Latest Warnings


10
Jan 19

Secret Service: Theft Rings Turn to Fuze Cards

Street thieves who specialize in cashing out stolen credit and debit cards increasingly are hedging their chances of getting caught carrying multiple counterfeit cards by relying on Fuze Cards, a smartcard technology that allows users to store dozens of cards on a single device, the U.S. Secret Service warns.

A Fuze card can store up to 30 credit/debit cards. Image: Fuzecard.com

Launched in May 2017, the Fuze Card is a data storage device that looks like a regular credit card but can hold account data for up to 30 credit cards. The Fuze Card displays no credit card number on either side, instead relying on a small display screen on the front that cardholders can use to change which stored card is to be used to complete a transaction.

After the user chooses the card data to be used, the card data is made available in the dynamic magnetic stripe on the back of the card or via the embedded smart chip. Fuze cards also can be used at ATMs to withdraw funds.

An internal memo the U.S. Secret Service shared with financial industry partners states that Secret Service field offices in New York and St. Louis are currently working criminal investigations where Fuze Cards have been used by fraud rings.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, states that card theft rings are using Fuze Cards to avoid raising suspicions that may arise when shuffling through multiple counterfeit cards at the register.

“The transaction may also appear as a declined transaction but the fraudster, with the push of a button, is changing the card numbers being used,” the memo notes.

Fraud rings often will purchase data on thousands of credit and debit cards stolen from hacked point-of-sale devices or obtained via physical card skimmers. The data can be encoded onto any card with a magnetic stripe, and then used to buy high-priced items at retail outlets — or to withdrawn funds from ATMs (if the fraudsters also have the cardholder’s PIN).

But getting caught holding dozens of counterfeit or stolen cards is tough to explain to authorities. Hence, the allure of the Fuze Card, which may appear to the casual observer to be just another credit card in one’s wallet. Continue reading →


8
Jan 19

Dirt-Cheap, Legit, Windows Software: Pick Two

Buying heavily discounted, popular software from second-hand sources online has always been something of an iffy security proposition. But purchasing steeply discounted licenses for cloud-based subscription products like recent versions of Microsoft Office can be an extremely risky transaction, mainly because you may not have full control over who has access to your data.

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity heard from a reader who’d just purchased a copy of Microsoft Office 2016 Professional Plus from a seller on eBay for less than $4. Let’s call this Red Flag #1, as a legitimately purchased license of Microsoft Office 2016 is still going to cost between $70 and $100. Nevertheless, almost 350 other people had made the same purchase from this seller over the past year, according to eBay, and there appear to be many auctioneers just like this one.

After purchasing the item, the buyer said he received the following explanatory (exclamatory?) email from the seller — “Newhotsale68” from Vietnam:

Hello my friend!
Thank you for your purchase:)

Very important! Office365 is a subscription product and does not require any KEY activation. Account + password = free lifetime use

1. Log in with the original password and the official website will ask you to change your password!

2. Be sure to remember the modified new password. Once you forget your password, you will lose Office365!

3. After you change your password, log on to the official website to start downloading and installing Office365!

Your account information:

* USERMANE : (sent username)
Password Initial: (sent password)
Microsoft Office 365 access link:

Http://portal.office.com/

Sounds legit, right?

This merchant appears to be reselling access to existing Microsoft Office accounts, because in order to use this purchase the buyer must log in to Microsoft’s site using someone else’s username and password! Let’s call this Red Flag #2.

More importantly, the buyer can’t change the email address associated with the license, which means whoever owns that address can likely still assume control over any licenses tied to it. We’ll call this Ginormous Red Flag #3. Continue reading →


3
Jan 19

Apple Phone Phishing Scams Getting Better

A new phone-based phishing scam that spoofs Apple Inc. is likely to fool quite a few people. It starts with an automated call that display’s Apple’s logo, address and real phone number, warning about a data breach at the company. The scary part is that if the recipient is an iPhone user who then requests a call back from Apple’s legitimate customer support Web page, the fake call gets indexed in the iPhone’s “recent calls” list as a previous call from the legitimate Apple Support line.

Jody Westby is the CEO of Global Cyber Risk LLC,  a security consulting firm based in Washington, D.C. Westby said earlier today she received an automated call on her iPhone warning that multiple servers containing Apple user IDs had been compromised (the same scammers had called her at 4:34 p.m. the day before, but she didn’t answer that call). The message said she needed to call a 1-866 number before doing anything else with her phone.

