April, 2014


30
Apr 14

Tax Fraud Gang Targeted Healthcare Firms

Earlier this month, I wrote about an organized cybercrime gang that has been hacking into HR departments at organizations across the country and filing fraudulent tax refund requests with the IRS on employees of those victim firms. Today, we’ll look a bit closer at the activities of this crime gang, which appears to have targeted a large number of healthcare and senior living organizations that were all using the same third-party payroll and HR services provider.

taxfraudAs I wrote in the previous story, KrebsOnSecurity encountered a Web-based control panel that an organized criminal gang has been using to track bogus tax returns filed on behalf of employees at hacked companies whose HR departments had been relieved of W-2 forms for all employees.

Among the organizations listed in that panel were Plaintree Inc. and Griffin Faculty Practice Plan. Both entities are subsidiaries of Derby, Conn.-based Griffin Health Services Corp.

Steve Mordecai, director of human resources at Griffin Hospital, confirmed that a security breach at his organization had exposed the personal and tax data on “a limited number of employees for Griffin Health Services Corp. and Griffin Hospital.” Mordecai said the attackers obtained the information after stealing the organization’s credentials at a third-party payroll and HR management provider called UltiPro.

Mordecai said that the bad guys only managed to steal data on roughly four percent of the organization’s employees, but he declined to say how many employees the healthcare system currently has. An annual report (PDF) from 2009 states that Griffin Hospital alone had more than 1,384 employees.

Griffin employee tax records, as recorded in the fraudsters' Web-based control panel.

Griffin employee tax records, as recorded in the fraudsters’ Web-based control panel.

“Fortunately for us it was a limited number of employees who may have had their information breached or stolen,” Mordecai said. “There is a criminal investigation with the FBI that is ongoing, so I can’t say much more.”

The FBI did not return calls seeking comment. But according Reuters, the FBI recently circulated a private notice to healthcare providers, warning that the “cybersecurity systems at many healthcare providers are lax compared to other sectors, making them vulnerable to attacks by hackers searching for Americans’ personal medical records and health insurance data.”

According to information in their Web-based control panel, the attackers responsible for hacking into Griffin also may have infiltrated an organization called Medical Career Center Inc., but that could not be independently confirmed.

This crime gang also appears to have targeted senior living facilities, including SL Bella Terra LLC, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Senior Lifestyle Corp, an assisted living firm that operates in seven states. Senior Living did not return calls seeking comment.

In addition, the attackers hit  Swan Home Health LLC  in Menomonee Falls, Wisc., a company that recently changed its named to EnlivantMonica Lang, vice president of communications for Enlivant, said Swan Home Health is a subsidiary of Chicago-based Assisted Living Concepts Inc., an organization that owns and operates roughly 200 assisted living facilities in 20 states.

Swan Home Health employee's tax info, as recorded by the fraudsters.

Swan Home Health employee’s tax info, as recorded by the fraudsters.

ALC disclosed in March 2014 that a data breach in December 2013 had exposed the personal information on approximately 43,600 current and former employees. In its March disclosure, ALC said that its internal employee records were compromised after attackers stole login credentials to the company’s third-party payroll provider.

That disclosure didn’t name the third-party provider, but every victim organization I’ve spoken with that’s been targeted by this crime gang had outsourced their payroll and/or human resources operations to UltiPro.

Enlivant’s Lang confirmed that the company also relied on UltiPro, and that some employees have come forward to report attempts to file fraudulent tax refunds on their behalf with the IRS.

“We believe that [the attackers] accessed employee names, addresses, birthdays, Social Security numbers and pay information, which is plenty to get someone going from a tax fraud perspective,” Lang said in a telephone interview. Continue reading →


28
Apr 14

Adobe Update Nixes Flash Player Zero Day

Adobe Systems Inc. has shipped an emergency security update to fix a critical flaw in its Flash Player software that is currently being exploited in active attacks. The exploits so far appear to target Microsoft Windows users, but updates also are available for Mac and Linux versions of Flash.

brokenflash-aThe Flash update brings the media player to v. 13.0.0.206 on Windows and Mac systems, and v. 11.2.202.356 for Linux users. To see which version of Flash you have installed, check this link.

IE10/IE11 and Chrome should auto-update their versions of Flash. If your version of Flash on Chrome (on either Windows, Mac or Linux) is not yet updated, you may just need to close and restart the browser.

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 (Firefox, Opera, e.g.).

In its advisory about this vulnerability, Adobe said it is aware of reports that an exploit for the flaw (CVE-2014-0515) exists in the wild, and is being used to target Flash Player users on the Windows platform. Continue reading →


27
Apr 14

Microsoft Warns of Attacks on IE Zero-Day

Microsoft is warning Internet Explorer users about active attacks that attempt to exploit a previously unknown security flaw in every supported version of IE. The vulnerability could be used to silently install malicious software without any help from users, save for perhaps merely browsing to a hacked or malicious site.

