New Leak Shows Business Side of China’s APT Menace

February 22, 2024

A new data leak that appears to have come from one of China’s top private cybersecurity firms provides a rare glimpse into the commercial side of China’s many state-sponsored hacking groups. Experts say the leak illustrates how Chinese government agencies increasingly are contracting out foreign espionage campaigns to the nation’s burgeoning and highly competitive cybersecurity industry.

A marketing slide deck promoting i-SOON’s Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) capabilities.

A large cache of more than 500 documents published to GitHub last week indicate the records come from i-SOON, a technology company headquartered in Shanghai that is perhaps best known for providing cybersecurity training courses throughout China. But the leaked documents, which include candid employee chat conversations and images, show a less public side of i-SOON, one that frequently initiates and sustains cyberespionage campaigns commissioned by various Chinese government agencies.

The leaked documents suggest i-SOON employees were responsible for a raft of cyber intrusions over many years, infiltrating government systems in the United Kingdom and countries throughout Asia. Although the cache does not include raw data stolen from cyber espionage targets, it features numerous documents listing the level of access gained and the types of data exposed in each intrusion.

Security experts who reviewed the leaked data say they believe the information is legitimate, and that i-SOON works closely with China’s Ministry of State Security and the military. In 2021, the Sichuan provincial government named i-SOON as one of “the top 30 information security companies.”

“The leak provides some of the most concrete details seen publicly to date, revealing the maturing nature of China’s cyber espionage ecosystem,” said Dakota Cary, a China-focused consultant at the security firm SentinelOne. “It shows explicitly how government targeting requirements drive a competitive marketplace of independent contractor hackers-for-hire.”

Mei Danowski is a former intelligence analyst and China expert who now writes about her research in a Substack publication called Natto Thoughts. Danowski said i-SOON has achieved the highest secrecy classification that a non-state-owned company can receive, which qualifies the company to conduct classified research and development related to state security.

i-SOON’s “business services” webpage states that the company’s offerings include public security, anti-fraud, blockchain forensics, enterprise security solutions, and training. Danowski said that in 2013, i-SOON established a department for research on developing new APT network penetration methods.

APT stands for Advanced Persistent Threat, a term that generally refers to state-sponsored hacking groups. Indeed, among the documents apparently leaked from i-SOON is a sales pitch slide boldly highlighting the hacking prowess of the company’s “APT research team” (see screenshot above).

i-SOON CEO Wu Haibo, in 2011. Image: nattothoughts.substack.com.

The leaked documents included a lengthy chat conversation between the company’s founders, who repeatedly discuss flagging sales and the need to secure more employees and government contracts. Danowski said the CEO of i-SOON, Wu Haibo (“Shutdown” in the leaked chats) is a well-known first-generation red hacker or “Honker,” and an early member of Green Army — the very first Chinese hacktivist group founded in 1997. Mr. Haibo has not yet responded to a request for comment.

In October 2023, Danowski detailed how i-SOON became embroiled in a software development contract dispute when it was sued by a competing Chinese cybersecurity company called Chengdu 404. In September 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed indictments against multiple Chengdu 404 employees, charging that the company was a facade that hid more than a decade’s worth of cyber intrusions attributed to a threat actor group known as “APT 41.”

Danowski said the existence of this legal dispute suggests that Chengdu 404 and i-SOON have or at one time had a business relationship, and that one company likely served as a subcontractor to the other on specific cyber espionage campaigns.

“From what they chat about we can see this is a very competitive industry, where companies in this space are constantly poaching each others’ employees and tools,” Danowski said. “The infosec industry is always trying to distinguish [the work] of one APT group from another. But that’s getting harder to do.”

It remains unclear if i-SOON’s work has earned it a unique APT designation. But Will Thomas, a cyber threat intelligence researcher at Equinix, found an Internet address in the leaked data that corresponds to a domain flagged in a 2019 Citizen Lab report about one-click mobile phone exploits that were being used to target groups in Tibet. The 2019 report referred to the threat actor behind those attacks as an APT group called Poison Carp. Continue reading

Feds Seize LockBit Ransomware Websites, Offer Decryption Tools, Troll Affiliates

February 20, 2024

U.S. and U.K. authorities have seized the darknet websites run by LockBit, a prolific and destructive ransomware group that has claimed more than 2,000 victims worldwide and extorted over $120 million in payments. Instead of listing data stolen from ransomware victims who didn’t pay, LockBit’s victim shaming website now offers free recovery tools, as well as news about arrests and criminal charges involving LockBit affiliates.

