Posts Tagged: chronopay


3
Aug 11

Fake Antivirus Industry Down, But Not Out

Many fake antivirus businesses that paid hackers to foist junk security software on PC users have closed up shop in recent weeks. The wave of closures comes amid heightened scrutiny by the industry from security experts and a host of international law enforcement officials. But it’s probably too soon to break out the bubbly: The inordinate profits that drive fake AV peddlers guarantee the market will soon rebound.

During the past few weeks, some top fake AV promotion programs either disappeared or complained of difficulty in processing credit card transactions for would-be scareware victims: Fake AV brands such as Gagarincash, Gizmo, Nailcash, Best AV, Blacksoftware and Sevantivir.com either ceased operating or alerted affiliates that they may not be paid for current and future installations.

A notice to BestAV affiliates

On July 2, BestAV, one of the larger fake AV distribution networks, told affiliates that unforeseen circumstances had conspired to ruin the moneymaking program for everyone.

“Dear advertisers: Last week was quite complicated. Well-known force majeure circumstances have led to significant sums of money hanging in the banks, or in processing, making it impossible to pay advertisers on time and in full.”

The disruption appears to be partially due to an international law enforcement push against the fake AV industry. In one recent operation, authorities seized computers and servers in the United States and seven other countries in an ongoing investigation of a hacking gang that stole $72 million by tricking people into buying fake AV.

There may be another reason for the disruption: On June 23, Russian police arrested Pavel Vrublevsky, the co-founder of Russian online payment giant ChronoPay and a major player in the fake AV market.

Black Market Breakdown

ChronoPay employees wait outside as Moscow police search the premises.

Vrublevsky was arrested for allegedly hiring a hacker to launch denial of service attacks against ChronoPay’s rivals in the payments processing business. His role as a pioneer in the fake AV industry has been well-documented on this blog and elsewhere.

In May, I wrote about evidence showing that ChronoPay employees were involved in pushing MacDefender — fake AV software targeting Mac users. ChronoPay later issued a statement denying it had any involvement in the MacDefender scourge.

But last week, Russian cops who raided ChronoPay’s offices in Moscow found otherwise. According to a source who was involved in the raid, police found mountains of evidence that ChronoPay employees were running technical and customer support for a variety of fake AV programs, including MacDefender. The photograph below was taken by police on the scene who discovered Website support credentials and the call records of 1-800 numbers used to operate the support centers.

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24
Jun 11

ChronoPay Co-Founder Arrested

Russian authorities on Thursday arrested Pavel Vrublevsky, co-founder of ChronoPay, the country’s largest processor of online payments, for allegedly hiring a hacker to attack his company’s rivals.

An undated photo of Vrublevsky

Vrublevsky, 32, is probably best known as the co-owner of the Rx-Promotion rogue online pharmacy program. His company also consistently has been involved in credit card processing for — and in many cases setting up companies on behalf of — rogue anti-virus or “scareware” scams that use misleading PC security alerts in a bid to frighten people into purchasing worthless security software.

Russian state-run news organizations are reporting that Vrublevsky was arrested on June 23. Financial Times reporter Joe Menn writes that Vrublevsky was ordered held without bail and a hearing was set for a month’s time.

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23
Jun 11

Financial Mogul Linked to DDoS Attacks

Pavel Vrublevsky, the embattled co-founder of ChronoPay — Russia’s largest online payments processor — has reportedly fled the country after the arrest of a suspect who confessed that he was hired by Vrublevsky to launch a debilitating cyber attack against a top ChronoPay competitor.

KrebsOnSecurity has featured many stories on Vrublevsky’s role as co-founder of the infamous rogue online pharmacy Rx-Promotion, and on his efforts to situate ChronoPay as a major processor for purveyors of “scareware,” software that uses misleading computer virus infection alerts to frighten users into paying for worthless security software.  But these activities have largely gone overlooked by Russian law enforcement officials, possibly because the consequences have not impacted Russian citizens.

In the summer of 2010, rumors began flying in the Russian blogosphere that Vrublevsky had hired a hacker to launch a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack against Assist, the company that was processing payments for Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline. Aeroflot had opened its contract for processing payments to competitive bidding, and ChronoPay was competing against Assist and several other processors. The attack on Assist occurred just weeks before Aeroflot was to decide which company would win the contract; it so greatly affected Assist’s operations that the company was unable to process payments for extended periods of time. Citing the downtime in processing as a factor in its decision, Aeroflot ultimately awarded the contract to neither ChronoPay nor Assist, but instead to Alfa-Bank, the largest private bank in Russia.

