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22
Dec 16

Before You Pay that Ransomware Demand…

A decade ago, if a desktop computer got infected with malware the chief symptom probably was an intrusive browser toolbar of some kind. Five years ago you were more likely to get whacked by a banking trojan that stole all your passwords and credit card numbers. These days if your mobile or desktop computer is infected what gets installed is likely to be “ransomware” — malicious software that locks your most prized documents, songs and pictures with strong encryption and then requires you to pay for a key to unlock the files.

Here’s some basic advice about where to go, what to do — and what not to do — when you or someone you know gets hit with ransomware.

Image: nomoreransom.org

Image: nomoreransom.org

First off — breathe deep and try not to panic. And don’t pay the ransom.

True, this may be easier said than done: In many cases the ransom note that hijacks the victim’s screen is accompanied by a digital clock ominously ticking down the minutes and seconds from 72 hours. When the timer expires, the ransom demand usually goes up or even doubles. Continue to ignore the demands and your files will be gone, kaput, nil, nyet, zilch, done forever, warns the extortion message.

See, the key objective of ransomware is a psychological one — to instill fear, uncertainty and dread in the victim — and to sow the conclusion in the victim’s mind that any solution for restoring full access to all his files involves paying up. Indeed, paying the ransom is often the easiest, fastest and most complete way of reversing a security mistake, such as failing to patch, opening a random emailed document e.g., or clicking a link that showed up unbidden in instant message. Some of the more advanced and professional ransomware operations have included helpful 24/7 web-based tech support.

The ransom note from a recent version of the "Locky" ransomware variant. Image: Bleepingcomputer.com.

The ransom note from a recent version of the “Locky” ransomware variant. Image: Bleepingcomputer.com.

Paying up is certainly not the cheapest option. The average ransom demanded is approximately $722, according to an analysis published in September by Trend Micro. Interestingly, Trend found the majority of organizations that get infected by ransomware end up paying the ransom. They also found three-quarters of companies which had not suffered a ransomware infection reported they would not pay up when presented with a data ransom demand. Clearly, people tend to see things differently when they’re the ones in the hot seat.

And for those not yet quite confident in the ways of Bitcoin (i.e. most victims), paying up means a crash course in acquiring the virtual currency known as Bitcoin. Some ransomware attackers are friendlier than others in helping victims wade through the process of setting up an account to handle Bitcoin, getting it funded, and figuring out how to pay other people with it. Others just let you figure it all out. The entire ordeal is a trial by fire for sure, but it can also be a very expensive, humbling and aggravating experience.

In the end the extortionist may bargain with you if they’re in a good mood, or if you have a great sob story. But they still want you to know that your choice is a binary one: Pay up, or kiss your sweet files goodbye forever.

This scenario reminds me of the classic short play/silent movie about the villainous landlord and the poor young lady who can’t pay the rent. I imagine the modern version of this play might go something like…

mustpaytherentVillain: You MUST pay the ransom!

Victim: I CAN’T pay the ransom!

Villain: You MUST pay the ransom!

Victim: I CAN’T pay the ransom!

Hero: I’ll pay the ransom!

Victim: Oh! My hero!

Villain: Curses! Foiled again!

Okay, nobody’s going to pay the ransomware demand for you (that’s only in Hollywood!). But just like the hero in the silent movie, there are quite a few people out there who are in fact working hard to help victims avoid paying the ransom (AND get their files back to boot).

Assuming you don’t have a recent backup you can restore, fear not: With at least some strains of ransomware, the good guys have already worked out a way to break or sidestep the encryption, and they’ve posted the keys needed to unlock these malware variants free of charge online.

But is the strain that hit your device one that experts already know how to crack?  Continue reading →


20
Dec 16

Report: $3-5M in Ad Fraud Daily from ‘Methbot’

New research suggests that an elaborate cybercrime ring is responsible for stealing between $3 million and $5 million worth of revenue from online publishers and video advertising networks each day. Experts say the scam relies on a vast network of cloaked Internet addresses, rented data centers, phony Web sites and fake users made to look like real people watching short ad segments online.

