Microsoft Patch Tuesday, December 2023 Edition

December 12, 2023

The final Patch Tuesday of 2023 is upon us, with Microsoft Corp. today releasing fixes for a relatively small number of security holes in its Windows operating systems and other software. Even more unusual, there are no known “zero-day” threats targeting any of the vulnerabilities in December’s patch batch. Still, four of the updates pushed out today address “critical” vulnerabilities that Microsoft says can be exploited by malware or malcontents to seize complete control over a vulnerable Windows device with little or no help from users.

Among the critical bugs quashed this month is CVE-2023-35628, a weakness present in Windows 10 and later versions, as well as Microsoft Server 2008 and later. Kevin Breen, senior director of threat research at Immersive Labs, said the flaw affects MSHTML, a core component of Windows that is used to render browser-based content. Breen notes that MSHTML also can be found in a number of Microsoft applications, including Office, Outlook, Skype and Teams.

“In the worst-case scenario, Microsoft suggests that simply receiving an email would be enough to trigger the vulnerability and give an attacker code execution on the target machine without any user interaction like opening or interacting with the contents,” Breen said. Continue reading

ICANN Launches Service to Help With WHOIS Lookups

December 6, 2023

More than five years after domain name registrars started redacting personal data from all public domain registration records, the non-profit organization overseeing the domain industry has introduced a centralized online service designed to make it easier for researchers, law enforcement and others to request the information directly from registrars.

In May 2018, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — the nonprofit entity that manages the global domain name system — instructed all registrars to redact the customer’s name, address, phone number and email from WHOIS, the system for querying databases that store the registered users of domain names and blocks of Internet address ranges.

ICANN made the policy change in response to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a law enacted by the European Parliament that requires companies to gain affirmative consent for any personal information they collect on people within the European Union. In the meantime, registrars were to continue collecting the data but not publish it, and ICANN promised it would develop a system that facilitates access to this information.

At the end of November 2023, ICANN launched the Registration Data Request Service (RDRS), which is designed as a one-stop shop to submit registration data requests to participating registrars. This video from ICANN walks through how the system works.

Accredited registrars don’t have to participate, but ICANN is asking all registrars to join and says participants can opt out or stop using it at any time. ICANN contends that the use of a standardized request form makes it easier for the correct information and supporting documents to be provided to evaluate a request.

ICANN says the RDRS doesn’t guarantee access to requested registration data, and that all communication and data disclosure between the registrars and requestors takes place outside of the system. The service can’t be used to request WHOIS data tied to country-code top level domains (CCTLDs), such as those ending in .de (Germany) or .nz (New Zealand), for example. Continue reading


Okta: Breach Affected All Customer Support Users

November 29, 2023

When KrebsOnSecurity broke the news on Oct. 20, 2023 that identity and authentication giant Okta had suffered a breach in its customer support department, Okta said the intrusion allowed hackers to steal sensitive data from fewer than one percent of its 18,000+ customers. But today, Okta revised that impact statement, saying the attackers also stole the name and email address for nearly all of its customer support users.

Okta acknowledged last month that for several weeks beginning in late September 2023, intruders had access to its customer support case management system. That access allowed the hackers to steal authentication tokens from some Okta customers, which the attackers could then use to make changes to customer accounts, such as adding or modifying authorized users.

In its initial incident reports about the breach, Okta said the hackers gained unauthorized access to files inside Okta’s customer support system associated with 134 Okta customers, or less than 1% of Okta’s customer base.

But in an updated statement published early this morning, Okta said it determined the intruders also stole the names and email addresses of all Okta customer support system users.

“All Okta Workforce Identity Cloud (WIC) and Customer Identity Solution (CIS) customers are impacted except customers in our FedRamp High and DoD IL4 environments (these environments use a separate support system NOT accessed by the threat actor),” Okta’s advisory states. “The Auth0/CIC support case management system was also not impacted by this incident.” Continue reading

ID Theft Service Resold Access to USInfoSearch Data

November 28, 2023

One of the cybercrime underground’s more active sellers of Social Security numbers, background and credit reports has been pulling data from hacked accounts at the U.S. consumer data broker USinfoSearch, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

Since at least February 2023, a service advertised on Telegram called USiSLookups has operated an automated bot that allows anyone to look up the SSN or background report on virtually any American. For prices ranging from $8 to $40 and payable via virtual currency, the bot will return detailed consumer background reports automatically in just a few moments.

USiSLookups is the project of a cybercriminal who uses the nicknames JackieChan/USInfoSearch, and the Telegram channel for this service features a small number of sample background reports, including that of President Joe Biden, and podcaster Joe Rogan. The data in those reports includes the subject’s date of birth, address, previous addresses, previous phone numbers and employers, known relatives and associates, and driver’s license information.

