February, 2016


26
Feb 16

IRS: 390K More Victims of IRS.Gov Weakness

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) today sharply revised previous estimates on the number of citizens that had their tax data stolen since 2014 thanks to a security weakness in the IRS’s own Web site. According to the IRS, at least 724,000 citizens had their personal and tax data stolen after crooks figured out how to abuse a (now defunct) IRS Web site feature called “Get Transcript” to steal victim’s prior tax data.

The Growing Tax Fraud MenaceThe number is more than double the figures the IRS released in August 2015, when it said some 334,000 taxpayers had their data stolen via authentication weaknesses in the agency’s Get Transcript feature.

Turns out, those August 2015 estimates were more than tripled from May 2015, when the IRS shut down its Get Transcript feature and announced it thought crooks had abused the Get Transcript feature to pull previous year’s tax data on just 110,000 citizens.

In a statement released today, the IRS said a more comprehensive, nine-month review of the Get Transcript feature since its inception in January 2014 identified the “potential access of approximately 390,000 additional taxpayer accounts during the period from January 2014 through May 2015.”

The IRS said an additional 295,000 taxpayer transcripts were targeted but access was not successful, and that mailings notifying these taxpayers will start February 29. The agency said it also is offering free credit monitoring through Equifax for affected consumers, and placing extra scrutiny on tax returns from citizens with affected SSNs.

The criminal Get Transcript requests fuel refund fraud, which involves crooks claiming a large refund in the name of someone else and intercepting the payment. Victims usually first learn of the crime after having their returns rejected because scammers beat them to it. Even those who are not required to file a return can be victims of refund fraud, as can those who are not actually due a refund from the IRS.

As I warned in March 2015, the flawed Get Transcript function at issue required taxpayers who wished to obtain a copy of their most recent tax transcript had to provide the IRS’s site with the following information: The applicant’s name, date of birth, Social Security number and filing status. After that data was successfully supplied, the IRS used a service from credit bureau Equifax that asks four so-called “knowledge-based authentication” (KBA) questions. Anyone who succeeds in supplying the correct answers could see the applicant’s full tax transcript, including prior W2s, current W2s and more or less everything one would need to fraudulently file for a tax refund.

These KBA questions — which involve multiple choice, “out of wallet” questions such as previous address, loan amounts and dates — can be successfully enumerated with random guessing. But in practice it is far easier, as we can see from the fact that thieves were successfully able to navigate the multiple questions more than half of the times they tried. The IRS said it identified some 1.3 million attempts to abuse the Get Transcript service since its inception in January 2014; in 724,000 of those cases the thieves succeeded in answering the KBA questions correctly.

The IRS’s answer to tax refund victims — the Identity Protection (IP) PIN — is just as flawed as the now defunct Get Transcript system. These IP PINS, which the IRS has already mailed to some 2.7 million tax ID theft victims, must be supplied on the following year’s tax application before the IRS will accept the return.

The only problem with this approach is that the IRS allows IP PIN recipients to retrieve their PIN via the agency’s Web site, after supplying the answers to the same type of KBA questions from Equifax that opened the Get Transcript feature to exploitation by fraudsters.  These KBA questions focus on things such as previous address, loan amounts and dates and can be successfully enumerated with random guessing.  In many cases, the answers can be found by consulting free online services, such as Zillow and Facebook.

ID thieves understand this all to well, and even a relatively unsophisticated gang engaged in this activity can make millions via tax refund fraud. Last week, a federal grand jury in Oregon unsealed indictments against three men accused of using the IRS’s Get Transcript feature to obtain 1,200 taxpayers transcripts. In total, the authorities allege the men filed over 2,900 false federal tax returns seeking over $25 million in fraudulent refunds.  The IRS says it rejected most of those claims, but that the gang managed to successfully obtain $4.7 million in illegal refunds.

Continue reading →


25
Feb 16

Breached Credit Union Comes Out of its Shell

Notifying people and companies about data breaches often can be a frustrating and thankless job. Despite my best efforts, sometimes a breach victim I’m alerting will come away convinced that I am not an investigative journalist but instead a scammer. This happened most recently this week, when I told a California credit union that its online banking site was compromised and apparently had been for nearly two months.

