22
Dec 14

Alleged Counterfeiter “Willy Clock” Arrested

In September 2014, I wrote about receiving a package of $500 in counterfeit U.S. currency from an unknown sender, after mentioning in a blog post about a rash of funny money resellers flooding underground cybercrime markets. Last week, U.S. authorities announced the arrest of a Texas man charged with leading the international counterfeit currency operation from a location in the Republic of Uganda.

Counterfeit $100s and $50s from "Willy Clock," allegedly the online alias of a Texas man living in Uganda.

Counterfeit $100s and $50s from “Willy Clock,” allegedly the online alias of a Texas man living in Uganda.

U.S. prosecutors say 27-year-old Ryan Andrew Gustafson – a.k.a. “Jack Farrel” and “Willy Clock” — is a U.S. citizen currently residing in Kampala, Uganda. Gustafson was arrested on Dec. 16 by Ugandan authorities and charged with conspiracy, counterfeiting, and unlawful possession of ammunition.

The defendant and his alleged accomplices are suspected of passing approximately $270,000 in fake U.S. currency in Uganda. In total, Ugandan authorities say they seized some $1.8 million in funny money from Gustafson’s operation.

The U.S. Secret Service, which investigates currency counterfeiting, said the investigation began in December 2013 when agents were alerted to the passing of counterfeit notes at retail stores and businesses in the Pittsburgh area. A press release from the Justice Department outlines the rest of the investigation:

“Agents determined that an individual identified as J.G. had passed these notes and was renting a postal box at The UPS Store on Pittsburgh’s South Side.  On Feb 19, 2014, law enforcement learned that J.G. received three packages addressed from Beyond Computers, located in Kampala, Uganda.  Agents executing a search warrant on the packages found $7,000 in counterfeit $100, $50 and $20 FRNs located in two hidden compartments within the packaging envelopes.  A fingerprint on a document inside one of the packages was identified as belonging to Ryan Andrew Gustafson.”

Jack Farrel's Facebook page. The U.S. Secret Service alleges that Farrel is Gustafson, a.k.a. counterfeiter "Willy Clock."

Jack Farrel’s Facebook page. The U.S. Secret Service alleges that Farrel is Gustafson, a.k.a. counterfeiter “Willy Clock.”

“The Secret Service subsequently worked with Ugandan authorities to identify the source of the counterfeit [cash].  Their efforts led to A.B., who admitted to sending the packages, explaining that an American named “Jack Farrel,” and another person, provided him the counterfeit notes to ship.  Based on information provided by A.B., the Secret Service used facial recognition to identify Jack Farrel as Ryan Andrew Gustafson.”

The government says Gustafson sold the bills through the Tor Carding Forum, a cybercrime shop that is unreachable from the regular Internet. Rather, visiting the Tor Carding Forum requires the visitor to route his communications through Tor, a free software-based service that helps users maintain anonymity by obfuscating their true location online. Continue reading →


22
Dec 14

Gang Hacked ATMs from Inside Banks

An organized gang of hackers from Russia and Ukraine has broken into internal networks at dozens of financial institutions and installed malicious software that allowed the gang to drain bank ATMs of cash. While none of the victim institutions were in the United States or Western Europe, experts say the stealthy methods used by the attackers in these heists would likely work across a broad range of western banks.

robotrobkbMost cybercrime targets consumers and businesses, stealing account information such as passwords and other data that lets thieves cash out hijacked bank accounts, as well as credit and debit cards. But this gang specializes in hacking into banks directly, and then working out ingenious ways to funnel cash directly from the financial institution itself.

A number of the gang’s members are believed to be tied to a group of Eastern European hackers accused of stealing more than USD $2 million from Russian banks using a powerful, custom-made banking trojan known as Carberp. Eight men in Moscow were arrested in 2012 and accused of building and using Carberp, but sources say the core members of the gang were out of jail within hours after their arrest and have been busy rebuilding their crime machine ever since.

According to report released today by Fox-IT and Group-IB, security firms based in The Netherlands and Russia, respectively, the Carberp guys have since changed their tactics: Instead of stealing from thousands of bank account holders, this gang has decided to focus on siphoning funds right out of banks’ coffers. So far, the security firms report, the gang has stolen more than $15 million from Eastern European banks.

To gain a foothold inside financial institutions, this crime group — dubbed the “Anunak group” — sent bank employees targeted, malware-laced emails made to look like the missives were sent by Russian banking regulators. The phishing emails contained malicious software designed to exploit recently-patched security holes in Microsoft Office products.

