Posts Tagged: Prolexic


17
Apr 13

SWATting Incidents Tied to ID Theft Sites?

Many readers have been asking for an update on the “SWATting” incident at my home last month, in which someone claiming to be me fraudulently reported a home invasion in progress at my address, prompting a heavily armed police response. There are two incremental developments on this story. The first is I’ve learned more about how the hoax was perpetrated. The second is that new clues suggest that the same individual(s) responsible also have been SWATting Hollywood celebrities and posting their personal information on site called exposed.re.

The day before my SWATting, I wrote a story about a site called exposed.su, which was posting the Social Security numbers, previous addresses, phone numbers and other sensitive information on a slew of high-profile individuals, from the director of the FBI to Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates and First Lady Michelle Obama. I wrote about the site by way of explaining that — as painful as it may be to admit – this information should no longer be considered private, because it is available quite cheaply via a number of shady services advertised in underground cybercrime forums.

After migrating the data from Exposed.su to Exposed.re, the curator added [Swatted] notations.


[Swatted] notations were added to celebrity names after Exposed.su became Exposed.re

To illustrate this reality, I pointed to one underground site in particular — the now-defunct ssndob.ru (it is now at another domain) — that could be used to pull all of this information on just about anyone, including all of those whose information was listed at the time on exposed.su. In a follow-up investigation I posted on Mar. 18, 2013, I cited sources who claimed that the DDoS against my site and the simultaneous SWATting attack on my home was in retaliation for my writing about ssndob.ru, which allegedly some of those involved in the attacks prized and did not wish to see shuttered.

Specifically, two different sources placed blame for the attacks on a young hacker named “Phobia,” who they said was part of a group of Xbox gaming enthusiasts who used ssndob.ru to look up Social Security numbers belonging to high-value Xbox account holders — particularly those belonging to Microsoft Xbox Live employees. Armed with that information, and some social engineering skills, the hackers could apparently trick Microsoft’s tech support folks into transferring control over the accounts to the hackers. “I heard he got pissed that you released the site he uses,” one of the sources told me, explaining why he thought Phobia was involved.

Incidentally, two days after my story ran, several news outlets reported that Microsoft had confirmed it is investigating the hacking of Xbox Live accounts belonging to some “high-profile” Microsoft employees, and that it is actively working with law enforcement on the matter.

A little digging suggested that Phobia was a 20-year-old Ryan Stevenson from in Milford, Ct. In that Mar. 18 story, I interviewed Phobia, who confessed to being the hacker who broke into and deleted the Apple iCloud account of wired.com reporter Mat Honan. In subsequent postings on Twitter, Honan expressed surprise that no one else had drawn the connections between Phobia and Stevenson earlier, based on the amount of open source information linking the two identities. In his own reporting on the attack that wiped his iCloud data, Honan had agreed not to name Phobia in return for an explanation of how the hack was carried out.

Geographic distribution of servers observed in Mar. 14, 2013 attack on KrebsOnSecurity. Source: Prolexic

Geographic distribution of servers observed in Mar. 14, 2013 attack on KrebsOnSecurity. Source: Prolexic

The week after my story ran, I heard from someone who lives in Stevenson’s neighborhood and who watched federal agents and police descend on Stevenson’s home on Mar. 20. I was later able to corroborate that information with a police officer in Connecticut, who confirmed that authorities had seized several boxes of items from the Stevenson residence that day.

If Stevenson was as involved as his erstwhile gaming buddies claim, I can’t say that I’m sad to learn that he got his own police raid. However, I do not believe he was the one responsible for sending the emergency response team to my home. I believe that the person or persons responsible is/are still at large, and that Stevenson was merely thrown under the bus as a convenient diversion. But more on that at another time.

At the end of March, exposed.su was shut down, and the content there was migrated over to a new domain — exposed.re. The curator(s) of this site has been adding more celebrities and public figures, but there is another, far more curious, notation on some of the listings at the new version of the site: Several of those named have the designation [Swatted] next to them, including P. Diddy, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Seacrest (see the collage above). It’s worth noting that not all of those listed on exposed.re who were SWATted recently are designated as such on the site.

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15
Mar 13

The World Has No Room For Cowards

It’s not often that one has the opportunity to be the target of a cyber and kinetic attack at the same time. But that is exactly what’s happened to me and my Web site over the past 24 hours. On Thursday afternoon, my site was the target of a fairly massive denial of service attack. That attack was punctuated by a visit from a heavily armed local police unit that was tricked into responding to a 911 call spoofed to look like it came from my home.

