September, 2013


25
Sep 13

Data Broker Giants Hacked by ID Theft Service

An identity theft service that sells Social Security numbers, birth records, credit and background reports on millions of Americans has infiltrated computers at some of America’s largest consumer and business data aggregators, according to a seven-month investigation by KrebsOnSecurity.

ssndobhomeThe Web site ssndob[dot]ms (hereafter referred to simply as SSNDOB) has for the past two years marketed itself on underground cybercrime forums as a reliable and affordable service that customers can use to look up SSNs, birthdays and other personal data on any U.S. resident. Prices range from 50 cents to $2.50 per record, and from $5 to $15 for credit and background checks. Customers pay for their subscriptions using largely unregulated and anonymous virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin and WebMoney.

Until very recently, the source of the data sold by SSNDOB has remained a mystery. That mystery began to unravel in March 2013, when teenage hackers allegedly associated with the hacktivist group UGNazi showed just how deeply the service’s access went. The young hackers used SSNDOB to collect data for exposed.su, a Web site that listed the SSNs, birthdays, phone numbers, current and previous addresses for dozens of top celebrities — such as performers Beyonce, Kanye West and Jay Z — as well as prominent public figures, including First Lady Michelle Obama, CIA Director John Brennan, and then-FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Earlier this summer, SSNDOB was compromised by multiple attackers, its own database plundered. A copy of the SSNDOB database was exhaustively reviewed by KrebsOnSecurity.com. The database shows that the site’s 1,300 customers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars looking up SSNs, birthdays, drivers license records, and obtaining unauthorized credit and background reports on more than four million Americans.

Frustratingly, the SSNDOB database did not list the sources of that stolen information; it merely indicated that the data was being drawn from a number of different places designated only as “DB1,” “DB2,” and so on.

But late last month, an analysis of the networks, network activity and credentials used by SSNDOB administrators indicate that these individuals also were responsible for operating a small but very potent botnet — a collection of hacked computers that are controlled remotely by attackers. This botnet appears to have been in direct communications with internal systems at several large data brokers in the United States.  The botnet’s Web-based interface (portions of which are shown below) indicated that the miscreants behind this ID theft service controlled at least five infected systems at different U.S.-based consumer and business data aggregators.

The botnet interface used by  the miscreants who own and operate ssndob[dot]ms

The botnet interface used by the miscreants who own and operate ssndob[dot]ms

DATA-BROKER BOTNET

Two of the hacked servers were inside the networks of Atlanta, Ga.-based LexisNexis Inc., a company that according to Wikipedia maintains the world’s largest electronic database for legal and public-records related information. Contacted about the findings, LexisNexis confirmed that the two systems listed in the botnet interface were public-facing LexisNexis Web servers that had been compromised.

One of two bots connected to SSNDOB that was inside of LexisNexis.

One of two bots connected to SSNDOB that was inside of LexisNexis.

The botnet’s online dashboard for the LexisNexis systems shows that a tiny unauthorized program called “nbc.exe” was placed on the servers as far back as April 10, 2013, suggesting the intruders have had access to the company’s internal networks for at least the past five months. The program was designed to open an encrypted channel of communications from within LexisNexis’s internal systems to the botnet controller on the public Internet.

Two other compromised systems were located inside the networks of Dun & Bradstreet, a Short Hills, New Jersey data aggregator that licenses information on businesses and corporations for use in credit decisions, business-to-business marketing and supply chain management. According to the date on the files listed in the botnet administration panel, those machines were compromised at least as far back as March 27, 2013.

The fifth server compromised as part of this botnet was located at Internet addresses assigned to Kroll Background America, Inc., a company that provides employment background, drug and health screening. Kroll Background America is now part of HireRight, a background-checking firm managed by the Falls Church, Va.-based holding company Altegrity, which owns both the Kroll and HireRight properties. Files left behind by intruders into the company’s internal network suggest the HireRight breach extends back to at least June 2013.

