23
Aug 16

A Life or Death Case of Identity Theft?

Identity thieves have perfected a scam in which they impersonate existing customers at retail mobile phone stores, pay a small cash deposit on pricey new phones, and then charge the rest to the victim’s account. In most cases, switching on the new phones causes the victim account owner’s phone(s) to go dead. This is the story of a Pennsylvania man who allegedly died of a heart attack because his wife’s phone was switched off by ID thieves and she was temporarily unable to call for help.

On Feb. 20, 2016, James William Schwartz, 84, was going about his daily routine, which mainly consisted of caring for his wife, MaryLou. Mrs. Schwartz was suffering from the end stages of endometrial cancer and wasn’t physically mobile without assistance. When Mr. Schwartz began having a heart attack that day, MaryLou went to use her phone to call for help and discovered it was completely shut off.

Little did MaryLou know, but identity thieves had the day before entered a “premium authorized Verizon dealer” store in Florida and impersonated the Schwartzes. The thieves paid a $150 cash deposit to “upgrade” the elderly couple’s simple mobiles to new iPhone 6s devices, with the balance to be placed on the Schwartz’s account.

“Despite her severely disabled and elderly condition, MaryLou Schwartz was finally able to retrieve her husband’s cellular telephone using a mechanical arm,” reads a lawsuit (PDF) filed in Beaver County, Penn. on behalf of the Schwartz’s two daughters, alleging negligence by the Florida mobile phone store. “This monumental, determined and desperate endeavor to reach her husband’s working telephone took Mrs. Schwartz approximately forty minutes to achieve due to her condition. This vital delay in reaching emergency help proved to be fatal.”

By the time paramedics arrived, Mr. Schwartz was pronounced dead. MaryLou Schwartz died seventeen days later, on March 8, 2016. Incredibly, identity thieves would continue robbing the Schwartzes even after they were both deceased: According to the lawsuit, on April 14, 2016 the account of MaryLou Schwartz was again compromised and a tablet device was also fraudulently acquired in MaryLou’s name.

The Schwartz’s daughters say they didn’t learn about the fraud until after both parents passed away. According to them, they heard about it from the guy at a local Verizon reseller that noticed his longtime customers’ phones had been deactivated. That’s when they discovered that while their mother’s phone was inactive at the time of her father’s death, their father’s mobile had inexplicably been able to make but not receive phone calls. Continue reading →


18
Aug 16

Malware Infected All Eddie Bauer Stores in U.S., Canada

Clothing store chain Eddie Bauer said today it has detected and removed malicious software from point-of-sale systems at all of its 350+ stores in North America, and that credit and debit cards used at those stores during the first six months of 2016 may have been compromised in the breach. The acknowledgement comes nearly six weeks after KrebsOnSecurity first notified the clothier about a possible intrusion at stores nationwide.

ebstoreOn July 5, 2016, KrebsOnSecurity reached out to Bellevue, Wash., based Eddie Bauer after hearing from several sources who work in fighting fraud at U.S. financial institutions. All of those sources said they’d identified a pattern of fraud on customer cards that had just one thing in common: They were all recently used at some of Eddie Bauer’s 350+ locations in the U.S. The sources said the fraud appeared to stretch back to at least January 2016.

A spokesperson for Eddie Bauer at the time said the company was grateful for the outreach but that it hadn’t heard any fraud complaints from banks or from the credit card associations.

Earlier today, however, an outside public relations firm circled back on behalf of Eddie Bauer. That person told me Eddie Bauer — working with the FBI and an outside computer forensics firm — had detected and removed card-stealing malware from cash registers at all of its locations in the United States and Canada.

The retailer says it believes the malware was capable of capturing credit and debit card numbers from customer transactions made at all 350 Eddie Bauer stores in the United States and Canada between January 2, 2016 to July 17, 2016. The company emphasized that this breach did not impact purchases made at the company’s online store eddiebauer.com. Continue reading →


18
Aug 16

Massive Email Bombs Target .Gov Addresses

Over the weekend, unknown assailants launched a massive cyber attack aimed at flooding targeted dot-gov (.gov) email inboxes with subscription requests to thousands of email lists. According to experts, the attack — designed to render the targeted inboxes useless for a period of time — was successful largely thanks to the staggering number of email newsletters that don’t take the basic step of validating new signup requests.