Well, as one gamer enthusiast who follows me on Twitter remarked, I guess I’ve now “unlocked that level.”

Things began to get interesting early Thursday afternoon, when a technician from Prolexic, a company which protects Web sites (including KrebsOnSecurity.com) from denial-of-service attacks, forwarded a strange letter they’d received earlier in the day that appeared to have been sent from the FBI. The letter, a copy of which is reprinted in its entirety here, falsely stated that my site was hosting illegal content, profiting from cybercriminal activity, and that it should be shut down. Prolexic considered it a hoax, but forwarded it anyway. I similarly had no doubt it was a fake, and a short phone call to the FBI confirmed that fact.

Around the same time, my site came under a series of denial-of-service attacks, briefly knocking it offline. While Prolexic technicians worked to filter the attack traffic, I got busy tidying up the house (since we were expecting company for dinner). I heard the phone ring up in the office while I was downstairs vacuuming the living room and made a mental note to check my voicemail later. Vacuuming the rug near the front door, I noticed that some clear plastic tape I’d used to secure an extension cord for some outdoor lights was still straddling the threshold of the front door.

Fairfax County Police outside my home on 3/14/13

Fairfax County Police outside my home on 3/14/13

When I opened the door to peel the rest of the tape off, I heard someone yell, “Don’t move! Put your hands in the air.” Glancing up from my squat, I saw a Fairfax County Police officer leaning over the trunk of a squad car, both arms extended and pointing a handgun at me. As I very slowly turned my head to the left, I observed about a half-dozen other squad cars, lights flashing, and more officers pointing firearms in my direction, including a shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle. I was instructed to face the house, back down my front steps and walk backwards into the adjoining parking area, after which point I was handcuffed and walked up to the top of the street.

I informed the responding officers that this was a hoax, and that I’d even warned them in advance of this possibility. In August 2012, I filed a report with Fairfax County Police after receiving non-specific threats. The threats came directly after I wrote about a service called absoboot.com, which is a service that can be hired to knock Web sites offline.

One of the reasons that I opted to file the report was because I knew some of the young hackers who frequented the forum on which this service was advertised had discussed SWATting someone as a way of exacting revenge or merely having fun at the target’s expense. To my surprise, the officer who took my report said he had never heard of the phenomenon, but promised to read up on it.

One of the officers asked if it was okay to enter my house, and I said sure. Then an officer who was dressed more like a supervisor approached me and asked if I was the guy who had filed a police report about this eventuality about six months earlier. When I responded in the affirmative, he spoke into his handheld radio, and the police began stowing their rifles and the cuffs were removed from my wrists. He explained that they’d tried to call me on the phone number that had called them (my mobile), but that there was no answer. He apologized for the inconvenience, and said they were only doing their jobs. I told him no hard feelings. He told me that the problem of SWATting started on the West Coast and has been slowly making its way east.

The cop that took the report from me after the incident said someone had called 911 using a Caller ID number that matched my mobile phone number; the caller claimed to be me, reporting that Russians had broken into the home and shot my wife. Obviously, this was not the case, and nobody was harmed during the SWATing.

Update, Apr. 29, 2013: As I noted halfway through this follow-up post, the police officer was misinformed: The 911 call was actually made via instant message chats using a relay service designed for hearing impaired and deaf callers, *not* via a spoofed mobile phone call.

Original story:

It’s difficult to believe the phony FBI letter that Prolexic received, the denial-of-service attack, and the SWATting were somehow the work of different individuals upset over something I’ve written. The letter to Prolexic made no fewer than five references to a story I published earlier this week about sssdob.ru, a site advertised in the cybercrime underground that sells access to Social Security numbers and credit reports. That story was prompted by news media attention to exposed.su, a site that has been posting what appear to be Social Security numbers, previous addresses and other information on highly public figures, including First Lady Michelle Obama and the director of the FBI.

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8
Aug 12

Triple DDoS vs. KrebsOnSecurity

“When nobody hates you, nobody knows you’re alive.” – Diplomacy, by Chris Smither

During the last week of July, a series of steadily escalating cyber attacks directed at my Web site and hosting provider prevented many readers from being able to reach the site or read the content via RSS. Sorry about that. What follows is a post-mortem on those digital sieges, which featured a mix of new and old-but-effective attack methods.

Junk traffic sent by a DNS amplification attack.

I still don’t know who was attacking my site or why. It’s not as if the perpetrator(s) sent a love letter along with the traffic flood. There was one indication that a story I published just hours before the attacks began — about a service for mass-registering domain names used for malware, spam and other dodgy business — may have struck a nerve: In one of the attacks, all of the assailing systems were instructed to load that particular story many times per second.