Online advertising fraud is a $7 billion a year problem, according to AdWeek. Much of this fraud comes from hacked computers and servers that are infected with malicious software which forces the computers to participate in ad fraud. Malware-based ad fraud networks are cheap to acquire and to run, but they’re also notoriously unstable and unreliable because they are constantly being discovered and cleaned up by anti-malware companies.

Now researchers say they’ve uncovered a new class of ad robot or “bot” fraud that was designed from the ground up to keep its nose clean — running not on infected hosts but instead distributed across a vast, rented network of dedicated Web servers and computers.

The Methbot ad fraud infrastructure. Image: White Ops.

The Methbot ad fraud infrastructure. Image: White Ops.

According to White Ops, a digital advertising security company based in New York City, those rented computers are connected to a network of more than 570,000 Internet addresses apparently leased or hijacked from various sources.

White Ops dubbed the video ad fraud network “Methbot,” and says the individuals at the helm of this network are spending upwards of $200,000 a month just maintaining a fully automated fraud network that imitates real Web site publishers showing real viewers video-based advertisements.

Ryan Castellucci, principal security researcher at White Ops, said Methbot’s coders built many of the fraud network’s tools from scratch — including the Web browser that each rented computer in the network uses to mimic Web sites displaying video ads. Spoofing actual news Web sites and other popular video-rich destinations, Methbot requests video ads from ad networks, and serves the ads to a vast array of bots that “watch” the videos.

To make each Web browsing session appear more like one generated by a human, Methbot simulates cursor clicks and mouse movements, and even forges social network login information so that it appears the user who viewed the ad was logged in to a social network at the time.

“They’ve written their own browser from scratch in Javascript, and this allows them to arbitrarily control the information that gets fed back to the ad networks and to companies like us who try to detect this stuff,” Castellucci said. “This has allowed Methbot to scale to beyond anything the industry has seen before, putting it in a new class of ad fraud.”

Interestingly, the registration records for virtually all of those Internet addresses have been forged so they appear to be controlled by some of the world’s largest Internet service providers (ISPs).

For instance, one of the many Internet addresses White Ops says was used by Methbot — 196.62.126*117 — is registered in October 2015 to AT&T Services Inc., but the contact address is “adw0rd.yandex.ru@gmail.com” (the letter “o” is a zero). Adw0rd is no doubt a play on Google Adwords, an online advertising service where advertisers pay to display brief advertising copy to Web users.

Another address tied to Methbot — 196.62.3*117 — is registered to the same adw0rd.yandex.ru@gmail.com account but also to “Comcast Cable Communications, Inc.” Records for another Methbot IP — 161.8.252.* — says the address is owned by “Verizon Trademark Services LLC.

Whoever dreamed up Methbot clearly spent a great deal of time and money building the fraud machine. For example, White Ops says the address space alone used by this ad fraud operation has a current market value of approximately $4 million. A full list of the 570,000+ Internet addresses used by Methbot is published in the White Ops report page.

“Methbot operators invested significant time, research, development, and resources to build infrastructure designed to remove these limitations and provide them with unlimited scale,” White Ops said in its report. “They created dedicated data centers to support proxy networks in order to hide the single origin source of their operation. This is the first time we’ve seen data centers impersonating residential internet connections. This makes the scale of this operation virtually unlimited, with none of the typical durability issues of maintaining a constant base of infected user machines.”

Methbot is thought to have made quite a bit more than malware-based ad bots that came before it. Source: White Ops.

Methbot is thought to have helped steal quite a bit more ad revenue than malware-based ad bots that came before it. Source: White Ops.