Here’s what her iPhone displayed about the identity of the caller when they first tried her number at 4:34 p.m. on Jan. 2, 2019:

What Westby’s iPhone displayed as the scam caller’s identity. Note that it lists the correct Apple phone number, street address and Web address (minus the https://).

Note in the above screen shot that it lists Apple’s actual street address, their real customer support number, and the real Apple.com domain (albeit without the “s” at the end of “http://”). The same caller ID information showed up when she answered the scammers’ call this morning.

Westby said she immediately went to the Apple.com support page (https://www.support.apple.com) and requested to have a customer support person call her back. The page displayed a “case ID” to track her inquiry, and just a few minutes later someone from the real Apple Inc. called her and referenced that case ID number at the start of the call.

Westby said the Apple agent told her that Apple had not contacted her, that the call was almost certainly a scam, and that Apple would never do that — all of which she already knew. But when Westby looked at her iPhone’s recent calls list, she saw the legitimate call from Apple had been lumped together with the scam call that spoofed Apple:

The fake call spoofing Apple — at 11:44 a.m. — was lumped in the same recent calls list as the legitimate call from Apple. The call at 11:47 was the legitimate call from Apple. The call listed at 11:51 a.m. was the result of Westby accidentally returning the call from the scammers, which she immediately disconnected.

The call listed at 11:51 a.m. was the result of Westby accidentally returning the call from the scammers, which she immediately disconnected.

“I told the Apple representative that they ought to be telling people about this, and he said that was a good point,” Westby said. “This was so convincing I’d think a lot of other people will be falling for it.” Continue reading →


13
Dec 18

Spammed Bomb Threat Hoax Demands Bitcoin

A new email extortion scam is making the rounds, threatening that someone has planted bombs within the recipient’s building that will be detonated unless a hefty bitcoin ransom is paid by the end of the business day.

Sources at multiple U.S. based financial institutions reported receiving the threats, which included the subject line, “I advise you not to call the police.”

The email reads:

My man carried a bomb (Hexogen) into the building where your company is located. It is constructed under my direction. It can be hidden anywhere because of its small size, it is not able to damage the supporting building structure, but in the case of its detonation you will get many victims.

My mercenary keeps the building under the control. If he notices any unusual behavior or emergency he will blow up the bomb.

I can withdraw my mercenary if you pay. You pay me 20.000 $ in Bitcoin and the bomb will not explode, but don’t try to cheat -I warrant you that I will withdraw my mercenary only after 3 confirmations in blockchain network.

Here is my Bitcoin address : 1GHKDgQX7hqTM7mMmiiUvgihGMHtvNJqTv

You have to solve problems with the transfer by the end of the workday. If you are late with the money explosive will explode.

This is just a business, if you don’t send me the money and the explosive device detonates, other commercial enterprises will transfer me more money, because this isnt a one-time action.

I wont visit this email. I check my Bitcoin wallet every 35 min and after seeing the money I will order my recruited person to get away.

If the explosive device explodes and the authorities notice this letter:
We are not terrorists and dont assume any responsibility for explosions in other buildings.

The bitcoin address included in the email was different in each message forwarded to KrebsOnSecurity. In that respect, this scam is reminiscent of the various email sextortion campaigns that went viral earlier this year, which led with a password the recipient used at some point in the past and threatened to release embarrassing videos of the recipient unless a bitcoin ransom was paid.

I could see this spam campaign being extremely disruptive in the short run. There is little doubt that some businesses receiving this extortion email will treat it as a credible threat. This is exactly what happened today at one of the banks that forwarded me their copy of this email. Also, KrebsOnSecurity has received reports that numerous school districts across the country have closed schools early today in response to this hoax email threat.

“There are several serious legal problems with this — people will be calling the police, and they cannot ignore even a known hoax,” said Jason McNew, CEO and founder of Stronghold Cyber Security, a consultancy based in Gettysburg, Pa.

This is a developing story, and may be updated throughout the day.

Update: 4:46 p.m. ET: Added bit about school closings.


26
Nov 18

Half of all Phishing Sites Now Have the Padlock

Maybe you were once advised to “look for the padlock” as a means of telling legitimate e-commerce sites from phishing or malware traps. Unfortunately, this has never been more useless advice. New research indicates that half of all phishing scams are now hosted on Web sites whose Internet address includes the padlock and begins with “https://”.

A live Paypal phishing site that uses https:// (has the green padlock).