These attacks apparently have been going on at a low level for weeks, but they intensified tremendously over this past weekend. This most recent assault reportedly involved more than 100 government email addresses belonging to various countries that were subscribed to large numbers of lists in a short space of time by the attacker(s). That’s according to Spamhaus, an entity that keeps a running list of known spamming operations to which many of the world’s largest Internet service providers (ISPs) subscribe.

What my inbox looked like on Saturday, Aug. 13. Yours Truly and apparently at least 100 .gov email addresses got hit with an email bombing attack.

What my inbox looked like on Saturday, Aug. 13. Yours Truly and apparently at least 100 .gov email addresses got hit with an email bombing attack.

When Spamhaus lists a swath of Internet address space as a source of junk email, ISPs usually stop routing email for organizations within those chunks of addresses. On Sunday, Spamhaus started telling ISPs to block email coming from some of the largest email service providers (ESPs) — companies that help some of the world’s biggest brands reach customers via email. On Monday, those ESPs soon began hearing from their clients who were having trouble getting their marketing emails delivered.

In two different posts published at wordtothewise.com, Spamhaus explained its reasoning for the listings, noting that a great many of the organizations operating the lists that were spammed in the attack did not bother to validate new signups by asking recipients to click a confirmation link in an email. In effect, Spamhaus reasoned, their lack of email validation caused them to behave in a spammy fashion.

“The issue is the badly-run ‘open’ lists which happily subscribed every address without any consent verification and which now continue as participants in the list-bombing of government addresses,” wrote Spamhaus CEO Steve Linford. It remains unclear whether hacked accounts at ESPs also played a role.

Also writing for wordtothewise.com, Laura Atkins likened email subscription bombs like this to “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks on individuals.

“They get so much mail from different places they are unable to use their mailbox for real mail,” she wrote. “The hostile traffic can’t be blocked because the mail is coming from so many different sources.”

Atkins said over 100 addresses were added to mailing lists, many from Internet addresses outside the United States.

“The volumes I’m hearing here are significantly high that people cannot use their mailboxes. One sender identified fewer than 10 addresses each signed up to almost 10,000 of their customer lists during a 2 week period,” Atkins wrote. “Other senders have identified addresses that look to be part of the harassment campaign and are working to block mail to those addresses and get them off their lists.” Continue reading →


16
Aug 16

SSA: Ixnay on txt msg reqmnt 4 e-acct, sry

The U.S. Social Security Administration says it is reversing a newly enacted policy that required a cell phone number from all Americans who wished to manage their retirement benefits at ssa.gov. The move comes after a policy rollout marred by technical difficulties and criticism that the new requirement did little to prevent identity thieves from siphoning benefits from Americans who hadn’t yet created accounts at ssa.gov for themselves.

In an announcement last month, the SSA said all new and existing ‘my Social Security’ account holders would need to provide a cell phone number. The SSA said the numbers would be used to send recipients an 8-digit code via text message that needs to be entered along with a username and password to log in to the site.

But sometime in the past few days, apparently, the SSA decided to rescind the cell phone rule.

“We removed the requirement to use a cell phone to access your account,” the agency noted in a message posted to its mySocial Security portal. “While it’s not mandatory, we encourage those of you who have a text capable cell phone to take advantage of this optional extra security. We continue to pursue more options beyond cell phone texting.”

Hopefully, those options will include using the U.S. Mail to send Americans a one-time code that needs to be entered at the SSA’s Web site to complete the sign-up process. I should note that the SSA is already mailing out paper letters via snail mail to Americans who’ve signed up for an SSA account online; they’re just not using that mailing to securely complete the signup and authentication process.

Here’s a redacted letter that a friend of mine received and shared the other day after signing up for an account online. It merely explains what the agency already explained about the texting policy via its Web site.

A letter that the Social Security Administration sends out via the U.S. Mail for every American who signs up to manage their benefits at ssa.gov.

A letter that the Social Security Administration sends out via the U.S. Mail for every American who signs up to manage their benefits at ssa.gov.

The SSA does still offer the text message feature as part of what it calls “extra security” options. These extra options by the way do include the sending users a special code via the U.S. Mail that has to be entered on the agency’s site to complete the signup process. If you choose to enable extra security, the SSA will then ask you for:

  • The last eight digits of your Visa, MasterCard, or Discover credit card;
  • Information from your W2 tax form;
  • Information from a 1040 Schedule SE (self-employment) tax form; or
  • Your direct deposit amount, if you receive Social Security benefits.