White Ops said it estimated the earning potential of Methbot by looking at the number of phony video ad impressions it could serve up and the average cost to advertisers for displaying those ads. Assuming an average CPM (cost per mille, or per thousand number of impressions) of $13, the company estimates Methbot has the ability to serve between more than 300 million impressions each day, with a daily revenue ranging from $2.6 million to $5.2 million. Continue reading →


14
Dec 16

New Critical Fixes for Flash, MS Windows

Both Adobe and Microsoft on Tuesday issued patches to plug critical security holes in their products. Adobe’s Flash Player patch addresses 17 security flaws, including one “zero-day” bug that is already actively being exploited by attackers. Microsoft’s bundle of updates tackles at least 42 security weaknesses in Windows and associated software.

brokenwindows

Half of the dozen patches Microsoft released yesterday earned its “critical” rating, meaning the flaws fixed in the updates could be exploited by malware or miscreants to seize remote control over vulnerable Windows computers without any help from users.

As per usual, the largest share of flaws fixed are in Microsoft’s browsers — Internet Explorer and Edge. Also included in the mix are updates for Microsoft Office and .NET.

According to security firm Shavlik, several of the vulnerabilities fixed with this Microsoft patches were publicly disclosed prior to this week, meaning would-be attackers have had a head start trying to figure out how to exploit them.

As part of a new Microsoft policy that took effect in October, 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. 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). Continue reading →


13
Dec 16

‘Operation Tarpit’ Targets Customers of Online Attack-for-Hire Services

Federal investigators in the United States and Europe last week arrested nearly three-dozen people suspected of patronizing so-called “booter” services that can be hired to knock targeted Web sites offline. The global crackdown is part of an effort by authorities to weaken demand for these services by impressing upon customers that hiring someone to launch cyberattacks on your behalf can land you in jail.

On Dec. 9, 2016, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Sean Sharma, a 26-year-old student at the University of California accused of using a booter service to knock a San Francisco chat service company’s Web site offline.

Sharma was one of almost three dozen others across 13 countries who were arrested on suspicion of paying for cyberattacks. As part of a coordinated law enforcement effort dubbed “Operation Tarpit,” investigators here and abroad also executed more than 100 so-called “knock-and-talk” interviews with booter buyers who were quizzed about their involvement but not formally charged with crimes.

Netspoof's DDoS-for-hire packages. Image: Samsclass.info.

Netspoof’s DDoS-for-hire packages. Image: Samsclass.info.

Stresser and booter services leverage commercial hosting services and security weaknesses in Internet-connected devices to hurl huge volleys of junk traffic at targeted Web sites. These attacks, known as “distributed denial-of-service” (DDoS) assaults, are digital sieges aimed at causing a site to crash or at least to remain unreachable by legitimate Web visitors.

“DDoS tools are among the many specialized cyber crime services available for hire that may be used by professional criminals and novices alike,” said Steve Kelly, FBI unit chief of the International Cyber Crime Coordination Cell, a task force created earlier this year by the FBI whose stated mission is to ‘defeat the most significant cyber criminals and enablers of the cyber underground.’ “While the FBI is working with our international partners to apprehend and prosecute sophisticated cyber criminals, we also want to deter the young from starting down this path.”

According to Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, the operation involved arrests and interviews of suspected DDoS-for-hire customers in Australia, Belgium, France, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. Europol said investigators are only warning one-time users, but aggressively pursuing repeat offenders who frequented the booter services.

“This successful operation marks the kick-off of a prevention campaign in all participating countries in order to raise awareness of the risk of young adults getting involved in cybercrime,” reads a statement released Monday by Europol. “Many do it for fun without realizing the consequences of their actions – but the penalties can be severe and have a negative impact on their future prospects.”

The arrests stemmed at least in part from successes that investigators had infiltrating a booter service operating under the name “Netspoof.” According to the U.K.’s National Crime Agency, Netspoof offered subscription packages ranging from £4 (~USD $5) to £380 (~USD $482) – with some customers paying more than £8,000 (> USD $10,000) to launch hundreds of attacks. The NCA said twelve people were arrested in connection with the Netspoof investigation, and that victims included gaming providers, government departments, internet hosting companies, schools and colleges.