Recent data from anti-phishing company PhishLabs shows that 49 percent of all phishing sites in the third quarter of 2018 bore the padlock security icon next to the phishing site domain name as displayed in a browser address bar. That’s up from 25 percent just one year ago, and from 35 percent in the second quarter of 2018.

This alarming shift is notable because a majority of Internet users have taken the age-old “look for the lock” advice to heart, and still associate the lock icon with legitimate sites. A PhishLabs survey conducted last year found more than 80% of respondents believed the green lock indicated a website was either legitimate and/or safe.

In reality, the https:// part of the address (also called “Secure Sockets Layer” or SSL) merely signifies the data being transmitted back and forth between your browser and the site is encrypted and can’t be read by third parties. The presence of the padlock does not mean the site is legitimate, nor is it any proof the site has been security-hardened against intrusion from hackers.

A live Facebook phish that uses SSL (has the green padlock).

Most of the battle to combat cybercrime involves defenders responding to offensive moves made by attackers. But the rapidly increasing adoption of SSL by phishers is a good example in which fraudsters are taking their cue from legitimate sites.

“PhishLabs believes that this can be attributed to both the continued use of SSL certificates by phishers who register their own domain names and create certificates for them, as well as a general increase in SSL due to the Google Chrome browser now displaying ‘Not secure’ for web sites that do not use SSL,” said John LaCour, chief technology officer for the company. “The bottom line is that the presence or lack of SSL doesn’t tell you anything about a site’s legitimacy.”

The major Web browser makers work with a number of security organizations to index and block new phishing sites, often serving bright red warning pages that flag the page of a phishing scam and seek to discourage people from visiting the sites. But not all phishing scams get flagged so quickly.

I spent a few minutes browsing phishtank.com for phishing sites that use SSL, and found this cleverly crafted page that attempts to phish credentials from users of Bibox, a cryptocurrency exchange. Click the image below and see if you can spot what’s going on with this Web address:

This live phish targets users of cryptocurrency exchange Bibox. Look carefully at the URL in the address bar, and you’ll notice a squiggly mark over the “i” in Bibox. This is an internationalized domain name, and the real address is https://www.xn--bbox-vw5a[.]com/login

Continue reading →


23
Nov 18

How to Shop Online Like a Security Pro

‘Tis the season when even those who know a thing or two about Internet scams tend to let down their guard in the face of an eye-popping discount or the stress of last-minute holiday shopping. So here’s a quick refresher course on how to make it through the next few weeks without getting snookered online.

Adopting a shopping strategy of simply buying from the online merchant with the lowest advertised prices can be a bit like playing Russian Roulette with your wallet, for the simple reason that there are tons of completely fake e-commerce sites out there looking to separate the unwary from their credit card details.

Even people who shop mainly at big-name online stores can get scammed if they’re not wary of too-good-to-be-true offers. For example, KrebsOnSecurity got taken for hundreds of dollars just last year after trying to buy a pricey Sonos speaker from an established Amazon merchant who was selling it new and unboxed at huge discount.

I later received an email from the seller, who said his Amazon account had been hacked and abused by scammers to create fake sales. Amazon ultimately refunded the money, but if this happens to you around the holidays it could derail plans to get all your shopping done before the expected gift-giving day arrives.

Here are some other safety and security tips to keep in mind when shopping online:

-WHEN IN DOUBT, CHECK ‘EM OUT: If you don’t know much about the online merchant that has the item you wish to buy, take a few minutes to investigate its reputation. After all, it’s not uncommon for bargain basement phantom Web sites to materialize during the holiday season, and then vanish forever not long afterward.

If you’re buying from an online store that is brand new, the risk that you will get scammed increases significantly.  How do you know the lifespan of a site selling that must-have gadget at the lowest price? One easy way to get a quick idea is to run a basic WHOIS search on the site’s domain name. The more recent the site’s “created” date, the more likely it is a phantom store.

-USE A CREDIT CARD: It’s nearly impossible for consumers to tell how secure a main street or online merchant is, and safety seals or attestations that something is “hacker safe” are a guarantee of nothing. In my experience, such sites are just as likely to be compromised as e-commerce sites without these dubious security seals.

No, it’s best just to shop as if they’re all compromised. With that in mind, if you have the choice between using a credit or debit card, shop with your credit card.

