A Little Sunshine


21
Nov 14

Convicted ID Thief, Tax Fraudster Now Fugitive

In April 2014, this blog featured a story about Lance Ealy, an Ohio man arrested last year for buying Social Security numbers and banking information from an underground identity theft service that relied in part on data obtained through a company owned by big-three credit bureau Experian. Earlier this week, Ealy was convicted of using the data to fraudulently claim tax refunds with the IRS in the names of more than 175 U.S. citizens, but not before he snipped his monitoring anklet and skipped town.

Lance Ealy, in self-portrait he uploaded to twitter before absconding.

Lance Ealy, in selfie he uploaded to Twitter before absconding.

On Nov. 18, a jury in Ohio convicted Ealy, 28, on all 46 charges, including aggravated identity theft, and wire and mail fraud. Government prosecutors presented evidence that Ealy had purchased Social Security numbers and financial data on hundreds of consumers, using an identity theft service called Superget.info (later renamed Findget.me). The jury found that Ealy used that information to fraudulently file at least 179 tax refund requests with the Internal Revenue Service, and to open up bank accounts in other victims’ names — accounts he set up to receive and withdraw tens of thousand of dollars in refund payments from the IRS.

The identity theft service that Ealy used was dismantled in 2013, after investigators with the U.S. Secret Service arrested its proprietor and began tracking and finding many of his customers. Investigators later discovered that the service’s owner had obtained much of the consumer data from data brokers by posing as a private investigator based in the United States.

In reality, the owner of Superget.info was a Vietnamese man paying for his accounts at data brokers using cash wire transfers from a bank in Singapore. Among the companies that Ngo signed up with was Court Ventures, a California company that was bought by credit bureau Experian nine months before the government shut down Superget.info.

Court records show that Ealy went to great lengths to delay his trial, and even reached out to this reporter hoping that I would write about his allegations that everyone from his lawyer to the judge in the case was somehow biased against him or unfit to participate in his trial. Early on, Ealy fired his attorney, and opted to represent himself. When the court appointed him a public defender, Ealy again choose to represent himself.

“Mr. Ealy’s motions were in a lot of respects common delay tactics that defendants use to try to avoid the inevitability of a trial,” said Alex Sistla, an assistant U.S. attorney in Ohio who helped prosecute the case.

Ealy also continued to steal peoples’ identities while he was on trial (although no longer buying from Superget.info), according to the government. His bail was revoked for several months, but in October the judge in the case ordered him released on a surety bond. Continue reading →


14
Nov 14

‘Microsoft Partner’ Claims Fuel Support Scams

You can’t make this stuff up: A tech support company based in the United States that outsources its work to India says its brand is being unfairly maligned by — wait for it…..tech support scammers based in India. In an added twist, the U.S.-based tech support firm acknowledges that the trouble may be related to its admittedly false statements about being a Microsoft Certified Partner — the same false statements made by most telephone-based tech support scams.

Tech support scams are, unfortunately, an extremely common scourge. Most such scams are the telephonic equivalent of rogue antivirus attacks, which try to frighten consumers into purchasing worthless security software and services. Both types of scams try to make the consumer believe that the caller is somehow associated with Microsoft or with a security company, and each caller tries to cajole or scare the consumer into giving up control over his or her PC.

Earlier this month, a reader shared a link to a lengthy Youtube video by freelance journalist Carey Holzman, in which Holzman turns the tables on the tech support scammers. During the video, Holzman plays along and gives the scammer remote control access to a test computer he’s set up specifically for this video.  The scammer, who speaks with a strong Indian accent but calls himself “Steve Wilson” from the “Microsoft technical department,” tries to convince Holzman that he works for a company that is a legitimate Microsoft support partner.

“Let me show you who we are,” the scammer says, opening up Google.com and typing SB3 Inc. Clicking on the first result brings up sb3inc[dot]com, which proudly displays an icon in the upper right corner of its home page stating that it is a Microsoft Certified Partner. “This is our mother company. Can you see that we are a Microsoft certified partner?”

