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30
Apr 20

How Cybercriminals are Weathering COVID-19

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon to cybercriminals: With unprecedented numbers of people working from home and anxious for news about the virus outbreak, it’s hard to imagine a more target-rich environment for phishers, scammers and malware purveyors. In addition, many crooks are finding the outbreak has helped them better market their cybercriminal wares and services. But it’s not all good news: The Coronavirus also has driven up costs and disrupted key supply lines for many cybercriminals. Here’s a look at how they’re adjusting to these new realities.

FUELED BY MULES

One of the more common and perennial cybercriminal schemes is “reshipping fraud,” wherein crooks buy pricey consumer goods online using stolen credit card data and then enlist others to help them collect or resell the merchandise.

Most online retailers years ago stopped shipping to regions of the world most frequently associated with credit card fraud, including Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Russia. These restrictions have created a burgeoning underground market for reshipping scams, which rely on willing or unwitting residents in the United States and Europe — derisively referred to as “reshipping mules” — to receive and relay high-dollar stolen goods to crooks living in the embargoed areas.

A screen shot from a user account at “Snowden,” a long-running reshipping mule service.

But apparently a number of criminal reshipping services are reporting difficulties due to the increased wait time when calling FedEx or UPS (to divert carded goods that merchants end up shipping to the cardholder’s address instead of to the mule’s). In response, these operations are raising their prices and warning of longer shipping times, which in turn could hamper the activities of other actors who depend on those services.

That’s according to Intel 471, a cyber intelligence company that closely monitors hundreds of online crime forums. In a report published today, the company said since late March 2020 it has observed several crooks complaining about COVID-19 interfering with the daily activities of their various money mules (people hired to help launder the proceeds of cybercrime).

“One Russian-speaking actor running a fraud network complained about their subordinates (“money mules”) in Italy, Spain and other countries being unable to withdraw funds, since they currently were afraid to leave their homes,” Intel 471 observed. “Also some actors have reported that banks’ customer-support lines are being overloaded, making it difficult for fraudsters to call them for social-engineering activities (such as changing account ownership, raising withdrawal limits, etc).”

Still, every dark cloud has a silver lining: Intel 471 noted many cybercriminals appear optimistic that the impending global economic recession (and resultant unemployment) “will make it easier to recruit low-level accomplices such as money mules.”

Alex Holden, founder and CTO of Hold Security, agreed. He said while the Coronavirus has forced reshipping operators to make painful shifts in several parts of their business, the overall market for available mules has never looked brighter.

“Reshipping is way up right now, but there are some complications,” he said.

For example, reshipping scams have over the years become easier for both reshipping mule operators and the mules themselves. Many reshipping mules are understandably concerned about receiving stolen goods at their home and risking a visit from the local police. But increasingly, mules have been instructed to retrieve carded items from third-party locations.

“The mules don’t have to receive stolen goods directly at home anymore,” Holden said. “They can pick them up at Walgreens, Hotel lobbies, etc. There are a ton of reshipment tricks out there.”

But many of those tricks got broken with the emergence of COVID-19 and social distancing norms. In response, more mule recruiters are asking their hires to do things like reselling goods shipped to their homes on platforms like eBay and Amazon.

“Reshipping definitely has become more complicated,” Holden said. “Not every mule will run 10 times a day to the post office, and some will let the goods sit by the mailbox for days. But on the whole, mules are more compliant these days.”

GIVE AND TAKE

KrebsOnSecurity recently came to a similar conclusion: Last month’s story, “Coronavirus Widens the Money Mule Pool,” looked at one money mule operation that had ensnared dozens of mules with phony job offers in a very short period of time. Incidentally, the fake charity behind that scheme — which promised to raise money for Coronavirus victims — has since closed up shop and apparently re-branded itself as the Tessaris Foundation.

Charitable cybercriminal endeavors were the subject of a report released this week by cyber intel firm Digital Shadows, which looked at various ways computer crooks are promoting themselves and their hacking services using COVID-19 themed discounts and giveaways.

Like many commercials on television these days, such offers obliquely or directly reference the economic hardships wrought by the virus outbreak as a way of connecting on an emotional level with potential customers.

“The illusion of philanthropy recedes further when you consider the benefits to the threat actors giving away goods and services,” the report notes. “These donors receive a massive boost to their reputation on the forum. In the future, they may be perceived as individuals willing to contribute to forum life, and the giveaways help establish a track record of credibility.”