On Feb. 23, I contacted Coast Central Credit Union, a financial institution based in Eureka, Calif. that serves more than 60,000 customers. I explained who I was, how they’d likely been hacked, how they could verify the hack, and how they could fix the problem. Two days later when I noticed the site was still hacked, I contacted the credit union again, only to find they still didn’t believe me.

News of the compromise came to me via Alex Holden, a fellow lurker in the cybercrime underground and founder of Hold Security [full disclosure: While Holden’s site lists me as an advisor to his company, I receive zero compensation for that role]. Holden told me that crooks had hacked the credit union’s site and retrofitted it with a “Web shell,” a simple backdoor program that allows an attacker to remotely control the Web site and server using nothing more than a Web browser.

A view of the credit union's hacked Web site via the Web shell.

A screen shot of the credit union’s hacked Web site via the Web shell.

The credit union’s switchboard transferred me to a person in Coast Central’s tech department who gave his name only as “Vincent.” I told Vincent that the credit union’s site was very likely compromised, how he could verify it, etc. I also gave him my contact information, and urged him to escalate the issue. After all, I said, the intruders could use the Web shell program to upload malicious software that steals customer passwords directly from the credit union’s Web site. Vincent didn’t seem terribly alarmed about the news, and assured me that someone would be contacting me for more information.

This afternoon I happened to reload the login page for the Web shell on the credit union’s site and noticed it was still available. A call to the main number revealed that Vincent wasn’t in, but that Patrick in IT would take my call. For better or worse, Patrick was deeply skeptical that I was not impersonating the author of this site.

I commended him on his wariness and suggested several different ways he could independently verify my identity. When asked for a contact at the credit union that could speak to the media, Patrick said that person was him but declined to tell me his last name. He also refused to type in a Web address on his own employer’s Web site to verify the Web shell login page.

“I hope you do write about this,” Patrick said doubtfully, after I told him that I’d probably put something up on the site today about the hack. “That would be funny.”

The login page for the Web shell that was removed today from Coast Central Credit Union's Web site.

The login page for the Web shell that was removed today from Coast Central Credit Union’s Web site.

Exasperated, I told Patrick good luck and hung up. Thankfully, I did later hear from Ed Christians, vice president of information systems at Coast Central. Christians apologized for the runaround and said everyone in his department were regular readers of KrebsOnSecurity. “I was hoping I’d never get a call from you, but I guess I can cross that one off my list,” Christians said. “We’re going to get this thing taken down immediately.”

The credit union has since disabled the Web shell and is continuing to investigate the extent and source of the breach. There is some evidence to suggest the site may have been hacked via an outdated version of Akeeba Backup — a Joomla component that allows users to create and manage complete backups of a Joomla-based website. Screen shots of the files listed by the Web shell planted on Coast Central Credit Union indeed indicate the presence of Akeeba Backup on the financial institution’s Web server.

A Web search on one backdoor component that the intruders appear to have dropped on the credit union’s site on Dec. 29, 2015 — a file called “sfx.php” — turns up this blog post in which Swiss systems engineer Claudio Marcel Kuenzler described his investigation of a site that was hacked through the Akeeba Backup function. Continue reading →


24
Feb 16

Phishers Spoof CEO, Request W2 Forms

With tax filing season in the United States well underway, scammers who specialize in tax refund fraud have a new trick up their sleeves: Spoofing emails from a target organization’s CEO, asking human resources and accounting departments for employee W-2 information.

athookStu Sjouwerman, chief executive at security awareness training company KnowBe4, told KrebsOnSecurity that earlier this week his firm’s controller received an email designed to look like it was sent by Sjouwerman requesting a copy of all employee W-2 forms for this year (full disclosure: KnowBe4 is an advertiser on this site). The email read:

“Alanna,

I want you to send me the list of W-2 copy of employees wage and tax statement for 2015, I need them in PDF file type, you can send it as an attachment. Kindly prepare the lists and email them to me asap.

Stu”x

Turns out, KnowBe4 just hired a new chief financial officer. The controller answered that she didn’t have access to that information, but that the new CFO could help. Sjourwerman said an analysis of the email headers showed the phishers used someone’s GoDaddy email server and the return address was not associated with the company.

