Oct 16

Are the Days of “Booter” Services Numbered?

It may soon become easier for Internet service providers to anticipate and block certain types of online assaults launched by Web-based attack-for-hire services known as “booter” or “stresser” services, new research released today suggests.

The findings come from researchers in Germany who’ve been studying patterns that emerge when miscreants attempt to mass-scan the entire Internet looking for systems useful for launching these digital sieges — known as “distributed denial-of-service” or DDoS attacks.


To understand the significance of their research, it may help to briefly examine how DDoS attacks have evolved. Not long ago, if one wanted to take down large Web site, one had to build and maintain a large robot network, or “botnet,” of hacked computers — which is a fairly time intensive, risky and technical endeavor.

These days, however, even the least sophisticated Internet user can launch relatively large DDoS attacks just by paying a few bucks for a subscription to one of dozens of booter or stresser services, some of which even accept credit cards and PayPal payments.

These Web-based DDoS-for-hire services don’t run on botnets: They generally employ a handful of powerful servers that are rented from some dodgy “bulletproof” hosting provider. The booter service accepts payment and attack instructions via a front end Web site that is hidden behind Cloudflare (a free DDoS protection service).

But the back end of the booter service is where the really interesting stuff happens. Virtually all of the most powerful and effective attack types used by booter services rely on a technique called traffic amplification and reflection, in which the attacker can reflect or “spoof” his traffic from one or more third-party machines toward the intended target.

In this type of assault, the attacker sends a message to a third party, while spoofing the Internet address of the victim. When the third party replies to the message, the reply is sent to the victim — and the reply is much larger than the original message, thereby amplifying the size of the attack.

To find vulnerable systems that can be leveraged this way, booters employ large-scale Internet scanning services that constantly seek to refresh the list of systems that can be used for amplification and reflection attacks. They do this because, as research has shown (PDF), anywhere from 40-50 percent of the amplifiers vanish or are reassigned new Internet addresses after one week.

Enter researchers from Saarland University in Germany, as well as the Yokohama National University and National Institute of Information and Communications Technology — both in Japan. In a years-long project first detailed in 2015, the researchers looked for scanning that appeared to be kicked off by ne’er-do-wells running booter services.

To accomplish this, the research team built a kind of distributed “honeypot” system — which they dubbed “AmpPot” — designed to mimic services known to be vulnerable to amplification attacks, such as DNS and NTP floods.

“To make them attractive to attackers, our honeypots send back legitimate responses,” the researchers wrote in a 2015 paper (PDF). “Attackers, in turn, will abuse these honeypots as amplifiers, which allows us to observe ongoing attacks, their victims, and the DDoS techniques. To prevent damage caused by our honeypots, we limit the response rate. This way, while attackers can still find these ratelimited honeypots, the honeypots stop replying in the face of attacks.”

In that 2015 paper, the researchers said they deployed 21 globally-distributed AmpPot instances, which observed more than 1.5 million attacks between February and May 2015. Analyzing the attacks more closely, they found that more than 96% of the attacks stem from single sources, such as booter services.

“When focusing on amplification DDoS attacks, we find that almost all of them (>96%) are caused by single sources (e.g. booters), and not botnets,” the team concluded. “However, we sadly do not have the numbers to compare this [to] DoS attacks in general.”

Many large-scale Internet scans like the ones the researchers sought to measure are launched by security firms and other researchers, so the team needed a way to differentiate between scans launched by booter services and those conducted for research or other benign purposes.

“To distinguish between scans performed by researchers and scans performed with malicious intent we relied on a simple assumption: That no attack would be based on the results of a scan performed by (ethical) researchers,” said Johannes Krupp, one of the main authors of the report. “In fact, thanks to our methodology, we do not have to make this distinction upfront, but we can rather look at the results and say: ‘We found attacks linked to this scanner, therefore this scanner must have been malicious.’ If a scan was truly performed by benign parties, we will not find attacks linked to it.”


What’s new in the paper being released today by students at Saarland University’s Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability (CISPA) is the method by which the researchers were able to link these mass-scans to the very amplification attacks that follow soon after.

