07
May 18

Study: Attack on KrebsOnSecurity Cost IoT Device Owners $323K

A monster distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS) against KrebsOnSecurity.com in 2016 knocked this site offline for nearly four days. The attack was executed through a network of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices such as Internet routers, security cameras and digital video recorders. A new study that tries to measure the direct cost of that one attack for IoT device users whose machines were swept up in the assault found that it may have cost device owners a total of $323,973.75 in excess power and added bandwidth consumption.

My bad.

But really, none of it was my fault at all. It was mostly the fault of IoT makers for shipping cheap, poorly designed products (insecure by default), and the fault of customers who bought these IoT things and plugged them onto the Internet without changing the things’ factory settings (passwords at least.)

The botnet that hit my site in Sept. 2016 was powered by the first version of Mirai, a malware strain that wriggles into dozens of IoT devices left exposed to the Internet and running with factory-default settings and passwords. Systems infected with Mirai are forced to scan the Internet for other vulnerable IoT devices, but they’re just as often used to help launch punishing DDoS attacks.

By the time of the first Mirai attack on this site, the young masterminds behind Mirai had already enslaved more than 600,000 IoT devices for their DDoS armies. But according to an interview with one of the admitted and convicted co-authors of Mirai, the part of their botnet that pounded my site was a mere slice of firepower they’d sold for a few hundred bucks to a willing buyer. The attack army sold to this ne’er-do-well harnessed the power of just 24,000 Mirai-infected systems (mostly security cameras and DVRs, but some routers, too).

These 24,000 Mirai devices clobbered my site for several days with data blasts of up to 620 Gbps. The attack was so bad that my pro-bono DDoS protection provider at the time — Akamai — had to let me go because the data firehose pointed at my site was starting to cause real pain for their paying customers. Akamai later estimated that the cost of maintaining protection against my site in the face of that onslaught would have run into the millions of dollars.

We’re getting better at figuring out the financial costs of DDoS attacks to the victims (5, 6 or 7 -digit dollar losses) and to the perpetrators (zero to hundreds of dollars). According to a report released this year by DDoS mitigation giant NETSCOUT Arbor, fifty-six percent of organizations last year experienced a financial impact from DDoS attacks for between $10,000 and $100,000, almost double the proportion from 2016.

But what if there were also a way to work out the cost of these attacks to the users of the IoT devices which get snared by DDos botnets like Mirai? That’s what researchers at University of California, Berkeley School of Information sought to determine in their new paper, “rIoT: Quantifying Consumer Costs of Insecure Internet of Things Devices.

If we accept the UC Berkeley team’s assumptions about costs borne by hacked IoT device users (more on that in a bit), the total cost of added bandwidth and energy consumption from the botnet that hit my site came to $323,973.95. This may sound like a lot of money, but remember that broken down among 24,000 attacking drones the per-device cost comes to just $13.50.

So let’s review: The attacker who wanted to clobber my site paid a few hundred dollars to rent a tiny portion of a much bigger Mirai crime machine. That attack would likely have cost millions of dollars to mitigate. The consumers in possession of the IoT devices that did the attacking probably realized a few dollars in losses each, if that. Perhaps forever unmeasured are the many Web sites and Internet users whose connection speeds are often collateral damage in DDoS attacks.

Image: UC Berkeley.

Continue reading →


03
May 18

Twitter to All Users: Change Your Password Now!

Twitter just asked all 300+ million users to reset their passwords, citing the exposure of user passwords via a bug that stored passwords in plain text — without protecting them with any sort of encryption technology that would mask a Twitter user’s true password. The social media giant says it has fixed the bug and that so far its investigation hasn’t turned up any signs of a breach or that anyone misused the information. But if you have a Twitter account, please change your account password now.

Or if you don’t trust links in blogs like this (I get it) go to Twitter.com and change it from there. And then come back and read the rest of this. We’ll wait.

In a post to its company blog this afternoon, Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal wrote:

“When you set a password for your Twitter account, we use technology that masks it so no one at the company can see it. We recently identified a bug that stored passwords unmasked in an internal log. We have fixed the bug, and our investigation shows no indication of breach or misuse by anyone.

