A Little Sunshine

Mar 18

Adrian Lamo, ‘Homeless Hacker’ Who Turned in Chelsea Manning, Dead at 37

Adrian Lamo, the hacker probably best known for breaking into The New York Times‘s network and for reporting Chelsea Manning‘s theft of classified documents to the FBI, was found dead in a Kansas apartment on Wednesday. Lamo was widely reviled and criticized for turning in Manning, but that chapter of his life eclipsed the profile of a complex individual who taught me quite a bit about security over the years.

Adrian Lamo, in 2006. Source: Wikipedia.

I first met Lamo in 2001 when I was a correspondent for Newsbytes.com, a now-defunct tech publication that was owned by The Washington Post at the time. A mutual friend introduced us over AOL Instant Messenger, explaining that Lamo had worked out a simple method allowing him to waltz into the networks of some of the world’s largest media companies using nothing more than a Web browser.

The panoply of alternate nicknames he used on instant messenger in those days shed light on a personality not easily grasped: Protagonist, Bitter Geek, AmINotMerciful, Unperceived, Mythos, Arcane, truefaith, FugitiveGame.

In this, as in so many other ways, Lamo was a study in contradictions: Unlike most other hackers who break into online networks without permission, he didn’t try to hide behind the anonymity of screen names or Internet relay chat networks.

By the time I met him, Adrian had already earned the nickname “the homeless hacker” because he had no fixed address, and found shelter most evenings in abandoned buildings or on friend’s couches. He launched the bulk of his missions from Internet cafes or through the nearest available dial-up connections, using an old Toshiba laptop that was missing seven keys. His method was the same in every case: find security holes; offer to fix them; refuse payment in exchange for help; wait until hole is patched; alert the media.

Lamo had previously hacked into the likes of AOL Time Warner, ComcastMCI Worldcom, Microsoft, SBC Communications and Yahoo after discovering that these companies had enabled remote access to their internal networks via Web proxies, a kind of security by obscurity that allowed anyone who knew the proxy’s Internet address and port number to browse internal shares and other network resources of the affected companies.

By 2002, Lamo had taken to calling me on the phone frequently to relate his various exploits, often spoofing his phone number to make it look like the call had come from someplace ominous or important, such as The White House or the FBI. At the time, I wasn’t actively taking any measures to encrypt my online communications, or to suggest that my various sources do likewise. After a few weeks of almost daily phone conversations with Lamo, however, it became abundantly clear that this had been a major oversight.

In February 2002, Lamo told me that he’d found an open proxy on the network of The New York Times that allowed him to browse the newsroom’s corporate intranet. A few days after that conversation, Lamo turned up at Washingtonpost.com’s newsroom (then in Arlington, Va.). Just around the corner was a Kinkos, and Adrian insisted that I follow him to the location so he could get online and show me his discovery firsthand.

While inside the Times’ intranet, he downloaded a copy of the Times’ source list, which included phone numbers and contact information for such household names as Yogi Berra, Warren Beatty, and Robert Redford, as well as high-profile political figures – including Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Lamo also added his own contact information to the file. My exclusive story in Newsbytes about the Times hack was soon picked up by other news outlets.

In August 2003, federal prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Lamo in connection with the New York Times hack, among other intrusions. The next month, The Washington Post’s attorneys received a letter from the FBI urging them not to destroy any correspondence I might have had with Lamo, and warning that my notes may be subpoenaed.

In response, the Post opted to take my desktop computer at work and place it in storage. We also received a letter from the FBI requesting an interview (that request was summarily denied). In October 2003, the Associated Press ran a story saying the FBI didn’t follow proper procedures when it notified reporters that their notes concerning Lamo might be subpoenaed (the DOJ’s policy was to seek materials from reporters only after all other investigative steps had been exhausted, and then only as a last resort).

In 2004, Lamo pleaded guilty to one felony count of computer crimes against the Times, as well as LexisNexis and Microsoft. He was sentenced to six month’s detention and two years probation, an ordered to pay $65,000 in restitution.

Several months later while attending a formal National Press Foundation dinner at the Washington Hilton, my bulky Palm Treo buzzed in my suit coat pocket, signaling a new incoming email message. The missive was blank save for an unusually large attachment. Normally, I would have ignored such messages as spam, but this one came from a vaguely familiar address: adrian.lamo@us.army.mil. Years before, Lamo had told me he’d devised a method for minting his own .mil email addresses.

