July, 2019


30
Jul 19

Capital One Data Theft Impacts 106M People

Federal prosecutors this week charged a Seattle woman with stealing data from more than 100 million credit applications made with Capital One Financial Corp. Incredibly, much of this breach played out publicly over several months on social media and other open online platforms. What follows is a closer look at the accused, and what this incident may mean for consumers and businesses.

Paige “erratic” Thompson, in an undated photo posted to her Slack channel.

On July 29, FBI agents arrested Paige A. Thompson on suspicion of downloading nearly 30 GB of Capital One credit application data from a rented cloud data server. Capital One said the incident affected approximately 100 million people in the United States and six million in Canada.

That data included approximately 140,000 Social Security numbers and approximately 80,000 bank account numbers on U.S. consumers, and roughly 1 million Social Insurance Numbers (SINs) for Canadian credit card customers.

“Importantly, no credit card account numbers or log-in credentials were compromised and over 99 percent of Social Security numbers were not compromised,” Capital One said in a statement posted to its site.

“The largest category of information accessed was information on consumers and small businesses as of the time they applied for one of our credit card products from 2005 through early 2019,” the statement continues. “This information included personal information Capital One routinely collects at the time it receives credit card applications, including names, addresses, zip codes/postal codes, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and self-reported income.”

The FBI says Capital One learned about the theft from a tip sent via email on July 17, which alerted the company that some of its leaked data was being stored out in the open on the software development platform Github. That Github account was for a user named “Netcrave,” which includes the resume and name of one Paige A. Thompson.

The tip that alerted Capital One to its data breach.

The complaint doesn’t explicitly name the cloud hosting provider from which the Capital One credit data was taken, but it does say the accused’s resume states that she worked as a systems engineer at the provider between 2015 and 2016. That resume, available on Gitlab here, reveals Thompson’s most recent employer was Amazon Inc.

Further investigation revealed that Thompson used the nickname “erratic” on Twitter, where she spoke openly over several months about finding huge stores of data intended to be secured on various Amazon instances.

The Twitter user “erratic” posting about tools and processes used to access various Amazon cloud instances.

According to the FBI, Thompson also used a public Meetup group under the same alias, where she invited others to join a Slack channel named “Netcrave Communications.”

KrebsOnSecurity was able to join this open Slack channel Monday evening and review many months of postings apparently made by Erratic about her personal life, interests and online explorations. One of the more interesting posts by Erratic on the Slack channel is a June 27 comment listing various databases she found by hacking into improperly secured Amazon cloud instances.

That posting suggests Erratic may also have located tens of gigabytes of data belonging to other major corporations:

According to Erratic’s posts on Slack, the two items in the list above beginning with “ISRM-WAF” belong to Capital One.

Continue reading →


29
Jul 19

No Jail Time for “WannaCry Hero”

Marcus Hutchins, the “accidental hero” who helped arrest the spread of the global WannaCry ransomware outbreak in 2017, will receive no jail time for his admitted role in authoring and selling malware that helped cyberthieves steal online bank account credentials from victims, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Marcus Hutchins, just after he was revealed as the security expert who stopped the WannaCry worm. Image: twitter.com/malwaretechblog

The British security enthusiast enjoyed instant fame after the U.K. media revealed he’d registered and sinkholed a domain name that researchers later understood served as a hidden “kill switch” inside WannaCry, a fast-spreading, highly destructive strain of ransomware which propagated through a Microsoft Windows exploit developed by and subsequently stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency.

In August 2017, FBI agents arrested then 23-year-old Hutchins on suspicion of authoring and spreading the “Kronos” banking trojan and a related malware tool called UPAS Kit. Hutchins was released shortly after his arrest, but ordered to remain in the United States pending trial.

Many in the security community leaped to his defense at the time, noting that the FBI’s case appeared flimsy and that Hutchins had worked tirelessly through his blog to expose cybercriminals and their malicious tools. Hundreds of people donated to his legal defense fund.

In September 2017, KrebsOnSecurity published research which strongly suggested Hutchins’ dozens of alter egos online had a fairly lengthy history of developing and selling various malware tools and services. In April 2019, Hutchins pleaded guilty to criminal charges of conspiracy and to making, selling or advertising illegal wiretapping devices.

