A Little Sunshine


5
Apr 14

Fact-Checking Experian’s Talking Points

In the wake of long-overdue media attention to revelations that a business unit of credit bureau Experian sold consumer personal data directly to an online service that catered to identity thieves, Experian is rightfully trying to explain its side of the story by releasing a series of talking points. This blog post is an attempt to add more context and fact-checking to those talking points.

Experian has posted several articles on its Web properties that lament the existence of “inaccurate information about Experian circulating in news outlets and other Web sites.”

“It’s no surprise that cybercrime and data breaches are hot topics for media and bloggers these days,” wrote Gerry Tschopp, senior vice president of public affairs at Experian. “Unfortunately, because of all the attention paid to these topics, we’ve seen some inaccurate information about Experian circulating in news outlets and other Web sites. I want to take a moment to clarify the facts and events.”

I’ve read this clarification closely, and it seems that Experian’s latest talking points deserve some clarification and fact-checking of their own. Below are Experian’s assertions of the facts (in bold), followed by some supplemental information glossed over by said statements of fact.

-No Experian database was accessed. The data in question have at all relevant times been owned and maintained, not by Experian, but by a company called US Info Search.

As all of my stories on this incident have explicitly stated, the government has said the data was not obtained directly from Experian, but rather via Columbus, Ohio-based US Info Search. US Info Search had a contractual agreement with a California company named Court Ventures, whereby customers of Court Ventures had access to the US Info Search data as well as Court Ventures’ data, and vice versa. Experian came into the picture in March 2012, when it purchased Court Ventures (along with all of its customers — including the proprietor of the identity theft service).

For its part, US Info Search says Experian’s explanation of the events is based on false statements and misrepresentations, and that the proprietor of the ID theft service paid Experian for his access using large cash payments sent to Experian via wire from Singapore.

“Experian provided access to records via a gateway that used multiple data sources and the suspect never had access to our service,” US Info Search CEO Marc Martin said in a written statement. “We, like many others, provide data to Experian, who in turn sold data to customers they approved and monitored. Our agreement with Court Ventures and subsequently Experian was to provide information that was being used for identity verification and fraud prevention.

-Further, Experian’s only involvement was that it purchased the assets of a company, Court Ventures, that provided access to US Info Search’s data to Court Ventures’ customers. Under that contract, customers of Court Ventures, including the criminal in this case, could access US Info Search’s data. This was not an Experian database, and specifically, this was not a credit database.

Experian has a duty to conduct “due diligence” on companies it wishes to acquire, because it knows that in purchasing a company it will acquire all of the company’s assets — including whatever debts, liabilities or poor decisions the previous owners may have incurred that end up creating problems down the road. Experian wants to blame everyone else, but by its own admission, Experian didn’t conduct proper due diligence on Court Ventures before acquiring the company. Addressing a U.S. Senate committee last December, Experian’s senior vice president of government policy, Tony Hadley, allowed that “during the due diligence process, we didn’t have total access to all the information we needed in order to completely vet that, and by the time we learned of the malfeasance nine months had expired, and the Secret Service came to us and told us of the incident. We were a victim, and scammed by this person.”

Also, if it wasn’t clear by now, Experian’s PR mantra on this crisis has been that “no Experian database was accessed,” in this fraud. But this mantra draws attention away from the real victim: Consumers whose information was sold by Experian’s company directly to an identity theft service. A critical question to ask to this line of thinking is: Why does it matter whose database it is, if it contains personal info and Experian profited from its sale?  Continue reading →


3
Apr 14

U.S. States Investigating Breach at Experian

An exclusive KrebsOnSecurity investigation detailing how a unit of credit bureau Experian ended up selling consumer records to an identity theft service in the cybercrime underground has prompted a multi-state investigation by several attorneys general, according to wire reports.

Ngo's Identity theft service, superget.info

Ngo’s Identity theft service, superget.info

Reuters moved a story this afternoon quoting Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan saying that  “it’s part of a multistate investigation,” and that Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen said that Connecticut is looking into the matter as well.

News of the breach first came to light on this blog in October 2013, when KrebsOnSecurity published an exclusive story detailing how a Vietnamese man running an online identity theft service bought personal and financial records on Americans directly from a company owned by Experian, one of the three major U.S. credit bureaus.