Incredibly, the group also reportedly bought access to Windows PCs at targeted banks that were already compromised by opportunistic malware spread by other cyber criminals. Indeed, Fox-IT and Group-IB report that the Anunak gang routinely purchased installations of their banking malware from other cybercriminals who operated massive botnets (collections of hacked PCs).

Once inside a financial institution, the criminals typically abused that access to launch even more convincing spear-phishing attacks against other banks. They also gained access to isolated bank network segments that handled ATM transactions, downloading malicious programs made to work specifically with Wincor ATMs. The hackers used that malware — along with a modified legitimate program for managing ATM cash trays — to change the denomination settings for bank notes in 52 different ATMs.

As a result, they were able to make it so that when co-conspirators went to affected ATMs to withdraw 10 bills totaling 100 Russian rubles, they were instead issued 10 bank notes with the denomination of 5,000 rubles, the report notes.

The Anunak gang reportedly modified this legitimate program for managing bill denominations in ATMs.

The Anunak gang reportedly modified this legitimate program for managing bill denominations in ATMs.

Continue reading →


19
Dec 14

Staples: 6-Month Breach, 1.16 Million Cards

Office supply chain Staples Inc. today finally acknowledged that a malware intrusion this year at some of its stores resulted in a credit card breach. The company now says some 119 stores were impacted between April and September 2014, and that as many as 1.16 million customer credit and debit cards may have been stolen as a result.

staplesKrebsOnSecurity first reported the suspected breach on Oct. 20, 2014, after hearing from multiple banks that had identified a pattern of credit and debit card fraud suggesting that several Staples office supply locations in the Northeastern United States were dealing with a data breach. At the time, Staples would say only that it was investigating “a potential issue” and had contacted law enforcement.

In a statement issued today, Staples released a list of stores (PDF) hit with the card-stealing malware, and the stores are not limited to the Northeastern United States.

“At 113 stores, the malware may have allowed access to this data for purchases made from August 10, 2014 through September 16, 2014,” Staples disclosed. “At two stores, the malware may have allowed access to data from purchases made from July 20, 2014 through September 16, 2014.”

However, the company did say that during the investigation Staples also received reports of fraudulent payment card use related to four stores in Manhattan, New York at various times from April through September 2014. Continue reading →


19
Dec 14

FBI: North Korea to Blame for Sony Hack

The FBI today said it has determined that the North Korean government is responsible for the devastating recent hack attack against Sony Pictures Entertainment. Here’s a brief look the FBI’s statement, what experts are learning about North Korea’s cyberattack capabilities, and what this incident means for other corporations going forward.

In a statement released early Friday afternoon, the FBI said that its investigation — along with information shared by Sony and other U.S. government departments and agencies — found that the North Korean government was responsible.

The FBI said it couldn’t disclose all of its sources and methods, but that the conclusion was based, in part, on the following:

-“Technical analysis of the data deletion malware used in this attack revealed links to other malware that the FBI knows North Korean actors previously developed. For example, there were similarities in specific lines of code, encryption algorithms, data deletion methods, and compromised networks.”

-“The FBI also observed significant overlap between the infrastructure used in this attack and other malicious cyber activity the U.S. government has previously linked directly to North Korea. For example, the FBI discovered that several Internet protocol (IP) addresses associated with known North Korean infrastructure communicated with IP addresses that were hardcoded into the data deletion malware used in this attack.”

-“Separately, the tools used in the SPE attack have similarities to a cyber attack in March of last year against South Korean banks and media outlets, which was carried out by North Korea.”

The agency added that it was “deeply concerned” about the destructive nature of this attack on a private sector entity and the ordinary citizens who work there, and that the FBI stands ready to assist any U.S. company that is the victim of a destructive cyber attack or breach of confidential information.

“Further, North Korea’s attack on SPE reaffirms that cyber threats pose one of the gravest national security dangers to the United States,” the FBI said. “Though the FBI has seen a wide variety and increasing number of cyber intrusions, the destructive nature of this attack, coupled with its coercive nature, sets it apart. North Korea’s actions were intended to inflict significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves. Such acts of intimidation fall outside the bounds of acceptable state behavior. The FBI takes seriously any attempt—whether through cyber-enabled means, threats of violence, or otherwise—to undermine the economic and social prosperity of our citizens.”