At his sentencing hearing July 26, U.S. District Judge Joseph Peter Stadtmueller said Hutchins’ action in halting the spread of WannaCry was far more consequential than the two malware strains he admitted authoring, and sentenced him to time served plus one year of supervised release.  Continue reading →


25
Jul 19

The Unsexy Threat to Election Security

Much has been written about the need to further secure our elections, from ensuring the integrity of voting machines to combating fake news. But according to a report quietly issued by a California grand jury this week, more attention needs to be paid to securing social media and email accounts used by election officials at the state and local level.

California has a civil grand jury system designed to serve as an independent oversight of local government functions, and each county impanels jurors to perform this service annually. On Wednesday, a grand jury from San Mateo County in northern California released a report which envisions the havoc that might be wrought on the election process if malicious hackers were able to hijack social media and/or email accounts and disseminate false voting instructions or phony election results.

“Imagine that a hacker hijacks one of the County’s official social media accounts and uses it to report false results on election night and that local news outlets then redistribute those fraudulent election results to the public,” the report reads.

“Such a scenario could cause great confusion and erode public confidence in our elections, even if the vote itself is actually secure,” the report continues. “Alternatively, imagine that a hacker hijacks the County’s elections website before an election and circulates false voting instructions designed to frustrate the efforts of some voters to participate in the election. In that case, the interference could affect the election outcome, or at least call the results into question.”

In San Mateo County, the office of the Assessor-County Clerk-Recorder and Elections (ACRE) is responsible for carrying out elections and announcing local results. The ACRE sends election information to some 43,000 registered voters who’ve subscribed to receive sample ballots and voter information, and its Web site publishes voter eligibility information along with instructions on how and where to cast ballots.

The report notes that concerns about the security of these channels are hardly theoretical: In 2010, intruders hijacked ACRE’s election results Web page, and in 2016, cyber thieves successfully breached several county employee email accounts in a spear-phishing attack.

In the wake of the 2016 attack, San Mateo County instituted two-factor authentication for its email accounts — requiring each user to log in with a password and a one-time code sent via text message to their mobile device. However, the county uses its own Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts to share election information, and these accounts are not currently secured by two-factor authentication, the report found. Continue reading →


24
Jul 19

Neo-Nazi SWATters Target Dozens of Journalists

Nearly three dozen journalists at a broad range of major publications have been targeted by a far-right group that maintains a Deep Web database listing the personal information of people who threaten their views. This group specializes in encouraging others to harass those targeted by their ire, and has claimed responsibility for dozens of bomb threats and “swatting” incidents, where police are tricked into visiting potentially deadly force on the target’s address.

At issue is a site called the “Doxbin,” which hosts the names, addresses, phone number and often known IP addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other sensitive information on hundreds of people — and in some cases the personal information of the target’s friends and family.

A significant number of the 400+ entries on the Doxbin are for journalists (32 at last count, including Yours Truly), although the curators of Doxbin have targeted everyone from federal judges to executives at major corporations. In January 2019, the group behind Doxbin claimed responsibility for doxing and swatting a top Facebook executive.

At least two of the journalists listed on the Doxbin have been swatted in the past six months, including Pulitzer prize winning columnist Leonard G. Pitts Jr.

In some cases, as in the entries for reporters from CNN, Politico, ProPublica and Vox, no reason is mentioned for their inclusion. But in many others, the explanation seems connected to stories the journalist has published dealing with race or the anti-fascist (antifa) movement.

“Anti-white race/politics writer,” reads the note next to Pitts’ entry in the Doxbin.

Many of those listed on the site soon find themselves on the receiving end of extended threats and harassment. Carey Holzman, a computer technician who runs a Youtube channel on repairing and modding computers, was swatted in January, at about the same time his personal information showed up on the Doxbin.

More recently, his tormentors started calling his mobile phone at all hours of the night, threatening to hire a hit man to kill him. They even promised to have drugs ordered off the Dark Web and sent to his home, as part of a plan to get him arrested for drug possession.

“They said they were going to send me three grams of cocaine,” Holzman told KrebsOnSecurity.

Sure enough, earlier this month a small vial of white powder arrived via the U.S. Postal Service. Holzman said he didn’t open the vial, but instead handed it over to the local police for testing. Continue reading →


22
Jul 19

What You Should Know About the Equifax Data Breach Settlement

Big-three credit bureau Equifax has reportedly agreed to pay at least $650 million to settle lawsuits stemming from a 2017 breach that let intruders steal personal and financial data on roughly 148 million Americans. Here’s a brief primer that attempts to break down what this settlement means for you, and what it says about the value of your identity.

Q: What happened?