Hieu Minh Ngo, a 24-year-old Vietnamese national, pleaded guilty last month to running an identity theft service out of his home in Vietnam. Ngo was arrested last year in Guam by U.S. Secret Service agents after he was lured into visiting the U.S. territory to consummate a business deal with a man he believed could deliver huge volumes of consumers’ personal and financial data for resale.

But according to prosecutors, Ngo had already struck deals with one of the world’s biggest data brokers: Experian. Court records just released last week show that Ngo tricked an Experian subsidiary into giving him direct access to personal and financial data on more than 200 million Americans. 

Continue reading →


2
Apr 14

Android Botnet Targets Middle East Banks

I recently encountered a botnet targeting Android smartphone users who bank at financial institutions in the Middle East. The crude yet remarkably effective mobile bot that powers this whole operation comes disguised as one of several online banking apps, has infected more than 2,700 phones, and has intercepted at least 28,000 text messages.

The botnet — which I’ve affectionately dubbed “Sandroid” — comes bundled with Android apps made to look like mobile two-factor authentication modules for various banks, including Riyad Bank, SAAB (formerly the Saudi British Bank), AlAhliOnline (National Commercial Bank), Al Rajhi Bank, and Arab National Bank.

The fake Android bank apps employed by this botnet.

The fake Android bank apps employed by the Sandroid botnet.

It’s not clear how the apps are initially presented to victims, but if previous such scams are any indication they are likely offered after infecting the victim’s computer with a password-stealing banking Trojan. Many banks send customers text messages containing one-time codes that are used to supplement a username and password when the customer logs on to the bank’s Web site. And that precaution of course requires attackers interested in compromising those accounts to also hack the would-be victim’s phone.

Banking Trojans — particularly those targeting customers of financial institutions outside of the United States — will often throw up a browser pop-up box that mimics the bank and asks the user to download a “security application” on their mobile phones. Those apps are instead phony programs that merely intercept and then relay the victim’s incoming SMS messages to the botnet master, who can then use the code along with the victim’s banking username and password to log in as the victim.

Text messages intercepted by the Sandroid botnet malware.

Some of the 28,000+ text messages intercepted by the Sandroid botnet malware.

Continue reading →


31
Mar 14

Who’s Behind the ‘BLS Weblearn’ Credit Card Scam?

A new rash of credit and debit card scams involving bogus sub-$15 charges and attributed to a company called “BLS Weblearn” is part of a prolific international scheme designed to fleece unwary consumers. This post delves deeper into the history and identity of the credit card processing network that has been enabling this type of activity for years.

onlinelearningaccess.com, one of the fraudulent affiliate marketing schemes that powers these bogus micropayments.

onlinelearningaccess.com, one of the fraudulent affiliate marketing schemes that powers these bogus micropayments.

At issue are a rash of phony charges levied against countless consumers for odd amounts — such as $10.37, or $12.96. When they appear on your statement, the charges generally reference a company in St. Julians, Malta such as BLS*Weblearn or PLI*Weblearn, and include a 1-888 number that may or may not work (the most common being 888-461-2032 and 888-210-6574).

I began hearing from readers about this early this month, in part because of my previous sleuthing on an eerily similar scheme that also leveraged payment systems in Malta to put through unauthorized junk charges ($9.84) for “online learning” software systems. Unfortunately, while the names of the companies and payment systems have changed, this latest scam appears to be remarkably similar in every way.

Reading up on this latest scam, it appears that the payments are being processed by a company called BlueSnap, which variously lists its offices in Massachusetts, California, Israel, Malta and London. Oddly enough, the payment network used by the $9.84 scams that surfaced last year — Credorax — also lists offices in Massachusetts, Israel, London and Malta.

And, just like with the $9.84 scam, this latest micropayment fraud scheme involves an extremely flimsy-looking affiliate income model that seems merely designed for abuse. According to information from several banks contacted for this story, early versions of this scam (in which fraudulent transactions were listed on statements as PLI*WEBLEARN) leveraged pliblue.com, formerly associated with a company called Plimus, a processor that also lists offices in California and Israel (in addition to Ukraine).