When Holzman replies that this means nothing and that anyone can just put a logo on their site saying they’re associated with Microsoft, the scammer runs a search on Microsoft.com for SB3. The scammer shows true chutzpah when he points to the first result, which — if clicked — leads to a page on Microsoft’s community site where members try to warn the poster away from SB3 as a scam.

When Holzman tries to get the scammer to let him load the actual search result link about SB3 on Microsoft.com, the caller closes the browser window and proceeds to enable the SysKey utility on Windows, which allows the scammer to set a secret master password that must be entered before the computer will boot into Windows (effectively an attempt at locking Holzman out of his test computer if he tries to reboot).

The video goes on for some time more, but I decided to look more closely at SB3. The Web site registration records for the company state that it is based in New Jersey, and it took less than a minute to find the Facebook page of the company’s owner — a Suvajit “Steve” Basu in Ridgewood, NJ. Basu’s Facebook feed has him traveling the world, visiting the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, the Ryder Cup in 2012, and more recently taking delivery on a brand new Porsche. Continue reading →


13
Nov 14

Network Hijackers Exploit Technical Loophole

Spammers have been working methodically to hijack large chunks of Internet real estate by exploiting a technical and bureaucratic loophole in the way that various regions of the globe keep track of the world’s Internet address ranges.

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity featured an in-depth piece about a well-known junk email artist who acknowledged sending from two Bulgarian hosting providers. These two providers had commandeered tens of thousands of Internet addresses from ISPs around the globe, including Brazil, China, India, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Taiwan and Vietnam.

For example, a closer look at the Internet addresses hijacked by one of the Bulgarian providers — aptly named “Mega-Spred” with an email contact of “abuse@grimhosting” — shows that this provider has been slowly  gobbling up far-flung IP address ranges since late August 2014.

This table, with data from the RIPE NCC -- of the regional Internet Registries, shows IP address hijacking activity by Bulgarian host Mega-Spred.

This table, with data from the RIPE NCC — of the regional Internet Registries, shows IP address hijacking activity by Bulgarian host Mega-Spred.

According to several security and anti-spam experts who’ve been following this activity, Mega-Spred and the other hosting provider in question (known as Kandi EOOD) have been taking advantage of an administrative weakness in the way that some countries and regions of the world keep tabs on the IP address ranges assigned to various hosting providers and ISPs. Neither Kandi nor Mega-Spred responded to requests for comment.

IP address hijacking is hardly a new phenomenon. Spammers sometimes hijack Internet address ranges that go unused for periods of time. Dormant or “unannounced” address ranges are ripe for abuse partly because of the way the global routing system works: Miscreants can “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting facilities are the authorized location for given Internet addresses. If nothing or nobody objects to the change, the Internet address ranges fall into the hands of the hijacker.

Experts say the hijackers also are exploiting a fundamental problem with record-keeping activities of RIPE NCC, the regional Internet registry (RIR) that oversees the allocation and registration of IP addresses for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. RIPE is one of several RIRs, including ARIN (which handles mostly North American IP space) and APNIC (Asia Pacific), LACNIC (Latin America) and AFRINIC (Africa). Continue reading →


3
Nov 14

Thieves Cash Out Rewards, Points Accounts

A number of readers have complained recently about having their Hilton Honors loyalty accounts emptied by cybercrooks. This type of fraud often catches consumers off-guard, but the truth is that the recent spike in fraud against Hilton Honors members is part of a larger trend that’s been worsening for years as more companies offer rewards programs.

HHONORSMany  companies give customers the ability to earn “loyalty” or “award” points and miles that can be used to book travel, buy goods and services online, or redeemed for cash. Unfortunately, the online accounts used to manage these reward programs tend to be less secured by both consumers and the companies that operate them, and increasingly cyber thieves are swooping in to take advantage.