The attachment turned out to be the Times’ newsroom source list. The idea of possessing such information was at once overwhelming and terrifying, and for the rest of the evening I felt certain that someone was going to find me out (it didn’t help that I was seated adjacent to a table full of NYT reporters and editors). It was difficult not to stare at the source list and wonder at the possibilities. But ultimately, I decided the right thing to do was to simply delete the email and destroy the file. Continue reading →

Mar 18

What Is Your Bank’s Security Banking On?

A large number of banks, credit unions and other financial institutions just pushed customers onto new e-banking platforms that asked them to reset their account passwords by entering a username plus some other static identifier — such as the first six digits of their Social Security number (SSN), or a mix of partial SSN, date of birth and surname. Here’s a closer look at what may be going on (spoiler: small, regional banks and credit unions have grown far too reliant on the whims of just a few major online banking platform providers).

You might think it odd that any self-respecting financial institution would seek to authenticate customers via static data like partial SSN for passwords, and you’d be completely justified for thinking that, too. Nobody has any business using these static identifiers for authentication because they are for sale on most Americans quite cheaply in the cybercrime underground. The Equifax breach might have “refreshed” some of those data stores for identity thieves, but most U.S. adults have had their static details (DOB/SSN/MMN, address, previous address, etc) on sale for years now.

On Feb. 16, KrebsOnSecurity reader Brent Hoeft shared a copy of an email he’d just received from his financial institution Associated Bank, which at $30+ billion in assets happens to be Wisconsin’s largest by asset size.

The notice advised:

“Please read and save this information (including the password below) to prepare for your online and mobile banking upgrade.

Our refreshed online and mobile banking experience is officially launching on Monday, February 26, 2018.

We’re excited to share it with you, and want you to be aware of some important details about the transition.


Use this temporary password the first time you sign in after the upgrade. Your temporary password is the first four letters of your last name plus the last four digits of your Social Security Number.

XXXX#### [redacted by me but included in the email]

Note: your password is all lowercase without spaces.

Once the upgrade is complete, you will need your temporary password to begin the re-enrollment process.
• Beginning Monday, February 26, you will need to sign in using your existing user ID and the temporary password included above in this email. Please note that you are only required to reenroll in online or mobile banking but can access both using the same user ID and password.
• Once you sign in, you will be prompted to create a new password and establish other security features. Your user ID will remain the same.”

Hoeft said Associated Bank seems to treat the customer username as a secret, something to be protected along with the password.

“I contacted Associated’s customer service via email and received a far less satisfying explanation that the user name is required for re-activation and, that since [the username] was not provided in the email, the process they are using is in fact secure,” Hoeft said.

After speaking with Hoeft, I tweeted about whether to name and shame the bank before it was too late, or perhaps to try and talk some sense into them privately. Most readers advised that calling attention to the problem before the transition could cause more harm than good, and that at least until after Feb. 26 contacting some of the banks privately was the best idea (which is what I did).

Associated Bank wouldn’t say who their new consumer online banking platform provider was, but they did say it was one of the big ones. I took that to mean either FIS, Fiserv or Jack Henry, which collectively control approximately 70 percent of the market for bank core processors (according to FedFIS.com, Fiserv is by far the largest).

Image: Fedfis.com

The bank’s chief information security officer Joe Smits said Associated’s new consumer online banking platform provider required that new and existing customers log in with a username and a temporary password — which was described as choice among secondary, static data elements about customers — such as the first six digits of the customer’s SSN or date of birth.

Smits added that the bank originally started emailing customers the instructions for figuring out their temporary passwords, but then decided US mail would be a safer option and sent the rest out that way. He said only about 15 percent of Associated Bank customers (~50,000) received instructions about their temporary passwords through email.

I followed up with Hoeft to find out how his online banking upgrade went at Associated Bank. He told me that upon visiting the site, it asked for his username and the temporary password (the first four letters of his last name and the last four digits of his SSN).

“After entering that I was told to re-enter my temporary password and then create a new password,” Hoeft said. “I then was asked to select 5 security questions and provide answers. Next I was asked for a verification phone number. Upon entering that I received a text message with a 4 digit verification code. After entering the code it asked me to finish my profile information including name, email and daytime phone. After that it took me right into my online banking account.”

Hoeft said it seems like the “verification” step that was supposed to create an extra security check didn’t really add any security at all.

