A Little Sunshine


24
Sep 18

Beware of Hurricane Florence Relief Scams

If you’re thinking of donating money to help victims of Hurricane Florence, please do your research on the charitable entity before giving: A slew of new domains apparently related to Hurricane Florence relief efforts are now accepting donations on behalf of victims without much accountability for how the money will be spent.

For the past two weeks, KrebsOnSecurity has been monitoring dozens of new domain name registrations that include the terms “hurricane” and/or “florence” and some word related to support (e.g., “relief,” “assistance,” etc.). Most of these domains have remained parked or dormant since their creation earlier this month; however, several of them became active only in the past few days, directing visitors to donate money through private PayPal accounts without providing any information about who is running the site or what will be done with donated funds.

The landing page for hurricaneflorencerelieffund-dot-com also is the landing page for at least 4 other Hurricane Florence donation sites that use the same anonymous PayPal address.

Among the earliest of these is hurricaneflorencerelieffund-dot-com, registered anonymously via GoDaddy on Sept. 13, 2018. Donations sent through the site’s PayPal page go to an email address tied to the PayPal account on the site (info@hurricaneflorencerelieffund-dot-com); emails to that address did not elicit a response.

Sometime in the past few days, several other Florence-related domains that were previous parked at GoDaddy now redirect to this domain, including hurricanflorence-dot-org (note the missing “e”); florencedisaster-dot-org; florencefunds-dot-com; and hurricaneflorencedonation-dot-com. All of these domains include the phone number 833-FLO-FUND, which rings to an automated system that ultimately asks the caller to leave a message. There is no information provided about the organization or individual running the sites.

The domain hurricaneflorencedisasterfund-dot-com has a slightly different look and feel, invokes the name of the Red Cross and also includes the 833-FLO-FUND number. Likewise, it accepts PayPal donations tied to the same email address mentioned above. It claims “80% of all donations go directly to FIRST RESPONDERS in North & South Carolina!” although it provides no clear way to verify that claim.

Hurricaneflorencedisasterfund-dot-com is one of several domains anonymously accepting PayPal donations, purportedly on behalf of Hurricane Florence victims.

The domain hurricaneflorencerelief-dot-fund, registered on Sept. 11, also accepts PayPal donations with minimal information about who might benefit from monies given. The site links to Facebook, Twitter and other social network accounts set up with the same name, although none of them appear to have any meaningful content. The email address tied to that PayPal account — hurricaneflorencerelief@gmail.com — did not respond to requests for comment.

The domain theflorencefund-dot-com until recently also accepted PayPal donations and had an associated Twitter account (now deleted), but that domain recently changed its homepage to include the message, “Due to the change in Florence’s path, we’re suspending our efforts.” Continue reading →


21
Sep 18

Credit Freezes are Free: Let the Ice Age Begin

It is now free in every U.S. state to freeze and unfreeze your credit file and that of your dependents, a process that blocks identity thieves and others from looking at private details in your consumer credit history. If you’ve been holding out because you’re not particularly worried about ID theft, here’s another reason to reconsider: The credit bureaus profit from selling copies of your file to others, so freezing your file also lets you deny these dinosaurs a valuable revenue stream.

Enacted in May 2018, the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act rolls back some of the restrictions placed on banks in the wake of the Great Recession of the last decade. But it also includes a silver lining. Previously, states allowed the bureaus to charge a confusing range of fees for placing, temporarily thawing or lifting a credit freeze. Today, those fees no longer exist.

A security freeze essentially blocks any potential creditors from being able to view or “pull” your credit file, unless you affirmatively unfreeze or thaw your file beforehand. With a freeze in place on your credit file, ID thieves can apply for credit in your name all they want, but they will not succeed in getting new lines of credit in your name because few if any creditors will extend that credit without first being able to gauge how risky it is to loan to you (i.e., view your credit file).

And because each credit inquiry caused by a creditor has the potential to lower your credit score, the freeze also helps protect your score, which is what most lenders use to decide whether to grant you credit when you truly do want it and apply for it.