Brendan Brothers, a frequent traveler from St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada, discovered a few days ago that his Hilton Honors account had been relieved of more than a quarter-million points, rewards that he’d accumulated using a credit card associated with the account. Brothers said the fraudsters were brazen in their theft, using his account to redeem a half-dozen hotel stays in the last week of September, booking rooms all along the East Coast of the United States, from Atlanta, GA to Charlotte, N.C. all the way up to Stamford, CT.

The thieves reserved rooms at more affordable Hilton properties, probably to make the points stretch further, Brothers said. When they exhausted his points, they used the corporate credit card that was already associated with the account to purchase additional points.

“They got into the account and of course the first thing they did was change my primary and secondary email accounts, so that neither me nor my travel agent were getting notifications about new travel bookings,” said Brothers, co-founder of Verafin, a Canadian software security firm that focuses on anti-money laundering and fraud detection.

Brothers said he plans to dispute the credit card charges, but he’s unsure what will happen with his purloined points; nearly a week after he complained to Hilton about the fraud, Brothers has yet to receive a response from the company. Hilton also did not respond to requests for comment from KrebsOnSecurity.

PUT A PIN IN IT

Hilton gives users two ways to log into accounts: With a user name and password, or a member number and a 4-digit PIN. What could go wrong here?  Judging from changes that Hilton made recently to its login process, thieves have been breaking into Hilton Honors accounts using the latter method. According to the travel loyalty Web site LoyaltyLobby, Hilton recently added a CAPTCHA to its login process, ostensibly to make it more difficult for crooks to use brute-forcing programs (or botnets) to automate the guessing of PINs associated with member accounts.

In a post on October 30, LoyaltyLobby’s John Ollila wrote about a hacker selling Hilton Honors accounts for a tiny fraction of the real world value of points in those accounts. For example, the points stolen from Brothers would have fetched around USD $12 — even though the thieves in his case managed to redeem the stolen miles for approximately USD $1,200 worth of hotel reservations.

I did a bit of sleuthing on my own and was able to find plenty of sellers on shady forums offering them for about three to five percent of their actual value. As this ad from the online black market/drug bazaar known as Evolution Market indicates, the points can be redeemed for gift cards (as good as cash) at points.com and other locations that convert points to currency. The points also can be used to buy items from the Hilton shopping mall, including golf clubs, watches, Apple products and other electronics.

A merchant on the Evolution black market hawking hijacked Hilton points for a fraction of their value.

A merchant on the Evolution black market hawking hijacked Hilton points for a fraction of their value.

“I don’t recommend using them for personal hotel stays, but they ARE safer (and cheaper) than using a carded hotel service,” the Evolution seller advises, referring to the risks associated with using purloined points versus trying to book a stay somewhere using a stolen credit card. Continue reading →


30
Oct 14

Chip & PIN vs. Chip & Signature

The Obama administration recently issued an executive order requiring that federal agencies migrate to more secure chip-and-PIN based credit cards for all federal employees that are issued payment cards. The move marks a departure from the far more prevalent “chip-and-signature” standard, an approach that has been overwhelmingly adopted by a majority of U.S. banks that are currently issuing chip-based cards. This post seeks to explore some of the possible reasons for the disparity.

emvkeyChip-based cards are designed to be far more expensive and difficult for thieves to counterfeit than regular credit cards that most U.S. consumers have in their wallets. Non-chip cards store cardholder data on a magnetic stripe, which can be trivially copied and re-encoded onto virtually anything else with a magnetic stripe.

Magnetic-stripe based cards are the primary target for hackers who have been breaking into retailers like Target and Home Depot and installing malicious software on the cash registers: The data is quite valuable to crooks because it can be sold to thieves who encode the information onto new plastic and go shopping at big box stores for stuff they can easily resell for cash (think high-dollar gift cards and electronics).