A message posted this afternoon (and still present as a pop-up) warns all users to change their passwords.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we ask that you consider changing your password on all services where you’ve used this password. You can change your Twitter password anytime by going to the password settings page.” Continue reading →


02
May 18

When Your Employees Post Passwords Online

Storing passwords in plaintext online is never a good idea, but it’s remarkable how many companies have employees who are doing just that using online collaboration tools like Trello.com. Last week, KrebsOnSecurity notified a host of companies that employees were using Trello to share passwords for sensitive internal resources. Among those put at risk by such activity included an insurance firm, a state government agency and ride-hailing service Uber.

By default, Trello boards for both enterprise and personal use are set to either private (requires a password to view the content) or team-visible only (approved members of the collaboration team can view).

But that doesn’t stop individual Trello users from manually sharing personal boards that include proprietary employer data, information that may be indexed by search engines and available to anyone with a Web browser. And unfortunately for organizations, far too many employees are posting sensitive internal passwords and other resources on their own personal Trello boards that are left open and exposed online.

A personal Trello board created by an Uber employee included passwords that might have exposed sensitive internal company operations.

KrebsOnSecurity spent the past week using Google to discover unprotected personal Trello boards that listed employer passwords and other sensitive data. Pictured above was a personal board set up by some Uber developers in the company’s Asia-Pacific region, which included passwords needed to view a host of internal Google Documents and images.

Uber spokesperson Melanie Ensign said the Trello board in question was made private shortly after being notified by this publication, among others. Ensign said Uber found the unauthorized Trello board exposed information related to two users in South America who have since been notified.

“We had a handful of members in random parts of the world who didn’t realize they were openly sharing this information,” Ensign said. “We’ve reached out to these teams to remind people that these things need to happen behind internal resources. Employee awareness is an ongoing challenge, We may have dodged a bullet here, and it definitely could have been worse.”

Ensign said the initial report about the exposed board came through the company’s bug bounty program, and that the person who reported it would receive at least the minimum bounty amount — $500 — for reporting the incident (Uber hasn’t yet decided whether the award should be higher for this incident).

The Uber employees who created the board “used their work email to open a public board that they weren’t supposed to,” Ensign said. “They didn’t go through our enterprise account to create that. We first found out about it through our bug bounty program, and while it’s not technically a vulnerability in our products, it’s certainly something that we would pay for anyway. In this case, we got multiple reports about the same thing, but we always pay the first report we get.”

Of course, not every company has a bug bounty program to incentivize the discovery and private reporting of internal resources that may be inadvertently exposed online.

Screenshots that KrebsOnSecurity took of many far more shocking examples of employees posting dozens of passwords for sensitive internal resources are not pictured here because the affected parties still have not responded to alerts provided by this author.
Continue reading →


27
Apr 18

Security Trade-Offs in the New EU Privacy Law

On two occasions this past year I’ve published stories here warning about the prospect that new European privacy regulations could result in more spams and scams ending up in your inbox. This post explains in a question and answer format some of the reasoning that went into that prediction, and responds to many of the criticisms leveled against it.

Before we get to the Q&A, a bit of background is in order. On May 25, 2018 the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect. The law, enacted by the European Parliament, requires companies to get affirmative consent for any personal 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 — has proposed redacting key bits of personal data from 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.

But in a bid to help registrars comply with the GDPR, ICANN is moving forward on a plan to remove critical data elements from all public WHOIS records. Under the new system, registrars would collect all the same data points about their customers, yet limit how much of that information is made available via public WHOIS lookups.

The data to be redacted includes the name of the person who registered the domain, as well as their phone number, physical address and email address. The new rules would apply to all domain name registrars globally.

ICANN has proposed creating an “accreditation system” that would vet access to personal data in WHOIS records for several groups, including journalists, security researchers, and law enforcement officials, as well as intellectual property rights holders who routinely use WHOIS records to combat piracy and trademark abuse.

