February, 2012


28
Feb 12

PSI 3.0: Auto-Patching for Dummies

A new version of the Personal Software Inspector (PSI) tool from vulnerability management firm Secunia automates the updating of third-party programs that don’t already have auto-updaters built-in. The new version is a welcome development for the sort of Internet users who occasionally still search their keyboards for the “any” key, but experienced PSI users will probably want to stick with the comparatively feature-rich current version.

PSI 3.0 Beta's simplified interface.

PSI 3.0 introduces one major new feature: Auto-updating by default. The program installs quickly and immediately begins scanning installed applications for missing security updates. When I ran the beta version, it found and automatically began downloading and installing fixes for about half of the apps that it detected were outdated. The program did find several insecure apps that it left alone, including iTunes, PHP and Skype; I suspect that this was based on user feedback. It may also just avoid auto-patching busy programs (all three of those applications were running on my test machine when I installed PSI 3.0); for these, PSI presents the “run manual update,” or “click to update,” option.

But users familiar with previous versions of PSI may be frustrated with the beta version’s intentional lack of options. The beta is devoid of all settings that are present in the current version of PSI, and the user dashboard that listed updated software alongside outdated programs and other options no longer exists. In fact, once a program is updated, it is removed from the update panel, leaving no record of what was updated (I had to sort my Program Files folder by date to learn which programs were touched after running PSI 3.0).

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22
Feb 12

Feds Request DNSChanger Deadline Extension

Extradition of Accused Masterminds Moves Forward

Millions of computers infected with the stealthy and tenacious DNSChanger Trojan may be spared a planned disconnection from the Internet early next month if a New York court approves a new request by the U.S. government. Meanwhile, six men accused of managing and profiting from the huge collection of hacked PCs are expected to soon be extradited from their native Estonia to face charges in the United States.

DNSChanger modifies settings on a host PC that tell the computer how to find Web sites on the Internet, hijacking victims’ search results and preventing them from visiting security sites that might help detect and scrub the infections. The Internet servers that were used to control infected PCs were located in the United States, and in coordination with the arrest of the Estonian men in November, a New York district court ordered a private U.S. company to assume control over those servers. The government argued that the arrangement would give ISPs and companies time to identify and scrub infected PCs, systems that would otherwise be disconnected from the Internet if the control servers were shut down. The court agreed, and ordered that the surrogate control servers remain in operation until March 8.

But earlier this month, security firm Internet Identity revealed that the cleanup process was taking a lot longer than expected: The company said more than 3 million systems worldwide — 500,000 in the United States — remain infected with the Trojan, and that at least one instance of the Trojan was still running on computers at 50 percent of Fortune 500 firms and half of all U.S. government agencies. That means that if the current deadline holds, millions of PCs are likely to be cut off from the Web on March 8.

In a Feb. 17 filing with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, officials with the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and NASA asked the court to extend the March 8 deadline by more than four months to give ISPs, private companies and the government more time to clean up the mess. The government requested that the surrogate servers be allowed to stay in operation until July 9, 2012. The court has yet to rule on the request, a copy of which is available here (PDF).

Not everyone thinks extending the deadline is the best way to resolve the situation. In fact, security-minded folks seem dead-set against the idea. KrebOnSecurity conducted an unscientific poll earlier this month, asking readers whether they thought the government should give affected users more time to clean up infections from the malware, which can be unusually difficult to remove. Nearly 1,400 readers responded that forcing people to meet the current deadline was the best approach. The overwhelming opinion (~9:1) was against extending the March 8 deadline.

KrebsOnSecurity readers voted almost 9-1 against the idea of extending the Mar. 8 deadline.

In related news, the six Estonian men arrested and accused of building and profiting from the DNSChanger botnet are expected to be extradited to face computer intrusion and conspiracy charges in the United States.  Continue reading →


22
Feb 12

How Not to Buy Tax Software

Scott Henry scoured the Web for a good deal on buying tax preparation software. His search ended at Blvdsoftware.com, which advertised a great price and an instant download. But when it came time to install the software, Henry began to have misgivings about the purchase, and reached out to KrebsOnSecurity for a gut-check on whether trusting the software with his tax information was a wise move.

Five days after Henry purchased the product, blvdsoftware.com vanished from the Internet.

Several red flags should have stopped him from making the purchase. Blvdsoftware.com claimed it had been in business since 2005, but a check of the site’s WHOIS registration records showed it was created in late October 2011. The site said that Blvdsoftware was a company in Beverly Hills, Calif., but the California Secretary of State had no record of the firm, and Google Maps knew nothing of the business at its stated address.

Henry said that in years past, he’d always bought a CD version of the software. But this year, he opted for digital download.

