25
Jul 14

Service Drains Competitors’ Online Ad Budget

The longer one lurks in the Internet underground, the more difficult it becomes to ignore the harsh reality that for nearly every legitimate online business there is a cybercrime-oriented anti-business. Case in point: Today’s post looks at a popular service that helps crooked online marketers exhaust the Google AdWords budgets of their competitors.

Youtube ads from "GoodGoogle" pitching his AdWords click fraud service.

Youtube ads from “GoodGoogle” pitching his AdWords click fraud service.

AdWords is Google’s paid advertising product, displaying ads on the top or the right side of your screen in search results. Advertisers bid on specific keywords, and those who bid the highest will have their ads show up first when Internet users search for those terms. In turn, advertisers pay Google a small amount each time a user clicks on one of their ads.

One of the more well-known forms of online ad fraud (a.k.a. “click fraud“) involves Google AdSense publishers that automate the clicking of ads appearing on their own Web sites in order to inflate ad revenue. But fraudsters also engage in an opposite scam involving AdWords, in which advertisers try to attack competitors by raising their costs or exhausting their ad budgets early in the day.

Enter “GoodGoogle,” the nickname chosen by one of the more established AdWords fraudsters operating on the Russian-language crime forums.  Using a combination of custom software and hands-on customer service, GoodGoogle promises clients the ability to block the appearance of competitors’ ads.

“Are you tired of the competition in Google AdWords that take your first position and quality traffic,?” reads GoodGoogle’s pitch. “I will help you get rid once and for all competitors in Google Adwords.”

The service, which appears to have been in the offering since at least January 2012, provides customers both a la carte and subscription rates. The prices range from $100 to block between three to ten ad units for 24 hours to $80 for 15 to 30 ad units. For a flat fee of $1,000, small businesses can use GoodGoogle’s software and service to sideline a handful of competitors’s ads indefinitely. Fees are paid up-front and in virtual currencies (WebMoney, e.g.), and the seller offers support and a warranty for his work for the first three weeks. Continue reading →


23
Jul 14

Feds: Hackers Ran Concert Ticket Racket

A Russian man detained in Spain is facing extradition to the United States on charges of running an international cyber crime ring that allegedly stole more than $10 million in electronic tickets from e-tickets vendor StubHub.

stubhubVadim Polyakov, 30, was detained while vacationing in Spain. Polyakov is wanted on conspiracy charges to be unsealed today in New York, where investigators with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and the U.S. Secret Service are expected to announce coordinated raids of at least 20 people in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom accused of running an elaborate scam to resell stolen e-tickets and launder the profits.

Sources familiar with the matter describe Polyakov, from St. Petersburg, Russia, as the ringleader of the gang, which allegedly used thousands of compromised StubHub user accounts to purchase huge volumes of electronic, downloadable tickets that were fed to a global network of resellers.

Robert Capps, senior director of customer success for RedSeal Networks and formerly head of StubHub’s global trust and safety organization, said the fraud against StubHub — which is owned by eBay — largely was perpetrated with usernames and passwords stolen from legitimate StubHub customers. Capps noted that while banks have long been the target of online account takeovers, many online retailers are unprepared for the wave of fraud that account takeovers can bring.

“In the last year online retailers have come under significant attack by cyber criminals using techniques such as account takeover to commit fraud,” Capps said. “Unfortunately, the transactional risk systems employed by most online retailers are not tuned to detect and defend against malicious use of existing customer accounts.  Retooling these systems to detect account takeovers can take some time, leaving retailers exposed to significant financial losses in the intervening time.”

Polyakov is the latest in a recent series of accused Russian hackers detained while traveling abroad and currently facing extradition to the United States. Dmitry Belorossov, a Russian citizen wanted in connection with a federal investigation into a cyberheist gang that leveraged the Gozi Trojan, also is facing extradition to the United States from Spain. He was arrested in Spain in August 2013 while attempting to board a flight back to Russia. Continue reading →


21
Jul 14

Banks: Card Breach at Goodwill Industries

Heads up, bargain shoppers: Financial institutions across the country report that they are tracking what appears to be a series of credit card breaches involving Goodwill locations nationwide. For its part, Goodwill Industries International Inc. says it is working with the U.S. Secret Service on an investigation into these reports.

goodwillHeadquartered in Rockville, Md., Goodwill Industries International, Inc. is a network of 165 independent agencies in the United States and Canada with a presence in 14 other countries. The organizations sell donated clothing and household items, and use the proceeds to fund job training programs, employment placement services and other community-based initiatives.