“If someone were able to get in with the temporary password, they would be able to create a new password, fill out all the security code information, and then provide their phone number to receive the verification code,” Hoeft said. “Armed with the verification code they then would be able to get right into my online banking account.” Continue reading →

Mar 18

Powerful New DDoS Method Adds Extortion

Attackers have seized on a relatively new method for executing distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks of unprecedented disruptive power, using it to launch record-breaking DDoS assaults over the past week. Now evidence suggests this novel attack method is fueling digital shakedowns in which victims are asked to pay a ransom to call off crippling cyberattacks.

On March 1, DDoS mitigation firm Akamai revealed that one of its clients was hit with a DDoS attack that clocked in at 1.3 Tbps, which would make it the largest publicly recorded DDoS attack ever.

The type of DDoS method used in this record-breaking attack abuses a legitimate and relatively common service called “memcached” (pronounced “mem-cash-dee”) to massively amp up the power of their DDoS attacks.

Installed by default on many Linux operating system versions, memcached is designed to cache data and ease the strain on heavier data stores, like disk or databases. It is typically found in cloud server environments and it is meant to be used on systems that are not directly exposed to the Internet.

Memcached communicates using the User Datagram Protocol or UDP, which allows communications without any authentication — pretty much anyone or anything can talk to it and request data from it.

Because memcached doesn’t support authentication, an attacker can “spoof” or fake the Internet address of the machine making that request so that the memcached servers responding to the request all respond to the spoofed address — the intended target of the DDoS attack.

Worse yet, memcached has a unique ability to take a small amount of attack traffic and amplify it into a much bigger threat. Most popular DDoS tactics that abuse UDP connections can amplify the attack traffic 10 or 20 times — allowing, for example a 1 mb file request to generate a response that includes between 10mb and 20mb of traffic.

But with memcached, an attacker can force the response to be thousands of times the size of the request. All of the responses get sent to the target specified in the spoofed request, and it requires only a small number of open memcached servers to create huge attacks using very few resources.

Akamai believes there are currently more than 50,000 known memcached systems exposed to the Internet that can be leveraged at a moment’s notice to aid in massive DDoS attacks.

Both Akamai and Qrator — a Russian DDoS mitigation company — published blog posts on Feb. 28 warning of the increased threat from memcached attacks.

“This attack was the largest attack seen to date by Akamai, more than twice the size of the September, 2016 attacks that announced the Mirai botnet and possibly the largest DDoS attack publicly disclosed,” Akamai said [link added]. “Because of memcached reflection capabilities, it is highly likely that this record attack will not be the biggest for long.”

According to Qrator, this specific possibility of enabling high-value DDoS attacks was disclosed in 2017 by a Chinese group of researchers from the cybersecurity 0Kee Team. The larger concept was first introduced in a 2014 Black Hat U.S. security conference talk titled “Memcached injections.”


On Thursday, KrebsOnSecurity heard from several experts from Cybereason, a Boston-based security company that’s been closely tracking these memcached attacks. Cybereason said its analysis reveals the attackers are embedding a short ransom note and payment address into the junk traffic they’re sending to memcached services.

Cybereason said it has seen memcached attack payloads that consist of little more than a simple ransom note requesting payment of 50 XMR (Monero virtual currency) to be sent to a specific Monero account. In these attacks, Cybereason found, the payment request gets repeated until the file reaches approximately one megabyte in size.

The ransom demand (50 Monero) found in the memcached attacks by Cybereason on Thursday.

Memcached can accept files and host files in temporary memory for download by others. So the attackers will place the 1 mb file full of ransom requests onto a server with memcached, and request that file thousands of times — all the while telling the service that the replies should all go to the same Internet address — the address of the attack’s target.

“The payload is the ransom demand itself, over and over again for about a megabyte of data,” said Matt Ploessel, principal security intelligence researcher at Cybereason. “We then request the memcached ransom payload over and over, and from multiple memcached servers to produce an extremely high volume DDoS with a simple script and any normal home office Internet connection. We’re observing people putting up those ransom payloads and DDoSsing people with them.” Continue reading →

Feb 18

Bot Roundup: Avalanche, Kronos, NanoCore

It’s been a busy few weeks in cybercrime news, justifying updates to a couple of cases we’ve been following closely at KrebsOnSecurity. In Ukraine, the alleged ringleader of the Avalanche malware spam botnet was arrested after eluding authorities in the wake of a global cybercrime crackdown there in 2016. Separately, a case that was hailed as a test of whether programmers can be held accountable for how customers use their product turned out poorly for 27-year-old programmer Taylor Huddleston, who was sentenced to almost three years in prison for making and marketing a complex spyware program.

