Other


27
Sep 16

Inside Arizona’s Pump Skimmer Scourge

Crooks who deploy skimming devices made to steal payment card details from fuel station pumps don’t just target filling stations at random: They tend to focus on those that neglect to deploy various tools designed to minimize such scams, including security cameras, non-standard pump locks and tamper-proof security tape. But don’t take my word for it: Here’s a look at fuel station compromises in 2016 as documented by the state of Arizona, which has seen a dramatic spike in fuel skimming attacks over the past year.

KrebsOnSecurity examined nearly nine months worth of pump skimming incidents in Arizona, where officials say they’ve documented more skimming attacks in the month of August 2016 alone than in all of 2015 combined.

With each incident, the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures Services Division files a report detailing whether victim fuel station owners had observed industry best practices leading up to the hacks. As we can see from the interactive story map KrebsOnSecurity created below, the vast majority of compromised filling stations failed to deploy security cameras, and/or tamper-evident seals on the pumps.

Fewer still had changed the factory-default locks on their pumps, meaning thieves armed with a handful of master keys were free to unlock the pumps and install skimming devices at will.

These security report cards for fuel station owners aren’t complete assessments by any means. Some contain scant details about the above-mentioned precautionary measures, while other reports painstakingly document such information — complete with multiple photos of the skimming devices. Regardless, the data available show a clear trend of fraudsters targeting owners and operators that flout basic security best practices. Continue reading →


25
Sep 16

The Democratization of Censorship

John Gilmore, an American entrepreneur and civil libertarian, once famously quipped that “the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” This notion undoubtedly rings true for those who see national governments as the principal threats to free speech.

However, events of the past week have convinced me that one of the fastest-growing censorship threats on the Internet today comes not from nation-states, but from super-empowered individuals who have been quietly building extremely potent cyber weapons with transnational reach.

underwater

More than 20 years after Gilmore first coined that turn of phrase, his most notable quotable has effectively been inverted — “Censorship can in fact route around the Internet.” The Internet can’t route around censorship when the censorship is all-pervasive and armed with, for all practical purposes, near-infinite reach and capacity. I call this rather unwelcome and hostile development the “The Democratization of Censorship.”

Allow me to explain how I arrived at this unsettling conclusion. As many of you know, my site was taken offline for the better part of this week. The outage came in the wake of a historically large distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack which hurled so much junk traffic at Krebsonsecurity.com that my DDoS protection provider Akamai chose to unmoor my site from its protective harbor.

Let me be clear: I do not fault Akamai for their decision. I was a pro bono customer from the start, and Akamai and its sister company Prolexic have stood by me through countless attacks over the past four years. It just so happened that this last siege was nearly twice the size of the next-largest attack they had ever seen before. Once it became evident that the assault was beginning to cause problems for the company’s paying customers, they explained that the choice to let my site go was a business decision, pure and simple.

Nevertheless, Akamai rather abruptly informed me I had until 6 p.m. that very same day — roughly two hours later — to make arrangements for migrating off their network. My main concern at the time was making sure my hosting provider wasn’t going to bear the brunt of the attack when the shields fell. To ensure that absolutely would not happen, I asked Akamai to redirect my site to 127.0.0.1 — effectively relegating all traffic destined for KrebsOnSecurity.com into a giant black hole.

Today, I am happy to report that the site is back up — this time under Project Shield, a free program run by Google to help protect journalists from online censorship. And make no mistake, DDoS attacks — particularly those the size of the assault that hit my site this week — are uniquely effective weapons for stomping on free speech, for reasons I’ll explore in this post.

Google's Project Shield is now protecting KrebsOnSecurity.com

Google’s Project Shield is now protecting KrebsOnSecurity.com

Why do I speak of DDoS attacks as a form of censorship? Quite simply because the economics of mitigating large-scale DDoS attacks do not bode well for protecting the individual user, to say nothing of independent journalists.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Akamai executives said the attack — if sustained — likely would have cost the company millions of dollars. In the hours and days following my site going offline, I spoke with multiple DDoS mitigation firms. One offered to host KrebsOnSecurity for two weeks at no charge, but after that they said the same kind of protection I had under Akamai would cost between $150,000 and $200,000 per year.

Ask yourself how many independent journalists could possibly afford that kind of protection money? A number of other providers offered to help, but it was clear that they did not have the muscle to be able to withstand such massive attacks.