Sadly, crooks won’t go through the more rigorous signup process — they’ll choose the option that requires less information. That means it is still relatively easy for thieves to create an account in the name of Americans who have not already created one for themselves. All one would need is the target’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, residential address, and phone number. This personal data can be bought for roughly $3-$4 from a variety of cybercrime shops online. Continue reading →


13
Aug 16

Visa Alert and Update on the Oracle Breach

Credit card industry giant Visa on Friday issued a security alert warning companies using point-of-sale devices made by Oracle‘s MICROS retail unit to double-check the machines for malicious software or unusual network activity, and to change passwords on the devices. Visa also published a list of Internet addresses that may have been involved in the Oracle breach and are thought to be closely tied to an Eastern European organized cybercrime gang.

VSA-oracle

The Visa alert is the first substantive document that tries to help explain what malware and which malefactors might have hit Oracle — and by extension many of Oracle’s customers — since KrebsOnSecurity broke news of the breach on Aug. 8. That story cited sources close to the investigation saying hackers had broken into hundreds of servers at Oracle’s retail division, and had completely compromised Oracle’s main online support portal for MICROS customers.

MICROS is among the top three point-of-sale vendors globally. Oracle’s MICROS division sells point-of-sale systems used at more than 330,000 cash registers worldwide. When Oracle bought MICROS in 2014, the company said MICROS’s systems were deployed at some 200,000+ food and beverage outlets, 100,000+ retail sites, and more than 30,000 hotels.

In short, tens of millions of credit cards are swiped at MICROS terminals monthly, and a breach involving the theft of credentials that might have granted remote access to even just a small percentage of those systems is potentially a big and costly problem for all involved.

So far, however, most MICROS customers are left scratching their heads for answers. A frequently asked questions bulletin (PDF) Oracle also released last Monday held little useful information. Oracle issued the same cryptic response to everyone who asked for particulars about how far the breach extended. “Oracle has detected and addressed malicious code in certain legacy MICROS systems.”

Oracle also urged MICROS customers to change their passwords, and said “we also recommend that you change the password for any account that was used by a MICROS representative to access your on-premises systems.”

One of two documents Oracle sent to MICROS customers and the sum total of information the company has released so far about the breach.

One of two documents Oracle sent to MICROS customers and the sum total of information the company has released so far about the breach.

Some technology and fraud experts, including Gartner Analyst Avivah Litan, read that statement highlighted in yellow above as an acknowledgement by Oracle that hackers may have abused credentials gained in the MICROS portal breach to plant malicious code on the point-of-sale devices run by an unknown number of MICROS customers.

“This [incident] could explain a lot about the source of some of these retail and merchant point-of-sale hacks that nobody has been able to definitively tie to any one point-of-sale services provider,” Litan told me last week. “I’d say there’s a big chance that the hackers in this case found a way to get remote access” to MICROS customers’ on-premises point-of-sale devices.”

Clearly, Visa is concerned about this possibility as well.

INDICATORS OF COMPROMISE

In my original story about the breach, I wasn’t able to reveal all the data I’d gathered about the apparent source of the attacks and attackers. A key source in that story asked that I temporarily delay publishing certain details of the investigation, specifically those known as indicators of compromise (IOCs). Basically, IOCs are list of suspect Internet addresses, domain names, filenames and other curious digital clues that are thought to connect the victim with its attacker.

I’ve been inundated all week with calls and emails from security experts asking for that very data, but sharing it wasn’t my call. That is, until yesterday (8/12/16), when Visa published a “merchant communication alert” to some customers. In that alert (PDF), Visa published IOCs that may be connected with the intrusion. These IOCs could be extremely useful to MICROS customers because the presence of Internet traffic to and from these online destinations would strongly suggest the organization’s point-of-sale systems may be similarly compromised.

Some of the addresses on this list from Visa are known to be associated with the Carbanak Gang, a group of Eastern European hackers that Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab estimates has stolen more than $1 billion from banks and retailers. Here’s the IOCs list from the alert Visa pushed out Friday:

VISA warned merchants to check their systems for any communications to and from these Internet addresses and domain names associated with a Russian organized cybercrime gang called "Carbanak."

Visa warned merchants to check their systems for any communications to and from these Internet addresses and domain names associated with a Russian organized cybercrime gang called “Carbanak.”

