The Coming Storm


12
Sep 18

U.S. Mobile Giants Want to be Your Online Identity

The four major U.S. wireless carriers today detailed a new initiative that may soon let Web sites eschew passwords and instead authenticate visitors by leveraging data elements unique to each customer’s phone and mobile subscriber account, such as location, customer reputation, and physical attributes of the device. Here’s a look at what’s coming, and the potential security and privacy trade-offs of trusting the carriers to handle online authentication on your behalf.

Tentatively dubbed “Project Verify” and still in the private beta testing phase, the new authentication initiative is being pitched as a way to give consumers both a more streamlined method of proving one’s identity when creating a new account at a given Web site, as well as replacing passwords and one-time codes for logging in to existing accounts at participating sites.

Here’s a promotional and explanatory video about Project Verify produced by the Mobile Authentication Task Force, whose members include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon:

The mobile companies say Project Verify can improve online authentication because they alone have access to several unique signals and capabilities that can be used to validate each customer and their mobile device(s). This includes knowing the approximate real-time location of the customer; how long they have been a customer and used the device in question; and information about components inside the customer’s phone that are only accessible to the carriers themselves, such as cryptographic signatures tied to the device’s SIM card.

The Task Force currently is working on building its Project Verify app into the software that gets pre-loaded onto mobile devices sold by the four major carriers. The basic idea is that third-party Web sites could let the app (and, by extension, the user’s mobile provider) handle the process of authenticating the user’s identity, at which point the app would interactively log the user in without the need of a username and password.

In another example, participating sites could use Project Verify to supplement or replace existing authentication processes, such as two-factor methods that currently rely on sending the user a one-time passcode via SMS/text messages, which can be intercepted by cybercrooks.

The carriers also are pitching their offering as a way for consumers to pre-populate data fields on a Web site — such as name, address, credit card number and other information typically entered when someone wants to sign up for a new user account at a Web site or make purchases online.

Johannes Jaskolski, general manager for Mobile Authentication Task Force and assistant vice president of identity security at AT&T, said the group is betting that Project Verify will be attractive to online retailers partly because it can help them capture more sign-ups and sales from users who might otherwise balk at having to manually provide lots of data via a mobile device.

“We can be a primary authenticator where, just by authenticating to our app, you can then use that service,” Jaskolski said. “That can be on your mobile, but it could also be on another device. With subscriber consent, we can populate that information and make it much more effortless to sign up for or sign into services online. In other markets, we have found this type of approach reduced [customer] fall-out rates, so it can make third-party businesses more successful in capturing that.”

Jaskolski said customers who take advantage of Project Verify will be able to choose what types of data get shared between their wireless provider and a Web site on a per-site basis, or opt to share certain data elements across the board with sites that leverage the app for authentication and e-commerce.

“Many companies already rely on the mobile device today in their customer authentication flows, but what we’re saying is there’s going to be a better way to do this in a method that is intended from the start to serve authentication use cases,” Jaskolski said. “This is what everyone has been seeking from us already in co-opting other mobile features that were simply never designed for authentication.” Continue reading →


10
Sep 18

In a Few Days, Credit Freezes Will Be Fee-Free

Later this month, all of the three major consumer credit bureaus will be required to offer free credit freezes to all Americans and their dependents. Maybe you’ve been holding off freezing your credit file because your home state currently charges a fee for placing or thawing a credit freeze, or because you believe it’s just not worth the hassle. If that accurately describes your views on the matter, this post may well change your mind.

A credit freeze — also known as a “security freeze” — restricts access to your credit file, making it far more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.

Currently, many states allow the big three bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to charge a fee for placing or lifting a security freeze. But thanks to a federal law enacted earlier this year, after Sept. 21, 2018 it will be free to freeze and unfreeze your credit file and those of your children or dependents throughout the United States.

KrebsOnSecurity has for many years urged readers to freeze their files with the big three bureaus, as well as with a distant fourth — Innovis — and the NCTUE, an Equifax-operated credit checking clearinghouse relied upon by most of the major mobile phone providers.

There are dozens of private companies that specialize in providing consumer credit reports and scores to specific industries, including real estate brokers, landlords, insurers, debt buyers, employers, banks, casinos and retail stores. A handy PDF produced earlier this year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) lists all of the known entities that maintain, sell or share credit data on U.S. citizens.