Brian’s Club — one of the underground’s largest bazaars for selling stolen credit card data and one that has misappropriated this author’s likeness and name in its advertising — recently began offering “pandemic support” in the form of discounts for its most loyal customers.

Continue reading →


7
Mar 20

U.S. Govt. Makes it Harder to Get .Gov Domains

The federal agency in charge of issuing .gov domain names is enacting new requirements for validating the identity of people requesting them. The additional measures come less than four months after KrebsOnSecurity published research suggesting it was relatively easy for just about anyone to get their very own .gov domain.

In November’s piece It’s Way Too Easy to Get a .gov Domain Name, an anonymous source detailed how he obtained one by impersonating an official at a small town in Rhode Island that didn’t already have its own .gov.

“I had to [fill out] ‘an official authorization form,’ which basically just lists your admin, tech guy, and billing guy,” the source said. “Also, it needs to be printed on ‘official letterhead,’ which of course can be easily forged just by Googling a document from said municipality. Then you either mail or fax it in. After that, they send account creation links to all the contacts.”

While what my source did was technically wire fraud (obtaining something of value via the Internet through false pretenses), cybercriminals bent on using fake .gov domains to hoodwink Americans likely would not be deterred by such concerns.

“I never said it was legal, just that it was easy,” the source told KrebsOnSecurity. “I assumed there would be at least ID verification. The deepest research I needed to do was Yellow Pages records.”

Now, Uncle Sam says in a few days all new .gov domain applications will include an additional authorization step.

“Effective on March 10, 2020, the DotGov Program will begin requiring notarized signatures on all authorization letters when submitting a request for a new .gov domain,” reads a notice published March 5 by the U.S. General Services Administration, which oversees the .gov space.

“This is a necessary security enhancement to prevent mail and wire fraud through signature forgery in obtaining a .gov domain,” the statement continues. “This step will help maintain the integrity of .gov and ensure that .gov domains continue to be issued only to official U.S. government organizations.” Continue reading →


29
Dec 19

Happy 10th Birthday, KrebsOnSecurity.com

Today marks the 10th anniversary of KrebsOnSecurity.com! Over the past decade, the site has featured more than 1,800 stories focusing mainly on cybercrime, computer security and user privacy concerns. And what a decade it has been.

Stories here have exposed countless scams, data breaches, cybercrooks and corporate stumbles. In the ten years since its inception, the site has attracted more than 37,000 newsletter subscribers, and nearly 100 million pageviews generated by roughly 40 million unique visitors.

Some of those 40 million visitors left more than 100,000 comments. The community that has sprung up around KrebsOnSecurity has been truly humbling and a joy to watch, and I’m eternally grateful for all your contributions.

One housekeeping note: A good chunk of the loyal readers here are understandably security- and privacy-conscious, and many block advertisements by default — including the ads displayed here.

Just a reminder that KrebsOnSecurity does not run third-party ads and has no plans to change that; all of the creatives you see on this site are hosted in-house, are purely image-based, and are vetted first by Yours Truly. Love them or hate ’em, these ads help keep the content at KrebsOnSecurity free to any and all readers. If you’re currently blocking ads here, please consider making an exception for this site.

Last but certainly not least, thank you for your readership. I couldn’t have done this without your encouragement, wisdom, tips and support. Here’s wishing you all a happy, healthy and wealthy 2020, and for another decade of stories to come.


10
Dec 19

CISO MAG Honors KrebsOnSecurity

CISO MAG, a publication dedicated to covering issues near and dear to corporate chief information security officers everywhere, has graciously awarded this author the designation of “Cybersecurity Person of the Year” in its December 2019 issue.

KrebsOnSecurity is grateful for the unexpected honor. But I can definitely think of quite a few people who are far more deserving of this title. In fact, if I’m eligible for any kind of recognition, perhaps “Bad News Harbinger of the Year” would be more apt.

As in years past, 2019 featured quite a few big breaches and more than a little public speaking. Almost without fail at each engagement multiple C-level folks will approach after my talk, hand me their business cards and say something like, “I hope you never have to use this, but if you do please call me first.”

I’ve taken that advice to heart, and now endeavor wherever possible to give a heads up to CISOs/CSOs about a breach before reaching out to the public relations folks. I fully realize that in many cases the person in that role will refer me to the PR department eventually or perhaps immediately.

