July, 2012


12
Jul 12

Banking on a Live CD

An investigative series I’ve been writing over the past three years about organized cyber crime gangs using malware to steal millions of dollars from small to mid-sized organizations has generated more than a few responses from business owners concerned about how best to protect themselves from this type of fraud.

I said this nearly three years ago, and it remains true: The simplest, most cost-effective answer I know of? Don’t use Microsoft Windows when accessing your bank account online. All of the malware used in the attacks I’ve written about is built for Windows. That’s not to say bad guys behind these online heists won’t get around to targeting Mac OS X, or users of other operating systems. Right now, there are no indications that they are doing this.

What the Puppy desktop looks like.

The quickest way to temporarily convert your Windows PC into a Linux system is to use a Live CD. This involves burning an downloadable image file to a CD, inserting the disc into your computer, and rebooting. If this sounds difficult, don’t worry, it’s not.

Here’s a step-by-step guide that should get you up and running in no time flat, with Puppy Linux, an extremely lightweight and fast version of Linux. If you’d prefer to try another distribution, there are dozens to choose from.

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12
Jul 12

EU to Banks: Assume All PCs Are Infected

An agency of the European Union created to improve network and data security is offering some blunt, timely and refreshing advice for financial institutions as they try to secure the online banking channel: “Assume all PCs are infected.”

Source: zeustracker.abuse.ch

The unusually frank perspective comes from the European Network and Information Security Agency, in response to a recent “High Roller” report (PDF) by McAfee and Guardian Analytics on sophisticated, automated malicious software strains that are increasingly targeting high-balance bank accounts. The report detailed how thieves using custom versions of the ZeuS and SpyEye Trojans have built automated, cloud-based systems capable of defeating multiple layers of security, including hardware tokens, one-time transaction codes, even smartcard readers. These malware variants can be set up to automatically initiate transfers to vetted money mule or prepaid accounts, just as soon as the victim logs in to his account.

“Many online banking systems….work based on the assumption that the customer’s PC is not infected,” ENISA wrote in an advisory issued on Thursday. “Given the current state of PC security, this assumption is dangerous. Banks should instead assume that PCs are infected, and still take steps to protect customers from fraudulent transactions.”

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10
Jul 12

Microsoft Patches Zero-Day Bug & 15 Other Flaws

Microsoft today issued a security patch to fix a zero-day vulnerability in Windows that hackers have been exploiting to break into vulnerable systems. The company also addressed at least 15 other flaws in its software, and urged customers to quit using the desktop Sidebar and Gadget capabilities offered in Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

By far the most urgent of the updates is MS12-043, which fixes a critical vulnerability in Microsoft XML Core Services that miscreants and malware alike have been using to break into vulnerable systems. Microsoft had already warned about limited, targeted attacks using this flaw, but late last month an exploit built to attack the XML bug was added to the BlackHole Exploit Kit, an automated browser exploit tool that is very popular in the criminal underground right now.

Other critical patch bundles include a fix for a dangerous flaw in the Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC) of Windows, and an update to address a pair of vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. Continue reading →


10
Jul 12

Plesk 0Day For Sale As Thousands of Sites Hacked

Hackers in the criminal underground are selling an exploit that extracts the master password needed to control Parallels’ Plesk Panel, a software suite used to remotely administer hosted servers at a large number of Internet hosting firms. The attack comes amid reports from multiple sources indicating a spike in Web site compromises that appear to trace back to  Plesk installations.

A hacker selling access to a Plesk exploit.

A miscreant on one very exclusive cybercrime forum has been selling the ability to hack any site running Plesk Panel version 10.4.4 and earlier. The hacker, a longtime member of the forum who has a history of selling reliable software exploits, has even developed a point-and-click tool that he claims can recover the admin password from a vulnerable Plesk installation, as well as read and write files to the Plesk Panel (see screen shot at right).

The exploit is being sold for $8,000 a pop, and according to the seller the vulnerability it targets remains unpatched. Multiple other members appear to have used it and vouched for its value.

It’s unclear whether this claimed exploit is related to a rash of recent attacks against Plesk installations. Sucuri Malware Labs, a company that tracks mass Web site compromises, told SC Magazine that some 50,000 sites have recently been compromised as part of a sustained malware injection attack, and that a majority of the hacked sites involved Plesk installations.