To file a freeze, consumers must contact each of the three major credit bureaus online, by phone or by mail. Here’s the updated contact information for the big three:

Online: Equifax Freeze Page
By phone: 800-685-1111
By Mail: Equifax Security Freeze
P.O. Box 105788
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5788

Online: Experian
By phone: 888-397-3742
By Mail: Experian Security Freeze
P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

Online: TransUnion
By Phone: 888-909-8872
By Mail: TransUnion LLC
P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016

Spouses may request freezes for each other by phone as long as they pass authentication.

The new law also makes it free to place, thaw and lift freezes for dependents under the age of 16, or for incapacitated adult family members. However, this process is not currently available online or by phone, as it requires parents/guardians to submit written documentation (“sufficient proof of authority”), such as a copy of a birth certificate and copy of a Social Security card issued by the Social Security Administration, or — in the case of an incapacitated family member — proof of power of attorney.

In addition, the law requires the big three bureaus to offer free electronic credit monitoring services to all active duty military personnel. It also changes the rules for “fraud alerts,” which currently are free but only last for 90 days. With a fraud alert on your credit file, lenders or service providers should not grant credit in your name without first contacting you to obtain your approval — by phone or whatever other method you specify when you apply for the fraud alert.

Another important change: Fraud alerts now last for one year (previously they lasted just 90 days) but consumers can renew them each year. Bear in mind, however, that while lenders and service providers are supposed to seek and obtain your approval before granting credit in your name if you have a fraud alert on your file, they’re not legally required to do this. Continue reading →


17
Sep 18

GovPayNow.com Leaks 14M+ Records

Government Payment Service Inc. — a company used by thousands of U.S. state and local governments to accept online payments for everything from traffic citations and licensing fees to bail payments and court-ordered fines — has leaked more than 14 million customer records dating back at least six years, including names, addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of the payer’s credit card.

Indianapolis-based GovPayNet, doing business online as GovPayNow.com, serves approximately 2,300 government agencies in 35 states. GovPayNow.com displays an online receipt when citizens use it to settle state and local government fees and fines via the site. Until this past weekend it was possible to view millions of customer records simply by altering digits in the Web address displayed by each receipt.

On Friday, Sept. 14, KrebsOnSecurity alerted GovPayNet that its site was exposing at least 14 million customer receipts dating back to 2012. Two days later, the company said it had addressed “a potential issue.”

“GovPayNet has addressed a potential issue with our online system that allows users to access copies of their receipts, but did not adequately restrict access only to authorized recipients,” the company said in a statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity.

The statement continues:

“The company has no indication that any improperly accessed information was used to harm any customer, and receipts do not contain information that can be used to initiate a financial transaction. Additionally, most information in the receipts is a matter of public record that may be accessed through other means. Nonetheless, out of an abundance of caution and to maximize security for users, GovPayNet has updated this system to ensure that only authorized users will be able to view their individual receipts. We will continue to evaluate security and access to all systems and customer records.”

In January 2018, GovPayNet was acquired by Securus Technologies, a Carrollton, Texas- based company that provides telecommunications services to prisons and helps law enforcement personnel keep tabs on mobile devices used by former inmates.

Although its name may suggest otherwise, Securus does not have a great track record in securing data. In May 2018, the New York Times broke the news that Securus’ service for tracking the cell phones of convicted felons was being abused by law enforcement agencies to track the real-time location of mobile devices used by people who had only been suspected of committing a crime. The story observed that authorities could use the service to track the real-time location of nearly any mobile phone in North America.

Just weeks later, Motherboard reported that hackers had broken into Securus’ systems and stolen the online credentials for multiple law enforcement officials who used the company’s systems to track the location of suspects via their mobile phone number.

A story here on May 22 illustrated how Securus’ site appeared to allow anyone to reset the password of an authorized Securus user simply by guessing the answer to one of three pre-selected “security questions,” including “what is your pet name,” “what is your favorite color,” and “what town were you born in”. Much like GovPayNet, the Securus Web site seemed to have been erected sometime in the aughts and left to age ungracefully for years.

Choose wisely and you, too, could gain the ability to look up anyone’s precise mobile location.

Continue reading →


12
Sep 18

U.S. Mobile Giants Want to be Your Online Identity

The four major U.S. wireless carriers today detailed a new initiative that may soon let Web sites eschew passwords and instead authenticate visitors by leveraging data elements unique to each customer’s phone and mobile subscriber account, such as location, customer reputation, and physical attributes of the device. Here’s a look at what’s coming, and the potential security and privacy trade-offs of trusting the carriers to handle online authentication on your behalf.

