May, 2013


30
May 13

Underweb Payments, Post-Liberty Reserve

Following the U.S. government’s seizure this week of virtual currency Liberty Reserve, denizens of the cybercrime underground collectively have been progressing through the classic stages of grief, from denial to anger and bargaining, and now grudging acceptance that any funds they had stashed in the e-currency system are likely gone forever. Over the past few days, the top discussion on many cybercrime forums has been which virtual currency will be the safest bet going forward?

As I mentioned in an appearance today on NPR’s show On Point, the predictable refrain from many in the underground community has been that the demise of Costa Rica-based Liberty Reserve — and of eGold, eBullion, StormPay and a host of other virtual currencies before it — is the death knell of centrally-managed e-currencies. Just as the entertainment industry’s crackdown on music file-sharing network Napster in the late 1990s spawned a plethora of decentralized peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks, the argument goes, so too does the U.S. government’s action against centrally-managed digital currencies herald the ascendancy of P2P currencies — particularly Bitcoin.

Fluctuation in BTC values. Source: Bitcoincharts.com

Fluctuation in BTC values. Source: Bitcoincharts.com

This knee-jerk reaction is understandable, given that private crime forums are now replete with postings from members who reported losing tens of thousands of LR dollars this week. But as some of the more seasoned and reasoned members of these communities point out, there are several aspects of Bitcoin that make it especially unsuited for everyday criminal commerce.

For one thing, Bitcoin’s conversion rate fluctuates far too wildly for communities accustomed to virtual currencies that are tied to the US Dollar: In both Liberty Reserve and WebMoney — a digital currency founded in Russia — one LR or WMZ (the “Z” designation is added to all purses kept in US currency) has always equaled $1 USD.

The following hypothetical scenario, outlined by one member of an exclusive crime forum, illustrates how Bitcoin’s price volatility could turn an otherwise simple transaction into an ugly mess for both parties.

“Say I pay you $1k today for a project, and its late, and you decide to withdraw tomorrow. You wake up and the $1k I just sent you in Bitcoins is now worth just $600. It’s not yet stable to be used in such a way.”

Another forum member agreed: “BTC on large scale or saving big amounts is a mess because the price changes. Maybe it’s only good cashing out,” noting WebMoney now allows users to convert Bitcoins into a new unit called WMX.

Others compared Bitcoin to a fashionable high-yield investment program (HYIP), a Ponzi-scheme investment scam that promises unsustainably high return on investment by paying previous investors with the money invested by new investors.  As the U.S. government’s complaint alleges, dozens of HYIP schemes had a significant amount of funds wrapped up in Liberty Reserve.

“Bitcoin is a trendy HYIP. There are far more stable and attractive currencies to invest in, if you are willing to take the risk,” wrote “Off-Sho.re,” a bulletproof hosting provider I profiled in an interview earlier this month. “In the legit ‘real products’ area, which I represent, a very small niche of businesses are willing to accept this form of payment. I understand the drug dealers on Tor sites, since this is pretty much the only thing they can receive without concerns about their identities, but if you sell anything illegal, WMZ should be the choice.”

What’s more, MtGox — Bitcoin’s biggest exchanger and the primary method that users get money into and out of the P2P currency — today posted a note saying that it will now be requiring ID verification from anyone who wants to deposit money with it in order to buy Bitcoins.

A logo from perfectmoney.com

A logo from perfectmoney.com

Perhaps the closest competitor to Liberty Reserve and WebMoney — a Panamanian e-currency known as Perfect Money (or just “PM” to many) — appears to have been busy over the past few days seizing and closing accounts of some of its more active users, according to the dozens of complaints I saw on several different crime forums. Perfect Money also announced on Saturday, May 25 that it would no longer accept new account registrations from U.S. citizens or companies.

For now, it seems the primary beneficiary of the Liberty Reserve takedown will be WebMoney. This virtual currency also has barred U.S. citizens from creating new accounts (it did so in March 2013, in apparent response to the U.S. Treasury Department’s new regulations on virtual currencies.) Still, WebMoney has been around for so long — and its logo is about as ubiquitous on Underweb stores as the Visa and MasterCard logos are at legitimate Web storefronts — that most miscreants and n’er-do-wells in the underground already have accounts there.