According to sources in the financial industry, multiple locations of Goodwill Industries stores have been identified as a likely point of compromise for an unknown number of credit and debit cards.

In a statement sent to KrebsOnSecurity, Goodwill Industries said it first learned about a possible incident last Friday, July 18. The organization said it has not yet confirmed a breach, but that it is working with federal authorities on an investigation into the matter.

“Goodwill Industries International was contacted last Friday afternoon by a payment card industry fraud investigative unit and federal authorities informing us that select U.S. store locations may have been the victims of possible theft of payment card numbers,” the company wrote in an email. Continue reading →


18
Jul 14

Even Script Kids Have a Right to Be Forgotten

Indexeus, a new search engine that indexes user account information acquired from more than 100 recent data breaches, has caught many in the hacker underground off-guard. That’s because the breached databases crawled by this search engine are mostly sites frequented by young ne’er-do-wells who are just getting their feet wet in the cybercrime business.

Indexeus[dot]org

Indexeus[dot]org

Indexeus boasts that it has a searchable database of “over 200 million entries available to our customers.” The site allows anyone to query millions of records from some of the larger data breaches of late — including the recent break-ins at Adobe and Yahoo! – listing things like email addresses, usernames, passwords, Internet address, physical addresses, birthdays and other information that may be associated with those accounts.

Who are Indexeus’s target customers? Denizens of hackforums[dot]net, a huge forum that is overrun by novice teenage hackers (a.k.a “script kiddies”) from around the world who are selling and buying a broad variety of services designed to help attack, track or otherwise harass people online.

Few services are as full of irony and schadenfreude as Indexeus. You see, the majority of the 100+ databases crawled by this search engine are either from hacker forums that have been hacked, or from sites dedicated to offering so-called “booter” services — powerful servers that can be rented to launch denial-of-service attacks aimed at knocking Web sites and Web users offline.

The brains behind Indexeus — a gaggle of young men in their mid- to late teens or early 20s — envisioned the service as a way to frighten fellow hackers into paying to have their information removed or “blacklisted” from the search engine. Those who pay “donations” of approximately $1 per record (paid in Bitcoin) can not only get their records expunged, but that price also buys insurance against having their information indexed by the search engine in the event it shows up in future database leaks. Continue reading →


16
Jul 14

Wireless Live CD Alternative: ZeusGard

I’ve long recommended that small business owners and others concerned about malware-driven bank account takeovers consider adopting a “Live CD” solution, which is a free and relatively easy way of temporarily converting your Windows PC into a Linux operating system. The trouble with many of these Live CD solutions is that they require a CD player (something many laptops no longer have) — but more importantly – they don’t play well with wireless access. Today’s post looks at an alternative that addresses both of these issues.

Zeusgard, with wireless adapter, on a Macbook Air.

Zeusgard, with wireless adapter, on a Macbook Air.

As I noted in my 2012 column, “Banking on a Live CD,” the beauty of the “Live CD” approach is that it allows you to safely bank online from any machine — even from a system that is already riddled with malware. That’s because it lets you boot your existing PC into an entirely different (read: non-Windows) operating system. [Not sure why you should consider banking online from a non-Windows PC? Check out this series].

The device I’ll be looking at today is not free, nor is the the tiny dongle that enables its ability to be used on a wireless network. Nor is it an actual CD or anything more than a stripped-down Web browser. But it is one of the safest, most easy-to-use solutions I’ve seen yet.

The device, called ZeusGard, is a small, silver USB flash drive that boots into a usable browser within about 30 seconds after starting the machine. The non-writeable drive boots directly into the browser (on top of Debian Linux), and if your system is hard-wired to your router with an Ethernet connection, you should be good to go.