Tentatively dubbed “Project Verify” and still in the private beta testing phase, the new authentication initiative is being pitched as a way to give consumers both a more streamlined method of proving one’s identity when creating a new account at a given Web site, as well as replacing passwords and one-time codes for logging in to existing accounts at participating sites.

Here’s a promotional and explanatory video about Project Verify produced by the Mobile Authentication Task Force, whose members include AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon:

The mobile companies say Project Verify can improve online authentication because they alone have access to several unique signals and capabilities that can be used to validate each customer and their mobile device(s). This includes knowing the approximate real-time location of the customer; how long they have been a customer and used the device in question; and information about components inside the customer’s phone that are only accessible to the carriers themselves, such as cryptographic signatures tied to the device’s SIM card.

The Task Force currently is working on building its Project Verify app into the software that gets pre-loaded onto mobile devices sold by the four major carriers. The basic idea is that third-party Web sites could let the app (and, by extension, the user’s mobile provider) handle the process of authenticating the user’s identity, at which point the app would interactively log the user in without the need of a username and password.

In another example, participating sites could use Project Verify to supplement or replace existing authentication processes, such as two-factor methods that currently rely on sending the user a one-time passcode via SMS/text messages, which can be intercepted by cybercrooks.

The carriers also are pitching their offering as a way for consumers to pre-populate data fields on a Web site — such as name, address, credit card number and other information typically entered when someone wants to sign up for a new user account at a Web site or make purchases online.

Johannes Jaskolski, general manager for Mobile Authentication Task Force and assistant vice president of identity security at AT&T, said the group is betting that Project Verify will be attractive to online retailers partly because it can help them capture more sign-ups and sales from users who might otherwise balk at having to manually provide lots of data via a mobile device.

“We can be a primary authenticator where, just by authenticating to our app, you can then use that service,” Jaskolski said. “That can be on your mobile, but it could also be on another device. With subscriber consent, we can populate that information and make it much more effortless to sign up for or sign into services online. In other markets, we have found this type of approach reduced [customer] fall-out rates, so it can make third-party businesses more successful in capturing that.”

Jaskolski said customers who take advantage of Project Verify will be able to choose what types of data get shared between their wireless provider and a Web site on a per-site basis, or opt to share certain data elements across the board with sites that leverage the app for authentication and e-commerce.

“Many companies already rely on the mobile device today in their customer authentication flows, but what we’re saying is there’s going to be a better way to do this in a method that is intended from the start to serve authentication use cases,” Jaskolski said. “This is what everyone has been seeking from us already in co-opting other mobile features that were simply never designed for authentication.” Continue reading →


5
Sep 18

Browser Extensions: Are They Worth the Risk?

Popular file-sharing site Mega.nz is warning users that cybercriminals hacked its browser extension for Google Chrome so that usernames and passwords submitted through the browser were copied and forwarded to a rogue server in Ukraine. This attack serves as a fresh reminder that legitimate browser extensions can and periodically do fall into the wrong hands, and that it makes good security sense to limit your exposure to such attacks by getting rid of extensions that are no longer useful or actively maintained by developers.

In a statement posted to its Web site, Mega.nz said the extension for Chrome was compromised after its Chrome Web store account was hacked. From their post:

“On 4 September 2018 at 14:30 UTC, an unknown attacker uploaded a trojaned version of MEGA’s Chrome extension, version 3.39.4, to the Google Chrome webstore. Upon installation or autoupdate, it would ask for elevated permissions (Read and change all your data on the websites you visit) that MEGA’s real extension does not require and would (if permissions were granted) exfiltrate credentials for sites including amazon.com, live.com, github.com, google.com (for webstore login), myetherwallet.com, mymonero.com, idex.market and HTTP POST requests to other sites, to a server located in Ukraine. Note that mega.nz credentials were not being exfiltrated.”

Browser extensions can be incredibly handy and useful, but compromised extensions — depending on the level of “permissions” or access originally granted to them — also can give attackers access to all data on your computer and the Web sites you visit.