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9
Jul 12

How to Break Into Security, Grossman Edition

I recently began publishing a series of advice columns for people who are interested in learning more about security as a craft or profession. For the third installment in this series, I interviewed Jeremiah Grossman, chief technology officer of WhiteHat Security, a Web application security firm.

A frequent speaker on a broad range of security topics, Grossman stressed the importance of coding, networking, and getting your hands dirty (in a clean way, of course).

BK: How did you get started in computer security?

Grossman: For me it was…I could hack stuff and I did it in my spare time and someone offered me a job — which was Yahoo. But before that, I was just a UNIX admin. I was thinking about this question a lot, and what occurred to me is that I don’t know too many people in infosec who chose infosec as a career. Most of the people who I know in this field didn’t go to college to be infosec pros, it just kind of happened. They followed opportunity.

BK: You might have seen that the last two experts I asked had somewhat different opinions on this question, but how important is it that someone interested in this field know how to code?

Grossman: It’s tough to give solid advice without knowing more about a person. For instance, are they interested in network security or application security? You can get by in IDS and firewall world and system patching without knowing any code; it’s fairly automated stuff from the product side. But with application security, it is absolutely mandatory that you know how to code and that you know software. So with Cisco gear, it’s much different from the work you do with Adobe software security. Infosec is a really big space, and you’re going to have to pick your niche, because no one is going to be able to bridge those gaps, at least effectively.

BK: So would you say hands-on experience is more important that formal security education and certifications?

Grossman: The question is are people being hired into entry level security positions straight out of school? I think somewhat, but that’s probably still pretty rare. There’s hardly anyone coming out of school with just computer security degrees. There are some, but we’re probably talking in the hundreds. I think the universities are just now within the last 3-5 years getting masters in computer security sciences off the ground. But there are not a lot of students in them.

BK:  What do you think is the most important qualification to be successful in the security space, regardless of a person’s background and experience level?

Grossman: The ones who can code almost always [fare] better. Infosec is about scalability, and application security is about scalability. And if you can understand code, you have a better likelihood of being able to understand how to scale your solution. On the defense side, we’re out-manned and outgunned constantly. It’s “us” versus “them,” and I don’t know how many of “them,” there are, but there’s going to be too few of “us “at all times.  So whatever your solution is or design criteria, you’re going to have to scale it. For instance, you can imagine Facebook…I’m not sure many security people they have, but…it’s going to be a tiny fraction of a percent of their user base, so they’re going to have to figure out how to scale their solutions so they can protect all those users.

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6
Jul 12

Court Ruling Could Be Boon to Cyberheist Victims

A decision handed down by a federal appeals court this week may make it easier for small businesses owners victimized by cyberheists to successfully recover stolen funds by suing their bank.

The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has reversed a decision from Aug. 2011, which held that Ocean Bank (now People’s United) was not at fault for a $588,000 cyberheist in 2009 against one of its customers — Sanford, Me. based Patco Construction Co. The appeals court sent specific aspects of the earlier decision back to the lower court for review, but it encouraged both parties to settle the matter out of court.

The appeals court in Boston called the bank’s security systems “commercially unreasonable,” reversing a lower court ruling that Ocean Bank’s reliance on passwords and secret questions was in line with guidance set out by federal banking regulators. A copy of the decision is here (PDF).

Charisse Castagnoli, a bank fraud expert and independent security consultant, said the decision could open the door lawsuits from small businesses that have been similarly victimized with the help of outdated security procedures at their banks.

“What this opinion offers is a strong basis for victims to challenge the security implementations of their banks regardless of whether they agreed that the implementation was ‘commercially reasonable’ at a single point in time in a ‘shrink wrap’ type contract,” Castagnoli said.

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5
Jul 12

New Java Exploit to Debut in BlackHole Exploit Kits

Malicious computer code that leverages a newly-patched security flaw in Oracle’s Java software is set to be deployed later this week to cybercriminal operations powered by the BlackHole exploit pack. The addition of a new weapon to this malware arsenal will almost certainly lead to a spike in compromised PCs, as more than 3 billion devices run Java and many of these installations are months out of date.