But not everyone in the underground who got burned by Liberty Reserve is ready to place his trust in yet another virtual currency. The curmudgeon-in-chief on this point is a hacker nicknamed “Ninja,” the administrator of Carder.pro — a crime forum with thousands of active members from around the world. Ninja was among the most vocal and prominent doubters that Liberty Reserve had been seized, even after the company’s homepage featured seizure warnings from a trio of U.S. federal law enforcement agencies. Ninja so adamantly believed this that, prior to the official press announcements from the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday, he offered a standing bet of $1,000 to any takers on the forum that Liberty Reserve would return. Only two forum members took him up on the wager.

Now, Ninja says, he’s ready to pay up, but he’s not interested in buying into yet another virtual currency. Instead, he says he’s planning to create a new “carding payment system,” one that will serve forum members and be housed at Internet servers in North Korea, or perhaps Iran (really, any country that has declared the United States a sworn enemy would do).

ninjapost

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28
May 13

U.S. Government Seizes LibertyReserve.com

Indictment, arrest of virtual currency founder targets alleged “financial hub of the cybercrime world.”

U.S. federal law enforcement agencies on Tuesday announced the closure and seizure of Liberty Reserve, an online, virtual currency that the U.S. government alleges acted as “a financial hub of the cyber-crime world” and processed more more than $6 billion in criminal proceeds over the past seven years.

After being unreachable for four days, Libertyreserve.com's homepage now includes this seizure notice.

After being unreachable for four days, Libertyreserve.com now includes this seizure notice.

The news comes four days after libertyreserve.com inexplicably went offline and newspapers in Costa Rica began reporting the arrest in Spain of the company’s founder Arthur Budovsky, 39-year-old Ukrainian native who moved to Costa Rica to start the business.

According to an indictment (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Budovsky and five alleged co-conspirators designed and operated Liberty Reserve as “a financial hub of the cyber-crime world, facilitating a broad range of online criminal activity, including credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography, and narcotics trafficking.”

The U.S. government alleges that Liberty Reserve processed more than 12 million financial transactions annually, with a combined value of more than $1.4 billion. “Overall, from 2006 to May 2013, Liberty Reserve processed an estimated 55 million separate financial transactions and is believed to have laundered more than $6  billion in criminal proceeds,” the government’s indictment reads. Liberty Reserve “deliberately attracted and maintained a customer base of criminals by making financial activity on Liberty Reserve anonymous and untraceable.”

Despite the government’s claims, certainly not everyone using Liberty Reserve was involved in shady or criminal activity. As noted by the BBC, many users — principally those outside the United States — simply viewed the currency as cheaper, more secure and private alternative to PayPal. The company charged a one percent fee for each transaction, plus a 75 cent “privacy fee” according to court documents.

“It had allowed users to open accounts and transfer money, only requiring them to provide a name, date of birth and an email address,”  BBC wrote. “Cash could be put into the service using a credit card, bank wire, postal money order or other money transfer service. It was then “converted” into one of the firm’s own currencies – mirroring either the Euro or US dollar – at which point it could be transferred to another account holder who could then extract the funds.”

But according to the Justice Department, one of the ways that Liberty Reserve enabled the use of its services for criminal activity was by offering a shopping cart interface that merchant Web sites could use to accept Liberty Reserve as a form of payment (I’ve written numerous stories about many such services).

“The ‘merchants’ who accepted LR currency were overwhelmingly criminal in nature,” the government’s indictment alleges. “They included, for example, traffickers of stolen credit card data and personal identity information; peddlers of various types of online Ponzi and get-rich-quick schemes; computer hackers for hire; unregulated gambling enterprises; and underground drug-dealing websites.”

A Liberty Reserve shopping cart at an underground shop that sells stolen credit cards.

A Liberty Reserve shopping cart at an underground shop that sells stolen credit cards.

It remains unclear how much money is still tied up in Liberty Reserve, and whether existing customers will be afforded access to their funds. At a press conference today on the indictments, representatives from the Justice Department said the Liberty Reserve accounts are frozen. In a press release, the agency didn’t exactly address this question, saying: “If you believe you were a victim of a crime and were defrauded of funds through the use of Liberty Reserve, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact (888) 238- 0696 or (212) 637-1583.”