“I was going to download from Amazon — they sell a download-only version — and then I saw the cheaper site and went with them,” he said in an email. He installed the program, but said he didn’t enter any of his sensitive data. For one thing, he never received a license key from Blvdsoftware, and the program he installed didn’t request one. Now he’s wondering if the program was — at the very least pirated — and at worst — bundled with software designed to surreptitiously snoop on his computer.

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17
Feb 12

Zeus Trojan Author Ran With Spam Kingpins

The cybercrime underground is expanding each day, yet the longer I study it the more convinced I am that much of it is run by a fairly small and loose-knit group of hackers. That suspicion was reinforced this week when I discovered that the author of the infamous ZeuS Trojan was a core member of Spamdot, until recently the most exclusive online forum for spammers and the shady businessmen who support the big spam botnets.

Thanks to a deep-seated enmity between the owners of two of the largest spam affiliate programs, the database for Spamdot was leaked to a handful of investigators and researchers, including KrebsOnSecurity. The forum includes all members’ public posts and private messages — even those that members thought had been deleted. I’ve been poring over those private messages in an effort to map alliances and to learn more about the individuals behind the top spam botnets.

The Zeus author’s identity on Spamdot, selling an overstock of “installs.”

As I was reviewing the private messages of a Spamdot member nicknamed “Umbro,” I noticed that he gave a few key members his private instant message address, the jabber account bashorg@talking.cc. In 2010, I learned from multiple reliable sources that for several months, this account was used exclusively by the ZeuS author to communicate with new and existing customers. When I dug deeper into Umbro’s private messages, I found several from other Spamdot members who were seeking updates to their ZeuS botnets. In messages from 2009 to a Spamdot member named “Russso,” Umbro declares flatly, “hi, I’m the author of Zeus.”

Umbro’s public and private Spamdot postings offer a fascinating vantage point for peering into an intensely competitive and jealously guarded environment in which members feed off of each others’ successes and failures. The messages also provide a virtual black book of customers who purchased the ZeuS bot code.

In the screen shot above, the ZeuS author can be seen selling surplus “installs,” offering to rent hacked machines that fellow forum members can seed with their own spam bots (I have added a translation beneath each line). His price is $60 per 1,000 compromised systems. This is a very reasonable fee and is in line with rates charged by more organized pay-per-install businesses that also tend to stuff host PCs with so much other malware that customers who have paid to load their bots on those machines soon find them unstable or unusable. Other members apparently recognized it as a bargain as well, and he quickly received messages from a number of interested takers.

The image below shows the Zeus author parceling out a small but potentially valuable spam resource that was no doubt harvested from systems compromised by his Trojan. In this solicitation, dated Jan. 2008, Umbro is selling a mailing list that would be especially useful for targeted email malware campaigns.

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15
Feb 12

Flash Player Update Nixes Zero-Day Flaw

Adobe has issued a critical security update for its ubiquitous Flash Player software. The patch plugs at least seven security holes, including one reported by Google that is already being used to trick users into clicking on malicious links delivered via email.

In an advisory released Wednesday afternoon, Adobe warned that one of the flaws — a cross-site scripting vulnerability (CVE-2012-0767) reported by Google –  was being used in the wild in active, targeted attacks designed to trick users into clicking on a malicious link delivered in an email message. The company said the flaw could be used to take actions on a user’s behalf on any website or webmail provider, if the user visits a malicious website. A spokesperson for the company said this particular attack only works against Internet Explorer on Windows.

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15
Feb 12

Java Security Update Scrubs 14 Flaws

Oracle has shipped a critical update that fixes at least 14 security vulnerabilities in its Java JRE software. The company is urging users to deploy the fixes as quickly as possible.

Java flaws are a favorite target of miscreants and malware because of the program’s power and massive install base: Oracle estimates that Java is installed on more than three billion machines worldwide.

In an emailed advisory accompanying the new release, Oracle urged users to update without delay. “Due to the threat posed by a successful attack, Oracle strongly recommends that customers apply fixes as soon a possible.”

The new versions are Java 6 Update 31, and Java 7 Update 3. To see if you have Java installed and to find out what version you have, visit Java.com and click the “Do I have Java?” link. Existing users should be able to update by visiting the Windows Control Panel and clicking the Java icon, or by searching for “Java” and clicking the “Update Now” button from the Update tab. Continue reading →


14
Feb 12

Microsoft AV Flags Google.com as ‘Blacole’ Malware

Computers running Microsoft‘s antivirus and security software may be flagging google.com — the world’s most-visited Web site — as malicious, apparently due to a faulty Valentine’s Day security update shipped by Microsoft.

Microsoft's antivirus software flagged google.com as bad.

Not long after Microsoft released software security updates on Tuesday, the company’s Technet support forums lit up with complaints about Internet Explorer sounding the malware alarm when users visited google.com.