The CFPB’s document includes links to Web sites for 46 different consumer credit reporting entities, along with information about your legal rights to obtain data in your reports and dispute suspected inaccuracies with the companies as needed. My guess is the vast majority of Americans have never heard of most of these companies.

Via numerous front-end Web sites, each of these mini credit bureaus serve thousands or tens of thousands of people who work in the above mentioned industries and who have the ability to pull credit and other personal data on Americans. In many cases, online access to look up data through these companies is secured by nothing more than a username and password that can be stolen or phished by cybercrooks and abused to pull privileged information on consumers.

In other cases, it’s trivial for anyone to sign up for these services. For example, how do companies that provide background screening and credit report data to landlords decide who can sign up as a landlord? Answer: Anyone can be a landlord (or pretend to be one).

SCORE ONE FOR FREEZES

The truly scary part? Access to some of these credit lookup services is supposed to be secured behind a login page, but often isn’t. Consider the service pictured below, which for $44 will let anyone look up the credit score of any American who hasn’t already frozen their credit files with the big three. Worse yet, you don’t even need to have accurate information on a target — such as their Social Security number or current address.

KrebsOnSecurity was made aware of this particular portal by Alex Holden, CEO of Milwaukee, Wisc.-based cybersecurity firm Hold Security LLC [full disclosure: This author is listed as an adviser to Hold Security, however this is and always has been a volunteer role for which I have not been compensated].

Holden’s wife Lisa is a mortgage broker, and as such she has access to a more full-featured version of the above-pictured consumer data lookup service (among others) for the purposes of helping clients determine a range of mortgage rates available. Mrs. Holden said the version of this service that she has access to will return accurate, current and complete credit file information on consumers even if one enters a made-up SSN and old address on an individual who hasn’t yet frozen their credit files with the big three.

“I’ve noticed in the past when I do a hard pull on someone’s credit report and the buyer gave me the wrong SSN or transposed some digits, not only will these services give me their credit report and full account history, it also tells you what their correct SSN is,” Mrs. Holden said.

With Mr. Holden’s permission, I gave the site pictured above an old street address for him plus a made-up SSN, and provided my credit card number to pay for the report. The document generated by that request said TransUnion and Experian were unable to look up his credit score with the information provided. However, Equifax not only provided his current credit score, it helpfully corrected the false data I entered for Holden, providing the last four digits of his real SSN and current address.

“We assume our credit report is keyed off of our SSN or something unique about ourselves,” Mrs. Holden said. “But it’s really keyed off your White Pages information, meaning anyone can get your credit report if they are in the know.”

I was pleased to find that I was unable to pull my own credit score through this exposed online service, although the site still charged me $44. The report produced simply said the consumer in question had requested that access to this information be restricted. But the real reason was simply that I’ve had my credit file frozen for years now.

Many media outlets are publishing stories this week about the one-year anniversary of the breach at Equifax that exposed the personal and financial data on more than 147 million people. But it’s important for everyone to remember that as bad as the Equifax breach was (and it was a total dumpster fire all around), most of the consumer data exposed in the breach has been for sale in the cybercrime underground for many years on a majority of Americans — including access to consumer credit reports. If anything, the Equifax breach may have simply helped ID thieves refresh some of those criminal data stores.

It costs $35 worth of bitcoin through this cybercrime service to pull someone’s credit file from the three major credit bureaus. There are many services just like this one, which almost certainly abuse hacked accounts from various industries that have “legitimate” access to consumer credit reports.

Continue reading →


28
Aug 18

Fiserv Flaw Exposed Customer Data at Hundreds of Banks

Fiserv, Inc., a major provider of technology services to financial institutions, just fixed a glaring weakness in its Web platform that exposed personal and financial details of countless customers across hundreds of bank Web sites, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

Brookfield, Wisc.-based Fiserv [NASDAQ:FISV] is a Fortune 500 company with 24,000 employees and $5.7 billion in earnings last year. Its account and transaction processing systems power the Web sites for hundreds of financial institutions — mostly small community banks and credit unions. According to FedFis.com, Fiserv is by far the top bank core processor, with more than 37 percent market share.

