For the past seven years, a malware-based proxy service known as “Faceless” has sold anonymity to countless cybercriminals. For less than a dollar per day, Faceless customers can route their malicious traffic through tens of thousands of compromised systems advertised on the service. In this post we’ll examine clues left behind over the past decade by the proprietor of Faceless, including some that may help put a face to the name.
Riley Kilmer is co-founder of Spur.us, a company that tracks thousands of VPN and proxy networks, and helps customers identify traffic coming through these anonymity services. Kilmer said Faceless has emerged as one of the underground’s most reliable malware-based proxy services, mainly because its proxy network has traditionally included a great many compromised “Internet of Things” devices — such as media sharing servers — that are seldom included on malware or spam block lists.
Kilmer said when Spur first started looking into Faceless, they noticed almost every Internet address that Faceless advertised for rent also showed up in the IoT search engine Shodan.io as a media sharing device on a local network that was somehow exposed to the Internet.
“We could reliably look up the [fingerprint] for these media sharing devices in Shodan and find those same systems for sale on Faceless,” Kilmer said.
In January 2023, the Faceless service website said it was willing to pay for information about previously undocumented security vulnerabilities in IoT devices. Those with IoT zero-days could expect payment if their exploit involved at least 5,000 systems that could be identified through Shodan.
Recently, Faceless has shown ambitions beyond just selling access to poorly-secured IoT devices. In February, Faceless re-launched a service that lets users drop an email bomb on someone — causing the target’s inbox to be filled with tens of thousands of junk messages.
And in March 2023, Faceless started marketing a service for looking up Social Security Numbers (SSNs) that claims to provide access to “the largest SSN database on the market with a very high hit rate.”
Kilmer said Faceless wants to become a one-stop-fraud-shop for cybercriminals who are seeking stolen or synthetic identities from which to transact online, and a temporary proxy that is geographically close to the identity being sold. Faceless currently sells this bundled product for $9 — $8 for the identity and $1 for the proxy.
“They’re trying to be this one-stop shop for anonymity and personas,” Kilmer said. “The service basically says ‘here’s an SSN and proxy connection that should correspond to that user’s location and make sense to different websites.'”
Faceless is a project from MrMurza, a particularly talkative member of more than a dozen Russian-language cybercrime forums over the past decade. According to cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint, MrMurza has been active in the Russian underground since at least September 2012. Flashpoint said MrMurza appears to be extensively involved in botnet activity and “drops” — fraudulent bank accounts created using stolen identity data that are often used in money laundering and cash-out schemes.
Faceless grew out of a popular anonymity service called iSocks, which was launched in 2014 and advertised on multiple Russian crime forums as a proxy service that customers could use to route their malicious Web traffic through compromised computers.
Flashpoint says that in the months before iSocks went online, MrMurza posted on the Russian language crime forum Verified asking for a serious partner to assist in opening a proxy service, noting they had a botnet that was powered by malware that collected proxies with a 70 percent infection rate.
In September 2016, MrMurza sent a message to all iSocks users saying the service would soon be phased out in favor of Faceless, and that existing iSocks users could register at Faceless for free if they did so quickly — before Faceless began charging new users registration fees between $50 and $100.
Verified and other Russian language crime forums where MrMurza had a presence have been hacked over the years, with contact details and private messages leaked online. In a 2014 private message to the administrator of Verified explaining his bona fides, MrMurza said he received years of positive feedback as a seller of stolen Italian credit cards and a vendor of drops services.
MrMurza told the Verified admin that he used the nickname AccessApproved on multiple other forums over the years. MrMurza also told the admin that his account number at the now-defunct virtual currency Liberty Reserve was U1018928.
According to cyber intelligence firm Intel 471, the user AccessApproved joined the Russian crime forum Zloy in Jan. 2012, from an Internet address in Magnitogorsk, RU. In a 2012 private message where AccessApproved was arguing with another cybercriminal over a deal gone bad, AccessApproved asked to be paid at the Liberty Reserve address U1018928.
In 2013, U.S. federal investigators seized Liberty Reserve and charged its founders with facilitating billions of dollars in money laundering tied to cybercrime. The Liberty Reserve case was prosecuted out of the Southern District of New York, which in 2016 published a list of account information (PDF) tied to thousands of Liberty Reserve addresses the government asserts were involved in money laundering.
That document indicates the Liberty Reserve account claimed by MrMurza/AccessApproved — U1018928 — was assigned in 2011 to a “Vadim Panov” who used the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Continue reading