The researchers worked out a way to encode a secret identifier into the set of AmpPot honeypots that any subsequent attack will use, which varies per scan source. They then tested to see if the scan infrastructure was also used to actually launch (and not just to prepare) the attacks. Continue reading →

Oct 16

Senator Prods Federal Agencies on IoT Mess

The co-founder of the newly launched Senate Cybersecurity Caucus is pushing federal agencies for possible solutions and responses to the security threat from insecure “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices, such as the network of hacked security cameras and digital video recorders that were reportedly used to help bring about last Friday’s major Internet outages.

In letters to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D) called the proliferation of insecure IoT devices a threat to resiliency of the Internet.

“Manufacturers today are flooding the market with cheap, insecure devices, with few market incentives to design the products with security in mind, or to provide ongoing support,” Warner wrote to the agencies. “And buyers seem unable to make informed decisions between products based on their competing security features, in part because there are no clear metrics.”

The letter continues:

“Because the producers of these insecure IoT devices currently are insulated from any standards requirements, market feedback, or liability concerns, I am deeply concerned that we are witnessing a ‘tragedy of the commons’ threat to the continued functioning of the internet, as the security so vital to all internet users remains the responsibility of none. Further, buyers have little recourse when, despite their best efforts, security failures occur” [link added].

As Warner’s letter notes, last week’s attack on online infrastructure provider Dyn was launched at least in part by Mirai, a now open-source malware strain that scans the Internet for routers, cameras, digital video recorders and other Internet of Things “IoT” devices protected only by the factory-default passwords. Continue reading →

Oct 16

IoT Device Maker Vows Product Recall, Legal Action Against Western Accusers

A Chinese electronics firm pegged by experts as responsible for making many of the components leveraged in last week’s massive attack that disrupted Twitter and dozens of popular Web sites has vowed to recall some of its vulnerable products, even as it threatened legal action against this publication and others for allegedly tarnishing the company’s brand.


Last week’s attack on online infrastructure provider Dyn was launched at least in part by Mirai, a now open-source malware strain that scans the Internet for routers, cameras, digital video recorders and other Internet of Things “IoT” devices protected only by the factory-default passwords. Once infected with Mirai, the IoT systems can be used to flood a target with so much junk Web traffic that the target site can no longer accommodate legitimate users or visitors.

In an interim report on the attack, Dyn said: “We can confirm, with the help of analysis from Flashpoint and Akamai, that one source of the traffic for the attacks were devices infected by the Mirai botnet. We observed 10s of millions of discrete IP addresses associated with the Mirai botnet that were part of the attack.”

As a result of that attack, one of the most-read stories on KrebsOnSecurity so far this year is “Who Makes the IoT Things Under Attack?“, in which I tried to match default passwords sought out by the Mirai malware with IoT hardware devices for sale on the commercial market today.

In a follow-up to that story, I interviewed researchers at Flashpoint who discovered that one of the default passwords sought by machines infected with Mirai — username: root and password: xc3511 — is embedded in a broad array of white-labeled DVR and IP camera electronics boards made by a Chinese company called XiongMai Technologies. These components are sold downstream to vendors who then use them in their own products.

The scary part about IoT products that include XiongMai’s various electronics components, Flashpoint found, was that while users could change the default credentials in the devices’ Web-based administration panel, the password is hardcoded into the device firmware and the tools needed to disable it aren’t present.

In a statement issued on social media Monday, XiongMai (referring to itself as “XM”) said it would be issuing a recall on millions of devices — mainly network cameras.

“Mirai is a huge disaster for the Internet of Things,” the company said in a separate statement emailed to journalists. “XM have to admit that our products also suffered from hacker’s break-in and illegal use.”

At the same time, the Chinese electronics firm said that in September 2015 it issued a firmware fix for vulnerable devices, and that XiongMai hardware shipped after that date should not by default be vulnerable.

“Since then, XM has set the device default Telnet off to avoid the hackers to connect,” the company said. “In other words, this problem is absent at the moment for our devices after Sep 2015, as Hacker cannot use the Telnet to access our devices.”

