The Coming Storm

Aug 16

Visa Alert and Update on the Oracle Breach

Credit card industry giant Visa on Friday issued a security alert warning companies using point-of-sale devices made by Oracle‘s MICROS retail unit to double-check the machines for malicious software or unusual network activity, and to change passwords on the devices. Visa also published a list of Internet addresses that may have been involved in the Oracle breach and are thought to be closely tied to an Eastern European organized cybercrime gang.


The Visa alert is the first substantive document that tries to help explain what malware and which malefactors might have hit Oracle — and by extension many of Oracle’s customers — since KrebsOnSecurity broke news of the breach on Aug. 8. That story cited sources close to the investigation saying hackers had broken into hundreds of servers at Oracle’s retail division, and had completely compromised Oracle’s main online support portal for MICROS customers.

MICROS is among the top three point-of-sale vendors globally. Oracle’s MICROS division sells point-of-sale systems used at more than 330,000 cash registers worldwide. When Oracle bought MICROS in 2014, the company said MICROS’s systems were deployed at some 200,000+ food and beverage outlets, 100,000+ retail sites, and more than 30,000 hotels.

In short, tens of millions of credit cards are swiped at MICROS terminals monthly, and a breach involving the theft of credentials that might have granted remote access to even just a small percentage of those systems is potentially a big and costly problem for all involved.

So far, however, most MICROS customers are left scratching their heads for answers. A frequently asked questions bulletin (PDF) Oracle also released last Monday held little useful information. Oracle issued the same cryptic response to everyone who asked for particulars about how far the breach extended. “Oracle has detected and addressed malicious code in certain legacy MICROS systems.”

Oracle also urged MICROS customers to change their passwords, and said “we also recommend that you change the password for any account that was used by a MICROS representative to access your on-premises systems.”

One of two documents Oracle sent to MICROS customers and the sum total of information the company has released so far about the breach.

One of two documents Oracle sent to MICROS customers and the sum total of information the company has released so far about the breach.

Some technology and fraud experts, including Gartner Analyst Avivah Litan, read that statement highlighted in yellow above as an acknowledgement by Oracle that hackers may have abused credentials gained in the MICROS portal breach to plant malicious code on the point-of-sale devices run by an unknown number of MICROS customers.

“This [incident] could explain a lot about the source of some of these retail and merchant point-of-sale hacks that nobody has been able to definitively tie to any one point-of-sale services provider,” Litan told me last week. “I’d say there’s a big chance that the hackers in this case found a way to get remote access” to MICROS customers’ on-premises point-of-sale devices.”

Clearly, Visa is concerned about this possibility as well.


In my original story about the breach, I wasn’t able to reveal all the data I’d gathered about the apparent source of the attacks and attackers. A key source in that story asked that I temporarily delay publishing certain details of the investigation, specifically those known as indicators of compromise (IOCs). Basically, IOCs are list of suspect Internet addresses, domain names, filenames and other curious digital clues that are thought to connect the victim with its attacker.

I’ve been inundated all week with calls and emails from security experts asking for that very data, but sharing it wasn’t my call. That is, until yesterday (8/12/16), when Visa published a “merchant communication alert” to some customers. In that alert (PDF), Visa published IOCs that may be connected with the intrusion. These IOCs could be extremely useful to MICROS customers because the presence of Internet traffic to and from these online destinations would strongly suggest the organization’s point-of-sale systems may be similarly compromised.

Some of the addresses on this list from Visa are known to be associated with the Carbanak Gang, a group of Eastern European hackers that Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab estimates has stolen more than $1 billion from banks and retailers. Here’s the IOCs list from the alert Visa pushed out Friday:

VISA warned merchants to check their systems for any communications to and from these Internet addresses and domain names associated with a Russian organized cybercrime gang called "Carbanak."

Visa warned merchants to check their systems for any communications to and from these Internet addresses and domain names associated with a Russian organized cybercrime gang called “Carbanak.”