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25
May 13

Reports: Liberty Reserve Founder Arrested, Site Shuttered

The founder of Liberty Reserve, a digital currency that has evolved as perhaps the most popular form of payment in the cybercrime underground, was reportedly arrested in Spain this week on suspicion of money laundering. News of the law enforcement action may help explain an ongoing three-day outage at libertyreserve.com: On Friday, the domain registration records for that site and for several other digital currency exchanges began pointing to Shadowserver.org, a volunteer organization dedicated to combating global computer crime.

lriconAccording to separate reports in The Tico Times and La Nacion, two Costa Rican daily newspapers, police in Spain arrested Arthur Budovsky Belanchuk, 39, as part of a money laundering investigation jointly run by authorities in New York and Costa Rica.

Update, May 28, 9:11 a.m. ET: Libertyreserve.com is now resolving again, but its homepage has been replaced by a notice saying “THIS DOMAIN NAME HAS BEEN SEIZED,” and features badges from the U.S. Treasury Dept., U.S. Secret Service, and the DHS.

Original story:

The papers cited Costa Rican prosecutor José Pablo González saying that Budovsky, a Costa Rican citizen of Ukrainian origin, has been under investigation since 2011 for money laundering using Liberty Reserve, a company he created in Costa Rica. “Local investigations began after a request from a prosecutor’s office in New York,” Tico Times reporter L. Arias wrote. “On Friday, San José prosecutors conducted raids in Budovsky’s house and offices in Escazá, Santa Ana, southwest of San José, and in the province of Heredia, north of the capital. Budovsky’s businesses in Costa Rica apparently were financed by using money from child pornography websites and drug trafficking.”

For those Spanish-speaking readers out there, Gonzalez can be seen announcing the raids in a news conference documented in this youtube.com video (the subtitles option for English do a decent job of translation as well).

Liberty Reserve is a largely unregulated money transfer business that allows customers to open accounts using little more than a valid email address, and this relative anonymity has attracted a huge number of customers from underground economies, particularly cybercrime.

In a now 10-page thread on this crime forum, many members are facing steep losses.

In a now 10-page thread on this crime forum, many members are facing steep losses.

The trouble started on Thursday, when libertyreserve.com inexplicably went offline. The outage set off increasingly anxious discussions on several major cybercrime forums online, as many that work and ply their trade in malicious software and banking fraud found themselves unable to access their funds. For example, a bulletproof hosting provider on Darkode.com known as “off-sho.re” (a hacker profiled in this blog last week) said he stood to lose $25,000, and that the Liberty Reserve shutdown “could be the most massive ownage in the history of e-currency.”

That concern turned to dread for some after it became apparent that this was no ordinary outage. On Friday, the domain name servers for Libertyreserve.com were changed and pointed to ns1.sinkhole.shadowserver.org and ns2.sinkhole.shadowserver.org. Shadowserver is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that works to help Internet service providers and hosting firms eradicate malware infections and botnets located on their servers.

In computer security lexicon, a sinkhole is basically a way of redirecting malicious Internet traffic so that it can be captured and analyzed by experts and/or law enforcement officials. In its 2011 takedown of the Coreflood botnet, for example, the U.S. Justice Department relied on sinkholes maintained by the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium (ISC). Sinkholes are most often used to seize control of botnets, by interrupting the DNS names the botnet is programmed to use. Ironically, as of this writing Shadowserver.org is not resolving, possibly because the Web site is under a botnet attack (hackers from at least one forum threatened to attack Shadowserver.org in retaliation for losing access to their funds).

Reached via Twitter, a representative from Shadowserver declined to comment on the outage or about Liberty Reserve, saying “We are not able to provide public comment at this time.” I could find no official statement from the U.S. Justice Department on this matter either.

Libertyreserve.com is not the only virtual currency exchange that has been redirected to Shadowserver’s DNS servers. According to passive DNS data collected by the ISC, at least five digital currency exchanges –milenia-finance.comasianagold.comexchangezone.commoneycentralmarket.com and swiftexchanger.com — also went offline this week, their DNS records changed to the same sinkhole entries at shadowserver.org.