Thankfully, since at least one of the addresses listed above (192.169.82.86) matched what’s on my source’s list, the source agreed to let me publish the entire thing. Here it is. I checked my source’s list and found at least five Internet addresses that were seen in both the Oracle attack and in a Sept. 2015 writeup about Carbanak by ESET Security, a Slovakian antivirus and security company. [NB: If you are unskilled at safely visiting malicious Web sites and/or handling malware, it’s probably best not to visit the addresses in the above-linked list.]

Visa also mentioned a specific POS-malware threat in its alert called “MalumPOS.” According to researchers at Trend Micro, MalumPOS is malware designed to target point-of-sale systems in hotels and related industries. In fact, Trend found that MalumPOS is set up to collect data specifically from point-of-sale systems running on Oracle’s MICROS platform.

It should come as no surprise then that many of Oracle’s biggest customers in the hospitality industry are starting to make noise, accusing Oracle of holding back key information that could help MICROS-based companies stop and clean up breaches involving malware and stolen customer credit card data.

“Oracle’s silence has been deafening,” said Michael Blake, chief executive officer at HTNG, a trade association for hotels and technology. “They are still grappling and trying to answer questions on the extent of the breach. Oracle has been invited to the last three [industry] calls this week and they are still going about trying to reach each customer individually and in the process of doing so they have done nothing but given the lame advice of changing passwords.”

The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit by point-of-sale compromises over the past two years. Last month, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news of a breach at Kimpton Hotels (Kimpton appears to run MICROS products, but the company declined to answer questions for this story).

Kimpton joins a long list of hotel brands that have acknowledged card breaches over the last year, including Trump Hotels (twice), Hilton, Mandarin Oriental, and White Lodging (twice), Starwood Hotels and Hyatt. In many of those incidents, thieves had planted malicious software on the point-of-sale devices at restaurants and bars inside of the hotel chains. And, no doubt, many of those cash registers were run on MICROS systems.

If Oracle doesn’t exactly know which — if any — of its MICROS customers had malware on their point-of-sale systems as a result of the breach, it may be because the network intruders didn’t have any reason to interact with Oracle’s customers via the MICROS portal after stealing usernames and passwords that would allow them to remotely access customer on-premises systems. In theory, at that point the fraudsters could have bypassed Oracle altogether from then on. Continue reading →


11
Aug 16

Road Warriors: Beware of ‘Video Jacking’

A little-known feature of many modern smartphones is their ability to duplicate video on the device’s screen so that it also shows up on a much larger display — like a TV. However, new research shows that this feature may quietly expose users to a simple and cheap new form of digital eavesdropping.

Dubbed “video jacking” by its masterminds, the attack uses custom electronics hidden inside what appears to be a USB charging station. As soon as you connect a vulnerable phone to the appropriate USB charging cord, the spy machine splits the phone’s video display and records a video of everything you tap, type or view on it as long as it’s plugged in — including PINs, passwords, account numbers, emails, texts, pictures and videos.

The part of the "video jacking" demonstration at the DEF CON security conference last week in Las Vegas.

Some of the equipment used in the “video jacking” demonstration at the DEF CON security conference last week in Las Vegas. Source: Brian Markus.

[Click here if you’re the TL;DR type and just want to know if your phone is at risk from this attack.]

Demonstrations of this simple but effective mobile spying technique were on full display at the DEF CON security conference in Las Vegas last week. I was busy chasing a story at DEF CON unrelated to the conference this year, so I missed many people and talks that I wanted to see. But I’m glad I caught up with the team behind DEF CON’s annual and infamous “Wall of Sheep,” a public shaming exercise aimed at educating people about the dangers of sending email and other plain text online communications over open wireless networks.

Brian Markus, co-founder and chief executive officer for Aries Security, said he and fellow researchers Joseph Mlodzianowski and Robert Rowley came up with the idea for video jacking when they were brainstorming about ways to expand on their “juice jacking” experiments at DEF CON in 2011.

“Juice jacking” refers to the ability to hijack stored data when the user unwittingly plugs his phone into a custom USB charging station filled with computers that are ready to suck down and record said data (both Android and iOS phones now ask users whether they trust the computer before allowing data transfers).

In contrast, video jacking lets the attacker record every key and finger stroke the user makes on the phone, so that the owner of the evil charging station can later replay the videos and see any numbers or keys pressed on the smart phone.