Regarding the default user name/password that ships with XM, “our devices are asking customers to change the default password when they first time to login,” the electronics maker wrote. “When customer power on the devices, the first step, is change the default password.”

I’m working with some researchers who are testing XM’s claims, and will post an update here if and when that research is available. In the meantime, XM is threatening legal action against media outlets that it says are issuing “false statements” against the company.

Google’s translation of their statement reads, in part: “Organizations or individuals false statements, defame our goodwill behavior … through legal channels to pursue full legal responsibility for all violations of people, to pursue our legal rights are reserved.” Continue reading →

Oct 16

Hacked Cameras, DVRs Powered Today’s Massive Internet Outage

A massive and sustained Internet attack that has caused outages and network congestion today for a large number of Web sites was launched with the help of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices, such as CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders, new data suggests.

Earlier today cyber criminals began training their attack cannons on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company that provides critical technology services to some of the Internet’s top destinations. The attack began creating problems for Internet users reaching an array of sites, including Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify and Netflix.


A depiction of the outages caused by today’s attacks on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company. Source: Downdetector.com.

At first, it was unclear who or what was behind the attack on Dyn. But over the past few hours, at least one computer security firm has come out saying the attack involved Mirai, the same malware strain that was used in the record 620 Gpbs attack on my site last month. At the end September 2016, the hacker responsible for creating the Mirai malware released the source code for it, effectively letting anyone build their own attack army using Mirai.

Mirai scours the Web for IoT devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords, and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users.

According to researchers at security firm Flashpoint, today’s attack was launched at least in part by a Mirai-based botnet. Allison Nixon, director of research at Flashpoint, said the botnet used in today’s ongoing attack is built on the backs of hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies. The components that XiongMai makes are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” Nixon said, noting that Flashpoint hasn’t ruled out the possibility of multiple botnets being involved in the attack on Dyn.

“At least one Mirai [control server] issued an attack command to hit Dyn,” Nixon said. “Some people are theorizing that there were multiple botnets involved here. What we can say is that we’ve seen a Mirai botnet participating in the attack.”

As I noted earlier this month in Europe to Push New Security Rules Amid IoT Mess, many of these products from XiongMai and other makers of inexpensive, mass-produced IoT devices are essentially unfixable, and will remain a danger to others unless and until they are completely unplugged from the Internet. Continue reading →

Oct 16

DDoS on Dyn Impacts Twitter, Spotify, Reddit

Criminals this morning massively attacked Dyn, a company that provides core Internet services for Twitter, SoundCloud, Spotify, Reddit and a host of other sites, causing outages and slowness for many of Dyn’s customers.

Twitter is experiencing problems, as seen through the social media platform Hootsuite.

Twitter is experiencing problems, as seen through the social media platform Hootsuite.

In a statement, Dyn said that this morning, October 21, Dyn received a global distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on its DNS infrastructure on the east coast starting at around 7:10 a.m. ET (11:10 UTC).

“DNS traffic resolved from east coast name server locations are experiencing a service interruption during this time. Updates will be posted as information becomes available,” the company wrote.

DYN encouraged customers with concerns to check the company’s status page for updates and to reach out to its technical support team.

A DDoS is when crooks use a large number of hacked or ill-configured systems to flood a target site with so much junk traffic that it can no longer serve legitimate visitors.

DNS refers to Domain Name System services. DNS is an essential component of all Web sites, responsible for translating human-friendly Web site names like “example.com” into numeric, machine-readable Internet addresses. Anytime you send an e-mail or browse a Web site, your machine is sending a DNS look-up request to your Internet service provider to help route the traffic.


The attack on DYN comes just hours after DYN researcher Doug Madory presented a talk on DDoS attacks in Dallas, Texas at a meeting of the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG). Madory’s talk — available here on Youtube.com — delved deeper into research that he and I teamed up on to produce the data behind the story DDoS Mitigation Firm Has History of Hijacks. Continue reading →

Oct 16

Spreading the DDoS Disease and Selling the Cure

Earlier this month a hacker released the source code for Mirai, a malware strain that was used to launch a historically large 620 Gbps denial-of-service attack against this site in September. That attack came in apparent retribution for a story here which directly preceded the arrest of two Israeli men for allegedly running an online attack for hire service called vDOS. Turns out, the site where the Mirai source code was leaked had some very interesting things in common with the place vDOS called home.

