22
Mar 19

Alleged Child Porn Lord Faces US Extradition

In 2013, the FBI exploited a zero-day vulnerability in Firefox to seize control over a Dark Web network of child pornography sites. The alleged owner of that ring – 33-year-old Freedom Hosting operator Eric Eoin Marques – was arrested in Ireland later that year on a U.S. warrant and has been in custody ever since. This week, Ireland’s Supreme Court cleared the way for Marques to be extradited to the United States.

Eric Eoin Marques. Photo: Irishtimes.com

The FBI has called Marques the world’s largest facilitator of child porn. He is wanted on four charges linked to hidden child porn sites like “Lolita City” and “PedoEmpire,” which the government says were extremely violent, graphic and depicting the rape and torture of pre-pubescent children. Investigators allege that sites on Freedom Hosting had thousands of customers, and earned Marques more than $1.5 million.

For years Freedom Hosting had developed a reputation as a safe haven for hosting child porn. Marques allegedly operated Freedom Hosting as a turnkey solution for Web sites that hide their true location using Tor, an online anonymity tool.

The sites could only be accessed using the Tor Browser Bundle, which is built on the Firefox Web browser. On Aug. 4, 2013, U.S. federal agents exploited a previously unknown vulnerability in Firefox version 17 that allowed them to identify the true Internet addresses and computer names of people using Tor Browser to visit the child porn sites at Freedom Hosting.

Irish public media service RTE reported in 2013 that Marques briefly regained access to one of his hosting servers even after the FBI had seized control over it and changed the password, briefly locking the feds out of the system.

As Wired.com observed at the time, “in addition to the wrestling match over Freedom Hosting’s servers, Marques allegedly dove for his laptop when the police raided him, in an effort to shut it down.”

Marques, who holds dual Irish-US citizenship, was denied bail and held pending his nearly six-year appeal process to contest his extradition. FBI investigators told the courts they feared he would try to destroy evidence and/or flee the country. FBI agents testified that Marques had made inquiries about how to get a visa and entry into Russia and set up residence and citizenship there. Continue reading →


21
Mar 19

Facebook Stored Hundreds of Millions of User Passwords in Plain Text for Years

Hundreds of millions of Facebook users had their account passwords stored in plain text and searchable by thousands of Facebook employees — in some cases going back to 2012, KrebsOnSecurity has learned. Facebook says an ongoing investigation has so far found no indication that employees have abused access to this data.

Facebook is probing a series of security failures in which employees built applications that logged unencrypted password data for Facebook users and stored it in plain text on internal company servers. That’s according to a senior Facebook employee who is familiar with the investigation and who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.

The Facebook source said the investigation so far indicates between 200 million and 600 million Facebook users may have had their account passwords stored in plain text and searchable by more than 20,000 Facebook employees. The source said Facebook is still trying to determine how many passwords were exposed and for how long, but so far the inquiry has uncovered archives with plain text user passwords dating back to 2012.

My Facebook insider said access logs showed some 2,000 engineers or developers made approximately nine million internal queries for data elements that contained plain text user passwords.

“The longer we go into this analysis the more comfortable the legal people [at Facebook] are going with the lower bounds” of affected users, the source said. “Right now they’re working on an effort to reduce that number even more by only counting things we have currently in our data warehouse.”

In an interview with KrebsOnSecurity, Facebook software engineer Scott Renfro said the company wasn’t ready to talk about specific numbers — such as the number of Facebook employees who could have accessed the data.

Renfro said the company planned to alert affected Facebook users, but that no password resets would be required.

“We’ve not found any cases so far in our investigations where someone was looking intentionally for passwords, nor have we found signs of misuse of this data,” Renfro said. “In this situation what we’ve found is these passwords were inadvertently logged but that there was no actual risk that’s come from this. We want to make sure we’re reserving those steps and only force a password change in cases where there’s definitely been signs of abuse.”