An initial analysis of the malicious bot program installed on the hacked servers reveals that it was carefully engineered to avoid detection by antivirus tools. A review of the bot malware in early September using Virustotal.com — which scrutinizes submitted files for signs of malicious behavior by scanning them with antivirus software from nearly four dozen security firms simultaneously — gave it a clean bill of health: none of the 46 top anti-malware tools on the market today detected it as malicious (as of publication, the malware is currently detected by 6 out of 46 anti-malware tools at Virustotal).

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18
Sep 13

Crooks Hijack Retirement Funds Via SSA Portal

If you receive direct deposits from the Social Security Administration but haven’t yet registered at the agency’s new online account management portal, now would be a good time take care of that: The SSA and financial institutions say they are tracking a rise in cases wherein identity thieves register an account at the SSA’s portal using a retiree’s personal information and have that retiree’s benefits diverted to prepaid debit cards that the crooks control.

The SSA's "my Social Security" portal.

The SSA’s “my Social Security” portal.

Traditional SSA fraud involves identity thieves tricking the beneficiary’s bank into diverting the payments to another account, either through Social Security’s 800 number or through a financial institution, or through Treasury’s Direct Express program. The newer version of this fraud involves the abuse of the SSA’s my Social Security Web portal, which opened last year and allows individuals to create online accounts with the SSA to check their earnings and otherwise interact with the agency relative to their accounts.

Jonathan Lasher, assistant inspector general for external relations at the SSA’s Office of Inspector General, said that for several years the agency was receiving about 50 such allegations a day, though those numbers have begun to decline. But thieves didn’t go away: They just changed tactics. The trouble really began earlier this year, when the Treasury started requiring that almost all beneficiaries receive payments through direct deposit (though the SSA says paper checks are still available to some beneficiaries under limited circumstances).

At the same time, the SSA added the ability to change direct deposit information via their my Social Security Web portal. Shortly thereafter, the agency began receiving complaints that identity thieves were using the portal to hijack the benefits of individuals who had not yet created an account at the site. According to Lasher, as of August 23, 2013, the SSA has received 18,417 allegations of possibly fraudulent mySocialSecurity account activity. Lasher said while some of the complaints are the result of unsuccessful attempts to open an account fraudulently, some are indeed fraud.

“Social Security has already improved security over this online feature, and we continue to work with them to make additional improvements, while also investigating allegations we receive,” Lasher said. “While it’s an issue we’re taking very seriously, it’s important to keep in mind that about 62 million people receive some type of payment from SSA every month, so the likelihood of becoming a victim is very small, particularly if you’re careful about protecting your personal information.”

Because it’s possible to create just one my Social Security account per Social Security number, registering an account on the portal is one basic way that consumers can avoid becoming victims of this scam. Lasher said in the SSA’s systems, every record is tied to the SSN rather than a person’s name, since there are so many duplicate names.

“Of course, the one way to ensure that no one opens an account in your name is to open one yourself,” Lasher said. “Given the nature of other articles on your site, I think it’s important that I point out that there is no suggestion that SSA’s systems have been compromised; this is an identity theft scheme aimed at redirecting existing benefits, often to prepaid debit cards.”

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17
Sep 13

Microsoft: IE Zero Day Flaw Affects All Versions

Microsoft said today that attackers are exploiting a previously unknown, unpatched vulnerability in all supported versions of its Internet Explorer Web browser. The company said it is working on an official patch to plug the security hole, but in the meantime it has released a stopgap fix to help protect affected customers.

IEwarningMicrosoft said it is aware of targeted attacks that attempt to exploit the vulnerability (CVE-2013-3893) in IE 8 and IE 9 versions of the default Windows browser. According to an advisory issued today, the flaw is a remote code bug, which means malware or miscreants could use it install malware just by coaxing IE users to browse a hacked or malicious Web site.