But at an ICANN meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico last month, ICANN representatives conceded that a proposal for how such a vetting system might work probably would not be ready until December 2018. Assuming ICANN meets that deadline, it could be many months after that before the hundreds of domain registrars around the world take steps to adopt the new measures.

In a series of posts on Twitter, I predicted that the WHOIS changes coming with GDPR will likely result in a noticeable increase in cybercrime — particularly in the form of phishing and other types of spam. In response to those tweets, several authors on Wednesday published an article for Georgia Tech’s Internet Governance Project titled, “WHOIS afraid of the dark? Truth or illusion, let’s know the difference when it comes to WHOIS.”

The following Q&A is intended to address many of the more misleading claims and assertions made in that article.

Cyber criminals don’t use their real information in WHOIS registrations, so what’s the big deal if the data currently available in WHOIS records is no longer in the public domain after May 25?

I can point to dozens of stories printed here — and probably hundreds elsewhere — that clearly demonstrate otherwise. Whether or not cyber crooks do provide their real information is beside the point. ANY information they provide — and especially information that they re-use across multiple domains and cybercrime campaigns — is invaluable to both grouping cybercriminal operations and in ultimately identifying who’s responsible for these activities.

To understand why data reuse in WHOIS records is so common among crooks, put yourself in the shoes of your average scammer or spammer — someone who has to register dozens or even hundreds or thousands of domains a week to ply their trade. Are you going to create hundreds or thousands of email addresses and fabricate as many personal details to make your WHOIS listings that much harder for researchers to track? The answer is that those who take this extraordinary step are by far and away the exception rather than the rule. Most simply reuse the same email address and phony address/phone/contact information across many domains as long as it remains profitable for them to do so.

This pattern of WHOIS data reuse doesn’t just extend across a few weeks or months. Very often, if a spammer, phisher or scammer can get away with re-using the same WHOIS details over many years without any deleterious effects to their operations, they will happily do so. Why they may do this is their own business, but nevertheless it makes WHOIS an incredibly powerful tool for tracking threat actors across multiple networks, registrars and Internet epochs.

All domain registrars offer free or a-la-carte privacy protection services that mask the personal information provided by the domain registrant. Most cybercriminals — unless they are dumb or lazy — are already taking advantage of these anyway, so it’s not clear why masking domain registration for everyone is going to change the status quo by much. 

It is true that some domain registrants do take advantage of WHOIS privacy services, but based on countless investigations I have conducted using WHOIS to uncover cybercrime businesses and operators, I’d wager that cybercrooks more often do not use these services. Not infrequently, when they do use WHOIS privacy options there are still gaps in coverage at some point in the domain’s history (such as when a registrant switches hosting providers) which are indexed by historic WHOIS records and that offer a brief window of visibility into the details behind the registration.

This is demonstrably true even for organized cybercrime groups and for nation state actors, and these are arguably some of the most sophisticated and savvy cybercriminals out there.

It’s worth adding that if so many cybercrooks seem nonchalant about adopting WHOIS privacy services it may well be because they reside in countries where the rule of law is not well-established, or their host country doesn’t particularly discourage their activities so long as they’re not violating the golden rule — namely, targeting people in their own backyard. And so they may not particularly care about covering their tracks. Or in other cases they do care, but nevertheless make mistakes or get sloppy at some point, as most cybercriminals do.

The GDPR does not apply to businesses — only to individuals — so there is no reason researchers or anyone else should be unable to find domain registration details for organizations and companies in the WHOIS database after May 25, right?

It is true that the European privacy regulations as they relate to WHOIS records do not apply to businesses registering domain names. However, the domain registrar industry — which operates on razor-thin profit margins and which has long sought to be free from any WHOIS requirements or accountability whatsoever — won’t exactly be tripping over themselves to add more complexity to their WHOIS efforts just to make a distinction between businesses and individuals.

