Posts Tagged: Moneypak


6
Nov 13

CryptoLocker Crew Ratchets Up the Ransom

Last week’s article about how to prevent CryptoLocker ransomware attacks generated quite a bit of feedback and lots of questions from readers. For some answers — and since the malware itself has morphed significantly in just a few day’s time — I turned to Lawrence Abrams and his online help forum BleepingComputer.com, which have been following and warning about this scourge for several months.

This message is left by CryptoLocker for victims whose antivirus software removed the file needed to pay the ransom.

This message is left by CryptoLocker for victims whose antivirus software removes the file needed to pay the ransom.

To recap, CryptoLocker is a diabolical new twist on an old scam. The malware encrypts all of the most important files on a victim PC — pictures, movie and music files, documents, etc. — as well as any files on attached or networked storage media. CryptoLocker then demands payment via Bitcoin or MoneyPak and installs a countdown clock on the victim’s desktop that ticks backwards from 72 hours. Victims who pay the ransom receive a key that unlocks their encrypted files; those who let the timer expire before paying risk losing access to their files forever.

Or, at least, that’s how it worked up until a few days ago, when the crooks behind this scam began easing their own rules a bit to accommodate victims who were apparently willing to pay up but simply couldn’t jump through all the hoops necessary in the time allotted.

“They realized they’ve been leaving money on the table,” Abrams said. “They decided there’s little sense in not accepting the ransom money a week later if the victim is still willing to pay to get their files back.”

Part of the problem, according to Abrams, is that few victims even know about Bitcoins or MoneyPak, let alone how to obtain or use these payment mechanisms.

“We put up survey and asked how many [victims] had paid the ransom with Bitcoins, and almost no one said they did, Abrams said. “Most paid with MoneyPak. The people who did pay with Bitcoins said they found the process for getting them was so cumbersome that it took them a week to figure it out.”

Another major stumbling block that prevents many otherwise willing victims from paying the ransom is, ironically, antivirus software that detects CryptoLocker — but only after the malware has locked the victim’s most prized files with virtually uncrackable encryption.

“Originally, when antivirus software would clean a computer, it would remove the CryptoLocker infection, which made it so the user could not pay the ransom,” Abrams said. “Newer versions change the desktop background to include a URL where the user can download the infection again and pay the ransom.”

The idea of purposefully re-infecting a machine by downloading and executing highly destructive malware may be antithetical and even heresy to some security pros. But victims who are facing the annihilation of their most precious files probably have a different view of the situation. Abrams that said his testing has shown that as long as the registry key “HKCU\Software\Cryptolocker_0388″ remains in the Windows registry, re-downloading the malware would not try to re-encrypt the already encrypted data — although it would encrypt any new files added since the initial infection.

“Some antivirus companies have been telling victims not to pay the ransom,” Abrams said. “On the one hand, I get it, because you don’t want to encourage these malware writers. But on the other hand, there are some companies that are facing going out of business if they don’t, and can’t afford to take the holier-that-thou route.”

CRYPTOLOCKER DECRYPTION SERVICE

On Friday, Nov. 1, the crooks behind this malware campaign launched a “customer service” feature that they have been promising to debut for weeks: a CryptoLocker Decryption Service. “This service allow [sic] you to purchase private key and decrypter for files encrypted by CryptoLocker,” the site reads. “Customers” of the service can search for their “order number” simply by uploading any of the encrypted files.

“They’re calling it an ‘order,’ as if victims posted an order at Amazon.com,” Abrams said.

The "Cryptolocker Decryption Service."

The “Cryptolocker Decryption Service.”

“If you already purchased private key using CryptoLocker, then you can download private key and decrypter for free,” explains the service, which is currently hosted at one of several addresses on the Tor anonymity network. The decryption service site is not reachable from the regular Internet; rather, victims must first download and install special software to access the site – yet another potential hurdle for victims to jump through.

According to Abrams, victims who are still within the initial 72-hour countdown clock can pay the ransom by coughing up two Bitcoins — or roughly $200 using a MoneyPak order. Victims who cannot pay within 72 hours can still get their files back, but for that unfortunate lot the ransom rises fivefold to 10 bitcoins — or roughly USD $2,232 at current exchange rates. And those victims will no longer have the option to pay the ransom via MoneyPak.

Abrams said the service exposes two lies that the attackers have been perpetuating about their scheme. For starters, the bad guys have tried to dissuade victims from rolling back their system clocks to buy themselves more time to get the money together and pay the ransom. According to Abrams, this actually works in many cases to delay the countdown timer. Secondly, the launch of the Cryptolocker Decryption Service belies the claim that private keys needed to unlock files encrypted by CryptoLocker are deleted forever from the attacker’s servers after 72 hours.

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25
Jul 13

Haunted by the Ghosts of ZeuS & DNSChanger

One of the challenges in malware research is separating the truly novel innovations in malcoding from new nasties that merely include nominal or superficial tweaks. This dynamic holds true for both malware researchers and purveyors, albeit for different reasons. Researchers wish to avoid being labeled alarmist in calling special attention to what appears to be an emerging threat that turns out to be old news; the bad guys just want to avoid getting scammed into paying for an old malware kit dressed up as the new next big thing.

Source: RSA

Source: RSA

On Tuesday, RSA Security somewhat breathlessly announced that it had spotted KINS, a ZeuS Trojan variant that looked like “a new professional-grade banking Trojan” that was likely to emerge as the “next Trojan epiphany” in the cybercrime underground. RSA said the emergence of KINS was notable because the reigning ZeuS Trojan derivative – the Citadel Trojan — had long ago been taken off the market, and that crooks were anxiously awaiting the development and sale of a new botnet creation kit based on the leaked ZeuS source code.