The domain name where the Mirai source code was originally placed for download — santasbigcandycane[dot]cx — is registered at the same domain name registrar that was used to register the now-defunct DDoS-for-hire service vdos-s[dot]com.

Normally, this would not be remarkable, since most domain registrars have thousands or millions of domains in their stable. But in this case it is interesting mainly because the registrar used by both domains — a company called namecentral.comhas apparently been used to register just 38 domains since its inception by its current owner in 2012, according to a historic WHOIS records gathered by domaintools.com (for the full list see this PDF).

What’s more, a cursory look at the other domains registered via namecentral.com since then reveals a number of other DDoS-for-hire services, also known as “booter” or “stresser” services.

It’s extremely odd that someone would take on the considerable cost and trouble of creating a domain name registrar just to register a few dozen domains. It costs $3,500 to apply to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for a new registrar authority. The annual fee for being an ICANN-approved registrar is $4,000, and then there’s a $800 quarterly fee for smaller registrars. In short, domain name registrars generally need to register many thousands of new domains each year just to turn a profit.

Many of the remaining three dozen or so domains registered via Namecentral over the past few years are tied to vDOS. Before vDOS was taken offline it was massively hacked, and a copy of the user and attack database was shared with KrebsOnSecurity. From those records it was easy to tell which third-party booter services were using vDOS’s application programming interface (API), a software function that allowed them to essentially resell access to vDOS with their own white-labeled stresser.

And a number of those vDOS resellers were registered through Namecentral, including 83144692[dot].com — a DDoS-for-hire service marketed at Chinese customers. Another Namecentral domain — vstress.net — also was a vDOS reseller.

Other DDoS-for-hire domains registered through Namecentral include xboot[dot]net, xr8edstresser[dot]com, snowstresser[dot]com, ezstress[dot]com, exilestress[dot]com, diamondstresser[dot]net, dd0s[dot]pw, rebelsecurity[dot]net, and beststressers[dot]com.


Namecentral’s current owner is a 19-year-old California man by the name of Jesse Wu. Responding to questions emailed from KrebsOnSecurity, Wu said Namecentral’s policy on abuse was inspired by Cloudflare, the DDoS protection company that guards Namecentral and most of the above-mentioned DDoS-for-hire sites from attacks of the very kind they sell.

“I’m not sure (since registrations are automated) but I’m going to guess that the reason you’re interested in us is because some stories you’ve written in the past had domains registered on our service or otherwise used one of our services,” Wu wrote.

“We have a policy inspired by Cloudflare’s similar policy that we ourselves will remain content-neutral and in the support of an open Internet, we will almost never remove a registration or stop providing services, and furthermore we’ll take any effort to ensure that registrations cannot be influenced by anyone besides the actual registrant making a change themselves – even if such website makes us uncomfortable,” Wu said. “However, as a US based company, we are held to US laws, and so if we receive a valid court issued order to stop providing services to a client, or to turn over/disable a domain, we would happily comply with such order.”

Wu’s message continued:

“As of this email, we have never received such an order, we have never been contacted by any law enforcement agency, and we have never even received a legitimate, credible abuse report. We realize this policy might make us popular with ‘dangerous’ websites but even then, if we denied them services, simply not providing them services would not make such website stop existing, they would just have to find some other service provider/registrar or change domains more often. Our services themselves cannot be used for anything harmful – a domain is just a string of letters, and the rest of our services involve website/ddos protection/ecommerce security services designed to protect websites.”

Taking a page from Cloudflare, indeed. I’ve long taken Cloudflare to task for granting DDoS protection for countless DDoS-for-hire services, to no avail. I’ve maintained that Cloudflare has a blatant conflict of interest here, and that the DDoS-for-hire industry would quickly blast itself into oblivion because the proprietors of these attack services like nothing more than to turn their attack cannons on each other. Cloudflare has steadfastly maintained that picking and choosing who gets to use their network is a slippery slope that it will not venture toward.