I first learned about the new exploit from a KrebsOnSecurity reader named Dean who works in incident response for a financial firm. Dean was trying to trace the source of an infected computer in his network; he discovered the culprit appeared to be a malicious “.jar” file. A scan of the jar file at Virustotal.com showed that it was detected by just one antivirus product (Avira), which flagged it as “Java/Dldr.Lamar.BD”. The description of that threat says it targets a Javas vulnerability tagged as CVE-2012-1723, a critical bug fixed in Java 6 Update 33 and Java 7 Update 5.

The attack may be related to an exploit published for CVE-2012-1723 in mid-June by Michael ‘mihi’ Schierl. But according to the current vendor of the BlackHole exploit pack, the exact exploit for this vulnerability has only been shared and used privately to date. Reached via instant message, the BlackHole author said the new Java attack will be rolled into a software update to be made available on July 8 to all paying and licensed users of BlackHole.

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3
Jul 12

Who Says Email Is Eating at Postal Revenues?

Shadowy online businesses that sell knockoff prescription drugs through spam and other dodgy advertising practices have begun relying more heavily on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver prescription drugs to buyers in the United States direct from warehouses or mules within the U.S. The shift comes as rogue online pill shops are seeking ways to lower shipping costs, a major loss leader for most of these operations.

An ad for Rx-Parners pill shop that ships from the US.

Traditionally, a majority of the counterfeit pills advertised and sold to Americans online have shipped from India. But the process of getting the pills from India to customers in the United States is so expensive and fraught with complications that it has proved to be a big cost center for the largest rogue pharmaceutical operations, according to a study I wrote about last month.

“One of the surprising things we found was that shipping dominates program costs,” said Stefan Savage, one of the lead authors on the study, and a professor in the systems and networking group at the University of California San Diego.

The researchers discovered that most rogue pharmacy operations spend between 11 to 12 percent of their annual revenue on shipping costs. Part of the reason for the high cost is that pill shipments from India and elsewhere outside of the United States frequently get delayed or confiscated by U.S. Customs officials. This forces the rogue pharmacies to either refund the customer’s money, or to eat the costs of re-shipping the pills.

Increasingly, however, some of the largest spam affiliate programs are delivering some of their most popular drugs — including erectile dysfunction pills and everything from Accutane to Cipro and Diflucan and Plavix — direct to U.S. buyers from shipping locations within the United States.

“This is why you see pharmacy outfits like RX-Partners, Mailien and Stimulcash picking the most popular drugs and warehousing them in the United States so they can do USPS shipping through mules,” Savage said.

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2
Jul 12

How to Break Into Security, Schneier Edition

Last month, I published the first in a series of advice columns for people who are interested in learning more about security as a craft or profession. In this second installment, I asked noted cryptographer, author and security rock star Bruce Schneier for his thoughts.

Schneier: I regularly receive e-mail from people who want advice on how to learn more about computer security, either as a course of study in college or as an IT person considering it as a career choice.

First, know that there are many subspecialties in computer security. You can be an expert in keeping systems from being hacked, or in creating unhackable software. You can be an expert in finding security problems in software, or in networks. You can be an expert in viruses, or policies, or cryptography. There are many, many opportunities for many different skill sets. You don’t have to be a coder to be a security expert.

In general, though, I have three pieces of advice to anyone who wants to learn computer security:

  • Study: Studying can take many forms. It can be classwork, either at universities or at training conferences like SANS and Offensive Security. (These are good self-starter resources.) It can be reading; there are a lot of excellent books out there — and blogs — that teach different aspects of computer security. Don’t limit yourself to computer science, either. You can learn a lot by studying other areas of security, and soft sciences like economics, psychology, and sociology.
  • Do: Computer security is fundamentally a practitioner’s art, and that requires practice. This means using what you’ve learned to configure security systems, design new security systems, and — yes — break existing security systems. This is why many courses have strong hands-on components; you won’t learn much without it.
  • Show: It doesn’t matter what you know or what you can do if you can’t demonstrate it to someone who might want to hire you. This doesn’t just mean sounding good in an interview. It means sounding good on mailing lists and in blog comments. You can show your expertise by making podcasts and writing your own blog. You can teach seminars at your local user group meetings. You can write papers for conferences, or books.

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