I’ve been toying with the idea of forming a 501(c)3 non-profit organization — ‘The Center for the Defense of Internet Journalism’, if you will — to assist Internet journalists with obtaining the kind of protection they may need when they become the targets of attacks like the one that hit my site.  Maybe a Kickstarter campaign, along with donations from well-known charitable organizations, could get the ball rolling.  It’s food for thought. Continue reading →


21
Sep 16

KrebsOnSecurity Hit With Record DDoS

On Tuesday evening, KrebsOnSecurity.com was the target of an extremely large and unusual distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack designed to knock the site offline. The attack did not succeed thanks to the hard work of the engineers at Akamai, the company that protects my site from such digital sieges. But according to Akamai, it was nearly double the size of the largest attack they’d seen previously, and was among the biggest assaults the Internet has ever witnessed.
iotstuf

The attack began around 8 p.m. ET on Sept. 20, and initial reports put it at approximately 665 Gigabits of traffic per second. Additional analysis on the attack traffic suggests the assault was closer to 620 Gbps in size, but in any case this is many orders of magnitude more traffic than is typically needed to knock most sites offline.

Martin McKeay, Akamai’s senior security advocate, said the largest attack the company had seen previously clocked in earlier this year at 363 Gbps. But he said there was a major difference between last night’s DDoS and the previous record holder: The 363 Gpbs attack is thought to have been generated by a botnet of compromised systems using well-known techniques allowing them to “amplify” a relatively small attack into a much larger one.

In contrast, the huge assault this week on my site appears to have been launched almost exclusively by a very large botnet of hacked devices.

The largest DDoS attacks on record tend to be the result of a tried-and-true method known as a DNS reflection attack. In such assaults, the perpetrators are able to leverage unmanaged DNS servers on the Web to create huge traffic floods.

Ideally, DNS servers only provide services to machines within a trusted domain. But DNS reflection attacks rely on consumer and business routers and other devices equipped with DNS servers that are (mis)configured to accept queries from anywhere on the Web. Attackers can send spoofed DNS queries to these so-called “open recursive” DNS servers, forging the request so that it appears to come from the target’s network. That way, when the DNS servers respond, they reply to the spoofed (target) address.

The bad guys also can amplify a reflective attack by crafting DNS queries so that the responses are much bigger than the requests. They do this by taking advantage of an extension to the DNS protocol that enables large DNS messages. For example, an attacker could compose a DNS request of less than 100 bytes, prompting a response that is 60-70 times as large. This “amplification” effect is especially pronounced if the perpetrators query dozens of DNS servers with these spoofed requests simultaneously.

But according to Akamai, none of the attack methods employed in Tuesday night’s assault on KrebsOnSecurity relied on amplification or reflection. Rather, many were garbage Web attack methods that require a legitimate connection between the attacking host and the target, including SYN, GET and POST floods.

That is, with the exception of one attack method: Preliminary analysis of the attack traffic suggests that perhaps the biggest chunk of the attack came in the form of traffic designed to look like it was generic routing encapsulation (GRE) data packets, a communication protocol used to establish a direct, point-to-point connection between network nodes. GRE lets two peers share data they wouldn’t be able to share over the public network itself.

“Seeing that much attack coming from GRE is really unusual,” Akamai’s McKeay said. “We’ve only started seeing that recently, but seeing it at this volume is very new.” Continue reading →


20
Sep 16

DDoS Mitigation Firm Has History of Hijacks

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity detailed how BackConnect Inc. — a company that defends victims against large-scale distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks — admitted to hijacking hundreds of Internet addresses from a European Internet service provider in order to glean information about attackers who were targeting BackConnect. According to an exhaustive analysis of historic Internet records, BackConnect appears to have a history of such “hacking back” activity.

On Sept. 8, 2016, KrebsOnSecurity exposed the inner workings of vDOS, a DDoS-for-hire or “booter” service whose tens of thousands of paying customers used the service to launch attacks against hundreds of thousands of targets over the service’s four-year history in business.

vDOS as it existed on Sept. 8, 2016.

vDOS as it existed on Sept. 8, 2016.

Within hours of that story running, the two alleged owners — 18-year-old Israeli men identified in the original report — were arrested in Israel in connection with an FBI investigation into the shady business, which earned well north of $600,000 for the two men.

In my follow-up report on their arrests, I noted that vDOS itself had gone offline, and that automated Twitter feeds which report on large-scale changes to the global Internet routing tables observed that vDOS’s provider — a Bulgarian host named Verdina[dot]net — had been briefly relieved of control over 255 Internet addresses (including those assigned to vDOS) as the direct result of an unusual counterattack by BackConnect.