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24
May 13

Skype Beta Plugs IP Resolver Privacy Leak

A few months ago, I warned readers that a glaring privacy weakness in voice-over-IP telephony service Skype allows anyone using the network to quickly learn the Internet address of any other Skype user. A new beta version of the popular Microsoft program appears to have nixed that privacy leak with a setting that restricts this capability to connections in your Skype contacts only.

A new privacy feature in Skype Beta 6.5 for Windows and Mac 6.4

A new privacy feature in Skype Beta 6.5 for Windows and Mac 6.4

As I wrote on March 21, 2013,  number of services have emerged to help snoops and ne’er-do-wells exploit this vulnerability to track and harass others online. For example, an online search for “skype resolver” returns dozens of results that point to services (of variable reliability) that allow users to look up the Internet address of any Skype user, just by supplying the target’s Skype account name.

The resolvers can look up the IP address of any Skype user — whether or not that user is in your contacts list or even online at the time of the lookup. What’s more, resolver services frequently are offered in tandem with “booter” or “stresser” services, essentially sites that will launch denial-of-service attacks against a target of your choosing.

Apparently in response to this problem, Microsoft has added a new option to its Skype 6.5 Beta, released April 30, that allows users to allow direct connections to your contacts only. The information tab on this option, found under Skype->Options->Connection, says “When you call someone who isn’t a contact, we’ll keep your IP address hidden.”

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23
May 13

NC Fuel Distributor Hit by $800,000 Cyberheist

A fuel distribution firm in North Carolina lost more than $800,000 in a cyberheist earlier this month. Had the victim company or its bank detected the unauthorized activity sooner, the loss would have been far less. But both parties failed to notice the attackers coming and going for five days before being notified by a reporter.

jtaOrganized cyber thieves began siphoning cash from Mooresville, N.C. based J.T. Alexander & Son Inc. on the morning of May 1, sending money in sub-$5,000 and sub-$10,000 chunks to about a dozen “money mules,” people hired through work-at-home job scams to help the crooks launder the stolen money. The mules were paid via automated clearing house (ACH) payment batches that were deducted from J.T. Alexander’s payroll account.

The attackers would repeat this process five more times, sending stolen funds via ACH to more than 60 money mules. Some of those mules were recruited by an Eastern European crime gang in Ukraine and Russia that I like to call the “Backoffice Group.” This same group has been involved in nearly every other cyberheist I have written about over the past four years, including last month’s $1.03 million theft from a nonprofit hospital in Washington state.

David Alexander, J.T. Alexander & Son’s president, called the loss “pretty substantial” and “painful,” and said his firm was evaluating its options for recouping some of the loss. The company has just 15 employees that get paid by ACH payroll transactions every two weeks. At most, J.T. Alexander’s usual payroll batch is around $30,000. But in just five days, the thieves managed to steal more than a year’s worth of employee salaries.

The company may be able to recoup some of the loss through insurance: J.T. Alexander & Son Inc.’s policy with Employer’s Mutual Casualty Company (EMC) includes a component that covers cyber fraud losses, but the coverage amount is far less than what the victim firm lost.

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22
May 13

Krebs, KrebsOnSecurity, As Malware Memes

Hardly a week goes by when I don’t hear from some malware researcher or reader who’s discovered what appears to be a new sample of malicious software or nasty link that invokes this author’s name or the name of this blog. I’ve compiled this post to document a few of these examples, some of which are quite funny.

loginbetabot1

Source: Exposedbotnets.com

Take, for example, the login panel for “Betabot“: Attempt to log in to this malware control panel with credentials that don’t work and you’ll be greeted with a picture of this author, accompanied by the following warning: “Enter the correct password or I will write a 3-part article on this failed login attempt.”

The coders behind Betabot evidently have several versions of this login panel warning: According to a threat intelligence report being released tomorrow by RSA, the latest iteration of this kit uses the mugshot from my accounts at Twtter (follow me!) and Facebook (like it!).

As first detailed by Sophos’s award-winning Naked Security blog, the code inside recent versions of the Redkit exploit kit includes what appears to be a message blaming me for…well, something. The message reads: “Crebs, its [sic] your fault.”

sophosredkit

Text string inside of the Redkit exploit kit. Source: Sophos

The one I probably hear about most from researchers is a text string that is built into Citadel (PDF), an offshoot of the ZeuS banking trojan botnet kit that includes the following reference: “Coded by BRIAN KREBS for personal use only. I love my job and my wife.”