JackieChan’s service abuses the name and trademarks of Columbus, OH based data broker USinfoSearch, whose website says it provides “identity and background information to assist with risk management, fraud prevention, identity and age verification, skip tracing, and more.”

“We specialize in non-FCRA data from numerous proprietary sources to deliver the information you need, when you need it,” the company’s website explains. “Our services include API-based access for those integrating data into their product or application, as well as bulk and batch processing of records to suit every client.”

As luck would have it, my report was also listed in the Telegram channel for this identity fraud service, presumably as a teaser for would-be customers. On October 19, 2023, KrebsOnSecurity shared a copy of this file with the real USinfoSearch, along with a request for information about the provenance of the data.

USinfoSearch said it would investigate the report, which appears to have been obtained on or before June 30, 2023. On Nov. 9, 2023, Scott Hostettler, general manager of USinfoSearch parent Martin Data LLC shared a written statement about their investigation that suggested the ID theft service was trying to pass off someone else’s consumer data as coming from USinfoSearch:

Regarding the Telegram incident, we understand the importance of protecting sensitive information and upholding the trust of our users is our top priority. Any allegation that we have provided data to criminals is in direct opposition to our fundamental principles and the protective measures we have established and continually monitor to prevent any unauthorized disclosure. Because Martin Data has a reputation for high-quality data, thieves may steal data from other sources and then disguise it as ours. While we implement appropriate safeguards to guarantee that our data is only accessible by those who are legally permitted, unauthorized parties will continue to try to access our data. Thankfully, the requirements needed to pass our credentialing process is tough even for established honest companies.

USinfoSearch’s statement did not address any questions put to the company, such as whether it requires multi-factor authentication for customer accounts, or whether my report had actually come from USinfoSearch’s systems.

After much badgering, on Nov. 21 Hostettler acknowledged that the USinfoSearch identity fraud service on Telegram was in fact pulling data from an account belonging to a vetted USinfoSearch client.

“I do know 100% that my company did not give access to the group who created the bots, but they did gain access to a client,” Hostettler said of the Telegram-based identity fraud service. “I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.”

Hostettler said USinfoSearch heavily vets any new potential clients, and that all users are required to undergo a background check and provide certain documents. Even so, he said, several fraudsters each month present themselves as credible business owners or C-level executives during the credentialing process, completing the application and providing the necessary documentation to open a new account.

“The level of skill and craftsmanship demonstrated in the creation of these supporting documents is incredible,” Hostettler said. “The numerous licenses provided appear to be exact replicas of the original document. Fortunately, I’ve discovered several methods of verification that do not rely solely on those documents to catch the fraudsters.”

“These people are unrelenting, and they act without regard for the consequences,” Hostettler continued. “After I deny their access, they will contact us again within the week using the same credentials. In the past, I’ve notified both the individual whose identity is being used fraudulently and the local police. Both are hesitant to act because nothing can be done to the offender if they are not apprehended. That is where most attention is needed.” Continue reading

Alleged Extortioner of Psychotherapy Patients Faces Trial

November 16, 2023

Prosecutors in Finland this week commenced their criminal trial against Julius Kivimäki, a 26-year-old Finnish man charged with extorting a once popular and now-bankrupt online psychotherapy practice and thousands of its patients. In a 2,200-page report, Finnish authorities laid out how they connected the extortion spree to Kivimäki, a notorious hacker who was convicted in 2015 of perpetrating tens of thousands of cybercrimes, including data breaches, payment fraud, operating a botnet and calling in bomb threats.

In November 2022, Kivimäki was charged with attempting to extort money from the Vastaamo Psychotherapy Center. In that breach, which occurred in October 2020, a hacker using the handle “Ransom Man” threatened to publish patient psychotherapy notes if Vastaamo did not pay a six-figure ransom demand.

Vastaamo refused, so Ransom Man shifted to extorting individual patients — sending them targeted emails threatening to publish their therapy notes unless paid a 500-euro ransom. When Ransom Man found little success extorting patients directly, they uploaded to the dark web a large compressed file containing all of the stolen Vastaamo patient records.

Security experts soon discovered Ransom Man had mistakenly included an entire copy of their home folder, where investigators found many clues pointing to Kivimäki’s involvement. By that time, Kivimäki was no longer in Finland, but the Finnish government nevertheless charged Kivimäki in absentia with the Vastaamo hack. The 2,200-page evidence document against Kivimäki suggests he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle while on the lam, frequenting luxury resorts and renting fabulously expensive cars and living quarters.