Investigators used the existing design on LockBit’s victim shaming website to feature press releases and free decryption tools.

Dubbed “Operation Cronos,” the law enforcement action involved the seizure of nearly three-dozen servers; the arrest of two alleged LockBit members; the unsealing of two indictments; the release of a free LockBit decryption tool; and the freezing of more than 200 cryptocurrency accounts thought to be tied to the gang’s activities.

LockBit members have executed attacks against thousands of victims in the United States and around the world, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). First surfacing in September 2019, the gang is estimated to have made hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars in ransom demands, and extorted over $120 million in ransom payments.

LockBit operated as a ransomware-as-a-service group, wherein the ransomware gang takes care of everything from the bulletproof hosting and domains to the development and maintenance of the malware. Meanwhile, affiliates are solely responsible for finding new victims, and can reap 60 to 80 percent of any ransom amount ultimately paid to the group.

A statement on Operation Cronos from the European police agency Europol said the months-long infiltration resulted in the compromise of LockBit’s primary platform and other critical infrastructure, including the takedown of 34 servers in the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, France, Switzerland, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Europol said two suspected LockBit actors were arrested in Poland and Ukraine, but no further information has been released about those detained.

The DOJ today unsealed indictments against two Russian men alleged to be active members of LockBit. The government says Russian national Artur Sungatov used LockBit ransomware against victims in manufacturing, logistics, insurance and other companies throughout the United States.

Ivan Gennadievich Kondratyev, a.k.a. “Bassterlord,” allegedly deployed LockBit against targets in the United States, Singapore, Taiwan, and Lebanon. Kondratyev is also charged (PDF) with three criminal counts arising from his alleged use of the Sodinokibi (aka “REvil“) ransomware variant to encrypt data, exfiltrate victim information, and extort a ransom payment from a corporate victim based in Alameda County, California.

With the indictments of Sungatov and Kondratyev, a total of five LockBit affiliates now have been officially charged. In May 2023, U.S. authorities unsealed indictments against two alleged LockBit affiliates, Mikhail “Wazawaka” Matveev and Mikhail Vasiliev.

Vasiliev, 35, of Bradford, Ontario, Canada, is in custody in Canada awaiting extradition to the United States (the complaint against Vasiliev is at this PDF). Matveev remains at large, presumably still in Russia. In January 2022, KrebsOnSecurity published Who is the Network Access Broker ‘Wazawaka,’ which followed clues from Wazawaka’s many pseudonyms and contact details on the Russian-language cybercrime forums back to a 31-year-old Mikhail Matveev from Abaza, RU.

An FBI wanted poster for Matveev.

In June 2023, Russian national Ruslan Magomedovich Astamirov was charged in New Jersey for his participation in the LockBit conspiracy, including the deployment of LockBit against victims in Florida, Japan, France, and Kenya. Astamirov is currently in custody in the United States awaiting trial.

LockBit was known to have recruited affiliates that worked with multiple ransomware groups simultaneously, and it’s unclear what impact this takedown may have on competing ransomware affiliate operations. The security firm ProDaft said on Twitter/X that the infiltration of LockBit by investigators provided “in-depth visibility into each affiliate’s structures, including ties with other notorious groups such as FIN7, Wizard Spider, and EvilCorp.”

In a lengthy thread about the LockBit takedown on the Russian-language cybercrime forum XSS, one of the gang’s leaders said the FBI and the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) had infiltrated its servers using a known vulnerability in PHP, a scripting language that is widely used in Web development. Continue reading

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U.S. Internet Leaked Years of Internal, Customer Emails

February 14, 2024

The Minnesota-based Internet provider U.S. Internet Corp. has a business unit called Securence, which specializes in providing filtered, secure email services to businesses, educational institutions and government agencies worldwide. But until it was notified last week, U.S. Internet was publishing more than a decade’s worth of its internal email — and that of thousands of Securence clients — in plain text out on the Internet and just a click away for anyone with a Web browser.