A text string inside of the Citadel trojan. Source: AhnLab

A text string within the code of the Citadel trojan. Source: AhnLab

Those are just the most visible examples. More commonly, if Yours Truly is invoked in the name of cybercrime, it tends to show up in malicious links that lead to malware. Here are a few just from the past couple of weeks:

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20
May 13

Conversations with a Bulletproof Hoster

Criminal commerce on the Internet would mostly grind to a halt were it not for the protection offered by so-called “bulletproof hosting” providers — the online equivalent of offshore havens where shady dealings go ignored. Last month I had an opportunity to interview a provider of bulletproof services for one of the Web’s most notorious cybercrime forums, and who appears to have been at least partly responsible for launching what’s been called the largest cyber attack the Internet has ever seen.

Off-Sho.re's intro to Darkode

Off-Sho.re’s intro post to Darkode

Earlier this year, the closely-guarded English-language crime forum darkode.com was compromised and came under a series of heavy distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks aimed at keeping it offline. Around that same time, darkode.com welcomed a new member — a bulletproof hosting broker aptly named “Off-sho.re” — who promised to defend the site from future DDoS attacks.

Off-sho.re also said he could offer more robust and crime-friendly hosting services than darkode’s previous provider — Santrex, literally an offshore hosting facility located in the Seychelles, a 115-island country that spans an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Off-sho.re’s timing was perfect: Darkode desperately needed both, and Off-sho.re seemed to know his stuff, so he was admitted to the forum and given stewardship of the site’s defense and hosting.

Off-sho.re recruits Stophaus members on darkode.

Off-sho.re recruits Stophaus members on darkode.

STOPHAUS V. SPAMHAUS

Of course, to successfully defend a network against DDoS attacks one must know a great deal about how to launch such assaults. Indeed, Off-sho.re was an integral member of Stophaus, an upstart group of bulletproof hosters that banded together in March to launch a massive Internet attack against anti-spam group Spamhaus.org.

Hundreds of ISPs route or deny traffic based in part on Spamhaus’s blacklists of known, cybercrime-friendly ISPs, and Stophaus formed in response to Spamhaus’s listing of bulletproof hosting provider in particular: A network known alternatively as CB3ROB, a.k.a. “Cyberbunker” because it operated from a heavily fortified NATO bunker in The Netherlands.

Off-sho.re is moderator of the Stophaus forum, and not long after joining darkode.com, he was recruiting fellow darkode members for the Stophaus cause. Stophaus’s records show that another core member was “0ptik,” a competing bulletproof hosting provider. Spamhaus had listed dozens of Optik’s domains, as well as virtually all of the IP address ranges Off-sho.re had rented at abuse-friendly Romanian hosting provider Voxility. It was payback time.

In late March, Spamhaus became the target of what experts called one of the largest computer attacks on the Internet. The method of attack — a DNS amplification attack — was similar to that first seen used in attacks more than a decade ago that targeted the heart of the Internet’s routing system, except that it was by most accounts much larger.

Off-sho.re calls Spamhaus assault "our prank."

Off-sho.re calls Spamhaus assault “our prank.”

“DNS amplification attacks can bring up to 140 Gbps to a single resource from a single controller,” Off-sho.re wrote in a darkode.com posting less than 24 hours after the attack on Spamhaus began. “The beauty of it [is] that the ‘bots’ are just open DNS resolvers in the world.” Linking to a writeup from Cloudflare.com about the attack, Off-sho.re stated that “Some BP hosters were lately united, check out our latest prank.”

Last month, authorities in Spain arrested Sven Kamphuis, a 35-year-old Dutch man, thought to be responsible for coordinating the unprecedented attack on Spamhaus. According to Spamhaus, Kamphuis made claims about being his own independent country in the Republic of Cyberbunker. But according to Off-Sho.re, Kamphuis was just the public face of the movement. “Sven didn’t attack anyone,” Off-Sho.re wrote in an online chat with KrebsOnSecurity.

If Kamphuis was just a mouthpiece, who was responsible for the attack? What is interesting about the Stophaus movement is that Off-sho.re very well may have prompted Spamhaus to finally place CB3ROB/Cyberbunker at the top of its World’s Worst Spam-Support ISPs list, a move that helped to precipitate this conflict.

