Breadcrumbs


25
Aug 18

Who’s Behind the Screencam Extortion Scam?

The sextortion email scam last month that invoked a real password used by each recipient and threatened to release embarrassing Webcam videos almost certainly was not the work of one criminal or even one group of criminals. Rather, it’s likely that additional spammers and scammers piled on with their own versions of the phishing email after noticing that some recipients were actually paying up. The truth is we may never find out who’s responsible, but it’s still fun to follow some promising leads and see where they take us.

On August 7, 2018, a user on the forum of free email service hMailServer posted a copy of the sextortion email he received, noting that it included a password he’d formerly used online.

Helpfully, this user pasted a great deal of information from the spam email message, including the domain name from which it was sent (williehowell-dot-com) and the Internet address of the server that sent the message (46.161.42.91).

A look at the other domain names registered to this IP address block 46.161.42.x reveals some interesting patterns:

46.161.42.51 mail25.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.52 mail24.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.53 mail23.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.54 mail22.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.55 mail21.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.56 mail20.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.57 mail19.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.58 mail18.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.59 mail17.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.60 mail16.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.61 mail15.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.62 mail14.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.63 mail13.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.64 mail12.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.65 mail11.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.66 mail10.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.67 mail9.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.68 mail8.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.69 mail7.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.70 mail6.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.71 mail5.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.72 mail4.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.73 mail3.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.74 mail2.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.75 mail1.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.76 mail[.]commarysmith[.]com
46.161.42.77 mail.joancooper[.]com
46.161.42.78 mail.florencewoods[.]com
46.161.42.79 mail.ednawest[.]com
46.161.42.80 mail.ethelwebb[.]com
46.161.42.81 mail.eleanorhunt[.]com
46.161.42.82 mail.sallypierce[.]com
46.161.42.83 mail.reginaberry[.]com
46.161.42.84 mail.junecarroll[.]com
46.161.42.85 mail.robertaharper[.]com
46.161.42.86 mail.reneelane[.]com
46.161.42.87 mail.almaaustin[.]com
46.161.42.88 mail.elsiekelley[.]com
46.161.42.89 mail.vickifields[.]com
46.161.42.90 mail.ellaoliver[.]com
46.161.42.91 mail.williehowell[.]com
46.161.42.92 mail.veramccoy[.]com
46.161.42.93 mail.agnesbishop[.]com
46.161.42.94 mail.tanyagilbert[.]com
46.161.42.95 mail.mattiehoffman[.]com
46.161.42.96 mail.hildahopkins[.]com
46.161.42.97 beckymiles[.]com
46.161.42.98 mail.fayenorris[.]com
46.161.42.99 mail.joannaleonard[.]com
46.161.42.100 mail.rosieweber[.]com
46.161.42.101 mail.candicemanning[.]com
46.161.42.102 mail.sherirowe[.]com
46.161.42.103 mail.leticiagoodman[.]com
46.161.42.104 mail.myrafrancis[.]com
46.161.42.105 mail.jasminemaxwell[.]com
46.161.42.106 mail.eloisefrench[.]com

Search Google for any of those two-name domains above (e.g., fayenorris-dot-com) and you’ll see virtually all of them were used in these sextortion emails, and most were registered at the end of May 2018 through domain registrar Namecheap.

Notice the preponderance of the domain uscourtsgov-dot-com in the list above. All of those two-name domains used domain name servers (DNS servers) from uscourtsgov-dot-com at the time these emails were sent. In early June 2018, uscourtsgov-dot-com was associated with a Sigma ransomware scam delivered via spam. Victims who wanted their files back had to pay a bitcoin ransom.

In the months just before either the password-laced sextortion scam or the uscourtsgov-dot-com ransomware scam, uscourtsgov-com was devoid of content, aside from a message promoting the spamming services of the web site mtaexpert-dot-info. Uscourtsgov-dot-com is now offline, but it was active as of two weeks ago. Here’s what its homepage looked like:

The domain uscourtsgov-dot-com was redirecting visitors to mtaexpert-dot-info for many months up to and including the sextortion email campaign. Image: Domaintools.com

Interestingly, this same message promoting mtaexpert-dot-info appeared on the homepages of many other two-name domain names mentioned above (including fayenorris-dot-com):

Like uscourtsgov-dot-com, Fayenorris-dot-com also urged visitors to go to mtaexpert-dot-info.

Continue reading →


29
May 18

Will the Real Joker’s Stash Come Forward?