The very first time I encountered Plimus was in Sept. 2011, when I profiled an individual responsible for selling access to tens of thousands of desktop computers that were hacked and seeded with the TDSS botnet. That miscreant — a fellow who used the nickname “Fizot” — had been using Plimus to accept credit card payments for awmproxy.net, an anonymization service that was sold primarily to individuals engaged in computer fraud.

Apparently, the Internet has been unkind to Plimus’s online reputation, because not long ago the company changed its name to BlueSnap. This blog has a few ideas about what motivated the name change, noting that it might have been prompted in part by a class action lawsuit (PDF) against Plimus which alleges that the company’s marketing campaigns include the “mass production of fabricated consumer reviews, testimonials and fake blogs that are all intended to deceive consumers seeking a legitimate product and induce them to pay. Yet, after consumers pay for access to any of these digital goods websites, they quickly realize that the promotional materials and representations were blatantly false.”

Continue reading →


27
Mar 14

Who Built the ID Theft Service SSNDOB.ru?

Previous stories on this blog have highlighted the damage wrought by an identity theft service marketed in the underground called ssndob[dot]ru, which sold Social Security numbers, credit reports, drivers licenses and other sensitive information on more than four million Americans. Today’s post looks at a real-life identity behind the man likely responsible for building this service.

The administration page of ssndob[dot]ru. Note the logged in user, ssndob@ssa.gov, is the administrator.

The administration page of ssndob[dot]ru. Note the logged in user, ssndob@ssa.gov, is the administrator.

Last summer, ssndob[dot]ru (hereafter referred to as “SSNDOB”) was compromised by multiple attackers, its own database plundered. A copy of the SSNDOB database was exhaustively reviewed by KrebsOnSecurity.com. The database shows that the site’s 1,300 customers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars looking up SSNs, birthdays, drivers license records, and obtaining unauthorized credit and background reports on more than four million Americans.

Private messages and postings on various crime forums show that the service offered at ssndob[dot]ru was originally registered in 2009 at a domain called ssndob-search.info. A historic records lookup purchased from domaintools.com shows that ssndob-search was first registered to an Armand Ayakimyan from Apsheronsk, Russia. This registrant used the email address lxg89@rambler.ru.

In 2013, a copy of the carding forum carder[dot]pro was leaked online. Forum records show that the lxg89@rambler.ru address was used by a member who picked the username “Zack,” and who told other members to contact him on the ICQ instant messenger account 383337. On Vkontakte.ru, a popular Russian social networking site, Mr. Zack is the name of a profile for a 24-year-old Armand Ayakimyan from Sukhumi, a city in western Georgia and the capital of Abkhazia — a disputed region on the Black Sea coast.

Mr. Zack lists his date of birth as August 27 and current town as Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, (although the Mr. Zack account appears to have been dormant for some time). We can see some pictures of Mr. Ayakimyan (DOB: Aug. 27, 1989) at this profile by the same name at promodj.com, a music mixing site. That profile is tied to a group profile created by an Armand Ayakimyan in Sochi.

Mr. Ayakimyan appears to have used a number of different nicknames on various forums, including “Darkill,” “Darkglow” and “Planovoi”. That’s according to the administrators of verified[dot]cm, a top Russian crime forum at which he had apparently created numerous accounts. In an amusing multi-page thread on verified, the administrators respond to multiple member complaints about Plaovoi’s behavior by “doxing” him, essentially listing all of the identifiers that point from various email addresses, ICQ numbers and aliases back to accounts tied to Armand Ayakimyan.

KrebsOnSecurity attempted to reach Ayakimyan via multiple email addresses tied to his various profiles, including Facebook. An individual responding at the main Jabber address used by the operator of SSNDOB — ssndob@swissjabber.ch — declined to comment for this story, saying only “Я против блога. Выберите другой сервис,” or, “I am against the blog. Choose another service.” This reply came immediately after the user of this profile updated his status message notifying customers that his identity theft service was just freshly stocked with a huge new update of personal data on Americans.