For its part, Google tries to communicate the potential risk of extensions using three “alert” levels: Low, medium and high, as detailed in the screenshot below. In practice, however, most extensions carry the medium or high alert level, which means that if the extension is somehow compromised (or malicious from the get-go), the attacker in control of it is going to have access to ton of sensitive information on a great many Internet users. Continue reading →


25
Aug 18

Who’s Behind the Screencam Extortion Scam?

The sextortion email scam last month that invoked a real password used by each recipient and threatened to release embarrassing Webcam videos almost certainly was not the work of one criminal or even one group of criminals. Rather, it’s likely that additional spammers and scammers piled on with their own versions of the phishing email after noticing that some recipients were actually paying up. The truth is we may never find out who’s responsible, but it’s still fun to follow some promising leads and see where they take us.

On August 7, 2018, a user on the forum of free email service hMailServer posted a copy of the sextortion email he received, noting that it included a password he’d formerly used online.

Helpfully, this user pasted a great deal of information from the spam email message, including the domain name from which it was sent (williehowell-dot-com) and the Internet address of the server that sent the message (46.161.42.91).

A look at the other domain names registered to this IP address block 46.161.42.x reveals some interesting patterns:

46.161.42.51 mail25.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.52 mail24.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.53 mail23.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.54 mail22.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.55 mail21.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.56 mail20.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.57 mail19.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.58 mail18.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.59 mail17.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.60 mail16.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.61 mail15.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.62 mail14.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.63 mail13.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.64 mail12.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.65 mail11.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.66 mail10.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.67 mail9.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.68 mail8.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.69 mail7.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.70 mail6.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.71 mail5.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.72 mail4.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.73 mail3.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.74 mail2.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.75 mail1.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.76 mail[.]commarysmith[.]com
46.161.42.77 mail.joancooper[.]com
46.161.42.78 mail.florencewoods[.]com
46.161.42.79 mail.ednawest[.]com
46.161.42.80 mail.ethelwebb[.]com
46.161.42.81 mail.eleanorhunt[.]com
46.161.42.82 mail.sallypierce[.]com
46.161.42.83 mail.reginaberry[.]com
46.161.42.84 mail.junecarroll[.]com
46.161.42.85 mail.robertaharper[.]com
46.161.42.86 mail.reneelane[.]com
46.161.42.87 mail.almaaustin[.]com
46.161.42.88 mail.elsiekelley[.]com
46.161.42.89 mail.vickifields[.]com
46.161.42.90 mail.ellaoliver[.]com
46.161.42.91 mail.williehowell[.]com
46.161.42.92 mail.veramccoy[.]com
46.161.42.93 mail.agnesbishop[.]com
46.161.42.94 mail.tanyagilbert[.]com
46.161.42.95 mail.mattiehoffman[.]com
46.161.42.96 mail.hildahopkins[.]com
46.161.42.97 beckymiles[.]com
46.161.42.98 mail.fayenorris[.]com
46.161.42.99 mail.joannaleonard[.]com
46.161.42.100 mail.rosieweber[.]com
46.161.42.101 mail.candicemanning[.]com
46.161.42.102 mail.sherirowe[.]com
46.161.42.103 mail.leticiagoodman[.]com
46.161.42.104 mail.myrafrancis[.]com
46.161.42.105 mail.jasminemaxwell[.]com
46.161.42.106 mail.eloisefrench[.]com

Search Google for any of those two-name domains above (e.g., fayenorris-dot-com) and you’ll see virtually all of them were used in these sextortion emails, and most were registered at the end of May 2018 through domain registrar Namecheap.

Notice the preponderance of the domain uscourtsgov-dot-com in the list above. All of those two-name domains used domain name servers (DNS servers) from uscourtsgov-dot-com at the time these emails were sent. In early June 2018, uscourtsgov-dot-com was associated with a Sigma ransomware scam delivered via spam. Victims who wanted their files back had to pay a bitcoin ransom.

In the months just before either the password-laced sextortion scam or the uscourtsgov-dot-com ransomware scam, uscourtsgov-com was devoid of content, aside from a message promoting the spamming services of the web site mtaexpert-dot-info. Uscourtsgov-dot-com is now offline, but it was active as of two weeks ago. Here’s what its homepage looked like:

The domain uscourtsgov-dot-com was redirecting visitors to mtaexpert-dot-info for many months up to and including the sextortion email campaign. Image: Domaintools.com

Interestingly, this same message promoting mtaexpert-dot-info appeared on the homepages of many other two-name domain names mentioned above (including fayenorris-dot-com):

Like uscourtsgov-dot-com, Fayenorris-dot-com also urged visitors to go to mtaexpert-dot-info.