Two weeks ago this author heard from security researcher Kristian Erik Hermansen, who said he’d discovered something curious while logged in to an account at a tiny local bank that uses Fiserv’s platform.

Hermansen had signed up to get email alerts any time a new transaction posted to his account, and he noticed the site assigned his alert a specific “event number.” Working on a hunch that these event numbers might be assigned sequentially and that other records might be available if requested directly, Hermansen requested the same page again but first edited the site’s code in his browser so that his event number was decremented by one digit.

In an instant, he could then view and edit alerts previously set up by another bank customer, and could see that customer’s email address, phone number and full bank account number.

Hermansen said a cybercriminal could abuse this access to enumerate all other accounts with activity alerts on file, and to add or delete phone numbers or email addresses to receive alerts about account transactions.

This would allow any customer of the bank to spy on the daily transaction activity of other customers, and perhaps even target customers who signed up for high minimum balance alerts (e.g., “alert me when the available balance goes below $5,000”).

“I shouldn’t be able to see this data,” Hermansen said. “Anytime you spend money that should be a private transaction between you and your bank, not available for everyone else to see.”

Hermansen said he told his bank about what he found, and that he tried unsuccessfully to get the attention of different Fiserv employees, including the company’s CEO via LinkedIn. But he wasn’t sure whether the flaw he found existed in all bank sites running on Fiserv’s ebanking platform, or just his bank’s installation.

Naturally, KrebsOnSecurity offered to help figure that out, and to get Fiserv’s attention, if warranted. Over the past week I signed up for accounts at two small local banks that each use Fiserv’s online banking platform.

In both cases I was able to replicate Hermansen’s findings and view email addresses, phone numbers, partial account numbers and alert details for other customers of each bank just by editing a single digit in a Web page request. I was relieved to find I could not use my online account access at one bank to view transaction alerts I’d set up at a different Fiserv affiliated bank.

A single digit changed in a Web browser request caused someone else’s alerts to pop up in my account at this small local bank in Virginia.

Continue reading →


23
Aug 18

Experts Urge Rapid Patching of ‘Struts’ Bug

In September 2017, Equifax disclosed that a failure to patch one of its Internet servers against a pervasive software flaw — in a Web component known as Apache Struts — led to a breach that exposed personal data on 147 million Americans. Now security experts are warning that blueprints showing malicious hackers how to exploit a newly-discovered Apache Struts bug are available online, leaving countless organizations in a rush to apply new updates and plug the security hole before attackers can use it to wriggle inside.

On Aug. 22, the Apache Software Foundation released software updates to fix a critical vulnerability in Apache Struts, a Web application platform used by an estimated 65 percent of Fortune 100 companies. Unfortunately, computer code that can be used to exploit the bug has since been posted online, meaning bad guys now have precise instructions on how to break into vulnerable, unpatched servers.

Attackers can exploit a Web site running the vulnerable Apache Struts installation using nothing more than a Web browser. The bad guy simply needs to send the right request to the site and the Web server will run any command of the attacker’s choosing. At that point, the intruder could take any number of actions, such as adding or deleting files, or copying internal databases.

An alert about the Apache security update was posted Wednesday by Semmle, the San Francisco software company whose researchers discovered the bug.

“The widespread use of Struts by leading enterprises, along with the proven potential impact of this sort of vulnerability, illustrate the threat that this vulnerability poses,” the alert warns.

“Critical remote code execution vulnerabilities like the one that affected Equifax and the one we announced today are incredibly dangerous for several reasons: Struts is used for publicly-accessible customer-facing websites, vulnerable systems are easily identified, and the flaw is easy to exploit,” wrote Semmle co-founder Pavel Avgustinov. “A hacker can find their way in within minutes, and exfiltrate data or stage further attacks from the compromised system. It’s crucially important to update affected systems immediately; to wait is to take an irresponsible risk.” Continue reading →


17
Aug 18

Indian Bank Hit in $13.5M Cyberheist After FBI ATM Cashout Warning

On Sunday, Aug. 12, KrebsOnSecurity carried an exclusive: The FBI was warning banks about an imminent “ATM cashout” scheme about to unfold across the globe, thanks to a data breach at an unknown financial institution. On Aug. 14, a bank in India disclosed hackers had broken into its servers, stealing nearly $2 million in fraudulent bank transfers and $11.5 million unauthorized ATM withdrawals from cash machines in more than two dozen countries.