A: If the terms of the settlement are approved by a court, the Federal Trade Commission says Equifax will be required to spend up to $425 million helping consumers who can demonstrate they were financially harmed by the breach. The company also will provide up to 10 years of free credit monitoring to those who had their data exposed.

Q: What about the rest of the money in the settlement?

A: An as-yet undisclosed amount will go to pay lawyers fees for the plaintiffs.

Q: $650 million seems like a lot. Is that some kind of record?

A: If not, it’s pretty close. The New York Times reported earlier today that it was thought to be the largest settlement ever paid by a company over a data breach, but that statement doesn’t appear anywhere in their current story.

Q: Hang on…148 million affected consumers…out of that $425 million pot that comes to just $2.87 per victim, right?

A: That’s one way of looking at it. But as always, the devil is in the details. You won’t see a penny or any other benefit unless you do something about it, and how much you end up costing the company (within certain limits) is up to you.

The Times reports that the proposed settlement assumes that only around seven million people will sign up for their credit monitoring offers. “If more do, Equifax’s costs for providing it could rise meaningfully,” the story observes.

Q: Okay. What can I do?

A: You can visit www.equifaxbreachsettlement.com, although none of this will be official or on offer until a court approves the settlement.

Q: Uh, that doesn’t look like Equifax’s site…

A: Good eyes! It’s not. It’s run by a third party. But we should probably just be grateful for that; given Equifax’s total dumpster fire of a public response to the breach, the company has shown itself incapable of operating (let alone securing) a properly functioning Web site.

Q: What can I get out of this?

A: In a nutshell, affected consumers are eligible to apply for one or more remedies, including:

Free credit monitoring: At least three years of credit monitoring via all three major bureaus simultaneously, including Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. The settlement also envisions up to six more years of single bureau monitoring through Experian. Or, if you don’t want to take advantage of the credit monitoring offers, you can opt instead for a $125 cash payment. You can’t get both.

Reimbursement: …For the time you spent remedying identity theft or misuse of your personal information caused by the breach, or purchasing credit monitoring or credit reports. This is capped at 20 total hours at $25 per hour ($500). Total cash reimbursement payment will not exceed $20,000 per consumer.

Help with ongoing identity theft issues: Up to seven years of “free assisted identity restoration services.” Again, the existing breach settlement page is light on specifics there.

Q: Does this cover my kids/dependents, too?

A: The FTC says if you were a minor in May 2017 (when Equifax first learned of the breach), you are eligible for a total of 18 years of free credit monitoring.

Q: How do I take advantage of any of these?

A: You can’t yet. The settlement has to be approved first. The settlement Web site says to check back again later. In addition to checking the breach settlement site periodically, consumers can sign up with the FTC to receive email updates about this settlement.

Update: The eligibility site is now active, at this link.

The settlement site said consumers also can call 1-833-759-2982 for more information. Press #2 on your phone’s keypad if you want to skip the 1-minute preamble and get straight into the queue to speak with a real person.

KrebsOnSecurity dialed in to ask for more details on the “free assisted identity restoration services,” and the person who took my call said they’d need to have some basic information about me in order to proceed. He said they needed my name, address and phone number to proceed. I gave him a number and a name, and after checking with someone he came back and said the restoration services would be offered by Equifax, but confirmed that affected consumers would still have to apply for it.

He added that the Equifaxbreachsettlement.com site will soon include a feature that lets visitors check to see if they’re eligible, but also confirmed that just checking eligibility won’t entitle one to any of the above benefits: Consumers will still need to file a claim through the site (when it’s available to do so). Continue reading →


19
Jul 19

QuickBooks Cloud Hosting Firm iNSYNQ Hit in Ransomware Attack

Cloud hosting provider iNSYNQ says it is trying to recover from a ransomware attack that shut down its network and has left customers unable to access their accounting data for the past three days. Unfortunately for iNSYNQ, the company appears to be turning a deaf ear to the increasingly anxious cries from its users for more information about the incident.

A message from iNSYNQ to customers.

Gig Harbor, Wash.-based iNSYNQ specializes in providing cloud-based QuickBooks accounting software and services. In a statement posted to its status page, iNSYNQ said it experienced a ransomware attack on July 16, and took its network offline in a bid to contain the spread of the malware.

