10
Jul 14

Interview With Fresh Air’s Terry Gross

nprlock On Monday, I had the distinct pleasure of being a guest on Terry Gross‘s Fresh Air radio show on National Public Radio. I’m a huge fan of Gross’s show and was quite flattered and honored to have been invited.

The roughly 39-minute interview covered a range of topics, including my reporting on the Target and Neiman Marcus breaches, as well as an investigation into how an identity theft service conned its way into getting access to a subsidiary of big three credit bureau Experian.

Gross also asked about some of the responses that my reporting has engendered from various denizens of the cybercrime underground, hence the title of the segment, “The Hazards of Probing the Internet’s Dark Side.”

The archived podcast of the show is available here.


09
Jul 14

Pre-order Your Copy of ‘Spam Nation’ Now!

Some of you may have noticed that a new element recently debuted in the sidebar: The cover art for my upcoming book, Spam Nation, due to hit bookshelves (physical and virtual) November 18, 2014. Please allow me a few moments to explain what this book is about, and why you should pre-order it today.

Pre-order your copy today!

Pre-order your copy today!

Spam Nation delves deeper than perhaps any other publication into the workings of the cybercrime underground, giving readers unprecedented access to a well-hidden world that few outside of these communities have seen up close.

The backdrop of the story is a long-running turf war between two of the largest sponsors of spam. A true-crime tale of political corruption and ill-fated alliances, tragedy, murder and betrayal, this book explains how the conditions that gave rise to this pernicious industry still remain and are grooming a new class of cybercriminals.

But Spam Nation isn’t just about junk email; most of the entrepreneurs building and managing large-scale spam operations are involved in virtually every aspect of cybercrime for which there is a classification, including malware development, denial-of-service attacks, identity theft, credit card fraud, money laundering, commercial data breaches and extortion.

Spam Nation looks at the crucial role played by cybercrime forums, and how these communities simultaneously weave the social fabric of the underground while protecting scam artists from getting scammed.

The book also includes a detailed history of the Russian Business Network (RBN); how it became the virtual boogeyman of the Internet and prefigured an entire industry of “bulletproof” hosting providers.

Along the way, we meet numerous buyers who explain what motivated them to respond to spam and ingest pills ordered from shadowy online marketers. In the chapter “Meet the Spammers,” readers get a closer look at the junk emailers responsible for running the world’s largest botnets.

In addition, Spam Nation includes first-hand accounts of efforts by vigilante groups to dismantle spam and malware operations, and the vicious counterattacks that these campaigns provoked from the spam community.

Now, here’s the important bit: Anyone who pre-orders the book and emails their proof-of-purchase to this address before Nov. 18, 2014 will receive a signed copy. This extends even to those who opt for a digital copy of the book. That’s because the signature will come on a bookplate, which is simply a decorative label that is affixed to the inside front cover. Bookplates allow my publisher Sourcebooks to distribute signed copies of Spam Nation without having to constantly ship me very heavy truckloads of books to sign and then ship back again for reshipment.

The pre-order link for Amazon is here; readers who wish to purchase the book from Barnes & Noble can do so here. Fans of the Washington D.C. literary landmark Politics and Prose can pre-order the book from them at this link. Forward your emailed proof-of-purchase, or a scan/photo of your receipt. Basically anything that says you purchased the book, the quantity purchased, as well as your name and mailing address. Continue reading →


08
Jul 14

Microsoft, Adobe Push Critical Fixes

If you use Microsoft products or Adobe Flash Player, please take a moment to read this post and update your software. Adobe today issued a critical update that plugs at least three security holes in the program. Separately, Microsoft released six security updates that address 29 vulnerabilities in Windows and Internet Explorer.

brokenwindowsMost of the bugs that Microsoft addressed with today’s updates (24 of the 29 flaws) are fixed in a single patch for the company’s Internet Explorer browser. According to Microsoft, one of those 24 flaws (a weakness in the way IE checks Extended Validation SSL certificates) was already publicly disclosed prior to today’s bulletins.