For as long as scam artists have been around so too have opportunistic thieves who specialize in ripping off other scam artists. This is the story about a group of Pakistani Web site designers who apparently have made an impressive living impersonating some of the most popular and well known “carding” markets, or online stores that sell stolen credit cards.

An ad for new stolen cards on Joker’s Stash.

One wildly popular carding site that has been featured in-depth at KrebsOnSecurity — Joker’s Stash — brags that the millions of credit and debit card accounts for sale via their service were stolen from merchants firsthand.

That is, the people running Joker’s Stash say they are hacking merchants and directly selling card data stolen from those merchants. Joker’s Stash has been tied to several recent retail breaches, including those at Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, Bebe Stores, Hilton HotelsJason’s Deli, Whole Foods, Chipotle and Sonic. Indeed, with most of these breaches, the first signs that any of the companies were hacked was when their customers’ credit cards started showing up for sale on Joker’s Stash.

Joker’s Stash maintains a presence on several cybercrime forums, and its owners use those forum accounts to remind prospective customers that its Web site — jokerstash[dot]bazar — is the only way in to the marketplace.

The administrators constantly warn buyers to be aware there are many look-alike shops set up to steal logins to the real Joker’s Stash or to make off with any funds deposited with the impostor carding shop as a prerequisite to shopping there.

But that didn’t stop a prominent security researcher (not this author) from recently plunking down $100 in bitcoin at a site he thought was run by Joker’s Stash (jokersstash[dot]su). Instead, the proprietors of the impostor site said the minimum deposit for viewing stolen card data on the marketplace had increased to $200 in bitcoin.

The researcher, who asked not to be named, said he obliged with an additional $100 bitcoin deposit, only to find that his username and password to the card shop no longer worked. He’d been conned by scammers scamming scammers.

As it happens, prior to hearing from this researcher I’d received a mountain of research from Jett Chapman, another security researcher who swore he’d unmasked the real-world identity of the people behind the Joker’s Stash carding empire.

Chapman’s research, detailed in a 57-page report shared with KrebsOnSecurity, pivoted off of public information leading from the same jokersstash[dot]su that ripped off my researcher friend.

“I’ve gone to a few cybercrime forums where people who have used jokersstash[dot]su that were confused about who they really were,” Chapman said. “Many of them left feedback saying they’re scammers who will just ask for money to deposit on the site, and then you’ll never hear from them again.”

But the conclusion of Chapman’s report — that somehow jokersstash[dot]su was related to the real criminals running Joker’s Stash — didn’t ring completely accurate, although it was expertly documented and thoroughly researched. So with Chapman’s blessing, I shared his report with both the researcher who’d been scammed and a law enforcement source who’d been tracking Joker’s Stash.

Both confirmed my suspicions: Chapman had unearthed a vast network of sites registered and set up over several years to impersonate some of the biggest and longest-running criminal credit card theft syndicates on the Internet. Continue reading →


18
Apr 18

A Sobering Look at Fake Online Reviews

In 2016, KrebsOnSecurity exposed a network of phony Web sites and fake online reviews that funneled those seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction toward rehab centers that were secretly affiliated with the Church of Scientology. Not long after the story ran, that network of bogus reviews disappeared from the Web. Over the past few months, however, the same prolific purveyor of these phantom sites and reviews appears to be back at it again, enlisting the help of Internet users and paying people $25-$35 for each fake listing.

Sometime in March 2018, ads began appearing on Craigslist promoting part-time “social media assistant” jobs, in which interested applicants are directed to sign up for positions at seorehabs[dot]com. This site promotes itself as “leaders in addiction recovery consulting,” explaining that assistants can earn a minimum of $25 just for creating individual Google for Business listings tied to a few dozen generic-sounding addiction recovery center names, such as “Integra Addiction Center,” and “First Exit Recovery.”

The listing on Craigslist.com advertising jobs for creating fake online businesses tied to addiction rehabilitation centers.

Applicants who sign up are given detailed instructions on how to step through Google’s anti-abuse process for creating listings, which include receiving a postcard via snail mail from Google that contains a PIN which needs to be entered at Google’s site before a listing can be created.

Assistants are cautioned not to create more than two listings per street address, but otherwise to use any U.S.-based street address and to leave blank the phone number and Web site for the new business listing.

A screen shot from Seorehabs’ instructions for those hired to create rehab center listings.