“The attack impacted data belonging to certain iNSYNQ clients, rendering such data inaccessible,” the company said. “As soon as iNSYNQ discovered the attack, iNSYNQ took steps to contain it. This included turning off some servers in the iNSYNQ environment.”

iNSYNQ said it has engaged outside cybersecurity assistance and to determine whether any customer data was accessed without authorization, but that so far it has no estimate for when those files might be available again to customers.

Meanwhile, iNSYNQ’s customers — many of them accountants who manage financial data for a number of their own clients — have taken to Twitter to vent their frustration over a lack of updates since that initial message to users.

In response, the company appears to have simply deleted or deactivated its Twitter account (a cached copy from June 2019 is available here). Several customers venting about the outage on Twitter also accused the company of unpublishing negative comments about the incident from its Facebook page.

Some of those customers also said iNSYNQ initially blamed the outage on an alleged problem with U.S.-based nationwide cable ISP giant Comcast. Meanwhile, competing cloud hosting providers have been piling on to the tweetstorms about the iNSYNQ outage by marketing their own services, claiming they would never subject their customers to a three-day outage.

iNSYNQ has not yet responded to requests for comment.

Update, 4:35 p.m. ET: I just heard from iNSYNQ’s CEO Elliot Luchansky, who shared the following:

While we have continually updated our website and have emailed customers once if not twice daily during this malware attack, I acknowledge we’ve had to keep the detail fairly minimal.

Unfortunately, and as I’m sure you’re familiar with, the lack of detailed information we’ve shared has been purposeful and in an effort to protect our customers and their data- we’re in a behind the scenes trench warfare doing everything we possibly can to secure and restore our system and customer data and backups. I understand why our customers are frustrated, and we want more than anything to share every piece of information that we have.

Our customers and their businesses are our number one priority right now. Our team is working around the clock to secure and restore access to all impacted data, and we believe we have an end in sight in the near future.

You know as well as we that no one is 100% impervious to this – businesses large and small, governments and individuals are susceptible. iNSYNQ and our customers were the victims of a malware attack that’s a totally new variant that hadn’t been detected before, confirmed by the experienced and knowledgeable cybersecurity team we’ve employed.

Continue reading →


17
Jul 19

Party Like a Russian, Carder’s Edition

“It takes a certain kind of man with a certain reputation
To alleviate the cash from a whole entire nation…”

KrebsOnSecurity has seen some creative yet truly bizarre ads for dodgy services in the cybercrime underground, but the following animated advertisement for a popular credit card fraud shop likely takes the cake.

The name of this particular card shop won’t be mentioned here, and its various domain names featured in the video have been pixelated so as not to further promote the online store in question.

But points for knowing your customers, and understanding how to push emotional buttons among a clientele that mostly views America’s financial system as one giant ATM that never seems to run out of cash.

WARNING: Some viewers may find this video disturbing. Also, it is almost certainly Not Safe for Work.

The above commercial is vaguely reminiscent of the slick ads produced for and promoted by convicted Ukrainian credit card fraudster Vladislav “BadB” Horohorin, who was sentenced in 2013 to serve 88 months in prison for his role in the theft of more than $9 million from RBS Worldpay, an Atlanta-based credit card processor. (In February 2017, Horohorin was released and deported from the United States. He now works as a private cybersecurity consultant).

The clip above is loosely based on the 2016 music video, “Party Like a Russian,” produced by British singer-songwriter Robbie Williams.

Tip of the hat to Alex Holden of Hold Security for finding and sharing this video.


16
Jul 19

Meet the World’s Biggest ‘Bulletproof’ Hoster

For at least the past decade, a computer crook variously known as “Yalishanda,” “Downlow” and “Stas_vl” has run one of the most popular “bulletproof” Web hosting services catering to a vast array of phishing sites, cybercrime forums and malware download servers. What follows are a series of clues that point to the likely real-life identity of a Russian man who appears responsible for enabling a ridiculous amount of cybercriminal activity on the Internet today.

Image: Intel471

KrebsOnSecurity began this research after reading a new academic paper on the challenges involved in dismantling or disrupting bulletproof hosting services, which are so called because they can be depended upon to ignore abuse complaints and subpoenas from law enforcement organizations. We’ll get to that paper in a moment, but for now I mention it because it prompted me to check and see if one of the more infamous bulletproof hosters from a decade ago was still in operation.

Sure enough, I found that Yalishanda was actively advertising on cybercrime forums, and that his infrastructure was being used to host hundreds of dodgy sites. Those include a large number of cybercrime forums and stolen credit card shops, ransomware download sites, Magecart-related infrastructure, and a metric boatload of phishing Web sites mimicking dozens of retailers, banks and various government Web site portals.