SPE was hit with a strain of malware designed to wipe all computer hard drives within the company’s network. The attackers then began releasing huge troves of sensitive SPE internal documents, and, more recently, started threatening physical violence against anyone who viewed the Sony movie “The Interview,” a comedy that involves a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Not long after a number of top movie theater chains said they would not show the film, Sony announced that it would cancel the movie’s theatrical release.

Apparently emboldened by Sony’s capitulation, the attackers are now making even more demands. According to CNN, Sony executives on Thursday received an email apparently from the attackers said they would no longer release additional stolen Sony Pictures data if the company announced that it would also cancel any plans to release the movie on DVD, Netflix or elsewhere. The attackers also reportedly demanded that any teasers and trailers about The Interview online be removed from the Internet.

A ‘MAGIC WEAPON’

Little is publicly known about North Korea’s cyber warfare and hacking capabilities, but experts say North Korean leaders view cyber warfare capabilities as an important asymmetric asset in the face of its perceived enemies — the United States and South Korea. An in-depth report (PDF) released earlier this year by HP Security Research notes that in November 2013, North Korea’s “dear leader” Kim Jong Un referred to cyber warfare capabilities as a “magic weapon” in conjunction with nuclear weapons and missiles.

“Although North Korea’s limited online presence makes a thorough analysis of their cyber warfare capabilities a difficult task, it must be noted that what is known of those capabilities closely mirrors their kinetic warfare tactics,” HP notes. “Cyber warfare is simply the modern chapter in North Korea’s long history of asymmetrical warfare. North Korea has used various unconventional tactics in the past, such as guerilla warfare, strategic use of terrain, and psychological operations. The regime also aspires to create viable nuclear weapons.”

Sources familiar with the investigation tell KrebsOnSecurity that the investigators believe there may have been as many as several dozen individuals involved in the attack, the bulk of whom hail from North Korea. Nearly a dozen of them are believed to reside in Japan.

Headquarters of the Chongryon in Japan.

Headquarters of the Chongryon in Japan.

According to HP, a group of ethnic North Koreans residing in Japan known as the Chongryon are critical to North Korea’s cyber and intelligence programs, and help generate hard currency for the regime. The report quotes Japanese intelligence officials stating that “the Chongryon are vital to North Korea’s military budget, raising funds via weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, and other black market activities.” HP today published much more detail about specific North Korean hacking groups that may have played a key role in the Sony incident given previous such attacks. Continue reading →


18
Dec 14

Complex Solutions to a Simple Problem

My inbox has been flooded of late with pitches for new technologies aimed at making credit cards safer and more secure. Many of these solutions are exceedingly complex and overwrought — if well-intentioned — responses to a problem that we already know how to solve. Here’s a look at a few of the more elaborate approaches.

A promotion for the Siren Swipe technology.

A promotion for the Siren Swipe technology.

Some of these ideas may have benefited from additional research into where financial institutions actually experience most of their fraud losses. Hint: Lost-and-stolen fraud is minuscule compared to losses from other types of fraud, such as counterfeit cards and online fraud. Case in point: A new product called Safe Swipe. From their pitch:

“The basic premise of our solution, Safe Swipe…is a technology which ‘marries’ your smart mobile device, phone, tablet and or computer to your credit/debit card(s). We’ve developed a Geo-Locator software program which triangulates your location with the POS device and your mobile phone so that if your phone and credit card are not within a certain predetermined range of one another the purchase would be challenged. In addition, we incorporated an ON/OFF type switch where you can ‘Lock Down’ your credit/debit card from your mobile device making it useless should it ever be stolen.”

The truth is that you can “lock down” your credit card if it’s lost or stolen by calling your credit card company and reporting it as such.  Along these lines, I received multiple pitches from the folks who dreamed up a product/service called “Siren Swipe.” Check it out:

“The SIREN SWIPE system immediately notifies local police (via the local 911 center) of a thief’s location (ie merchant address) once heswipes a card that has already been reported stolen,” the folks at this company said in an email pitch to KrebsOnSecurity. “SIREN SWIPE has the potential to drastically impact the credit card fraud landscape because although card credentials being stolen is a forgone conclusion, which cards thieves decide to actually use is not.  For a thief browsing a site like Rescator, the knowledge that using certain banks’ cards could result in an immediate police response can make thieves avoid using these banks’ stolen cards over and over again.  And in the best case scenario, a carder site admin could just decide not to sell subscribing banks’ cards in the interest of customer service.”