In my story Scientology Seeks Captive Converts Via Google Maps, Drug Rehab Centers, I showed how a labyrinthine network of fake online reviews that steered Internet searches toward rehab centers funded by Scientology adherents was set up by TopSeek Inc., which bills itself as a collection of “local marketing experts.” According to LinkedIn, TopSeek is owned by John Harvey, an individual (or alias) who lists his address variously as Sacramento, Calif. and Hawaii.

Although the current Web site registration records from registrar giant Godaddy obscure the information for the current owner of seorehabs[dot]com, a historic WHOIS search via DomainTools shows the site was also registered by John Harvey and TopSeek in 2015. Mr. Harvey did not respond to requests for comment. [Full disclosure: DomainTools previously was an advertiser on KrebsOnSecurity].

TopSeek’s Web site says it works with several clients, but most especially Narconon International — an organization that promotes the rather unorthodox theories of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard regarding substance abuse treatment and addiction.

As described in Narconon’s Wikipedia entry, Narconon facilities are known not only for attempting to win over new converts to Scientology, but also for treating all substance abuse addictions with a rather bizarre cocktail consisting mainly of vitamins and long hours in extremely hot saunas. Their Wiki entry documents multiple cases of accidental deaths at Narconon facilities, where some addicts reportedly died from overdoses of vitamins or neglect. Continue reading →


13
Dec 17

Mirai IoT Botnet Co-Authors Plead Guilty

The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday unsealed the guilty pleas of two men first identified in January 2017 by KrebsOnSecurity as the likely co-authors of Mirai, a malware strain that remotely enslaves so-called “Internet of Things” devices such as security cameras, routers, and digital video recorders for use in large scale attacks designed to knock Web sites and entire networks offline (including multiple major attacks against this site).

Entering guilty pleas for their roles in developing and using Mirai are 21-year-old Paras Jha from Fanwood, N.J. and Josiah White, 20, from Washington, Pennsylvania.

Jha and White were co-founders of Protraf Solutions LLC, a company that specialized in mitigating large-scale DDoS attacks. Like firemen getting paid to put out the fires they started, Jha and White would target organizations with DDoS attacks and then either extort them for money to call off the attacks, or try to sell those companies services they claimed could uniquely help fend off the attacks.

CLICK FRAUD BOTNET

In addition, the Mirai co-creators pleaded guilty to charges of using their botnet to conduct click fraud — a form of online advertising fraud that will cost Internet advertisers more than $16 billion this year, according to estimates from ad verification company Adloox. 

The plea agreements state that Jha, White and another person who also pleaded guilty to click fraud conspiracy charges — a 21-year-old from Metairie, Louisiana named Dalton Norman — leased access to their botnet for the purposes of earning fraudulent advertising revenue through click fraud activity and renting out their botnet to other cybercriminals.

As part of this scheme, victim devices were used to transmit high volumes of requests to view web addresses associated with affiliate advertising content. Because the victim activity resembled legitimate views of these websites, the activity generated fraudulent profits through the sites hosting the advertising content, at the expense of online advertising companies.

Jha and his co-conspirators admitted receiving as part of the click fraud scheme approximately two hundred bitcoin, valued on January 29, 2017 at over $180,000.

Prosecutors say Norman personally earned over 30 bitcoin, valued on January 29, 2017 at approximately $27,000. The documents show that Norman helped Jha and White discover new, previously unknown vulnerabilities in IoT devices that could be used to beef up their Mirai botnet, which at its height grew to more than 300,000 hacked devices.

MASSIVE ATTACKS

The Mirai malware is responsible for coordinating some of the largest and most disruptive online attacks the Internet has ever witnessed. The biggest and first to gain widespread media attention began on Sept. 20, 2016, when KrebsOnSecurity came under a sustained distributed denial-of-service attack from more than 175,000 IoT devices (the size estimates come from this Usenix paper (PDF) on the Mirai botnet evolution).

That September 2016 digital siege maxed out at 620 Gbps, almost twice the size of the next-largest attack that Akamai — my DDoS mitigation provider at the time — had ever seen.

Continue reading →


21
Nov 17

Correcting the Record on vDOS Prosecutions

KrebsOnSecurity recently featured a story about a New Mexico man who stands accused of using the now-defunct vDOS attack-for-hire service to hobble the Web sites of several former employers. That piece stated that I wasn’t aware of any other prosecutions related to vDOS customers, but as it happens there was a prosecution in the United Kingdom earlier this year of a man who’s admitted to both using and helping to administer vDOS. Here’s a look at some open-source clues that may have led to the U.K. man’s arrest.