In an alert posted on Saturday, Microsoft said it is aware of  “limited, targeted attacks” against the vulnerability (CVE-2014-1776) so far.

Microsoft’s security advisory credits security firm FireEye with discovering the attack. In its own advisory, FireEye says the exploit currently is targeting IE9 through IE11 (although the weakness also is present in all earlier versions of IE going back to IE6), and that it leverages a well-known Flash exploitation technique to bypass security protections on Windows.

ie0daymitigationMicrosoft has not yet issued a stopgap “Fix-It” solution for this vulnerability. For now, it is urging IE users to download and install its Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET), a free tool that can help beef up security on Windows. Microsoft notes that EMET 3.0 doesn’t mitigate this attack, and that affected users should instead rely on EMET 4.1. I’ve reviewed the basics of EMET here. The latest versions of EMET are available here.

According to information shared by FireEye, the exploit also can be blocked by running Internet Explorer in “Enhanced Protected Mode” configuration and 64-bit process mode, which is available for IE10 and IE11 in the Internet Options settings as shown in the graphic above.

This is the first of many zero-day attacks and vulnerabilities that will never be fixed for Windows XP users. Microsoft last month shipped its final set of updates for XP. Unfortunately, many of the exploit mitigation techniques that EMET brings do not work in XP.


22
Apr 14

States: Spike in Tax Fraud Against Doctors

An unusual number of physicians in several U.S. states are just finding out that they’ve been victimized by tax return fraud this year, KrebsOnSecurity has learned. An apparent spike in tax fraud cases against medical professionals is fueling speculation that the crimes may have been prompted by a data breach at some type of national organization that certifies or provides credentials for physicians.

taxfraudScott Colby, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said he started hearing from physicians in his state about a week ago, when doctors who were just filing their tax returns began receiving notices from the Internal Revenue Service that someone had already filed their taxes and claimed a large refund.

So far, Colby has heard from 111 doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners in New Hampshire who have been victims of tax fraud this year.

“I’ve been here four years and this is the first time this issue has come across my desk,” Colby said.

In this increasingly common crime, thieves steal or purchase Social Security numbers and other data on consumers, and then electronically file fraudulent tax returns claiming a large refund. The thieves instruct the IRS to send the refund to a bank account that is tied to a prepaid debit card, which the fraudster can then use to withdraw cash at an ATM (for more on how this works, see last week’s story, Crimeware Helps File Fraudulent Tax Returns).

Unlike the scam I wrote about last week — which involved the theft of credentials to third-party payroll and HR providers that are then used to pull W2 records and file bogus tax returns on all company employees — the tax fraud being perpetrated against the physicians Colby is tracking is more selective.

“We’ve done a broadcast to all of the hospital systems in the state, and I have yet to receive one [victim] name from a non-clinician,” Colby said. “And you would think if it was an HR or payroll issue that at least a couple of administrative, non-clinical folks would have been in the mix, but that is not the case.”

AN EPIDEMIC OF TAX FRAUD?

Colby said he’s heard similar reports from other states, including Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, North Carolina and Vermont.

Elaine Ellis Stone, director of communications at the North Carolina Medical Society, said her organization has been contacted by more than 100 individual doctors and medical practice managers complaining about tax fraud committed in the names of their doctors and other medical staff. Continue reading →


21
Apr 14

An Allegation of Harm

In December 2013, an executive from big-three credit reporting bureau Experian told Congress that the company was not aware of any consumers who had been harmed by an incident in which a business unit of Experian sold consumer records directly to an online identity theft service for nearly 10 months. This blog post examines the harm allegedly caused to consumers by just one of the 1,300 customers of that ID theft service — an Ohio man the government claims used the data to file fraudulent tax returns on dozens of Americans last year.

Defendant Lance Ealy.

Defendant Lance Ealy.

In February, I was contacted via Facebook by 28-year-old Lance Ealy from Dayton, Ohio. Mr. Ealy said he needed to speak with me about the article I wrote in October 2013 — Experian Sold Consumer Data to ID Theft Service. Ealy told me he’d been arrested by the U.S. Secret Service on Nov. 25, 2013 for allegedly using his email account to purchase Social Security numbers and other personal information from an online identity theft service run by guy named Hieu Minh Ngo.

“I really need to speak with u about this case because the US attorney assigned to this case and the Secret Service agent are trying to cover up Experian involvement in this case,” Ealy said, without elaborating on his theory about the alleged cover-up.