First, the Ukrainian case. On Nov. 30, 2016, 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. Hundreds of malicious web servers and hundreds of thousands of domains were blocked in the coordinated action.

The global distribution of servers used in the Avalanche crime machine. Source: Shadowserver.org

The alleged leader of the Avalanche gang — 33-year-old Russian Gennady Kapkanov — did not go quietly at the time. 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. He was later released, after police allegedly failed to file proper arrest records for him.

But on Monday Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that Ukrainian authorities had once again collared Kapkanov, who was allegedly living under a phony passport in Poltav, a city in central Ukraine. No word yet on whether Kapkanov has been charged, which was supposed to happen Monday.

Kapkanov’s drivers license. Source: npu.gov.ua.


Lawyers for Taylor Huddleston, a 27-year-old programmer from Hot Springs, Ark., originally asked a federal court to believe that the software he sold on the sprawling hacker marketplace Hackforums — a “remote administration tool” or “RAT” designed to let someone remotely administer one or many computers remotely — was just a benign tool.

The bad things done with Mr. Huddleston’s tools, the defendant argued, were not Mr. Huddleston’s doing. Furthermore, no one had accused Mr. Huddleston of even using his own software.

The Daily Beast first wrote about Huddleston’s case in 2017, and at the time suggested his prosecution raised questions of whether a programmer could be held criminally responsible for the actions of his users. My response to that piece was “Dual-Use Software Criminal Case Not So Novel.

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The court was swayed by evidence that yes, Mr. Huddleston could be held criminally responsible for those actions. It sentenced him to 33 months in prison after the defendant acknowledged that he knew his RAT — a Remote Access Trojan dubbed “NanoCore RAT” — was being used to spy on webcams and steal passwords from systems running the software.

Of course Huddleston knew: He didn’t market his wares on some Craigslist software marketplace ad, or via video promos on his local cable channel: He marketed the NanoCore RAT and another software licensing program called Net Seal exclusively on Hackforums[dot]net.

This sprawling, English language forum has a deep bench of technical forum discussions about using RATs and other tools to surreptitiously record passwords and videos of “slaves,” the derisive term for systems secretly infected with these RATs.

Huddleston knew what many of his customers were doing because many NanoCore users also used Huddleston’s Net Seal program to keep their own RATs and other custom hacking tools from being disassembled or “cracked” and posted online for free. In short: He knew what programs his customers were using Net Seal on, and he knew what those customers had done or intended to do with tools like NanoCore.

The sentencing suggests that where you choose to sell something online says a lot about what you think of your own product and who’s likely buying it.

Daily Beast author Kevin Poulsen noted in a July 2017 story that Huddleston changed his tune and pleaded guilty. The story pointed to an accompanying plea in which Huddleston stipulated that he “knowingly and intentionally aided and abetted thousands of unlawful computer intrusions” in selling the program to hackers and that he “acted with the purpose of furthering these unauthorized computer intrusions and causing them to occur.” Continue reading →

Feb 18

USPS Finally Starts Notifying You by Mail If Someone is Scanning Your Snail Mail Online

In October 2017, KrebsOnSecurity warned that ne’er-do-wells could take advantage of a relatively new service offered by the U.S. Postal Service that provides scanned images of all incoming mail before it is slated to arrive at its destination address. We advised that stalkers or scammers could abuse this service by signing up as anyone in the household, because the USPS wasn’t at that point set up to use its own unique communication system — the U.S. mail — to alert residents when someone had signed up to receive these scanned images.

Image: USPS

The USPS recently told this publication that beginning Feb. 16 it started alerting all households by mail whenever anyone signs up to receive these scanned notifications of mail delivered to that address. The notification program, dubbed “Informed Delivery,” includes a scan of the front of each envelope destined for a specific address each day.

The Postal Service says consumer feedback on its Informed Delivery service has been overwhelmingly positive, particularly among residents who travel regularly and wish to keep close tabs on any bills or other mail being delivered while they’re on the road. It has been available to select addresses in several states since 2014 under a targeted USPS pilot program, but it has since expanded to include many ZIP codes nationwide. U.S. residents can find out if their address is eligible by visiting informeddelivery.usps.com.