That’s because those numbers or keys will be raised briefly on the victim’s screen with each key press. Here’s an example: While the user may have enabled a special PIN that needs to be entered before the phone unlocks to the home screen, this method captures even that PIN as long as the device is vulnerable and plugged in before the phone is unlocked.

GREAT. IS MY PHONE VULNERABLE?

Most of the phones vulnerable to video jacking are Android or other HDMI-ready smartphones from Asus, Blackberry, HTC, LG, Samsung, and ZTE. This page of HDMI enabled smartphones at phonerated.com should not be considered all-inclusive. Here’s another list. When in doubt, search online for your phone’s make and model to find out if it is HDMI or MHL ready.

Video jacking is a problem for users of HDMI-ready phones mainly because it’s very difficult to tell a USB cord that merely charges the phone versus one that also taps the phone’s video-out capability. Also, there’s generally no warning on the phone to alert the user that the device’s video is being piped to another source, Markus said.

“All of those phones have an HDMI access feature that is turned on by default,” he said. “A few HDMI-ready phones will briefly flash something like ‘HDMI Connected’ whenever they’re plugged into a power connection that is also drawing on the HDMI feature, but most will display no warning at all. This worked on all the phones we tested with no prompting.”

Both Markus and Rowley said they did not test the attack against Apple iPhones prior to DEF CON, but today Markus said he tested it at an Apple store and the video of the iPhone 6’s home screen popped up on the display in the store without any prompt. Getting it to work on the display required a special lightning digital AV adapter from Apple, which could easily be hidden inside an evil charging station and fed an extension adapter and then a regular lightning cable in front of that.

Continue reading →


09
Aug 16

Got Microsoft? Time to Patch Your Windows

Microsoft churned out a bunch of software updates today fix some serious security problems with Windows and other Microsoft products like Internet Explorer (IE), Edge and Office. If you use Microsoft, here are some details about what needs fixing.

brokenwindowsAs usual, patches for IE and for Edge address the largest number of “critical” vulnerabilities. Critical bugs refer to flaws Microsoft deems serious enough that crooks can exploit them to remotely compromise a vulnerable computer without any help from the user, save for the user visiting some hacked but otherwise legitimate site.

Another bundle of critical bugs targets at least three issues with the way Windows, Office and Skype handle certain types of fonts. Microsoft said attackers could exploit this flaw to take over computers just by getting the victim to view files with specially crafted fonts — either in an Office file like Word or Excel (including via the preview pane), or visiting a hacked/malicious Web site. Continue reading →


08
Aug 16

Data Breach At Oracle’s MICROS Point-of-Sale Division

A Russian organized cybercrime group known for hacking into banks and retailers appears to have breached hundreds of computer systems at software giant Oracle Corp., KrebsOnSecurity has learned. More alarmingly, the attackers have compromised a customer support portal for companies using Oracle’s MICROS point-of-sale credit card payment systems.

ocAsked this weekend for comment on rumors of a large data breach potentially affecting customers of its retail division, Oracle acknowledged that it had “detected and addressed malicious code in certain legacy MICROS systems.” It also said that it is asking all MICROS customers to reset their passwords for the MICROS online support portal.

MICROS is among the top three point-of-sale vendors globally. Oracle’s MICROS division sells point-of-sale systems used at more than 330,000 cash registers worldwide. When Oracle bought MICROS in 2014, the company said MICROS’s systems were deployed at some 200,000+ food and beverage outlets, 100,000+ retail sites, and more than 30,000 hotels.

The size and scope of the break-in is still being investigated, and it remains unclear when the attackers first gained access to Oracle’s systems. Sources close to the investigation say Oracle first considered the breach to be limited to a small number of computers and servers at the company’s retail division. That source said that soon after Oracle pushed new security tools to systems in the affected network investigators realized the intrusion impacted more than 700 infected systems.

KrebsOnSecurity first began investigating this incident on July 25, 2016 after receiving an email from an Oracle MICROS customer and reader who reported hearing about a potentially large breach at Oracle’s retail division.

“I do not know to what extent other than they discovered it last week,” said the reader, who agreed to be quoted here in exchange for anonymity. “Out of abundance of caution they informed us and seem to have indicated the incident was isolated to Oracle staff members and not customers like us.  In addition, this notice was to serve to customers the reason for any delays in customer support and service as they were refreshing/re-imaging employees’ computers.”