Oddly enough, the activity began just one day after I’d signed up with Prolexic. The Hollywood, Fla. based company helps businesses fend off distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, assaults in which miscreants knock targeted sites offline by flooding them with garbage traffic. Prolexic was among several anti-DDoS companies that offered to help earlier this year, when KrebsOnSecurity.com came under a separate spate of debilitating attacks.

The first DDoS campaigns consisted of several hundred systems repeatedly requesting image-heavy pages on my site. Prolexic’s analysts say the traffic signatures of these attacks matched that of a family of kits sold in the underground that allow anyone to quickly create their own botnet specifically for launching DDoS attacks. Both are believed to have been created by the same individual(s) behind the Dirt Jumper DDoS toolkit. The traffic signatures from the attack strongly suggest the involvement of two Dirt Jumper progeny: Di-BoTNet and Pandora.

Image courtesy Prolexic

Pandora is the latest in the Dirt Jumper family, and features four different attack methods. According to Prolexic, the one used against KrebsOnSecurity.com was Attack Type 4, a.k.a “Max Flood”; this method carries a fairly unique signature of issuing POST requests against a server that are over a million bytes in length.

Pandora’s creators boast that it only takes 10 PCs infected with the DDoS bot to bring down small sites, and about 30 bots to put down a mid-sized site that lacks protection against DDoS attacks. They claim 1,000 Pandora bots are enough to bring Russian search engine giant yandex.ru to a crawl, but that strikes me as a bit of salesmanship and exaggeration. Prolexic said more than 1,500 Pandora-infected bots were used in the assault on my site.

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30
Nov 11

DDoS Attacks Spell ‘Gameover’ for Banks, Victims in Cyber Heists

The FBI is warning that computer crooks have begun launching debilitating cyber attacks against banks and their customers as part of a smoke screen to prevent victims from noticing simultaneous high-dollar cyber heists.

The bureau says the attacks coincide with corporate account takeovers perpetrated by thieves who are using a modified version of the ZeuS Trojan called “Gameover.” The rash of thefts come after a series of heavy spam campaigns aimed at deploying the malware, which arrives disguised as an email from the National Automated Clearing House Association (NACHA), a not-for-profit group that develops operating rules for organizations that handle electronic payments. The ZeuS variant steals passwords and gives attackers direct access to the victim’s PC and network.

In several recent attacks, as soon as thieves wired money out of a victim organization’s account, the victim’s public-facing Internet address was targeted by a network attack, leaving employees at the organization unable to browse the Web.

A few of the attacks have included an odd twist that appears to indicate the perpetrators are using money mules in the United States for at least a portion of the heists. According to an FBI advisory, some of the unauthorized wire transfers from victim organizations have been transmitted directly to high-end jewelry stores, “wherein the money mule comes to the actual store to pick up his $100K in jewels (or whatever dollar amount was wired).”

The advisory continues:

“Investigation has shown the perpetrators contact the high-end jeweler requesting to purchase precious stones and high-end watches. The perpetrators advise they will wire the money to the jeweler’s account and someone will come to pick up the merchandise. The next day, a money mule arrives at the store, the jeweler confirms the money has been transferred or is listed as ‘pending’ and releases the merchandise to the mule. Later on, the transaction is reversed or cancelled (if the financial institution caught the fraud in time) and the jeweler is out whatever jewels the money mule was able to obtain.”

The attackers also have sought to take out the Web sites of victim banks. Jose Nazario, manager of security research at Arbor Networks, a company that specializes in helping organizations weather large cyber attacks, said that although many of the bank sites hit belong to small to mid-sized financial institutions, the thieves also have taken out some of the larger banks in the course of recent e-heists.

“It’s a disturbing trend,” Nazario said.

Nazario said the handful of attacks he’s aware of in the past two weeks have involved distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) assaults launched with the help of “Dirt Jumper” or “Russkill” botnets. Dirt Jumper is a commercial crimeware kit that is sold for a few hundred bucks on the hacker underground, and is made to be surreptitiously installed on hacked PCs. The code makes it easy for the botnet owner to use those infected systems to overwhelm targeted sites with junk traffic (KrebsOnSecurity.com was the victim of a Dirt Jumper botnet attack earlier this month).

Security experts aren’t certain about the strategy behind the DDoS attacks, which are noisy and noticeable to both victims and their banks. One theory is that the perpetrators are hoping the outages will distract the banks and victims.

“The belief is the DDoS is used to deflect attention from the wire transfers as well to make them unable to reverse the transactions (if found),” the FBI said.

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