Sure, the card associations and your bank are quick to point out that you’re not liable for fraudulent charges that you report in a timely manner, whether it’s debit or a credit card. But this assurance may ring hollow if you wake up one morning to find your checking accounts emptied by card thieves after shopping at a breached merchant with a debit card.

Who pays for the fees levied against you by different merchants when your checks bounce? You do. Does the bank reimburse you when your credit score takes a ding because your mortgage or car payment was late? Don’t hold your breath.

-PADLOCK, SCHMADLOCK: For years, consumers have been told to look for the padlock when shopping online. Maybe this was once sound advice. But to my mind, the “look for the lock” mantra has created a false sense of security for many Internet users, and has contributed to a dangerous and widespread misunderstanding about what the lock icon is really meant to convey.

To be clear, you absolutely should run away from any e-commerce site that does not include the padlock (i.e., its Web address does not begin with “https://”).  But the presence of a padlock icon next to the Web site name in your browser’s address bar does not mean the site is legitimate. Nor is it any sort of testimonial that the site has been security-hardened against intrusion from hackers.

The https:// part of the address merely signifies that the data being transmitted back and forth between your browser and the site is encrypted and can’t be read by third parties. Even so, anti-phishing company PhishLabs found in a survey last year that more than 80% of respondents believed the green lock indicated that a website was either legitimate and/or safe.

Now that anyone can get SSL certificates for free, phishers and other scammers that ply their trade via fake Web sites are starting to up their game. In December 2017, PhishLabs estimated that a quarter of all phishing Web sites were outfitting their scam pages with SSL certificates to make them appear more trustworthy. According to PhishLabs, roughly half of all phishing sites now feature the padlock.  Continue reading →


13
Nov 18

That Domain You Forgot to Renew? Yeah, it’s Now Stealing Credit Cards

If you own a domain name that gets decent traffic and you fail to pay its annual renewal fee, chances are this mistake will be costly for you and for others. Lately, neglected domains have been getting scooped up by crooks who use them to set up fake e-commerce sites that steal credit card details from unwary shoppers.

For nearly 10 years, Portland, Ore. resident Julie Randall posted pictures for her photography business at julierandallphoto-dot-com, and used an email address at that domain to communicate with clients. The domain was on auto-renew for most of that time, but a change in her credit card details required her to update her records at the domain registrar — a task Randall says she now regrets putting off.

Julierandallphoto-dot-com is now one of hundreds of fake ecommerce sites set up to steal credit card details.

That’s because in June of this year the domain expired, and control over her site went to someone who purchased it soon after. Randall said she didn’t notice at the time because she was in the middle of switching careers, didn’t have any active photography clients, and had gotten out of the habit of checking that email account.

Randall said she only realized she’d lost her domain after failing repeatedly to log in to her Instagram account, which was registered to an email address at julierandallphoto-dot-com.

“When I tried to reset the account password through Instagram’s procedure, I could see that the email address on the account had been changed to a .ru email,” Randall told KrebsOnSecurity. “I still don’t have access to it because I don’t have access to the email account tied to my old domain. It feels a little bit like the last ten years of my life have kind of been taken away.”

Visit julierandallphoto.com today and you’ll see a Spanish language site selling Reebok shoes (screenshot above). The site certainly looks like a real e-commerce shop; it has plenty of product pages and images, and of course a shopping cart. But the site is noticeably devoid of any SSL certificate (the entire site is http://, not https://), and the products for sale are all advertised for roughly half their normal cost.

A review of the neighboring domains that reside at Internet addresses adjacent to julierandallphoto-dot-com (196.196.152/153.x, etc.) shows hundreds of other domains that were apparently registered upon expiration over the past few months and which now feature similar http-only online shops in various languages pimping low-priced, name brand shoes and other clothing.

Until earlier this year, wildcatgroomers-dot-com belonged to a company in Wisconsin that sold equipment for grooming snowmobile trails. It’s now advertising running shoes. Likewise, kavanaghsirishpub-dot-com corresponded to a pub and restaurant in Tennessee until mid-2018; now it’s pretending to sell cheap Nike shoes.

So what’s going here?

According to an in-depth report jointly released today by security firms Flashpoint and RiskIQ, the sites are almost certainly set up simply to siphon payment card data from unwary shoppers looking for specific designer footwear and other clothing at bargain basement prices.

“We have observed more than 800 sites hosting these brand impersonation/skimming stores since June 2018,” the report notes.