According to documents leaked to several Russian security blogs, investigators with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) this month arrested a St. Petersburg man named Igor Artimovich in connection with the attacks. The documents indicate that Artimovich — known in hacker circles by the handle “Engel” — confessed to having used his botnet to attack Assist after receiving instructions and payment from Vrublevsky. The same blogs say Vrublevsky has fled the country. Sources close to the investigation say he is currently in the Maldives. Vrublevsky did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

"Topol Mailer" botnet interface allegedly used by Artimovich.

The allegations against Artimovich and Vrublevsky were supported by evidence collected by Russian computer forensics firm Group-IB, which said it assisted the FSB with the investigation. Group-IB presented detailed information on the malware and control servers used to control more than 10,000 infected PCs, and shared with investigators screen shots of the botnet control panel (pictured at left) allegedly used to coordinate the DDoS attack against Assist. Group-IB said Artimovich’s botnet also was used to attack several rogue pharmacy programs that were competing with Rx-Promotion, including Glavmed and Spamit (these attacks also were observed by security firm SecureWorks in February).

This DDoS saga is the latest chapter in a fascinating drama playing out between the two largest rogue Internet pharmacies: Vrublevsky’s Rx-Promotion and Glavmed (a.k.a. “Spamit”), a huge pharma affiliate program run by Igor Gusev, the man who co-founded ChronoPay with Vrublevsky in 2003. Continue reading →


13
Jun 11

Organization Chart Reveals ChronoPay’s Links to Shady Internet Projects

An online criminal enterprise, as tightly structured as any legitimate business corporation, was exposed in 2010. Emails and documents taken from employees of ChronoPay — Russia’s largest online payments processor — were shared with a select group of law enforcement agencies and with KrebsOnSecurity.com. The communications provide the strongest evidence yet that a notorious rogue online pharmacy and other shady enterprises are controlled by ChronoPay executives and employees.

The leaked ChronoPay emails show that in August 2010 co-founder Pavel Vrublevsky authorized a payment of 37,350 Russian Rubles (about $1,200) for a multi-user license of an Intranet service called MegaPlan.  The documents indicate that Vrublevsky used the service to help manage the sprawling projects related to ChronoPay’s “black” operations, including the processing of payments for rogue anti-virus software, violent “rape” porn sites, and knockoff prescription drugs sold through hundreds of Web sites affiliated with a rogue online pharmacy program Rx-Promotion.com.

ChronoPay employees used their MegaPlan accounts to track payment processing issues, order volumes, and advertising partnerships for these black programs. In a move straight out of the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs, the employees adopted nicknames like “Mr. Kink,” “Mr. Heppner,” and “Ms. Nati.” However, in a classic failure of operational security, many of these folks had their messages automatically forwarded to their real ChronoPay email accounts.

MegaPlan offers an application that makes it simple for clients to create organizational charts, and the account paid for by ChronoPay includes a chart showing the hierarchy and reporting structure of its dark divisions.

A screen shot of the organization chart from ChronoPay’s MegaPlan Intranet system.

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27
May 11

ChronoPay Fueling Mac Scareware Scams

Some of the recent scams that used bogus security alerts in a bid to frighten Mac users into purchasing worthless security software appear to have been the brainchild of ChronoPay, Russia’s largest online payment processor and something of a pioneer in the rogue anti-virus business.

Since the beginning of May, security firms have been warning Apple users to be aware of new scareware threats like MacDefender and Mac Security. The attacks began on May 2, spreading through poisoned Google Image Search results. Initially, these attacks required users to provide their passwords to install the rogue programs, but recent variants do not, according to Mac security vendor Intego.

A few days after the first attacks surfaced, experienced Mac users on Apple support forums began reporting that new strains of the Mac malware were directing users to pay for the software via a domain called mac-defence.com. Others spotted fake Mac security software coming from macbookprotection.com. When I first took a look at the registration records for those domains, I was unsurprised to find the distinct fingerprint of ChronoPay, a Russian payment processor that I have written about time and again as the source of bogus security software.

The WHOIS information for both domains includes the contact address of fc@mail-eye.com. Last year, ChronoPay suffered a security breach in which tens of thousands of internal documents and emails were leaked. Those documents show that ChronoPay owns the mail-eye.com domain and pays for the virtual servers in Germany that run it. The records also indicate that the fc@mail-eye.com address belongs to ChronoPay’s financial controller Alexandra Volkova.

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3
Mar 11

ChronoPay’s Scareware Diaries

If your Windows PC has been hijacked by fake anti-virus software or “scareware” anytime in the past few years, chances are good that the attack was made possible by ChronoPay, Russia’s largest processor of online payments.

Tens of thousands of documents stolen and leaked last year from ChronoPay offer a fascinating look into a company that has artfully cultivated and handsomely profited from the market for scareware, programs that infiltrate victim PCs to display fake security alerts in a bid to frighten users into paying for worthless security software.

