June, 2011


14
Jun 11

Adobe Ships Security Patches, Auto-Update Feature

Adobe today issued more than a dozen security updates for its Acrobat and PDF Reader programs, including a feature update that will install future Reader security updates automatically. In addition, Adobe has shipped yet another version of its Flash Player software to fix a critical security flaw.

No doubt some will quibble with Adobe’s move toward auto-updating Reader: There is always a contingent in the user community who fear automatic updates will at some point force a faulty patch. But for better or worse, Adobe’s Reader software is the PDF reader software of choice for a majority of Windows computers in use today. Faced with incessant malware attacks against outdated versions of these programs, it seems irresponsible for Adobe to do anything other than offer auto-update capability to to Reader users more aggressively.

Adobe debuted this feature in April 2010, but at that the time Adobe decided to continue to honor whatever update option users had selected (the default has always been “download all updates automatically and notify me when they are ready to be installed”). With this latest update, Adobe will again prompt users to approve an auto-update choice, except this time the option pre-selected will be “Install Updates Automatically.”

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13
Jun 11

Organization Chart Reveals ChronoPay’s Links to Shady Internet Projects

An online criminal enterprise, as tightly structured as any legitimate business corporation, was exposed in 2010. Emails and documents taken from employees of ChronoPay — Russia’s largest online payments processor — were shared with a select group of law enforcement agencies and with KrebsOnSecurity.com. The communications provide the strongest evidence yet that a notorious rogue online pharmacy and other shady enterprises are controlled by ChronoPay executives and employees.

The leaked ChronoPay emails show that in August 2010 co-founder Pavel Vrublevsky authorized a payment of 37,350 Russian Rubles (about $1,200) for a multi-user license of an Intranet service called MegaPlan.  The documents indicate that Vrublevsky used the service to help manage the sprawling projects related to ChronoPay’s “black” operations, including the processing of payments for rogue anti-virus software, violent “rape” porn sites, and knockoff prescription drugs sold through hundreds of Web sites affiliated with a rogue online pharmacy program Rx-Promotion.com.

ChronoPay employees used their MegaPlan accounts to track payment processing issues, order volumes, and advertising partnerships for these black programs. In a move straight out of the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs, the employees adopted nicknames like “Mr. Kink,” “Mr. Heppner,” and “Ms. Nati.” However, in a classic failure of operational security, many of these folks had their messages automatically forwarded to their real ChronoPay email accounts.

MegaPlan offers an application that makes it simple for clients to create organizational charts, and the account paid for by ChronoPay includes a chart showing the hierarchy and reporting structure of its dark divisions.

A screen shot of the organization chart from ChronoPay’s MegaPlan Intranet system.

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10
Jun 11

FBI Investigating Cyber Theft of $139,000 from Pittsford, NY

Computer crooks stole at least $139,000 from the town coffers of Pittsford, New York this week. The theft is the latest reminder of the widening gap between the sophistication of organized cyber thieves and the increasingly ineffective security measures employed by many financial institutions across the United States.

The attack began on or around June 1, 2011, when someone logged into the online commercial banking account of the Town of Pittsford, a municipality of 25,000 not far from Rochester, N.Y. The thieves initiated a small batch of automated clearing house (ACH) transfers to several money mules, willing or unwitting individuals in the U.S.A. who had been recruited by the attackers prior to the theft. The mules pulled the money out of their bank accounts in cash and wired it to individuals in Saint Petersburg, Russia and Kiev, Ukraine via transfer services Western Union and Moneygram.

Over the next four business days, the thieves initiated another three fraudulent batch payments to money mules. Some transfers went to money mules who owned businesses, such as a $14,750 payment to Mission Viejo, Calif. based Art Snyder Software. Most money mules were sent payments of less than $5,000.

Pittsford town supervisor William Carpenter said the FBI is investigating the incident, and that many of the details of how the attackers got in remain unclear. He said the FBI told him the thieves most likely stole the town’s online banking password using a banking Trojan. He added that the town has recovered just $4,800 of the stolen funds, the proceeds of a single transfer. I left a message with the FBI field office in New York but haven’t yet heard back.