A written statement from Facebook provided to KrebsOnSecurity says the company expects to notify “hundreds of millions of Facebook Lite users, tens of millions of other Facebook users, and tens of thousands of Instagram users.” Facebook Lite is a version of Facebook designed for low speed connections and low-spec phones.

Continue reading →


17
Mar 19

Why Phone Numbers Stink As Identity Proof

Phone numbers stink for security and authentication. They stink because most of us have so much invested in these digits that they’ve become de facto identities. At the same time, when you lose control over a phone number — maybe it’s hijacked by fraudsters, you got separated or divorced, or you were way late on your phone bill payments — whoever inherits that number can then be you in a lot of places online.

How exactly did we get to the point where a single, semi-public and occasionally transient data point like a phone number can unlock access to such a large part of our online experience? KrebsOnSecurity spoke about this at length with Allison Nixon, director of security research at New York City-based cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint.

Nixon said much of her perspective on mobile identity is colored by the lens of her work, which has her identifying some of the biggest criminals involved in hijacking phone numbers via SIM swapping attacks. Illegal SIM swaps allow fraudsters to hijack a target’s phone’s number and use it to steal financial data, passwords, cryptocurrencies and other items of value from victims.

Nixon said countless companies have essentially built their customer authentication around the phone number, and that a great many sites still let users reset their passwords with nothing more than a one-time code texted to a phone number on the account. In this attack, the fraudster doesn’t need to know the victim’s password to hijack the account: He just needs to have access to the target’s mobile phone number.

“As a consumer, I’m forced to use my phone number as an identity document, because sometimes that’s the only way to do business with a site online,” Nixon said. “But from that site’s side, when they see a password reset come in via that phone number, they have no way to know if that’s me. And there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it except to stop using phone numbers as identity documents.”

Beyond SIM-swapping attacks, there are a number of ways that phone numbers can get transferred to new owners, Nixon said. The biggest reason is lack of payment for past phone bills. But maybe someone goes through a nasty divorce or separation, and can no longer access their phone or phone accounts. The account is sent to collections and closed, and the phone number gets released back into the general pool for reassignment after a period of time.

Many major providers still let people reset their passwords with just a text message. Last week I went to regain access to a Yahoo account I hadn’t used in almost five years. Yahoo’s forgot password feature let me enter a phone number, and after entering a code sent to my phone I was able to read my email.

So, if that Yahoo account is tied to a mobile number that you can receive text messages at, then you can assume control over the account. And every other account associated with that Yahoo account. Even if that phone number no longer belongs to the person who originally established the email account.

This is exactly what happened recently to a reader who shared this account:

A while ago I bought a new phone number. I went on Yahoo! mail and typed in the phone number in the login. It asked me if I wanted to receive an SMS to gain access. I said yes, and it sent me a verification key or access code via SMS. I typed the code I received. I was surprised that I didn’t access my own email, but the email I accessed was actually the email of the previous owner of my new number.

Yahoo! didn’t even ask me to type the email address, or the first and last name. It simply sent me the SMS, I typed the code I received, and without asking me to type an email or first and last name, it gave me access to the email of my number’s PREVIOUS OWNER. Didn’t ask for credentials or email address. This seriously needs to be revised. At minimum Yahoo! should ask me to type the email address or the first and last name before sending me an SMS which contains an access code.

Brian Krebs (BK): You have your own experiences like this. Or sort of. You tell.

Allison Nixon (AN): Any threat intelligence company will have some kind of business function that requires purchasing burner phones fairly frequently, which involves getting new phone numbers. When you get new numbers, they are recycled from previous owners because there probably aren’t any new ones anymore. I get a lot of various text messages for password resets. One I kept getting was texts from this guy’s bank. Every time he got a deposit, I would get a text saying how much was deposited and some basic information about the account.

I approached the bank because I was concerned that maybe this random person would be endangered by the security research we were going to be doing with this new number. I asked them to take him off the number, but they said there wasn’t anything they could do about it.