Headquartered in Minnetonka, Minn., U.S. Internet is a regional ISP that provides fiber and wireless Internet service. The ISP’s Securence division bills itself “a leading provider of email filtering and management software that includes email protection and security services for small business, enterprise, educational and government institutions worldwide.”

U.S. Internet/Securence says your email is secure. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Roughly a week ago, KrebsOnSecurity was contacted by Hold Security, a Milwaukee-based cybersecurity firm. Hold Security founder Alex Holden said his researchers had unearthed a public link to a U.S. Internet email server listing more than 6,500 domain names, each with its own clickable link.

A tiny portion of the more than 6,500 customers who trusted U.S. Internet with their email.

Drilling down into those individual domain links revealed inboxes for each employee or user of these exposed host names. Some of the emails dated back to 2008; others were as recent as the present day.

Securence counts among its customers dozens of state and local governments, including: nc.gov — the official website of North Carolina; stillwatermn.gov, the website for the city of Stillwater, Minn.; and cityoffrederickmd.gov, the website for the government of Frederick, Md.

Incredibly, included in this giant index of U.S. Internet customer emails were the internal messages for every current and former employee of U.S. Internet and its subsidiary USI Wireless. Since that index also included the messages of U.S. Internet’s CEO Travis Carter, KrebsOnSecurity forwarded one of Mr. Carter’s own recent emails to him, along with a request to understand how exactly the company managed to screw things up so spectacularly.

Individual inboxes of U.S. Wireless employees were published in clear text on the Internet.

Within minutes of that notification, U.S. Internet pulled all of the published inboxes offline. Mr. Carter responded and said his team was investigating how it happened. In the same breath, the CEO asked if KrebsOnSecurity does security consulting for hire (I do not).

[Author’s note: Perhaps Mr. Carter was frantically casting about for any expertise he could find in a tough moment. But I found the request personally offensive, because I couldn’t shake the notion that maybe the company was hoping it could buy my silence.] Continue reading

Fat Patch Tuesday, February 2024 Edition

February 13, 2024

Microsoft Corp. today pushed software updates to plug more than 70 security holes in its Windows operating systems and related products, including two zero-day vulnerabilities that are already being exploited in active attacks.

Top of the heap on this Fat Patch Tuesday is CVE-2024-21412, a “security feature bypass” in the way Windows handles Internet Shortcut Files that Microsoft says is being targeted in active exploits. Redmond’s advisory for this bug says an attacker would need to convince or trick a user into opening a malicious shortcut file.

Researchers at Trend Micro have tied the ongoing exploitation of CVE-2024-21412 to an advanced persistent threat group dubbed “Water Hydra,” which they say has being using the vulnerability to execute a malicious Microsoft Installer File (.msi) that in turn unloads a remote access trojan (RAT) onto infected Windows systems.

The other zero-day flaw is CVE-2024-21351, another security feature bypass — this one in the built-in Windows SmartScreen component that tries to screen out potentially malicious files downloaded from the Web. Kevin Breen at Immersive Labs says it’s important to note that this vulnerability alone is not enough for an attacker to compromise a user’s workstation, and instead would likely be used in conjunction with something like a spear phishing attack that delivers a malicious file.

Satnam Narang, senior staff research engineer at Tenable, said this is the fifth vulnerability in Windows SmartScreen patched since 2022 and all five have been exploited in the wild as zero-days. They include CVE-2022-44698 in December 2022, CVE-2023-24880 in March 2023, CVE-2023-32049 in July 2023 and CVE-2023-36025 in November 2023.

Narang called special attention to CVE-2024-21410, an “elevation of privilege” bug in Microsoft Exchange Server that Microsoft says is likely to be exploited by attackers. Attacks on this flaw would lead to the disclosure of NTLM hashes, which could be leveraged as part of an NTLM relay or “pass the hash” attack, which lets an attacker masquerade as a legitimate user without ever having to log in.