“We have good firewalls and anti-virus software, and we weren’t at all lax in our security systems,” Carpenter said. “We thought we were pretty secure.”

Carpenter said the fraud went undetected for days. He said the town normally does its direct deposit payroll bi-weekly on Wednesdays, and that the first fraudulent transfers happened during a non-payroll week.

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9
Jun 11

Pay-Per-Install a Major Source of Badness

New research suggests that the majority of personal computers infected with malicious software may have arrived at that state thanks to a bustling underground market that matches criminal gangs who pay for malware installs with enterprising hackers looking to sell access to compromised PCs.

One of the PPI programs profiled in the study.

Pay-per-install (PPI) services are advertised on shadowy underground Web forums. Clients submit their malware—a spambot, fake antivirus software, or password-stealing Trojan—to the PPI service, which in turn charges rates from $7 to $180 per thousand successful installations, depending on the requested geographic location of the desired victims.

The PPI services also attract entrepreneurial malware distributors, or “affiliates,” hackers who are tasked with figuring out how to install the malware on victims’ machines. Typical installation schemes involve uploading tainted programs to public file-sharing networks; hacking legitimate websites in order to automatically download the files onto visitors; and quietly running the programs on PCs they have already compromised. Affiliates are credited only for successful installations, via a unique and static affiliate code stitched into the installer programs and communicated back to the PPI service after each install.

In August 2010, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Madrid Institute for Advanced Studies in Software Development Technologies infiltrated four competing PPI services by surreptitiously hijacking multiple affiliate accounts. They built an automated system to regularly download the installers being pushed by the different PPI services.

The snippet above is the introduction to a story I wrote for MIT Tech Review. Read the whole piece at this link.

Ads for Monocash, a 3-year-old PPI program that distributes the Zlob malware


8
Jun 11

Court: Passwords + Secret Questions = ‘Reasonable’ eBanking Security

A closely-watched court battle over how far commercial banks need to go to protect their customers from cyber theft is nearing an end. Experts said the decision recommended by a magistrate last week — if adopted by a U.S. district court in Maine — will make it more difficult for other victim businesses to challenge the effectiveness of security measures employed by their banks.

In May 2009, Sanford, Maine based Patco Construction Co. filed suit against Ocean Bank, a division of Bridgeport, Conn. based People’s United Bank. Pacto used online banking primarily to make weekly payroll payments. Patco said cyber thieves used the ZeuS trojan to steal its online banking credentials, and then heisted $588,000 in batches of fraudulent automated clearing house (ACH) transfers over a period of seven days.

In the weeks following the incident, Ocean Bank managed to block or claw back $243,406 of the fraudulent transfers, leaving Patco with a net loss of $345,445. Because the available funds in Patco’s account were less than the total fraudulent withdrawals, the bank drew $223,237 on Patco’s line of credit to cover the transfers. Patco ended up paying interest on that amount to avoid defaulting on its loans.

Patco sued to recover its losses, arguing in part that Ocean Bank failed to live up to the terms of its contract when it allowed customers to log in to accounts using little more than a user name and password. On May 27, a magistrate recommended that the court make Patco the loser by denying Pacto’s motion for summary judgment and granting the bank’s motion.

David Navetta, a founding partner of the Information Law Group, said that Patco has about another week to dispute the magistrate’s recommendations, but that it is unlikely that the judge overseeing the case will overturn the magistrate’s findings.

Navetta said the magistrate considered the legal issues and propounded an analysis of what constitutes “commercially reasonable” security.

“Many security law commentators, myself included, have long held that reasonable security does not mean bullet-proof security, and that companies need not be at the cutting edge of security to avoid liability,” Navetta said. “The court explicitly recognizes this concept, and I think that is a good thing.”

But Avivah Litan, a fraud and bank security analyst at Gartner, took strong exception to the way the magistrate arrived at the recommended decision, calling it “an outrage.”