The FBI put out its alert on Friday, Aug. 10. The criminals who hacked into Pune, India-based Cosmos Bank executed their two-pronged heist the following day, sending co-conspirators to fan out and withdraw a total of about $11.5 million from ATMs in 28 countries.

The FBI warned it had intelligence indicating that criminals had breached an unknown payment provider’s network with malware to access bank customer card information and exploit network access, enabling large scale theft of funds from ATMs.

Organized cybercrime gangs that coordinate these so-called “unlimited attacks” typically do so by hacking or phishing their way into a bank or payment card processor. Just prior to executing on ATM cashouts, the intruders will remove many fraud controls at the financial institution, such as maximum withdrawal amounts and any limits on the number of customer ATM transactions daily.

The perpetrators alter account balances and security measures to make an unlimited amount of money available at the time of the transactions, allowing for large amounts of cash to be quickly removed from the ATM.

My story about the FBI alert was breaking news on Sunday, but it was just a day short of useful to financial institutions impacted by the breach and associated ATM cashout blitz.

But according to Indian news outlet Dailypionneer.com, there was a second attack carried out on August 13, when the Cosmos Bank hackers transferred nearly $2 million to the account of ALM Trading Limited at Hang Seng Bank in Hong Kong.

“The bank came to know about the malware attack on its debit card payment system on August 11, when it was observed that unusually repeated transactions were taking place through ATM VISA and Rupay Card for nearly two hours,” writes TN Raghunatha for the Daily Pioneer. Continue reading →


16
Aug 18

Hanging Up on Mobile in the Name of Security

An entrepreneur and virtual currency investor is suing AT&T for $224 million, claiming the wireless provider was negligent when it failed to prevent thieves from hijacking his mobile account and stealing millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies. Increasingly frequent, high-profile attacks like these are prompting some experts to say the surest way to safeguard one’s online accounts may be to disconnect them from the mobile providers entirely.

The claims come in a lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles on behalf of Michael Terpin, who co-founded the first angel investor group for bitcoin enthusiasts in 2013. Terpin alleges that crooks stole almost $24 million worth of cryptocurrency after fraudulently executing a “SIM swap” on his mobile phone account at AT&T in early 2018.

A SIM card is the tiny, removable chip in a mobile device that allows it to connect to the provider’s network. Customers can legitimately request a SIM swap when their existing SIM card has been damaged, or when they are switching to a different phone that requires a SIM card of another size.

But SIM swaps are frequently abused by scam artists who trick mobile providers into tying a target’s service to a new SIM card and mobile phone that the attackers control. Unauthorized SIM swaps often are perpetrated by fraudsters who have already stolen or phished a target’s password, as many banks and online services rely on text messages to send users a one-time code that needs to be entered in addition to a password for online authentication.

Terpin alleges that on January 7, 2018, someone requested an unauthorized SIM swap on his AT&T account, causing his phone to go dead and sending all incoming texts and phone calls to a device the attackers controlled. Armed with that access, the intruders were able to reset credentials tied to his cryptocurrency accounts and siphon nearly $24 million worth of digital currencies.

According to Terpin, this was the second time in six months someone had hacked his AT&T number. On June 11, 2017, Terpin’s phone went dead. He soon learned his AT&T password had been changed remotely after 11 attempts in AT&T stores had failed. At the time, AT&T suggested Terpin take advantage of the company’s “extra security” feature — a customer-specified six-digit PIN which is required before any account changes can be made.

Terpin claims an investigation by AT&T into the 2018 breach found that an employee at an AT&T store in Norwich, Conn. somehow executed the SIM swap on his account without having to enter his “extra security” PIN, and that AT&T knew or should have known that employees could bypass its customer security measures.

Terpin is suing AT&T for his $24 million worth of cryptocurrencies, plus $200 million in punitive damages. A copy of his complaint is here (PDF).

AT&T declined to comment on specific claims in the lawsuit, saying only in a statement that, “We dispute these allegations and look forward to presenting our case in court.”