One time I accidentally hijacked a random person’s account. I was trying to get my own account back at an online service provider, and I put a burner phone number into the site, went through the SMS password reset process, got the link and it said ‘Welcome Back’ to some username I didn’t know. Then I clicked okay and was suddenly reading the private messages of the account.

I realized I’d hijacked the account of the previous owner of the phone. It was unintentional, but also very clear that there was no technical reason I couldn’t hijack even more accounts associated with this number. This is a problem affecting a ton of service providers. This could have happened at many, many other web sites. Continue reading →


13
Mar 19

Ad Network Sizmek Probes Account Breach

Online advertising firm Sizmek Inc. [NASDAQ: SZMK] says it is investigating a security incident in which a hacker was reselling access to a user account with the ability to modify ads and analytics for a number of big-name advertisers.

In a recent posting to a Russian-language cybercrime forum, an individual who’s been known to sell access to hacked online accounts kicked off an auction for “the admin panel of a big American ad platform.”

“You can add new users to the ad system, edit existing ones and ad offers,” the seller wrote. The starting bid was $800.

The seller included several screen shots of the ad company’s user panel. A few minutes on LinkedIn showed that many of these people are current or former employees of Sizmek.

The seller also shared a screenshot of the ad network’s Alexa site rankings:

A screenshot of the Alexa ranking for the “big American ad network,” access to which was sold on a cybercrime forum.

I checked Sizmek’s Alexa page and at the time it almost mirrored the statistics shown in the screenshot above. Sizmek’s own marketing boilerplate says the company operates its ad platform in more than 70 countries, connecting more than 20,000 advertisers and 3,600 agencies to audiences around the world. The company is listed by market analysis firm Datanyze.com as the world third-largest ad server network.

After reaching out to a number of folks at Sizmek, I heard back from George Pappachen, the company’s general counsel.

Pappachen said the account being resold on the dark web is a regular user account (not a all-powerful administrator account, despite the seller’s claim) for its Sizmek Advertising Suite (SAS). Pappachen described Sizmek’s SAS product line as “a sizable and important one” for the company and a relatively new platform that has hundreds of users.

He acknowledged that the purloined account had the ability to add or modify the advertising creatives that get run on customer ad campaigns. And Sizmek is used in ad campaigns for some of the biggest brands out there. Some of the companies shown in the screenshot of the panel shared by the dark web seller include PR firm Fleishman-Hillard, media giants Fox Broadcasting, Gannett, and Hearst Digital, as well as Kohler, and Pandora.

A screenshot shared by the dark web seller. Portions of this panel — access to a Sizmek user account — was likely translated by the Chrome Web browser, which has a built-in page translate function. As seen here, that function tends to translate items in the frame of the panel, but it leaves untouched the data inside those frames.

Crooks who exploited this access could hijack existing ad campaigns running on some of the world’s top online properties, by inserting malicious scripts into the HTML code of ads that run on popular sites. Or they could hijack referral commissions destined for others and otherwise siphon ad profits from the system.

“Or someone who is looking to sabotage our systems in a bigger way or allow malicious code to enter our systems,” Pappachen offered.

Pappachen said Sizmek forced a password reset on all internal employees (“a few hundred”), and that the company is scrubbing its SAS user database for departed employees, partners and vendors whose accounts may have been hijacked.

“We’re now doing some level of screening to see if there’s been any kind of intrusion we can detect,” Pappachen said. “It seemed like [the screenshots were accounts from] past employees. I think there were even a couple of vendors that had access to the system previously.” Continue reading →


13
Mar 19

Patch Tuesday, March 2019 Edition

Microsoft on Tuesday pushed out software updates to fix more than five dozen security vulnerabilities in its Windows operating systems, Internet Explorer, Edge, Office and Sharepoint. If you (ab)use Microsoft products, it’s time once again to start thinking about getting your patches on. Malware or bad guys can remotely exploit roughly one-quarter of the flaws fixed in today’s patch batch without any help from users.