“In my opinion, this is frankly an egregious injustice against small U.S. businesses,” Litan said. “It is also a complete failure of the bank regulatory system in the United States, which should come as no surprise, given the history of the regulators in the 21st century.”

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7
Jun 11

Java Patch Plugs 17 Security Holes

Oracle today released an update to its ubiquitous Java software that fixes at least 17 security vulnerabilities in the program.

The company is advising users to apply this update as soon as possible; it looks like most — if not all — of the vulnerabilities addressed by this new version may be exploited remotely without authentication.

The latest version is Java 6 Update 26 (v. 1.6.0.26), and is available either through the updater built in to Java (accessible from the Windows control panel) or by visiting java.com. If you’re not sure which version you have or whether you’ve got the program installed at all, click the “Do I have Java” link below the red download button on the Java homepage.

Java’s broad install base has made it a major target for computer crooks. It certainly does not help that so many users fail to keep this very powerful program updated. If you have no use for Java, my advice is to get rid of it. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, consider disabling the Java plug-in(s) in your browser of choice unless and until you need  the program.


7
Jun 11

Naming & Shaming Sources of Spam

A new resource for spotlighting organizations that are unwittingly contributing to the global spam problem aims to shame junk email havens into taking more aggressive security measures.

Healthcare providers that are top sources of spam.

SpamRankings.net is a project launched by the Center for Research in Electronic Commerce at the University of Texas at Austin. Its goal is to identify and call attention to organizations with networks that have been infiltrated by spammers.

Andrew Whinston, the center’s director, said the group initially is focusing on health care providers that appear to be infected with spam bots. “Nobody wants to do business with a bank or hospital or Internet hosting company that has been hijacked by spammers,” Whinston said. “It’s an environment in which user data can be stolen or compromised.”

It’s not clear whether people pay attention to spam rankings when choosing providers, but it’s nice that another method of measuring badness and reputation on the Web has come online. Unfortunately, one doesn’t have to look very hard to find spambot infections at many health care providers. In April, I wrote about a service that lets crooks proxy their communications through hacked PCs (see: Is Your Computer Listed for Rent?): Within a few hours of poking around that service, I found three health care providers that were hosting spambots.

John Quarterman, senior researcher for Spamrankings.net and chief executive of network monitoring service Internetperils.com, said future versions of the project will focus on organizations in other industry verticals, such as banking and Web hosting.

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6
Jun 11

Criminal Classifieds: Malware Writers Wanted

The global economy may be struggling to create new jobs, but the employment outlook for criminally-inclined computer programmers has never been brighter. I’ve spent some time lurking on shadowy, online underground forums, and lately I’ve seen a proliferation of banner ads apparently placed by criminal gangs looking for talented programmers to help make existing malware stealthier and more feature-rich.

Many of the ads highlight job openings for coders who are skilled in devising custom “crypters,” programs designed to change the appearance of known malware so that it goes undetected by anti-virus software. Anti-virus signatures are based on snippets of code found within known malware samples, and crypters can try to help hide or obfuscate the code. When anti-virus firms update their products with the ability to detect and flag files that are shrouded by this layer of obfuscation, malware writers tweak their creations in a bid to further evade the new detection mechanisms.

The composite banner ad pictured above is a solicitation from a crime gang that offers a base salary of $2,000 per month in exchange for a “long-term partnership” creating crypters that include customer support. The ads lead to a sign-up page (below) where interested coders can leave their résumé and contact information, and state why they think they are qualified for the position.

The Russian text in the above ad translates to:

“We invite you to join our team of crypto-programmers, including programmers with no experience in this field.

We offer:

* Base salary from $2,000 per month, with an increase in salary, depending on the quality and timeliness of your work.
* Payments are made ​​weekly.
* Long-term cooperation (with many programmers, we have been in business for more than two years).

Please fill in your application only if you understand what is at stake. Thank you.”

Other ads, like the one below, seek qualified candidates for similar jobs with a promise of as much as $5,000 per month for creating custom crypters and providing customer support.