“Our CFO had just stepped through all of our awareness training and smelled something phishy,” Sjourwerman said. “The two of them walked up to me and asked if I had requested a PDF with all W-2’s. Obviously, I hadn’t, and congratulated them on a good catch. But imagine if we would have sent off those W-2’s! It would have opened up our employees to identity theft because the W-2’s have their full name, address, wages and Social Security number.”

knowbe4phish

Continue reading →


22
Feb 16

The Lowdown on the Apple-FBI Showdown

Many readers have asked for a primer summarizing the privacy and security issues at stake in the the dispute between Apple and the U.S. Justice Department, which last week convinced a judge in California to order Apple to unlock an iPhone used by one of assailants in the recent San Bernardino massacres. I don’t have much original reporting to contribute on this important debate, but I’m visiting it here because it’s a complex topic that deserves the broadest possible public scrutiny.

Image: Elin Korneliussen

Image: Elin Korneliussen (@elincello)

A federal magistrate in California approved an order (PDF) granting the FBI permission to access to the data on the iPhone 5c belonging to the late terror suspect Syed Rizwan Farook, one of two individuals responsible for a mass shooting in San Bernadino on Dec. 2, 2015 in which 14 people were killed and many others were injured.

Apple CEO Tim Cook released a letter to customers last week saying the company will appeal the order, citing customer privacy and security concerns.

Most experts seem to agree that Apple is technically capable of complying with the court order. Indeed, as National Public Radio notes in a segment this morning, Apple has agreed to unlock phones in approximately 70 other cases involving requests from the government. However, something unexpected emerged in one of those cases — an iPhone tied to a Brooklyn, NY drug dealer who pleaded guilty to selling methamphetamine last year. Continue reading →


19
Feb 16

Dell to Customers: Report ‘Service Tag’ Scams

Computer maker Dell is asking for help in an ongoing probe into the source of customer information that appears to have somehow landed in the laps of fraudsters posing as Dell computer support technicians. KrebsOnSecurity readers continue to report being called by scammers posing as Dell support personnel who offer “proof” that they’re with Dell by rattling off the unique Dell “service tag” code printed on each Dell customer’s PC or laptop, as well as information from any previous (legitimate) service issues the customer may have had with Dell.

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

In January, Ars Technica’s Dan Goodin wrote about a guy who’d been complaining to Dell for six months about the very same problem, in which the scammers try to convince the customer that their computer is infected and in need of professional services. Dell responded at the time that its customer’s data protection was a top priority, and it reminded customers that Dell doesn’t make unsolicited calls asking to charge to fix an issue they did not report or previously request help with unless they have signed up for premium support services.

I first heard about this in December 2015 from Israeli resident Yosef Kaner, who reported receiving a phone call from someone with a thick Indian accent claiming to be from Dell technical support.

“He said that they had been monitoring my computer usage for the past couple of weeks, and that I had downloaded a dangerous piece of software,” Kaner said. “He offered to help me remove said software. Understanding that this was a scam, I asked him for a callback number. He gave me one. He also, though, knew my name and gave me the Service Tag of my PC. I thanked him and hung up. Then I Googled the number he gave me. It was a known number from a known scam.”

Almost every week this past month, I’ve received similar messages from other readers. Like this one, from Lucy Thomson of Washington, D.C. Thomson is the author of the ABA Data Breach and Encryption Handbook, and a former Justice Department fraud prosecutor.

“So I am not happy that Dell has had this breach and many people are potentially in jeopardy,” Thomson said. “I confirmed with two of the people who called on two different days, one who said he was in San Jose, CA and another who said he was in India, the nature of the PII and service records they have. All of it was correct and they have quite a bit of contact information and service records with specific dates of calls and service.”

Thomson said she called 1-866-383-4713 (the real Dell’s support line) and told the technician about having received calls every day for the previous five days from people claiming to be Dell certified technicians or who worked for Dell.