Continue reading →


8
Nov 18

U.S. Secret Service Warns ID Thieves are Abusing USPS’s Mail Scanning Service

A year ago, KrebsOnSecurity warned that “Informed Delivery,” a new offering from the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) that lets residents view scanned images of all incoming mail, was likely to be abused by identity thieves and other fraudsters unless the USPS beefed up security around the program and made it easier for people to opt out. This week, the U.S. Secret Service issued an internal alert warning that many of its field offices have reported crooks are indeed using Informed Delivery to commit various identity theft and credit card fraud schemes.

Image: USPS

The internal alert — sent by the Secret Service on Nov. 6 to its law enforcement partners nationwide — references a recent case in Michigan in which seven people were arrested for allegedly stealing credit cards from resident mailboxes after signing up as those victims at the USPS’s Web site.

According to the Secret Service alert, the accused used the Informed Delivery feature “to identify and intercept mail, and to further their identity theft fraud schemes.”

“Fraudsters were also observed on criminal forums discussing using the Informed Delivery service to surveil potential identity theft victims,” the Secret Service memo reads.

The USPS did not respond to repeated requests for comment over the past six days.

The Michigan incident in the Secret Service alert refers to the September 2018 arrest of seven people accused of running up nearly $400,000 in unauthorized charges on credit cards they ordered in the names of residents. According to a copy of the complaint in that case (PDF), the defendants allegedly stole the new cards out of resident mailboxes, and then used them to fraudulently purchase gift cards and merchandise from department stores.

KrebsOnSecurity took the USPS to task last year in part for not using its own unique communications method — the U.S. Mail — to validate and notify residents when someone at their address signs up for Informed Delivery. The USPS addressed that shortcoming earlier this year, announcing it had started alerting all households by mail whenever anyone signs up to receive scanned notifications of mail delivered to their address.

However, it appears that ID thieves have figured out ways to hijack identities and order new credit cards in victims’ names before the USPS can send their notification — possibly by waiting until the cards are already approved and ordered before signing up for Informed Delivery in the victim’s name.

Last month, WKMG’s Clickorlando.com wrote that a number of Belle Isle, Fla. residents reported receiving hefty bills for credit cards they never knew they had. One resident was quoted as saying she received a bill for $2,000 in charges on a card she’d never seen before, and only after that did she get a notice from the USPS saying someone at her address had signed up for Informed Delivery. The only problem was she’d never signed up for the USPS program.

“According to a police report, someone opened fraudulent credit card accounts and charged more than $14,000 and signed her neighbors up for Informed Delivery, too,” Clickorlando’s Louis Bolden explained. “Photos of what would be in their mail were going to someone else.”

Residents in Texas have reported similar experiences. Dave Lieber, author of The Watchdog column for The Dallas Morning News, said he heard from victim Chris Torraca, 58, a retired federal bank regulator from Grapevine, a town between Dallas and Ft. Worth.

“Chris discovered it after someone created an account in his name at usps.com,” Lieber wrote in a post published Nov. 2. “The thief began receiving photos of Chris’ mail and also opened a bank credit card in Chris’ wife’s name. Postal officials promote the program as a great way to prevent ID theft, but for Chris, that’s what led to it.” Continue reading →


7
Nov 18

Busting SIM Swappers and SIM Swap Myths

KrebsOnSecurity recently had a chance to interview members of the REACT Task Force, a team of law enforcement officers and prosecutors based in Santa Clara, Calif. that has been tracking down individuals engaged in unauthorized “SIM swaps” — a complex form of mobile phone fraud that is often used to steal large amounts of cryptocurrencies and other items of value from victims. Snippets from that fascinating conversation are recounted below, and punctuated by accounts from a recent victim who lost more than $100,000 after his mobile phone number was hijacked.

In late September 2018, the REACT Task Force spearheaded an investigation that led to the arrest of two Missouri men — both in their early 20s — who are accused of conducting SIM swaps to steal $14 million from a cryptocurrency company based in San Jose, Calif. Two months earlier, the task force was instrumental in apprehending 20-year-old Joel Ortiz, a Boston man suspected of stealing millions of dollars in cryptocoins with the help of SIM swaps.

Samy Tarazi is a sergeant with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office and a REACT supervisor. The force was originally created to tackle a range of cybercrimes, but Tarazi says SIM swappers are a primary target now for two reasons. First, many of the individuals targeted by SIM swappers live in or run businesses based in northern California.

More importantly, he says, the frequency of SIM swapping attacks is…well, off the hook right now.