The Fix It solution is available from this link. To apply it, click the Fix It icon above the Fix This Problem link. Applying this solution may limit some functionalities of IE, so if you run into problems after applying this interim patch, you can click the Fix It icon to the right of that “enable” button to reverse the update.

Update: As several readers have already noted in the comments, this Fix It solution is for 32-bit versions of IE only. In 64-bit Windows, you can tell whether the browser you’re using is a 32-bit or 64-bit version by opening the Windows Task Manager (Ctrl+Shift+Esc) and clicking the Processes tab. The number that appears after the process name (in this case, iexplore.exe) indicates the version in use.


16
Sep 13

WHOIS Privacy Plan Draws Fire

Internet regulators are pushing a controversial plan to restrict public access to WHOIS Web site registration records. Proponents of the proposal say it would improve the accuracy of WHOIS data and better protect the privacy of people who register domain names. Critics argue that such a shift would be unworkable and make it more difficult to combat phishers, spammers and scammers.

ardsA working group within The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization that oversees the Internet’s domain name system, has proposed scrapping the current WHOIS system — which is inconsistently managed by hundreds of domain registrars and allows anyone to query Web site registration records. To replace the current system, the group proposes creating a more centralized WHOIS lookup system that is closed by default.

According to an interim report (PDF) by the ICANN working group, the WHOIS data would be accessible only to “authenticated requestors that are held accountable for appropriate use” of the information.

“After working through a broad array of use cases, and the myriad of issues they raised, [ICANN’s working group] concluded that today’s WHOIS model—giving every user the same anonymous public access to (too often inaccurate) registration data—should be abandoned,” ICANN’s “expert working group” wrote. The group said it “recognizes the need for accuracy, along with the need to protect the privacy of those registrants who may require heightened protections of their personal information.”

The working group’s current plan envisions creating what it calls an “aggregated registration directory service” (ARDS) to serve as a clearinghouse that contains a non-authoritative copy of all of the collected data elements. The registrars and registries that operate the hundreds of different generic top-level domains (gTLDs, like dot-biz, dot-name, e.g.) would be responsible for maintaining the authoritative sources of WHOIS data for domains in their gTLDs. Those who wish to query WHOIS domain registration data from the system would have to apply for access credentials to the ARDS, which would be responsible for handling data accuracy complaints, auditing access to the system to minimize abuse, and managing the licensing arrangement for access to the WHOIS data.

The plan acknowledges that creating a “one-stop shop” for registration data also might well paint a giant target on the group for hackers, but it holds that such a system would nevertheless allow for greater accountability for validating registration data.

Unsurprisingly, the interim proposal has met with a swell of opposition from some security and technology experts who worry about the plan’s potential for harm to consumers and cybercrime investigators.

“Internet users (individuals, businesses, law enforcement, governments, journalists and others) should not be subject to barriers – including prior authorization, disclosure obligations, payment of fees, etc. – in order to gain access to information about who operates a website, with the exception of legitimate privacy protection services,” reads a letter (PDF) jointly submitted to ICANN last month by G2 Web Services, OpSec Security, LegitScript and DomainTools.

“Internet users have the right to know who is operating a website they are visiting (or, the fact that it is registered anonymously),” the letter continues. “Today, individuals review full WHOIS records and, based on any one of the fields, identify and report fraud and other abusive behaviors; journalists and academics use WHOIS data to conduct research and expose miscreant behavior; and parents use WHOIS data to better understand who they (or their children) are dealing with online. These and other uses improve the security and stability of the Internet and should be encouraged not burdened by barriers of a closed by default system.”

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11
Sep 13

‘Yahoo Boys’ Have 419 Facebook Friends

Earlier this week, I wrote about an online data theft service that got hacked. That compromise exposed a user base of mostly young Nigerian men apparently engaged in an array of cybercrime activities — from online dating scams to 419 schemes. It turned out that many of these guys signed up for the data theft service using the same email address they used to register their Facebook accounts. Today’s post looks at the social networks between and among these individuals.