“We know that flaws that can disclose sensitive information like NTLM hashes are very valuable to attackers,” Narang said. “A Russian-based threat actor leveraged a similar vulnerability to carry out attacks – CVE-2023-23397 is an Elevation of Privilege vulnerability in Microsoft Outlook patched in March 2023.” Continue reading

Juniper Support Portal Exposed Customer Device Info

February 9, 2024

Until earlier this week, the support website for networking equipment vendor Juniper Networks was exposing potentially sensitive information tied to customer products, including which devices customers bought, as well as each product’s warranty status, service contracts and serial numbers. Juniper said it has since fixed the problem, and that the inadvertent data exposure stemmed from a recent upgrade to its support portal.

Sunnyvale, Calif. based Juniper Networks makes high-powered Internet routers and switches, and its products are used in some of the world’s largest organizations. Earlier this week KrebsOnSecurity heard from a reader responsible for managing several Juniper devices, who found he could use Juniper’s customer support portal to find device and support contract information for other Juniper customers.

Logan George is a 17-year-old intern working for an organization that uses Juniper products. George said he found the data exposure earlier this week by accident while searching for support information on a particular Juniper product.

George discovered that after logging in with a regular customer account, Juniper’s support website allowed him to list detailed information about virtually any Juniper device purchased by other customers. Searching on Amazon.com in the Juniper portal, for example, returned tens of thousands of records. Each record included the device’s model and serial number, the approximate location where it is installed, as well as the device’s status and associated support contract information.

Information exposed by the Juniper support portal. Columns not pictured include Serial Number, Software Support Reference number, Product, Warranty Expiration Date and Contract ID.

George said the exposed support contract information is potentially sensitive because it shows which Juniper products are most likely to be lacking critical security updates.

“If you don’t have a support contract you don’t get updates, it’s as simple as that,” George said. “Using serial numbers, I could see which products aren’t under support contracts. And then I could narrow down where each device was sent through their serial number tracking system, and potentially see all of what was sent to the same location. A lot of companies don’t update their switches very often, and knowing what they use allows someone to know what attack vectors are possible.”

In a written statement, Juniper said the data exposure was the result of a recent upgrade to its support portal.

“We were made aware of an inadvertent issue that allowed registered users to our system to access serial numbers that were not associated with their account,” the statement reads. “We acted promptly to resolve this issue and have no reason to believe at this time that any identifiable or personal customer data was exposed in any way. We take these matters seriously and always use these experiences to prevent further similar incidents. We are actively working to determine the root cause of this defect and thank the researcher for bringing this to our attention.” Continue reading

From Cybercrime Saul Goodman to the Russian GRU

February 7, 2024

In 2021, the exclusive Russian cybercrime forum Mazafaka was hacked. The leaked user database shows one of the forum’s founders was an attorney who advised Russia’s top hackers on the legal risks of their work, and what to do if they got caught. A review of this user’s hacker identities shows that during his time on the forums he served as an officer in the special forces of the GRU, the foreign military intelligence agency of the Russian Federation.

Launched in 2001 under the tagline “Network terrorism,” Mazafaka would evolve into one of the most guarded Russian-language cybercrime communities. The forum’s member roster included a Who’s Who of top Russian cybercriminals, and it featured sub-forums for a wide range of cybercrime specialities, including malware, spam, coding and identity theft.

One representation of the leaked Mazafaka database.

In almost any database leak, the first accounts listed are usually the administrators and early core members. But the Mazafaka user information posted online was not a database file per se, and it was clearly edited, redacted and restructured by whoever released it. As a result, it can be difficult to tell which members are the earliest users.

The original Mazafaka is known to have been launched by a hacker using the nickname “Stalker.” However, the lowest numbered (non-admin) user ID in the Mazafaka database belongs to another individual who used the handle “Djamix,” and the email address djamix@mazafaka[.]ru.

From the forum’s inception until around 2008, Djamix was one of its most active and eloquent contributors. Djamix told forum members he was a lawyer, and nearly all of his posts included legal analyses of various public cases involving hackers arrested and charged with cybercrimes in Russia and abroad.