There also appears to be a high demand for programmers who can code so-called “Web injects,” plug-ins for malware kits like the ZeuS and SpyEye trojans, and they’re designed to inject custom content into a Web browser when the victim browses to certain sites, such as a specific bank’s login page.

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5
Jun 11

Flash Player Patch Fixes Zero-Day Flaw

Adobe released an emergency security update today to fix a vulnerability that the company warned is being actively exploited in targeted attacks designed to trick the user into clicking on a malicious link delivered in an email message.

The vulnerability — a cross-site scripting bug that could be used to take actions on a user’s behalf on any Web site or Webmail provider, exists in Flash Player version 10.3.181.16 and earlier for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Solaris. Adobe recommends users update to version 10.3.181.22 (on Internet Explorer, the latest, patched version is 10.3.181.23).  To find out what version of Flash you have, go here.

Google appears to have already pushed out an update that fixes this flaw in Chrome. Adobe says it will ship an update to fix this flaw on Android sometime this week.

Adobe said it is still investigating whether this is exploitable in Adobe Reader and Acrobat X (10.0.2) and earlier 10.x and 9.x versions of Adobe Reader and Acrobat for Windows and Macintosh operating systems, and that it is not aware of any attacks targeting Adobe Reader or Acrobat in the wild.

Remember that if you use Internet Explorer in addition to other browsers, you will need to apply this update twice: Once to install the Flash Active X plugin for IE, and again to update other browsers, such as Firefox and Opera. Updates are available by browsing with the appropriate browser to the Flash Player Download Center. Bear in mind that updating via the Download Center involves installing Adobe’s Download Manager, which may try to foist additional software. If you’d prefer to update manually, the direct installers for Windows are available at this link. If you run into problems installing this update, you’ll want to uninstall previous versions of Flash Player and then try again.


2
Jun 11

Spotting Web-Based Email Attacks

Google warned on Wednesday that hackers were launching targeted phishing attacks against hundreds of Gmail account users, including senior U.S. government officials, Chinese political activists, military personnel and journalists. That story, as related in a post on the Official Google Blog, was retold in hundreds of media outlets today as the latest example of Chinese cyber espionage: The lead story in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal today was, “Google: China Hacked Email.”

The fact that hackers are launching extremely sophisticated email attacks that appear to trace back to China makes for great headlines, but it isn’t exactly news. I’m surprised by how few media outlets took the time to explain the mechanics behind these targeted attacks, because they offer valuable insight into why people who really ought to know better keep falling for them. A more complete accounting of the attacks may give regular Internet users a better sense of the caliber of scams that are likely to target them somewhere down the road.

Google said “the goal of this effort seems to have been to monitor the contents of targeted users’ emails, with the perpetrators apparently using stolen passwords to change peoples’ forwarding and delegation settings. (Gmail enables you to forward your emails automatically, as well as grant others access to your account.)”

This statement freaked me out a little bit. When was the last time you checked whether your email forwarding settings had been modified? If you’re like me, probably never. This might be the most useful aspect of the Google disclosure, and it contains a few helpful pointers about how to check those settings in Gmail. Google also took this opportunity to remind users about the value of enabling 2-step verification, a security precaution I highlighted in a February blog post.

To my mind, the most valuable content in the Google Blog entry is a footnote that points to the Contagio Malware Dump blog, an incredibly detailed and insightful (if slightly dangerous) resource for information on targeted attacks. It’s worth noting that Google relied on Contagio to reconstruct how the attacks took place, and the author –blogger Mila Parkour — first wrote about these attacks almost four months ago.

Most of targeted email attacks chronicled on Parkour’s blog involve poisoned file attachments that exploit zero-day software flaws in programs like Adobe Flash or Microsoft Word.  This campaign also encouraged people to click a link to download a file, but the file was instead an HTML page that mimicked Gmail’s login page. The scam page also was custom-coded to fill in the target’s Gmail username. Contagiodump has a proof-of-concept page available at this link that shows the exact attack, except populated with “JDoe” in the username field.

Parkour also published an informative graphic highlighting the differences between the fake Google login page and the legitimate page at https://mail.google.com.

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