Asked about the reason for the counterattack, BackConnect CEO Bryant Townsend confirmed to this author that it had executed what’s known as a “BGP hijack.” In short, the company had fraudulently “announced” to the rest of the world’s Internet service providers (ISPs) that it was the rightful owner of the range of those 255 Internet addresses at Verdina occupied by vDOS.

In a post on NANOG Sept. 13, BackConnect’s Townsend said his company took the extreme measure after coming under a sustained DDoS attack thought to have been launched by a botnet controlled by vDOS. Townsend explained that the hijack allowed his firm to “collect intelligence on the actors behind the botnet as well as identify the attack servers used by the booter service.”

Short for Border Gateway Protocol, BGP is a mechanism by which ISPs of the world share information about which providers are responsible for routing Internet traffic to specific addresses. However, like most components built into the modern Internet, BGP was never designed with security in mind, which leaves it vulnerable to exploitation by rogue actors.

BackConnect’s BGP hijack of Verdina caused quite an uproar among many Internet technologists who discuss such matters at the mailing list of the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG).

BGP hijacks are hardly unprecedented, but when they are non-consensual they are either done accidentally or are the work of cyber criminals such as spammers looking to hijack address space for use in blasting out junk email. If BackConnect’s hijacking of Verdina was an example of a DDoS mitigation firm “hacking back,” what would discourage others from doing the same, they wondered?

“Once we let providers cross the line from legal to illegal actions, we’re no better than the crooks, and the Internet will descend into lawless chaos,” wrote Mel Beckman, owner of Beckman Software Engineering and a computer networking consultant in the Los Angeles area. “BackConnect’s illicit action undoubtedly injured innocent parties, so it’s not self defense, any more than shooting wildly into a crowd to stop an attacker would be self defense.”

A HISTORY OF HIJACKS

Townsend’s explanation seemed to produce more questions than answers among the NANOG crowd (read the entire “Defensive BGP Hijacking” thread here if you dare). I grew more curious to learn whether this was a pattern for BackConnect when I started looking deeper into the history of two young men who co-founded BackConnect (more on them in a bit).

To get a better picture of BackConnect’s history, I turned to BGP hijacking expert Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at Dyn, a cloud-based Internet performance management company. Madory pulled historic BGP records for BackConnect, and sure enough a strange pattern began to emerge.

Madory was careful to caution up front that not all BGP hijacks are malicious. Indeed, my DDoS protection provider — a company called Prolexic Communications (now owned by Akamai Technologies) — practically invented the use of BGP hijacks as a DDoS mitigation method, he said.

In such a scenario, an organization under heavy DDoS attack might approach Prolexic and ask for assistance. With the customer’s permission, Prolexic would use BGP to announce to the rest of the world’s ISPs that it was now the rightful owner of the Internet addresses under attack. This would allow Prolexic to “scrub” the customer’s incoming Web traffic to drop data packets designed to knock the customer offline — and forward the legitimate traffic on to the customer’s site.

Given that BackConnect is also a DDoS mitigation company, I asked Madory how one could reasonably tell the difference between a BGP hijack that BackConnect had launched to protect a client versus one that might have been launched for other purposes — such as surreptitiously collecting intelligence on DDoS-based botnets and their owners?

Madory explained that in evaluating whether a BGP hijack is malicious or consensual, he looks at four qualities: The duration of the hijack; whether it was announced globally or just to the target ISP’s local peers; whether the hijacker took steps to obfuscate which ISP was doing the hijacking; and whether the hijacker and hijacked agreed upon the action.

bcbgp

For starters, malicious BGP attacks designed to gather information about an attacking host are likely to be very brief — often lasting just a few minutes. The brevity of such hijacks makes them somewhat ineffective at mitigating large-scale DDoS attacks, which often last for hours at a time. For example, the BGP hijack that BackConnect launched against Verdina lasted a fraction of an hour, and according to the company’s CEO was launched only after the DDoS attack subsided.

Second, if the party conducting the hijack is doing so for information gathering purposes, that party may attempt to limit the number ISPs that receive the new routing instructions. This might help an uninvited BGP hijacker achieve the end result of intercepting traffic to and from the target network without informing all of the world’s ISPs simultaneously.

“If a sizable portion of the Internet’s routers do not carry a route to a DDoS mitigation provider, then they won’t be sending DDoS traffic destined for the corresponding address space to the provider’s traffic scrubbing centers, thus limiting the efficacy of any mitigation,” Madory wrote in his own blog post about our joint investigation.