The sad truth is that, for the most part, cops generally have more important things to do than chase around the street urchins who end up using stolen credit and debit cards, and they’re not going to turn on the dome lights and siren over something like this. Also, the signals for fraud are all backwards here: The fraudsters know to use criminal card-checking services before buying and/or using stolen cards, so they don’t generally end up using a pile of cards that have already been cancelled.

A diagram explaining Quantum Secure Authentication.

A diagram explaining Quantum Secure Authentication.

My favorite overwrought solution to making credit cards more secure comes from researchers in the Netherlands, who recently put out a paper announcing a card security idea they’re calling Quantum-Secure Authentication. According to its creators, this approach relies on “the unique quantum properties of light to create a secure question-and-answer exchange that cannot be spoofed or copied. From their literature:

“Traditional magnetic-stripe-only cards are relatively simple to use but simple to copy. Recently, banks have begun issuing so-called ‘smart cards’ that include a microprocessor chip to authenticate, identify & enhance security. But regardless of how complex the code or how many layers of security, the problem remains that an attacker who obtains the information stored inside the card can copy or emulate it. The new approach…avoids this risk entirely by using the peculiar quantum properties of photons that allow them to be in multiple locations at the same time to convey the authentication questions & answers. Though difficult to reconcile with our everyday experiences, this strange property of light can create a fraud-proof Q&A exchange, like those used to authorize credit card transactions.” Continue reading →


16
Dec 14

Banks: Park-n-Fly Online Card Breach

Multiple financial institutions say they are seeing a pattern of fraud that indicates an online credit card breach has hit Park-n-Fly, an Atlanta-based offsite airport parking service that allows customers to reserve spots in advance of travel via an Internet-based reservation system. The security incident, if confirmed, would be the latest in a string of card breaches involving compromised payment systems at parking services nationwide.

park-n-flyIn response to questions from KrebsOnSecurity, Park-n-Fly said it recently engaged multiple outside security firms to investigate breach claims made by financial institutions, but so far has been unable to find a breach of its systems.

“We have been unable to find any specific issues related to the cards or transactions reported to us and by the financial institutions,” wrote Michael Robinson, the company’s senior director of information technology, said in an emailed statement. “While this kind of incident is rare for us based on our thousands of daily transactions, we do take every instance very seriously. Like any reputable company involved in e-commerce today we recognize that we must be constantly vigilant and research every claim to root out any vulnerabilities or potential gaps.”

Park-n-Fly’s statement continues:

“While we believe that our systems are very secure, including SLL encryption, we have recently engaged multiple outside security firms to identify and resolve any possible gaps in our systems and as always will take any action indicated. We have made all necessary precautionary upgrades and we just upgraded on 12/9 to the latest EV SSL certificate from Entrust, one of the leading certificate issuers in the industry.”

Nevertheless, two different banks shared information with KrebsOnSecurity that suggests Park-n-Fly — or some component of its online card processing system — has indeed experienced a breach. Both banks saw fraud on a significant number of customer cards that previously  — and quite recently — had been used online to make reservations at a number of more than 50 Park-n-Fly locations nationwide. Continue reading →


15
Dec 14

In Damage Control, Sony Targets Reporters

Over the weekend I received a nice holiday letter from lawyers representing Sony Pictures Entertainment, demanding that I cease publishing detailed stories about the company’s recent hacking and delete any company data collected in the process of reporting on the breach. While I have not been the most prolific writer about this incident to date, rest assured such threats will not deter this reporter from covering important news and facts related to the breach.

A letter from Sony's lawyers.

A letter from Sony’s lawyers.

“SPE does not consent to your possession, review, copying, dissemination, publication, uploading, downloading, or making any use of the Stolen information, and to request your cooperation in destroying the Stolen Information,” wrote SPE’s lawyers, who hail from the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner.

This letter reminds me of one that I received several years back from the lawyers of Igor Gusev, one of the main characters in my book, Spam Nation. Mr. Gusev’s attorneys insisted that I was publishing stolen information — pictures of him, financial records from his spam empire “SpamIt” — and that I remove all offending items and publish an apology. My lawyer in that instance called Gusev’s threat a “blivit,” a term coined by the late, great author Kurt Vonnegut, who defined it as “two pounds of shit in a one-pound bag.”