Thankfully, since at least one of the addresses listed above ( matched what’s on my source’s list, the source agreed to let me publish the entire thing. Here it is. I checked my source’s list and found at least five Internet addresses that were seen in both the Oracle attack and in a Sept. 2015 writeup about Carbanak by ESET Security, a Slovakian antivirus and security company. [NB: If you are unskilled at safely visiting malicious Web sites and/or handling malware, it’s probably best not to visit the addresses in the above-linked list.]

Visa also mentioned a specific POS-malware threat in its alert called “MalumPOS.” According to researchers at Trend Micro, MalumPOS is malware designed to target point-of-sale systems in hotels and related industries. In fact, Trend found that MalumPOS is set up to collect data specifically from point-of-sale systems running on Oracle’s MICROS platform.

It should come as no surprise then that many of Oracle’s biggest customers in the hospitality industry are starting to make noise, accusing Oracle of holding back key information that could help MICROS-based companies stop and clean up breaches involving malware and stolen customer credit card data.

“Oracle’s silence has been deafening,” said Michael Blake, chief executive officer at HTNG, a trade association for hotels and technology. “They are still grappling and trying to answer questions on the extent of the breach. Oracle has been invited to the last three [industry] calls this week and they are still going about trying to reach each customer individually and in the process of doing so they have done nothing but given the lame advice of changing passwords.”

The hospitality industry has been particularly hard hit by point-of-sale compromises over the past two years. Last month, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news of a breach at Kimpton Hotels (Kimpton appears to run MICROS products, but the company declined to answer questions for this story).

Kimpton joins a long list of hotel brands that have acknowledged card breaches over the last year, including Trump Hotels (twice), Hilton, Mandarin Oriental, and White Lodging (twice), Starwood Hotels and Hyatt. In many of those incidents, thieves had planted malicious software on the point-of-sale devices at restaurants and bars inside of the hotel chains. And, no doubt, many of those cash registers were run on MICROS systems.

If Oracle doesn’t exactly know which — if any — of its MICROS customers had malware on their point-of-sale systems as a result of the breach, it may be because the network intruders didn’t have any reason to interact with Oracle’s customers via the MICROS portal after stealing usernames and passwords that would allow them to remotely access customer on-premises systems. In theory, at that point the fraudsters could have bypassed Oracle altogether from then on. Continue reading →

Aug 16

Road Warriors: Beware of ‘Video Jacking’

A little-known feature of many modern smartphones is their ability to duplicate video on the device’s screen so that it also shows up on a much larger display — like a TV. However, new research shows that this feature may quietly expose users to a simple and cheap new form of digital eavesdropping.

Dubbed “video jacking” by its masterminds, the attack uses custom electronics hidden inside what appears to be a USB charging station. As soon as you connect a vulnerable phone to the appropriate USB charging cord, the spy machine splits the phone’s video display and records a video of everything you tap, type or view on it as long as it’s plugged in — including PINs, passwords, account numbers, emails, texts, pictures and videos.

The part of the "video jacking" demonstration at the DEF CON security conference last week in Las Vegas.

Some of the equipment used in the “video jacking” demonstration at the DEF CON security conference last week in Las Vegas. Source: Brian Markus.

[Click here if you’re the TL;DR type and just want to know if your phone is at risk from this attack.]

Demonstrations of this simple but effective mobile spying technique were on full display at the DEF CON security conference in Las Vegas last week. I was busy chasing a story at DEF CON unrelated to the conference this year, so I missed many people and talks that I wanted to see. But I’m glad I caught up with the team behind DEF CON’s annual and infamous “Wall of Sheep,” a public shaming exercise aimed at educating people about the dangers of sending email and other plain text online communications over open wireless networks.

Brian Markus, co-founder and chief executive officer for Aries Security, said he and fellow researchers Joseph Mlodzianowski and Robert Rowley came up with the idea for video jacking when they were brainstorming about ways to expand on their “juice jacking” experiments at DEF CON in 2011.

