An increasing number of services offered in the cybercrime underground allow miscreants to purchase access to hacked computers at specific organizations. For just a few dollars, these services offer the ability to buy your way inside of Fortune 500 company networks.
The service I examined for this post currently is renting access to nearly 17,000 computers worldwide, although almost 300,000 compromised systems have passed through this service since its inception in early 2010. All of the machines for sale have been set up by their legitimate owners to accept incoming connections via the Internet, using the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), a service built into Microsoft Windows machines that gives the user graphical access to the host PC’s desktop. Businesses often turn on RDP for server and desktop systems that they wish to use remotely, but if they do so using a username and password that is easily guessed, those systems will soon wind up for sale on services like this one.
Pitching its wares with the slogan, “The whole world in one service,” Dedicatexpress.com advertises hacked RDP servers on several cybercrime forums. Access is granted to new customers who contact the service’s owner via instant message and pay a $20 registration fee via WebMoney, a virtual currency. The price of any hacked server is calculated based on several qualities, including the speed of its processor and the number of processor cores, the machine’s download and upload speeds, and the length of time that the hacked RDP server has been continuously available online (its “uptime”).
Though it is not marketed this way, the service allows users to search for hacked RDP servers by entering an Internet address range, an option that comes in handy if you are looking for computers inside of specific organizations. For instance, I relied on a list of the IP address ranges assigned to the companies in the current Fortune 500 listing (special thanks to online banking security vendor Greenway Solutions for their help on this front).
I made it about halfway through the list of companies in the Fortune 100 with names beginning in “C” when I found a hit: A hacked RDP server at Internet address space assigned to networking giant Cisco Systems Inc. The machine was a Windows Server 2003 system in San Jose, Calif., being sold for $4.55 (see screenshot below). You’ll never guess the credentials assigned to this box: Username: “Cisco,”; password: “Cisco”. Small wonder that it was available for sale via this service. A contact at Cisco’s security team confirmed that the hacked RDP server was inside of Cisco’s network; the source said that it was a “bad lab machine,” but declined to offer more details.
A hacked Win 2003 Server installation at Cisco Systems was on sale for $4.55.
Last week, security firm RSA detailed a new cybecriminal project aimed at recruiting 100 botmasters to help launch a series of lucrative online heists targeting 30 U.S. banks. RSA’s advisory focused primarily on helping financial institutions prepare for an onslaught of more sophisticated e-banking attacks, and has already received plenty of media attention. I’m weighing in on the topic because their analysis seemed to merely scratch the surface of a larger enterprise that speaks volumes about why online attacks are becoming bolder and more brash toward Western targets.
RSA wasn’t specific about where it got its intelligence, but the report’s finding appear tied to a series of communications posted to exclusive Underweb forums by a Russian hacker who uses the nickname “vorVzakone,” which translates to “thief in law.” This is an expression in Russia and Eastern Europe that refers to an entire subculture of elite criminal gangs that operate beyond the reach of traditional law enforcement. The term is sometimes also used to refer to a single criminal kingpin.
A screen shot posted by vorVzakone, showing his Project Blitzkrieg malware server listing the number of online victims by bank.
In early September, vorVzakone posted a lengthy message announcing the beginning stages of a campaign he dubbed “Project Blitzkrieg.” This was envisioned as a collaborative effort designed to exploit the U.S. banking industry’s lack of anti-fraud mechanisms relative to European financial institutions, which generally require two-factor authentication for all wire transfers.
The campaign, purportedly to be rolled out between now and the Spring of 2013, proposes organizing hacker cells throughout the cybercriminal community to collaborate in exploiting these authentication weaknesses before U.S. banks erect more stringent controls. “The goal – together, en-masse and simultaneously process large amount of the given material before anti-fraud measures are increased,” vorVzakon wrote. A professionally translated version of his entire post is available here.
RSA said the project is being powered by a version of the Gozi Trojan called “Gozi Prinimalka.” The company believes this Trojan is part of family of malware used by a tight-knit crime gang that has stolen at least $5 million from banks already. From its analysis:
“In a boot camp-style process, accomplice botmasters will be individually selected and trained, thereby becoming entitled to a percentage of the funds they will siphon from victims’ accounts into mule accounts controlled by the gang. To make sure everyone is working hard, each botmaster will select their own ‘investor,’ who will put down the money required to purchase equipment for the operation (servers, laptops) with the incentive of sharing in the illicit profits. The gang and a long list of other accomplices will also reap their share of the spoils, including the money-mule herder and malware developers.