AN ‘IDENTITY CRISIS’?

Mobile phone companies are a major weak point in authentication because so many companies have now built their entire procedure for authenticating customers on a process that involves sending a one-time code to the customer via SMS or automated phone call.

In some cases, thieves executing SIM swaps have already phished or otherwise stolen a target’s bank or email password. But many major social media platforms — such as Instagramallow users to reset their passwords using nothing more than text-based (SMS) authentication, meaning thieves can hijack those accounts just by having control over the target’s mobile phone number.

Allison Nixon is director of security research at Flashpoint, a security company in New York City that has been closely tracking the murky underworld of communities that teach people how to hijack phone numbers assigned to customer accounts at all of the major mobile providers.

Nixon calls the current SIM-jacking craze “a major identity crisis” for cybersecurity on multiple levels.

“Phone numbers were never originally intended as an identity document, they were designed as a way to contact people,” Nixon said. “But because of all these other companies are building in security measures, a phone number has become an identity document.”

In essence, mobile phone companies have become “critical infrastructure” for security precisely because so much is riding on who controls a given mobile number. At the same time, so little is needed to undo weak security controls put in place to prevent abuse.

“The infrastructure wasn’t designed to withstand the kind of attacks happening now,” Nixon said. “The protocols need to be changed, and there are probably laws affecting the telecom companies that need to be reviewed in light of how these companies have evolved.”

Unfortunately, with the major mobile providers so closely tied to your security, there is no way you can remove the most vulnerable chunks of this infrastructure — the mobile store employees who can be paid or otherwise bamboozled into helping these attacks succeed.

No way, that is, unless you completely disconnect your mobile phone number from any sort of SMS-based authentication you currently use, and replace it with Internet-based telephone services that do not offer “helpful” customer support — such as Google Voice.

Google Voice lets users choose a phone number that gets tied to their Google account, and any calls or messages to that number will be forwarded to your mobile number. But unlike phone numbers issued by the major mobile providers, Google Voice numbers can’t be stolen unless someone also hacks your Google password — in which case you likely have much bigger problems.

With Google Voice, there is no customer service person who can be conned over the phone into helping out. There is no retail-store employee who will sell access to your SIM information for a paltry $80 payday. In this view of security, customer service becomes a customer disservice.

Mind you, this isn’t my advice. The above statement summarizes the arguments allegedly made by one of the most accomplished SIM swap thieves in the game today. On July 12, 2018, police in California arrested Joel Ortiz, a 20-year-old college student from Boston who’s accused of using SIM swaps to steal more than $5 million in cryptocurrencies from 40 victims.

Ortiz allegedly had help from a number of unnamed accomplices who collectively targeted high-profile and wealthy people in the cryptocurrency space. In one of three brazen attacks at a bitcoin conference this year, Ortiz allegedly used his SIM swapping skills to steal more than $1.5 million from a cryptocurrency entrepreneur, including nearly $1 million the victim had crowdfunded.

A July 2018 posting from the “OG” Instagram account “0”, allegedly an account hijacked by Joel Ortiz (pictured holding an armload of Dom Perignon champagne).

Ortiz reportedly was a core member of OGUsers[dot]com, a forum that’s grown wildly popular among criminals engaging in SIM swaps to steal cryptocurrency and hijack high-value social media accounts. OG is short for “original gangster,” and it refers to a type of “street cred” for possession of social media account names that are relatively short (between one and six characters). On ogusers[dot]com, Ortiz allegedly picked the username “j”. Short usernames are considered more valuable because they confer on the account holder the appearance of an early adopter on most social networks.

Discussions on the Ogusers forum indicate Ortiz allegedly is the current occupant of perhaps the most OG username on Twitter — an account represented by the number zero “0”. The alias displayed on that twitter profile is “j0”. He also apparently controls the Instagram account by the same number, as well as the Instagram account “t”, which lists its alias as “Joel.”

Shown below is a cached snippet from an Ogusers forum posting by “j” (allegedly Ortiz), advising people to remove their mobile phone number from all important multi-factor authentication options, and to replace it with something like Google Voice.

Ogusers SIM swapper “j” advises forum members on how not to become victims of SIM swapping. Click to enlarge.