Continue reading →


22
Aug 18

Alleged SIM Swapper Arrested in California

Authorities in Santa Clara, Calif. have arrested and charged a 19-year-old area man on suspicion hijacking mobile phone numbers as part of a scheme to steal large sums of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The arrest is the third known law enforcement action this month targeting “SIM swappers,” individuals who specialize in stealing wireless phone numbers and hijacking online financial and social media accounts tied to those numbers.

Xzavyer Clemente Narvaez was arrested Aug. 17, 2018 by investigators working with Santa Clara County’s “REACT task force,” which says it’s targeting those involved in “the takeovers of cell phone, email and financial accounts resulting in the theft of cryptocurrency.”

Prosecutors allege Narvaez used the proceeds of his crimes (estimated at > $1 million in virtual currencies) to purchase luxury items, including a McLaren — a $200,000 high-performance sports car. Investigators said they interviewed several alleged victims of Narvaez, including one man who reported being robbed of $150,000 in virtual currencies after his phone number was hijacked.

A fraudulent SIM swap occurs when a victim’s cell phone service is redirected from a SIM card under the control of the victim to one under the control of the suspect, without the knowledge or authorization of the victim account holder.

When a victim experiences a fraudulent SIM swap, their phone suddenly has no service and all incoming calls and text messages are sent to the attacker’s device. This includes any one-time codes sent via text message or automated phone call that many companies use to supplement passwords for their online accounts.

Narvaez came to law enforcement’s attention following the arrest of Joel Ortiz, a gifted 20-year-old college student from Boston who was charged in July 2018 with using SIM swaps to steal more than $5 million in cryptocurrencies from 40 victims.

A redacted “statement of facts” in the case obtained by KrebsOnSecurity says records obtained from Google revealed that a cellular device used by Ortiz to commit SIM swaps had at one point been used to access the Google account identified as Xzavyer.Narvaez@gmail.com.

That statement refers frequently to the term IMEI; this is the International Mobile Equipment Identity number, which is a unique identification number or serial number that all mobile phones and smartphones have.

Prosecutors used data gathered from a large number of tech companies to put Narvaez’s phone in specific places near his home in Tracy, Calif. at the time his alleged victims reported having their phones hijacked. His alleged re-use of the same mobile device for multiple SIM hijacks ultimately gave him away:

“On 7/18/18, investigators received information from an AT&T investigator regarding unauthorized SIM swaps conducted through an AT&T authorized retailer. He reported that approximately 28 SIM swaps were conducted using the same employee ID number over an approximately two-week time period in November 2017. Records were obtained that included a list of IMEI numbers used to take over the victims’ cell phone numbers.”

“AT&T provided call detail records pertaining to the IMEI numbers listed to conduct the SIM swaps. One of those IMEI numbers, ending in 3218, was used to take over the cell phone of a resident of Illinois. I contacted the victim who verified that some of his accounts had been “hacked” in late 2017 but said he did not suffer any financial loss. Sgt. Tarazi analyzed the AT&T location data pertaining to that account takeover. That data indicated that on 7/27/17, when the victim from Illinois lost access to his accounts, the IMEI (ending in 3218) of the cell phone controlling the victim’s cell phone number was located in Tracy, California.”

“The specific tower is located approximately 0.6 miles away from the address 360 Yosemite Drive in Tracy. Several “NELOS” records (GPS coordinates logged by AT&T to estimate the location of devices on their network) indicate the phone was within 1000 meters of 360 Yosemite Drive in Tracy. AT&T also provided call detail records pertaining to Narvaez’ cell phone account, which was linked to him through financial services account records. Sgt. Tarazi examined those records and determined that Narvaez’ own cell phone was connected to the same tower and sector during approximately the same time frame that the suspect device (ending in 3218) was connected to the victim’s account.”