Thirdly, a BGP hijacker who is trying not to draw attention to himself can “forge” the BGP records so that it appears that the hijack was performed by another party. Madory said this forgery process often fools less experienced investigators, but that ultimately it is impossible to hide the true origin of forged BGP records.

Finally, in BGP hijacks that are consensual for DDoS mitigation purposes, the host under attack stops “announcing” to the world’s ISPs that it is the rightful owner of an address block under siege at about the same time the DDoS mitigation provider begins claiming it. When we see BGP hijacks in which both parties are claiming in the BGP records to be authoritative for a given swath of Internet addresses, Madory said, it’s less likely that the BGP hijack is consensual.

Madory and KrebsOnSecurity spent several days reviewing historic records of BGP hijacks attributed to BackConnect over the past year, and at least three besides the admitted hijack against Verdina strongly suggest that the company has engaged in this type of intel-gathering activity previously. The strongest indicator of a malicious and non-consensual BGP hijack, Madory said, were the ones that included forged BGP records. Continue reading →


15
Sep 16

Ransomware Getting More Targeted, Expensive

I shared a meal not long ago with a source who works at a financial services company. The subject of ransomware came up and he told me that a server in his company had recently been infected with a particularly nasty strain that spread to several systems before the outbreak was quarantined. He said the folks in finance didn’t bat an eyelash when asked to authorize several payments of $600 to satisfy the Bitcoin ransom demanded by the intruders: After all, my source confessed, the data on one of the infected systems was worth millions — possibly tens of millions — of dollars, but for whatever reason the company didn’t have backups of it.

This anecdote has haunted me because it speaks volumes about what we can likely expect in the very near future from ransomware — malicious software that scrambles all files on an infected computer with strong encryption, and then requires payment from the victim to recover them.

Image: Kaspersky Lab

What we can expect is not only more targeted and destructive attacks, but also ransom demands that vary based on the attacker’s estimation of the value of the data being held hostage and/or the ability of the victim to pay some approximation of what it might be worth.

In an alert published today, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned that recent ransomware variants have targeted and compromised vulnerable business servers (rather than individual users) to identify and target hosts, thereby multiplying the number of potential infected servers and devices on a network.

“Actors engaging in this targeting strategy are also charging ransoms based on the number of host (or servers) infected,” the FBI warned. “Additionally, recent victims who have been infected with these types of ransomware variants have not been provided the decryption keys for all their files after paying the ransom, and some have been extorted for even more money after payment.”

According to the FBI, this recent technique of targeting host servers and systems “could translate into victims paying more to get their decryption keys, a prolonged recovery time, and the possibility that victims will not obtain full decryption of their files.”

fbipsi-ransom

Today there are dozens of ransomware strains, most of which are sold on underground forums as crimeware packages — with new families emerging regularly. These kits typically include a point-and-click software interface for selecting various options that the ransom installer may employ, as well as instructions that tell the malware where to direct the victim to pay the ransom. Some kits even bundle the HTML code needed to set up the Web site that users will need to visit to pay and recover their files.

To some degree, a variance in ransom demands based on the victim’s perceived relative wealth is already at work. Lawrence Abrams, owner of the tech-help site BleepingComputer, said his analysis of multiple ransomware kits and control channels that were compromised by security professionals indicate that these kits usually include default suggested ransom amounts that vary depending on the geographic location of the victim.

“People behind these scams seem to be setting different rates for different countries,” Abrams said. “Victims in the U.S. generally pay more than people in, say, Spain. There was one [kit] we looked at recently that showed while victims in the U.S. were charged $200 in Bitcoin, victims in Italy were asked for just $20 worth of Bitcoin by default.”

In early 2016, a new ransomware variant dubbed “Samsam” (PDF) was observed targeting businesses running outdated versions of Red Hat‘s JBoss enterprise products. When companies were hacked and infected with Samsam, Abrams said, they received custom ransom notes with varying ransom demands.

“When these companies were hacked, they each got custom notes with very different ransom demands that were much higher than the usual amount,” Abrams said. “These were very targeted.”

Which brings up the other coming shift with ransomware: More targeted ransom attacks. For the time being, most ransomware incursions are instead the result of opportunistic malware infections. The first common distribution method is spamming the ransomware installer out to millions of email addresses, disguising it as a legitimate file such as an invoice.

