York City, and another in New Jersey.

Framingham, Mass.-based Staples has more than 1,800 stores nationwide, but so far the banks contacted by this reporter have traced a pattern of fraudulent transactions on a group of cards that had all previously been used at a small number of Staples locations in the Northeast.

The fraudulent charges occurred at other (non-Staples) businesses, such as supermarkets and other big-box retailers. This suggests that the cash registers in at least some Staples locations may have fallen victim to card-stealing malware that lets thieves create counterfeit copies of cards that customers swipe at compromised payment terminals.

Asked about the banks’ claims, Staples’s Senior Public Relations Manager Mark Cautela confirmed that Staples is in the process of investigating a “potential issue involving credit card data and has contacted law enforcement.”

“We take the protection of customer information very seriously, and are working to resolve the situation,” Cautela said. “If Staples discovers an issue, it is important to note that customers are not responsible for any fraudulent activity on their credit cards that is reported on [in] a timely basis.”  


20
Oct 14

Spike in Malware Attacks on Aging ATMs

This author has long been fascinated with ATM skimmers, custom-made fraud devices designed to steal card data and PINs from unsuspecting users of compromised cash machines. But a recent spike in malicious software capable of infecting and jackpotting ATMs is shifting the focus away from innovative, high-tech skimming devices toward the rapidly aging ATM infrastructure in the United States and abroad.

Last month, media outlets in Malaysia reported that organized crime gangs had stolen the equivalent of about USD $1 million with the help of malware they’d installed on at least 18 ATMs across the country. Several stories about the Malaysian attack mention that the ATMs involved were all made by ATM giant NCR. To learn more about how these attacks are impacting banks and the ATM makers, I reached out to Owen Wild, NCR’s global marketing director, security compliance solutions.

Wild said ATM malware is here to stay and is on the rise.

ncrmalware

BK: I have to say that if I’m a thief, injecting malware to jackpot an ATM is pretty money. What do you make of reports that these ATM malware thieves in Malaysia were all knocking over NCR machines?

OW: The trend toward these new forms of software-based attacks is occurring industry-wide. It’s occurring on ATMs from every manufacturer, multiple model lines, and is not something that is endemic to NCR systems. In this particular situation for the [Malaysian] customer that was impacted, it happened to be an attack on a Persona series of NCR ATMs. These are older models. We introduced a new product line for new orders seven years ago, so the newest Persona is seven years old.

BK: How many of your customers are still using this older model?

OW: Probably about half the install base is still on Personas.

BK: Wow. So, what are some of the common trends or weaknesses that fraudsters are exploiting that let them plant malware on these machines? I read somewhere that the crooks were able to insert CDs and USB sticks in the ATMs to upload the malware, and they were able to do this by peeling off the top of the ATMs or by drilling into the facade in front of the ATM. CD-ROM and USB drive bays seem like extraordinarily insecure features to have available on any customer-accessible portions of an ATM.

OW: What we’re finding is these types of attacks are occurring on standalone, unattended types of units where there is much easier access to the top of the box than you would normally find in the wall-mounted or attended models.

BK: Unattended….meaning they’re not inside of a bank or part of a structure, but stand-alone systems off by themselves.

OW: Correct.

BK: It seems like the other big factor with ATM-based malware is that so many of these cash machines are still running Windows XP, no?

This new malware, detected by Kaspersky Lab as Backdoor.MSIL.Tyupkin, affects ATMs from a major ATM manufacturer running Microsoft Windows 32-bit.

This new malware, detected by Kaspersky Lab as Backdoor.MSIL.Tyupkin, affects ATMs from a major ATM manufacturer running Microsoft Windows 32-bit.

OW: Right now, that’s not a major factor. It is certainly something that has to be considered by ATM operators in making their migration move to newer systems. Microsoft discontinued updates and security patching on Windows XP, with very expensive exceptions. Where it becomes an issue for ATM operators is that maintaining Payment Card Industry (credit and debit card security standards) compliance requires that the ATM operator be running an operating system that receives ongoing security updates. So, while many ATM operators certainly have compliance issues, to this point we have not seen the operating system come into play. Continue reading →


15
Oct 14

Seleznev Arrest Explains ‘2Pac’ Downtime

The U.S. Justice Department has piled on more charges against alleged cybercrime kingpin Roman Seleznev, a Russian national who made headlines in July when it emerged that he’d been whisked away to Guam by U.S. federal agents while vacationing in the Maldives. The additional charges against Seleznev may help explain the extended downtime at an extremely popular credit card fraud shop in the cybercrime underground.