The Netspoof portion of last week’s operation was fueled by the arrest of Netspoof’s founder — 20-year-old U.K. resident Grant Manser. As Bleeping Computer reports, Manser’s business had 12,800 registered users, of which 400 bought his tools, launching 603,499 DDoS attacks on 224,548 targets.

Manser was sentenced in April 2016 to two years youth detention suspended for 18 months, as well as 100 hours of community service. According to BC’s Catalin Cimpanu, the judge in Manser’s case went easy on him because he built safeguards in his tools that prevented customers from attacking police, hospitals and government institutions. Continue reading →


8
Dec 16

‘Avalanche’ Crime Ring Leader Eludes Justice

The accused ringleader of a cyber fraud gang that allegedly rented out access to a criminal cloud hosting service known as “Avalanche” is now a fugitive from justice following a bizarre series of events in which he shot at Ukrainian police, was arrested on cybercrime charges and then released from custody.

Gennady Kapkanov. Source: NPU.gov

Gennady Kapkanov. Source: NPU.gov

On Nov. 30, authorities across Europe coordinated the arrest of five individuals thought to be tied to the Avalanche crime gang, in an operation that the FBI and its partners abroad described as an unprecedented global law enforcement response to cybercrime.

According to Ukrainian news outlets, the alleged leader of the gang — 33-year-old Russian Gennady Kapkanov — did not go quietly. Kapkanov allegedly shot at officers with a Kalashnikov assault rifle through the front door as they prepared to raid his home, and then attempted to escape off of his 4th floor apartment balcony.

Ukrainian police arrested Kapkanov and booked him on cybercrime charges. But a judge in the city of Poltava, Ukraine later ordered Kapkanov released, saying the prosecution had failed to file the proper charges (including charges of shooting at police officers), charges which could have allowed authorities to hold him much longer. Ukrainian media reports that police have since lost track of Kapkanov.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko is now calling for the ouster of the prosecutor in charge of the case. Meanwhile, the Ukranian authorities are now asking the public for help in re-arresting Kapkanov.

kapkanovguns

Weapons police say they seized from Kapkanov’s apartment. Source: npu.gov.ua

Continue reading →


6
Dec 16

Researchers Find Fresh Fodder for IoT Attack Cannons

New research published this week could provide plenty of fresh fodder for Mirai, a malware strain that enslaves poorly-secured Internet of Things (IoT) devices for use in powerful online attacks. Researchers in Austria have unearthed a pair of backdoor accounts in more than 80 different IP camera models made by Sony Corp. Separately, Israeli security experts have discovered trivially exploitable weaknesses in nearly a half-million white-labeled IP camera models that are not currently sought out by Mirai.

A Sony IPELA camera. Image: Sony.

A Sony IPELA camera. Image: Sony.

In a blog post published today, Austrian security firm SEC Consult said it found two apparent backdoor accounts in Sony IPELA Engine IP Cameras  devices mainly used by enterprises and authorities. According to SEC Consult, the two previously undocumented user accounts — named “primana” and “debug” — could be used by remote attackers to commandeer the Web server built into these devices, and then to enable “telnet” on them.

Telnet — a protocol that allows remote logons over the Internet — is the very same communications method abused by Mirai, which constantly scours the Web for IoT devices with telnet enabled and protected by factory-default passwords.

“We believe that this backdoor was introduced by Sony developers on purpose (maybe as a way to debug the device during development or factory functional testing) and not an ‘unauthorized third party’ like in other cases (e.g. the Juniper ScreenOS Backdoor, CVE-2015-7755),” SEC Consult wrote.

It’s unclear precisely how many Sony IP cameras may be vulnerable, but a scan of the Web using Censys.io indicates there are at least 4,250 that are currently reachable over the Internet.