I first encountered Yalishanda back in 2010, after writing about “Fizot,” the nickname used by another miscreant who helped customers anonymize their cybercrime traffic by routing it through a global network of Microsoft Windows computers infected with a powerful malware strain called TDSS.

After that Fizot story got picked up internationally, KrebsOnSecurity heard from a source who suggested that Yalishanda and Fizot shared some of the same infrastructure.

In particular, the source pointed to a domain that was live at the time called mo0be-world[.]com, which was registered in 2010 to an Aleksandr Volosovyk at the email address stas_vl@mail.ru. Now, normally cybercriminals are not in the habit of using their real names in domain name registration records, particularly domains that are to be used for illegal or nefarious purposes. But for whatever reason, that is exactly what Mr. Volosovyk appears to have done.

WHO IS YALISHANDA?

The one or two domain names registered to Aleksandr Volosovyk and that mail.ru address state that he resides in Vladivostok, which is a major Pacific port city in Russia that is close to the borders with China and North Korea. The nickname Yalishanda means “Alexander” in Mandarin (亚历山大).

Here’s a snippet from one of Yalishanda’s advertisements to a cybercrime forum in 2011, when he was running a bulletproof service under the domain real-hosting[.]biz:

-Based in Asia and Europe.
-It is allowed to host: ordinary sites, doorway pages, satellites, codecs, adware, tds, warez, pharma, spyware, exploits, zeus, IRC, etc.
-Passive SPAM is allowed (you can spam sites that are hosted by us).
-Web spam is allowed (Hrumer, A-Poster ….)

-Forbidden: Any outgoing Email spam, DP, porn, phishing (exclude phishing email, social networks)

There is a server with instant activation under botnets (zeus) and so on. The prices will pleasantly please you! The price depends on the specific content!!!!

Yalishanda would re-brand and market his pricey bulletproof hosting services under a variety of nicknames and cybercrime forums over the years, including one particularly long-lived abuse-friendly project aptly named abushost[.]ru.

In a talk given at the Black Hat security conference in 2017, researchers from Cisco and cyber intelligence firm Intel 471 labeled Yalishanda as one the “top tier” bulletproof hosting providers worldwide, noting that in just one 90-day period in 2017 his infrastructure was seen hosting sites tied to some of the most advanced malware contagions at the time, including the Dridex and Zeus banking trojans, as well as a slew of ransomware operations.

“Any of the actors that can afford his services are somewhat more sophisticated than say the bottom feeders that make up the majority of the actors in the underground,” said Jason Passwaters, Intel 471’s chief operating officer. “Bulletproof hosting is probably the biggest enabling service that you find in the underground. If there’s any one group operation or actor that touches more cybercriminals, it’s the bulletproof hosters.”

Passwaters told Black Hat attendees that Intel471 wasn’t convinced Alex was Yalishanda’s real name. I circled back with Intel 471 this week to ask about their ongoing research into this individual, and they confided that they knew at the time Yalishanda was in fact Alexander Volosovyk, but simply didn’t want to state his real name in a public setting.

KrebsOnSecurity uncovered strong evidence to support a similar conclusion. In 2010, this author received a massive data dump from a source that had hacked into or otherwise absconded with more than four years of email records from ChronoPay — at the time a major Russian online payment provider whose CEO and co-founders were the chief subjects of my 2014 book, Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime.

Querying those records on Yalishanda’s primary email address — stas_vl@mail.ru — reveal that this individual in 2010 sought payment processing services from ChronoPay for a business he was running which sold counterfeit designer watches.

As part of his application for service, the person using that email address forwarded six documents to ChronoPay managers, including business incorporation and banking records for companies he owned in China, as well as a full scan of his Russian passport.

That passport, pictured below, indicates that Yalishanda’s real name is Alexander Alexandrovich Volosovik. The document shows he was born in Ukraine and is approximately 36 years old.

The passport for Alexander Volosovyk, a.k.a. “Yalishanda,” a major operator of bulletproof hosting services.

Continue reading →


15
Jul 19

Is ‘REvil’ the New GandCrab Ransomware?

The cybercriminals behind the GandCrab ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) offering recently announced they were closing up shop and retiring after having allegedly earned more than $2 billion in extortion payments from victims. But a growing body of evidence suggests the GandCrab team have instead quietly regrouped behind a more exclusive and advanced ransomware program known variously as “REvil,” “Sodin,” and “Sodinokibi.”