“I then told him they had all my PII and Dell service records for the computer I purchased from Dell in 2012,” Thomson recalled. “He said they had received calls ‘from people like you,’ and ‘many customers have called.’ In response to my question about why they had not sent data breach notifications, he said ‘The legal team is in charge. The legal team is working with the FBI on this.’ He said that twice. At the end of the call he said ‘we are creating a platform so this will never happen again.'” Continue reading →


18
Feb 16

This is Why People Fear the ‘Internet of Things’

Imagine buying an internet-enabled surveillance camera, network attached storage device, or home automation gizmo, only to find that it secretly and constantly phones home to a vast peer-to-peer (P2P) network run by the Chinese manufacturer of the hardware. Now imagine that the geek gear you bought doesn’t actually let you block this P2P communication without some serious networking expertise or hardware surgery that few users would attempt.

The FI9286P, a Foscam camera that includes P2P communication by default.

The FI9286P, a Foscam camera that includes P2P communication by default.

This is the nightmare “Internet of Things” (IoT) scenario for any system administrator: The IP cameras that you bought to secure your physical space suddenly turn into a vast cloud network designed to share your pictures and videos far and wide. The best part? It’s all plug-and-play, no configuration necessary!

I first became aware of this bizarre experiment in how not to do IoT last week when a reader sent a link to a lengthy discussion thread on the support forum for Foscam, a Chinese firm that makes and sells security cameras. The thread was started by a Foscam user who noticed his IP camera was noisily and incessantly calling out to more than a dozen online hosts in almost as many countries.

Turns out, this Focscam camera was one of several newer models the company makes that comes with peer-to-peer networking capabilities baked in. This fact is not exactly spelled out for the user (although some of the models listed do say “P2P” in the product name, others do not).

But the bigger issue with these P2P -based cameras is that while the user interface for the camera has a setting to disable P2P traffic (it is enabled by default), Foscam admits that disabling the P2P option doesn’t actually do anything to stop the device from seeking out other P2P hosts online (see screenshot below).

This is a concern because the P2P function built into Foscam P2P cameras is designed to punch through firewalls and can’t be switched off without applying a firmware update plus an additional patch that the company only released after repeated pleas from users on its support forum.

Yeah, this setting doesn't work. P2P is still enabled even after you uncheck the box.

Yeah, this setting doesn’t work. P2P is still enabled even after you uncheck the box.

One of the many hosts that Foscam users reported seeing in their firewall logs was iotcplatform.com, a domain registered to Chinese communications firm ThroughTek Co., Ltd. Turns out, this domain has shown up in firewall logs for a number of other curious tinkerers who cared to take a closer look at what their network attached storage and home automation toys were doing on their network.

In January 2015, a contributing writer for the threat-tracking SANS Internet Storm Center wrote in IoT: The Rise of the Machines that he found the same iotcplatform.com domain called out in network traffic generated by a Maginon SmartPlug he’d purchased (smart plugs are power receptacles into which you plug lights and other appliances you may wish to control remotely).

What is the IOTC Plaform? According to ThroughTek, it’s a service developed to establish P2P communications between devices.

“I read the documentation provided with the device as well as all the website pages and there is no mention of this service,” wrote Xavier Mertens, an incident handler and blogger for SANS. “Manufacturers should include some technical documentation about the network requirements (ex: to download firmware updates).”

In another instance from May 2015, this blogger noted similar communications traffic emanating from a digital video recorder (DVR) device that’s sold in tandem with Internet-enabled surveillance cameras made by a company called Swann.

Likewise, postings from Dec. 2014 on the QNAP network attached storage (NAS) user forum indicate that some QNAP customers discovered mysterious traffic to iotcplatform.com and other Internet address requests that also were found in the Swann and Smart Plug traffic.

What do all of these things have in common? A visit to ThroughTek’s Web lists several “case studies” for its products, including Swann, QNAP and a home automation company based in Taiwan called AboCom.

ThroughTek did not respond to requests for comment. A ThroughTek press release from October 2015 announced that the company’s P2P network — which it calls the Kalay Network — had grown to support more than seven million connected devices and 100 million “IoT connections.”

I contacted Foscam to better understand the company’s relationship to ThroughTek, and to learn just how many Foscam devices now ship with ThroughTek’s built-in, always-on P2P technology. Foscam declined to say how many different models bundled the P2P technology, but it’s at least a dozen by my count of the models mentioned in the Foscam user manual and discussion thread. Continue reading →


16
Feb 16

The Great EMV Fake-Out: No Chip For You!