“Hiding with purely technical parameters will not help in a serious matter,” Djamix advised Maza members in September 2007. “In order to ESCAPE the law, you need to KNOW the law. This is the most important thing. Technical capabilities cannot overcome intelligence and cunning.”

Stalker himself credited Djamix with keeping Mazafaka online for so many years. In a retrospective post published to Livejournal in 2014 titled, “Mazafaka, from conception to the present day,” Stalker said Djamix had become a core member of the community.

“This guy is everywhere,” Stalker said of Djamix. “There’s not a thing on [Mazafaka] that he doesn’t take part in. For me, he is a stimulus-irritant and thanks to him, Maza is still alive. Our rallying force!”

Djamix told other forum denizens he was a licensed attorney who could be hired for remote or in-person consultations, and his posts on Mazafaka and other Russian boards show several hackers facing legal jeopardy likely took him up on this offer.

“I have the right to represent your interests in court,” Djamix said on the Russian-language cybercrime forum Verified in Jan. 2011. “Remotely (in the form of constant support and consultations), or in person – this is discussed separately. As well as the cost of my services.” Continue reading

Arrests in $400M SIM-Swap Tied to Heist at FTX?

February 1, 2024

Three Americans were charged this week with stealing more than $400 million in a November 2022 SIM-swapping attack. The U.S. government did not name the victim organization, but there is every indication that the money was stolen from the now-defunct cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which had just filed for bankruptcy on that same day.

A graphic illustrating the flow of more than $400 million in cryptocurrencies stolen from FTX on Nov. 11-12, 2022. Image: Elliptic.co.

An indictment unsealed this week and first reported on by Ars Technica alleges that Chicago man Robert Powell, a.k.a. “R,” “R$” and “ElSwapo1,” was the ringleader of a SIM-swapping group called the “Powell SIM Swapping Crew.” Colorado resident Emily “Em” Hernandez allegedly helped the group gain access to victim devices in service of SIM-swapping attacks between March 2021 and April 2023. Indiana resident Carter Rohn, a.k.a. “Carti,” and “Punslayer,” allegedly assisted in compromising devices.

In a SIM-swapping attack, the crooks transfer the target’s phone number to a device they control, allowing them to intercept any text messages or phone calls sent to the victim, including one-time passcodes for authentication or password reset links sent via SMS.

The indictment states that the perpetrators in this heist stole the $400 million in cryptocurrencies on Nov. 11, 2022 after they SIM-swapped an AT&T customer by impersonating them at a retail store using a fake ID. However, the document refers to the victim in this case only by the name “Victim 1.”

Wired’s Andy Greenberg recently wrote about FTX’s all-night race to stop a $1 billion crypto heist that occurred on the evening of November 11:

“FTX’s staff had already endured one of the worst days in the company’s short life. What had recently been one of the world’s top cryptocurrency exchanges, valued at $32 billion only 10 months earlier, had just declared bankruptcy. Executives had, after an extended struggle, persuaded the company’s CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, to hand over the reins to John Ray III, a new chief executive now tasked with shepherding the company through a nightmarish thicket of debts, many of which it seemed to have no means to pay.”

“FTX had, it seemed, hit rock bottom. Until someone—a thief or thieves who have yet to be identified—chose that particular moment to make things far worse. That Friday evening, exhausted FTX staffers began to see mysterious outflows of the company’s cryptocurrency, publicly captured on the Etherscan website that tracks the Ethereum blockchain, representing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of crypto being stolen in real time.”

The indictment says the $400 million was stolen over several hours between November 11 and 12, 2022. Tom Robinson, co-founder of the blockchain intelligence firm Elliptic, said the attackers in the FTX heist began to drain FTX wallets on the evening of Nov. 11, 2022 local time, and continuing until the 12th of November.

Robinson said Elliptic is not aware of any other crypto heists of that magnitude occurring on that date.