According to the USPS, some 8.1 million accounts have been created via the service so far (Oct. 7, 2017, the last time I wrote about Informed Delivery, there were 6.3 million subscribers, so the program has grown more than 28 percent in five months).

Roy Betts, a spokesperson for the USPS’s communications team, says post offices handled 50,000 Informed Delivery notifications the week of Feb. 16, and are delivering an additional 100,000 letters to existing Informed Delivery addresses this coming week.

Currently, the USPS allows address changes via the USPS Web site or in-person at any one of more than 35,000 USPS retail locations nationwide. When a request is processed, the USPS sends a confirmation letter to both the old address and the new address.

If someone already signed up for Informed Delivery later posts a change of address request, the USPS does not automatically transfer the Informed Delivery service to the new address: Rather, it sends a mailer with a special code tied to the new address and to the username that requested the change. To resume Informed Delivery at the new address, that code needs to be entered online using the account that requested the address change.

A review of the methods used by the USPS to validate new account signups last fall suggested the service was wide open to abuse by a range of parties, mainly because of weak authentication and because it is not easy to opt out of the service.

Signing up requires an eligible resident to create a free user account at USPS.com, which asks for the resident’s name, address and an email address. The final step in validating residents involves answering four so-called “knowledge-based authentication” or KBA questions.

The USPS told me it uses two ID proofing vendors: Lexis Nexisand, naturally, recently breached big three credit bureau Equifax — to ask the magic KBA questions, rotating between them randomly.

KrebsOnSecurity has assailed KBA as an unreliable authentication method because so many answers to the multiple-guess questions are available on sites like Spokeo and Zillow, or via social networking profiles.

It’s also nice when Equifax gives away a metric truckload of information about where you’ve worked, how much you made at each job, and what addresses you frequented when. See: How to Opt Out of Equifax Revealing Your Salary History for how much leaks from this lucrative division of Equifax. Continue reading →

Feb 18

Money Laundering Via Author Impersonation on Amazon?

Patrick Reames had no idea why Amazon.com sent him a 1099 form saying he’d made almost $24,000 selling books via Createspace, the company’s on-demand publishing arm. That is, until he searched the site for his name and discovered someone has been using it to peddle a $555 book that’s full of nothing but gibberish.

The phony $555 book sold more than 60 times on Amazon using Patrick Reames’ name and Social Security number.

Reames is a credited author on Amazon by way of several commodity industry books, although none of them made anywhere near the amount Amazon is reporting to the Internal Revenue Service. Nor does he have a personal account with Createspace.

But that didn’t stop someone from publishing a “novel” under his name. That word is in quotations because the publication appears to be little more than computer-generated text, almost like the gibberish one might find in a spam email.

“Based on what I could see from the ‘sneak peak’ function, the book was nothing more than a computer generated ‘story’ with no structure, chapters or paragraphs — only lines of text with a carriage return after each sentence,” Reames said in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity.

The impersonator priced the book at $555 and it was posted to multiple Amazon sites in different countries. The book — which as been removed from most Amazon country pages as of a few days ago — is titled “Lower Days Ahead,” and was published on Oct 7, 2017.

Reames said he suspects someone has been buying the book using stolen credit and/or debit cards, and pocketing the 60 percent that Amazon gives to authors. At $555 a pop, it would only take approximately 70 sales over three months to rack up the earnings that Amazon said he made.

“This book is very unlikely to ever sell on its own, much less sell enough copies in 12 weeks to generate that level of revenue,” Reames said. “As such, I assume it was used for money laundering, in addition to tax fraud/evasion by using my Social Security number. Amazon refuses to issue a corrected 1099 or provide me with any information I can use to determine where or how they were remitting the royalties.”

Reames said the books he has sold on Amazon under his name were done through his publisher, not directly via a personal account (the royalties for those books accrue to his former employer) so he’d never given Amazon his Social Security number. But the fraudster evidently had, and that was apparently enough to convince Amazon that the imposter was him.

Reames said after learning of the impersonation, he got curious enough to start looking for other examples of author oddities on Amazon’s Createspace platform.

“I have reviewed numerous Createspace titles and its clear to me that there may be hundreds if not thousands of similar fraudulent books on their site,” Reames said. “These books contain no real content, only dozens of pages of gibberish or computer generated text.” Continue reading →

Feb 18

New EU Privacy Law May Weaken Security

Companies around the globe are scrambling to comply with new European privacy regulations that take effect a little more than three months from now. But many security experts are worried that the changes being ushered in by the rush to adhere to the law may make it more difficult to track down cybercriminals and less likely that organizations will be willing to share data about new online threats.