The alerts appear to be the result of a “false positive” detection shipped to users of Microsoft’s antivirus and security products, most notably its Forefront technology and free “Security Essentials” antivirus software.

I first learned of this bug from a reader, and promptly updated a Windows XP system I have that runs Microsoft Security Essentials. Upon reboot, Internet Explorer told me that my homepage — google.com — was serving up a “severe” threat –  Exploit:JS/Blacole.BW. For whatever reason, Microsoft’s security software thought Google’s homepage was infected with a Blackhole Exploit Kit.

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14
Feb 12

Critical Fixes from Microsoft, Adobe

If you use Microsoft Windows, it’s time again to get patched: Microsoft today issued nine updates to fix at least 21 security holes in its products. Separately, Adobe released a critical update that addresses nine vulnerabilities in its Shockwave Player software.

Four of the patches earned Microsoft’s most dire “critical” rating, meaning that miscreants and malware can leverage the flaws to hijack vulnerable systems remotely without any help from the user.  At least four of the vulnerabilities were publicly disclosed prior to the release of these patches.

The critical patches repair faulty components that can lead to browse-and-get-owned scenarios; among those is a fix for a vulnerability in Microsoft Silverlight, a browser plugin that is required by a number of popular sites — including Netflix — and can affect multiple browsers and even Mac systems. Microsoft believes that attackers are likely to quickly devise reliable exploits to attack at least a dozen of the 21 flaws it is fixing with this month’s release.

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9
Feb 12

Collaboration Fuels Rapid Growth of Citadel Trojan

Late last month I wrote about Citadel, an “open source” version of the ZeuS Trojan whose defining feature is a social networking platform where users can report and fix programming bugs, suggest and vote on new features, and generally guide future development of the botnet malware. Since then, I’ve been given a peek inside that community, and the view so far suggests that Citadel’s collaborative approach is fueling rapid growth of this new malware strain.

The CRM page shows democracy in action among Citadel botnet users.

A customer who bought a license to the Citadel Trojan extended an invitation to drop in on that community of hackers. Those who have purchased the software can interact with the developers and other buyers via comments submitted to the Citadel Store, a front-end interface that is made available after users successfully navigate through a two-step authentication process.

Upon logging into the Citadel Store, users see the main “customer resource management” page, which shows the latest breakdown of votes cast by all users regarding the desirability of proposed new features in the botnet code.

In the screen shot to the right, we can see democracy in action among miscreants: The image shows the outcome of voting on several newly proposed modules for Citadel, including a plugin that searches for specific files on the victim’s PC, and a “mini-antivirus” program that can clean up a variety of malware, adware and other parasites already on the victim’s computer that may prevent Citadel from operating cleanly or stealthily. Currently, there are nine separate modules that can be voted and commented on by the Citadel community.

Drilling down into the details page for each suggested botnet plugin reveals comments from various users about the suggested feature (screenshot below). Overall, users seem enthusiastic about most suggested new features, although several customers used the comments section to warn about potential pitfalls in implementing the proposed changes. Continue reading →


8
Feb 12

Crimevertising: Selling Into the Malware Channel

Anyone who’s run a Web site is probably familiar with the term “malvertising,” which occurs when crooks hide exploits and malware inside of legitimate-looking ads that are submitted to major online advertising networks. But there’s a relatively new form of malware-based advertising that’s gaining ground — otherwise harmless ads for illicit services that are embedded inside the malware itself.

At its most basic, this form of advertising — which I’m calling “crimevertising” for want of a better term — has been around for many years. Most often it takes the form of banner ads on underground forums that hawk everything from cybercriminal employment opportunities to banking Trojans and crooked cashout services. More recently, malware authors have started offering the ability to place paid ads in the Web-based administrative panels that customers use to control their botnets. Such placements afford advertisers an unprecedented opportunity to keep their brand name in front of the eyeballs of their target audience for hours on end.

The author of the Blackhole exploit pack is selling ad space on his kit's administration page, as seen in this screenshot.

A perfect example of crimevertising 2.0 is the interface for the Blackhole Exploit Kit, crimeware that makes it simple for just about anyone to build a botnet. The business end of this kit is stitched into hacked or malicious Web sites, and visitors with outdated browser plugins get redirected to sites that serve malware of the miscreant’s choosing. Blackhole users can monitor new victims and the success rates of the compromised sites using a browser-based administrative panel.

In the screen shot above, the administration panel of a working Blackhole exploit kit shows two different ads; both promote the purchase and sale of Internet traffic. And here is a prime example of just how targeted this advertising can be: The most common reason miscreants purchase Internet traffic is to redirect it to sites they’ve retrofitted with exploit kits like Blackhole.

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