But on balance, my experience so far is that an initial outreach to the top security person in the organization often results in that inquiry being taken far more seriously. And including this person in my initial outreach makes it much more likely that this individual ends up being on the phone when the company returns my call. Continue reading →


29
Jul 19

No Jail Time for “WannaCry Hero”

Marcus Hutchins, the “accidental hero” who helped arrest the spread of the global WannaCry ransomware outbreak in 2017, will receive no jail time for his admitted role in authoring and selling malware that helped cyberthieves steal online bank account credentials from victims, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Marcus Hutchins, just after he was revealed as the security expert who stopped the WannaCry worm. Image: twitter.com/malwaretechblog

The British security enthusiast enjoyed instant fame after the U.K. media revealed he’d registered and sinkholed a domain name that researchers later understood served as a hidden “kill switch” inside WannaCry, a fast-spreading, highly destructive strain of ransomware which propagated through a Microsoft Windows exploit developed by and subsequently stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency.

In August 2017, FBI agents arrested then 23-year-old Hutchins on suspicion of authoring and spreading the “Kronos” banking trojan and a related malware tool called UPAS Kit. Hutchins was released shortly after his arrest, but ordered to remain in the United States pending trial.

Many in the security community leaped to his defense at the time, noting that the FBI’s case appeared flimsy and that Hutchins had worked tirelessly through his blog to expose cybercriminals and their malicious tools. Hundreds of people donated to his legal defense fund.

In September 2017, KrebsOnSecurity published research which strongly suggested Hutchins’ dozens of alter egos online had a fairly lengthy history of developing and selling various malware tools and services. In April 2019, Hutchins pleaded guilty to criminal charges of conspiracy and to making, selling or advertising illegal wiretapping devices.

At his sentencing hearing July 26, U.S. District Judge Joseph Peter Stadtmueller said Hutchins’ action in halting the spread of WannaCry was far more consequential than the two malware strains he admitted authoring, and sentenced him to time served plus one year of supervised release.  Continue reading →


7
May 19

What’s Behind the Wolters Kluwer Tax Outage?

Early in the afternoon on Friday, May, 3, I asked a friend to relay a message to his security contact at CCH, the cloud-based tax division of the global information services firm Wolters Kluwer in the Netherlands. The message was that the same file directories containing new versions of CCH’s software were open and writable by any anonymous user, and that there were suspicious files in those directories indicating some user(s) abused that access.

Shortly after that report, the CCH file directory for tax software downloads was taken offline. As of this publication, several readers have reported outages affecting multiple CCH Web sites. These same readers reported being unable to access their clients’ tax data in CCH’s cloud because of the ongoing outages. A Reddit thread is full of theories.

One of the many open and writable directories on CCH’s site before my report on Friday.

I do not have any information on whether my report about the world-writable file server had anything to do with the outages going on now at CCH. Nor did I see any evidence that any client data was exposed on the site.

What I did see in those CCH directories were a few odd PHP and text files, including one that seemed to be promoting two different and unrelated Russian language discussion forums.

I sent Wolters Kluwer an email asking how long the file server had been so promiscuous (allowing anyone to upload files to the server), and what the company was doing to validate the integrity of the software made available for download by CCH tax customers.

Marisa Westcott, vice president of marketing and communications at Wolters Kluwer, told KrebsOnSecurity on Friday that she would “check with the team to see if we can get some answers to your questions.”

But subsequent emails and phone calls have gone unreturned. Calls to the company’s main support number (800-739-9998) generate the voice message, “We are currently experiencing technical difficulties. Please try your call again later.”

On Tuesday morning, Wolters Kluwer released an update on the extensive outage via Twitter, saying:

“Since yesterday, May 6, we are experiencing network and service interruptions affecting certain Wolters Kluwer platforms and applications. Out of an abundance of caution, we proactively took offline a number of other applications and we immediately began our investigation and remediation efforts. The secure use of our products and services is our top priority. we have ben able to restore network and services for a number – but not all — of our systems.”

Accounting Today reports today that a PR representative from Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting, which makes the CCH products, confirmed the outage was the result of a malware attack: Continue reading →


29
Dec 18

Happy 9th Birthday, KrebsOnSecurity!

Hard to believe we’ve gone another revolution around the Sun: Today marks the 9th anniversary of KrebsOnSecurity.com!

This past year featured some 150 blog posts, but as usual the biggest contribution to this site came from the amazing community of readers here who have generously contributed their knowledge, wit and wisdom in more than 10,000 comments.