More well-heeled attackers may instead or also choose to spread ransomware using “exploit kits,” a separate crimeware-as-a-service product that is stitched into hacked or malicious Web sites and lying in wait for someone to visit with a browser that is not up to date with the latest security patches (either for the browser itself or for a myriad of browser plugins like Adobe Flash or Adobe Reader).

But Abrams said that’s bound to change, and that the more targeted attacks are likely to come from individual hackers who can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars a month renting exploit kits.

“If you throw your malware into a good exploit kit, you can achieve a fairly wide distribution of it in a short amount of time,” Abrams said. “The only problem is the good kits are very expensive and can cost upwards of $4,000 per month. Right now, most of these guys are just throwing the ransomware up in the air and wherever it lands is who they’re targeting. But that’s going to change, and these guys are going to start more aggressively targeting really data intensive organizations like medical practices and law and architectural firms.”

Earlier this year, experts began noticing that ransomware purveyors appeared to be targeting hospitals — organizations that are extremely data-intensive and heavily reliant on instant access to patient records. Indeed, the above-mentioned SamSAM ransomware family is thought to be targeting healthcare firms.

According to a new report by Intel Security, the healthcare sector is experiencing over 20 data loss incidents per day related to ransomware attacks. The company said it identified almost $100,000 in payments from hospital ransomware victims to specific bitcoin accounts so far in 2016. Continue reading →


14
Sep 16

Adobe, Microsoft Push Critical Updates

Adobe and Microsoft on Tuesday each issued updates to fix multiple critical security vulnerabilities in their software. Adobe pushed a patch that addresses 29 security holes in its widely-used Flash Player browser plug-in. Microsoft released some 14 patch bundles to correct at least 50 flaws in Windows and associated software, including a zero-day bug in Internet Explorer.

brokenwindowsHalf of the updates Microsoft released Tuesday earned the company’s most dire “critical” rating, meaning they could be exploited by malware or miscreants to install malicious software with no help from the user, save for maybe just visiting a hacked or booby-trapped Web site. Security firms Qualys and Shavlik have more granular writeups on the Microsoft patches.

Adobe’s advisory for this Flash Update is here. It brings Flash to v. 23.0.0.162 for Windows and Mac users. If you have Flash installed, you should update, hobble or remove Flash as soon as possible. Continue reading →


13
Sep 16

Secret Service Warns of ‘Periscope’ Skimmers

The U.S. Secret Service is warning banks and ATM owners about a new technological advance in cash machine skimming known as “periscope skimming,” which involves a specialized skimming probe that connects directly to the ATM’s internal circuit board to steal card data.

At left, the skimming control device. Pictured right is the skimming control device with wires protruding from the periscope.

At left, the skimming control device. Pictured right is the skimming control device with wires protruding from the periscope. These were recovered from a cash machine in Connecticut.

According to a non-public alert released to bank industry sources by a financial crimes task force in Connecticut, this is thought to be the first time periscope skimming devices have been detected in the United States. The task force warned that the devices may have the capability to remain powered within the ATM for up to 14 days and can store up to 32,000 card numbers before exhausting the skimmer’s battery strength and data storage capacity.

The alert documents the first known case of periscope skimming in the United States, discovered Aug. 19, 2016 at an ATM in Greenwich, Conn. A second periscope skimmer was reportedly found hidden inside a cash machine in Pennsylvania on Sept. 3. Continue reading →


10
Sep 16

Alleged vDOS Proprietors Arrested in Israel

Two young Israeli men alleged to be the co-owners of a popular online attack-for-hire service were reportedly arrested in Israel on Thursday. The pair were arrested around the same time that KrebsOnSecurity published a story naming them as the masterminds behind a service that can be hired to knock Web sites and Internet users offline with powerful blasts of junk data.

Alleged vDOS co-owner Yarden Bidani.

Alleged vDOS co-owner Yarden Bidani.

According to a story at Israeli news site TheMarker.comItay Huri and Yarden Bidani, both 18 years old, were arrested Thursday in connection with an investigation by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The pair were reportedly questioned and released Friday on the equivalent of about USD $10,000 bond each. Israeli authorities also seized their passports, placed them under house arrest for 10 days, and forbade them from using the Internet or telecommunications equipment of any kind for 30 days.

Huri and Bidani are suspected of running an attack service called vDOS. As I described in this week’s story, vDOS is a “booter” service that has earned in excess of $600,000 over the past two years helping customers coordinate more than 150,000 so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks designed to knock Web sites offline.