According to Spamhaus, while Cyberbunker and Spamhaus certainly have a bit of a history together, Cyberbunker wasn’t really a focus of Spamhaus’s blocking efforts until the fall of 2012. That’s when Spamhaus began noticing a large number of malware and botnet control servers being stood up inside of Cyberbunker’s Internet address ranges.

“We didn’t really notice these guys at CB3ROB much until last fall, when they started hosting botnet controllers, malware droppers and a lot of pharma spam stuff,” said a Spamhaus member who would only give his name as “Barry.” “Before that, it was mainly routing for some Chinese guys — Vincent Chan — fake Chinese products.”

Off-sho.re sells BP hosting out of Cyberbunker

Off-sho.re selling BP hosting out of Cyberbunker

Oddly enough, this coincides with Off-sho.re’s entrance on the bulletproof hosting scene (at least as advertised on crime forums). In his introduction post to Darkode, Off-sho.re  referenced his bulletproof hosting sales threads at two Russian-language forums — expoit.in and damagelab.org. In these threads, which began in Sept. 2012, Off-sho.re advertised the ability to host ZeuS and SpyEye botnet command and control networks for between $99 and $199 per month, and bulletproof domain registration from $30 per month. More importantly, Off-sho.re proudly announced that he was offering a premiere BP hosting service for $400 a month that was housed in an old NATO bunker in Holland and that used IP addresses assigned to CB3ROB (see screenshot to left).

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16
May 13

Ragebooter: ‘Legit’ DDoS Service, or Fed Backdoor?

On Monday, I profiled asylumbooter.com, one of several increasingly public DDoS-for-hire services posing as Web site “stress testing” services. Today, we’ll look at ragebooter.net, yet another attack service except for one secret feature which sets it apart from the competition: According the site’s proprietor, ragebooter.net includes a hidden backdoor that lets the FBI monitor customer activity.

Ddos-for-hire site ragebooter.net

Ddos-for-hire site ragebooter.net

This bizarre story began about a week ago, when I first started trying to learn who was responsible for running RageBooter. In late March, someone hacked and leaked the users table for ragebooter.net. The database showed that the very first user registered on the site picked the username “Justin,” and signed up with the email address “primalpoland@gmail.com.”

That email address is tied to a now-defunct Facebook account for 22-year-old Justin Poland from Memphis, Tenn. Poland’s personal Facebook account used the alias “PRIMALRAGE,” and was connected to a Facebook page for an entity called Rage Productions. Shortly after an interview with KrebsOnSecurity, Poland’s personal Facebook page was deleted, and his name was removed from the Rage Productions page.

Ragebooter.net’s registration records are hidden behind WHOIS privacy protection services. But according to a historic WHOIS lookup at domaintools.com, that veil of secrecy briefly fell away when the site was moved behind Cloudflare.com, a content distribution network that also protects sites against DDoS attacks like the ones Ragebooter and its ilk help to create (as I noted in Monday’s story, some of the biggest targets of booter services are in fact other booter services). For a brief period in Oct. 2012, the WHOIS records showed that ragebooter.net was registered by a Justin Poland in Memphis.

I “friended” Poland on Facebook and said I wanted to interview him. He accepted my request and sent me a chat to ask why I wanted to speak with him. I said I was eager to learn more about his business, and in particular why he thought it was okay to run a DDoS-for-hire service. While we were chatting, I took the liberty of perusing his profile pictures, which included several of a large tattoo he’d had inked across the top of his back — “Primal Rage” in a typeface fashioned after the text used in the Transformers movie series.

Poland is serious about his business.

Poland is serious about his business.

“Since it is a public service on a public connection to other public servers this is not illegal,” Poland explained, saying that he’d even consulted with an attorney about the legality of his business. When I asked whether launching reflected DNS attacks was okay, Poland said his service merely took advantage of the default settings of some DNS servers.

“Nor is spoofing the sender address [illegal],” he wrote. “If the root user of the server does not want that used they can simple disable recursive DNS. My service is a legal testing service. How individuals use it is at there [sic] own risk and responsibilitys [sic].  I do not advertise this service anywhere nor do I entice or encourage illegal usage of the product. How the user uses it is at their own risk. I provide logs to any legal law enforcement and keep logs for up to 7 days.”