“Juice jacking” refers to the ability to hijack stored data when the user unwittingly plugs his phone into a custom USB charging station filled with computers that are ready to suck down and record said data (both Android and iOS phones now ask users whether they trust the computer before allowing data transfers).

In contrast, video jacking lets the attacker record every key and finger stroke the user makes on the phone, so that the owner of the evil charging station can later replay the videos and see any numbers or keys pressed on the smart phone.

That’s because those numbers or keys will be raised briefly on the victim’s screen with each key press. Here’s an example: While the user may have enabled a special PIN that needs to be entered before the phone unlocks to the home screen, this method captures even that PIN as long as the device is vulnerable and plugged in before the phone is unlocked.


Most of the phones vulnerable to video jacking are Android or other HDMI-ready smartphones from Asus, Blackberry, HTC, LG, Samsung, and ZTE. This page of HDMI enabled smartphones at should not be considered all-inclusive. Here’s another list. When in doubt, search online for your phone’s make and model to find out if it is HDMI or MHL ready.

Video jacking is a problem for users of HDMI-ready phones mainly because it’s very difficult to tell a USB cord that merely charges the phone versus one that also taps the phone’s video-out capability. Also, there’s generally no warning on the phone to alert the user that the device’s video is being piped to another source, Markus said.

“All of those phones have an HDMI access feature that is turned on by default,” he said. “A few HDMI-ready phones will briefly flash something like ‘HDMI Connected’ whenever they’re plugged into a power connection that is also drawing on the HDMI feature, but most will display no warning at all. This worked on all the phones we tested with no prompting.”

Both Markus and Rowley said they did not test the attack against Apple iPhones prior to DEF CON, but today Markus said he tested it at an Apple store and the video of the iPhone 6’s home screen popped up on the display in the store without any prompt. Getting it to work on the display required a special lightning digital AV adapter from Apple, which could easily be hidden inside an evil charging station and fed an extension adapter and then a regular lightning cable in front of that.

Continue reading →

Aug 16

Social Security Administration Now Requires Two-Factor Authentication

The U.S. Social Security Administration announced last week that it will now require a cell phone number from all Americans who wish to manage their retirement benefits at Unfortunately, the new security measure does little to prevent identity thieves from fraudulently creating online accounts to siphon benefits from Americans who haven’t yet created accounts for themselves.

ssasiteThe SSA said all new and existing ‘my Social Security’ account holders will need to provide a cell phone number. The agency said it will use the mobile numbers to send users an 8-digit code via text message that needs to be entered along with a username and password to log in to the site.

The SSA noted it was making the change to comply with an executive order for federal agencies to provide more secure authentication for their online services.

“People will not be able to access their personal my Social Security account if they do not have a cell phone or do not wish to provide the cell phone number,” the agency said. “The purpose of providing your cell phone number is that, each time you log in to your account with your username and password, we will send you a one-time security code you must also enter to log in successfully to your account. We expect to provide additional options in the future, dependent upon requirements of national guidelines currently being revised.”

Although the SSA’s policy change provides additional proof that the person signing in is the same individual who established multi-factor authentication in the the first place, it does not appear to provide any additional proof that the person creating an account at is who they say they are.

The SSA does offer other “extra security” options, such as the sending users a special code via the U.S. Mail that has to be entered on the agency’s site to complete the signup process. If you choose to enable extra security, the SSA will then ask you for:

  • The last eight digits of your Visa, MasterCard, or Discover credit card;
  • Information from your W2 tax form;
  • Information from a 1040 Schedule SE (self-employment) tax form; or
  • Your direct deposit amount, if you receive Social Security benefits.

Sadly, it is still relatively easy for thieves to create an account in the name of Americans who have not already created one for themselves. All one would need is the target’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, residential address, and phone number. This personal data can be bought for roughly $3-$4 from a variety of cybercrime shops online.

After that, the SSA relays four multiple-guess, so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions from credit bureau Equifax. In practice, many of these KBA questions — such as previous address, loan amounts and dates — can be successfully enumerated with random guessing.  What’s more, very often the answers to these questions can be found by consulting free online services, such as Zillow and Facebook.