The conclusion that Ayakimyan is/was involved with the operation of SSNDOB is supported with evidence gathered from Symantec, which published a blog post last week linking the young man to the identity theft service. According to Big Yellow, Ayakimyan is but one of several men allegedly responsible for creating and stocking the ID theft bazaar, a group Symantec calls the “Cyclosa gang.” From their report:

Continue reading →


25
Mar 14

ZIP Codes Show Extent of Sally Beauty Breach

Earlier this month, beauty products chain Sally Beauty acknowledged that a hacker break-in compromised fewer than 25,000 customer credit and debit cards. My previous reporting indicated that the true size of the breach was at least ten times larger. The analysis published in this post suggests that the Sally Beauty breach may have impacted virtually all 2,600+ Sally Beauty locations nationwide.

Sally Beauty cards sold under the "Desert Strike" base on Rescator's site.

Sally Beauty cards sold under the “Desert Strike” base on Rescator’s site.

Sally Beauty has declined to speculate on how many stores or total cards may have been exposed by the breach, saying in a statement last week that so far its analysis indicates fewer than 25,000 cards were compromised. But that number seems very conservative when viewed through the prism of data from the cybercriminal shop primarily responsible for selling cards stolen from Sally Beauty customers. Indeed, it suggests that the perpetrators managed to hoover up cards used at nearly all Sally Beauty stores.

The research technique used to arrive at this conclusion was the same method that allowed this reporter and others to conclude that the Target hackers had succeeded at installing card-stealing malware on cash registers at nearly all 1,800 Target locations in the United States.

The first indications of a breach at Target came when millions of cards recently used at the big box retailer started showing up for sale on a crime shop called Rescator[dot]so. This site introduced an innovation that to my knowledge hadn’t been seen before across dozens of similar crime shops in the underground: It indexed stolen cards primarily by the city, state and ZIP code of the Target stores from which each card had been stolen.

This feature was partly what allowed Rescator to sell his cards at much higher prices than other fraud shops, because the ZIP code feature allowed crooks to buy cards from the store that were stolen from Target stores near them (this feature also strongly suggested that Rescator had specific and exclusive knowledge about the breach, a conclusion that has been supported by previous investigations on this blog into the malware used at Target and the Internet history of Rescator himself).

To put the ZIP code innovation in context, the Target break-in came to light just a week before Christmas, and many banks were at least initially reluctant to reissue cards thought to be compromised in the breach because they feared a backlash from consumers who were busy doing last minute Christmas shopping and traveling for the holidays. Rather, many banks in the interim chose to put in place “geo blocks” that would automatically flag for fraud any in-store transactions that were outside the customer’s normal geographic purchasing area. The beauty of Rescator’s ZIP code indexing was that customers could buy only cards that were used at Target stores near them, thereby making it far more likely that Rescator’s customers could make purchases with the stolen cards without setting off geo-blocking limits set by the banks.

To test this theory, researchers compiled a list of the known ZIP codes of Target stores, and then scraped Rescator’s site for a list of the ZIP codes represented in the cards for sale. Although there are more than 43,000 ZIP codes in the United States, slightly fewer than 1,800 unique ZIPs were referenced in the Target cards for sale on Rescator’s shop — roughly equal to the number of Target locations across America.

Sally Beauty declined to provide a list of its various store ZIP codes, but with the assistance of several researchers — none of whom wished to be thanked or cited in this story — I was able to conduct the same analysis with the new batch of cards on Rescator’s site that initially tipped me off to the Sally Beauty breach. The result? There are nearly the exact same number of U.S. ZIP codes represented in the batch of cards for sale on Rescator’s shop as there are unique U.S. ZIP codes of Sally Beauty stores (~2,600).

More importantly, there was a 99.99 percent overlap in the ZIP codes. That strongly suggests that virtually all Sally Beauty stores were compromised by this breach.

Continue reading →


22
Mar 14

Sources: Credit Card Breach at California DMV

The California Department of Motor Vehicles appears to have suffered a wide-ranging credit card data breach involving online payments for DMV-related services, according to banks in California and elsewhere that received alerts this week about compromised cards that all had been previously used online at the California DMV.

CAdmvThe alert, sent privately by MasterCard to financial institutions this week, did not name the breached entity but said the organization in question experienced a “card-not-present” breach — industry speak for transactions conducted online. The alert further stated that the date range of the potentially compromised transactions extended from Aug. 2, 2013 to Jan. 31, 2014, and that the data stolen included the card number, expiration date, and three-digit security code printed on the back of cards.