The United States is the last of the G20 nations to move to more secure chip-based cards. Other countries that have made this shift have done so by government fiat mandating the use of chip-and-PIN. Requiring a PIN at each transaction addresses both the card counterfeiting problem, as well as the use of lost or stolen cards.

Here in the States, however, the movement to chip-based cards has evolved overwhelmingly toward the chip-and-signature approach. Naturally, if your chip-and-signature card is lost or stolen and used fraudulently, there is little likelihood that a $9-per-hour checkout clerk is going to bat an eyelash at a thief who signs your name when using your stolen card to buy stuff at retailers. Nor will a signature card stop thieves from using a counterfeit card at automated payment terminals (think gas pumps).

But just how broadly adopted is chip-and-signature versus chip-and-PIN in the United States? According to an unscientific poll that’s been running for the past two years at the travel forum Flyertalk, only a handful of major U.S. banks issue chip-and-PIN cards; most have pushed chip-and-signature. Check out Flyertalk’s comprehensive Google Docs spreadsheet here for a member-contributed rundown of which banks support chip-and-PIN versus chip-and-signature.

I’ve been getting lots of questions from readers who are curious or upset at the prevalence of chip-and-signature over chip-and-PIN cards here in the United States, and I realized I didn’t know much about the reasons behind the disparity vis-a-vis other nations that have already made the switch to chip cards. So  I reached out to several experts to get their take on it.

Julie Conroy, a fraud analyst with The Aite Group, said that by and large Visa has been pushing chip-and-signature and that MasterCard has been promoting chip-and-PIN. Avivah Litan, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said MasterCard is neutral on the technology. For its part, Visa maintains that it is agnostic on the technology, saying in an emailed statement that the company believes “requiring stakeholders to use just one form of cardholder authentication may unnecessarily complicate the adoption of this important technology.”

BK: A lot of readers seem confused about why more banks wouldn’t adopt chip-and-PIN over chip-and-signature, given that the former protects against more forms of fraud.

Conroy: The PIN only addresses fraud when the card is lost or stolen, and in the U.S. market lost-and-stolen fraud is very small in comparison with counterfeit card fraud. Also, as we looked at other geographies — and our research has substantiated this — as you see these geographies go chip-and-PIN, the lost-and-stolen fraud dips a little bit but then the criminals adjust. So in the UK, the lost-and-stolen fraud is now back above where was before the migration. The criminals there have adjusted. and that increased focus on capturing the PIN gives them more opportunity, because if they do figure out ways to compromise that PIN, then they can perpetrate ATM fraud and get more bang for their buck.

So, PIN at the end of the day is a static data element, and it only goes so far from a security perspective. And as you weigh that potential for attrition versus the potential to address the relatively small amount of fraud that is lost and stolen fraud, the business case for chip and signature is really a no-brainer.

Litan: Most card issuing banks and Visa don’t want PINs because the PINs can be stolen and used with the magnetic stripe data on the same cards (that also have a chip card) to withdraw cash from ATM machines. Banks eat the ATM fraud costs. This scenario has happened with the roll-out of chip cards with PIN – in Europe and in Canada. Continue reading →


15
Oct 14

Seleznev Arrest Explains ‘2Pac’ Downtime

The U.S. Justice Department has piled on more charges against alleged cybercrime kingpin Roman Seleznev, a Russian national who made headlines in July when it emerged that he’d been whisked away to Guam by U.S. federal agents while vacationing in the Maldives. The additional charges against Seleznev may help explain the extended downtime at an extremely popular credit card fraud shop in the cybercrime underground.

The 2pac[dot]cc credit card shop.

The 2pac[dot]cc credit card shop.

The government alleges that the hacker known in the underground as “nCux” and “Bulba” was Roman Seleznev, a 30-year-old Russian citizen who was arrested in July 2014 by the U.S. Secret Service. According to Russian media reports, the young man is the son of a prominent Russian politician.