As a result, registrars simply won’t make that distinction because there is no mandate that they must. They’ll just adopt the same WHOIS data collection and display polices across the board, regardless of whether the WHOIS details for a given domain suggest that the registrant is a business or an individual. Continue reading →


25
Apr 18

DDoS-for-Hire Service Webstresser Dismantled

Authorities in the U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands on Tuesday took down popular online attack-for-hire service WebStresser.org and arrested its alleged administrators. Investigators say that prior to the takedown, the service had more than 136,000 registered users and was responsible for launching somewhere between four and six million attacks over the past three years.

The action, dubbed “Operation Power Off,” targeted WebStresser.org (previously Webstresser.co), one of the most active services for launching point-and-click distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. WebStresser was one of many so-called “booter” or “stresser” services — virtual hired muscle that anyone can rent to knock nearly any website or Internet user offline.

Webstresser.org (formerly Webstresser.co), as it appeared in 2017.

“The damage of these attacks is substantial,” reads a statement from the Dutch National Police in a Reddit thread about the takedown. “Victims are out of business for a period of time, and spend money on mitigation and on (other) security measures.”

In a separate statement released this morning, Europol — the law enforcement agency of the European Union — said “further measures were taken against the top users of this marketplace in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong.” The servers powering WebStresser were located in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, according to Europol.

The U.K.’s National Crime Agency said WebStresser could be rented for as little as $14.99, and that the service allowed people with little or no technical knowledge to launch crippling DDoS attacks around the world.

Neither the Dutch nor U.K. authorities would say who was arrested in connection with this takedown. But according to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, the administrator of WebStresser allegedly was a 19-year-old from Prokuplje, Serbia named Jovan Mirkovic.

Mirkovic, who went by the hacker nickname “m1rk,” also used the alias “Mirkovik Babs” on Facebook where for years he openly discussed his role in programming and ultimately running WebStresser. The last post on Mirkovic’s Facebook page, dated April 3 (the day before the takedown), shows the young hacker sipping what appears to be liquor while bathing. Below that image are dozens of comments left in the past few hours, most of them simply, “RIP.”

Continue reading →


23
Apr 18

Transcription Service Leaked Medical Records

MEDantex, a Kansas-based company that provides medical transcription services for hospitals, clinics and private physicians, took down its customer Web portal last week after being notified by KrebsOnSecurity that it was leaking sensitive patient medical records — apparently for thousands of physicians.

On Friday, KrebsOnSecurity learned that the portion of MEDantex’s site which was supposed to be a password-protected portal physicians could use to upload audio-recorded notes about their patients was instead completely open to the Internet.

What’s more, numerous online tools intended for use by MEDantex employees were exposed to anyone with a Web browser, including pages that allowed visitors to add or delete users, and to search for patient records by physician or patient name. No authentication was required to access any of these pages.

This exposed administrative page from MEDantex’s site granted anyone complete access to physician files, as well as the ability to add and delete authorized users.

Several MEDantex portal pages left exposed to the Web suggest that the company recently was the victim of WhiteRose, a strain of ransomware that encrypts a victim’s files unless and until a ransom demand is paid — usually in the form of some virtual currency such as bitcoin.

Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, MEDantex founder and chief executive Sreeram Pydah confirmed that the Wichita, Kansas based transcription firm recently rebuilt its online servers after suffering a ransomware infestation. Pydah said the MEDantex portal was taken down for nearly two weeks, and that it appears the glitch exposing patient records to the Web was somehow incorporated into that rebuild.

“There was some ransomware injection [into the site], and we rebuilt it,” Pydah said, just minutes before disabling the portal (which remains down as of this publication). “I don’t know how they left the documents in the open like that. We’re going to take the site down and try to figure out how this happened.”

It’s unclear exactly how many patient records were left exposed on MEDantex’s site. But one of the main exposed directories was named “/documents/userdoc,” and it included more than 2,300 physicians listed alphabetically by first initial and last name. Drilling down into each of these directories revealed a varying number of patient records — displayed and downloadable as Microsoft Word documents and/or raw audio files.

Although many of the exposed documents appear to be quite recent, some of the records dated as far back as 2007. It’s also unclear how long the data was accessible, but this Google cache of the MEDantex physician portal seems to indicate it was wide open on April 10, 2018.