The conversation got interesting when I asked the logical follow-up question: Had the police or federal authorities ever asked for information about his customers?

That was when Poland dropped the bomb, informing me that he was actually working for the FBI.

“I also work for the FBI on Tuesdays at 1pm in memphis, tn,” Poland wrote. “They allow me to continue this business and have full access. The FBI also use the site so that they can moniter [sic] the activitys [sic] of online users.. They even added a nice IP logger that logs the users IP when they login.”

When I asked Poland to provide more information that I might use to verify his claims that he was working for the FBI, the conversation turned combative, and he informed me that I wasn’t allowed to use any of the information he’d already shared with me. I replied that I hadn’t and wouldn’t agree that any of our discussion was to be off the record, and he in turn promised to sue me if I ran this story. That was more or less the end of that conversation.

As to the relative legality of booter services, I consulted Mark Rasch, a security expert and former attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. Rasch said companies hire stress testing services all the time, but usually as part of a more inclusive penetration testing engagement. In such engagements, Rasch said, it is common for the parties conducting the tests to insist upon and obtain beforehand a “get out of jail free card,” essentially a notarized letter from the customer stating that the testing firm was hired to break into and otherwise probe the security and stability of the targeted Web site.

“This is also why locksmiths generally force you to show ID that proves your address before they’ll break into a house for you,” Rasch said. “The standard in the security industry is not only to require proof that you own the sites that are going to be shut down or attacked, but also an indemnification provision.”

On Monday, I pinged Mr. Poland once more, again using Facebook’s chat function. I wanted to hear more about his claim that he was working for the feds. To my surprise, he gave me the number of a Memphis man he referred to as his FBI contact, a man Poland said he knew only as “Agent Lies.”

The man who answered at the phone number supplied by Poland declined to verify his name, seemed peeved that I’d called, and demanded to know who gave me his phone number. When I told him that I was referred to him by Mr. Poland, the person on the other end of the line informed me that he was not authorized to to speak with the press directly. He rattled off the name and number of the press officer in the FBI’s Memphis field office, and hung up.

Just minutes after I spoke with “Agent Lies,” Justin dropped me a line to say that he could not be my ‘friend’ any longer. “I have been asked to block you. Have a nice day,” Poland wrote in a Facebook chat, without elaborating. His personal Facebook page disappeared moments later.

Not long after that, I heard back from Joel Siskovic, spokesman for the Memphis FBI field office, who said he could neither confirm nor deny Poland’s claims. Siskovic also declined to verify whether the FBI had an Agent Lies.

“People come forward all the time and make claims they are working with us, and sometimes it’s true and sometimes it’s not,” Siskovic said. “But it wouldn’t be prudent for us to confirm that we have individuals helping us or assisting us, either because they’re being good citizens or because they’re somehow compelled to.”

Update, June 1: A little Googling shows that there is in fact an FBI Agent Lies in the Memphis area. Many of the public cases that Agent Lies has testified in appear to be child-exploitation related, such as this one (PDF).

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14
May 13

Microsoft, Adobe Push Critical Security Updates

Microsoft and Adobe today each released updates to fix critical security holes in their software. Microsoft’s patch batch tackles at least 33 vulnerabilities in Windows and other products, including a fix for a zero-day vulnerability in Internet Explorer 8 that attackers have been exploiting. Separately, Adobe pushed security updates for Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Acrobat and Adobe AIR.

crackedwinMicrosoft’s Patch Tuesday bundle includes two separate updates for Internet Explorer; the first (MS13-037) is a cumulative update for Internet Explorer. The second is a fix (MS13-038) specifically for a critical bug in IE 8 that miscreants and malware have been using to break into Windows computers. Other, slightly less severe holes were fixed in Microsoft Publisher, Word, Visio and Windows Essentials.

Last week, Microsoft released a stopgap “Fix-it” tool to help blunt the threat from the IE8 zero-day flaw. If you installed that interim fix, Microsoft recommends taking a moment to disable it before applying today’s patches.