On May 25, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect. The law, enacted by the European Parliament, requires technology companies to get affirmative consent for any information they collect on people within the European Union. Organizations that violate the GDPR could face fines of up to four percent of global annual revenues.

In response, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — the nonprofit entity that manages the global domain name system — is poised to propose changes to the rules governing how much personal information Web site name registrars can collect and who should have access to the data.

Specifically, ICANN has been seeking feedback on a range of proposals to redact information provided in WHOIS, the system for querying databases that store the registered users of domain names and blocks of Internet address ranges (IP addresses).

Under current ICANN rules, domain name registrars should collect and display a variety of data points when someone performs a WHOIS lookup on a given domain, such as the registrant’s name, address, email address and phone number. (Most registrars offer a privacy protection service that shields this information from public WHOIS lookups; some registrars charge a nominal fee for this service, while others offer it for free).

In a bid to help domain registrars comply with the GDPR regulations, ICANN has floated several proposals, all of which would redact some of the registrant data from WHOIS records. Its mildest proposal would remove the registrant’s name, email, and phone number, while allowing self-certified 3rd parties to request access to said data at the approval of a higher authority — such as the registrar used to register the domain name.

The most restrictive proposal would remove all registrant data from public WHOIS records, and would require legal due process (such as a subpoena or court order) to reveal any information supplied by the domain registrant.

ICANN’s various proposed models for redacting information in WHOIS domain name records.

The full text of ICANN’s latest proposed models (from which the screenshot above was taken) can be found here (PDF). A diverse ICANN working group made up of privacy activists, technologists, lawyers, trademark holders and security experts has been arguing about these details since 2016. For the curious and/or intrepid, the entire archive of those debates up to the current day is available at this link.


To drastically simplify the discussions into two sides, those in the privacy camp say WHOIS records are being routinely plundered and abused by all manner of ne’er-do-wells, including spammers, scammers, phishers and stalkers. In short, their view seems to be that the availability of registrant data in the WHOIS records causes more problems than it is designed to solve.

Meanwhile, security experts are arguing that the data in WHOIS records has been indispensable in tracking down and bringing to justice those who seek to perpetrate said scams, spams, phishes and….er….stalks. Continue reading →

Feb 18

Domain Theft Strands Thousands of Web Sites

Newtek Business Services Corp. [NASDAQ:NEWT], a Web services conglomerate that operates more than 100,000 business Web sites and some 40,000 managed technology accounts, had several of its core domain names stolen over the weekend. The theft shut off email and stranded Web sites for many of Newtek’s customers.

An email blast Newtek sent to customers late Saturday evening made no mention of a breach or incident, saying only that the company was changing domains due to “increased” security. A copy of that message can be read here (PDF).

In reality, three of their core domains were hijacked by a Vietnamese hacker, who replaced the login page many Newtek customers used to remotely manage their Web sites (webcontrolcenter[dot]com) with a live Web chat service. As a result, Newtek customers seeking answers to why their Web sites no longer resolved correctly ended up chatting with the hijacker instead.

The PHP Web chat client that the intruder installed on Webcontrolcenter[dot]com, a domain that many Newtek customers used to manage their Web sites with the company. The perpetrator can be seen in this chat using the name “admin.” Click to enlarge.

In a follow-up email sent to customers 10 hours later (PDF), Newtek acknowledged the outage was the result of a “dispute” over three domains, webcontrolcenter[dot]com, thesba[dot]com, and crystaltech[dot]com.

“We strongly request that you eliminate these domain names from all your corporate or personal browsers, and avoid clicking on them,” the company warned its customers. “At this hour, it has become apparent that as a result over the dispute for these three domain names, we do not currently have control over the domains or email coming from them.”

The warning continued: “There is an unidentified third party that is attempting to chat and may engage with clients when visiting the three domains. It is imperative that you do not communicate or provide any sensitive data at these locations.”

Newtek did not respond to requests for comment.

Domain hijacking is not a new problem, but it can be potentially devastating to the victim organization. In control of a hijacked domain, a malicious attacker could seamlessly conduct phishing attacks to steal personal information, or use the domain to foist malicious software on visitors.