Of the nearly 3,000 BestRecovery users, about 280 of them had Facebook accounts tied to their BestRecovery email addresses. George Mason University associate professor Damon McCoy and several of his grad students volunteered to scrape those profiles that were open and map their social networks to see if there were any obvious or discernible patterns in the data.

The raw data itself — which ranked the BestRecovery users on number of connections they had to other users — was potentially useful, but difficult to parse into meaningful chunks. Oddly enough, as I was poring over that data I heard from Chris Ahlberg, the CEO of Recorded Future Inc., a Cambridge, Mass. software company that specializes in Web intelligence and predictive analytics. Ahlberg was writing to say that he enjoyed the blog — particularly the posts with data-intensive analyses — and that he’d be delighted to collaborate on a data-rich research project at some point. I told him his timing couldn’t have been more serendipitous.

Ahlberg and his team took the raw scraped data sets from the Facebook accounts and ran it through their cyber intelligence applications. In short order, they produced some very compelling and beautiful graphs, shown below.

Staffan Truvé, Recorded Future’s chief technology officer noted that — with few exceptions — the BestRecovery users largely appear to belong to one of two very separate social networks.

RecordedFuture's rendering of the Facebook profiles shows fairly two tight-knit social networks.

RecordedFuture’s rendering of the Facebook profiles shows fairly two tight-knit social networks.

“There appears to be two fairly separate, quite tightly knit networks, each with a few central leaders, and also with just a few individuals being the bridge between the two networks — and that those middlemen are themselves not connected,” said Staffan Truvé, Recorded Future’s chief technology officer.

I noted in my previous story that a majority of the BestRecovery keylog service users who had Facebook pages that reported a location listed either somewhere in Nigeria (usually Lagos), or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Not surprisingly, those two geographic groups are generally represented by these two globs of Facebook users (with several exceptions of users who are from Nigeria but living in Kuala Lumpur and vice versa).

Here’s a closer look at the most influential/connected members at the center of Cluster 1 (upper in the diagram above)

cluster1

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10
Sep 13

Adobe, Microsoft Push Critical Security Fixes

Adobe and Microsoft each separately released a raft of updates to fix critical security holes in their software. Adobe pushed patches to plug holes in Adobe Acrobat/Reader and its Flash and Shockwave media players. Microsoft released 14 13 patch bundles to fix at least 47 security vulnerabilities in Windows, Office, Internet Explorer and Sharepoint.

crackedwinFour of the 13 bulletins Microsoft released today earned the company’s “critical” rating, meaning that on balance they address vulnerabilities that can be exploited by miscreants or malware to break into vulnerable systems without any help from users.

For enterprises and those who need to prioritize the installation of updates, Microsoft recommends installing the Outlook, Internet Explorer and SharePoint Server fixes as soon as possible. The Sharepoint update addresses some ten vulnerabilities, including one that Microsoft says was publicly disclosed prior to today’s patch batch.

Adobe’s Flash update fixes at least four flaws in the widely-installed media player, and brings the player to version 11.8.800.168 for Mac and Windows users (users of other OSes please see the chart below). Google Chrome should auto-update itself to the latest version for Chrome (11.8.800.170 for Windows, Mac and Linux); Google says it is in the process of rolling out the update, although my test version of Chrome is still stuck at v. 11.8.800.97, even after installing updates for Chrome and restarting. Likewise, Internet Explorer 10 should auto-update to the latest version. To find out which version of Flash you have installed, see this page.

The most recent versions of Flash are available from the Adobe download center, but beware potentially unwanted add-ons, like McAfee Security Scan). To avoid this, uncheck the pre-checked box before downloading, or grab your OS-specific Flash download from here. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer will need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (FirefoxOpera, e.g.).

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9
Sep 13

Spy Service Exposes Nigerian ‘Yahoo Boys’

A crude but effective online service that lets users deploy keystroke logging malware and then view the stolen data remotely was hacked recently. The information leaked from that service has revealed a network of several thousand Nigerian email scammers and offers a fascinating glimpse into an entire underground economy that is seldom explored.