Ngo is a Vietnamese national who for several years ran an online identity theft service called Superget.info. Shortly after my 2011 initial story about his service, Ngo tauntingly renamed his site to findget.me. The Secret Service took him up on that challenge, and succeeded in luring him out of Vietnam into Guam, where he was arrested and brought to New Hampshire for trial. He pleaded guilty earlier this year to running the ID theft service, and the government has been working on rounding up his customers ever since.

Mr. Ealy appears to be one of several individuals currently battling charges of identity theft after allegedly buying data from Ngo’s service, which relied in part on data obtained through a company owned by Experian.

According to the complaint (PDF) against Ealy, government investigators obtained a search warrant for Ngo’s email account in March 2013. Going through that email, investigators found that a customer of Ngo’s who used the address lanceealy123@yahoo.com had already purchased from Ngo some 363 “fullz” — a term used in the underground to describe a package of everything one would need to steal someone’s identity, including their Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, birth date, address, phone number, email address, bank account information and passwords.

The Justice Department alleges that between Jan. 28, 2013 and Oct. 17, 2013, Ealy filed at least 150 fraudulent tax returns on Americans, instructing the IRS to send the refund money to prepaid credit card accounts he controlled. The government claims that about 50 of those bogus claims were made with Social Security numbers and other data obtained from Ngo’s ID theft service. Continue reading →


17
Apr 14

3 Million Customer Credit, Debit Cards Stolen in Michaels, Aaron Brothers Breaches

Nationwide arts and crafts chain Michaels Stores Inc. said today that two separate eight-month-long security breaches at its stores last year may have exposed as many as 3 million customer credit and debit cards.

michaelsThe disclosure, made jointly in a press release posted online and in a statement on the company’s Web site, offers the first real details about the breach since the incident was first disclosed by KrebsOnSecurity on January 25, 2014.

The statements by Irving, Texas-based Michaels suggest that the two independent security firms it hired to investigate the break-ins initially found nothing.

“After weeks of analysis, the Company discovered evidence confirming that systems of Michaels stores in the United States and its subsidiary, Aaron Brothers, were attacked by criminals using highly sophisticated malware that had not been encountered previously by either of the security firms,” the statement reads.

The Michaels breach first came to light just weeks after retail giant Target Corp. said that cyber thieves planted malware on cash registers at its stores across the nation, stealing more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013. That malware was designed to siphon card data when customers swiped their cards at the cash register.

According to Michaels, the affected systems contained certain payment card information, such as payment card number and expiration date, about both Michaels and Aaron Brothers customers. The company says there is no evidence that other customer personal information, such as name, address or debit card PIN, was at risk in connection with this issue.

The company’s statement says the attack on Michaels’ targeted “a limited portion of the point-of-sale systems at a varying number of stores between May 8, 2013 and January 27, 2014.”

“Only a small percentage of payment cards used in the affected stores during the times of exposure were impacted by this issue,” the statement continues. “The analysis conducted by the security firms and the Company shows that approximately 2.6 million cards may have been impacted, which represents about 7% of payment cards used at Michaels stores in the U.S. during the relevant time period. The locations and potential dates of exposure for each affected Michaels store are listed on www.michaels.com.”

Regarding Aaron Brothers, Michaels Stores said it has confirmed that between June 26, 2013 and February 27, 2014, 54 Aaron Brothers stores were affected by this malware, noting that the locations for each affected Aaron Brothers store are listed on www.aaronbrothers.com.

“The Company estimates that approximately 400,000 cards were potentially impacted during this period. The Company has received a limited number of reports from the payment card brands and banks of fraudulent use of payment cards potentially connected to Michaels or Aaron Brothers.” Continue reading →


16
Apr 14

Critical Java Update Plugs 37 Security Holes

Oracle has pushed a critical patch update for its Java SE platform that fixes at least 37 security vulnerabilities in the widely-installed program. Several of these flaws are so severe that they are likely to be exploited by malware or attackers in the days or weeks ahead. So — if you have Java installed — it is time to update (or to ditch the program once and for all).

javamessThe latest update for Java 7 (the version most users will have installed) brings the program to Java 7 Update 55. Those who’ve chosen to upgrade to the newer, “feature release” version of Java — Java 8 — will find fixes available in Java 8 Update 5 (Java 8 doesn’t work on Windows XP).

According to Oracle, at least four of the 37 security holes plugged in this release earned a Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) rating of 10.0 — the most severe possible. According to Oracle, vulnerabilities with a 10.0 CVSS score are those which can be easily exploited remotely and without authentication, and which result in the complete compromise of the host operating system. Continue reading →


15
Apr 14

Hardware Giant LaCie Acknowledges Year-Long Credit Card Breach

Computer hard drive maker LaCie has acknowledged that a hacker break-in at its online store exposed credit card numbers and contact information on customers for the better part of the past year. The disclosure comes almost a month after the breach was first disclosed by KrebsOnSecurity.