The other critical patch fixes a security problem with the way that Windows handles files meant to be opened and edited by Windows Journal, a note-taking application built in to more recent versions of the operating system (including Windows Vista, 7 and 8).

More details on the rest of the updates that Microsoft released today can be found at Microsoft’s Technet blog, Qualys’s site, and the SANS Internet Storm Center.

Adobe’s Flash Player update brings Flash to version 14.0.0.145 on Windows, Mac and Linux systems. Adobe said it is not aware of exploits in the wild for any of the vulnerabilities fixed in this release.

To see which version of Flash you have installed, check this link. IE10/IE11 on Windows 8.x and Chrome should auto-update their versions of Flash, although my installation of Chrome says it is up-to-date and yet is still running v. 14.0.0.125.

brokenflash-aFlash has a built-in auto-updater, but you might wait days or weeks for it to prompt you to update, regardless of its settings. The most recent versions of Flash are available from the Adobe download center, but beware potentially unwanted add-ons, like McAfee Security Scan. To avoid this, uncheck the pre-checked box before downloading, or grab your OS-specific Flash download from here.

Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer may need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (Firefox, Opera, e.g.). If you have Adobe AIR installed (required by some programs like Tweetdeck and Pandora Desktop), you’ll want to update this program. AIR ships with an auto-update function that should prompt users to update when they start an application that requires it; the newest, patched version is v. 14.0.0.137 for Windows, Mac, and Android.

flash-14-0-0-125


08
Jul 14

Feds Charge Carding Kingpin in Retail Hacks

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday announced the arrest of a Russian hacker accused of running a network of online crime shops that sold credit and debit card data stolen in breaches at restaurants and retailers throughout the United States.

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 recently arrested by the U.S. Secret Service.

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.

According to Seleznev’s own indictment, which was filed in 2011 but made public this week, 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. As explained in the screen shot below, the track2[dot]name site stopped accepting new members in 2011, and new applicants were directed to bulba[dot]cc, which claimed to be an authorized reseller.

Bulba[dot]cc, as it looked in May 2011.

Bulba[dot]cc, as it looked in May 2011.

Recently, however, track2[dot]name began accepting new members who agreed to pay up-front deposits. The deposits ranged from one bitcoin (about $624 USD) for a basic account, to 20 bitcoins (roughly $12,484 USD) for a “corporate” account that is eligible for generous volume discounts and lengthy replacement times for purchased cards that turn out later to be canceled by issuing banks. Continue reading →


07
Jul 14

The Rise of Thin, Mini and Insert Skimmers

Like most electronic gadgets these days, ATM skimmers are getting smaller and thinner, with extended battery life. Here’s a look at several miniaturized fraud devices that were pulled from compromised cash machines at various ATMs in Europe so far this year.

According to a new report from the European ATM Security Team (EAST), a novel form of mini-skimmer was reported by one country. Pictured below is a device designed to capture the data stored on an ATM card’s magnetic stripe as the card is inserted into the machine. While most card skimmers are made to sit directly on top of the existing card slot, these newer mini-skimmers fit snugly inside the card reader throat, obscuring most of the device. This card skimmer was made to fit inside certain kinds of cash machines made by NCR.

An NCR mini-skimmer designed to slip inside of ATM's card acceptance slot. Image: EAST.

A mini-skimmer designed to slip inside of an NCR ATM’s card acceptance slot. Image: EAST.

“New versions of insert skimmers (skimmers placed inside the card reader throat) are getting harder to detect,” the EAST report concludes.

The miniaturized insert skimmer above was used in tandem with a tiny spy camera to record each customer’s PIN. The image on the left shows the hidden camera situated just to the left of the large square battery; the photo on the right shows the false ATM fascia that obscures the hidden camera as it was found attached to the compromised ATM (notice the tiny pinhole at the top left edge of the device).

The hidden camera used in tandem with the insert skimmer. Source: EAST.

The hidden camera used in tandem with the insert skimmer. Source: EAST.

EAST notes that the same country which reported discovering the skimmer devices above also found an ATM that was compromised by a new type of translucent insert skimmer, pictured below.