Continue reading →


7
Aug 18

Florida Man Arrested in SIM Swap Conspiracy

Police in Florida have arrested a 25-year-old man accused of being part of a multi-state cyber fraud ring that hijacked mobile phone numbers in online attacks that siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies from victims.

On July 18, 2018, Pasco County authorities arrested Ricky Joseph Handschumacher, an employee of the city of Port Richey, Fla, charging him with grand theft and money laundering. Investigators allege Handschumacher was part of a group of at least nine individuals scattered across multiple states who for the past two years have drained bank accounts via an increasingly common scheme involving mobile phone “SIM swaps.”

A SIM card is the tiny, removable chip in a mobile device that allows it to connect to the provider’s network. Customers can legitimately request a SIM swap when their existing SIM card has been damaged, or when they are switching to a different phone that requires a SIM card of another size.

But SIM swaps are frequently abused by scam artists who trick mobile providers into tying a target’s service to a new SIM card and mobile phone that the attackers control. Unauthorized SIM swaps often are perpetrated by fraudsters who have already stolen or phished a target’s password, as many banks and online services rely on text messages to send users a one-time code that needs to be entered in addition to a password for online authentication.

In some cases, fraudulent SIM swaps succeed thanks to lax authentication procedures at mobile phone stores. In other instances, mobile store employees work directly with cyber criminals to help conduct unauthorized SIM swaps, as appears to be the case with the crime gang that allegedly included Handschumacher.

A WORRIED MOM

According to court documents, investigators first learned of the group’s activities in February 2018, when a Michigan woman called police after she overheard her son talking on the phone and pretending to be an AT&T employee. Officers responding to the report searched the residence and found multiple cell phones and SIM cards, as well as files on the kid’s computer that included “an extensive list of names and phone numbers of people from around the world.”

The following month, Michigan authorities found the same individual accessing personal consumer data via public Wi-Fi at a local library, and seized 45 SIM cards, a laptop and a Trezor wallet — a hardware device designed to store crytpocurrency account data. In April 2018, the mom again called the cops on her son — identified only as confidential source #1 (“CS1”) in the criminal complaint — saying he’d obtained yet another mobile phone.

Once again, law enforcement officers were invited to search the kid’s residence, and this time found two bags of SIM cards and numerous driver’s licenses and passports. Investigators said they used those phony documents to locate and contact several victims; two of the victims each reported losing approximately $150,000 in cryptocurrencies after their phones were cloned; the third told investigators her account was drained of $50,000.

CS1 later told investigators he routinely conducted the phone cloning and cashouts in conjunction with eight other individuals, including Handschumacher, who allegedly used the handle “coinmission” in the group’s daily chats via Discord and Telegram. Search warrants revealed that in mid-May 2018 the group worked in tandem to steal 57 bitcoins from one victim — then valued at almost $470,000 — and agreed to divide the spoils among members.

GRAND PLANS

Investigators soon obtained search warrants to monitor the group’s Discord server chat conversations, and observed Handschumacher allegedly bragging in these chats about using the proceeds of his alleged crimes to purchase land, a house, a vehicle and a “quad vehicle.” Interestingly, Handschumacher’s public Facebook page remains public, and is replete with pictures that he posted of recent new vehicle aquisitions, including a pickup truck and multiple all-terrain vehicles and jet skis.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s office says their surveillance of the Discord server revealed that the group routinely paid employees at cellular phone companies to assist in their attacks, and that they even discussed a plan to hack accounts belonging to the CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Gemini Trust Company. The complaint doesn’t mention the CEO by name, but the current CEO is bitcoin billionaire Tyler Winklevoss, who co-founded the exchange along with his twin brother Cameron.

“Handschumacher and another co-conspirator talk about compromising the CEO of Gemini and posted his name, date of birth, Skype username and email address into the conversation,” the complaint reads. “Handschumacher and the co-conspirators discuss compromising the CEO’s Skype account and T-Mobile account. The co-conspirator states he will call his ‘guy’ at T-Mobile to ask about the CEO’s account.” Continue reading →


2
Aug 18

The Year Targeted Phishing Went Mainstream

A story published here on July 12 about a new sextortion-based phishing scheme that invokes a real password used by each recipient has become the most-read piece on KrebsOnSecurity since this site launched in 2009. And with good reason — sex sells (the second most-read piece here was my 2015 scoop about the Ashley Madison hack).