“It’s probably REACT’s highest priority at the moment, given that SIM swapping is actively happening to someone probably even as we speak right now,” Tarazi said. “It’s also because there are a lot of victims in our immediate jurisdiction.”

As common as SIM swapping has become, Tarazi said he and other members of REACT suspect that there are only a few dozen individuals responsible for perpetrating most of these heists.

“For the amounts being stolen and the number of people being successful at taking it, the numbers are probably historic,” Tarazi said. “We’re talking about kids aged mainly between 19 and 22 being able to steal millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies. I mean, if someone gets robbed of $100,000 that’s a huge case, but we’re now dealing with someone who buys a 99 cent SIM card off eBay, plugs it into a cheap burner phone, makes a call and steals millions of dollars. That’s pretty remarkable.

Indeed, the theft of $100,000 worth of cryptocurrency in July 2018 was the impetus for my interview with REACT. I reached out to the task force after hearing about their role in assisting SIM swapping victim Christian Ferri, who is president and CEO of San Francisco-based cryptocurrency firm BlockStar.

In early July 2018, Ferri was traveling in Europe when he discovered his T-Mobile phone no longer had service. He’d later learn that thieves had abused access to T-Mobile’s customer database to deactivate the SIM card in his phone and to activate a new one that they had in their own mobile device.

Soon after, the attackers were able to use their control over his mobile number to reset his Gmail account password. From there, the perpetrators accessed a Google Drive document that Ferri had used to record credentials to other sites, including a cryptocurrency exchange. Although that level of access could have let the crooks steal a great deal more from Ferri, they were simply after his cryptocoins, and in short order he was relieved of approximately $100,000 worth of coinage.

We’ll hear more about Ferri’s case in a moment. But first I should clarify that the REACT task force members did not discuss with me the details of Mr. Ferri’s case — even though according to Ferri a key member of the task force we’ll meet later has been actively investigating on his behalf. The remainder of this interview with REACT pivots off of Ferri’s incident mainly because the details surrounding his case help clarify some of the most confusing and murky aspects of how these crimes are perpetrated — and, more importantly, what we can do about them.

WHO’S THE TARGET?

SIM swapping attacks primarily target individuals who are visibly active in the cryptocurrency space. This includes people who run or work at cryptocurrency-focused companies; those who participate as speakers at public conferences centered around Blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies; and those who like to talk openly on social media about their crypto investments.

REACT Lieutenant John Rose said in addition to or in lieu of stealing cryptocurrency, some SIM swappers will relieve victims of highly prized social media account names (also known as “OG accounts“) — usually short usernames that can convey an aura of prestige or the illusion of an early adopter on a given social network. OG accounts typically can be resold for thousands of dollars.

Rose said even though a successful SIM swap often gives the perpetrator access to traditional bank accounts, the attackers seem to be mainly interested in stealing cryptocurrencies.

“Many SIM swap victims are understandably very scared at how much of their personal information has been exposed when these attacks occur,” Rose said. “But [the attackers] are predominantly interested in targeting cryptocurrencies for the ease with which these funds can be laundered through online exchanges, and because the transactions can’t be reversed.”

FAKE IDs AND PHONY NOTES

The “how” of these SIM swaps is often the most interesting because it’s the one aspect of this crime that’s probably the least well-understood. Ferri said when he initially contacted T-Mobile about his incident, the company told him that the perpetrator had entered a T-Mobile store and presented a fake ID in Ferri’s name.

But Ferri said once the REACT Task Force got involved in his case, it became clear that video surveillance footage from the date and time of his SIM swap showed no such evidence of anyone entering the store to present a fake ID. Rather, he said, this explanation of events was a misunderstanding at best, and more likely a cover-up at some level.

Caleb Tuttle, a detective with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office, said he has yet to encounter a single SIM swapping incident in which the perpetrator actually presented ID in person at a mobile phone store. That’s just too risky for the attackers, he said.

“I’ve talked to hundreds of victims, and I haven’t seen any cases where the suspect is going into a store to do this,” Tuttle said.

Tuttle said SIM swapping happens in one of three ways. The first is when the attacker bribes or blackmails a mobile store employee into assisting in the crime. The second involves current and/or former mobile store employees who knowingly abuse their access to customer data and the mobile company’s network. Finally, crooked store employees may trick unwitting associates at other stores into swapping a target’s existing SIM card with a new one.