For a more nuanced and scholarly look at whether reporters and bloggers who write about Sony’s hacking should be concerned after receiving this letter, I turn to an analysis by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh, who posits that Sony “probably” does not have a legal leg to stand on here in demanding that reporters refrain from writing about the extent of SPE’s hacking in great detail. But Volokh includes some useful caveats to this conclusion (and exceptions to those exceptions), notably:

“Some particular publications of specific information in the Sony material might lead to a successful lawsuit,” Volokh writes. “First, disclosure of facts about particular people that are seen as highly private (e.g., medical or sexual information) and not newsworthy might be actionable under the ‘disclosure of private facts’ tort.” Continue reading →


13
Dec 14

SpamHaus, CloudFlare Attacker Pleads Guilty

A 17-year-old male from London, England pleaded guilty this week to carrying out a massive denial-of-service attack last year against anti-spam outfit SpamHaus and content delivery network CloudFlare, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

narko-stophausIn late March 2013, a massive distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack hit the web site of SpamHaus, an organization that distributes a blacklist of spammers to email and network providers. When SpamHaus moved its servers behind CloudFlare, which specializes in blocking such attacks — the attackers pelted CloudFlare’s network. The New York Times called the combined assault the largest known DDoS attack ever on the Internet at the time; for its part, CloudFlare dubbed it “the attack that almost broke the Internet.”

In April 2013, an unnamed then-16-year-old male from London identified only by his hacker alias “Narko,” was arrested and charged with computer misuse and money laundering in connection with the attack.

Sources close to the investigation now tell KrebsOnSecurity that Narko has pleaded guilty to those charges, and that Narko’s real name is Sean Nolan McDonough. A spokesman for the U.K. National Crime Agency confirmed that a 17-year-old male from London had pleaded guilty to those charges on Dec. 10, but noted that “court reporting restrictions are in place in respect to a juvenile offender, [and] as a consequence the NCA will not be releasing further detail.”

During the assault on SpamHaus, Narko was listed as one of several moderators of the forum Stophaus[dot]com, a motley crew of hacktivists, spammers and bulletproof hosting providers who took credit for organizing the attack on SpamHaus and CloudFlare.

WHO RUNS STOPHAUS?

It is likely that McDonough/Narko was hired by someone else to conduct the attack. So, this seems as good a time as any to look deeper into who’s likely the founder and driving force behind the Stophaus movement itself. All signs point to an angry, failed spammer living in Florida who runs an organization that calls itself the Church of Common Good.

cocg-fbNot long after McDonough’s arrest, a new Facebook page went online called “Freenarko,” which listed itself as “a solidarity support group to help in the legal defense and media stability for ‘Narko,’ a 16-yr old brother in London who faces charges concerning the Spamhaus DDoS attack in March.”

Multiple posts on that page link to Stophaus propaganda, to the Facebook page for the Church of the Common Good, and to a now-defunct Web site called “WeAreHomogeneous.org” (an eye-opening and archived copy of the site as it existed in early 2013 is available at archive.org; for better or worse, the group’s Facebook page lives on).

The Church of Common Good lists as its leader a Gulfport, Fla. man named Andrew J. Stephens, whose LinkedIn page says he is a “media mercenary” at the same organization (hours after this story was posted, large chunks of text were deleted from Stephens’ profile; a PDF of the original profile is here).

Stephens’ CV lists a stint in 2012 as owner of an email marketing firm variously called Digital Dollars and IBT Inc, moneymaking schemes which Stephens describes as a “beginner to intermediate level guide to successful list marketing in today’s email environment. It incorporates the use of both white hat and some sketchy techniques you would find on black hat forums, but has avoided anything illegal or unethical…which you would also find on black hat forums.”

More recent entries in Andrew’s LinkedIn profile show that he now sees his current job as a “social engineer.” From his page:

“I am a what you may call a “Social Engineer” and have done work for several information security teams. My most recent operation was with a research team doing propaganda analysis for a media firm. I have a unique ability to access data that is typically inaccessible through social engineering and use this ability to gather data for research purposes. I have a knack for data mining and analysis, but was not formally trained so am able to think outside the box and accomplish goals traditional infosec students could not. I am proficient at strategic planning and vulnerability analysis and am often busy dissecting malware and tracking the criminals behind such software. There’s no real title for what I do, but I do it well I am told.”

Turns out, Andrew J. Stephens used to have his own Web site — andrewstephens.org. Here, the indispensable archive.org helps out again with a cache of his site from back when it launched in 2011 (oddly enough, the same year that Stophaus claims to have been born). On his page, Mr. Stephens lists himself as an “internet entrepreneur” and his business as “IBT.” Under his “Featured Work” heading, he lists “The Stophaus Project,” “Blackhat Learning Center,” and a link to an spamming software tool called “Quick Send v.1.0.”