In September 2013, I warned that SSA and financial institutions were tracking a rise in cases wherein identity thieves register an account at the SSA’s portal using a retiree’s personal information and have the victim’s benefits diverted to prepaid debit cards that the crooks control. Unfortunately, because the SSA’s new security features are optional, they do little to block crooks from hijacking SSA benefit payments from retirees. Continue reading →

Jul 16

Trump, DNC, RNC Flunk Email Security Test

Donald J. Trump has repeatedly bashed Sen. Hillary Clinton for handling classified documents on her private email server, suggesting that anyone who is so lax with email security isn’t fit to become president. But a closer look at the Web sites for each candidate shows that in contrast to, has failed to take full advantage of a free and open email security technology designed to stymie email spoofing and phishing attacks.

atballAt issue is a fairly technical proposed standard called DMARC. Short for “domain-based messaging authentication reporting and conformance,” DMARC tries to solve a problem that has plagued email since its inception: It’s surprisingly difficult for email providers and end users alike to tell whether a given email is real – i.e. that it really was sent by the person or organization identified in the “from:” portion of the missive.

DMARC may not yet be widely deployed beyond the major email providers, but that’s about to change. Google announced late last year that it will soon move to a policy of rejecting any messages that don’t pass the authentication checks spelled out in the DMARC specification. And others are already moving in the same direction.

Probably the easiest way to understand DMARC is to walk through a single site’s records. According to the DMARC compliance lookup tool at — a DMARC awareness, training and support site — has fully implemented DMARC. This means that the campaign has posted a public policy that enables email providers like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo to quickly determine whether a message claiming to have been sent from was actually sent from that domain.

Specifically, (and this is where things can quickly descend into a Geek Factor 5 realm of nerdiness) DMARC sits on top of two existing technologies that try to make email easy to identify: Sender Policy Framework (SPF), and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM).

SPF is basically a list of Internet addresses and domains which are authorized to send email on behalf of (in case anyone’s interested, here’s a copy of the SPF record for DKIM allows email receivers to verify that a piece of email originated from an Internet domain through the use of public key cryptography. Deploying both technologies gives email receivers two ways to figure out if a piece of email is legitimate.

The DMARC record for Clinton’s site includes the text string “p=quarantine.” The “p” bit stands for policy, and “quarantine” means the Web site’s administrators have instructed email providers to quarantine all messages sent from addresses or domains not on that list and not signed with DKIM – effectively consigning them to the intended recipient’s “spam” or “junk” folder. Another blocking option available is “p=reject,” which tells email providers to outright drop or reject any mail sent from domains or addresses not specified in the organization’s SPF records and lacking any appropriate DKIM signatures.

Turning’s tool against, we can see that although the site is thinking about turning on DMARC, it hasn’t actually done so yet. The site’s DMARC records are set to the third option — “p=none” — which means the site administrators haven’t yet asked email providers to block or quarantine any messages that fail to match the site’s SPF records. Rather, the site merely asks email providers to report to “” about the source of any email messages claiming to have been sent by that domain. Continue reading →

Jul 16

Cybercrime Overtakes Traditional Crime in UK

In a notable sign of the times, cybercrime has now surpassed all other forms of crime in the United Kingdom, the nation’s National Crime Agency (NCA) warned in a new report. It remains unclear how closely the rest of the world tracks the U.K.’s experience, but the report reminds readers that the problem is likely far worse than the numbers suggest, noting that cybercrime is vastly under-reported by victims.

ons-statThe NCA’s Cyber Crime Assessment 2016, released July 7, 2016, highlights the need for stronger law enforcement and business partnership to fight cybercrime. According to the NCA, cybercrime emerged as the largest proportion of total crime in the U.K., with “cyber enabled fraud” making up 36 percent of all crime reported, and “computer misuse” accounting for 17 percent.