Since December 2012, when the spokesperson of the Citadel team took the Trojan off the semi-open underground market, cyber criminals have been scrambling to find a replacement,” RSA’s Limor Kessem wrote. “In early February 2013, RSA fraud intelligence researchers began tracing hints about a new crimeware tool called ‘KINS’. At the time, the information about the Trojan just a rumor, but in sporadic comments, fraudsters were associating a Trojan named KINS with the Citadel source code, looking for its developer in order to reach out to him and purchase KINS. The rumors were soon hushed and ties to Citadel were denied, mostly in what appeared as a case of fearful fraudsters who did not want to be denied the possibility to buy the next Trojan.”

But according to Fox-IT, a security research and consulting group based in The Netherlands, KINS has been used in private since at least December 2011 to attack financial institutions in Europe, specifically Germany and The Netherlands. Fox-IT says KINS is short for “Kasper Internet Non-Security,” which is likely the malware author’s not-so-subtle dig at the security suite offered by Russian antivirus maker Kaspersky.

Source: Fox-IT

Source: Fox-IT

In its own analysis of the banking Trojan malware, Fox-IT said KINS is fully based on the leaked ZeuS source code, and includes only minor additions. What’s more, Fox-IT notes, many of the users of KINS have already migrated to yet another ZeuS variant, suggesting that perhaps they were unsatisfied with the product and that it didn’t deliver as advertised.

“While the technical additions are interesting, they are far from ground breaking,” wrote Michael Sandee, principal security expert at Fox-IT. “With an array of fairly standard features, and relatively simple additions to the standard ZeuS, such as reporting of installed security product information, the malware platform does not bring anything really new. There are however some features of this malware, not aimed at the functionality for the person using it, but aimed at complicating malware analysis.”

OLD MALWARE, NEW PAINTJOB?

From the bad-guy perspective, this infighting over malware innovation is on display in a new malware offering that surfaced today on a semi-private forum: The seller is pitching a resurrected and modified version of the DNSChanger Trojan, a global contagion that once infected millions of PCs. The DNSChanger botnet, which hooked into infected systems quite deeply and spread to both Windows and Mac computers, was eradicated only by a worldwide, concerted digital quarantine and vaccination effort — combined with the arrest of its creators.

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3
Jun 13

Cashout Service for Ransomware Scammers

There are 1,001 ways to swindle people online, but the hardest part for crooks is converting those ill-gotten gains into cash. A new service catering to purveyors of ransomware — malware that hijacks PCs until victims pay a ransom – levees a hefty fee for laundering funds from these scams, and it does so by abusing a legitimate Web site that allows betting on dog and horse races in the United States.

Ransonware scam spoofing the DHS to obtain Moneypak/unlock codes.

Ransonware scam spoofing the DHS to obtain Moneypak/unlock codes. Source: botnets.fr

Ransomware is most often distributed via hacked or malicious sites that exploit browser vulnerabilities.  Typically, these scams impersonate the Department of Homeland Security or the FBI (or the equivalent federal investigative authority in the victim’s country) and try to frighten people into paying fines to avoid prosecution for supposedly downloading child pornography and pirated content.

Ransomware locks the victim’s PC until he either pays the ransom or finds a way to remove the malware. Victims are instructed to pay the ransom by purchasing a prepaid MoneyPak card, sold at everything from Walgreens to Wal-Mart (some scams tell victims to pay using a PaySafe or Ukash card). Victims are then told to send the attackers a 14-digit voucher code that allows the bad guys to redeem those MoneyPak vouchers for cash.

Trouble is, taking funds off of a MoneyPak requires either spending it at stores that accept it, or hooking it up to a U.S. bank account, to PayPal, or to a prepaid Visa or Mastercard. What’s more, most miscreants who are even halfway competent at spreading ransomware can expect to collect dozens of MoneyPak codes per day, so cashing out via the above-mentioned methods simply does not scale well for successful bad guys (particularly those who live outside of the United States).

Last week, I stumbled on a ransomware cashout service hosted in Minsk, Belarus that helps simplify the process. It checks the balances of MoneyPak codes by abusing a feature built into betamerica.com, a legitimate and legal site where gamblers can go to bet on dog and horse races in the United States.  Specifically, the ransomware cashout service queries a page at betamerica.com that lets customers fund their betting accounts using MoneyPak.

I reached out to Betamerica.com’s operations team and spoke with a woman who would only give her name as “Leslie.” Leslie said the company had already flagged the account that was being used to check the MoneyPak voucher codes.

“This account was already flagged as some type of bot or compromise, and was set to non-wagering,” she said, explaining that this status prevents customer accounts from placing bets on races. Leslie said Betamerica scrutinizes the Moneypak activity because fraudsters have tried to use the codes to launder money.

“We are pretty diligent, because in the past we have had [individuals who] will try to do a Moneypak deposit and then do a withdrawal, basically trying to launder it. Bottom line is that money has to be wagered. It’s not going to be returned to you in another form.”

When I first encountered this ransomware cashout service and discovered the connection to Betamerica, I was sure the miscreants were trying to launder money through the betting site. But after my conversation with Leslie, the true scope of this ransomware operation began to come into focus. It appears to involve the cooperation of several sets of actors:

MoneyPak cashout scheme.

Scheme to cash out $300 MoneyPak vouchers obtained from ransomware victims.

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13
Aug 12

Inside a ‘Reveton’ Ransomware Operation

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 impersonating FBI

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 written about 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 →