“Those Sony IPELA ENGINE IP camera devices are definitely reachable on the Internet and a potential target for Mirai-like botnets, but of course it depends on the network/firewall configuration,” said Johannes Greil, head of SEC Consult Vulnerability Lab. “From our point of view, this is only the tip of the iceberg because it’s only one search string from the device we have.”

Greil said there are other undocumented functionalities in the Sony IP cameras that could be maliciously used by malware or miscreants, such as commands that can be invoked to distort images and/or video recorded by the cameras, or a camera heating feature that could be abused to overheat the devices.

Sony did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But the researchers said Sony has quietly made available to its users an update that disables the backdoor accounts on the affected devices. However, users still need to manually update the firmware using a program called SNC Toolbox.

Greil said it seems likely that the backdoor accounts have been present in Sony cameras for at least four years, as there are signs that someone may have discovered the hidden accounts back in 2012 and attempted to crack the passwords then. SEC Consult’s writeup on their findings is available here.

In other news, researchers at security firm Cybereason say they’ve found at least two previously unknown security flaws in dozens of IP camera families that are white-labeled under a number of different brands (and some without brands at all) that are available for purchase via places like eBay and Amazon. The devices are all administered with the password “888888,” and may be remotely accessible over the Internet if they are not protected behind a firewall. KrebsOnSecurity has confirmed that while the Mirai botnet currently includes this password in the combinations it tries, the username for this password is not part of Mirai’s current configuration.

But Cybereason’s team found that they could easily exploit these devices even if they were set up behind a firewall. That’s because all of these cameras ship with a factory-default peer-to-peer (P2P) communications capability that enables remote “cloud” access to the devices via the manufacturer’s Web site — provided a customer visits the site and provides the unique camera ID stamped on the bottom of the devices.

Although it may seem that attackers would need physical access to the vulnerable devices in order to derive those unique camera IDs, Cybereason’s principal security researcher Amit Serper said the company figured out a simple way to enumerate all possible camera IDs using the manufacturer’s Web site.

“We reverse engineered these cameras so that we can use the manufacturer’s own infrastructure to access them and do whatever we want,” Serper said. “We can use the company’s own cloud network and from there jump onto the customer’s network.” Continue reading →


5
Dec 16

DDoS, IoT Top Cybersecurity Priorities for 45th President

Addressing distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks designed to knock Web services offline and security concerns introduced by the so-called “Internet of Things” (IoT) should be top cybersecurity priorities for the 45th President of the United States, according to a newly released blue-ribbon report commissioned by President Obama.

commish“The private sector and the Administration should collaborate on a roadmap for improving the security of digital networks, in particular by achieving robustness against denial-of-service, spoofing, and other attacks on users and the nation’s network infrastructure,” reads the first and foremost cybersecurity recommendation for President-elect Donald Trump. “The urgency of the situation demands that the next Administration move forward promptly on our recommendations, working closely with Congress and the private sector.”

The 12-person, non-partisan commission produced a 90-page report (PDF) and recommended as their very first action item that the incoming President “should direct senior federal executives to launch a private–public initiative, including provisions to undertake, monitor, track, and report on measurable progress in enabling agile, coordinated responses and mitigation of attacks on the users and the nation’s network infrastructure.”

The panel said this effort should build on previous initiatives, such as a 2011 program by the U.S. Department of Commerce called the Industry Botnet Group.

“Specifically, this effort would identify the actions that can be taken by organizations responsible for the Internet and communications ecosystem to define, identify, report, reduce, and respond to attacks on users and the nation’s network infrastructure,” the report urged. “This initiative should include regular reporting on the actions that these organizations are already taking and any changes in technology, law, regulation, policy, financial reimbursement, or other incentives that may be necessary to support further action—while ensuring that no participating entity obstructs lawful content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.”

The report spans some six major imperatives, including 16 recommendations and 63 associated action items. The second major imperative focuses on IoT security concerns, and urges the federal government and private industry to embark upon a number of initiatives to “rapidly and purposefully to improve the security of the Internet of Things.”