One interesting patch from Microsoft this week comes in response to a zero-day vulnerability (CVE-2019-0797) reported by researchers at Kaspersky Lab, who discovered the bug could be (and is being) exploited to install malicious software.

Microsoft also addressed a zero day flaw (CVE-2019-0808) in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 that’s been abused in conjunction with a previously unknown weakness (CVE-2019-5786) in Google’s Chrome browser. A security alert from Google last week said attackers were chaining the Windows and Chrome vulnerabilities to drop malicious code onto vulnerable systems.

If you use Chrome, take a moment to make sure you have this update and that there isn’t an arrow to the right of your Chrome address bar signifying the availability of new update. If there is, close out and restart the browser; it should restore whatever windows you have open on restart. Continue reading →


10
Mar 19

Insert Skimmer + Camera Cover PIN Stealer

Very often the most clever component of your typical ATM skimming attack is the hidden pinhole camera used to record customers entering their PINs. These little video bandits can be hidden 100 different ways, but they’re frequently disguised as ATM security features — such as an extra PIN pad privacy cover, or an all-in-one skimmer over the green flashing card acceptance slot at the ATM.

And sometimes, the scammers just hijack the security camera built into the ATM itself.

Below is the hidden back-end of a skimmer found last month placed over top of the customer-facing security camera at a drive-up bank ATM in Hurst, Texas. The camera components (shown below in green and red) were angled toward the cash’s machine’s PIN pad to record victims entering their PINs. Wish I had a picture of this thing attached to the ATM.

This hidden camera was fixed to the underside of a fake lens cover for the skimmed ATM’s built-in security camera. Image: Hurst Police.

The clever PIN grabber was paired with an “insert skimmer,” a wafer-thin, usually metallic and battery powered skimmer made to be fitted straight into the mouth of the ATM’s card acceptance slot, so that the card skimmer cannot be seen from outside of the compromised ATM.

The insert skimmer, seen as inserted into the card acceptance device in the hacked ATM. Image: Hurst PD.

Continue reading →


08
Mar 19

MyEquifax.com Bypasses Credit Freeze PIN

Most people who have frozen their credit files with Equifax have been issued a numeric Personal Identification Number (PIN) which is supposed to be required before a freeze can be lifted or thawed. Unfortunately, if you don’t already have an account at the credit bureau’s new myEquifax portal, it may be simple for identity thieves to lift an existing credit freeze at Equifax and bypass the PIN armed with little more than your, name, Social Security number and birthday.

Consumers in every U.S. state can now freeze their credit files for free with Equifax and two other major bureaus (Trans Union and Experian). A freeze makes it much harder for identity thieves to open new lines of credit in your name.

In the wake of Equifax’s epic 2017 data breach impacting some 148 million Americans, many people did freeze their credit files at the big three in response. But Equifax has changed a few things since then.

Seeking to manage my own credit freeze at equifax.com as I’d done in years past, I was steered toward creating an account at myequifax.com, which I was shocked to find I did not previously possess.

Getting an account at myequifax.com was easy. In fact, it was too easy. The portal asked me for an email address and suggested a longish, randomized password, which I accepted. I chose an old email address that I knew wasn’t directly tied to my real-life identity.

The next page asked me enter my SSN and date of birth, and to share a phone number (sharing was optional, so I didn’t). SSN and DOB data is widely available for sale in the cybercrime underground on almost all U.S. citizens. This has been the reality for years, and was so well before Equifax announced its big 2017 breach.

myEquifax said it couldn’t verify that my email address belonged to the Brian Krebs at that SSN and DOB. It then asked a series of four security questions — so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions designed to see if I could recall bits about my recent financial history.