Many banks are now issuing customers more secure chip-based credit cards, and most retailers now have card terminals in their checkout lanes that can handle the “dip” of chip-card transactions (as opposed to the usual swipe of the card’s magnetic stripe). But comparatively few retailers actually allow chip transactions: Most are still asking customers to swipe the stripe instead of dip the chip. This post will examine what’s going on here, why so many merchants are holding out on the dip, and where this all leaves consumers.

chiptransVisa CEO Charles W. Scharf said in an earnings call late last month that more than 750,000 locations representing 17 percent of the U.S. face-to-face card-accepting merchant base are now enabled to handle chip-based transactions, also known as the EMV (“Europay, Mastercard and Visa”) payment standard.

Viewed another way, that means U.S. consumers currently can expect to find chip cards accepted in checkout lines at fewer than one in five brick-and-mortar merchants.

Why are so many chip-capable checkout terminals already installed that have not been enabled to actually accept chip cards? Allen Weinberg, co-founder of Menlo Park, Calif. based management consulting firm Glenbrook Partners, examined this very question in a recent column that pointed to several factors holding retailers back from enabling dip-the-chip.

WHAT LIABILITY SHIFT?

New MasterCard and Visa rules that went into effect Oct. 1, 2015 put merchants on the hook to absorb 100 percent of the costs of fraud associated with transactions in which the customer presented a chip-based card yet was not asked or able to dip the chip. The chip cards encrypt the cardholder data and are far more expensive and difficult for card thieves to clone.

Despite the increased risk of eating the entire loss from counterfeit card use in their stores, many merchants are taking a wait-and-see approach on enabling chip card transactions. Weinberg said some merchants — particularly the larger ones — want to turn the often painful experience of training customers how to use the chip cards and terminals into someone else’s problem.

“They see [chip cards] as just slowing down lines and chose to wait until consumers learned what to do — and do it quickly — at someone else’s store,” Weinberg wrote.

Weinberg adds that for many larger merchants, switching on the chip readers also can be a big and expensive project. Part of the problem, he says, is that many integrated point of sale systems — particularly the electronic cash register software for these systems — were just not ready in time for the Oct. 2015 liability shift.

“Even if the software was ahead of the game, they faced long certification queues at many acquirers,” Weinberg wrote. “I believe this is going to be a problem for a while.”

Visa said based on recent client surveys it expects 50% of face-to-face card accepting merchants to have chip card transactions enabled by the end of this year. But even 50 percent adoption can mask a long tail of smaller merchants who will put off as long as they can the expensive software and hardware upgrades for accepting chip transactions.

“My dry cleaner isn’t worried about someone using counterfeit cards at his cash register,” Weinberg said, noting that many businesses meanwhile discount the chances that hackers will siphon customer cards by sneaking malicious software onto point-of-sale devices — a problem that has lead to one breach after another at brand name retailers, restaurants and hotels over the past several  years. Continue reading →


11
Feb 16

Fraudsters Tap Kohl’s Cash for Cold Cash

Scam artists have been using hacked accounts from retailer Kohls.com to order high-priced, bulky merchandise that is then shipped to the victim’s home. While the crooks don’t get the stolen merchandise, the unauthorized purchases rack up valuable credits called “Kohl’s cash” that the thieves quickly redeem at Kohl’s locations for items that can be resold for cash or returned for gift cards.

kohlscashKrebsOnSecurity reader Suzanne Perry, a self-professed “shopaholic” from Gilbert, Penn., said she recently received an email from Kohls.com stating that the email address on her account had been changed. Recognizing this as a common indicator of a compromised account, Perry said she immediately went to Kohls.com — which confirmed her fears that her password had been changed.

On a whim, Perry said she attempted to log in with the “updated” email address (the one the thief used) along with her existing password. Happily, the thieves had been too lazy to change the password.

“Once I was logged in, I checked my order history to determine if any fraudulent orders were placed in the 20 minutes since I received the notification,” she said. “I wasn’t that surprised to see two online orders, totaling almost $700 each, but I was very surprised to see they were being shipped to my house and not some address I never heard of.”