“Most of these SIM swaps are being done over the phone, and the notes we’re seeing about the change in the [victim’s] account usually are left either by [a complicit] employee trying to cover their tracks, or because the employee who typed in that note actually believed what they were typing.” In the latter case, the employee who left a note in the customer’s account saying ID had been presented in-store was tricked by a complicit co-worker at another store who falsely claimed that a customer there had already presented ID.

DARK WEB SOFTWARE?

Ferri said the detectives investigating his SIM swap attack let on that the crooks responsible had at some point in the attack used “specialized software to get into T-Mobile’s customer database.”

“The investigator said there were employees of the company who had built a special software tool that they could use to connect to T-Mobile’s customer database, and that they could use this software from their home or couch to log in and see all the customer information there,” Ferri recalled. “The investigator didn’t explain exactly how it worked, but it was basically a backdoor entrance that they were reselling on the Dark Web, and it bypassed whatever security there was and let them go straight into the customer database.”

Asked directly about this mysterious product supposedly being offered on the Dark Web, the REACT task force members put our phone interview on hold for several minutes while they privately huddled to discuss the question. When they finally took me off mute, a member of the task force instead answered a different question that I’d asked much earlier in the interview.

When pressed about the software again, there was a long, uncomfortable silence. Then Detective Tuttle spoke up.

“We’re not going to talk about that,” he said curtly. “Deal with it.”

T-Mobile likewise declined to comment on the allegation that thieves had somehow built software which gave them direct access to T-Mobile customer data. However, in at least three separate instances over the past six months, T-Mobile has been forced to acknowledge incidents of unauthorized access to customer records.

In August 2018, T-Mobile published a notice saying its security team discovered and shut down unauthorized access to certain information, including customer name, billing zip code, phone number, email address, account number, account type (prepaid or postpaid) and/or date of birth. A T-Mobile spokesperson said at the time that this incident impacted roughly two percent of its subscriber base, or approximately 2.5 million customers.

In May 2018, T-Mobile fixed a bug in its Web site that let anyone view the personal account details of any customer. The bug could be exploited simply by adding the phone number of a target to the end of a Web address used by one of the company’s internal tools that was nevertheless accessible via the open Internet. The data provided by that tool reportedly also included references to account PINs used by customers as a security question when contacting T-Mobile customer support.

In April 2018, T-Mobile fixed a related bug in its public Web site that allowed anyone to pull data tied to customer accounts, including the user’s account number and the target phone’s IMSI — a unique number that ties subscribers to their specific mobile device. Continue reading →


5
Oct 18

Supply Chain Security is the Whole Enchilada, But Who’s Willing to Pay for It?

From time to time, there emerge cybersecurity stories of such potential impact that they have the effect of making all other security concerns seem minuscule and trifling by comparison. Yesterday was one of those times. Bloomberg Businessweek on Thursday published a bombshell investigation alleging that Chinese cyber spies had used a U.S.-based tech firm to secretly embed tiny computer chips into electronic devices purchased and used by almost 30 different companies. There aren’t any corroborating accounts of this scoop so far, but it is both fascinating and terrifying to look at why threats to the global technology supply chain can be so difficult to detect, verify and counter.

In the context of computer and Internet security, supply chain security refers to the challenge of validating that a given piece of electronics — and by extension the software that powers those computing parts — does not include any extraneous or fraudulent components beyond what was specified by the company that paid for the production of said item.

In a nutshell, the Bloomberg story claims that San Jose, Calif. based tech giant Supermicro was somehow caught up in a plan to quietly insert a rice-sized computer chip on the circuit boards that get put into a variety of servers and electronic components purchased by major vendors, allegedly including Amazon and Apple. The chips were alleged to have spied on users of the devices and sent unspecified data back to the Chinese military.

It’s critical to note up top that Amazon, Apple and Supermicro have categorically denied most of the claims in the Bloomberg piece. That is, their positions refuting core components of the story would appear to leave little wiggle room for future backtracking on those statements. Amazon also penned a blog post that more emphatically stated their objections to the Bloomberg piece.

Nevertheless, Bloomberg reporters write that “the companies’ denials are countered by six current and former senior national security officials, who—in conversations that began during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration—detailed the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation.”

The story continues:

Today, Supermicro sells more server motherboards than almost anyone else. It also dominates the $1 billion market for boards used in special-purpose computers, from MRI machines to weapons systems. Its motherboards can be found in made-to-order server setups at banks, hedge funds, cloud computing providers, and web-hosting services, among other places. Supermicro has assembly facilities in California, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, but its motherboards—its core product—are nearly all manufactured by contractors in China.