Although Mr. Wu says he had nothing to do with the domains registered through Namecentral, public records filed elsewhere raise serious unanswered questions about that claim.

In my Sept. 8 story, Israeli Online Attack Service Earned $600,000 in Two Years, I explained that the hacked vDOS database indicated the service was run by two 18-year-old Israeli men. At some point, vDOS decided to protect all customer logins to the service with an extended validation (EV) SSL certificate. And for that, it needed to show it was tied to an actual corporate entity.

My investigation into those responsible for supporting vDOS began after I took a closer look at the SSL certificate that vDOS-S[dot]com used to encrypt customer logins. On May 12, 2015, Digicert.com issued an EV SSL certificate for vDOS, according to this record.

As we can see, whoever registered that EV cert did so using the business name VS NETWORK SERVICES LTD, and giving an address in the United Kingdom of 217 Blossomfield Rd., Solihull, West Midlands.

Who owns VS NETWORK SERVICES LTD? According this record from Companies House UK — an official ledger of corporations located in the United Kingdom — the director of the company was listed as one Thomas McGonagall. 

Records from Companies House UK on the firm responsible for registering vDOS's SSL certificate.

Records from Companies House UK on the firm responsible for registering vDOS’s SSL certificate.

This individual gave the same West Midlands address, stating that he was appointed to VS Network Services on May 12, 2015, and that his birthday was in May 1988. A search in Companies House for Thomas McGonagall shows that a person by that same name and address also was listed that very same day as a director for a company called REBELSECURITY LTD.

If we go back even further into the corporate history of this mysterious Mr. McGonagall we find that he was appointed director of NAMECENTRAL LTD on August 18, 2014. Mr. McGonagall’s birthday is listed as December 1995 in this record, and his address is given as 29 Wigorn Road, 29 Wigorn Road, Smethwick, West Midlands, United Kingdom, B67 5HL. Also on that same day, he was appointed to run EZSTRESS LTD, a company at the same Smethwick, West Midlands address.

Strangely enough, those company names correspond to other domains registered through Namecentral around the same time the companies were created, including rebelsecurity[dot]net, ezstress[dot]net.

Asked to explain the odd apparent corporate connections between Namecentral, vDOS, EZStress and Rebelsecurity, Wu chalked that up to an imposter or potential phishing attack.

“I’m not sure who that is, and we are not affiliated with Namecentral Ltd.,” he wrote. “I looked it up though and it seems like it is either closed or has never been active. From what you described it could be possible someone set up shell companies to try and get/resell EV certs (and someone’s failed attempt to set up a phishing site for us – thanks for the heads up).”

Interestingly, among the three dozen or so domains registered through Namecentral.com is “certificateavenue.com,” a site that until recently included nearly identical content as Namecentral’s home page and appears to be aimed at selling EV certs. Certificateavenue.com was responding as of early-October, but it is no longer online.

I also asked Wu why he chose to become a domain registrar when it appeared he had very few domains to justify the substantial annual costs of maintaining a registrar business. Continue reading →

Oct 16

Hackers Hit U.S. Senate GOP Committee

The national news media has been consumed of late with reports of Russian hackers breaking into networks of the Democratic National Committee. Lest the Republicans feel left out of all the excitement, a report this past week out of The Netherlands suggests Russian hackers have for the past six months been siphoning credit card data from visitors to the Web storefront of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

nrscThat’s right: If you purchased a “Never Hillary” poster or donated funds to the NRSC through its Web site between March 2016 and the first week of this month, there’s an excellent chance that your payment card data was siphoned by malware and is now for sale in the cybercrime underground.

News of the break-in comes from Dutch researcher Willem De Groot, co-founder and head of security at Dutch e-commerce site byte.nl. De Groot said the NRSC was one of more than 5,900 e-commerce sites apparently hacked by the same actors, and that the purloined card data was sent to a network of servers operated by a Russian-language Internet service provider incorporated in Belize.