Click image for PDF version of timeline. Each entry is clickable and links to supporting documents.

ChronoPay handles Internet bill payments for a variety of major Russian companies, including domestic airlines and utilities. But ChronoPay also specializes in processing the transactions of so-called “high-risk” industries, including online pharmacies, tobacco sales, porn and software sales. A business is generally classified as high-risk when there is a great potential for credit card chargebacks and a fair chance that it will shut down or vanish without warning.

In June 2009, The Washington Post published the results of a six-month investigation into ChronoPay’s high-risk business. At the time, ChronoPay was one of a handful of processors for Pandora Software, the most prevalent brand of rogue software that was besieging consumers at the time. That story drew links between ChronoPay and an entity called Innovagest2000, which was listed as the technical support contact in the end-user license agreements that shipped with nearly all Pandora rogue anti-virus products.

When I confronted ChronoPay’s CEO Pavel Vrublevsky in 2009 about the apparent ties between Innovagest and his company, he insisted that there was no connection, and that his company’s processing services were merely being abused by scammers. But the recently leaked ChronoPay documents paint a very different picture, showing that Innovagest2000 was but one example of a cookie-cutter operation that ChronoPay has  refined and repeated over the last 24 months.

The documents show that Innovagest was a company founded by ChronoPay’s Spanish division, and that ChronoPay paid for everything, from the cost of Innovagest’s incorporation documents to the domain registration, virtual hosting and 1-800 technical and customer support lines for the company.

The same dynamic would play out with other ChronoPay “customers” that specialized in selling rogue anti-virus software. For example, leaked internal documents indicate that ChronoPay employees created two companies in Cyprus that would later be used in processing rogue anti-virus payments: Yioliant Holdings; and the strangely named Flytech Classic Distribution Ltd. ChronoPay emails show that employees also paid for domains software-retail.com and creativity-soft.com, rogue anti-virus peddling domains that were registered in the names and addresses of Yioliant Holdings and Flytech, respectively. Finally, emails also show that ChronoPay paid for the virtual hosting and telephone support for these operations. This accounting document, taken from one of the documents apparently stolen from ChronoPay, lists more than 75 pages of credit card transactions that the company processed from Americans who paid anywhere from $50 to $150 to rid their computers of imaginary threats found by scareware from creativity-soft.com (the amounts in the document are in Russian Rubles, not dollars, and the document has been edited to remove full credit card numbers and victim names).

Further, the purloined documents show these domains were aggressively promoted by external rogue anti-virus affiliate programs, such as Gelezyaka.biz, as well as a rogue anti-virus affiliate program apparently managed in-house by ChronoPay, called “Crusader.”

MEETING IN MOSCOW

Last month, I traveled to Moscow and had a chance to sit down with Vrublevsky at his offices. When I asked him about Innovagest, his tone was much different from the last time we discussed the subject in 2009. This may have had something to do with my already having told him that someone had leaked me his company’s internal documents and emails, which showed how integral ChronoPay was to the rogue anti-virus industry.

“By the time which correlates with your story, we didn’t know too much about spyware, and that Innovagest company that you tracked wasn’t used just for spyware only,” Vrublevsky said. “It was used for a bunch of shit.”

Vrublevsky further said that some of ChronoPay’s customers have in the past secretly sub-let the company’s processing services to other entities, who in turn used it to push through their own shady transactions. He offered, as an example, an entity that I wasn’t previously aware had been a customer of ChronoPay’s: A rogue anti-virus promotion program called TrafficConverter.biz.

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24
Feb 11

SpamIt, Glavmed Pharmacy Networks Exposed

An organized crime group thought to include individuals responsible for the notorious Storm and Waledac worms generated more than $150 million promoting rogue online pharmacies via spam and hacking, according to data obtained by KrebsOnSecurity.com.

In June 2010, an anonymous source using the assumed name “Despduck” began an e-mail correspondence with a key anti-spam source of mine, claiming he had access to the back-end database for Glavmed, a.k.a. “SpamIt”, until recently the biggest black market distributor of generic pharmaceuticals on the Internet.

Source: M86 Security Labs

If you received an unsolicited email in the past few years pimping male enhancement or erectile dysfunction pills, chances are extremely good that it was sent compliments of a Glavmed/Spamit contractor or “affiliate.” According to M86 Security Labs, the sites advertised in those Glavmed/Spamit emails — best known by their “Canadian Pharmacy” brand name — were by far the most prevalent affiliate brands promoted by spam as of June 2010.

Despduck said he could deliver data on hundreds of thousands of consumers who purchased pills through Glavmed’s sizable stable of online pharma shops, as well as detailed financial records of Glavmed/SpamIt affiliates who earned thousands of dollars of month promoting pharmacy sites using spam and hacked Web sites.