A translucent mini-skimmer made to sit (mostly) inside of an ATM's card acceptance slot. Source: EAST.

A translucent mini-skimmer made to sit (mostly) inside of an ATM’s card acceptance slot. Source: EAST.

Continue reading →


02
Jul 14

Brazilian ‘Boleto’ Bandits Bilk Billions

With the eyes of the world trained on Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it seems a fitting time to spotlight a growing form of computer fraud that’s giving Brazilian banks and consumers a run for their money. Today’s post looks at new research into a mostly small-time cybercrime practice that in the aggregate appears to have netted thieves the equivalent of billions of dollars over the past two years.

A boleto.

A boleto.

At issue is the “boleto” (officially “Boleto Bancario”), a popular payment method in Brazil that is used by consumers and for most business-to-business payments. Brazilians can use boletos to complete online purchases via their bank’s Web site, but unlike credit card payments — which can be disputed and reversed — payments made via boletos are not subject to chargebacks and can only be reverted by bank transfer.

Brazil has an extremely active and talented cybercrime underground, and increasingly Brazilian organized  crime gangs are setting their sights on boleto users who bank online. This is typically done through malware that lies in wait until the user of the hacked PC visits their bank’s site and fills out the account information for the recipient of a boleto transaction. In this scenario, the unwitting victim submits the transfer for payment and the malware modifies the request by substituting a recipient account that the attackers control.

Many of the hijacked boleto transactions are low-dollar amounts, but in the aggregate these purloined payments can generate an impressive income stream for even a small malware gang. On Tuesday, for example, a source forwarded me a link to a Web-based control panel for a boleto-thieving botnet (see screenshot below); in this operation, we can see that the thieves had hijacked some 383 boleto transactions between February 2014 and the end of June, but had stolen the equivalent of nearly USD $250,000 during that time.

The records kept by a boleto-stealing botnet. Next to the date and time is the account of the intended recipient of the transfer; the "linea alterada" column shows the accounts used by the thieves to accept diverted payments. "Valor" refers to the amount, expressed in Brazilian Real.

The records kept by a boleto-stealing botnet. Next to the date and time is the account of the intended recipient of the transfer; the “linha alterada” column shows the accounts used by the thieves to accept diverted payments. “Valor” refers to the amount, expressed in Brazilian Real.

But a recent discovery by researchers at RSA, the security division of EMC, exposes far more lucrative and ambitious boleto banditry. RSA says the fraud ring it is tracking — known as the “Bolware” operation — affects more than 30 different banks in Brazil, and may be responsible for up to $3.75 billion USD in losses. RSA arrived at this estimate based on the discovery of a similar botnet control panel that tracked nearly a half-million fraudulent transactions. Continue reading →


01
Jul 14

Microsoft Darkens 4MM Sites in Malware Fight

Millions of Web sites were shuttered Monday morning after Microsoft executed a legal sneak attack against a malware network thought to be responsible for more than 7.4 million infections of Windows PCs worldwide.

A diagram showing how crooks abused no-ip.com's services to control malware networks. Source: Microsoft.

A diagram showing how crooks abused no-ip.com’s services to control malware networks. Source: Microsoft.

In its latest bid to harness the power of the U.S. legal system to combat malicious software and cybercrooks, Microsoft convinced a Nevada court to grant the software giant authority over nearly two dozen domains belonging to no-ip.com, a company that provides dynamic domain name services.

Dynamic DNS services are used to map domain names to numeric Internet address that may change frequently. Typically, the biggest users of dynamic DNS services are home Internet users who wish to have a domain name that will always point back to their home computer, no matter how many times their ISP changes the numeric Internet address assigned to that computer.

In this case, however, the attackers responsible for leveraging two malware families — remote-access Trojans known as “njrat” and “njw0rm” — were using no-ip.com’s services to guarantee that PCs they infected would always be able to reach the Internet servers.