While the campaign is not revolutionary in technical terms, it will supposedly sport several noteworthy features. A novel virtual-machine-synching module announced by the gang, installed on the botmaster’s machine, will purportedly duplicate the victim’s PC settings, including the victim’s time zone, screen resolution, cookies, browser type and version, and software product IDs. Impersonated victims’ accounts will thus be accessed via a SOCKS proxy connection installed on their infected PCs, enabling the cloned virtual system to take on the genuine IP address when accessing the bank’s website.”
vorVzakone also says the operation will flood cyberheist victim phone lines while the victims are being robbed, in a bid to prevent account holders from receiving confirmation calls or text messages from their banks (I’ve covered this diversionary tactic in at least a couple ofstories). Interestingly, this hacker started discussion threads on different forums in which he posts a video of this service in action. The video shows racks of centrally-managed notebook computers that are each running an installation of Skype. While there are simpler, cheaper and less resource-intensive ways of tying up a target’s phone line, causing all of these systems to call a single number simultaneously would probably achieve the same result. If you don’t see English subtitles when you play the video below, click the “cc” icon in the player to enable them:
THE FIRST RULE OF PROJECT BLITZKRIEG…
vorVzakone’s post has been met with a flurry of curiosity, enthusiasm and skepticism from members of the underground. The skepticism appears to stem from some related postings in which he brags about and calls attention to his credentials/criminal connections, an activity which tends to raise red flags in a community that generally prefers to keep a low profile.
In the following introductory snippet from a homemade movie he posted to youtube.com, vorVzakone introduces himself as “Sergey,” the stocky bald guy in the sunglasses. He also introduces a hacker who needs little introduction in the Russian underground — a well-known individual who used the nickname “NSD” [an abbreviation for the Russian term несанкционированный доступ, or "unauthorized access"] in the mid-2000s, when he claims to have exited the hacking scene.
“Good day to everybody, evening or night, depends on when you are watching me,” the hacker begins, standing in front of a Toyota Land Cruiser. “My name is Serega, you all know me by my nickname “vor v zakone” on the forum. This is my brother, my offline representative – Oleg ‘NSD’. So, what? I decided to meet you, let’s say ‘remotely.’ Without really meeting, right? Now you will see how I live. Let’s go, I will show you something.”
A still shot from a video posted by hacker “vorVzakone”, foreground.
And he proceeds to show viewers around what he claims is his home. But many in the underground community found it difficult to take seriously someone who would be so cavalier about his personal safety, anonymity and security. “This guy’s language and demeanor is that of street corner drug dealer or a night club bouncer, and not of someone who can comprehend what ‘backconnect socks’ or GeoIP is,” remarked one Russian expert who helped translate some of the documentation included in this blog post.
But soon enough, hackers on the forums in which vorVzakone had posted his videos began checking the story, digging up records from Russian motor vehicle agencies indicating that the license plates on the Toyota and other cars in video were registered to a 27-year-old Oleg Vsevolodovich Tolstykh from Moscow. Further, they pointed out, the videos were posted by a youtube user named 01NSD, who also had previously posted Finnish and Russian television interviews with NSD describing various facets of the hacker underground. Indeed, if you pause this 2007 video 22 seconds in, you can see on NSD’s screen that he’s in the midst of a chat conversation with a hacker named vorVzakone.
In response to taunts and ridicule from some in the underground, vorVzakone posted this message on Oct. 6 to a prominent crime forum explaining why he doesn’t worry about going public with his business. Continue reading →
Security experts are accustomed to direct attacks, but some of today’s more insidious incursions succeed in a roundabout way — by planting malware at sites deemed most likely to be visited by the targets of interest. New research suggests these so-called “watering hole” tactics recently have been used as stepping stones to conduct espionage attacks against a host of targets across a variety of industries, including the defense, government, academia, financial services, healthcare and utilities sectors.
Espionage attackers increasingly are setting traps at “watering hole” sites, those frequented by individuals and organizations being targeted.
Some of the earliest details of this trend came in late July 2012 from RSA FirstWatch, which warned of an increasingly common attack technique involving the compromise of legitimate websites specific to a geographic area which the attacker believes will be visited by end users who belong to the organization they wish to penetrate.
At the time, RSA declined to individually name the Web sites used in the attack. But the company shifted course somewhat after researchers from Symantec this month published their own report on the trend (see The Elderwood Project). Taken together, the body of evidence supports multiple, strong connections between these recent watering hole attacks and the Aurora intrusions perpetrated in late 2009 against Google and a number of other high-profile targets.