<soapbox>On a side note..Dear Microsoft: Please stop asking people to install Silverlight every time they visit a Microsoft.com property. I realize that Silverlight is a Microsoft product, but it really is not needed to view information about security updates. In keeping with the principle of reducing the attack surface of an operating system, you should not be foisting additional software on visitors who are coming to you for information on how to fix bugs and vulnerabilities in Microsoft products that they already have installed. </soapbox>

Silverlight required? C'mon, Microsoft!

Silverlight required? C’mon, Microsoft!

As it usually does on Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday, Adobe used the occasion to push its own security updates. A new version of Flash (v. 11.7.700.202 for Mac and Windows systems) fixes 13 vulnerabilities.  IE 10 and Google Chrome automatically update themselves to fix Flash flaws. This link should tell you which version of Flash your browser has installed. If your version of Chrome is not yet updated to v. 11.7.700.202, you may need to just restart the browser.

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13
May 13

DDoS Services Advertise Openly, Take PayPal

The past few years have brought a proliferation of online services that can be hired to knock Web sites and individual Internet users offline. Once only found advertised in shadowy underground forums, many of today’s so-called “booter” or “stresser” services are operated by U.S. citizens who openly advertise their services while hiding behind legally dubious disclaimers. Oh, and they nearly all rely on Paypal to receive payments.

Asylum's attack options.

Asylum’s attack options.

Many of these booter sites are based on the same source code, meaning that any vulnerabilities in that code can be used to siphon data from the back-end databases of multiple, competing services. This happened in March to booter.tw, a service that was used to launch a volley of attacks against this blog, among others.

Today we’ll be taking a closer look at another booter service whose customer database was recently leaked: asylumstresser.com (a.k.a. asylumbooter.com/net/us). Like other booter services, asylumstresser.com isn’t designed to take down large Web sites that are accustomed to dealing with massive attacks from Internet extortionists. But these services can and are used to sideline medium-sized sites, although their most common targets are online gaming servers.

Asylum says it deletes records of attacked sites after one month, and the leaked database confirms that. But the database also shows the sheer volume of online attacks that are channeled through these services: Between the week of Mar. 17, 2013 and Mar. 23, 2013, asylumstresser.com was used to launch more than 10,000 online attacks.

According to the leaked database for Asylum, the administrator and first registrant on the site uses the address chandlerdowns1995@gmail.com. That same email address was the beneficiary of more than $35,000 in Paypal payments made by customers of the service. Overall, more than 33,000 user accounts were created on the site.

That chanderdowns1995@gmail.com address also is tied to a Facebook account for a 17-year-old honor roll student named Chandler Downs from suburban Chicago. A reverse WHOIS report (PDF) ordered from domaintools.com shows other interesting sites registered with that same email address.

In a brief interview conducted over Gmail chat, Downs maintained that the service is intended only for “stress testing” one’s own site, not for attacking others. And yet, asylumstresser.com includes a Skype resolver service that lets users locate the Internet address of anyone using Skype. Asylum’s resolver wouldn’t let me look up Downs’ own Skype address — “hugocub1.” But another Skype resolver service shows that that Skype username traces back to a Comcast Internet address outside of Chicago.

Asylumstresser.com also features a youtube.com ad that highlights the service’s ability to “take down your competitors’ servers or Web site.”

“Do you get annoyed all the time because of skids on xBox Live? Do you want to take down your competitors’ servers or Web site?,” reads the site’s ad, apparently recorded by this paid actor at Fiverr.com. “Well, boy, do we have the product for you! Now, with asylumstresser, you can take your enemies offline for just 30 cents for a 10 minute time period. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it gets even better: For only $18 per month, you can have an unlimited number of attacks with an increased boot time. We also offer Skype and tiny chat IP resolvers.”

Downs said he was not the owner of the site – just the administrator. He shrugged off the ad’s message, and said Asylum wasn’t responsible for what customers did with the service.

“You are able to block any of the ‘attacks’ as you say with rather basic networking knowledge,” Downs said. “If you’re unable to do such a thing you probably shouldn’t be running a website in the first place. No one would spend money to stress a site without a reason. If you’re giving someone a reason, that’s your own fault.”

Not so fast, said Mark Rasch, a computer security expert and former U.S. Justice Department attorney.

“If they’ve got their fingers on the trigger and they launch the attacks when they’re paid to, then I would say they’re criminally and civilly liable for it,” Rasch said.

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