Microsoft told the court that miscreants who were using these two malware strains were leveraging more than 18,400 hostnames that belonged to no-ip.com. On June 26, the court granted Microsoft the authority to temporarily seize control over 23 domains owned by no-ip.com — essentially all of the domains that power no-ip.com’s free dynamic DNS services.

Microsoft was supposed to filter out the traffic flowing to and from those 18,400+ hostnames, and allow the remaining, harmless traffic to flow through to its rightful destination. But according to no-ip.com marketing manager Natalie Goguen, that’s not at all what happened.

“They made comments that they’d only taken down bad hostnames and were supposedly redirecting all good traffic through to users, but it’s not happening, and they’re not able to handle our traffic volumes,” Goguen said. “Many legitimate users that use our services have been down all day.”

Goguen said while Microsoft claimed that there were more than 18,000 malicious hostnames involved, no-ip.com could only find a little more than 2,000 from that list that were still active as of Monday morning. Meanwhile, some four million hostnames remain offline, with customer support requests piling up.

“So, to go after 2,000 or so bad sites, [Microsoft] has taken down four million,” Goguen said. Continue reading →


26
Jun 14

2014: The Year Extortion Went Mainstream

The year 2014 may well go down in the history books as the year that extortion attacks went mainstream. Fueled largely by the emergence of the anonymous online currency Bitcoin, these shakedowns are blurring the lines between online and offline fraud, and giving novice computer users a crash course in modern-day cybercrime.

An extortion letter sent to 900 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria in New Hampshire.

An extortion letter sent to 900 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria in New Hampshire.

At least four businesses recently reported receiving “Notice of Extortion” letters in the U.S. mail. The letters say the recipient has been targeted for extortion, and threaten a range of negative publicity, vandalism and harassment unless the target agrees to pay a “tribute price” of one bitcoin (currently ~USD $561) by a specified date. According to the letter, that tribute price increases to 3 bitcoins (~$1,683) if the demand isn’t paid on time.

The ransom letters, which appear to be custom written for restaurant owners, threaten businesses with negative online reviews, complaints to the Better Business Bureau, harassing telephone calls, telephone denial-of-service attacks, bomb threats, fraudulent delivery orders, vandalism, and even reports of mercury contamination.

The missive encourages recipients to sign up with Coinbase – a popular bitcoin exchange – and to send the funds to a unique bitcoin wallet specified in the letter and embedded in the QR code that is also printed on the letter.

Interestingly, all three letters I could find that were posted online so far targeted pizza stores. At least two of them were mailed from Orlando, Florida.

The letters all say the amounts are due either on Aug. 1 or Aug. 15. Perhaps one reason the deadlines are so far off is that the attackers understand that not everyone has bitcoins, or even knows about the virtual currency.

“What the heck is a BitCoin?” wrote the proprietors of New Hampshire-based 900 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria, which posted a copy of the letter (above) on their Facebook page.

Sandra Alhilo, general manager of Pizza Pirates in Pomona, Calif., received the extortion demand on June 16.

“At first, I was laughing because I thought it had to be a joke,” Alhilo said in a phone interview. “It was funny until I went and posted it on our Facebook page, and then people put it on Reddit and the Internet got me all paranoid.”

Nicholas Weaver, a researcher at the International Computer Science Institute (ICSI) and at the University California, Berkeley, said these extortion attempts cost virtually nothing and promise a handsome payoff for the perpetrators.

“From the fraudster’s perspective, the cost of these attacks is a stamp and an envelope,” Weaver said. “This type of attack could be fairly effective. Some businesses — particularly restaurant establishments — are very concerned about negative publicity and reviews. Bad Yelp reviews, tip-offs to the health inspector..that stuff works and isn’t hard to do.”

While some restaurants may be an easy mark for this sort of crime, Weaver said the extortionists in this case are tangling with a tough adversary — The U.S. Postal Service — which takes extortion crimes perpetrated through the U.S. mail very seriously.

“There is a lot of operational security that these guys might have failed at, because this is interstate commerce, mail fraud, and postal inspector territory, where the gloves come off,” Weaver said. “I’m willing to bet there are several tools available to law enforcement here that these extortionists didn’t consider.”