Five different financial institutions contacted by this publication — including two mid-sized banks in California — confirmed receipt of the MasterCard notice, and said that all of the cards MasterCard alerted them about as compromised had been used for charges bearing the notation “STATE OF CALIF DMV INT”.

A representative from MasterCard, speaking on background, confirmed sending out an alert this week. According to bank sources, Visa has not sent out a similar alert. A Visa spokesperson said “Visa cannot comment on potential third party data compromises or ongoing investigations.”

Contacted about the alerts early Friday afternoon pacific time, California DMV Spokesperson Jessica Gonzalez said the agency would investigate the matter. Reached again at 6:30 p.m. PT (well after DMV business hours on a Friday), Ms. Gonzalez said her office was working late as a result of the inquiry from KrebsOnSecurity. She said the agency was still in the process of getting a statement approved, but that it planned to email the statement later that evening. So far, however, the California DMV has yet to issue a statement or respond to further requests for comment.

Update, 6:44 p.m. ET: The CA DMV just issued the following statement, which placed blame for the incident on the organization’s external card processing firm:

“The Department of Motor Vehicles has been alerted by law enforcement authorities to a potential security issue within its credit card processing services.”

” There is no evidence at this time of a direct breach of the DMV’s computer system. However, out of an abundance of caution and in the interest of protecting the sensitive information of California drivers, the DMV has opened an investigation into any potential security breach in conjunction with state and federal law enforcement.”

“In its investigation, the department is performing a forensic review of its systems and seeking information regarding any potential breach from both the external vendor that processes the DMV’s credit card transactions and the credit card companies themselves.”

The CA DMV did not say who their card processor is, but this document from the California Department of General Services seems to suggest that the processor is Elavon, a company based in Atlanta, Ga. Representatives for Elavon could not be immediately reached for comment [hat tip to @walshman23 for finding this document].

Update, Mar. 24, 10:54 a.m.: Elavon officials could not be reached for comment. But a spokesperson for Elavon parent firm U.S. Bank told this publication that “there has been NO confirmation of a breach. We are in touch with the CA-DMV and the authorities to determine if there is an issue.”

Original story:

If indeed the California DMV has suffered a breach of their online payments system, it’s unclear how many card numbers may have been stolen. But the experience of one institution that received the MasterCard alert this week may offer some perspective.

Continue reading →


21
Mar 14

Sony Pictures Plans Movie About Yours Truly

Sony Pictures is reportedly planning to make a big screen movie based at least in part on my (mis)adventures over the past few years as an independent investigative reporter writing about cybercrime. Some gumshoe I am: This took me by complete surprise.

Credit: BrianKrebsFacts.com

Source: BrianKrebsFacts.com

The first inkling I had of this project came a few weeks ago when New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth forwarded me a note she’d received from a Hollywood producer who was (and still is) apparently interested in acquiring my “life rights” for an upcoming film project. The producer reached out to The Times reporter after reading her mid-February 2014 profile of me, which chronicled the past year’s worth of reader responses from the likes of the very ne’er-do-wells I write about daily. Perlroth’s story began:

“In the last year, Eastern European cybercriminals have stolen Brian Krebs’s identity a half dozen times, brought down his website, included his name and some unpleasant epithets in their malware code, sent fecal matter and heroin to his doorstep, and called a SWAT team to his home just as his mother was arriving for dinner.”

I didn’t quite know what to make of the Hollywood inquiry at the time, and was so overwhelmed and distracted with travel and other matters that I neglected to follow up on it. Then, just yesterday, I awoke to a flurry of messages both congratulatory and incredulous on Twitter and Facebook regarding a story in The Hollywood Reporter:

“Sony has picked up the rights to the New York Times article ‘Reporting From the Web’s Underbelly,’ which focused on cyber security blogger Brian Krebs. Krebs, with his site KrebsonSecurity.com, was the first person to expose the credit card breach at Target that shook the retail world in December.”

Continue reading →


19
Mar 14

Are Credit Monitoring Services Worth It?