The login page for the BestRecovery online keylog service.

The login page for the BestRecovery online keylog service.

At issue is a service named “BestRecovery” (recently renamed PrivateRecovery). When I first became aware of this business several months ago, I had a difficult time understanding why anyone would pay the $25 to $33 per month fee to use the service, which is visually quite amateurish and kludgy (see screenshot at right).

But that was before I shared a link to the site with a grey hat hacker friend, who replied in short order with the entire username and password database of more than 3,000 paying customers.

Initially, I assumed my source had unearthed the data via an SQL injection attack or some other  database weakness. As it happens, the entire list of users is recoverable from the site using little more than a Web browser.

The first thing I noticed upon viewing the user list was that a majority of this service’s customers had signed up with yahoo.com emails, and appeared to have African-sounding usernames or email addresses. Also, running a simple online search for some of the user emails (dittoswiss@yahoo.com, for example) turned up complaints related to a variety of lottery, dating, reshipping and confidence scams.

The site was so poorly locked down that it also exposed the keylog records that customers kept on the service. Logs were indexed and archived each month, and most customers used the service to keep tabs on multiple computers in several countries. A closer look at the logs revealed that a huge number of the users appear to be Nigerian 419 scammers using computers with Internet addresses in Nigeria.

The seriously ghetto options page for BestRecovery web-based keylogger service.

The seriously ghetto options page for BestRecovery web-based keylogger service.

Also known as “advance fee” and “Nigerian letter” scams, 419 schemes have been around for many years and are surprisingly effective at duping people. The schemes themselves violate Section 419 of the Nigerian criminal code, hence the name. Nigerian romance scammers often will troll online dating sites using stolen photos and posing as attractive U.S. or U.K. residents working in Nigeria or Ghana, asking for money to further their studies, care for sick relatives, or some such sob story.

More traditionally, these miscreants pretend to be an employee at a Nigerian bank or government institution and claim to need your help in spiriting away millions of dollars. Those who fall for the ruses are strung along and milked for increasingly large money transfers, supposedly to help cover taxes, bribes and legal fees. As the FBI notes, once the victim stops sending money, the perpetrators have been known to use the personal information and checks that they received to impersonate the victim, draining bank accounts and credit card balances. “While such an invitation impresses most law-abiding citizens as a laughable hoax, millions of dollars in losses are caused by these schemes annually,” the FBI warns. “Some victims have been lured to Nigeria, where they have been imprisoned against their will along with losing large sums of money. The Nigerian government is not sympathetic to victims of these schemes, since the victim actually conspires to remove funds from Nigeria in a manner that is contrary to Nigerian law.”

Oddly enough, a large percentage of the keylog data stored at BestRecovery indicates that many of those keylog victims are in fact Nigerian 419 scammers themselves. One explanation is that this is the result of scammer-on-scammer attacks. According to a study of 419ers published in the Dec. 2011 edition of Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking (available from the Library of Congress here or via this site for a fee), much of the 419 activity takes place in cybercafes, where “bulk tickets are sold for sending spam emails and some systems are dedicated to fraudsters for hacking and spamming.”

The keylog records available for the entries marked "Yahoo Boys" show that Nigerian 419 scammers were just as likely to use this service as to be targets of it.

The keylog records available for the entries marked “Yahoo Boys” show that Nigerian 419 scammers were just as likely to use this service as to be targets of it.

Perhaps some enterprising Nigerian spammers simply infected a bunch of these cybercafe machines to save themselves some work. It is also possible that vigilante groups which target 419 scammers — such as Artists Against 419 and 419eater.com — were involved, although it’s difficult to believe those guys would bother with such a rudimentary service.