Seleznev was initially identified by the government in 2012, when it named him as part of a conspiracy involving more than three dozen popular merchants on carder[dot]su, a bustling fraud forum where Bulba and other members openly marketed various cybercrime-oriented services (see the original indictment here).

According to Seleznev’s original indictment, he was allegedly part of a group that hacked into restaurants between 2009 and 2011 and planted malicious software to steal card data from store point-of-sale devices. The indictment further alleges that Seleznev and unnamed accomplices used his online monikers to sell stolen credit and debit cards at bulba[dot]cc and track2[dot]name. Customers of these services paid for their cards with virtual currencies, including WebMoney and Bitcoin.

But last week, U.S. prosecutors piled on another 11 felony counts against Seleznev, charging that he also sold stolen credit card data on a popular carding store called 2pac[dot]cc. Interestingly, Seleznev’s arrest coincides with a period of extended downtime on 2pac[dot]cc, during which time regular customers of the store could be seen complaining on cybercrime forums where the store was advertised that the proprietor of the shop had gone silent and was no longer responding to customer support inquiries.

A few weeks after Seleznev’s arrest, it appears that someone new began taking ownership of 2pac[dot]cc’s day-to-day operations. That individual recently posted a message on the carding shop’s home page apologizing for the extended outage and stating that fresh, new cards were once again being added to the shop’s inventory.

The message, dated Aug. 8, 2014, explains that the proprietor of the shop was unreachable because he was hospitalized following a car accident:

“Dear customers. We apologize for the inconvenience that you are experiencing now by the fact that there are no updates and [credit card] checker doesn’t work. This is due to the fact that our boss had a car accident and he is in hospital. We will solve all problems as soon as possible. Support always available, thank you for your understanding.”

2pac[dot]cc's apologetic message to would-be customers of the credit card fraud shop.

2pac[dot]cc’s apologetic message to would-be customers of the credit card fraud shop.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CUSTOMER SERVICE

2pac is but one of dozens of fraud shops selling stolen debit and credit cards. And with news of new card breaches at major retailers surfacing practically each week, the underground is flush with inventory. The single most important factor that allows individual card shop owners to differentiate themselves among so much choice is providing excellent customer service.

Many card shops, including 2pac[dot]cc, try to keep customers happy by including an a-la-carte card-checking service that allows customers to test purchased cards using compromised merchant accounts — to verify that the cards are still active. Most card shop checkers are configured to automatically refund to the customer’s balance the value of any cards that come back as declined by the checking service. Continue reading →


13
Oct 14

Who’s Watching Your WebEx?

KrebsOnSecurity spent a good part of the past week working with Cisco to alert more than four dozen companies — many of them household names — about regular corporate WebEx conference meetings that lack passwords and are thus open to anyone who wants to listen in.

Department of Energy's WebEx meetings.

Department of Energy’s WebEx meetings.

At issue are recurring video- and audio conference-based meetings that companies make available to their employees via WebEx, a set of online conferencing tools run by Cisco. These services allow customers to password-protect meetings, but it was trivial to find dozens of major companies that do not follow this basic best practice and allow virtually anyone to join daily meetings about apparently internal discussions and planning sessions.

Many of the meetings that can be found by a cursory search within an organization’s “Events Center” listing on Webex.com seem to be intended for public viewing, such as product demonstrations and presentations for prospective customers and clients. However, from there it is often easy to discover a host of other, more proprietary WebEx meetings simply by clicking through the daily and weekly meetings listed in each organization’s “Meeting Center” section on the Webex.com site.

Some of the more interesting, non-password-protected recurring meetings I found include those from Charles Schwab, CSC, CBS, CVS, The U.S. Department of Energy, Fannie Mae, Jones Day, Orbitz, Paychex Services, and Union Pacific. Some entities even also allowed access to archived event recordings.