Among the clients listed on MEDantex’s site include New York University Medical Center; San Francisco Multi-Specialty Medical Group; Jackson Hospital in Montgomery Ala.; Allen County Hospital in Iola, Kan; Green Clinic Surgical Hospital in Ruston, La.; Trillium Specialty Hospital in Mesa and Sun City, Ariz.; Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J.; Sunrise Medical Group in Miami; the Wichita Clinic in Wichita, Kan.; the Kansas Spine Center; the Kansas Orthopedic Center; and Foundation Surgical Hospitals nationwide. MEDantex’s site states these are just some of the healthcare organizations partnering with the company for transcription services. Continue reading →


20
Apr 18

Is Facebook’s Anti-Abuse System Broken?

Facebook has built some of the most advanced algorithms for tracking users, but when it comes to acting on user abuse reports about Facebook groups and content that clearly violate the company’s “community standards,” the social media giant’s technology appears to be woefully inadequate.

Last week, Facebook deleted almost 120 groups totaling more than 300,000 members. The groups were mostly closed — requiring approval from group administrators before outsiders could view the day-to-day postings of group members.

However, the titles, images and postings available on each group’s front page left little doubt about their true purpose: Selling everything from stolen credit cards, identities and hacked accounts to services that help automate things like spamming, phishing and denial-of-service attacks for hire.

To its credit, Facebook deleted the groups within just a few hours of KrebsOnSecurity sharing via email a spreadsheet detailing each group, which concluded that the average length of time the groups had been active on Facebook was two years. But I suspect that the company took this extraordinary step mainly because I informed them that I intended to write about the proliferation of cybercrime-based groups on Facebook.

That story, Deleted Facebook Cybercrime Groups had 300,000 Members, ended with a statement from Facebook promising to crack down on such activity and instructing users on how to report groups that violate it its community standards.

In short order, some of the groups I reported that were removed re-established themselves within hours of Facebook’s action. I decided instead of contacting Facebook’s public relations arm directly that I would report those resurrected groups and others using Facebook’s stated process. Roughly two days later I received a series replies saying that Facebook had reviewed my reports but that none of the groups were found to have violated its standards. Here’s a snippet from those replies:

Perhaps I should give Facebook the benefit of the doubt: Maybe my multiple reports one after the other triggered some kind of anti-abuse feature that is designed to throttle those who would seek to abuse it to get otherwise legitimate groups taken offline — much in the way that pools of automated bot accounts have been known to abuse Twitter’s reporting system to successfully sideline accounts of specific targets.

Or it could be that I simply didn’t click the proper sequence of buttons when reporting these groups. The closest match I could find in Facebook’s abuse reporting system were, “Doesn’t belong on Facebook,” and “Purchase or sale of drugs, guns or regulated products.” There was/is no option for “selling hacked accounts, credit cards and identities,” or anything of that sort.

In any case, one thing seems clear: Naming and shaming these shady Facebook groups via Twitter seems to work better right now for getting them removed from Facebook than using Facebook’s own formal abuse reporting process. So that’s what I did on Thursday. Here’s an example: Continue reading →


18
Apr 18

A Sobering Look at Fake Online Reviews

In 2016, KrebsOnSecurity exposed a network of phony Web sites and fake online reviews that funneled those seeking help for drug and alcohol addiction toward rehab centers that were secretly affiliated with the Church of Scientology. Not long after the story ran, that network of bogus reviews disappeared from the Web. Over the past few months, however, the same prolific purveyor of these phantom sites and reviews appears to be back at it again, enlisting the help of Internet users and paying people $25-$35 for each fake listing.

Sometime in March 2018, ads began appearing on Craigslist promoting part-time “social media assistant” jobs, in which interested applicants are directed to sign up for positions at seorehabs[dot]com. This site promotes itself as “leaders in addiction recovery consulting,” explaining that assistants can earn a minimum of $25 just for creating individual Google for Business listings tied to a few dozen generic-sounding addiction recovery center names, such as “Integra Addiction Center,” and “First Exit Recovery.”

The listing on Craigslist.com advertising jobs for creating fake online businesses tied to addiction rehabilitation centers.