It’s not entirely clear if or why extortionists seem to be picking on pizza establishments, but it’s probably worth noting that the grand-daddy of all pizza joints – Domino’s Pizza in France — recently found itself the target of a pricey extortion attack earlier this month after hackers threatened to release the stolen details on more than 650,000 customers if the company failed to pay a ransom of approximately $40,000).

Meanwhile, Pizza Pirates’s Alhilo says the company has been working with the local U.S. Postal Inspector’s office, which was very interested in the letter. Alhilo said her establishment won’t be paying the extortionists.

“We have no intention of paying it,” she said. “Honestly, if it hadn’t been a slow day that Monday I might have just throw the letter out because it looked like junk mail. It’s annoying that someone would try to make a few bucks like this on the backs of small businesses.” Continue reading →


24
Jun 14

The ‘Fly’ Has Been Swatted

A Ukrainian man who claimed responsibility for organizing a campaign to send heroin to my home last summer has been arrested in Italy on suspicion of trafficking in stolen credit card accounts, among other things, KrebsOnSecurity.com has learned.

Sergei "Fly" Vovnenko was arrested in Naples, Italy.

Passport photo for Sergei “Fly” Vovnenko. He was arrested in Naples, Italy earlier this month.

Last summer, appropos of nothing, an infamous cybercrook known as “Fly,” “Flycracker” and “Muxacc” began sending me profane and taunting tweets. On top of this, he posted my credit report on his blog and changed his Twitter profile picture to an image of an action figure holding up my severed head.

The only thing I knew about Fly then was that he was the founder and administrator of a closely-guarded Russian-language crime forum called thecc.bz (the “cc” part referring to credit cards). Fly also was a trusted moderator on Mazafaka, one of the most exclusive and venerable Russian carding forums online today.

Shortly after Fly began sending those nasty tweets, I secretly gained access to his forum, where I learned that he had hatched a plot to buy heroin on the Silk Road, have it shipped to my home, and then spoof a call from one of my neighbors to the local police when the drugs arrived (see Mail from the Velvet Cybercrime Underground).

Thankfully, I was able to warn the cops in advance, even track the package along with the rest of the forum members thanks to a USPS tracking link that Fly had posted into a discussion thread on his forum.

Angry that I’d foiled his plan to have me arrested for drug possession, Fly had a local florist send a gaudy floral arrangement in the shape of a giant cross to my home, complete with a menacing message that addressed my wife and was signed, “Velvet Crabs.”

Irina Gumenyuk-Vovnenko lists her hometown as Naples in her Odnoklassniki.ru profile.

Irina Gumenyuk-Vovnenko’s lists her hometown as Naples in her Odnoklassniki.ru profile.

After this incident, I became intensely curious about the identity of this Fly individual, so I began looking through databases of hacked carding and cybercrime forums. My first real break came when Russian computer forensics firm Group-IB provided a key piece of the puzzle (they also were quite helpful on the heroin sleuthing as well). Group-IB found that on the now-defunct vulnes[dot]com, Fly maintained an account under the nickname Flycracker, and signed up with the email address mazafaka@libero.it (.it is the country code for Italy).

According to a trusted source in the security community, that email account was somehow compromised last year. The source said the account was full of emailed reports from a keylogging device that was tied to another email address — 777flyck777@gmail.com (according to Google, mazafaka@libero.it is the recovery email address for 777flyck777@gmail.com).

Those keylog reports contained some valuable information, and indicated that Fly had planted a keylogger on his wife Irina’s computer. On several occasions, those emails show Fly’s wife typed in her Gmail address, which included her real first and last name — Irina Gumenyuk.

Later, Gumenyuk would change the surname on her various social networking profiles online to Vovnenko. She even mentioned her husband by name several times in emails to friends, identifying him as 28-year-old “Sergei Vovnenko”. Payment information contained in those emails — including shipping and other account information — put the happy couple and their young son in Naples, Italy. Continue reading →