In general, the data being asked about in these KBA quizzes is culled from public records, meaning that this information likely is publicly available in some form — either digitally or in-person. Indeed, I have long assailed the KBA industry as creating a false sense of security that is easily bypassed by fraudsters.

One potential problem with relying on KBA questions to authenticate consumers online is that so much of the information needed to successfully guess the answers to those multiple-choice questions is now indexed or exposed by search engines, social networks and third-party services online — both criminal and commercial.

The first three multiple-guess questions myEquifax asked were about loans or debts that I have never owed. Thus, the answer to the first three KBA questions asked was, “none of the above.” The final question asked for the name of our last mortgage company. Again, information that is not hard to find.

Satisfied with my answers, Equifax informed me that yes indeed I was Brian Krebs and that I could now manage my existing freeze with the company. After requesting a thaw, I was brought to a vintage Equifax page that looked nothing like myEquifax’s sunnier new online plumage.

Equifax’s site says it will require users requesting changes to an existing credit freeze to have access to their freeze PIN and be ready to supply it. But Equifax never actually asks for the PIN.

This page informed me that if I previously secured a freeze of my credit file with Equifax and been given a PIN needed to undo that status in any way, that I should be ready to provide said information if I was requesting changes via phone or email. 

In other words, credit freezes and thaws requested via myEquifax don’t require users to supply any pre-existing PIN.

Fine, I said. Let’s do this.

myEquifax then asked for the date range requested to thaw my credit freeze. Submit.

“We’ve successfully processed your security freeze request!,” the site declared.

This also was exclaimed in an email to the random old address I’d used at myEquifax, although the site never once made any attempt to validate that I had access to this inbox, something that could be done by simply sending a confirmation link that needs to be clicked to activate the account.

In addition, I noticed Equifax added my old mobile number to my account, even though I never supplied this information and was not using this phone when I created the myEquifax account.

Successfully unfreezing (temporarily thawing) my credit freeze did not require me to ever supply my previously-issued freeze PIN from Equifax. Anyone who knew the vaguest and most knowable details about me could have done the same.

myEquifax.com does not currently seek to verify the account by requesting confirmation via a phone call or text to the phone number associated with the account (also, recall that even providing a phone number was optional).

Happily, I did discover then when I used a different computer and Internet address to try to open up another account under my name, date of birth and SSN, it informed me that a profile already existed for this information. This suggests that signing up at myEquifax is probably a good idea, given that the alternative is more risky.

It was way too easy to create my account, but I’m not saying everyone will be able to create one online. In testing with several readers over the past 24 hours, myEquifax seems to be returning a lot more error pages at the KBA stage of the process now, prompting people to try again later or make a request via email or phone.

Equifax spokesperson Nancy Bistritz-Balkan said not requiring a PIN for people with existing freezes was by design.

“With myEquifax, we created an online experience that enables consumers to securely and conveniently manage security freezes and fraud alerts,” Bistritz-Balkan said..

“We deployed an experience that embraces both security standards (using a multi-factor and layered approach to verify the consumer’s identity) and reflects specific consumer feedback on managing security freezes and fraud alerts online without the use of a PIN,” she continued. “The account set-up process, which involves the creation of a username and password, relies on both user inputs and other factors to securely establish, verify, and authenticate that the consumer’s identity is connected to the consumer every time.” Continue reading →


04
Mar 19

Hackers Sell Access to Bait-and-Switch Empire

Cybercriminals are auctioning off access to customer information stolen from an online data broker behind a dizzying array of bait-and-switch Web sites that sell access to a vast range of data on U.S. consumers, including DMV and arrest records, genealogy reports, phone number lookups and people searches. In an ironic twist, the marketing empire that owns the hacked online properties appears to be run by a Canadian man who’s been sued for fraud by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Microsoft and Oprah Winfrey, to name a few.

Earlier this week, a cybercriminal on a Dark Web forum posted an auction notice for access to a Web-based administrative panel for an unidentified “US Search center” that he claimed holds some four million customer records, including names, email addresses, passwords and phone numbers. The starting bid price for that auction was $800.