“We put the value of the cryptoassets stolen at $477 million,” Robinson said. “The FTX administrators have reported overall losses due to “unauthorized third-party transfers” of $413 million – the discrepancy is likely due to subsequent seizure and return of some of the stolen assets. Either way, it’s certainly over $400 million, and we are not aware of any other thefts from crypto exchanges on this scale, on this date.” Continue reading

Fla. Man Charged in SIM-Swapping Spree is Key Suspect in Hacker Groups Oktapus, Scattered Spider

January 30, 2024

On Jan. 9, 2024, U.S. authorities arrested a 19-year-old Florida man charged with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and conspiring with others to use SIM-swapping to steal cryptocurrency. Sources close to the investigation tell KrebsOnSecurity the accused was a key member of a criminal hacking group blamed for a string of cyber intrusions at major U.S. technology companies during the summer of 2022.

A graphic depicting how 0ktapus leveraged one victim to attack another. Image credit: Amitai Cohen of Wiz.

Prosecutors say Noah Michael Urban of Palm Coast, Fla., stole at least $800,000 from at least five victims between August 2022 and March 2023. In each attack, the victims saw their email and financial accounts compromised after suffering an unauthorized SIM-swap, wherein attackers transferred each victim’s mobile phone number to a new device that they controlled.

The government says Urban went by the aliases “Sosa” and “King Bob,” among others. Multiple trusted sources told KrebsOnSecurity that Sosa/King Bob was a core member of a hacking group behind the 2022 breach at Twilio, a company that provides services for making and receiving text messages and phone calls. Twilio disclosed in Aug. 2022 that an intrusion had exposed a “limited number” of Twilio customer accounts through a sophisticated social engineering attack designed to steal employee credentials.

Shortly after that disclosure, the security firm Group-IB published a report linking the attackers behind the Twilio intrusion to separate breaches at more than 130 organizations, including LastPass, DoorDash, Mailchimp, and Plex. Multiple security firms soon assigned the hacking group the nickname “Scattered Spider.”

Group-IB dubbed the gang by a different name — 0ktapus — which was a nod to how the criminal group phished employees for credentials. The missives asked users to click a link and log in at a phishing page that mimicked their employer’s Okta authentication page. Those who submitted credentials were then prompted to provide the one-time password needed for multi-factor authentication.

A booking photo of Noah Michael Urban released by the Volusia County Sheriff.

0ktapus used newly-registered domains that often included the name of the targeted company, and sent text messages urging employees to click on links to these domains to view information about a pending change in their work schedule. The phishing sites used a Telegram instant message bot to forward any submitted credentials in real-time, allowing the attackers to use the phished username, password and one-time code to log in as that employee at the real employer website.

0ktapus often leveraged information or access gained in one breach to perpetrate another. As documented by Group-IB, the group pivoted from its access to Twilio to attack at least 163 of its customers. Among those was the encrypted messaging app Signal, which said the breach could have let attackers re-register the phone number on another device for about 1,900 users.

Also in August 2022, several employees at email delivery firm Mailchimp provided their remote access credentials to this phishing group. According to an Aug. 12 blog post, the attackers used their access to Mailchimp employee accounts to steal data from 214 customers involved in cryptocurrency and finance.

On August 25, 2022, the password manager service LastPass disclosed a breach in which attackers stole some source code and proprietary LastPass technical information, and weeks later LastPass said an investigation revealed no customer data or password vaults were accessed.

However, on November 30, 2022 LastPass disclosed a far more serious breach that the company said leveraged data stolen in the August breach. LastPass said criminal hackers had stolen encrypted copies of some password vaults, as well as other personal information.

In February 2023, LastPass disclosed that the intrusion involved a highly complex, targeted attack against a DevOps engineer who was one of only four LastPass employees with access to the corporate vault. In that incident, the attackers exploited a security vulnerability in a Plex media server that the employee was running on his home network, and succeeded in installing malicious software that stole passwords and other authentication credentials. The vulnerability exploited by the intruders was patched back in 2020, but the employee never updated his Plex software.

As it happens, Plex announced its own data breach one day before LastPass disclosed its initial August intrusion. On August 24, 2022, Plex’s security team urged users to reset their passwords, saying an intruder had accessed customer emails, usernames and encrypted passwords.