In a report released today, RSA’s experts hint at — but don’t explicitly name — some of the watering hole sites. Rather, the report redacts the full URLs of the hacked sites that were redirecting to exploit sites in this campaign. However, through Google and its propensity to cache content, we can see firsthand the names of the sites that were compromised in this campaign.
According to RSA, one of the key watering hole sites was “a website of enthusiasts of a lesser known sport,” hxxp://xxxxxxxcurling.com. Later in the paper, RSA lists some of the individual pages at this mystery sporting domain that were involved in the attack (e..g, http://www.xxxxxxxcurling.com/Results/cx/magma/iframe.js). As it happens, running a search on any of these pages turns up a number recent visitor logs for this site — torontocurling.com. Google cached several of the accesslogs from this site during the time of the compromise cited in RSA’s paper, and those logs help to fill in the blanks intentionally left by RSA’s research team, or more likely, the lawyers at RSA parent EMC Corp. (those access logs also contain interesting clues about potential victims of this attack as well).
http://www.rferl.org (Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty)
According to RSA, the sites in question were hacked between June and July 2012 and were silently redirecting visitors to exploit pages on torontocurling.com. Among the exploits served by the latter include a then-unpatched zero-day vulnerability in Microsoft Windows (XML Core Services/CVE-2012-1889). In that attack, the hacked sites foisted a Trojan horse program named “VPTray.exe” (made to disguise itself as an update from Symantec, which uses the same name for one of its program components). Continue reading →
A Web site that sells Social Security numbers, bank account information and other sensitive data on millions of Americans appears to be obtaining at least some of its records from a network of hacked or complicit payday loan sites.
Usearching.info sells sensitive data taken from payday loan networks.
Usearching.info boasts the “most updated database about USA,” and offers the ability to purchase personal information on countless Americans, including SSN, mother’s maiden name, date of birth, email address, and physical address, as well as and driver license data for approximately 75 million citizens in Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin.
Users can search for an individual’s information by name, city and state (for .3 credits per search), and from there it costs 2.7 credits per SSN or DOB record (between $1.61 to $2.24 per record, depending on the volume of credits purchased). This portion of the service is remarkably similar to an underground site I profiled last year which sold the same type of information, even offering a reseller plan.
What sets this service apart is the addition of more than 330,000 records (plus more being added each day) that appear to be connected to a satellite of Web sites that negotiate with a variety of lenders to offer payday loans.
I first began to suspect the information was coming from loan sites when I had a look at the data fields available in each record. A trusted source opened and funded an account at Usearching.info, and purchased 80 of these records, at a total cost of about $20. Each includes the following data: A record number, date of record acquisition, status of application (rejected/appproved/pending), applicant’s name, email address, physical address, phone number, Social Security number, date of birth, bank name, account and routing number, employer name, and the length of time at the current job. These records are sold in bulk, with per-record prices ranging from 16 to 25 cents depending on volume.
But it wasn’t until I started calling the people listed in the records that a clearer picture began to emerge. I spoke with more than a dozen individuals whose data was being sold, and found that all had applied for payday loans on or around the date in their respective records. The trouble was, the records my source obtained were all dated October 2011, and almost nobody I spoke with could recall the name of the site they’d used to apply for the loan. All said, however, that they’d initially provided their information to one site, and then were redirected to a number of different payday loan options.
Microsoft said Thursday that it convinced a U.S. federal court to grant it control over a botnet believed to be closely linked to counterfeit versions Windows that were sold in various computer stores across China. The legal victory also highlights a Chinese Internet service that experts say has long been associated with targeted, espionage attacks against U.S. and European corporations.
Microsoft said it sought to disrupt a counterfeit supply-chain operation that sold knockoff versions of Windows PCs that came pre-loaded with a strain of malware called “Nitol,” which lets attackers control the systems from afar for a variety of nefarious purposes.
In legal filings unsealed Thursday by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Microsoft described how its researchers purchased computers from various cities in China, and found that approximately 20 percent of them were already infected with Nitol.
It’s not clear precisely how many systems are infected with Nitol, but it does not appear to be a particularly major threat. Microsoft told the court that it had detected nearly 4,000 instances of Windows computers infected with some version of the malware, but that this number likely represented “only a subset of the number of infected computers.” The company said the majority of Nitol infections and Internet servers used to control the botnet were centered around China, although several U.S. states — including California, New York and Pennsylvania — were home to significant numbers of compromised hosts.