Perry said she then contacted Kohl’s and gave them the two order numbers and the fraudulent email address.

“I explained what happened, and they were very helpful in canceling the orders, updating my email address, and resetting my password,” she said. “I told them I couldn’t understand why someone would hack into my account just to have a bunch of stuff shipped to my own address. I was trying to figure out what the criminal would possibly have to gain from the effort, but the service representative informed me that is actually a very common occurrence for them.”

Turns out, the criminal wasn’t after the merchandise at all. Rather, the purpose of changing her email address was to drain the account’s stored Kohl’s cash, a form of rebate that Kohl’s offers customers — currently $10 for every $50 spent at the store. The two fraudulent orders yielded $220 in Kohls cash total, which is emailed once the order is confirmed (hence the need to change the victim’s email address).

“Since the orders were being shipped to me, even though they were  above the threshold for what my typical online spending behavior is, no red flags were raised on their end,” Perry said.

More interestingly, virtually all of the merchandise the thieves ordered to build up the account’s Kohl’s cash balance were bulky items: Three baby cribs, a stroller system and car seat, and a baby bath tub, among other items. Perry said Kohl’s told her that the thieves do this because they know bulky items usually take longer to return, and since Kohl’s revokes Kohl’s cash credits earned on items that are later returned, the thieves can spend the stolen Kohl’s credits as long as the owner of the hijacked account doesn’t return the fraudulently ordered items. Continue reading →


10
Feb 16

Critical Fixes Issued for Windows, Java, Flash

Microsoft Windows users and those with Adobe Flash Player or Java installed, it’s time to update again! Microsoft released 13 updates to address some three dozen unique security vulnerabilities. Adobe issued security fixes for its Flash Player software that plugs at least 22 security holes in the widely-used browser component. Meanwhile, Oracle issued an unscheduled security fix for Java, its second security update for Java in as many weeks.

brokenwindowsOne big critical update from Redmond mends more than a dozen security problems with Internet Explorer. Another critical patch addresses flaws Microsoft Edge — including four that appear to share the same vulnerability identifiers (meaning Microsoft re-used the same vulnerable IE code in its newest Edge browser). Security vendor Qualys as usual has a good roundup of the rest of the critical Microsoft updates.

Adobe issued an update for Flash Player that fixes a slew of security problems with Flash, a very powerful yet vulnerable piece of software that is also unfortunately ubiquitous. After all, as Chris Goettl at Shavlik reminds us, fixing Flash on a modern computer can be a complicated affair: “You need to update Adobe Flash for IE, Flash for Google Chrome, and Flash for Firefox to completely plug all of these 22 vulnerabilities.” Thankfully, Chrome and IE should auto-install the latest Flash version on browser restart (I had to manually restart Chrome to get the latest Flash version). Continue reading →


9
Feb 16

Skimmers Hijack ATM Network Cables

If you have ever walked up to an ATM to withdraw cash only to decide against it after noticing a telephone or ethernet cord snaking from behind the machine to a jack in the wall, your paranoia may not have been misplaced: ATM maker NCR is warning about skimming attacks that involve keypad overlays, hidden cameras and skimming devices plugged into the ATM network cables to intercept customer card data.

Two network cable card skimming devices, as found attached to this ATM.

Two network cable card skimming devices, as found attached to this ATM.

In an alert sent to customers Feb. 8, NCR said it received reliable reports of NCR and Diebold ATMs being attacked through the use of external skimming devices that hijack the cash machine’s phone or Internet jack.

“These devices are plugged into the ATM network cables and intercept customer card data. Additional devices are attached to the ATM to capture the PIN,” NCR warned. “A keyboard overlay was used to attack an NCR ATM, a concealed camera was used on the Diebold ATM. PIN data is then likely transmitted wirelessly to the skimming device.”

The ATM maker believes these attacks represent a continuation of the trend where criminals are finding alternative methods to skim magnetic strip cards. Such alternative methods avoid placing the skimmer on the ATM card entry bezel, which is where most anti-skimming technology is located.

NCR said cash machine operators must consider all points where card data may be accessible — in addition to the traditional point of vulnerability at the card entry bezel — and that having ATM network communications cables and connections exposed in publicly accessible locations only invites trouble. Continue reading →