Stephens did not return requests for comment sent to his various contact addresses, although a combative individual who uses the Twitter handle @Stophaus and has been promoting the group’s campaign refused to answer direct questions about whether he was in fact Andrew J. Stephens.

Continue reading →


12
Dec 14

‘Security by Antiquity’ Bricks Payment Terminals

Last week, several thousand credit card payment terminals at various retailers across the country suddenly stopped working, their LCD displays showing blank screens instead of numbers and letters. Puzzled merchants began to worry that this was perhaps part of some sophisticated hacker attack on their cash registers. It turns out that the incident was indeed security-related, but for once it had nothing to do with cyber thieves.

Hypercom L4250 payment terminal.

Hypercom L4250 payment terminal.

On Dec. 7, 2014, certain older model payment terminals made by Hypercom stopped working due to the expiration of a cryptographic certificate used in the devices, according to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Equinox Payments, the company that owns the Hypercom brand.

“The security mechanism was triggered by the rollover of the date and not by any attack on or breach of the terminal,” said Stuart Taylor, vice president of payment solutions at Equinox. “The certificate was created in 2004 with a 10 year expiry date.”

Taylor said Equinox is now working with customers, distributors and channel partners to replace the certificate to return terminals to an operational state. The company is pointing affected customers who still need assistance to this certificate expiry help page.

“Many of these terminals have been successfully updated in the field,” Taylor said. “Unfortunately, a subset of them can’t be fixed in the field which means they’ll need to be sent to our repair facility.  We are working with our customers and distribution partners to track down where these terminals are and will provide whatever assistance we can to minimize any disruption as a result of this matter.”

According to two different merchants impacted by the incident that reached out to KrebsOnSecurity, the bricking of these payment terminals occurs only after the affected devices (in the 4x version of the terminals) are power-cycled or rebooted, which some merchants do daily.

Michael Rochette, vice president at Spencer Technologies, a Northborough, Mass.-based technology installation and support company, said his firm heard last week from an East Coast supermarket chain that opened for business on Monday morning only to find all of their payment terminals unresponsive. Rochette said that the supermarket chain and other retailers impacted by the incident across the country were immediately worried that the incident was part of a hacker attack on their payment infrastructure.

“Not all stores power cycle overnight, but for those that do, they came up all blank and inoperative,” Rochette said. “If that’s something that a retail chain does as a matter of policy across a whole chain of stores, that can be pretty damaging.” Continue reading →


11
Dec 14

‘Poodle’ Bug Returns, Bites Big Bank Sites

Many of the nation’s top banks, investment firms and credit providers are vulnerable to a newly-discovered twist on a known security flaw that exposes Web site traffic to eavesdropping. The discovery has prompted renewed warnings from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security advising vulnerable Web site owners to address the flaw as quickly as possible.

chasepoodleIn mid-October, the world learned about “POODLE,” an innocuous acronym for a serious security flaw in a specific version (version 3.0) of Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), the technology that most commercial Web sites use to protect the privacy and security of communications with customers.

When you visit a site that begins with “https://” you can be sure that the data that gets transmitted between that site and your browser cannot be read by anyone else. That is, unless those sites are still allowing traffic over SSL 3.0, in which case an attacker could exploit the POODLE bug to decrypt and extract information from inside an encrypted transaction — including passwords, cookies and other data that can be used to impersonate the legitimate user.

On Dec. 8, researchers found that the POODLE flaw also extends to certain versions of a widely used SSL-like encryption standard known as TLS (short for Transport Layer Security).

“The impact of this problem is similar to that of POODLE, with the attack being slightly easier to execute,” wrote Ivan Ristic, director of engineering at security firm Qualys, which made available online a free scanning tool that evaluates Web sites for the presence of the POODLE vulnerability, among other problems. “The main target are browsers, because the attacker must inject malicious JavaScript to initiate the attack.”

A cursory review using Qualys’s SSL/TLS scanning tool indicates that the Web sites for some of the world’s largest financial institutions are vulnerable to the new POODLE bug, including Bank of AmericaChase.comCitibankHSBC, Suntrust — as well as retirement and investment giants Fidelity.com and Vanguard (click links to see report). Dozens of sites offering consumer credit protection and other services run by Experian also are vulnerable, according to SSL Labs. Qualys estimates that about 10 percent of Web servers are vulnerable to the POODLE attack against TLS. Continue reading →