Apple responded to requests with records pertaining to customer accounts linked to that same suspect IMEI number. Those records identified three California residents whose Apple accounts were linked to that same IMEI number. Continue reading →


17
Aug 18

Indian Bank Hit in $13.5M Cyberheist After FBI ATM Cashout Warning

On Sunday, Aug. 12, KrebsOnSecurity carried an exclusive: The FBI was warning banks about an imminent “ATM cashout” scheme about to unfold across the globe, thanks to a data breach at an unknown financial institution. On Aug. 14, a bank in India disclosed hackers had broken into its servers, stealing nearly $2 million in fraudulent bank transfers and $11.5 million unauthorized ATM withdrawals from cash machines in more than two dozen countries.

The FBI put out its alert on Friday, Aug. 10. The criminals who hacked into Pune, India-based Cosmos Bank executed their two-pronged heist the following day, sending co-conspirators to fan out and withdraw a total of about $11.5 million from ATMs in 28 countries.

The FBI warned it had intelligence indicating that criminals had breached an unknown payment provider’s network with malware to access bank customer card information and exploit network access, enabling large scale theft of funds from ATMs.

Organized cybercrime gangs that coordinate these so-called “unlimited attacks” typically do so by hacking or phishing their way into a bank or payment card processor. Just prior to executing on ATM cashouts, the intruders will remove many fraud controls at the financial institution, such as maximum withdrawal amounts and any limits on the number of customer ATM transactions daily.

The perpetrators alter account balances and security measures to make an unlimited amount of money available at the time of the transactions, allowing for large amounts of cash to be quickly removed from the ATM.

My story about the FBI alert was breaking news on Sunday, but it was just a day short of useful to financial institutions impacted by the breach and associated ATM cashout blitz.

But according to Indian news outlet Dailypionneer.com, there was a second attack carried out on August 13, when the Cosmos Bank hackers transferred nearly $2 million to the account of ALM Trading Limited at Hang Seng Bank in Hong Kong.

“The bank came to know about the malware attack on its debit card payment system on August 11, when it was observed that unusually repeated transactions were taking place through ATM VISA and Rupay Card for nearly two hours,” writes TN Raghunatha for the Daily Pioneer. Continue reading →


16
Aug 18

Hanging Up on Mobile in the Name of Security

An entrepreneur and virtual currency investor is suing AT&T for $224 million, claiming the wireless provider was negligent when it failed to prevent thieves from hijacking his mobile account and stealing millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies. Increasingly frequent, high-profile attacks like these are prompting some experts to say the surest way to safeguard one’s online accounts may be to disconnect them from the mobile providers entirely.

The claims come in a lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles on behalf of Michael Terpin, who co-founded the first angel investor group for bitcoin enthusiasts in 2013. Terpin alleges that crooks stole almost $24 million worth of cryptocurrency after fraudulently executing a “SIM swap” on his mobile phone account at AT&T in early 2018.

A SIM card is the tiny, removable chip in a mobile device that allows it to connect to the provider’s network. Customers can legitimately request a SIM swap when their existing SIM card has been damaged, or when they are switching to a different phone that requires a SIM card of another size.

But SIM swaps are frequently abused by scam artists who trick mobile providers into tying a target’s service to a new SIM card and mobile phone that the attackers control. Unauthorized SIM swaps often are perpetrated by fraudsters who have already stolen or phished a target’s password, as many banks and online services rely on text messages to send users a one-time code that needs to be entered in addition to a password for online authentication.

Terpin alleges that on January 7, 2018, someone requested an unauthorized SIM swap on his AT&T account, causing his phone to go dead and sending all incoming texts and phone calls to a device the attackers controlled. Armed with that access, the intruders were able to reset credentials tied to his cryptocurrency accounts and siphon nearly $24 million worth of digital currencies.

According to Terpin, this was the second time in six months someone had hacked his AT&T number. On June 11, 2017, Terpin’s phone went dead. He soon learned his AT&T password had been changed remotely after 11 attempts in AT&T stores had failed. At the time, AT&T suggested Terpin take advantage of the company’s “extra security” feature — a customer-specified six-digit PIN which is required before any account changes can be made.

Terpin claims an investigation by AT&T into the 2018 breach found that an employee at an AT&T store in Norwich, Conn. somehow executed the SIM swap on his account without having to enter his “extra security” PIN, and that AT&T knew or should have known that employees could bypass its customer security measures.