Newtek is not just a large Web hosting firm: It aims to be a one-stop shop for almost any online service a small business might need. As such, it’s a mix of very different business units rolled up into one since its founding in 1998, including lending solutions, HR, payroll, managed cloud solutions, group health insurance and disaster recovery solutions.

“NEWT’s tentacles go deep into their client’s businesses through providing data security, human resources, employee benefits, payments technology, web design and hosting, a multitude of insurance solutions, and a suite of IT services,” reads a Sept. 2017 profile of the company at SeekingAlpha, a crowdsourced market analysis publication.

Newtek’s various business lines. Source: Newtek.

Continue reading →

Feb 18

U.S. Arrests 13, Charges 36 in ‘Infraud’ Cybercrime Forum Bust

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges on Wednesday against three dozen individuals thought to be key members of ‘Infraud,” a long-running cybercrime forum that federal prosecutors say cost consumers more than a half billion dollars. In conjunction with the forum takedown, 13 alleged Infraud members from the United States and six other countries were arrested.

A screenshot of the Infraud forum, circa Oct. 2014. Like most other crime forums, it had special sections dedicated to vendors of virtually every kind of cybercriminal goods or services imaginable. Click to enlarge.

Started in October 2010, Infraud was short for “In Fraud We Trust,” and collectively the forum referred to itself as the “Ministry of Fraudulently [sic] Affairs.” As a mostly English-language fraud forum, Infraud attracted nearly 11,000 members from around the globe who sold, traded and bought everything from stolen identities and credit card accounts to ATM skimmers, botnet hosting and malicious software.

“Today’s indictment and arrests mark one of the largest cyberfraud enterprise prosecutions ever undertaken by the Department of Justice,” said John P. Cronan, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s criminal division. “As alleged in the indictment, Infraud operated like a business to facilitate cyberfraud on a global scale.”

The complaint released by the DOJ lists 36 Infraud members — some only by their hacker nicknames, others by their alleged real names and handles, and still others just as “John Does.” Having been a fairly regular lurker on Infraud over the past seven years who has sought to independently identify many of these individuals, I can say that some of these names and nick associations sound accurate but several do not.

The government says the founder and top member of Infraud was Svyatoslav Bondarenko, a hacker from Ukraine who used the nicknames “Rector” and “Helkern.” The first nickname is well supported by copies of the forum obtained by this author several years back; indeed, Rector’s profile listed him an administrator, and Rector can be seen on countless Infraud discussion threads vouching for sellers who had paid the monthly fee to advertise their services in “sticky” threads on the forum.

However, I’m not sure the Helkern association with Bondarenko is accurate. In December 2014, just days after breaking the story about the theft of some 40 million credit and debit cards from retail giant Target, KrebsOnSecurity posted a lengthy investigation into the identity of “Rescator” — the hacker whose cybercrime shop was identified as the primary vendor of cards stolen from Target.

That story showed that Rescator changed his nickname from Helkern after Helkern’s previous cybercrime forum (Darklife) got massively hacked, and it presented clues indicating that Rescator/Helkern was a different Ukrainian man named Andrey Hodirevski. For more on that connection, see Who’s Selling Cards from Target.

Also, Rescator was a separate vendor on Infraud, and there are no indications that I could find suggesting that Rector and Rescator were the same people. Here is Rescator’s most recent sales thread for his credit card shop on Infraud — dated almost a year after the Target breach. Notice the last comment on that thread alleges that Rescator had recently been arrested and that his shop was being run by law enforcement officials: 

Another top administrator of Infraud used the nickname “Stells.” According to the Justice Department, Stells’ real name is Sergey Medvedev. The government doesn’t describe his exact role, but it appears to have been administering the forum’s escrow service (see screenshot below).

Most large cybercrime forums have an escrow service, which holds the buyer’s virtual currency until forum administrators can confirm the seller has consummated the transaction acceptably to both parties. The escrow feature is designed to cut down on members ripping one another off — but it also can add considerably to the final price of the item(s) for sale.

In April 2016, Medvedev would take over as the “admin and owner” of Infraud, after he posted a note online saying that Bondarenko had gone missing, the Justice Department said.

One defendant in the case, a well-known vendor of stolen credit and debit cards who goes by the nickname “Zo0mer,” is listed as a John Doe. But according to a New York Times story from 2006, Zo0mer’s real name is Sergey Kozerev, and he hails from St. Petersburg, Russia. Continue reading →