Dubbed “Operation b70” by Microsoft, the courtroom maneuvers are the latest in a series of legal stealth attacks that the software giant has executed against large-scale cybercrime operations. Previous targets included the Waledac, Rustock, Kelihos and ZeuS botnets.
This blog has featured several stories on reshipping scams, which recruit willing or unwitting U.S. citizens (“mules”) to reship abroad pricey items that are paid for with stolen credit cards. Today’s post highlights a critical component of this scheme: the black-market sale of international shipping labels fraudulently purchased from the U.S. Postal Service.
A service that automates creation of carded USPS labels.
USPS labels that are purchased via card fraud, known in the Underweb as simply “cc labels,” are an integral part of any reshipping scheme. So it should be no surprise that the leading proprietors in this obscure market run Atlanta Alliance, one of the largest and most established criminal reshipping rackets in the underground.
The service, at fe-ccshop.com, makes it simple for any reshipping scam operator to purchase international shipping labels at a fraction of their actual cost. For example, USPS Express Mail International labels for items 20 pounds or less that are headed from the United States to Russia start at about $75, but this service sells them for just $14. The same label for an item that weighs 25 pounds would cost upwards of $150 at the Post Office, but can be had through this service for just $19.
Customers fund their accounts with a virtual currency such as Liberty Reserve, and then enter the reshipping mule’s address in the “from” section and the fraudster’s in the “to:” field. Clicking the “make label” button causes the label to be paid for with a stolen credit card, and lets the customer print or save digital images of usable and new USPS international shipping labels.
The U.S Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning about an uptick in online extortion scams that impersonate the FBI and frighten people into paying fines to avoid prosecution for supposedly downloading child pornography and pirated content. This post offers an inside look at one malware gang responsible for orchestrating such scams.
Reveton ransomware scam page impersonating the FBI
In an alert published last week, the FBI said that The Internet Crime Complaint Center — a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center — was “getting inundated with complaints” from consumers targeted or victimized by the scam, which uses drive-by downloads to hijack host machines. The downloaded malware displays a threatening message (see image to the right) and blocks the user from doing anything else unless he pays the fine or finds a way to remove the program.
The FBI alert said the attacks have surged with the help of a “new drive-by virus” called Reveton; in fact, Reveton and its ilk are hardly new. These types of attacks have been around for years, but traditionally have targeted European users. The scam pages used in the attacks mimic official notices from various national police or investigatory agencies, corresponding to the country in which the victim resides. For a breakdown of these Reveton-related ransomware scam pages by country, see this comprehensive gallery set up at botnets.fr.
Reveton.A is blamed in these most recent attacks, and the FBI said it appears Reveton is being distributed in conjunction with Citadel, an offshoot of the ZeuS Trojan that I have writtenabout on several occasions. It is certainly possible that crooks are using Citadel to deploy Reveton, but as I’ll illustrate below, it seems more likely that the attackers in these cases are using exploit kits like BlackHole to plant both threats on victim PCs.
INSIDE A REVETON MALWARE GANG
Operations of one Reveton crime group. Source: ‘Kafeine,’ from botnets.fr.
At least that’s the behavior that’s been observed by a ragtag group of researchers that has been tracking Reveton activity for many months. Some of the researchers are associated with botnets.fr, but they’ve asked to remain nameless because of the sensitivity of their work. One of them, who goes by the screen name “Kafeine,” said much of the Reveton activity traces back to a group that is controlling the operation using reverse proxies at dozens of servers scattered across data centers globally (see this PDF for a more detailed look at the image above).
Kafeine said the groups involved in spreading Reveton are constantly fine-tuning all aspects of their operations, from the scam pages to solidifying their back-end hosting infrastructure. The latest versions of Reveton, for example, serve the scam pages from an encrypted (https://) connection, and only cough up the pages when an infected machine visits and sends a special request. Continue reading →
Hacked Web sites aren’t just used for hosting malware anymore. Increasingly, they are being retrofitted with tools that let miscreants harness the compromised site’s raw server power for attacks aimed at knocking other sites offline.