Jack Chappell, outside of a court hearing in the U.K. earlier this year.

In early July 2017, the West Midlands Police in the U.K. arrested 19-year-old Stockport resident Jack Chappell and charged him with aiding the vDOS co-founders — two Israeli men who were arrested late year and charged with running the service.

Until its demise in September 2016, vDOS was by far the most popular and powerful attack-for-hire service, allowing even completely unskilled Internet users to launch crippling assaults capable of knocking most Web sites offline. vDOS made more than $600,000 in just two of the four years it was in operation, launching more than 150,000 attacks against thousands of victims (including this site).

For his part, Chappell was charged with assisting in attacks against Web sites for some of the world’s largest companies, including Amazon, BBC, BT, Netflix, T-Mobile, Virgin Media, and Vodafone, between May 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016.

At the end of July 2017, Chappell pleaded guilty to those allegations, as well as charges of helping vDOS launder money from customers wishing to pay for attacks with PayPal accounts.

A big factor in that plea was the leak of the vDOS attacks, customer support and payments databases to this author and to U.S. law enforcement officials in the fall of 2016. Those databases provided extremely detailed information about co-conspirators, paying customers and victims.

But as with many other cybercrime investigations, the perpetrator in this case appears to have been caught thanks to a combination of several all-too-common factors, including password re-use, an active presence on the sprawling English-language hacking community Hackforums, and domain names registered in his real name. In combination, these clues provide a crucial bridge between Chappell’s online and real-world identities. Continue reading →


3
Aug 16

The Reincarnation of a Bulletproof Hoster

In April 2016, security firm Trend Micro published a damning report about a Web hosting provider referred to only as a “cyber-attack facilitator in the Netherlands.” If the Trend analysis lacked any real punch that might have been because — shortly after the report was published — names were redacted so that it was no longer immediately clear who the bad hosting provider was. This post aims to shine a bit more light on the individuals apparently behind this mysterious rogue hosting firm — a company called HostSailor[dot]com.

The Trend report observes that the unnamed, Netherlands-based virtual private sever (VPS) hosting provider appears to have few legitimate customers, and that the amount of abuse emanating from it “is so staggering that this company will remain on our watchlist in the next few months.”

hstm

What exactly is the awfulness spewing from the company that Trend takes great pains not to name as HostSailor.com? For starters, according to Trend’s data (PDF) HostSailor has long been a home for attacks tied to a Russian cyber espionage campaign dubbed “Pawn Storm.” From the report:

“Pawn Storm seems to feel quite at home. They used the VPS hosting company for at least 80 attacks since May 2015. Their attacks utilized C&C servers, exploit sites, spear-phishing campaigns, free Webmail phishing sites targeting high profile users, and very specific credential phishing sites against Government agencies of countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Malaysia, Montenegro, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Arab Emirates. Pawn Storm also uses the VPS provider in the Netherlands for domestic espionage in Russia regularly.”

“Apart from Pawn Storm, a less sophisticated group of threat actors called DustySky (PDF link added) is using the VPS provider. These actors target Israel, companies who do business in Israel, Egypt and some other Middle Eastern governments.”

WHO IS HOSTSAILOR?

Trend’s report on HostSailor points to a LinkedIn profile for an Alexander Freeman at HostSailor who lists his location as Dubai. HostSailor’s Web site says the company has servers in The Netherlands and in Romania, and that it is based in Dubai. The company first came online in early 2013.

Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam researcher who tipped me off to the Trend report and whose research has been featured several times on this blog, reached out to Freeman via email. Guilmette later posted at the Ripe.net mailing list the vitriolic and threatening response he said he received in reply.

A snippet from the response that Guilmette said he received from a HostSailor employee named Alexander Freeman.

A snippet from the response that Guilmette said he received from a HostSailor employee named Alexander Freeman.

Perhaps Mr. Freeman’s ire was previously leveled at Trend Micro, which could explain their redaction of the name “HostSailor” from its report. A spokesperson for Trend Micro declined to explain why the company redacted its own report post-publication, saying only that “at the time of publication, we were following our standard disclosure protocol.”

In any case, I began to suspect that “Alexander Freeman” was just a pseudonym (Trend noted this suspicion in its report as well). In combing through the historic WHOIS registration records for the domain hostsailor.com, I noticed that the domain name changed hands sometime in late 2012. Sure enough, a simple Google search popped up this thread at Webhostingtalk.com back in Dec. 2012, which was started by a Jordan Peterson who says he’s looking to sell hostsailor.com.

Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, Mr. Peterson said the person who responded about purchasing the domain was named Ali Al-Attiyah, and that this individual used the following email addresses:

ali.alattiyah@yahoo.com
ali.alattiyah@mail.com
hostsailor@hush.com

“I remember Ali telling me he didn’t have a paypal so a friend sent me the money for the domain, I looked up the paypal info for you and [Ali’s friend’s] name is Khalid Cook, masrawyz@yahoo.com,” Peterson told me. “The legal information for the domain transfer was given as:

152-160 City Road
London ec1v 2nx
UK”

That street address corresponds to a business named “yourvirtualofficelondon.co.uk,” which offers call answering services for companies that wish to list a prestigious London address without actually having a physical presence there.

Ali Al-Attiyah is listed as the official registrant of hostsailor.com and several other very similar domains. More interesting, however, is that email address given for Mr. Khalid Cook: masrawyz@yahoo.com. According to a “reverse WHOIS” search ordered from DomainTools.com, that Yahoo email address was used in the original registration records for exactly one domain: santrex.net.

Santrex (better known on Webhostingtalk.com as “Scamtrex“) was an extremely dodgy “bulletproof hosting” company — essentially a mini-ISP that specializes in offering services that are largely immune from takedown requests and pressure from Western law enforcement agencies. At the time, Google’s Safebrowsing database warned that almost 90 percent of the sites on Santrex’s network were attempting to foist malicious software on visitors or were hosting malware used in online attacks.

Santrex was forced out of business in early 2013, after the company’s core servers were massively hacked and the PayPal and credit card accounts it used to accept payments from customers were reportedly seized by unknown parties. In its final days as a hosting provider, Santrex’s main voice on Webhostingtalk.com — a user named “khalouda” — posted many rants that eerily echo the invective leveled at Guilmette by HostSailor’s Mr. Freeman.

Google’s take on the world’s most densely malicious networks over the past 12 months.

Google’s take on the world’s most densely malicious networks over the past 12 months.

WHO IS KHALID COOK?

Continue reading →


18
Jul 16

Carbanak Gang Tied to Russian Security Firm?

Among the more plunderous cybercrime gangs is a group known as “Carbanak,” Eastern European hackers blamed for stealing more than a billion dollars from banks. Today we’ll examine some compelling clues that point to a connection between the Carbanak gang’s staging grounds and a Russian security firm that claims to work with some of the world’s largest brands in cybersecurity.

The Carbanak gang derives its name from the banking malware used in countless high-dollar cyberheists. The gang is perhaps best known for hacking directly into bank networks using poisoned Microsoft Office files, and then using that access to force bank ATMs into dispensing cash. Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab estimates that the Carbanak Gang has likely stolen upwards of USD $1 billion — but mostly from Russian banks.

Image: Kaspersky

Image: Kaspersky

I recently heard from security researcher Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam crusader whose sleuthing has been featured on several occasions on this site and in the blog I wrote for The Washington Post. Guilmette said he’d found some interesting commonalities in the original Web site registration records for a slew of sites that all have been previously responsible for pushing malware known to be used by the Carbanak gang.

For example, the domains “weekend-service[dot]com” “coral-trevel[dot]com” and “freemsk-dns[dot]com” all were documented by multiple security firms as distribution hubs for Carbanak crimeware. Historic registration or “WHOIS” records maintained by Domaintools.com for all three domains contain the same phone and fax numbers for what appears to be a Xicheng Co. in China — 1066569215 and 1066549216, each preceded by either a +86 (China’s country code) or +01 (USA). Each domain record also includes the same contact address: “williamdanielsen@yahoo.com“.

According to data gathered by ThreatConnect, a threat intelligence provider [full disclosure: ThreatConnect is an advertiser on this blog], at least 484 domains were registered to the williamdanielsen@yahoo.com address or to one of 26 other email addresses that listed the same phone numbers and Chinese company.  “At least 304 of these domains have been associated with a malware plugin [that] has previously been attributed to Carbanak activity,” ThreatConnect told KrebsOnSecurity.

Going back to those two phone numbers, 1066569215 and 1066549216; at first glance they appear to be sequential, but closer inspection reveals they differ slightly in the middle. Among the very few domains registered to those Chinese phone numbers that haven’t been seen launching malware is a Web site called “cubehost[dot]biz,” which according to records was registered in Sept. 2013 to a 28-year-old Artem Tveritinov of Perm, Russia.