Nearly all Live CD solution have one glaring weakness: They typically are not usable over a wireless connection. The Live CD solution I most frequently recommend — which is based on a version of Puppy Linux — technically can work with wireless networks, but I found that setting it up is not at all intuitive, especially for people who’ve never used anything but Windows before.

zgbox My review copy of ZeusGard came with a tiny USB wireless Wi-Fi adapter, which makes jumping on a wireless network a complete breeze. When you boot up with both ZeusGard and the adapter plugged in, ZeusGard automatically searches for available wireless networks, and asks you to choose yours from a list of those in range.

Assuming access to your wireless network is secured with WPA/WPA2  (hopefully not the weaker WEP) , click the “properties” box next to your network, and enter your network’s encryption key (if you need to see the key in plain text while you’re typing, tick the box next to “key”). Hit “OK” and then the “Connect” button. Once you’re connected, click the down arrow at the top of the dialog box and select “Exit to Browser Session.” Continue reading →


15
Jul 14

Java Update: Patch It or Pitch It

Oracle today released a security update for its Java platform that addresses at least 20 vulnerabilities in the software. Collectively, the bugs fixed in this update earned Oracle’s “critical” rating, meaning they can be exploited over a network without the need for a username and password. In short, if you have Java installed it is time to patch it or pitch it.

javamessThe latest update for Java 7 (the version most users will have installed) brings the program to Java 7 Update 65. Those who’ve chosen to upgrade to the newer, “feature release” version of Java — Java 8 — will find fixes available in Java 8 Update 11.

According to Oracle, at least 8 of the 20 security holes plugged in this release earned a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) rating of 9.0 or higher (with 10 being the most severe). Oracle says vulnerabilities with 9.x CVSS score are those which can be easily exploited remotely and without authentication, and which result in the complete compromise of the host operating system. Continue reading →


14
Jul 14

Beware Keyloggers at Hotel Business Centers

The U.S. Secret Service is advising the hospitality industry to inspect computers made available to guests in hotel business centers, warning that crooks have been compromising hotel business center PCs with keystroke-logging malware in a bid to steal personal and financial data from guests.

A DHS/Secret Service advisory dated July 10, 2014.

A DHS/Secret Service advisory dated July 10, 2014.

In a non-public advisory distributed to companies in the hospitality industry on July 10, the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) warned that a task force in Texas recently arrested suspects who have compromised computers within several major hotel business centers in the Dallas/Fort Worth areas.

“In some cases, the suspects used stolen credit cards to register as guests of the hotels; the actors would then access publicly available computers in the hotel business center, log into their Gmail accounts and execute malicious key logging software,” the advisory reads.

“The keylogger malware captured the keys struck by other hotel guests that used the business center computers, subsequently sending the information via email to the malicious actors’ email accounts,” the warning continues. “The suspects were able to obtain large amounts of information including other guests personally identifiable information (PII), log in credentials to bank, retirement and personal webmail accounts, as well as other sensitive data flowing through the business center’s computers.”

The advisory lists several basic recommendations for hotels to help secure public computers, such as limiting guest accounts to non-administrator accounts that do not have the ability to install or uninstall programs. This is a good all-purpose recommendation, but it won’t foil today’s keyloggers and malware — much of which will happily install on a regular user account just as easily as on an administrative one.

While there are a range of solutions designed to wipe a computer clean of any system changes after the completion of each user’s session (Steady State, Clean Slate, et. al), most such security approaches can be defeated if users also are allowed to insert CDs or USB-based Flash drives (and few hotel business centers would be in much demand without these features on their PCs). Continue reading →


10
Jul 14

Crooks Seek Revival of ‘Gameover Zeus’ Botnet

Cybercrooks today began taking steps to resurrect the Gameover ZeuS botnet, a complex crime machine that has been blamed for the theft more than $100 million from banks, businesses and consumers worldwide. The revival attempt comes roughly five weeks after the FBI joined several nations, researchers and security firms in a global and thus far successful effort to eradicate it. gameover

The researchers who helped dismantle Gameover Zeus said they were surprised that the botmasters didn’t fight back. Indeed, for the past month the crooks responsible seem to have kept a low profile.