BestRecovery gives customers instructions on how to use a provided tool to create a custom Windows-based keylogger and then disguise it as a legitimate screensaver application. New victims are indexed by date, time, Internet address, country, and PC name. Each keylogger instance lets the user specify a short identifier in the “note” field (failing to manually enter an identifier in the note field appears to result in that field being populated by the version number of the keylogger used). Interestingly, many of the victim PCs have a curious notation: “Yahoo Boys”.

Keylog data apparently collected from a Yahoo Boy.

Keylog data [partially redacted] that was apparently collected from a Yahoo Boy.

BLACK HAT OR BLACK MAGIC?

As noted in the above-mentioned academic paper (“Understanding Cybercrime Perpetrators and the Strategies They Employ in Nigeria”), the term “Yahoo Boys” is the nickname given to categories of young men in Nigeria who specialize in various types of cybercrime.  According to that paper, in which researchers spent time with and interviewed at least 40 active Yahoo Boys, most of the cybercrime perpetrators in Nigeria are between the age of 22 and 29, and are undergraduates who have distinct lifestyles from other youths.

“Their strategies include collaboration with security agents and bank officials, local and international networking, and the use of voodoo [emphasis added]. It was clear that most were involved in online dating and buying and selling with fake identities. The Yahoo boys usually brag, sag, do things loudly, drive flashy cars, and change cars frequently. They turn their music loud and wear expensive and latest clothes and jewelry. They also have a special way of dressing and relate, they spend lavishly, love material things, and go to clubs. They are prominent at night parties picking prostitutes at night. They also move in groups of two, three, and four when going to eateries. They speak different coded languages and use coded words such as “Mugun,” “Maga,” and “Maga don pay,” which all means “the fool (i.e., their victim) has paid.”

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4
Sep 13

Researchers: Oracle’s Java Security Fails

Faced with an onslaught of malware attacks that leverage vulnerabilities and design weaknesses in Java, Oracle Corp. recently tweaked things so that Java now warns users about the security risks of running Java content. But new research suggests that the integrity and accuracy of these warning messages can be subverted easily in any number of ways, and that Oracle’s new security scheme actually punishes Java application developers who adhere to it.

Java's security dialog box.

Java’s security dialog box.

Running a Java applet now pops up a security dialog box that presents users with information about the name, publisher and source of the application. Oracle says this pop-up is designed to warn users of potential security risks, such as using old versions of Java or running applet code that is not signed from a trusted Certificate Authority.

Security experts differ over whether regular users pay any mind whatsoever to these warnings. But to make matters worse, new research suggests most of the information contained in the pop-ups can be forged by malware writers.

In a series of scathing blog posts, longtime Java developer Jerry Jongerius details the various ways that attackers can subvert the usefulness of these dialog boxes. To illustrate his point, Jongerius uses an applet obtained from Oracle’s own Web site — javadetection.jar — and shows that the information in two out of three of its file descriptors (the “Name” and “Location” fields) can be changed, even if the applet is already cryptographically signed.

“The bottom line in all of this is not the security risk of the errors but that Oracle made such incredibly basic ‘101’ type errors — in allowing ‘unsigned information’ into their security dialogs,” Jongerius wrote in an email exchange. “The magnitude of that ‘fail’ is huge.”

Jongerius presents the following scenario in which an attacker might use the dialog boxes to trick users into running unsafe applets:

“Imagine a hacker taking a real signed Java application for remote desktop control / assistance, and placing it on a gaming site, renaming it ‘Chess’. An unsuspecting end user would get a security popup from Java asking if they want to run ‘Chess’, and because they do, answer yes — but behind the scenes, the end user’s computer is now under the remote control of a hacker (and maybe to throw off suspicion, implemented a basic ‘Chess’ in HTML5 so it looks like that applet worked) — all because Oracle allowed the ‘Name’ in security dialogs to be forged to something innocent and incorrect.”

Oracle has not responded to requests for comment. But Jongerius is hardly the only software expert crying foul about the company’s security prompts. Will Dormann, writing for the Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, actually warns Java developers against adopting a key tenet of Oracle’s new security guidelines.

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