One explanation for the growth of cybercrime reports in the U.K. may be that the Brits are getting better at tracking it. The report notes that the U.K. Office of National Statistics only began including cybercrime for the first time last year in its annual Crime Survey for England and Wales.

“The ONS estimated that there were 2.46 million cyber incidents and 2.11 million victims of cyber crime in the U.K. in 2015,” the report’s authors wrote. “These figures highlight the clear shortfall in established reporting, with only 16,349 cyber dependent and approximately 700,000 cyber-enabled incidents reported to Action Fraud over the same period.”

The report also focuses on the increasing sophistication of organized cybercrime gangs that develop and deploy targeted, complex malicious software — such as Dridex and Dyre, which are aimed at emptying consumer and business bank accounts in the U.K. and elsewhere.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc., said cyber fraudsters in the U.K. bring their best game when targeting U.K. banks, which generally require far more stringent customer-facing security measures than U.S. banks — including smart cards and one-time tokens.

“I’m definitely hearing more about advanced attacks on U.K. banks than in the U.S.,” Litan said, adding that the anti-fraud measures put in place by U.K. banks have forced cybercriminals to focus more on social engineering U.K. retail and commercial banking customers. Continue reading →

Jun 16

Rise of Darknet Stokes Fear of The Insider

With the proliferation of shadowy black markets on the so-called “darknet” — hidden crime bazaars that can only be accessed through special software that obscures one’s true location online — it has never been easier for disgruntled employees to harm their current or former employer. At least, this is the fear driving a growing stable of companies seeking technical solutions to detect would-be insiders.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc., says she’s been inundated recently with calls from organizations asking what they can do to counter the following scenario: A disaffected or disgruntled employee creates a persona on a darknet market and offers to sell his company’s intellectual property or access to his employer’s network.

A darknet forum discussion generated by a claimed insider at music retailer Guitar Center.

A darknet forum discussion generated by a claimed insider at music retailer Guitar Center.

Litan said a year ago she might have received one such inquiry a month; now Litan says she’s getting multiple calls a week, often from companies that are in a panic.

“I’m getting calls from lots of big companies, including manufacturers, banks, pharmaceutical firms and retailers,” she said. “A year ago, no one wanted to say whether they had or were seriously worried about insiders, but that’s changing.”

Insiders don't have to be smart or sophisticated to be dangerous.

Insiders don’t have to be smart or sophisticated to be dangerous, as this darknet forum discussion thread illustrates.

Some companies with tremendous investments in intellectual property — particularly pharmaceutical and healthcare firms — are working with law enforcement or paying security firms to monitor and track actors on the darknet that promise access to specific data or organizations, Litan said. Continue reading →

Jun 16

Microsoft Patches Dozens of Security Holes

Microsoft today released updates to address more than three dozen security holes in Windows and related software. Meanwhile, Adobe — which normally releases fixes for its ubiquitous Flash Player alongside Microsoft’s monthly Patch Tuesday cycle — said it’s putting off today’s expected Flash patch until the end of this week so it can address an unpatched Flash vulnerability that already is being exploited in active attacks.

brokenwindowsYes, that’s right it’s once again Patch Tuesday, better known to mere mortals as the second Tuesday of each month. Microsoft isn’t kidding around this particular Tuesday — pushing out 16 patch bundles to address at least 44 security flaws across Windows and related software.

The usual suspects earn “critical” ratings: Internet Explorer (IE), Edge (the new, improved IE), and Microsoft Office. Critical is Microsoft’s term for a flaw that allows the attacker to remotely take control over the victim’s machine without help from the victim, save for perhaps getting him to visit a booby-trapped Web site or load a poisoned ad in IE or Edge.

Windows home users aren’t the only ones who get to have all the fun: There’s plenty enough in today’s Microsoft patch batch to sow dread in any Windows system administrator, including patches that fix serious security holes in Windows SMB Server, Microsoft’s DNS Server, and Exchange Server.