But that changed earlier this morning when researchers at Malcovery [full disclosure: Malcovery is an advertiser on this blog] began noticing spam being blasted out with phishing lures that included zip files booby-trapped with malware.

Looking closer, the company found that the malware shares roughly 90 percent of its code base with Gameover Zeus. Part of what made the original GameOver ZeuS so difficult to shut down was its reliance in part on an advanced peer-to-peer (P2P) mechanism to control and update the bot-infected systems.

But according to Gary Warner, Malcovery’s co-founder and chief technologist, this new Gameover variant is stripped of the P2P code, and relies instead on an approach known as fast-flux hosting. Fast-flux is a kind of round-robin technique that lets botnets hide phishing and malware delivery sites behind an ever-changing network of compromised systems acting as proxies, in a bid to make the botnet more resilient to takedowns. Continue reading →


10
Jul 14

Interview With Fresh Air’s Terry Gross

nprlock On Monday, I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest on Terry Gross‘s Fresh Air radio show on National Public Radio. I’m a huge fan of Gross’s show and was quite flattered and honored to have been invited.

The roughly 39-minute interview covered a range of topics, including my reporting on the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches, as well as an investigation into how an identity theft service conned its way into getting access to a subsidiary of big three credit bureau Experian.

Gross also asked about some of the responses that my reporting has engendered from various denizens of the cybercrime underground, hence the title of the segment, “The Hazards of Probing the Internet’s Dark Side.”

The archived podcast of the show is available here.


09
Jul 14

Pre-order Your Copy of ‘Spam Nation’ Now!

Some of you may have noticed that a new element recently debuted in the sidebar: The cover art for my upcoming book, Spam Nation, due to hit bookshelves (physical and virtual) November 18, 2014. Please allow me a few moments to explain what this book is about, and why you should pre-order it today.

Pre-order your copy today!

Pre-order your copy today!

Spam Nation delves deeper than perhaps any other publication into the workings of the cybercrime underground, giving readers unprecedented access to a well-hidden world that few outside of these communities have seen up close.

The backdrop of the story is a long-running turf war between two of the largest sponsors of spam. A true-crime tale of political corruption and ill-fated alliances, tragedy, murder and betrayal, this book explains how the conditions that gave rise to this pernicious industry still remain and are grooming a new class of cybercriminals.

But Spam Nation isn’t just about junk email; most of the entrepreneurs building and managing large-scale spam operations are involved in virtually every aspect of cybercrime for which there is a classification, including malware development, denial-of-service attacks, identity theft, credit card fraud, money laundering, commercial data breaches and extortion.

Spam Nation looks at the crucial role played by cybercrime forums, and how these communities simultaneously weave the social fabric of the underground while protecting scam artists from getting scammed.

The book also includes a detailed history of the Russian Business Network (RBN); how it became the virtual boogeyman of the Internet and prefigured an entire industry of “bulletproof” hosting providers.

Along the way, we meet numerous buyers who explain what motivated them to respond to spam and ingest pills ordered from shadowy online marketers. In the chapter “Meet the Spammers,” readers get a closer look at the junk emailers responsible for running the world’s largest botnets.

In addition, Spam Nation includes first-hand accounts of efforts by vigilante groups to dismantle spam and malware operations, and the vicious counterattacks that these campaigns provoked from the spam community.

Now, here’s the important bit: Anyone who pre-orders the book and emails their proof-of-purchase to this address before Nov. 18, 2014 will receive a signed copy. This extends even to those who opt for a digital copy of the book. That’s because the signature will come on a bookplate, which is simply a decorative label that is affixed to the inside front cover. Bookplates allow my publisher Sourcebooks to distribute signed copies of Spam Nation without having to constantly ship me very heavy truckloads of books to sign and then ship back again for reshipment.

The pre-order link for Amazon is here; readers who wish to purchase the book from Barnes & Noble can do so here. Fans of the Washington D.C. literary landmark Politics and Prose can pre-order the book from them at this link. Forward your emailed proof-of-purchase, or a scan/photo of your receipt. Basically anything that says you purchased the book, the quantity purchased, as well as your name and mailing address. Continue reading →