In the wake of one data breach after another, millions of Americans each year are offered credit monitoring services that promise to shield them from identity thieves. Although these services can help true victims step out from beneath the shadow of ID theft, the sad truth is that most services offer little in the way of real preventative protection against the fastest-growing crime in America.

Experian 'protection' offered for Target victims.

Experian ‘protection’ offered for Target victims.

Having purchased credit monitoring/protection services for the past 24 months — and having been the target of multiple identity theft attempts — I feel somewhat qualified to share my experience with readers. The biggest takeaway for me has been that although these services may alert you when someone opens or attempts to open a new line of credit in your name, most will do little — if anything — to block that activity. My take: If you’re being offered free monitoring, it probably can’t hurt to sign up, but you shouldn’t expect the service to stop identity thieves from ruining your credit.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst at Gartner Inc., said offering credit monitoring has become the de facto public response for companies that experience a data breach, whether or not that breach resulted in the loss of personal information that could lead to actual identity theft (as opposed to mere credit card fraud).

“These are basically PR vehicles for most of the breached companies who offer credit report monitoring to potentially compromised consumers,” Litan said. “Breached companies such as Target like to offer it as a good PR move even though it does absolutely nothing to compensate for the fact that a criminal stole credit card mag stripe account data. My advice for consumers has been – sure get it for free from one of the companies where your data has been compromised (and surely these days there is at least one).  But don’t expect it to help much – by the time you get the alert, it’s too late, the damage has been done.  It just shortens the time to detection so you may have a slightly improved chance of cleaning up the damage faster.  And you can get your credit reports three times a year from the government website for free which is almost just as good so why pay for it ever?”

FRAUD ALERT BREAKDOWN

Normally, I place fraud alerts on my credit file every 90 days, as allowed by law. This step is supposed to require potential creditors to contact you and obtain your permission before opening new lines of credit in your name. You merely need to file a fraud alert (also called a “security alert”) with one of the credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or Trans Union). Whichever one you file with is required by law to alert the other two bureaus as well.

Most consumers don’t know this (few consumers know the names of the three main credit bureaus), but there is actually a fourth credit bureau that you should alert: Innovis. This bureau follows the same rules as the big three, and you may file a fraud alert with them at this link.

Fraud alerts last 90 days, and you can renew them as often as you like (a recurring calendar entry can help with this task); consumers who can demonstrate that they are victims or are likely to be victims of identity theft can apply for a long-term fraud alert that lasts up to 7 years (a police report and other documentation may be required).

Continue reading →


17
Mar 14

Sally Beauty Confirms Card Data Breach

Nationwide cosmetics and beauty retailer Sally Beauty today confirmed that hackers had broken into its networks and stolen credit card data from stores. The admission comes nearly two weeks after KrebsOnSecurity first reported that the company had likely been compromised by the same criminal hacking gang that stole 40 million credit and debit cards from Target.

The advertisement run by thieves who stole the Sally Beauty card data.

The advertisement run by thieves who stole the Sally Beauty card data.

Previously, Denton, Texas-based Sally Beauty had confirmed a breach, but said it had no evidence that card data was stolen in the break-in. But in a statement issued Monday morning, the company acknowledged it has now discovered evidence that “fewer than 25,000 records containing card present (track 2) payment card data have been illegally accessed on our systems and we believe have been removed.” Their statement continues:

“As experience has shown in prior data security incidents at other companies, it is difficult to ascertain with certainty the scope of a data security breach/incident prior to the completion of a comprehensive forensic investigation. As a result, we will not speculate as to the scope or nature of the data security incident.”

“We take this criminal activity very seriously. We continue to work diligently with Verizon on this investigation and are taking necessary actions and precautions to mitigate and remediate the issues caused by this security incident. In addition, we are working with the United States Secret Service on their preliminary investigation into the matter.”

On Mar. 5, this blog reported that hackers appeared to have broken into Sally Beauty’s network and stolen at least 282,000 cards from the retailer. That conclusion stemmed from purchases made by several banks at an archipelago of fraud sites that have been selling cards stolen in the Target breach. The first new batch of non-Target cards sold by this fraud network — a group of cards marketed under the label “Desert Strike” — all were found by three different financial institutions to have been recently used at Sally Beauty stores nationwide.

Continue reading →