Cisco began reaching out to each of these companies about a week ago, and today released an all-customer alert (PDF) pointing customers to a consolidated best-practices document written for Cisco WebEx site administrators and users.

“In the first week of October, we were contacted by a leading security researcher,” Cisco wrote. “He showed us that some WebEx customer sites were publicly displaying meeting information online, including meeting Time, Topic, Host, and Duration. Some sites also included a ‘join meeting’ link.” Continue reading →


7
Oct 14

Huge Data Leak at Largest U.S. Bond Insurer

On Monday, KrebsOnSecurity notified MBIA Inc. — the nation’s largest bond insurer — that a misconfiguration in a company Web server had exposed countless customer account numbers, balances and other sensitive data. Much of the information had been indexed by search engines, including a page listing administrative credentials that attackers could use to access data that wasn’t already accessible via a simple Web search.

A redacted screenshot of MBIA account information exposed to search engines.

A redacted screenshot of MBIA account information exposed to search engines.

MBIA Inc., based in Purchase, N.Y., is a public holding company that offers municipal bond insurance and investment management products. According to the firm’s Wiki page, MBIA, formerly known as the Municipal Bond Insurance Association, was formed in 1973 to diversify the holdings of several insurance companies, including Aetna, Fireman’s Fund, Travelers, Cigna and Continental.

Notified about the breach, the company quickly disabled the vulnerable site — mbiaweb.com. This Web property contained customer data from Cutwater Asset Management, a fixed-income unit of MBIA that is slated to be acquired by BNY Mellon Corp.

“We have been notified that certain information related to clients of MBIA’s asset management subsidiary, Cutwater Asset Management, may have been illegally accessed,” said MBIA spokesman Kevin Brown. “We are conducting a thorough investigation and will take all measures necessary to protect our customers’ data, secure our systems, and preserve evidence for law enforcement.”

Brown said MBIA notified all current customers about the incident Monday evening, and that it planned to notify former customers today.

Some 230 pages of account statements from Cutwater had been indexed by Google, including account and routing numbers, balances, dividends and account holder names for the Texas CLASS (a local government investment pool) ; the Louisiana Asset Management Pool; the New Hampshire Public Deposit Investment Pool; Connecticut CLASS Plus; and the Town of Richmond, NH.

In some cases, the documents indexed by search engines featured detailed instructions on how to authorize new bank accounts for deposits, including the forms and fax numbers needed to submit the account information.

Bryan Seely, an independent security expert with Seely Security, discovered the exposed data using a search engine. Seely said the data was exposed thanks to a poorly configured Oracle Reports database server. Normally, Seely said, this type of database server is configured to serve information only to authorized users who are accessing the data from within a trusted, private network — and certainly not open to the Web.

Continue reading →


2
Oct 14

Silk Road Lawyers Poke Holes in FBI’s Story

New court documents released this week by the U.S. government in its case against the alleged ringleader of the Silk Road online black market and drug bazaar suggest that the feds may have some ‘splaining to do.

The login prompt and CAPTCHA from the Silk Road home page.

The login prompt and CAPTCHA from the Silk Road home page.

Prior to its disconnection last year, the Silk Road was reachable only via Tor, software that protects users’ anonymity by bouncing their traffic between different servers and encrypting the traffic at every step of the way. Tor also lets anyone run a Web server without revealing the server’s true Internet address to the site’s users, and this was the very technology that the Silk road used to obscure its location.

Last month, the U.S. government released court records claiming that FBI investigators were able to divine the location of the hidden Silk Road servers because the community’s login page employed an anti-abuse CAPTCHA service that pulled content from the open Internet — thus leaking the site’s true Internet address.

But lawyers for alleged Silk Road captain Ross W. Ulbricht (a.k.a. the “Dread Pirate Roberts”) asked the court to compel prosecutors to prove their version of events.  And indeed, discovery documents reluctantly released by the government this week appear to poke serious holes in the FBI’s story.

Continue reading →