But beneath the lurid allure of both stories lies a more unsettling reality: It has never been easier for scam artists to launch convincing, targeted phishing and extortion scams that are automated on a global scale. And given the sheer volume of hacked and stolen personal data now available online, it seems almost certain we will soon witness many variations on these phishing campaigns that leverage customized data elements to enhance their effectiveness.

The sextortion scheme that emerged this month falsely claims to have been sent from a hacker who’s compromised your computer and used your webcam to record a video of you while you were watching porn. The missive threatens to release the video to all your contacts unless you pay a Bitcoin ransom.

What spooked people most about this scam was that its salutation included a password that each recipient legitimately used at some point online. Like most phishing attacks, the sextortion scheme that went viral this month requires just a handful of recipients to fall victim for the entire scheme to be profitable.

From reviewing the Bitcoin addresses readers shared in the comments on that July 12 sextortion story, it is clear this scam tricked dozens of people into paying anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars in Bitcoin. All told, those addresses received close to $100,000 in payments over the past two weeks.

And that is just from examining the Bitcoin addresses posted here; the total financial haul from different versions of this attack is likely far higher. A more comprehensive review by the Twitter user @SecGuru_OTX and posted to Pastebin suggests that as of July 26 there were more than 300 Bitcoin addresses used to con at least 150 victims out of a total of 30 Bitcoins, or approximately $250,000.

There are several interesting takeaways from this phishing campaign. The first is that it effectively inverted a familiar threat model: Most phishing campaigns try to steal your password, whereas this one leads with it.

A key component of a targeted phishing attack is personalization. And purloined passwords are an evergreen lure because your average Internet user hasn’t the slightest inkling of just how many of their passwords have been breached, leaked, lost or stolen over the years.

This was evidenced by the number of commenters here who acknowledged that the password included in the extortion email was one they were still using, with some even admitting they were using the password at multiple sites! 

Surprisingly, none of the sextortion emails appeared to include a Web site link of any kind. But consider how effective this “I’ve got your password” scam would be at enticing a fair number of recipients into clicking on one.

In such a scenario, the attacker might configure the link to lead to an “exploit kit,” crimeware designed to be stitched into hacked or malicious sites that exploits a variety of Web-browser vulnerabilities for the purposes of installing malware of the attacker’s choosing.

Also, most of the passwords referenced in the sextortion campaign appear to have been slurped from data breaches that are now several years old. For example, many readers reported that the password they received was the one compromised in LinkedIn’s massive 2012 data breach.

Now imagine how much more convincing such a campaign would be if it leveraged a fresh password breach — perhaps one that the breached company wasn’t even aware of yet.

There are many other data elements that could be embedded in extortion emails to make them more believable, particularly with regard to freshly-hacked databases. For example, it is common for user password databases that are stolen from hacked companies to include the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses used by each user upon registering their account.

This could be useful for phishers because there are many automated “geo-IP” services that try to determine the geographical location of Website visitors based on their Internet addresses.

Some of these services allow users to upload large lists of IP addresses and generate links that plot each address on Google Maps. Suddenly, the phishing email not only includes a password you are currently using, but it also bundles a Google Street View map of your neighborhood!

There are countless other ways these schemes could become far more personalized and terrifying — all in an automated fashion. The point is that automated, semi-targeted phishing campaigns are likely here to stay.

Continue reading →


27
Jul 18

State Govts. Warned of Malware-Laden CD Sent Via Snail Mail from China

Here’s a timely reminder that email isn’t the only vector for phishing attacks: Several U.S. state and local government agencies have reported receiving strange letters via snail mail that include malware-laden compact discs (CDs) apparently sent from China, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

This particular ruse, while crude and simplistic, preys on the curiosity of recipients who may be enticed into popping the CD into a computer. According to a non-public alert shared with state and local government agencies by the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC), the scam arrives in a Chinese postmarked envelope and includes a “confusingly worded typed letter with occasional Chinese characters.”

Several U.S. state and local government agencies have reported receiving this letter, which includes a malware-laden CD. Images copyright Sarah Barsness.