De Groot said he dissected the malware planted on the NRSC’s site and other servers (his analysis of the malware is available here) and found that the hackers used security vulnerabilities or weak passwords to break in to the various e-commerce sites.

The researcher found the malware called home to specific Web destinations made to look like legitimate sites associated with e-commerce activity, such as jquery-cloud[dot]net, visa-cdn[dot]com, and magento-connection[dot]com.

“[The attackers] really went out of their way to pick domain names that look legitimate,” De Groot said.

The NRSC did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but a cached copy of the site’s source code from October 5, 2016 indicates the malicious code was on the site at the time (load this link, click “view source” and then Ctrl-F for “jquery-cloud.net”).

A majority of the malicious domains inserted into the hacked sites by the malware map back to a few hundred Internet addresses assigned to a company called dataflow[dot]su.

Dataflow markets itself as an “offshore” hosting provider with presences in Belize and The Seychelles. Dataflow has long been advertised on Russian-language cybercrime forums as an offshore haven that offers so-called “bulletproof hosting,” a phrase used to describe hosting firms that court all manner of sites that most legitimate hosting firms shun, including those that knowingly host spam and phishing sites as well as malicious software.

De Groot published a list of the sites currently present at Dataflow. The list speaks for itself as a collection of badness, including quite a number of Russian-language sites selling synthetic drugs and stolen credit card data.

According to De Groot, other sites that were retrofitted with the malware included e-commerce sites for the shoe maker Converse as well as the automaker Audi, although he says those sites and the NRSC’s have been scrubbed of the malicious software since his report was published. Continue reading →

Oct 16

Self-Checkout Skimmers Go Bluetooth

This blog has featured several stories about payment card skimming devices designed to be placed over top of credit card terminals in self-checkout lanes at grocery stores and other retailers. Many readers have asked for more details about the electronics that power these so-called “overlay” skimmers. Here’s a look at one overlay skimmer  equipped with Bluetooth technology that allows thieves to snarf swiped card data and PINs wirelessly using nothing more than a mobile phone.

The rather crude video below shows a Bluetooth enabled overlay skimmer crafted to be slipped directly over top of Ingenico iSC250 credit card terminals. These Ingenico terminals are widely used at countless U.S. based merchants; earlier this year I wrote about Ingenico overlay skimmers being found in self-checkout lanes at some WalMart locations.

The demo video briefly shows the electronics hidden on the back side of the overlay skimmer, but most of the sales video demonstrates the Bluetooth functionality built into the device. The video appears to show the skimmer seller connecting his mobile phone to the Bluetooth elements embedded in the skimmer. The demo continues on to show the phone intercepting PIN pad presses and card swipe data. Continue reading →

Oct 16

IoT Devices as Proxies for Cybercrime

Multiple stories published here over the past few weeks have examined the disruptive power of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices such as routers, IP cameras and digital video recorders. This post looks at how crooks are using hacked IoT devices as proxies to hide their true location online as they engage in a variety of other types of cybercriminal activity — from frequenting underground forums to credit card and tax refund fraud.

networktechniciansRecently, I heard from a cybersecurity researcher who’d created a virtual “honeypot” environment designed to simulate hackable IoT devices. The source, who asked to remain anonymous, said his honeypot soon began seeing traffic destined for Asus and Linksys routers running default credentials. When he examined what that traffic was designed to do, he found his honeypot systems were being told to download a piece of malware from a destination on the Web.

My source grabbed a copy of the malware, analyzed it, and discovered it had two basic functions: To announce to a set of Internet addresses hard-coded in the malware a registration “I’m here” beacon; and to listen for incoming commands, such as scanning for new vulnerable hosts or running additional malware. He then wrote a script to simulate the hourly “I’m here” beacons, interpret any “download” commands, and then execute the download and “run” commands.

The researcher found that the malware being pushed to his honeypot system was designed to turn his faux infected router into a “SOCKS proxy server,” essentially a host designed to route traffic between a client and a server. Most often, SOCKS proxies are used to anonymize communications because they can help obfuscate the true origin of the client that is using the SOCKS server.