Terpin is suing AT&T for his $24 million worth of cryptocurrencies, plus $200 million in punitive damages. A copy of his complaint is here (PDF).

AT&T declined to comment on specific claims in the lawsuit, saying only in a statement that, “We dispute these allegations and look forward to presenting our case in court.”

AN ‘IDENTITY CRISIS’?

Mobile phone companies are a major weak point in authentication because so many companies have now built their entire procedure for authenticating customers on a process that involves sending a one-time code to the customer via SMS or automated phone call.

In some cases, thieves executing SIM swaps have already phished or otherwise stolen a target’s bank or email password. But many major social media platforms — such as Instagramallow users to reset their passwords using nothing more than text-based (SMS) authentication, meaning thieves can hijack those accounts just by having control over the target’s mobile phone number.

Allison Nixon is director of security research at Flashpoint, a security company in New York City that has been closely tracking the murky underworld of communities that teach people how to hijack phone numbers assigned to customer accounts at all of the major mobile providers.

Nixon calls the current SIM-jacking craze “a major identity crisis” for cybersecurity on multiple levels.

“Phone numbers were never originally intended as an identity document, they were designed as a way to contact people,” Nixon said. “But because of all these other companies are building in security measures, a phone number has become an identity document.”

In essence, mobile phone companies have become “critical infrastructure” for security precisely because so much is riding on who controls a given mobile number. At the same time, so little is needed to undo weak security controls put in place to prevent abuse.

“The infrastructure wasn’t designed to withstand the kind of attacks happening now,” Nixon said. “The protocols need to be changed, and there are probably laws affecting the telecom companies that need to be reviewed in light of how these companies have evolved.”

Unfortunately, with the major mobile providers so closely tied to your security, there is no way you can remove the most vulnerable chunks of this infrastructure — the mobile store employees who can be paid or otherwise bamboozled into helping these attacks succeed.

No way, that is, unless you completely disconnect your mobile phone number from any sort of SMS-based authentication you currently use, and replace it with Internet-based telephone services that do not offer “helpful” customer support — such as Google Voice.

Google Voice lets users choose a phone number that gets tied to their Google account, and any calls or messages to that number will be forwarded to your mobile number. But unlike phone numbers issued by the major mobile providers, Google Voice numbers can’t be stolen unless someone also hacks your Google password — in which case you likely have much bigger problems.

With Google Voice, there is no customer service person who can be conned over the phone into helping out. There is no retail-store employee who will sell access to your SIM information for a paltry $80 payday. In this view of security, customer service becomes a customer disservice.

Mind you, this isn’t my advice. The above statement summarizes the arguments allegedly made by one of the most accomplished SIM swap thieves in the game today. On July 12, 2018, police in California arrested Joel Ortiz, a 20-year-old college student from Boston who’s accused of using SIM swaps to steal more than $5 million in cryptocurrencies from 40 victims.

Ortiz allegedly had help from a number of unnamed accomplices who collectively targeted high-profile and wealthy people in the cryptocurrency space. In one of three brazen attacks at a bitcoin conference this year, Ortiz allegedly used his SIM swapping skills to steal more than $1.5 million from a cryptocurrency entrepreneur, including nearly $1 million the victim had crowdfunded.

A July 2018 posting from the “OG” Instagram account “0”, allegedly an account hijacked by Joel Ortiz (pictured holding an armload of Dom Perignon champagne).

Ortiz reportedly was a core member of OGUsers[dot]com, a forum that’s grown wildly popular among criminals engaging in SIM swaps to steal cryptocurrency and hijack high-value social media accounts. OG is short for “original gangster,” and it refers to a type of “street cred” for possession of social media account names that are relatively short (between one and six characters). On ogusers[dot]com, Ortiz allegedly picked the username “j”. Short usernames are considered more valuable because they confer on the account holder the appearance of an early adopter on most social networks.

Discussions on the Ogusers forum indicate Ortiz allegedly is the current occupant of perhaps the most OG username on Twitter — an account represented by the number zero “0”. The alias displayed on that twitter profile is “j0”. He also apparently controls the Instagram account by the same number, as well as the Instagram account “t”, which lists its alias as “Joel.”

Shown below is a cached snippet from an Ogusers forum posting by “j” (allegedly Ortiz), advising people to remove their mobile phone number from all important multi-factor authentication options, and to replace it with something like Google Voice.