KING BOB’S GRAILS

A review of thousands of messages that Sosa and King Bob posted to several public forums and Discord servers over the past two years shows that the person behind these identities was mainly focused on two things: Sim-swapping, and trading in stolen, unreleased rap music recordings from popular artists.

Indeed, those messages show Sosa/King Bob was obsessed with finding new “grails,” the slang term used in some cybercrime discussion channels to describe recordings from popular artists that have never been officially released. It stands to reason that King Bob was SIM-swapping important people in the music industry to obtain these files, although there is little to support this conclusion from the public chat records available.

“I got the most music in the com,” King Bob bragged in a Discord server in November 2022. “I got thousands of grails.”

King Bob’s chats show he was particularly enamored of stealing the unreleased works of his favorite artists — Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, and Juice Wrld. When another Discord user asked if he has Eminem grails, King Bob said he was unsure.

“I have two folders,” King Bob explained. “One with Uzi, Carti, Juicewrld. And then I have ‘every other artist.’ Every other artist is unorganized as fuck and has thousands of random shit.”

King Bob’s posts on Discord show he quickly became a celebrity on Leaked[.]cx, one of most active forums for trading, buying and selling unreleased music from popular artists. The more grails that users share with the Leaked[.]cx community, the more their status and access on the forum grows.

The last cache of Leaked dot cx indexed by the archive.org on Jan. 11, 2024.

And King Bob shared a large number of his purloined tunes with this community. Still others he tried to sell. It’s unclear how many of those sales were ever consummated, but it is not unusual for a prized grail to sell for anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.

In mid-January 2024, several Leaked[.]cx regulars began complaining that they hadn’t seen King Bob in a while and were really missing his grails. On or around Jan. 11, the same day the Justice Department unsealed the indictment against Urban, Leaked[.]cx started blocking people who were trying to visit the site from the United States.

Days later, frustrated Leaked[.]cx users speculated about what could be the cause of the blockage.

“Probs blocked as part of king bob investigation i think?,” wrote the user “Plsdontarrest.” “Doubt he only hacked US artists/ppl which is why it’s happening in multiple countries.” Continue reading

Who is Alleged Medibank Hacker Aleksandr Ermakov?

January 26, 2024

Authorities in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States this week levied financial sanctions against a Russian man accused of stealing data on nearly 10 million customers of the Australian health insurance giant Medibank. 33-year-old Aleksandr Ermakov allegedly stole and leaked the Medibank data while working with one of Russia’s most destructive ransomware groups, but little more is shared about the accused. Here’s a closer look at the activities of Mr. Ermakov’s alleged hacker handles.

Aleksandr Ermakov, 33, of Russia. Image: Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The allegations against Ermakov mark the first time Australia has sanctioned a cybercriminal. The documents released by the Australian government included multiple photos of Mr. Ermakov, and it was clear they wanted to send a message that this was personal.

It’s not hard to see why. The attackers who broke into Medibank in October 2022 stole 9.7 million records on current and former Medibank customers. When the company refused to pay a $10 million ransom demand, the hackers selectively leaked highly sensitive health records, including those tied to abortions, HIV and alcohol abuse.

The U.S. government says Ermakov and the other actors behind the Medibank hack are believed to be linked to the Russia-backed cybercrime gang REvil.

“REvil was among the most notorious cybercrime gangs in the world until July 2021 when they disappeared. REvil is a ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operation and generally motivated by financial gain,” a statement from the U.S. Department of the Treasury reads. “REvil ransomware has been deployed on approximately 175,000 computers worldwide, with at least $200 million paid in ransom.”

The sanctions say Ermakov went by multiple aliases on Russian cybercrime forums, including GustaveDore, JimJones, and Blade Runner. A search on the handle GustaveDore at the cyber intelligence platform Intel 471 shows this user created a ransomware affiliate program in November 2021 called Sugar (a.k.a. Encoded01), which focused on targeting single computers and end-users instead of corporations.

An ad for the ransomware-as-a-service program Sugar posted by GustaveDore warns readers against sharing information with security researchers, law enforcement, or “friends of Krebs.”