The two men’s identities were exposed because vDOS got massively hacked, spilling secrets about tens of thousands of paying customers and their targets. A copy of that database was obtained by KrebsOnSecurity.

For most of Friday, KrebsOnSecurity came under a heavy and sustained denial-of-service attack, which spiked at almost 140 Gbps. A single message was buried in each attack packet: “godiefaggot.” For a brief time the site was unavailable, but thankfully it is guarded by DDoS protection firm Prolexic/Akamai. The attacks against this site are ongoing.

Huri and Bidani were fairly open about their activities, or at least not terribly careful to cover their tracks. Yarden’s now abandoned Facebook page contains several messages from friends who refer to him by his hacker nickname “AppleJ4ck” and discuss DDoS activities. vDOS’s customer support system was configured to send a text message to Huri’s phone number in Israel — the same phone number that was listed in the Web site registration records for the domain v-email[dot]org, a domain the proprietors used to help manage the site.

At the end of August 2016, Huri and Bidani authored a technical paper (PDF) on DDoS attack methods which was published in the Israeli security e-zine Digital Whisper. In it, Huri signs his real name and says he is 18 years old and about to be drafted into the Israel Defense Forces. Bidani co-authored the paper under the alias “Raziel.b7@gmail.com,” an email address that I pointed out in my previous reporting was assigned to one of the administrators of vDOS.

Sometime on Friday, vDOS went offline. It is currently unreachable. Before it went offline, vDOS was supported by at least four servers hosted in Bulgaria at a provider called Verdina.net (the Internet address of those servers was 82.118.233.144). But according to several automated Twitter feeds that track suspicious large-scale changes to the global Internet routing tables, sometime in the last 24 hours vDOS was apparently the victim of what’s known as a BGP hijack. (Update: For some unknown reason, some of the tweets referenced above from BGPstream were deleted; I’ve archived them in this PDF). Continue reading →


8
Sep 16

Israeli Online Attack Service ‘vDOS’ Earned $600,000 in Two Years

vDOS  a “booter” service that has earned in excess of $600,000 over the past two years helping customers coordinate more than 150,000 so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks designed to knock Web sites offline — has been massively hacked, spilling secrets about tens of thousands of paying customers and their targets.

The vDOS database, obtained by KrebsOnSecurity.com at the end of July 2016, points to two young men in Israel as the principal owners and masterminds of the attack service, with support services coming from several young hackers in the United States.

The vDos home page.

The vDos home page.

To say that vDOS has been responsible for a majority of the DDoS attacks clogging up the Internet over the past few years would be an understatement. The various subscription packages to the service are sold based in part on how many seconds the denial-of-service attack will last. And in just four months between April and July 2016, vDOS was responsible for launching more than 277 million seconds of attack time, or approximately 8.81 years worth of attack traffic.

Let the enormity of that number sink in for a moment: That’s nearly nine of what I call “DDoS years” crammed into just four months. That kind of time compression is possible because vDOS handles hundreds — if not thousands — of concurrent attacks on any given day.

Although I can’t prove it yet, it seems likely that vDOS is responsible for several decades worth of DDoS years. That’s because the data leaked in the hack of vDOS suggest that the proprietors erased all digital records of attacks that customers launched between Sept. 2012 (when the service first came online) and the end of March 2016.

HOW vDOS GOT HACKED

The hack of vDOS came about after a source was investigating a vulnerability he discovered on a similar attack-for-hire service called PoodleStresser. The vulnerability allowed my source to download the configuration data for PoodleStresser’s attack servers, which pointed back to api.vdos-s[dot]com. PoodleStresser, as well as a large number of other booter services, appears to rely exclusively on firepower generated by vDOS.

From there, the source was able to exploit a more serious security hole in vDOS that allowed him to dump all of the service’s databases and configuration files, and to discover the true Internet address of four rented servers in Bulgaria (at Verdina.net) that are apparently being used to launch the attacks sold by vDOS. The DDoS-for-hire service is hidden behind DDoS protection firm Cloudflare, but its actual Internet address is 82.118.233.144.

vDOS had a reputation on cybercrime forums for prompt and helpful customer service, and the leaked vDOS databases offer a fascinating glimpse into the logistical challenges associated with running a criminal attack service online that supports tens of thousands of paying customers — a significant portion of whom are all trying to use the service simultaneously.