Several screen shots shared by the seller suggested the customers in question had all purchased subscriptions to a variety of sites that aggregate and sell public records, such as dmv.us.org, carhistory.us.org, police.us.org, and criminalrecords.us.org.

A (redacted) screen shot shared by the apparent hacker who was selling access to usernames and passwords for customers of multiple data-search Web sites.

A few hours of online sleuthing showed that these sites and dozens of others with similar names all at one time shared several toll-free phone numbers for customer support. The results returned by searching on those numbers suggests a singular reason this network of data-search Web sites changed their support numbers so frequently: They quickly became associated with online reports of fraud by angry customers.

That’s because countless people who were enticed to pay for reports generated by these services later complained that although the sites advertised access for just $1, they were soon hit with a series of much larger charges on their credit cards.

Using historic Web site registration records obtained from Domaintools.com (a former advertiser on this site), KrebsOnSecurity discovered that all of the sites linked back to two related companies — Las Vegas, Nev.-based Penguin Marketing, and Terra Marketing Group out of Alberta, Canada.

Both of these entities are owned by Jesse Willms, a man The Atlantic magazine described in an unflattering January 2014 profile as “The Dark Lord of the Internet” [not to be confused with The Dark Overlord].

Jesse Willms’ Linkedin profile.

The Atlantic pointed to a sprawling lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, which alleged that between 2007 and 2011, Willms defrauded consumers of some $467 million by enticing them to sign up for “risk free” product trials and then billing their cards recurring fees for a litany of automatically enrolled services they hadn’t noticed in the fine print.

“In just a few months, Willms’ companies could charge a consumer hundreds of dollars like this, and making the flurry of debits stop was such a convoluted process for those ensnared by one of his schemes that some customers just canceled their credit cards and opened new ones,” wrote The Atlantic’s Taylor Clark.

Willms’ various previous ventures reportedly extended far beyond selling access to public records. In fact, it’s likely everyone reading this story has at one time encountered an ad for one of his dodgy, bait-and-switch business schemes, The Atlantic noted:

“If you’ve used the Internet at all in the past six years, your cursor has probably lingered over ads for Willms’s Web sites more times than you’d suspect. His pitches generally fit in nicely with what have become the classics of the dubious-ad genre: tropes like photos of comely newscasters alongside fake headlines such as “Shocking Diet Secrets Exposed!”; too-good-to-be-true stories of a “local mom” who “earns $629/day working from home”; clusters of text links for miracle teeth whiteners and “loopholes” entitling you to government grants; and most notorious of all, eye-grabbing animations of disappearing “belly fat” coupled with a tagline promising the same results if you follow “1 weird old trick.” (A clue: the “trick” involves typing in 16 digits and an expiration date.)”

In a separate lawsuit, Microsoft accused Willms’ businesses of trafficking in massive quantities of counterfeit copies of its software. Oprah Winfrey also sued a Willms-affiliated site (oprahsdietscecrets.com) for linking her to products and services she claimed she had never endorsed.

KrebsOnSecurity reached out to multiple customers whose name, email address and cleartext passwords were exposed in the screenshot shared by the Dark Web auctioneer who apparently hacked Willms’ Web sites. All three of those who responded shared roughly the same experience: They said they’d ordered reports for specific criminal background checks from the sites on the promise of a $1 risk-free fee, never found what they were looking for, and were subsequently hit by the same merchant for credit card charges ranging from $20 to $38. Continue reading →


28
Feb 19

Booter Boss Interviewed in 2014 Pleads Guilty

A 20-year-old Illinois man has pleaded guilty to running multiple DDoS-for-hire services that launched millions of attacks over several years. The plea deal comes almost exactly five years after KrebsOnSecurity interviewed both the admitted felon and his father and urged the latter to take a more active interest in his son’s online activities.