Cubehost[dot]biz is a dormant site, but it appears to be the sister property to a Russian security firm called Infocube (also spelled “Infokube”). The InfoKube web site — infokube.ru — is also registered to Mr. Tveritinov of Perm, Russia; there are dozens of records in the WHOIS history for infokube.ru, but only the oldest, original record from 2011 contains the email address atveritinov@gmail.com. 

That same email address was used to register a four-year-old profile account at the popular Russian social networking site Vkontakte for Artyom “LioN” Tveritinov from Perm, Russia. The “LioN” bit is an apparent reference to an Infokube anti-virus product by the same name. Continue reading →


13
Oct 15

Hacker Who Sent Me Heroin Faces Charges in U.S.

A Ukrainian hacker who once hatched a plot to have heroin sent to my Virginia home and then alert police when the drugs arrived had his first appearance in a U.S. court today, after being extradited to the United States to face multiple cybercrime charges.

Sergey Vovnenko, a.k.a. “Fly,” “Flycracker” and “MUXACC1” (muxa is transliterated Russian for “муха” which means “fly”), was set to appear in a Newark courtroom today on charges of stealing and selling credit card and banking data, emptying bank accounts, and running a botnet of more than 12,000 hacked computers and servers, among other alleged crimes.

Fly replies to my direct messages telling him I know his real name and where he lives.

Fly replies to my direct messages telling him I know his real name and where he lives.

I first became acquainted with Fly in 2013, when his Twitter persona (warning: images here may not be safe for work) began sending me taunting tweets laced with epithets and occasional attempts to get me to click dodgy-looking Web links. Fly also took to his Livejournal blog to post copies of my credit report, directions to my home and pictures of my front door.

After consulting with cybercrime researchers at Russian security firm Group-IB, I learned that Fly was the administrator of a closely-guarded but now-defunct cybercrime forum dedicated to financial fraud called thecc[dot]bz (“cc” is a reference to credit cards).

Not long after that, I secretly gained access to his forum. And none too soon: In one lengthy discussion thread on the forum, I found that Fly had solicited donations from fellow fraudsters on the forum to donate Bitcoin currency for a slush fund Fly created for the express purpose of purchasing heroin off of the Silk Road — which was at the time the leading source of illicit drugs on the Dark Web.

Flycracker discussing the purchase of a gram of heroin from Silk Road seller "10toes."

Flycracker discussing the purchase of a gram of heroin from Silk Road seller “10toes.”

Fly’s plan was simple: Have the drugs delivered to my home in my name, and then spoof a call from one of my neighbors to the local police informing them that I was a druggie, that I had druggie friends coming in and out of my house all day long, and that I was even having drugs delivered to my home.

The forum members took care to find the most reputable sellers of heroin on the Silk Road. After purchasing a gram of the stuff from the Silk Road’s top smack seller — a drug dealer who used the nickname “Maestro” — Fly posted the USPS tracking link for the package into the discussion thread on his forum.

An ad for heroin on the Silk Road.

An ad for heroin on the Silk Road.

At that point, I called the local police and had a cop come out to take an official police report. The officer asked me to contact him again if the drugs actually arrived. Three days later, our local Postal Service carrier hand delivered a thin USPS Express Mail envelope that was postmarked from Chicago. Inside was another blank envelope containing a May 2013 copy of Chicago Confidential, a weekly glossy magazine from the Chicago Tribune.

On the back of the magazine, taped to a full-page ad for jewelry from LesterLampert, were a baker’s dozen individually wrapped packets emblazoned with the same black and gold skull motif that was on Maestro’s Silk Road ad. I immediately contacted the police, who came and dutifully retrieved the drugs, which turned out to be almost pure heroin.

12 packets of what appears to be heroin arrived at my home via the Silk Road on July 29, 2013.

12 packets of what appears to be heroin arrived at my home via the Silk Road on July 29, 2013.

I wrote about the experience of foiling Fly’s plan in a story titled Mail From the (Velvet) Cybercrime Underground. This did not sit well with Fly, who was made to look bad in front of his forum members who’d contributed roughly two Bitcoins to the scheme.

Angry that I’d foiled his plan to have me arrested for drug possession, Fly had a local florist send a gaudy floral arrangement in the shape of a giant cross to my home, complete with a menacing message that addressed my wife and was signed, “Velvet Crabs.”