After many months of promising the information, Despduck finally came through with a 9-gigabyte database file that contained three years worth of financial books for the massive illicit pharmacy network. My source shared the data with several U.S. law enforcement agencies, and ultimately agreed to share it with me.

The database reads like a veritable rogues gallery of the Underweb; In it are the nicknames, ICQ numbers, email addresses and bank account information on some of the Internet’s most notorious hackers and spammers. This huge cache of information shows that over the course of three years, more than 2,500 “affiliates” earned hefty commissions promoting Glavmed’s pharmacy sites.

In total, these promoters would help Glavmed process in excess of 1.5 million orders from more than 800,000 consumers who purchased knockoff prescription drugs between May 2007 and June 2010. All told, Glavmed generated revenues of at least $150 million.

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29
Dec 10

Russian e-Payment Giant ChronoPay Hacked

Criminals this week hijacked ChronoPay.com, the domain name for Russia’s largest online payment processor, redirecting hundreds of unsuspecting visitors to a fake ChronoPay page that stole customer financial data.

Reached via phone in Moscow, ChronoPay chief executive Pavel Vrublevsky said the bogus payment page was up for several hours spanning December 25 and 26, during which time the attackers collected roughly 800 credit card numbers from customers visiting the site to make payments for various Russian businesses that rely on ChronoPay for processing.

In the attack, ChronoPay’s domain was transferred to Network Solutions, and its domain name system (DNS) servers were changed to “anotherbeast.com,” a domain registered at Network Solutions on Dec. 19, 2010.

The attackers left a message on the ChronoPay home page – designed to look as if it had been posted by Vrublevsky (see image above) – stating that hackers had stolen the personal data of all ChronoPay users who had shared payment information with the company in 2009 and 2010.

Vrublevsky said the message was faked — that it was “absolutely not true” — and that the damage was limited to the 800 card numbers. He added that the company was still working with its registrar Directnic and with Network Solutions to understand how the attackers managed to hijack the domain.

The hackers also stole and posted online at least nine secret cryptographic keys ChronoPay uses to sign the secure sockets layer (SSL) certificates that encrypt customer transactions at chronopay.com. Vrublevsky said all but one of those certs were issued long ago: One of the certs was issued in September, albeit with an older key, he said.

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18
May 10

Following the Money, Part II

A leading Russian politician has accused a prominent Moscow businessman of running an international spam and online pharmacy operation while serving as an anti-spam adviser to the Russian government. Russian investigators now say they plan to create a special task force to look into the allegations.

In an open letter to investigators at the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) of the Russian Federation, Ilya V. Ponomarev, a deputy of the Russian State Duma’s Hi-Tech Development Subcommittee, in March called for a criminal inquiry into the activities of one Pavel Vrublevsky, an individual I interviewed last year in an investigative report on rogue security software (a translated PDF version of Ponomarev’s letter is here).

Vrublevsky is founder and general director of ChronoPay, an online payment processor widely accepted in Russia to handle a number of domestic transactions, including payment for Russian airline and lottery tickets. ChronoPay also specializes in handling “high risk” online merchants, such as pharmacy, adult and Internet gaming sites. Last year, The Washington Post published a story I wrote that showed Chronopay was processing payments for a large number of sites pushing rogue anti-virus products, or “scareware.”

According to Ponomarev, Vrublevsky also is known online as “Redeye,” and is the creator of Crutop.nu, a large adult Webmaster forum that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission last year said was a place “where criminals share techniques and strategies with one another,” and a Russian language Web site “that features a variety of discussion forums that focus on making money from spam.”

In his letter to A.V. Anichin, the deputy minister and chief of the Russian MVD Investigations Committee, Ponomarev said the primary analysis of Vrublevsky’s activities shows the extent of the problem which escapes attention of law-enforcement bodies.

“They include trade in pornography on the Internet that contains scenes of cruel violence, real rape, zoophilia, etc. (etu-cash.com, cash.pornocruto.es), unlawful banking business focused on laundering of money generated by a range of criminal activities in order to escape taxes using fethard.biz and acceptance of payments for illegal sale of music files mp3 which violates author’s rights of performers and illegal trade in drug-containing and controlled prescribed drastic preparations via on-line chemistry networks (rx-promotion.com, spampromo.com), and illegal mass spam distribution all over the world, as well as sale of malicious software under the guise of anti-virus software.”

Ponomarev notes that Vrublevsky is a key member of the anti-spam working group of the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communication. Ponomarev also said that the MVD had instituted a criminal investigation into Vrublevsky in 2007, only to abandon the case when the chief investigator quit and reportedly went to work for Vrublevsky.

“We have here a merger between a criminal element and the government power which is unacceptable and inadmissible in any civilized society,” Ponomarev wrote.

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