KrebsOnSecurity has obtained an exclusive look inside the back-end operations of the recently-destroyed Grum spam botnet. It appears that the crime machine was larger and more complex than many experts had imagined. It also looks like my previous research into the identity of the Grum botmaster was right on target.
In February, I published the results of an investigation into the identity of the man behind the once-infamous Srizbi spam botnet. Today’s post looks at the individual(s) likely involved in running the now-defunct Xarvester botnet, a spam machine that experts say appeared shortly after Srizbi went offline and shared remarkably similar traits.
Srizbi was also known in the underground as “Reactor Mailer,” and customers could register to spam from the crime machine by logging into accounts at reactormailer.com. That domain was registered to a firstname.lastname@example.org, an address that my reporting indicates was used by a Philipp Pogosov; more commonly known by his nickname SPM, Pogosov was a top moneymaker for SpamIt, a rogue online pharmacy affiliate program that was responsible for a huge percentage of junk email over the past half-decade.
Roughly five years after it burst onto the malware scene, the notorious Grum spam botnet has been disconnected from the Internet. Grum has consistently been among the top three biggest sources of junk email, a crime machine capable of blasting 18 billion messages per day and responsible for sending about one-third of all spam.
Shadowy online businesses that sell knockoff prescription drugs through spam and other dodgy advertising practices have begun relying more heavily on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver prescription drugs to buyers in the United States direct from warehouses or mules within the U.S. The shift comes as rogue online pill shops are seeking ways to lower shipping costs, a major loss leader for most of these operations.
Traditionally, a majority of the counterfeit pills advertised and sold to Americans online have shipped from India. But the process of getting the pills from India to customers in the United States is so expensive and fraught with complications that it has proved to be a big cost center for the largest rogue pharmaceutical operations, according to a study I wrote about last month.
Consumer demand for cheap prescription drugs sold through spam-advertised Web sites shows no sign of abating, according to a new analysis of bookeeping records maintained by three of the world’s largest rogue pharmacy operations.
Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, the International Computer Science Institute and George Mason University examined caches of data showing the day-to-day finances of GlavMed, SpamIt, and Rx-Promotion, shadowy affiliate programs that over a four-year period processed more than $170 million worth of orders from customers seeking cheaper, more accessible and more discretely available drugs. The result is is perhaps the most detailed analysis yet of the business case for the malicious software and spam epidemics that persist to this day.
Pavel Vrublevsky, the co-founder of Russian payment processor ChronoPay, is set to appear before a judge this week in a criminal case in which he is accused of hiring a botmaster to attack a competitor. Prosecutors believe that the man Vrublevsky hired in that attack was the curator of the Festi botnet, a spam-spewing machine that also has been implicated in a number of high-profile denial-of-service assaults.
It was mid November 2011. I was shivering on the upper deck of an aging cruise ship docked at the harbor in downtown Rotterdam. Inside, a big-band was jamming at a reception for attendees of the GovCert cybersecurity conference, where I had delivered a presentation earlier that day on a long-running turf war between two of the largest sponsors of spam.
The evening was bracingly frigid and blustery, and I was waiting there to be introduced to investigators from the Russian Federal Security Service; several FSB agents who attended the conference told our Dutch hosts that they wanted to meet me in a private setting. Stepping out the night air, a woman from the conference approached, formally presented the three men behind her, and then hurried back inside to the warmth of the reception
Employee and financial records leaked from some of the world’s largest sponsors of spam provide new clues about the identity of a previously unknown Russian man believed to have been closely tied to the development and maintenance of “Bredolab,” a massive collection of hacked machines that was disassembled in an international law enforcement sweep in late 2010.
In October 2010, Armenian authorities arrested 27-year-old Georg Avanesov on suspicion of running Bredolab, a botnet that infected an estimated 3 million PCs per month through virus-laden e-mails and booby-trapped Web sites. The arrest resulted from a joint investigation between Armenian police and cyber sleuths in the Netherlands, whose ISPs were home to at least 143 servers used to direct the botnet’s activities.
Half of all “rogue” online pharmacies — sites that sell prescription drugs without requiring a prescription — got their Web site names from just two domain name registrars, a study released today found. The findings illustrate the challenges facing Internet policymakers in an industry that is largely self-regulated and rewards companies who market their services as safe havens for shadowy businesses.
The cybercrime underground is expanding each day, yet the longer I research this subject the more convinced I am that much of it is run by a fairly small and loose-knit group of hackers. That suspicion was reinforced this week when I discovered that the author of the infamous ZeuS Trojan was a core member of Spamdot, until recently the most exclusive online forum for spammers and the shady businessmen who maintain the biggest spam botnets.
Thanks to a deep-seated enmity between the owners of two of the largest spam affiliate programs, the database for Spamdot was leaked to a handful of investigators and researchers, including KrebsOnSecurity. The forum includes all members’ public posts and private messages — even those that members thought had been deleted. I’ve been poring over those private messages in an effort to map alliances and to learn more about the individuals behind the top spam botnets.