Multiple vDOS tech support tickets were filed by customers who complained that they were unable to order attacks on Web sites in Israel. Responses from the tech support staff show that the proprietors of vDOS are indeed living in Israel and in fact set the service up so that it was unable to attack any Web sites in that country — presumably so as to not attract unwanted attention to their service from Israeli authorities. Here are a few of those responses:

(‘4130′,’Hello `d0rk`,\r\nAll Israeli IP ranges have been blacklisted due to security reasons.\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nP1st.’,’03-01-2015 08:39),

(‘15462′,’Hello `g4ng`,\r\nMh, neither. I\’m actually from Israel, and decided to blacklist all of them. It\’s my home country, and don\’t want something to happen to them :)\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nDrop.’,’11-03-2015 15:35),

(‘15462′,’Hello `roibm123`,\r\nBecause I have an Israeli IP that is dynamic.. can\’t risk getting hit/updating the blacklist 24/7.\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nLandon.’,’06-04-2015 23:04),

(‘4202′,’Hello `zavi156`,\r\nThose IPs are in israel, and we have all of Israel on our blacklist. Sorry for any inconvinience.\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nJeremy.’,’20-05-2015 10:14),

(‘4202′,’Hello `zavi156`,\r\nBecause the owner is in Israel, and he doesn\’t want his entire region being hit offline.\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nJeremy.’,’20-05-2015 11:12),

(‘9057′,’There is a option to buy with Paypal? I will pay more than $2.5 worth.\r\nThis is not the first time I am buying booter from you.\r\nIf no, Could you please ask AplleJack? I know him from Israel.\r\nThanks.’,’21-05-2015 12:51),

(‘4120′,’Hello `takedown`,\r\nEvery single IP that\’s hosted in israel is blacklisted for safety reason. \r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nAppleJ4ck.’,’02-09-2015 08:57),

WHO RUNS vDOS?

As we can see from the above responses from vDOS’s tech support, the owners and operators of vDOS are young Israeli hackers who go by the names P1st a.k.a. P1st0, and AppleJ4ck. The two men market their service mainly on the site hackforums[dot]net, selling monthly subscriptions using multiple pricing tiers ranging from $20 to $200 per month. AppleJ4ck hides behind the same nickname on Hackforums, while P1st goes by the alias “M30w” on the forum.

Some of P1st/M30W's posts on Hackforums regarding his service vDOS.

Some of P1st/M30W’s posts on Hackforums regarding his service vDOS.

vDOS appears to be the longest-running booter service advertised on Hackforums, and it is by far and away the most profitable such business. Records leaked from vDOS indicate that since July 2014, tens of thousands of paying customers spent a total of more than $618,000 at the service using Bitcoin and PayPal.

Incredibly, for brief periods the site even accepted credit cards in exchange for online attacks, although it’s unclear how much the site might have made in credit card payments because the information is not in the leaked databases.

The Web server hosting vDOS also houses several other sites, including huri[dot]biz, ustress[dot]io, and vstress[dot]net. Virtually all of the administrators at vDOS have an email account that ends in v-email[dot]org, a domain that also is registered to an Itay Huri with a phone number that traces back to Israel.

The proprietors of vDOS set their service up so that anytime a customer asked for technical assistance the site would blast a text message to six different mobile numbers tied to administrators of the service, using an SMS service called Nexmo.com. Two of those mobile numbers go to phones in Israel. One of them is the same number listed for Itay Huri in the Web site registration records for v-email[dot]org; the other belongs to an Israeli citizen named Yarden Bidani. Neither individual responded to requests for comment.

The leaked database and files indicate that vDOS uses Mailgun for email management, and the secret keys needed to manage that Mailgun service were among the files stolen by my source. The data shows that vDOS support emails go to itay@huri[dot]biz, itayhuri8@gmail.com and raziel.b7@gmail.com.

LAUNDERING THE PROCEEDS FROM DDOS ATTACKS

The $618,000 in earnings documented in the vDOS leaked logs is almost certainly a conservative income figure. That’s because the vDOS service actually dates back to Sept 2012, yet the payment records are not available for purchases prior to 2014. As a result, it’s likely that this service has made its proprietors more than $1 million.

vDOS does not currently accept PayPal payments. But for several years until recently it did, and records show the proprietors of the attack service worked assiduously to launder payments for the service through a round-robin chain of PayPal accounts.

They did this because at the time PayPal was working with a team of academic researchers to identify, seize and shutter PayPal accounts that were found to be accepting funds on behalf of booter services like vDOS. Anyone interested in reading more on their success in making life harder for these booter service owners should check out my August 2015 story, Stress-Testing the Booter Services, Financially.