“We are getting a well-deserved retirement,” the GandCrab administrator(s) wrote in their farewell message on May 31. “We are a living proof that you can do evil and get off scot-free.”

However, it now appears the GandCrab team had already begun preparations to re-brand under a far more private ransomware-as-a-service offering months before their official “retirement.”

In late April, researchers at Cisco Talos spotted a new ransomware strain dubbed Sodinokibi that was used to deploy GandCrab, which encrypts files on infected systems unless and until the victim pays the demanded sum. A month later, GandCrab would announce its closure.

A payment page for a victim of REvil, a.k.a. Sodin and Sodinokibi.

Meanwhile, in the first half of May an individual using the nickname “Unknown” began making deposits totaling more than USD $130,000 worth of virtual currencies on two top cybercrime forums. The down payments were meant to demonstrate the actor meant business in his offer to hire just a handful of affiliates to drive a new, as-yet unnamed ransomware-as-a-service offering.

“We are not going to hire as many people as possible,” Unknown told forum members in announcing the new RaaS program. “Five affiliates more can join the program and then we’ll go under the radar. Each affiliate is guaranteed USD 10,000. Your cut is 60 percent at the beginning and 70 percent after the first three payments are made. Five affiliates are guaranteed [USD] 50,000 in total. We have been working for several years, specifically five years in this field. We are interested in professionals.”

Asked by forum members to name the ransomware service, Unknown said it had been mentioned in media reports but that he wouldn’t be disclosing technical details of the program or its name for the time being. Continue reading →


11
Jul 19

FEC: Campaigns Can Use Discounted Cybersecurity Services

The U.S. Federal Election Commission (FEC) said today political campaigns can accept discounted cybersecurity services from companies without running afoul of existing campaign finance laws, provided those companies already do the same for other non-political entities. The decision comes amid much jostling on Capitol Hill over election security at the state level, and fresh warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies about impending cyber attacks targeting candidates in the lead up to the 2020 election.

Current campaign finance law prohibits corporate contributions to campaigns, and election experts have worried this could give some candidates pause about whether they can legally accept low- to no-cost services from cybersecurity companies.

But at an FEC meeting today, the commission issued an advisory opinion (PDF) that such assistance does not constitute an in-kind contribution, as long as the cybersecurity firm already offers discounted solutions to similarly situated non-political organizations, such as small nonprofits.

The FEC’s ruling comes in response to a petition by California-based Area 1 Security, whose core offering focuses on helping clients detect and block phishing attacks. The company said it asked the FEC’s opinion on the matter after several campaigns that had reached out about teaming up expressed hesitation given the commission’s existing rules.

In June, Area 1 petitioned the FEC for clarification on the matter, saying it currently offers free and low-cost services to certain clients which are capped at $1,337. The FEC responded with a draft opinion indicating such offering likely would amount to an in-kind contribution that might curry favor among politicians, and urged the company to resubmit its request focusing on the capped-price offering.

Area 1 did so, and at today’s hearing the FEC said “because Area 1 is proposing to charge qualified federal candidates and political committees the same as it charges its qualified non-political clients, the Commission concludes that its proposal is consistent with Area 1’s ordinary business practices and therefore would not result in Area 1 making prohibited in-kind contributions to such federal candidates and political committees.”

POLICY BY PIECEMEAL

The decision is the latest in a string of somewhat narrowly tailored advisories from the FEC related to cybersecurity offerings aimed at federal candidates and political committees. Most recently, the commission ruled that the nonprofit organization Defending Digital Campaigns could provide free cybersecurity services to candidates, but according to The New York Times that decision only applied to nonpartisan, nonprofit groups that offer the same services to all campaigns.

Last year, the FEC granted a similar exemption to Microsoft Corp., ruling that the software giant could offer “enhanced online account security services to its election-sensitive customers at no additional cost” because Microsoft would be shoring up defenses for its existing customers and not seeking to win favor among political candidates.

Dan Petalas is a former general counsel at the FEC who represents Area 1 as an attorney at the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer. Petalas praised today’s ruling, but said action by Congress is probably necessary to clarify the matter once and for all.

“Congress could take the uncertainty away by amending the law to say security services provided to campaigns to do not constitute an in-kind contribution,” Petalas said. “These candidates are super vulnerable and not well prepared to address cybersecurity threats, and I think that would be a smart thing for Congress to do given the situation we’re in now.” Continue reading →