On Mar. 17, 2014, this blog published evidence showing that the Web storefront for French hardware giant LaCie (now owned by Seagate) had been compromised by a group of hackers that broke into dozens of online stores using security vulnerabilities in Adobe’s ColdFusion software. In response, Seagate said it had engaged third-party security firms and that its investigation was ongoing, but that it had found no indication that any customer data was compromised.

The Lacie.com Web site as listed in the control panel of a botnet of hacked ecommerce sites.

The Lacie.com Web site as listed in the control panel of a botnet of hacked ecommerce sites.

In a statement sent to this reporter on Monday, however, Seagate allowed that its investigation had indeed uncovered a serious breach. Seagate spokesman Clive J. Over said the breach may have exposed credit card transactions and customer information for nearly a year beginning March 27, 2013. From his email:

“To follow up on my last e-mail to you, I can confirm that we did find indications that an unauthorized person used the malware you referenced to gain access to information from customer transactions made through LaCie’s website.”

“The information that may have been accessed by the unauthorized person includes name, address, email address, payment card number and card expiration date for transactions made between March 27, 2013 and March 10, 2014. We engaged a leading forensic investigation firm, who conducted a thorough investigation into this matter. As a precaution, we have temporarily disabled the e-commerce portion of the LaCie website while we transition to a provider that specializes in secure payment processing services. We will resume accepting online orders once we have completed the transition.”

Security and data privacy are extremely important to LaCie, and we deeply regret that this happened. We are in the process of implementing additional security measures which will help to further secure our website. Additionally, we sent notifications to the individuals who may have been affected in order to inform them of what has transpired and that we are working closely and cooperatively with the credit card companies and federal authorities in their ongoing investigation.

It is unclear how many customer records and credit cards may have been accessed during the time that the site was compromised; Over said in his email that the company did not have any additional information to share at this time. Continue reading →


14
Apr 14

Crimeware Helps File Fraudulent Tax Returns

Many companies believe that if they protect their intellectual property and customers’ information, they’ve done a decent job of safeguarding their crown jewels from attackers. But in an increasingly common scheme, cybercriminals are targeting the Human Resources departments at compromised organizations and rapidly filing fraudulent federal tax returns on all employees.

Last month, KrebsOnSecurity encountered a Web-based control panel that an organized criminal gang has been using to track bogus tax returns filed on behalf of employees at hacked companies whose HR departments had been relieved of W2 forms for all employees.

The control panel for a tax fraud botnet involving more than a half dozen victim organizations.

An obfuscated look at the he control panel for a tax fraud operation involving more than a half dozen victim organizations.

According to the control panel seen by this reporter, the scammers in charge of this scheme have hacked more than a half-dozen U.S. companies, filing fake tax returns on nearly every employee. At last count, this particular scam appears to stretch back to the beginning of this year’s tax filing season, and includes fraudulent returns filed on behalf of thousands of people — totaling more than $1 million in bogus returns.

The control panel includes a menu listing every employee’s W2 form, including all data needed to successfully file a return, such as the employee’s Social Security number, address, wages and employer identification number. Each fake return was apparently filed using the e-filing service provided by H&R Block, a major tax preparation and filing company. H&R Block did not return calls seeking comment for this story.

The "drops" page of this tax  fraud operation lists the nicknames of the co-conspirators who agreed to "cash out" funds on the prepaid cards generated by the bogus returns -- minus a small commission.

The “drops” page of this tax fraud operation lists the nicknames of the co-conspirators who agreed to “cash out” funds on the prepaid cards generated by the bogus returns — minus a small commission.

Fraudulent returns listed in the miscreants’ control panel that were successfully filed produced a specific five-digit tax filing Personal Identification Number (PIN) apparently generated by H&R Block’s online filing system. An examination of the panel suggests that successfully-filed returns are routed to prepaid American Express cards that are requested to be sent to addresses in the United States corresponding to specific “drops,” or co-conspirators in the scheme who have agreed to receive the prepaid cards and “cash out” the balance — minus their fee for processing the bogus returns.

Alex Holden, chief information security officer at Hold Security, said although tax fraud is nothing new, automating the exploitation of human resource systems for mass tax fraud is an innovation.

“The depth of this specific operation permits them to act as a malicious middle-man and tax preparation company to be an unwitting ‘underwriter’ of this crime,” Holden said. “And the victims maybe exploited not only for 2013 tax year but also down the road,  and perhaps subject of higher scrutiny by IRS — not to mention potential financial losses. Companies should look at their human resource infrastructure to ensure that payroll, taxes, financial, medical, and other benefits are afforded the same level of protection as their other mission-critical assets.” Continue reading →