The MS-ISAC said preliminary analysis of the CDs indicate they contain Mandarin language Microsoft Word (.doc) files, some of which include malicious Visual Basic scripts. So far, State Archives, State Historical Societies, and a State Department of Cultural Affairs have all received letters addressed specifically to them, the MS-ISAC says. It’s not clear if anyone at these agencies was tricked into actually inserting the CD into a government computer.

I’m sure many readers could think of clever ways that this apparent mail-based phishing campaign could be made more effective or believable, such as including tiny USB drives instead of CDs, or at least a more personalized letter that doesn’t look like it was crafted by someone without a mastery of the English language.

Nevertheless, attacks like this are a reminder that cybercrime can take many forms. The first of Krebs’s 3 Basic Rules for Online Safety — “If you didn’t go looking for it don’t install it” — applies just as well here: If you didn’t go looking for it, don’t insert it or open it.


25
Jul 18

LifeLock Bug Exposed Millions of Customer Email Addresses

Identity theft protection firm LifeLock — a company that’s built a name for itself based on the promise of helping consumers protect their identities online — may have actually exposed customers to additional attacks from ID thieves and phishers. The company just fixed a vulnerability on its site that allowed anyone with a Web browser to index email addresses associated with millions of customer accounts, or to unsubscribe users from all communications from the company.

The upshot of this weakness is that cyber criminals could harvest the data and use it in targeted phishing campaigns that spoof LifeLock’s brand. Of course, phishers could spam the entire world looking for LifeLock customers without the aid of this flaw, but nevertheless the design of the company’s site suggests that whoever put it together lacked a basic understanding of Web site authentication and security.

LifeLock’s Web site exposed customer email addresses by tying each customer account to a numeric “subscriberkey” that could be easily enumerated. Pictured above is customer number 55,739,477. Click to enlarge.

Pictured above is a redacted screen shot of one such record (click the image to enlarge). Notice how the format of the link in the browser address bar ends with the text “subscriberkey=” followed by a number. Each number corresponds to a customer record, and the records appear to be sequential. Translation: It would be trivial to write a simple script that pulls down the email address of every LifeLock subscriber.

Security firm Symantec, which acquired LifeLock in November 2016 for $2.3 billion, took LifeLock.com offline shortly after being contacted by KrebsOnSecurity. According to LifeLock’s marketing literature as of January 2017, the company has more than 4.5 million customer accounts.

KrebsOnSecurity was alerted to the glaring flaw by Nathan Reese, a 42-year-old freelance security researcher based in Atlanta who is also a former LifeLock subscriber. Reese said he discovered the data leak after receiving an email to the address he had previously used at LifeLock, and that the message offered him a discount for renewing his membership.

Clicking the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of the email brought up a page showing his subscriber key. From there, Reese said, he wrote a proof-of-concept script that began sequencing numbers and pulling down email addresses. Reese said he stopped the script after it enumerated approximately 70 emails because he didn’t want to set off alarm bells at LifeLock.

“If I were a bad guy, I would definitely target your customers with a phishing attack because I know two things about them,” Reese said. “That they’re a LifeLock customer and that I have those customers’ email addresses. That’s a pretty sharp spear for my spear phishing right there. Plus, I definitely think the target market of LifeLock is someone who is easily spooked by the specter of cybercrime.”

LifeLock’s Web site is currently offline.

Misconfigurations like the one described above are some of the most common ways that companies leak customer data, but they’re also among the most preventable. Earlier this year, KrebsOnSecurity broke a story about a similar flaw at Panerabread.com, which exposed tens of millions of customer records — including names, email and physical addresses, birthdays and the last four digits of the customer’s credit card.

Update, 7:40 p.m.: Corrected the number of LifeLock subscribers based on a 2017 estimate by Symantec.

Update, July 26, 7:32 a.m.: Symantec issued the following statement in response to this article:

This issue was not a vulnerability in the LifeLock member portal. The issue has been fixed and was limited to potential exposure of email addresses on a marketing page, managed by a third party, intended to allow recipients to unsubscribe from marketing emails. Based on our investigation, aside from the 70 email address accesses reported by the researcher, we have no indication at this time of any further suspicious activity on the marketing opt-out page.