Speaking of generous contributions, more than 100 readers have expressed their support in 2018 via PayPal donations to this site. The majority of those funds go toward paying for subscription-based services that KrebsOnSecurity relies upon for routine data gathering and analysis. Thank you.

Your correspondence and tips have been invaluable, so by all means keep them coming. For the record, I’m reachable via a variety of means, including email, the contact form on this site, and of course Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter (direct messages are open to all). For more secure and discreet communications, please consider reaching out via Keybase, Wicker (krebswickr), or Signal (by request). Continue reading →


1
Mar 18

Financial Cyber Threat Sharing Group Phished

The Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC), an industry forum for sharing data about critical cybersecurity threats facing the banking and finance industries, said today that a successful phishing attack on one of its employees was used to launch additional phishing attacks against FS-ISAC members.

The fallout from the back-to-back phishing attacks appears to have been limited and contained, as many FS-ISAC members who received the phishing attack quickly detected and reported it as suspicious. But the incident is a good reminder to be on your guard, remember that anyone can get phished, and that most phishing attacks succeed by abusing the sense of trust already established between the sender and recipient.

The confidential alert FS-ISAC sent to members about a successful phishing attack that spawned phishing emails coming from the FS-ISAC.

Notice of the phishing incident came in an alert FS-ISAC shared with its members today and obtained by KrebsOnSecurity. It describes an incident on Feb. 28 in which an FS-ISAC employee “clicked on a phishing email, compromising that employee’s login credentials. Using the credentials, a threat actor created an email with a PDF that had a link to a credential harvesting site and was then sent from the employee’s email account to select members, affiliates and employees.”

The alert said while FS-ISAC was already planning and implementing a multi-factor authentication (MFA) solution across all of its email platforms, “unfortunately, this incident happened to an employee that was not yet set up for MFA. We are accelerating our MFA solution across all FS-ISAC assets.”

The FS-ISAC also said it upgraded its Office 365 email version to provide “additional visibility and security.”

In an interview with KrebsOnSecurity, FS-ISAC President and CEO Bill Nelson said his organization has grown significantly in new staff over the past few years to more than 75 people now, including Greg Temm, the FS-ISAC’s chief information risk officer.

“To say I’m disappointed this got through is an understatement,” Nelson said. “We need to accelerate MFA extremely quickly for all of our assets.” Continue reading →


29
Dec 17

Happy 8th Birthday, KrebsOnSecurity!

Eight years ago today I set aside my Washington Post press badge and became an independent here at KrebsOnSecurity.com. What a wild ride it has been. Thank you all, Dear Readers, for sticking with me and for helping to build a terrific community.

This past year KrebsOnSecurity published nearly 160 stories, generating more than 11,000 reader comments. The pace of publications here slowed down in 2017, but then again I have been trying to focus on quality over quantity, and many of these stories took weeks or months to report and write.

As always, a big Thank You to readers who sent in tips and personal experiences that helped spark stories here. For anyone who wishes to get in touch, I can always be reached via this site’s contact form, or via email at krebsonsecurity @ gmail dot com.

Here are some other ways to reach out: Continue reading →


2
Dec 17

Former NSA Employee Pleads Guilty to Taking Classified Data

A former employee for the National Security Agency pleaded guilty on Friday to taking classified data to his home computer in Maryland. According to published reports, U.S. intelligence officials believe the data was then stolen from his computer by hackers working for the Russian government.

Nghia Hoang Pho, 67, of Ellicott City, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to “willful retention of national defense information.” The U.S. Justice Department says that beginning in April 2006 Pho was employed as a developer for the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit, which develops specialized hacking tools to gather intelligence data from foreign targets and information systems.

According to Pho’s plea agreement, between 2010 and March 2015 he removed and retained highly sensitive classified “documents and writings that contained national defense information, including information classified as Top Secret.”

Pho is the third NSA worker to be charged in the past two years with mishandling classified data. His plea is the latest — and perhaps final — chapter in the NSA’s hunt for those responsible for leaking NSA hacking tools that have been published online over the past year by a shadowy group calling itself The Shadow Brokers.

Neither the government’s press release about the plea nor the complaint against Pho mention what happened to the classified documents after he took them home. But a report in The New York Times cites government officials speaking on condition of anonymity saying that Pho had installed on his home computer antivirus software made by a Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab, and that Russian hackers are believed to have exploited the software to steal the classified documents. Continue reading →