Sergiy P. Usatyuk of Orland Park, Ill. pleaded guilty this week to one count of conspiracy to cause damage to Internet-connected computers and for his role in owning, administering and supporting illegal “booter” or “stresser” services designed to knock Web sites offline, including exostress[.]in, quezstresser[.]com, betabooter[.]com, databooter[.]com, instabooter[.]com, polystress[.]com and zstress[.]net.

Some of Rasbora’s posts on hackforums[.]net prior to our phone call in 2014. Most of these have since been deleted.

A U.S. Justice Department press release on the guilty plea says Usatyuk — operating under the hacker aliases “Andrew Quez” and “Brian Martinez” — admitted developing, controlling and operating the aforementioned booter services from around August 2015 through November 2017. But Usatyuk’s involvement in the DDoS-for-hire space very much predates that period.

In February 2014, KrebsOnSecurity reached out to Usatyuk’s father Peter Usatyuk, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I did so because a brief amount of sleuthing on Hackforums[.]net revealed that his then 15-year-old son Sergiy — who at the time went by the nicknames “Rasbora” and “Mr. Booter Master”  — was heavily involved in helping to launch crippling DDoS attacks.

I phoned Usatyuk the elder because Sergiy’s alter egos had been posting evidence on Hackforums and elsewhere that he’d just hit KrebsOnSecurity.com with a 200 Gbps DDoS attack, which was then considered a fairly impressive DDoS assault.

“I am writing you after our phone conversation just to confirm that you may call evening time/weekend to talk to my son Sergio regarding to your reasons,” Peter Usatyuk wrote in an email to this author on Feb. 13, 2014. “I also have [a] major concern what my 15 yo son [is] doing. If you think that is any kind of illegal work, please, let me know.” Continue reading →


27
Feb 19

Crypto Mining Service Coinhive to Call it Quits

Roughly one year ago, KrebsOnSecurity published a lengthy investigation into the individuals behind Coinhive[.]com, a cryptocurrency mining service that has been heavily abused to force hacked Web sites to mine virtual currency. On Tuesday, Coinhive announced plans to pull the plug on the project early next month.

A message posted to the Coinhive blog on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

In March 2018, Coinhive was listed by many security firms as the top malicious threat to Internet users, thanks to the tendency for Coinhive’s computer code to be surreptitiously deployed on hacked Web sites to steal the computer processing power of its visitors’ devices.

Coinhive took a whopping 30 percent of the cut of all Monero currency mined by its code, and this presented something of a conflict of interest when it came to stopping the rampant abuse of its platform. At the time, Coinhive was only responding to abuse reports when contacted by a hacked site’s owner. Moreover, when it would respond, it did so by invalidating the cryptographic key tied to the abuse.

Trouble was, killing the key did nothing to stop Coinhive’s code from continuing to mine Monero on a hacked site. Once a key was invalidated, Coinhive would simply cut out the middleman and proceed to keep 100 percent of the cryptocurrency mined by sites tied to that account from then on.

In response to that investigation, Coinhive made structural changes to its platform to ensure it was no longer profiting from this shady practice.

Troy Mursch is chief research officer at Bad Packets LLC, a company that has closely chronicled a number of high-profile Web sites that were hacked and seeded with Coinhive mining code over the years. Mursch said that after those changes by Coinhive, the mining service became far less attractive to cybercriminals.

“After that, it was not exactly enticing for miscreants to use their platform,” Mursch said. “Most of those guys just took their business elsewhere to other mining pools that don’t charge anywhere near such high fees.”

As Coinhive noted in the statement about its closure, a severe and widespread drop in the value of most major crytpocurrencies weighed heavily on its decision. At the time of my March 2018 piece on Coinhive, Monero was trading at an all-time high of USD $342 per coin, according to charts maintained by coinmarketcap.com. Today, a single Monero is worth less than $50. Continue reading →