People running dodgy online services that violate PayPal’s terms of service generally turn to several methods to mask the true location of their PayPal Instant Payment Notification systems. Here is an interesting analysis of how popular booter services are doing so using shell corporations, link shortening services and other tricks.

Turns out, AppleJ4ck and p1st routinely recruited other forum members on Hackforums to help them launder significant sums of PayPal payments for vDOS each week.

“The paypals that the money are sent from are not verified,” AppleJ4ck says in one recruitment thread. “Most of the payments will be 200$-300$ each and I’ll do around 2-3 payments per day.”

vDos co-owner AppleJ4ck recruiting Hackforums members to help launder PayPal payments for his booter service.

vDos co-owner AppleJ4ck recruiting Hackforums members to help launder PayPal payments for his booter service.

It is apparent from the leaked vDOS logs that in July 2016 the service’s owners implemented an additional security measure for Bitcoin payments, which they accept through Coinbase. The data shows that they now use an intermediary server (45.55.55.193) to handle Coinbase traffic. When a Bitcoin payment is received, Coinbase notifies this intermediary server, not the actual vDOS servers in Bulgaria.

A server situated in the middle and hosted at a U.S.-based address from Digital Ocean then updates the database in Bulgaria, perhaps because the vDOS proprietors believed payments from the USA would attract less interest from Coinbase than huge sums traversing through Bulgaria each day. Continue reading →


7
Sep 16

The Limits of SMS for 2-Factor Authentication

A recent ping from a reader reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog about the security limitations of using cell phone text messages for two-factor authentication online. The reader’s daughter had received a text message claiming to be from Google, warning that her Gmail account had been locked because someone in India had tried to access her account. The young woman was advised to expect a 6-digit verification code to be sent to her and to reply to the scammer’s message with that code.

2faMark Cobb, a computer technician in Reno, Nev., said had his daughter fallen for the ruse, her Gmail account would indeed have been completely compromised, and she really would have been locked out of her account because the crooks would have changed her password straight away.

Cobb’s daughter received the scam text message because she’d enabled 2-factor authentication on her Gmail account, selecting the option to have Google request that she enter a 6-digit code texted to her cell phone each time it detects a login from an unknown computer or location (in practice, the code is to be entered on the Gmail site, not sent in any kind of texted or emailed reply).

In this case, the thieves already had her password — most likely because she re-used it on some other site that got hacked. Cobb says he and his daughter believe her mobile number and password may have been exposed as part of the 2012 breach at LinkedIn.

In any case, the crooks were priming her to expect a code and to repeat it back to them because that code was the only thing standing in the way of their seizing control over her account. And they could control when Google would send the code to her phone because Google would do this as soon as they tried to log in using her username and password. Indeed, the timing aspect of this attack helps make it more believable to the target.

This is a fairly clever — if not novel — attack, and it’s one I’d wager would likely fool a decent percentage of users who have enabled text messages as a form of two-factor authentication. Certainly, text messaging is far from the strongest form of 2-factor authentication, but it is better than allowing a login with nothing more than a username and password, as this scam illustrates.

Nevertheless, text messaging codes to users isn’t the safest way to do two-factor authentication, even if some entities — like the U.S. Social Security Administration and Sony’s Playstation network — are just getting around to offering two-factor via SMS.

But don’t take my word for it. That’s according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which recently issued new proposed digital authentication guidelines urging organizations to favor other forms of two-factor — such as time-base one-time passwords generated by mobile apps — over text messaging. By the way, NIST is seeking feedback on these recommendations.

If anyone’s interested, Sophos’s Naked Security blog has a very readable breakdown of what’s new in the NIST guidelines. Among my favorite highlights is this broad directive: Favor the user.

“To begin with, make your password policies user friendly and put the burden on the verifier when possible,” Sophos’s Chester Wisniewski writes. “In other words, we need to stop asking users to do things that aren’t actually improving security.” Like expiring passwords and making users change them frequently, for example.

Okay, so the geeks-in-chief are saying it’s time to move away from texting as a form of 2-factor authentication. And, of course, they’re right, because text messages are a lot like email, in that it’s difficult to tell who really sent the message, and the message itself is sent in plain text — i.e. is readable by anyone who happens to be lurking in the middle.

But security experts and many technology enthusiasts have a tendency to think that everyone should see the world through the lens of security, whereas most mere mortal users just want to get on with their lives and are perfectly content to use the same password across multiple sites — regardless of how many times they’re told not to do so. Continue reading →