I’ll put up a note later this week whenever Adobe releases the Flash update. For now, Kaspersky has more on the Flash vulnerability and its apparent use in active espionage attacks. As ever, if you experience any issues after applying any of today’s updates, please drop a note about it in the comments below.

Other resources: Takes from the SANS Internet Storm CenterQualys and Shavlik.

Jun 16

IRS Re-Enables ‘Get Transcript’ Feature

The Internal Revenue Service has re-enabled a service on its Web site that allows taxpayers to get a copy of their previous year’s tax transcript. The renewed effort to beef up taxpayer authentication methods at comes more than a year after the agency disabled the transcript service because tax refund fraudsters were using it to steal sensitive data on consumers.

irsbldgDuring the height of tax-filing season in 2015, KrebsOnSecurity warned that identity thieves involved in tax refund fraud with the IRS were using’s “Get Transcript” feature to glean salary and personal information they didn’t already have on targeted taxpayers. In May 2015, the IRS suspended the Get Transcript feature, citing its abuse by fraudsters and noting that some 100,000 taxpayers may have been victimized as a result.

In August 2015, the agency revised those estimates up to 330,000, but in February 2016, the IRS again more than doubled its estimate, saying the actual number of victims was probably closer to 724,000.

So exactly how does the new-and-improved Get Transcript feature validate that taxpayers who are requesting information aren’t cybercriminal imposters? According to the IRS’s Get Transcript FAQ, the visitor needs to supply a Social Security number (SSN) and have the following:

  • immediate access to your email account to receive a confirmation code;
  • name, birthdate, mailing address, and filing status from your most recent tax return;
  • an account number from either a credit card, auto loan, mortgage, home equity loan or home equity line of credit;
  • a mobile phone number with your name on the account.

“If you previously registered to use IRS Get Transcript Online, Identity Protection PIN, Online Payment Agreement, or ePostcard online services, log in with the same username and password you chose before,” the IRS said. “You’ll need to provide a financial account number and mobile phone number if you haven’t already done so.”

The agency said it will then verify your financial account number and mobile phone number with big-three credit bureau Equifax. Readers who have taken my advice and placed a security freeze on their credit files will need to request a temporary thaw in that freeze with Equifax before attempting to verify their identity with the IRS. Continue reading →

Jun 16

Password Re-user? Get Ready to Get Busy

In the wake of megabreaches at some of the Internet’s most-recognized destinations, don’t be surprised if you receive password reset requests from numerous companies that didn’t experience a breach: Some big name companies — including Facebook and Netflix — are in the habit of combing through huge data leak troves for credentials that match those of their customers and then forcing a password reset for those users.

Netflix sent out notices to customers who re-used their Netflix password at other sites that were hacked.

Netflix sent out notices to customers who re-used their Netflix password at other sites that were hacked. This notice was shared by a reader who had re-used his Netflix password at one of the breached companies., for example, sent out a notification late last week to users who made the mistake of re-using their Netflix password at Linkedin, Tumblr or MySpace. All of three of those breaches are years old, but the scope of the intrusions (more than a half billion usernames and passwords leaked in total) only became apparent recently when the credentials were posted online at various sites and services.

“We believe your Netflix account credentials may have been included in a recent release of email addresses and passwords from an older breach at another company,” the message from Neflix reads. “Just to be safe, we’ve reset your password as a precautionary measure.”

The missive goes on to urge recipients to visit and click the “forgot your email or password” link to reset their passwords.

Netflix is taking this step because it knows from experience that cybercriminals will be using the credentials leaked from Tumblr, MySpace and LinkedIn to see if they work on a variety of third-party sites (including Netflix).

As I wrote last year in the aftermath of the AshleyMadison breach that exposed tens of millions of user credentials, Netflix’s forensics team has been using a tool that the company released in 2014 called Scumblr, which scours high-profile sites for specific terms and data.

“Some Netflix members have received emails encouraging them to change their account passwords as a precautionary measure due to the recent disclosure of additional credentials from an older breach at another internet company,” Netflix said in a statement released to KrebsOnSecurity. “Note that we are always engaged in these types of proactive security measures (leveraging Scumblr in addition to other mechanisms and data sources), not just in the case of major security breaches such as this one.”