Many readers have asked for my take on this piece. I heard similar allegations earlier this year about Supermicro and tried mightily to verify them but could not. That in itself should be zero gauge of the story’s potential merit. After all, I am just one guy, whereas this is the type of scoop that usually takes entire portions of a newsroom to research, report and vet. By Bloomberg’s own account, the story took more than a year to report and write, and cites 17 anonymous sources as confirming the activity.

Most of what I have to share here is based on conversations with some clueful people over the years who would probably find themselves confined to a tiny, windowless room for an extended period if their names or quotes ever showed up in a story like this, so I will tread carefully around this subject.

The U.S. Government isn’t eager to admit it, but there has long been an unofficial inventory of tech components and vendors that are forbidden to buy from if you’re in charge of procuring products or services on behalf of the U.S. Government. Call it the “brown list, “black list,” “entity list” or what have you, but it’s basically an indelible index of companies that are on the permanent Shit List of Uncle Sam for having been caught pulling some kind of supply chain shenanigans.

More than a decade ago when I was a reporter with The Washington Post, I heard from an extremely well-placed source that one Chinese tech company had made it onto Uncle Sam’s entity list because they sold a custom hardware component for many Internet-enabled printers that secretly made a copy of every document or image sent to the printer and forwarded that to a server allegedly controlled by hackers aligned with the Chinese government.

That example gives a whole new meaning to the term “supply chain,” doesn’t it? If Bloomberg’s reporting is accurate, that’s more or less what we’re dealing with here in Supermicro as well.

But here’s the thing: Even if you identify which technology vendors are guilty of supply-chain hacks, it can be difficult to enforce their banishment from the procurement chain. One reason is that it is often tough to tell from the brand name of a given gizmo who actually makes all the multifarious components that go into any one electronic device sold today.

Take, for instance, the problem right now with insecure Internet of Things (IoT) devices — cheapo security cameras, Internet routers and digital video recorders — sold at places like Amazon and Walmart. Many of these IoT devices have become a major security problem because they are massively insecure by default and difficult if not also impractical to secure after they are sold and put into use.

For every company in China that produces these IoT devices, there are dozens of “white label” firms that market and/or sell the core electronic components as their own. So while security researchers might identify a set of security holes in IoT products made by one company whose products are white labeled by others, actually informing consumers about which third-party products include those vulnerabilities can be extremely challenging. In some cases, a technology vendor responsible for some part of this mess may simply go out of business or close its doors and re-emerge under different names and managers.

Mind you, there is no indication anyone is purposefully engineering so many of these IoT products to be insecure; a more likely explanation is that building in more security tends to make devices considerably more expensive and slower to market. In many cases, their insecurity stems from a combination of factors: They ship with every imaginable feature turned on by default; they bundle outdated software and firmware components; and their default settings are difficult or impossible for users to change.

We don’t often hear about intentional efforts to subvert the security of the technology supply chain simply because these incidents tend to get quickly classified by the military when they are discovered. But the U.S. Congress has held multiple hearings about supply chain security challenges, and the U.S. government has taken steps on several occasions to block Chinese tech companies from doing business with the federal government and/or U.S.-based firms.

Most recently, the Pentagon banned the sale of Chinese-made ZTE and Huawei phones on military bases, according to a Defense Department directive that cites security risks posed by the devices. The U.S. Department of Commerce also has instituted a seven-year export restriction for ZTE, resulting in a ban on U.S. component makers selling to ZTE.

Still, the issue here isn’t that we can’t trust technology products made in China. Indeed there are numerous examples of other countries — including the United States and its allies — slipping their own “backdoors” into hardware and software products.

Like it or not, the vast majority of electronics are made in China, and this is unlikely to change anytime soon. The central issue is that we don’t have any other choice right nowThe reason is that by nearly all accounts it would be punishingly expensive to replicate that manufacturing process here in the United States.

Even if the U.S. government and Silicon Valley somehow mustered the funding and political will to do that, insisting that products sold to U.S. consumers or the U.S. government be made only with components made here in the U.S.A. would massively drive up the cost of all forms of technology. Consumers would almost certainly balk at buying these way more expensive devices. Years of experience has shown that consumers aren’t interested in paying a huge premium for security when a comparable product with the features they want is available much more cheaply. Continue reading →