“The Department of Justice should lead an interagency study with the Departments of Commerce and Homeland Security and work with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and interested private sector parties to assess the current state of the law with regard to liability for harm caused by faulty IoT devices and provide recommendations within 180 days,” the panel recommended. “To the extent that the law does not provide appropriate incentives for companies to design security into their products, and does not offer protections for those that do, the President should draw on these recommendations to present Congress with a legislative proposal to address identified gaps, as well as explore actions that could be accomplished through executive order.”

Meanwhile, Morning Consult reports that U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has laid out an unexpected roadmap through which the agency could regulate the security of IoT devices. The proposed certification process was laid out in a response to a letter sent by Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) shortly after the IoT-based attacks in October that targeted Internet infrastructure company Dyn and knocked offline a number of the Web’s top destinations for the better part of a day.

Morning Consult’s Brendan Bordelon notes that while Wheeler is set to step down as chairman on Jan. 20, “the new framework could be used to support legislation enhancing the FCC’s ability to regulate IoT devices.” Continue reading →


2
Dec 16

Visa Delays Chip Deadline for Pumps To 2020

Visa this week delayed by three years a deadline for fuel station owners to install payment terminals at the pump that are capable of handling more secure chip-based cards. Experts say the new deadline — extended from 2017 — comes amid a huge spike in fuel pump skimming, and means fraudsters will have another three years to fleece banks and their customers by installing card-skimming devices at the pump.

Until this week, fuel station owners in the United States had until October 1, 2017 to install chip-capable readers at their pumps. Under previous Visa rules, station owners that didn’t have chip-ready readers in place by then would have been on the hook to absorb 100 percent of the costs of fraud associated with transactions in which the customer presented a chip-based card yet was not asked or able to dip the chip (currently, card-issuing banks eat most of the fraud costs from fuel skimming). The chip card technology standard, also known as EMV (short for Europay, MasterCard and Visa) makes credit and debit cards far more expensive and difficult for thieves to clone.

This week, however, Visa said fuel station owners would have until October 1, 2020 to meet the liability shift deadline.

A Bluetooth-based pump card skimmer found inside of a Food N Things pump in Arizona in April 2016.

A Bluetooth-based pump card skimmer found inside of a Food N Things pump in Arizona in April 2016.

“The fuel segment has its own unique challenges, which we recognized when we first set the chip activation date for automated fuel dispensers/pumps (AFDs) two years after regular in-store locations,” Visa said in a statement explaining its decision. “We knew that the AFD segment would need more time to upgrade to chip because of the complicated infrastructure and specialized technology required for fuel pumps. For instance, in some cases, older pumps may need to be replaced before adding chip readers, requiring specialized vendors and breaking into concrete. Furthermore, five years after announcing our liability shift, there are still issues with a sufficient supply of regulatory-compliant EMV hardware and software to enable most upgrades by 2017.”

Visa said fuel pump skimming accounts for just 1.3 percent of total U.S. payment card fraud.

“During this interim period, Visa will monitor AFD fraud trends closely and work with merchants, acquirers and issuers to help mitigate any potential counterfeit fraud exposure at AFDs,” Visa said.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc., said the deadline shift wasn’t unexpected given how many U.S. fuel stations are behind on costly updates, noting that in some cases it can cost more than $10,000 per pump to accommodate chip card readers. The National Association of Convenience Stores estimates that station operators will spend approximately $30,000 per store to accommodate chip readers, and that the total cost to the fuel industry could exceed $4 billion.

“Some of them you can just replace the payment module inside the pump, but the older pumps will need to be completely removed and replaced,” Litan said. “Gas stations and their unattended pumps have always been an easy target for thieves. The fraud usually migrates to the point of least resistance, and we’re seeing now the fraudsters really moving to targeting unattended stations that haven’t been upgraded.” Continue reading →