But in February 2023, Kivimäki was arrested in France after authorities there responded to a domestic disturbance call and found the defendant sleeping off a hangover on the couch of a woman he’d met the night before. The French police grew suspicious when the 6′ 3″ blonde, green-eyed man presented an ID that stated he was of Romanian nationality.

A redacted copy of an ID Kivimaki gave to French authorities claiming he was from Romania.

Finnish prosecutors showed that Kivimäki’s credit card had been used to pay for the virtual server that hosted the stolen Vastaamo patient notes. What’s more, the home folder included in the Vastaamo patient data archive also allowed investigators to peer into other cybercrime projects of the accused, including domains that Ransom Man had access to as well as a lengthy history of commands he’d executed on the rented virtual server.

Some of those domains allegedly administered by Kivimäki were set up to smear the reputations of different companies and individuals. One of those was a website that claimed to have been authored by a person who headed up IT infrastructure for a major bank in Norway which discussed the idea of legalizing child sexual abuse.

Another domain hosted a fake blog that besmirched the reputation of a Tulsa, Okla. man whose name was attached to blog posts about supporting the “white pride” movement and calling for a pardon of the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Kivimäki appears to have sought to sully the name of this reporter as well. The 2,200-page document shows that Kivimäki owned and operated the domain krebsonsecurity[.]org, which hosted various hacking tools that Kivimäki allegedly used, including programs for mass-scanning the Internet for systems vulnerable to known security flaws, as well as scripts for cracking database server usernames and passwords, and downloading databases. Continue reading

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, November 2023 Edition

November 14, 2023

Microsoft today released updates to fix more than five dozen security holes in its Windows operating systems and related software, including three “zero day” vulnerabilities that Microsoft warns are already being exploited in active attacks.

The zero-day threats targeting Microsoft this month include CVE-2023-36025, a weakness that allows malicious content to bypass the Windows SmartScreen Security feature. SmartScreen is a built-in Windows component that tries to detect and block malicious websites and files. Microsoft’s security advisory for this flaw says attackers could exploit it by getting a Windows user to click on a booby-trapped link to a shortcut file.

Kevin Breen, senior director of threat research at Immersive Labs, said emails with .url attachments or logs with processes spawning from .url files “should be a high priority for threat hunters given the active exploitation of this vulnerability in the wild.” Continue reading

It’s Still Easy for Anyone to Become You at Experian

November 11, 2023

In the summer of 2022, KrebsOnSecurity documented the plight of several readers who had their accounts at big-three consumer credit reporting bureau Experian hijacked after identity thieves simply re-registered the accounts using a different email address. Sixteen months later, Experian clearly has not addressed this gaping lack of security. I know that because my account at Experian was recently hacked, and the only way I could recover access was by recreating the account.

Entering my SSN and birthday at Experian showed my identity was tied to an email address I did not authorize.

I recently ordered a copy of my credit file from Experian via, but as usual Experian declined to provide it, saying they couldn’t verify my identity. Attempts to log in to my account directly at also failed; the site said it didn’t recognize my username and/or password.

A request for my Experian account username required my full Social Security number and date of birth, after which the website displayed portions of an email address I never authorized and did not recognize (the full address was redacted by Experian).

I immediately suspected that Experian was still allowing anyone to recreate their credit file account using the same personal information but a different email address, a major authentication failure that was explored in last year’s story, Experian, You Have Some Explaining to Do. So once again I sought to re-register as myself at Experian.

The homepage said I needed to provide a Social Security number and mobile phone number, and that I’d soon receive a link that I should click to verify myself. The site claims that the phone number you provide will be used to help validate your identity. But it appears you could supply any phone number in the United States at this stage in the process, and Experian’s website would not balk. Regardless, users can simply skip this step by selecting the option to “Continue another way.”

Experian then asks for your full name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, email address and chosen password. After that, they require you to successfully answer between three to five multiple-choice security questions whose answers are very often based on public records. When I recreated my account this week, only two of the five questions pertained to my real information, and both of those questions concerned street addresses we’ve previously lived at — information that is just a Google search away.

Assuming you sail through the multiple-choice questions, you’re prompted to create a 4-digit PIN and provide an answer to one of several pre-selected challenge questions. After that, your new account is created and you’re directed to the Experian dashboard, which allows you to view your full credit file, and freeze or unfreeze it.

At this point, Experian will send a message to the old email address tied to the account, saying certain aspects of the user profile have changed. But this message isn’t a request seeking verification: It’s just a notification from Experian that the account’s user data has changed, and the original user is offered zero recourse here other than to a click a link to log in at

If you don’t have an Experian account, it’s a good idea to create one. Because at least then you will receive one of these  emails when someone hijacks your credit file at Experian.