The floral arrangement that Fly had delivered to my home in Virginia.

The floral arrangement that Fly had delivered to my home in Virginia.

After this incident, I became intensely curious about the identity of this Fly individual, so I began looking through databases of hacked carding and cybercrime forums. My first real break came when Group-IB provided a key piece of the puzzle: Group-IB researchers found that on the now-defunct vulnes[dot]com, Fly maintained an account under the nickname Flycracker, and signed up with the email address mazafaka@libero.it(.it is the country code for Italy).

According to a trusted source in the security community, that email account was somehow compromised in 2013. The source said the account was full of emailed reports from a keylogging device that was tied to another email address — 777flyck777@gmail.com (according to Google, mazafaka@libero.it is the recovery email address for 777flyck777@gmail.com).

Those keylog reports contained some valuable information, and indicated that Fly had planted a keylogger on his then-fiancee Irina’s computer. On several occasions, those emails show Fly’s wife typed in her Gmail address, which included her real first and last name — Irina Gumenyuk. Continue reading →


26
Aug 15

Who Hacked Ashley Madison?

AshleyMadison.com, a site that helps married people cheat and whose slogan is “Life is Short, have an Affair,” recently put up a half million (Canadian) dollar bounty for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the Impact Team — the name chosen by the hacker(s) who recently leaked data on more than 30 million Ashley Madison users. Here is the first of likely several posts examining individuals who appear to be closely connected to this attack.

zu-launchpad-july-20It was just past midnight on July 20, a few hours after I’d published an exclusive story about hackers breaking into AshleyMadison.com. I was getting ready to turn in for the evening when I spotted a re-tweet from a Twitter user named Thadeus Zu (@deuszu) who’d just posted a link to the same cache of data that had been confidentially shared with me by the Impact Team via the contact form on my site just hours earlier: It was a link to the proprietary source code for Ashley Madison’s service.

Initially, that tweet startled me because I couldn’t find any other sites online that were actually linking to that source code cache. I began looking through his past tweets and noticed some interesting messages, but soon enough other news events took precedence and I forgot about the tweet.

I revisited Zu’s tweet stream again this week after watching a press conference held by the Toronto Police (where Avid Life Media, the parent company of Ashley Madison, is based). The Toronto cops mostly recapped the timeline of known events in the hack, but they did add one new wrinkle: They said Avid Life employees first learned about the breach on July 12 (seven days before my initial story) when they came into work, turned on their computers and saw a threatening message from the Impact Team accompanied by the anthem “Thunderstruck” by Australian rock band AC/DC playing in the background.

After writing up a piece on the bounty offer, I went back and downloaded all five years’ worth of tweets from Thadeus Zu, a massively prolific Twitter user who typically tweets hundreds if not thousands of messages per month. Zu’s early years on Twitter are a catalog of simple hacks — commandeering unsecured routers, wireless cameras and printers — as well as many, many Web site defacements.

On the defacement front, Zu focused heavily on government Web sites in Asia, Europe and the United States, and in several cases even taunted his targets. On Aug. 4, 2012, he tweeted to KPN-CERT, a computer security incident response team in the Netherlands, to alert the group that he’d hacked their site. “Next time, it will be Thunderstruck. #ACDC” Zu wrote.

The day before, he’d compromised the Web site for the Australian Parliament, taunting lawmakers there with the tweet: “Parliament of Australia bit.ly/NPQdsP Oi! Oi! Oi!….T.N.T. Dynamite! Listen to ACDC here.”

I began to get very curious about whether there were any signs on or before July 19, 2015 that Zu was tweeting about ACDC in relation to the Ashley Madison hack. Sure enough: At 9:40 a.m., July 19, 2015 — nearly 12 hours before I would first be contacted by the Impact Team — we can see Zu is feverishly tweeting to several people about setting up “replication servers” to “get the show started.” Can you spot what’s interesting in the tabs on his browser in the screenshot he tweeted that morning?

Twitter user ThadeusZu tweets about setting up replication servers. Note which Youtube video is playing on his screen.

Twitter user ThadeusZu tweets about setting up replication servers. Did you spot the Youtube video he’s playing when he took this screenshot?

