Last week, the world got the first glimpses of a man Russian authorities have accused of being “Paunch,” a computer crime kingpin whose “Blackhole” crimeware package has fueled an explosion of cybercrime over the past several years. So far, few details about the 27-year-old defendant have been released, save for some pictures of a portly lad and a list of his alleged transgressions. Today’s post follows a few clues from recent media coverage that all point to one very likely identity for this young man.
The first story in the Western media about Paunch’s arrest came on Oct. 8, 2013 from Reuters, which quoted an anonymous former Russian police detective. But the initial news of Paunch’s arrest appears to have broken on Russian news blogs several days earlier. On Oct. 5, Russian news outlet neslushi.info posted that a hacker by the name of Dmitry Fedotov had been arrested the night before in Togliatti, a city in Samara Oblast, Russia. The story noted that Fedotov was wanted for creating a program that was used by various organized crime groups to siphon roughly 26 billion rubles (USD $866 million) from unnamed banks. Another story from local news site Samara.ru on Oct. 8 references a Dmitry F. from Togliatti.
This is an interesting lead; last week’s story on Paunch cited information released by Russian forensics firm Group-IB, which did not include Paunch’s real name but said that he resided in Togliatti.
Fast-forward to this past week, and we see out of the Russian publication Vedomosti.ru a story stating that Paunch owned his own Web-development company. That story also cited Group-IB saying that Paunch had experience as an advertising manager. This Yandex profile includes a resume for a Dmitry Fedotov from Togliatti who specializes in Web programming and advertising, and lists “hack money” under his “professional goals” section. It also states that Fedotov attended the Volga State University of Service from 2003-2005.
That Yandex profile for Fedotov says his company is a site called “neting.ru,” a Web development firm. The current Web site registration records for that domain do not include an owner’s name, but a historic WHOIS record ordered from domaintools.com shows that neting.ru was originally registered in 2004 by a Dmitry E. Fedotov, using the email addresses firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
A cached contact page for neting.ru at archive.org shows the same firstname.lastname@example.org email address and includes an ICQ instant messenger address, 360022. According to ICQ.com, that address belongs to a user who picked the nickname “tolst,” which roughly translates to “fatty.”
This brings up something I want to address from last week’s story: Some readers said they thought it was insensitive of me to point out that Paunch himself called attention to his most obvious physical trait. But this seems to be a very important detail: Paunch had a habit of picking self-effacing nicknames.
The pictures of Paunch released by Group-IB show a heavyset young man, and Paunch seems to have picked nicknames that called attention to his size. One email address known to have been used by the Blackhole author was “email@example.com” (“paunchik” means “doughnut” in Russian). Blackhole exploit kit users who wished to place their advertisements in the crimeware kit itself so that other customers would see the ads were instructed to pay for the advertisements by sending funds to a Webmoney purse Z356971281174, which is tied to the Webmoney ID 561656619879; that Webmoney ID uses the alias “puzan,” a variant of the Russian word пузо, or “potbelly.”
Turns out, “tolst” was a common nickname picked by Paunch. We can see a user who picked that same “tolst” nickname posting in a Russian car forum in March 2013 about his new ride: a white Porsche Cayenne. According to this photo released by Group-IB, Paunch also owned a white Porsche Cayenne. Tolst posted pictures of the interior of his Porsche here.
Neting.ru’s archived FAQ points to an official payment page at virtual currency Webmoney, which includes the name Dmitry E. Fedotov and the ICQ number 360022. That same Webmoney account shows up on wmid.name, a site that lists account holders who have a reputation for being late with promised payments. The last account on the bottom of that page is an entry that lists the same Webmoney ID, along with Dmitry Evegeny Fedotov‘s date of birth (Nov. 6, 1986), passport number (3606578837), and physical address. It’s not clear when Fedotov was added to this list, but it’s possible he was simply unable to pay for promised transactions due to his early October arrest and detention.
This Odnoklassniki profile for a Dmitry Fedotov from Togliatti also puts his birthday at Nov. 6, and says he attended Volga State University of Service from 2003 to 2005.
Early on, Fedotov appears to have made a living by writing and selling Web scripts for various online currency exchange sites. But by 2009, this young man was growing more interested in computer security — specifically Web browser vulnerabilities.
The Web community Fido20.ru includes a member named “tolst” from Togliatti who gives his name as Dmitry Fedotov and was very active in discussions about network security, privacy and hacking. In this post from 2009 titled “Vulnerabilities in browsers and their plugin-ins,” Fedotov can be seen warning users about unspecified new vulnerabilities in Apple’s Quicktime and Microsoft’s DirectX versions 7 through 9.
In another thread, Fedotov encourages the sharing of browser exploits and provides links to several vulnerability archives. He also tells fellow forums members that they are asking to get hacked if they leave various browser plugins activated.
“As I have done before, I am asking all the users as well as IT Security professionals to disable all plug-ins and add-ons in their browsers,” Fedotov warned forum members. “Do not think that if you are not users of Internet money (web money), there is no danger of being infected. In this case, the infected PCs are turned into socks proxies, spam/ddos bots and all the bad activity is done under your name, so that law enforcement can place all the blame on your shoulders. Safe surfing and good luck to you.”
- Meet Paunch: The Accused Author of the BlackHole Exploit Kit
In early October, news leaked out of Russia that authorities there had arrested and charged the malware kingpin known as “Paunch,” the alleged creator and distributor of the Blackhole exploit kit. Today, Russian police and computer security experts released additional details about this individual, revealing a much more vivid picture of the cybercrime underworld today.
- Zero-Day Java Exploit Debuts in Crimeware
The hackers who maintain Blackhole and Nuclear Pack – competing crimeware products that are made to be stitched into hacked sites and use browser flaws to foist malware — say they’ve added a brand new exploit that attacks a previously unknown and currently unpatched security hole in Java.
- Crimeware Author Funds Exploit Buying Spree
The author of Blackhole, an exploit kit that booby-traps hacked Web sites to serve malware, has done so well for himself renting his creation to miscreants that the software has emerged as perhaps the most notorious and ubiquitous crimeware product in the Underweb. Recently, however, the author has begun buying up custom exploits to bundle into a far more closely-held and expensive exploit pack, one that appears to be fueling a wave of increasingly destructive online extortion schemes.
- 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 — I’m calling it “crimevertising” for lack of a better term — that involves running otherwise harmless ads for illicit services inside of commercial crimeware kits.
At its most basic, crimevertising has been around for many years, in the form of banner ads on underground forums that hawk everything from hacking services to banking Trojans and crooked cashout services. More recently, malware authors have started offering the ability to place paid ads in the administrative panesl that customers use to control their botnets. Such placements allow miscreants an unprecedented opportunity to keep their brand name in front of the eyeballs of their target audience, and for hours on end.