In November 2020, Intel 471 analysts concluded that GustaveDore’s alias JimJones “was using and operating several different ransomware strains, including a private undisclosed strain and one developed by the REvil gang.”

In 2020, GustaveDore advertised on several Russian discussion forums that he was part of a Russian technology firm called Shtazi, which could be hired for computer programming, web development, and “reputation management.” Shtazi’s website remains in operation today.

A Google-translated version of Shtazi dot ru. Image: Archive.org.

The third result when one searches for shtazi[.]ru in Google is an Instagram post from a user named Mikhail Borisovich Shefel, who promotes Shtazi’s services as if it were also his business. If this name sounds familiar, it’s because in December 2023 KrebsOnSecurity identified Mr. Shefel as “Rescator,” the cybercriminal identity tied to tens of millions of payment cards that were stolen in 2013 and 2014 from big box retailers Target and Home Depot, among others.

How close was the connection between GustaveDore and Mr. Shefel? The Treasury Department’s sanctions page says Ermakov used the email address ae.ermak@yandex.ru. A search for this email at DomainTools.com shows it was used to register just one domain name: millioner1[.]com. DomainTools further finds that a phone number tied to Mr. Shefel (79856696666) was used to register two domains: millioner[.]pw, and shtazi[.]net. Continue reading

Using Google Search to Find Software Can Be Risky

January 25, 2024

Google continues to struggle with cybercriminals running malicious ads on its search platform to trick people into downloading booby-trapped copies of popular free software applications. The malicious ads, which appear above organic search results and often precede links to legitimate sources of the same software, can make searching for software on Google a dicey affair.

Google says keeping users safe is a top priority, and that the company has a team of thousands working around the clock to create and enforce their abuse policies. And by most accounts, the threat from bad ads leading to backdoored software has subsided significantly compared to a year ago.

But cybercrooks are constantly figuring out ingenious ways to fly beneath Google’s anti-abuse radar, and new examples of bad ads leading to malware are still too common.

For example, a Google search earlier this week for the free graphic design program FreeCAD produced the following result, which shows that a “Sponsored” ad at the top of the search results is advertising the software available from freecad-us[.]org. Although this website claims to be the official FreeCAD website, that honor belongs to the result directly below — the legitimate freecad.org.

How do we know freecad-us[.]org is malicious? A review at DomainTools.com show this domain is the newest (registered Jan. 19, 2024) of more than 200 domains at the Internet address 93.190.143[.]252 that are confusingly similar to popular software titles, including dashlane-project[.]com, filezillasoft[.]com, keepermanager[.]com, and libreofficeproject[.]com.

Some of the domains at this Netherlands host appear to be little more than software review websites that steal content from established information sources in the IT world, including Gartner, PCWorld, Slashdot and TechRadar.

Other domains at 93.190.143[.]252 do serve actual software downloads, but none of them are likely to be malicious if one visits the sites through direct navigation. If one visits openai-project[.]org and downloads a copy of the popular Windows desktop management application Rainmeter, for example, the file that is downloaded has the same exact file signature as the real Rainmeter installer available from rainmeter.net.

But this is only a ruse, says Tom Hegel, principal threat researcher at the security firm Sentinel One. Hegel has been tracking these malicious domains for more than a year, and he said the seemingly benign software download sites will periodically turn evil, swapping out legitimate copies of popular software titles with backdoored versions that will allow cybercriminals to remotely commander the systems.

“They’re using automation to pull in fake content, and they’re rotating in and out of hosting malware,” Hegel said, noting that the malicious downloads may only be offered to visitors who come from specific geographic locations, like the United States. “In the malicious ad campaigns we’ve seen tied to this group, they would wait until the domains gain legitimacy on the search engines, and then flip the page for a day or so and then flip back.”

In February 2023, Hegel co-authored a report on this same network, which Sentinel One has dubbed MalVirt (a play on “malvertising”). They concluded that the surge in malicious ads spoofing various software products was directly responsible for a surge in malware infections from infostealer trojans like IcedID, Redline Stealer, Formbook and AuroraStealer. Continue reading