Ten points if you noticed the Youtube.com tab showing that he’s listening to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

A week ago, the news media pounced on the Ashley Madison story once again, roughly 24 hours after the hackers made good on their threat to release the Ashley Madison user database. I went back and examined Zu’s tweet stream around that time and found he beat Wired.com, ArsTechnica.com and every other news media outlet by more than 24 hours with the Aug. 17 tweet, “Times up,” which linked to the Impact Team’s now infamous post listing the sites where anyone could download the stolen Ashley Madison user database.

ThadeusZu tweeted about the downloadable AshleyMadison data more than 24 hours before news outlets picked up on the cache.

ThadeusZu tweeted about the downloadable Ashley Madison data more than 24 hours before news outlets picked up on the cache.

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4
Aug 15

Chinese VPN Service as Attack Platform?

Hardly a week goes by without a news story about state-sponsored Chinese cyberspies breaking into Fortune 500 companies to steal intellectual property, personal data and other invaluable assets. Now, researchers say they’ve unearthed evidence that some of the same Chinese hackers also have been selling access to compromised computers within those companies to help perpetrate future breaches.

The so-called “Great Firewall of China” is an effort by the Chinese government to block citizens from accessing specific content and Web sites that the government has deemed objectionable. Consequently, many Chinese seek to evade such censorship by turning to virtual private network or “VPN” services that allow users to tunnel their Internet connections to locations beyond the control of the Great Firewall.

terracottavpn

Security experts at RSA Research say they’ve identified an archipelago of Chinese-language virtual private network (VPN) services marketed to Chinese online gamers and those wishing to evade censorship, but which also appear to be used as an active platform for launching attacks on non-Chinese corporations while obscuring the origins of the attackers.

Dubbed by RSA as “Terracotta VPN” (a reference to the Chinese Terracotta Army), this satellite array of VPN services “may represent the first exposure of a PRC-based VPN operation that maliciously, efficiently and rapidly enlists vulnerable servers around the world,” the company said in a report released today.

The hacker group thought to be using Terracotta to launch and hide attacks is known by a number of code names, including the “Shell_Crew” and “Deep Panda.” Security experts have tied this Chinese espionage gang to some of the largest data breaches in U.S. history, including the recent attack on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, as well as the breaches at U.S. healthcare insurers Anthem and Premera.

According to RSA, Terracotta VPN has more than 1,500 nodes around the world where users can pop up on the Internet. Many of those locations appear to be little more than servers at Internet service providers in the United States, Korea, Japan and elsewhere that offer cheap virtual private servers.

But RSA researchers said they discovered that many of Terracotta’s exit nodes were compromised Windows servers that were “harvested” without the victims’ knowledge or permission, including systems at a Fortune 500 hotel chain; a hi-tech manufacturer; a law firm; a doctor’s office; and a county government of a U.S. state.

The report steps through a forensics analysis that RSA conducted on one of the compromised VPN systems, tracking each step the intruders took to break into the server and ultimately enlist the system as part of the Terracotta VPN network.

“All of the compromised systems, confirmed through victim-communication by RSA Research, are Windows servers,” the company wrote. “RSA Research suspects that Terracotta is targeting vulnerable Windows servers because this platform includes VPN services that can be configured quickly (in a matter of seconds).”

RSA says suspected nation-state actors have leveraged at least 52 Terracotta VPN nodes to exploit sensitive targets among Western government and commercial organizations. The company said it received a specific report from a large defense contractor concerning 27 different Terracotta VPN node Internet addresses that were used to send phishing emails targeting users in their organization.

“Out of the thirteen different IP addresses used during this campaign against this one (APT) target, eleven (85%) were associated with Terracotta VPN nodes,” RSA wrote of one cyber espionage campaign it investigated. “Perhaps one of the benefits of using Terracotta for Advanced Threat Actors is that their espionage related network traffic can blend-in with ‘otherwise-legitimate’ VPN traffic.”

DIGGING DEEPER

RSA’s report includes a single screen shot of software used by one of the commercial VPN services marketed on Chinese sites and tied to the Terracotta network, but for me this was just a tease: I wanted a closer look at this network, yet RSA (or more likely, the company’s lawyers) carefully omitted any information in its report that would make it easy to locate the sites selling or offering the Terracotta VPN.

RSA said the Web sites advertising the VPN services are marketed on Chinese-language Web sites that are for the most part linked by common domain name registrant email addresses and are often hosted on the same infrastructure with the same basic Web content. Along those lines, the company did include one very useful tidbit in its report: A section designed to help companies detect servers that may be compromised warned that any Web servers seen phoning home to 8800free[dot]info should be considered hacked.

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