And of course, a user who receives one of these notices will find that the credentials to their Experian account no longer work. Nor do their PIN or account recovery question, because those have been changed also. Your only option at this point is recreate your account at Experian and steal it back from the ID thieves!

In contrast, if you try to modify an existing account at either of the other two major consumer credit reporting bureaus — Equifax or TransUnion — they will ask you to enter a code sent to the email address or phone number on file before any changes can be made.

Reached for comment, Experian declined to share the full email address that was added without authorization to my credit file.

“To ensure the protection of consumers’ identities and information, we have implemented a multi-layered security approach, which includes passive and active measures, and are constantly evolving,” Experian spokesperson Scott Anderson said in an emailed statement. “This includes knowledge-based questions and answers, and device possession and ownership verification processes.”

Anderson said all consumers have the option to activate a multi-factor authentication method that’s requested each time they log in to their account. But what good is multi-factor authentication if someone can simply recreate your account with a new phone number and email address? Continue reading

Who’s Behind the SWAT USA Reshipping Service?

November 6, 2023

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that one of the largest cybercrime services for laundering stolen merchandise was hacked recently, exposing its internal operations, finances and organizational structure. In today’s Part II, we’ll examine clues about the real-life identity of “Fearlless,” the nickname chosen by the proprietor of the SWAT USA Drops service.

Based in Russia, SWAT USA recruits people in the United States to reship packages containing pricey electronics that are purchased with stolen credit cards. As detailed in this Nov. 2 story, SWAT currently employs more than 1,200 U.S. residents, all of whom will be cut loose without a promised payday at the end of their first month reshipping stolen goods.

The current co-owner of SWAT, a cybercriminal who uses the nickname “Fearlless,” operates primarily on the cybercrime forum Verified. This Russian-language forum has tens of thousands of members, and it has suffered several hacks that exposed more than a decade’s worth of user data and direct messages.

January 2021 posts on Verified show that Fearlless and his partner Universalo purchased the SWAT reshipping business from a Verified member named SWAT, who’d been operating the service for years. SWAT agreed to transfer the business in exchange for 30 percent of the net profit over the ensuing six months.

Cyber intelligence firm Intel 471 says Fearlless first registered on Verified in February 2013. The email address Fearlless used on Verified leads nowhere, but a review of Fearlless’ direct messages on Verified indicates this user originally registered on Verified a year earlier as a reshipping vendor, under the alias “Apathyp.”

There are two clues supporting the conclusion that Apathyp and Fearlless are the same person. First, the Verified administrators warned Apathyp he had violated the forum’s rules barring the use of multiple accounts by the same person, and that Verified’s automated systems had detected that Apathyp and Fearlless were logging in from the same device.  Second, in his earliest private messages on Verified, Fearlless told others to contact him on an instant messenger address that Apathyp had claimed as his. Continue reading

Russian Reshipping Service ‘SWAT USA Drop’ Exposed

November 2, 2023

The login page for the criminal reshipping service SWAT USA Drop.

One of the largest cybercrime services for laundering stolen merchandise was hacked recently, exposing its internal operations, finances and organizational structure. Here’s a closer look at the Russia-based SWAT USA Drop Service, which currently employs more than 1,200 people across the United States who are knowingly or unwittingly involved in reshipping expensive consumer goods purchased with stolen credit cards.

Among the most common ways that thieves extract cash from stolen credit card accounts is through purchasing pricey consumer goods online and reselling them on the black market. Most online retailers grew wise to these scams years ago and stopped shipping to regions of the world most frequently associated with credit card fraud, including Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Russia.

But such restrictions have created a burgeoning underground market for reshipping scams, which rely on willing or unwitting residents in the United States and Europe to receive stolen goods and relay them to crooks living in the embargoed areas.

Services like SWAT are known as “Drops for stuff” on cybercrime forums. The “drops” are people who have responded to work-at-home package reshipping jobs advertised on and job search sites. Most reshipping scams promise employees a monthly salary and even cash bonuses. In reality, the crooks in charge almost always stop communicating with drops just before the first payday, usually about a month after the drop ships their first package.

The packages arrive with prepaid shipping labels that are paid for with stolen credit card numbers, or with hijacked online accounts at FedEx and the US Postal Service. Drops are responsible for inspecting and verifying the contents of shipments, attaching the correct shipping label to each package, and sending them off via the appropriate shipping company.