Applicants who sign up are given detailed instructions on how to step through Google’s anti-abuse process for creating listings, which include receiving a postcard via snail mail from Google that contains a PIN which needs to be entered at Google’s site before a listing can be created.

Assistants are cautioned not to create more than two listings per street address, but otherwise to use any U.S.-based street address and to leave blank the phone number and Web site for the new business listing.

A screen shot from Seorehabs’ instructions for those hired to create rehab center listings.

In my story Scientology Seeks Captive Converts Via Google Maps, Drug Rehab Centers, I showed how a labyrinthine network of fake online reviews that steered Internet searches toward rehab centers funded by Scientology adherents was set up by TopSeek Inc., which bills itself as a collection of “local marketing experts.” According to LinkedIn, TopSeek is owned by John Harvey, an individual (or alias) who lists his address variously as Sacramento, Calif. and Hawaii.

Although the current Web site registration records from registrar giant Godaddy obscure the information for the current owner of seorehabs[dot]com, a historic WHOIS search via DomainTools shows the site was also registered by John Harvey and TopSeek in 2015. Mr. Harvey did not respond to requests for comment. [Full disclosure: DomainTools previously was an advertiser on KrebsOnSecurity].

TopSeek’s Web site says it works with several clients, but most especially Narconon International — an organization that promotes the rather unorthodox theories of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard regarding substance abuse treatment and addiction.

As described in Narconon’s Wikipedia entry, Narconon facilities are known not only for attempting to win over new converts to Scientology, but also for treating all substance abuse addictions with a rather bizarre cocktail consisting mainly of vitamins and long hours in extremely hot saunas. Their Wiki entry documents multiple cases of accidental deaths at Narconon facilities, where some addicts reportedly died from overdoses of vitamins or neglect. Continue reading →


16
Apr 18

Deleted Facebook Cybercrime Groups Had 300,000 Members

Hours after being alerted by KrebsOnSecurity, Facebook last week deleted almost 120 private discussion groups totaling more than 300,000 members who flagrantly promoted a host of illicit activities on the social media network’s platform. The scam groups facilitated a broad spectrum of shady activities, including spamming, wire fraud, account takeovers, phony tax refunds, 419 scams, denial-of-service attack-for-hire services and botnet creation tools. The average age of these groups on Facebook’s platform was two years.

On Thursday, April 12, KrebsOnSecurity spent roughly two hours combing Facebook for groups whose sole purpose appeared to be flouting the company’s terms of service agreement about what types of content it will or will not tolerate on its platform.

One of nearly 120 different closed cybercrime groups operating on Facebook that were deleted late last week. In total, there were more than 300,000 members of these groups. The average age of these groups was two years, but some had existed for up to nine years on Facebook

My research centered on groups whose singular focus was promoting all manner of cyber fraud, but most especially those engaged in identity theft, spamming, account takeovers and credit card fraud. Virtually all of these groups advertised their intent by stating well-known terms of fraud in their group names, such as “botnet helpdesk,” “spamming,” “carding” (referring to credit card fraud), “DDoS” (distributed denial-of-service attacks), “tax refund fraud,” and account takeovers.

Each of these closed groups solicited new members to engage in a variety of shady activities. Some had existed on Facebook for up to nine years; approximately ten percent of them had plied their trade on the social network for more than four years.

Here is a spreadsheet (PDF) listing all of the offending groups reported, including: Their stated group names; the length of time they were present on Facebook; the number of members; whether the group was promoting a third-party site on the dark or clear Web; and a link to the offending group. A copy of the same spreadsheet in .csv format is available here.

The biggest collection of groups banned last week were those promoting the sale and use of stolen credit and debit card accounts. The next largest collection of groups included those facilitating account takeovers — methods for mass-hacking emails and passwords for countless online accounts such Amazon, Google, Netflix, PayPal, as well as a host of online banking services.

This rather active Facebook group, which specialized in identity theft and selling stolen bank account logins, was active for roughly three years and had approximately 2,500 members.