When he realized how his system was being used, my source fired up several more virtual honeypots, and repeated the process. Employing a custom tool that allows the user to intercept (a.k.a. “man-in-the-middle”) encrypted SSL traffic, the researcher was able to collect the underlying encrypted data passing through his SOCKS servers and decrypt it.

What he observed was that all of the systems were being used for a variety of badness, from proxying Web traffic destined for cybercrime forums to testing stolen credit cards at merchant Web sites. Further study of the malware files and the traffic beacons emanating from the honeypot systems indicated his honeypots were being marketed on a Web-based criminal service that sells access to SOCKS proxies in exchange for Bitcoin.

Unfortunately, this type of criminal proxying is hardly new. Crooks have been using hacked PCs to proxy their traffic for eons. KrebsOnSecurity has featured numerous stories about cybercrime services that sell access to hacked computers as a means of helping thieves anonymize their nefarious activities online. Continue reading →

Oct 16

Microsoft: No More Pick-and-Choose Patching

Adobe and Microsoft today each issued updates to fix critical security flaws in their products. Adobe’s got fixes for Acrobat and Flash Player ready. Microsoft’s patch bundle for October includes fixes for at least five separate “zero-day” vulnerabilities — dangerous flaws that attackers were already exploiting prior to today’s patch release. Also notable this month is that Microsoft is changing how it deploys security updates, removing the ability for Windows users to pick and choose which individual patches to install.

brokenwindowsZero-day vulnerabilities describe flaws that even the makers of the targeted software don’t know about before they start seeing the flaws exploited in the wild, meaning the vendor has “zero days” to fix the bugs.

According to security vendor Qualys, Patch Tuesday updates fix zero-day bugs in Internet Explorer and Edge — the default browsers on different versions of Windows. MS16-121 addresses a zero-day in Microsoft Office. Another zero-day flaw affects GDI+ — a graphics component built into Windows that can be exploitable through the browser. The final zero-day is present in the Internet Messaging component of Windows.

Starting this month, home and business Windows users will no longer be able to pick and choose which updates to install and which to leave for another time. For example, I’ve often advised home users to hold off on installing .NET updates until all other patches for the month are applied — reasoning that .NET updates are very large and in my experience have frequently been found to be the source of problems when applying huge numbers of patches simultaneously.

But that cafeteria-style patching goes out the…err…Windows with this month’s release. Microsoft made the announcement in May of this year and revisited the subject again in August to add more detail behind its decision:

“Historically, we have released individual patches for these platforms, which allowed you to be selective with the updates you deployed,” wrote Nathan Mercer, a senior product marketing manager at Microsoft. “This resulted in fragmentation where different PCs could have a different set of updates installed leading to multiple potential problems:

  • Various combinations caused sync and dependency errors and lower update quality
  • Testing complexity increased for enterprises
  • Scan times increased
  • Finding and applying the right patches became challenging
  • Customers encountered issues where a patch was already released, but because it was in limited distribution it was hard to find and apply proactively

By moving to a rollup model, we bring a more consistent and simplified servicing experience to Windows 7 SP1 and 8.1, so that all supported versions of Windows follow a similar update servicing model. The new rollup model gives you fewer updates to manage, greater predictability, and higher quality updates. The outcome increases Windows operating system reliability, by eliminating update fragmentation and providing more proactive patches for known issues. Getting and staying current will also be easier with only one rollup update required. Rollups enable you to bring your systems up to date with fewer updates, and will minimize administrative overhead to install a large number of updates.”

Microsoft’s patch policy changes are slightly different for home versus business customers. Consumers on Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows 8.1 will henceforth receive what Redmond is calling a “Monthly Rollup,” which addresses both security issues and reliability issues in a single update. The “Security-only updates” option — intended for enterprises and not available via Windows Update —  will only include new security patches that are released for that month. 

What this means is that if any part of the patch bundle breaks, the only option is to remove the entire bundle (instead of the offending patch, as was previously possible). I have no doubt this simplifies things for Microsoft and likely saves them a ton of money, but my concern is this will leave end-users unable to apply critical patches simply due to a single patch breaking something. Continue reading →