Two security experts briefed on the breach investigation and who asked to remain anonymous because they did not have permission from their employer to speak on the record said Oracle’s MICROS customer support portal was seen communicating with a server known to be used by the Carbanak Gang. Carbanak is part of a Russian cybercrime syndicate that is suspected of stealing more than $1 billion from banks, retailers and hospitality firms over the past several years.

Many well-known retail, hotel and food & beverage brands use MICROS.

Many well-known retail, hotel and food & beverage brands use MICROS.

A source briefed on the investigation says the breach likely started with a single infected system inside of Oracle’s network that was then used to compromise additional systems. Among those was a customer “ticketing portal” that Oracle uses to help MICROS customers remotely troubleshoot problems with their point-of-sale systems.

Those sources further stated that the intruders placed malicious code on the MICROS support portal, and that the malware allowed the attackers to steal MICROS customer usernames and passwords when customers logged in the support Web site.

Oracle declined to answer direct questions about the breach, saying only that Oracle’s corporate network and Oracle’s other cloud and service offerings were not impacted. The company also sought to downplay the impact of the incident, emphasizing that “payment card data is encrypted both at rest and in transit in the MICROS hosted customer environments.”

In a statement that Oracle is apparently in the process of sending to MICROS customers, Oracle said it was forcing a password reset for all support accounts on the MICROS portal. Oracle added: “We also recommend that you change the password for any account that was used by a MICROS representative to access your on-premises systems.” Continue reading →


03
Aug 16

The Reincarnation of a Bulletproof Hoster

In April 2016, security firm Trend Micro published a damning report about a Web hosting provider referred to only as a “cyber-attack facilitator in the Netherlands.” If the Trend analysis lacked any real punch that might have been because — shortly after the report was published — names were redacted so that it was no longer immediately clear who the bad hosting provider was. This post aims to shine a bit more light on the individuals apparently behind this mysterious rogue hosting firm — a company called HostSailor[dot]com.

The Trend report observes that the unnamed, Netherlands-based virtual private sever (VPS) hosting provider appears to have few legitimate customers, and that the amount of abuse emanating from it “is so staggering that this company will remain on our watchlist in the next few months.”

hstm

What exactly is the awfulness spewing from the company that Trend takes great pains not to name as HostSailor.com? For starters, according to Trend’s data (PDF) HostSailor has long been a home for attacks tied to a Russian cyber espionage campaign dubbed “Pawn Storm.” From the report:

“Pawn Storm seems to feel quite at home. They used the VPS hosting company for at least 80 attacks since May 2015. Their attacks utilized C&C servers, exploit sites, spear-phishing campaigns, free Webmail phishing sites targeting high profile users, and very specific credential phishing sites against Government agencies of countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Malaysia, Montenegro, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Arab Emirates. Pawn Storm also uses the VPS provider in the Netherlands for domestic espionage in Russia regularly.”

“Apart from Pawn Storm, a less sophisticated group of threat actors called DustySky (PDF link added) is using the VPS provider. These actors target Israel, companies who do business in Israel, Egypt and some other Middle Eastern governments.”

WHO IS HOSTSAILOR?

Trend’s report on HostSailor points to a LinkedIn profile for an Alexander Freeman at HostSailor who lists his location as Dubai. HostSailor’s Web site says the company has servers in The Netherlands and in Romania, and that it is based in Dubai. The company first came online in early 2013.

Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam researcher who tipped me off to the Trend report and whose research has been featured several times on this blog, reached out to Freeman via email. Guilmette later posted at the Ripe.net mailing list the vitriolic and threatening response he said he received in reply.

A snippet from the response that Guilmette said he received from a HostSailor employee named Alexander Freeman.

A snippet from the response that Guilmette said he received from a HostSailor employee named Alexander Freeman.

Perhaps Mr. Freeman’s ire was previously leveled at Trend Micro, which could explain their redaction of the name “HostSailor” from its report. A spokesperson for Trend Micro declined to explain why the company redacted its own report post-publication, saying only that “at the time of publication, we were following our standard disclosure protocol.”

In any case, I began to suspect that “Alexander Freeman” was just a pseudonym (Trend noted this suspicion in its report as well). In combing through the historic WHOIS registration records for the domain hostsailor.com, I noticed that the domain name changed hands sometime in late 2012. Sure enough, a simple Google search popped up this thread at Webhostingtalk.com back in Dec. 2012, which was started by a Jordan Peterson who says he’s looking to sell hostsailor.com.

Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, Mr. Peterson said the person who responded about purchasing the domain was named Ali Al-Attiyah, and that this individual used the following email addresses:

ali.alattiyah@yahoo.com
ali.alattiyah@mail.com
hostsailor@hush.com

“I remember Ali telling me he didn’t have a paypal so a friend sent me the money for the domain, I looked up the paypal info for you and [Ali’s friend’s] name is Khalid Cook, masrawyz@yahoo.com,” Peterson told me. “The legal information for the domain transfer was given as:

152-160 City Road
London ec1v 2nx
UK”

That street address corresponds to a business named “yourvirtualofficelondon.co.uk,” which offers call answering services for companies that wish to list a prestigious London address without actually having a physical presence there.

Ali Al-Attiyah is listed as the official registrant of hostsailor.com and several other very similar domains. More interesting, however, is that email address given for Mr. Khalid Cook: masrawyz@yahoo.com. According to a “reverse WHOIS” search ordered from DomainTools.com, that Yahoo email address was used in the original registration records for exactly one domain: santrex.net.

Santrex (better known on Webhostingtalk.com as “Scamtrex“) was an extremely dodgy “bulletproof hosting” company — essentially a mini-ISP that specializes in offering services that are largely immune from takedown requests and pressure from Western law enforcement agencies. At the time, Google’s Safebrowsing database warned that almost 90 percent of the sites on Santrex’s network were attempting to foist malicious software on visitors or were hosting malware used in online attacks.

Santrex was forced out of business in early 2013, after the company’s core servers were massively hacked and the PayPal and credit card accounts it used to accept payments from customers were reportedly seized by unknown parties. In its final days as a hosting provider, Santrex’s main voice on Webhostingtalk.com — a user named “khalouda” — posted many rants that eerily echo the invective leveled at Guilmette by HostSailor’s Mr. Freeman.

Google’s take on the world’s most densely malicious networks over the past 12 months.

Google’s take on the world’s most densely malicious networks over the past 12 months.

WHO IS KHALID COOK?

Continue reading →


01
Aug 16

Social Security Administration Now Requires Two-Factor Authentication

The U.S. Social Security Administration announced last week that it will now require a cell phone number from all Americans who wish to manage their retirement benefits at ssa.gov. Unfortunately, the new security measure does little to prevent identity thieves from fraudulently creating online accounts to siphon benefits from Americans who haven’t yet created accounts for themselves.

ssasiteThe SSA said all new and existing ‘my Social Security’ account holders will need to provide a cell phone number. The agency said it will use the mobile numbers to send users an 8-digit code via text message that needs to be entered along with a username and password to log in to the site.

The SSA noted it was making the change to comply with an executive order for federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services.

“People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number,” the agency said. “The purpose of providing your cell phone number is that, each time you log in to your account with your username and password, we will send you a one-time security code you must also enter to log in successfully to your account. We expect to provide additional options in the future, dependent upon requirements of national guidelines currently being revised.”

Although the SSA’s policy change provides additional proof that the person signing in is the same individual who established multi-factor authentication in the the first place, it does not appear to provide any additional proof that the person creating an account at ssa.gov is who they say they are.

The SSA does offer other “extra security” options, such as the sending users a special code via the U.S. Mail that has to be entered on the agency’s site to complete the signup process. If you choose to enable extra security, the SSA will then ask you for:

  • The last eight digits of your Visa, MasterCard, or Discover credit card;
  • Information from your W2 tax form;
  • Information from a 1040 Schedule SE (self-employment) tax form; or
  • Your direct deposit amount, if you receive Social Security benefits.

Sadly, it is still relatively easy for thieves to create an account in the name of Americans who have not already created one for themselves. All one would need is the target’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, residential address, and phone number. This personal data can be bought for roughly $3-$4 from a variety of cybercrime shops online.

After that, the SSA relays four multiple-guess, so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions from credit bureau Equifax. In practice, many of these KBA questions — such as previous address, loan amounts and dates — can be successfully enumerated with random guessing.  What’s more, very often the answers to these questions can be found by consulting free online services, such as Zillow and Facebook.

In September 2013, I warned that SSA and financial institutions were tracking a rise in cases wherein identity thieves register an account at the SSA’s portal using a retiree’s personal information and have the victim’s benefits diverted to prepaid debit cards that the crooks control. Unfortunately, because the SSA’s new security features are optional, they do little to block crooks from hijacking SSA benefit payments from retirees. Continue reading →