Ogusers SIM swapper “j” advises forum members on how not to become victims of SIM swapping. Click to enlarge.

Continue reading →


7
Aug 18

Florida Man Arrested in SIM Swap Conspiracy

Police in Florida have arrested a 25-year-old man accused of being part of a multi-state cyber fraud ring that hijacked mobile phone numbers in online attacks that siphoned hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies from victims.

On July 18, 2018, Pasco County authorities arrested Ricky Joseph Handschumacher, an employee of the city of Port Richey, Fla, charging him with grand theft and money laundering. Investigators allege Handschumacher was part of a group of at least nine individuals scattered across multiple states who for the past two years have drained bank accounts via an increasingly common scheme involving mobile phone “SIM swaps.”

A SIM card is the tiny, removable chip in a mobile device that allows it to connect to the provider’s network. Customers can legitimately request a SIM swap when their existing SIM card has been damaged, or when they are switching to a different phone that requires a SIM card of another size.

But SIM swaps are frequently abused by scam artists who trick mobile providers into tying a target’s service to a new SIM card and mobile phone that the attackers control. Unauthorized SIM swaps often are perpetrated by fraudsters who have already stolen or phished a target’s password, as many banks and online services rely on text messages to send users a one-time code that needs to be entered in addition to a password for online authentication.

In some cases, fraudulent SIM swaps succeed thanks to lax authentication procedures at mobile phone stores. In other instances, mobile store employees work directly with cyber criminals to help conduct unauthorized SIM swaps, as appears to be the case with the crime gang that allegedly included Handschumacher.

A WORRIED MOM

According to court documents, investigators first learned of the group’s activities in February 2018, when a Michigan woman called police after she overheard her son talking on the phone and pretending to be an AT&T employee. Officers responding to the report searched the residence and found multiple cell phones and SIM cards, as well as files on the kid’s computer that included “an extensive list of names and phone numbers of people from around the world.”

The following month, Michigan authorities found the same individual accessing personal consumer data via public Wi-Fi at a local library, and seized 45 SIM cards, a laptop and a Trezor wallet — a hardware device designed to store crytpocurrency account data. In April 2018, the mom again called the cops on her son — identified only as confidential source #1 (“CS1”) in the criminal complaint — saying he’d obtained yet another mobile phone.

Once again, law enforcement officers were invited to search the kid’s residence, and this time found two bags of SIM cards and numerous driver’s licenses and passports. Investigators said they used those phony documents to locate and contact several victims; two of the victims each reported losing approximately $150,000 in cryptocurrencies after their phones were cloned; the third told investigators her account was drained of $50,000.

CS1 later told investigators he routinely conducted the phone cloning and cashouts in conjunction with eight other individuals, including Handschumacher, who allegedly used the handle “coinmission” in the group’s daily chats via Discord and Telegram. Search warrants revealed that in mid-May 2018 the group worked in tandem to steal 57 bitcoins from one victim — then valued at almost $470,000 — and agreed to divide the spoils among members.

GRAND PLANS

Investigators soon obtained search warrants to monitor the group’s Discord server chat conversations, and observed Handschumacher allegedly bragging in these chats about using the proceeds of his alleged crimes to purchase land, a house, a vehicle and a “quad vehicle.” Interestingly, Handschumacher’s public Facebook page remains public, and is replete with pictures that he posted of recent new vehicle aquisitions, including a pickup truck and multiple all-terrain vehicles and jet skis.

The Pasco County Sheriff’s office says their surveillance of the Discord server revealed that the group routinely paid employees at cellular phone companies to assist in their attacks, and that they even discussed a plan to hack accounts belonging to the CEO of cryptocurrency exchange Gemini Trust Company. The complaint doesn’t mention the CEO by name, but the current CEO is bitcoin billionaire Tyler Winklevoss, who co-founded the exchange along with his twin brother Cameron.

“Handschumacher and another co-conspirator talk about compromising the CEO of Gemini and posted his name, date of birth, Skype username and email address into the conversation,” the complaint reads. “Handschumacher and the co-conspirators discuss compromising the CEO’s Skype account and T-Mobile account. The co-conspirator states he will call his ‘guy’ at T-Mobile to ask about the CEO’s account.” Continue reading →