The 2pac[dot]cc credit card shop.

The 2pac[dot]cc credit card shop.

The government alleges that the hacker known in the underground as “nCux” and “Bulba” was Roman Seleznev, a 30-year-old Russian citizen who was arrested in July 2014 by the U.S. Secret Service. According to Russian media reports, the young man is the son of a prominent Russian politician.

Seleznev was initially identified by the government in 2012, when it named him as part of a conspiracy involving more than three dozen popular merchants on carder[dot]su, a bustling fraud forum where Bulba and other members openly marketed various cybercrime-oriented services (see the original indictment here).

According to Seleznev’s original indictment, he was allegedly part of a group that hacked into restaurants between 2009 and 2011 and planted malicious software to steal card data from store point-of-sale devices. The indictment further alleges that Seleznev and unnamed accomplices used his online monikers to sell stolen credit and debit cards at bulba[dot]cc and track2[dot]name. Customers of these services paid for their cards with virtual currencies, including WebMoney and Bitcoin.

But last week, U.S. prosecutors piled on another 11 felony counts against Seleznev, charging that he also sold stolen credit card data on a popular carding store called 2pac[dot]cc. Interestingly, Seleznev’s arrest coincides with a period of extended downtime on 2pac[dot]cc, during which time regular customers of the store could be seen complaining on cybercrime forums where the store was advertised that the proprietor of the shop had gone silent and was no longer responding to customer support inquiries.

A few weeks after Seleznev’s arrest, it appears that someone new began taking ownership of 2pac[dot]cc’s day-to-day operations. That individual recently posted a message on the carding shop’s home page apologizing for the extended outage and stating that fresh, new cards were once again being added to the shop’s inventory.

The message, dated Aug. 8, 2014, explains that the proprietor of the shop was unreachable because he was hospitalized following a car accident:

“Dear customers. We apologize for the inconvenience that you are experiencing now by the fact that there are no updates and [credit card] checker doesn’t work. This is due to the fact that our boss had a car accident and he is in hospital. We will solve all problems as soon as possible. Support always available, thank you for your understanding.”

2pac[dot]cc's apologetic message to would-be customers of the credit card fraud shop.

2pac[dot]cc’s apologetic message to would-be customers of the credit card fraud shop.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CUSTOMER SERVICE

2pac is but one of dozens of fraud shops selling stolen debit and credit cards. And with news of new card breaches at major retailers surfacing practically each week, the underground is flush with inventory. The single most important factor that allows individual card shop owners to differentiate themselves among so much choice is providing excellent customer service.

Many card shops, including 2pac[dot]cc, try to keep customers happy by including an a-la-carte card-checking service that allows customers to test purchased cards using compromised merchant accounts — to verify that the cards are still active. Most card shop checkers are configured to automatically refund to the customer’s balance the value of any cards that come back as declined by the checking service. Continue reading →


14
Oct 14

Microsoft, Adobe Push Critical Security Fixes

Adobe, Microsoft and Oracle each released updates today to plug critical security holes in their products. Adobe released patches for its Flash Player and Adobe AIR software. A patch from Oracle fixes at least 25 flaws in Java. And Microsoft pushed patches to fix at least two-dozen vulnerabilities in a number of Windows components, including Office, Internet Explorer and .NET. One of the updates addresses a zero-day flaw that reportedly is already being exploited in active cyber espionage attacks.

brokenwindowsEarlier today, iSight Partners released research on a threat the company has dubbed “Sandworm” that exploits one of the vulnerabilities being patched today (CVE-2014-4114). iSight said it discovered that Russian hackers have been conducting cyber espionage campaigns using the flaw, which is apparently present in every supported version of Windows. The New York Times carried a story today about the extent of the attacks against this flaw.

In its advisory on the zero-day vulnerability, Microsoft said the bug could allow remote code execution if a user opens a specially crafted malicious Microsoft Office document. According to iSight, the flaw was used in targeted email attacks that targeted NATO, Ukrainian and Western government organizations, and firms in the energy sector.

More than half of the other vulnerabilities fixed in this month’s patch batch address flaws in Internet Explorer. Additional details about the individual Microsoft patches released today is available at this link. Continue reading →