SWAT takes a percentage cut (up to 50 percent) where “stuffers” — thieves armed with stolen credit card numbers — pay a portion of each product’s retail value to SWAT as the reshipping fee. The stuffers use stolen cards to purchase high-value products from merchants and have the merchants ship the items to the drops’ address. Once the drops receive and successfully reship the stolen packages, the stuffers then sell the products on the local black market.

The SWAT drop service has been around in various names and under different ownership for almost a decade. But in early October 2023, SWAT’s current co-owner — a Russian-speaking individual who uses the handle “Fearlless” — took to his favorite cybercrime forum to lodge a formal complaint against the owner of a competing reshipping service, alleging his rival had hacked SWAT and was trying to poach his stuffers and reshippers by emailing them directly. Continue reading

.US Harbors Prolific Malicious Link Shortening Service

October 31, 2023

The top-level domain for the United States — .US — is home to thousands of newly-registered domains tied to a malicious link shortening service that facilitates malware and phishing scams, new research suggests. The findings come close on the heels of a report that identified .US domains as among the most prevalent in phishing attacks over the past year.

Researchers at Infoblox say they’ve been tracking what appears to be a three-year-old link shortening service that is catering to phishers and malware purveyors. Infoblox found the domains involved are typically three to seven characters long, and hosted on bulletproof hosting providers that charge a premium to ignore any abuse or legal complaints. The short domains don’t host any content themselves, but are used to obfuscate the real address of landing pages that try to phish users or install malware.

A graphic describing the operations of a malicious link shortening service that Infoblox has dubbed “Prolific Puma.”

Infoblox says it’s unclear how the phishing and malware landing pages tied to this service are being initially promoted, although they suspect it is mainly through scams targeting people on their phones via SMS. A new report says the company mapped the contours of this link shortening service thanks in part to pseudo-random patterns in the short domains, which all appear on the surface to be a meaningless jumble of letters and numbers.

“This came to our attention because we have systems that detect registrations that use domain name generation algorithms,” said Renee Burton, head of threat intelligence at Infoblox. “We have not found any legitimate content served through their shorteners.”

Infoblox determined that until May 2023, domains ending in .info accounted for the bulk of new registrations tied to the malicious link shortening service, which Infoblox has dubbed “Prolific Puma.” Since then, they found that whoever is responsible for running the service has used .US for approximately 55 percent of the total domains created, with several dozen new malicious .US domains registered daily.

.US is overseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an executive branch agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. But Uncle Sam has long outsourced the management of .US to various private companies, which have gradually allowed the United States’s top-level domain to devolve into a cesspool of phishing activity.

Or so concludes The Interisle Consulting Group, which gathers phishing data from multiple industry sources and publishes an annual report on the latest trends. As far back as 2018, Interisle found .US domains were the worst in the world for spam, botnet (attack infrastructure for DDOS etc.) and illicit or harmful content.

Interisle’s newest study examined six million phishing reports between May 1, 2022 and April 30, 2023, and identified approximately 30,000 .US phishing domains. Interisle found significant numbers of .US domains were registered to attack some of the United States’ most prominent companies, including Bank of America, Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Citi, Comcast, Microsoft, Meta, and Target. Others were used to impersonate or attack U.S. government agencies.

Under NTIA regulations, domain registrars processing .US domain registrations must take certain steps (PDF) to verify that those customers actually reside in the United States, or else own organizations based in the U.S. However, if one registers a .US domain through GoDaddy — the largest domain registrar and the current administrator of the .US contract — the way one “proves” their U.S. nexus is simply by choosing from one of three pre-selected affirmative responses.

In an age when most domain registrars are automatically redacting customer information from publicly accessible registration records to avoid running afoul of European privacy laws, .US has remained something of an outlier because its charter specifies that all registration records be made public. However, Infoblox said it found more than 2,000 malicious link shortener domains ending in .US registered since October 2023 through NameSilo that have somehow subverted the transparency requirements for the usTLD and converted to private registrations.

“Through our own experience with NameSilo, it is not possible to select private registration for domains in the usTLD through their interface,” Infoblox wrote. “And yet, it was done. Of the total domains with private records, over 99% were registered with NameSilo. At this time, we are not able to explain this behavior.”

NameSilo CEO Kristaps Ronka said the company actively responds to reports about abusive domains, but that it hasn’t seen any abuse reports related to Infoblox’s findings.

“We take down hundreds to thousands of domains, lots of them proactively to combat abuse,” Ronka said. “Our current abuse rate on abuseIQ for example is currently at 0%. AbuseIQ receives reports from countless sources and we are yet to see these ‘Puma’ abuse reports.”

Continue reading