It has long been standard practice for Web site hackers to leave behind a Web-based “shell,” a tiny “backdoor” program that lets them add, delete and run files on compromised server. But in a growing number of Web site break-ins, the trespassers also are leaving behind simple tools called “booter shells,” which allow the miscreants to launch future denial-of-service attacks without the need for vast networks of infected zombie computers.
absoboot.com’s configuration page
According to Prolexic, an anti-DDoS company I’ve been working with for the past few weeks to ward off attacks on my site, with booter shells DDoS attacks can be launched more readily and can cause more damage, with far fewer machines. “Web servers typically have 1,000+ times the capacity of a workstation, providing hackers with a much higher yield of malicious traffic with the addition of each infected web server,” the company said in a recent advisory.
The proliferation of booter shells has inevitably led to online services that let paying customers leverage these booter shell-backdoored sites. One such service is absoboot.com, also reachable at twbooter.com. Anyone can sign up, fund the account with Paypal or one of several other virtual currencies, and start attacking. The minimum purchase via PayPal is $15, which buys you about 5 hours worth of keeping a site down or at least under attack.
If you’d prefer to knock an individual internet user offline as opposed to a Web site, absoBoot includes a handy free tool that lets users discover someone’s IP address. Just select an image of your choice (or use the pre-selected image) and send the target a customized link that is specific to your absoBoot account. The link to the picture is mapped to a domain crafted to look like it takes you to imageshack.us; closer inspection of the link shows that it fact ends in “img501.ws,” and records the recipients IP address if he or she views the image. Continue reading →
“When nobody hates you, nobody knows you’re alive.” – Diplomacy, by Chris Smither
During the last week of July, a series of steadily escalating cyber attacks directed at my Web site and hosting provider prevented many readers from being able to reach the site or read the content via RSS. Sorry about that. What follows is a post-mortem on those digital sieges, which featured a mix of new and old-but-effective attack methods.
Junk traffic sent by a DNS amplification attack.
I still don’t know who was attacking my site or why. It’s not as if the perpetrator(s) sent a love letter along with the traffic flood. There was one indication that a story I published just hours before the attacks began — about a service for mass-registering domain names used for malware, spam and other dodgy business — may have struck a nerve: In one of the attacks, all of the assailing systems were instructed to load that particular story many times per second.
Oddly enough, the activity began just one day after I’d signed up with Prolexic. The Hollywood, Fla. based company helps businesses fend off distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, assaults in which miscreants knock targeted sites offline by flooding them with garbage traffic. Prolexic was among several anti-DDoS companies that offered to help earlier this year, when KrebsOnSecurity.com came under a separate spate of debilitating attacks.
The first DDoS campaigns consisted of several hundred systems repeatedly requesting image-heavy pages on my site. Prolexic’s analysts say the traffic signatures of these attacks matched that of a family of kits sold in the underground that allow anyone to quickly create their own botnet specifically for launching DDoS attacks. Both are believed to have been created by the same individual(s) behind the Dirt Jumper DDoS toolkit. The traffic signatures from the attack strongly suggest the involvement of two Dirt Jumper progeny: Di-BoTNet and Pandora.
Image courtesy Prolexic
Pandora is the latest in the Dirt Jumper family, and features four different attack methods. According to Prolexic, the one used against KrebsOnSecurity.com was Attack Type 4, a.k.a “Max Flood”; this method carries a fairly unique signature of issuing POST requests against a server that are over a million bytes in length.
Pandora’s creators boast that it only takes 10 PCs infected with the DDoS bot to bring down small sites, and about 30 bots to put down a mid-sized site that lacks protection against DDoS attacks. They claim 1,000 Pandora bots are enough to bring Russian search engine giant yandex.ru to a crawl, but that strikes me as a bit of salesmanship and exaggeration. Prolexic said more than 1,500 Pandora-infected bots were used in the assault on my site.
A new service offered in the cybercriminal underground is geared toward spammers, scammers and malware purveyors interested in mass-registering dozens of dodgy domains in one go.
DoItQuick offers mass registration of malware domains.
The service — doitquick.net — will auto-register up to 15 domains simultaneously, choosing randomly named domains unless the customer specifies otherwise. DoItQuick sells two classes of domains: “white” domains that are “guaranteed” to stay registered for at least a year; and “black” domains that customers can use for illicit purposes and expect to last between 2 and 30 days before they are canceled.
This service makes it quite clear why customers might prefer the “black” domain registration service: “Domains for black deeds – these domains are registered for limited terms, from 2 to 30 days (average duration is about a week). Such domains are used for black and gray deeds. Low prices, fast registration! It is ideal for redirects, exploit packs, traffic, flood, botnets and other similar stuff. Domain names are checked for getting into blacklists, trackers and Spamhaus.”