In a statement to KrebsOnSecurity, Facebook pledged to be more proactive about policing its network for these types of groups.

“We thank Mr. Krebs for bringing these groups to our attention, we removed them as soon as we investigated,” said Pete Voss, Facebook’s communications director. “We investigated these groups as soon as we were aware of the report, and once we confirmed that they violated our Community Standards, we disabled them and removed the group admins. We encourage our community to report anything they see that they don’t think should be in Facebook, so we can take swift action.” Continue reading →


11
Apr 18

When Identity Thieves Hack Your Accountant

The Internal Revenue Service has been urging tax preparation firms to step up their cybersecurity efforts this year, warning that identity thieves and hackers increasingly are targeting certified public accountants (CPAs) in a bid to siphon oodles of sensitive personal and financial data on taxpayers. This is the story of a CPA in New Jersey whose compromise by malware led to identity theft and phony tax refund requests filed on behalf of his clients.

Last month, KrebsOnSecurity was alerted by security expert Alex Holden of Hold Security about a malware gang that appears to have focused on CPAs. The crooks in this case were using a Web-based keylogger that recorded every keystroke typed on the target’s machine, and periodically uploaded screenshots of whatever was being displayed on the victim’s computer screen at the time.

If you’ve never seen one of these keyloggers in action, viewing their output can be a bit unnerving. This particular malware is not terribly sophisticated, but nevertheless is quite effective. It not only grabs any data the victim submits into Web-based forms, but also captures any typing — including backspaces and typos as we can see in the screenshot below.

The malware records everything its victims type (including backspaces and typos), and frequently takes snapshots of the victim’s computer screen.

Whoever was running this scheme had all victim information uploaded to a site that was protected from data scraping by search engines, but the site itself did not require any form of authentication to view data harvested from victim PCs. Rather, the stolen information was indexed by victim and ordered by day, meaning anyone who knew the right URL could view each day’s keylogging record as one long image file.

Those records suggest that this particular CPA — “John,” a New Jersey professional whose real name will be left out of this story — likely had his computer compromised sometime in mid-March 2018 (at least, this is as far back as the keylogging records go for John).

It’s also not clear exactly which method the thieves used to get malware on John’s machine. Screenshots for John’s account suggest he routinely ignored messages from Microsoft and other third party Windows programs about the need to apply critical security updates.

Messages like this one — about critical security updates available for QuickBooks — went largely ignored, according to multiple screenshots from John’s computer.

More likely, however, John’s computer was compromised by someone who sent him a booby-trapped email attachment or link. When one considers just how frequently CPAs must need to open Microsoft Office and other files submitted by clients and potential clients via email, it’s not hard to imagine how simple it might be for hackers to target and successfully compromise your average CPA.

The keylogging malware itself appears to have been sold (or perhaps directly deployed) by a cybercriminal who uses the nickname ja_far. This individual markets a $50 keylogger product alongside a malware “crypting” service that guarantees his malware will be undetected by most antivirus products for a given number of days after it is used against a victim.

Ja_far’s sales threads for the keylogger used to steal tax and financial data from hundreds of John’s clients.

It seems likely that ja_far’s keylogger was the source of this data because at one point — early in the morning John’s time — the attacker appears to have accidentally pasted ja_far’s jabber instant messenger address into the victim’s screen instead of his own. In all likelihood, John’s assailant was seeking additional crypting services to ensure the keylogger remained undetected on John’s PC. A couple of minutes later, the intruder downloaded a file to John’s PC from file-sharing site sendspace.com.

The attacker apparently messing around on John’s computer while John was not sitting in front of the keyboard.

What I found remarkable about John’s situation was despite receiving notice after notice that the IRS had rejected many of his clients’ tax returns because those returns had already been filed by fraudsters, for at least two weeks John does not appear to have suspected that his compromised computer was likely the source of said fraud inflicted on his clients (or if he did, he didn’t share this notion with any of his friends or family via email).

Instead, John composed and distributed to his clients a form letter about their rejected returns, and another letter that clients could use to alert the IRS and New Jersey tax authorities of suspected identity fraud. Continue reading →