Continue reading →

May 16

Got $90,000? A Windows 0-Day Could Be Yours

How much would a cybercriminal, nation state or organized crime group pay for blueprints on how to exploit a serious, currently undocumented, unpatched vulnerability in all versions of Microsoft Windows? That price probably depends on the power of the exploit and what the market will bear at the time, but here’s a look at one convincing recent exploit sales thread from the cybercrime underworld where the current asking price for a Windows-wide bug that allegedly defeats all of Microsoft’s current security defenses is USD $90,000.

So-called “zero-day” vulnerabilities are flaws in software and hardware that even the makers of the product in question do not know about. Zero-days can be used by attackers to remotely and completely compromise a target — such as with a zero-day vulnerability in a browser plugin component like Adobe Flash or Oracle’s Java. These flaws are coveted, prized, and in some cases stockpiled by cybercriminals and nation states alike because they enable very stealthy and targeted attacks.

The $90,000 Windows bug that went on sale at the semi-exclusive Russian language cybercrime forum exploit[dot]in earlier this month is in a slightly less serious class of software vulnerability called a “local privilege escalation” (LPE) bug. This type of flaw is always going to be used in tandem with another vulnerability to successfully deliver and run the attacker’s malicious code.

LPE bugs can help amplify the impact of other exploits. One core tenet of security is limiting the rights or privileges of certain programs so that they run with the rights of a normal user — and not under the all-powerful administrator or “system” user accounts that can delete, modify or read any file on the computer. That way, if a security hole is found in one of these programs, that hole can’t be exploited to worm into files and folders that belong only to the administrator of the system.

This is where a privilege escalation bug can come in handy. An attacker may already have a reliable exploit that works remotely — but the trouble is his exploit only succeeds if the current user is running Windows as an administrator. No problem: Chain that remote exploit with a local privilege escalation bug that can bump up the target’s account privileges to that of an admin, and your remote exploit can work its magic without hindrance.

The seller of this supposed zero-day — someone using the nickname “BuggiCorp” — claims his exploit works on every version of Windows from Windows 2000 on up to Microsoft’s flagship Windows 10 operating system. To support his claims, the seller includes two videos of the exploit in action on what appears to be a system that was patched all the way up through this month’s (May 2016) batch of patches from Microsoft (it’s probably no accident that the video was created on May 10, the same day as Patch Tuesday this month).

A second video (above) appears to show the exploit working even though the test machine in the video is running Microsoft’s Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit (EMET), a free software framework designed to help block or blunt exploits against known and unknown Windows vulnerabilities and flaws in third-party applications that run on top of Windows.

The sales thread on exploit[dot]in.

The sales thread on exploit[dot]in.

Jeff Jones, a cybersecurity strategist with Microsoft, said the company was aware of the exploit sales thread, but stressed that the claims were still unverified. Asked whether Microsoft would ever consider paying for information about the zero-day vulnerability, Jones pointed to the company’s bug bounty program that rewards security researchers for reporting vulnerabilities. According to Microsoft, the program to date has paid out more than $500,000 in bounties.

Microsoft heavily restricts the types of vulnerabilities that qualify for bounty rewards, but a bug like the one on sale for $90,000 would in fact qualify for a substantial bounty reward. Last summer, Microsoft raised its reward for information about a vulnerability that can fully bypass EMET from $50,000 to $100,000. Incidentally, Microsoft said any researcher with a vulnerability or who has questions can reach out to the Microsoft Security Response Center to learn more about the program and process.


It’s interesting that this exploit’s seller could potentially make more money by peddling his find to Microsoft than to the cybercriminal community. Of course, the videos and the whole thing could be a sham, but that’s probably unlikely in this case. For one thing, a scammer seeking to scam other thieves would not insist on using the cybercrime forum’s escrow service to consummate the transaction, as this vendor has. Continue reading →