The Not-so-True People-Search Network from China

March 20, 2024

It’s not unusual for the data brokers behind people-search websites to use pseudonyms in their day-to-day lives (you would, too). Some of these personal data purveyors even try to reinvent their online identities in a bid to hide their conflicts of interest. But it’s not every day you run across a US-focused people-search network based in China whose principal owners all appear to be completely fabricated identities.

Responding to a reader inquiry concerning the trustworthiness of a site called TruePeopleSearch[.]net, KrebsOnSecurity began poking around. The site offers to sell reports containing photos, police records, background checks, civil judgments, contact information “and much more!” According to LinkedIn and numerous profiles on websites that accept paid article submissions, the founder of TruePeopleSearch is Marilyn Gaskell from Phoenix, Ariz.

The saucy yet studious LinkedIn profile for Marilyn Gaskell.

Ms. Gaskell has been quoted in multiple “articles” about random subjects, such as this article at HRDailyAdvisor about the pros and cons of joining a company-led fantasy football team.

“Marilyn Gaskell, founder of TruePeopleSearch, agrees that not everyone in the office is likely to be a football fan and might feel intimidated by joining a company league or left out if they don’t join; however, her company looked for ways to make the activity more inclusive,” this paid story notes.

Also quoted in this article is Sally Stevens, who is cited as HR Manager at FastPeopleSearch[.]io.

Sally Stevens, the phantom HR Manager for FastPeopleSearch.

“Fantasy football provides one way for employees to set aside work matters for some time and have fun,” Stevens contributed. “Employees can set a special league for themselves and regularly check and compare their scores against one another.”

Imagine that: Two different people-search companies mentioned in the same story about fantasy football. What are the odds?

Both TruePeopleSearch and FastPeopleSearch allow users to search for reports by first and last name, but proceeding to order a report prompts the visitor to purchase the file from one of several established people-finder services, including BeenVerified, Intelius, and Spokeo. shows that both TruePeopleSearch and FastPeopleSearch appeared around 2020 and were registered through Alibaba Cloud, in Beijing, China. No other information is available about these domains in their registration records, although both domains appear to use email servers based in China.

Sally Stevens’ LinkedIn profile photo is identical to a stock image titled “beautiful girl” from Ms. Stevens is also quoted in a paid blog post at, as is Alina Clark, co-founder and marketing director of CocoDoc, an online service for editing and managing PDF documents.

The profile photo for Alina Clark is a stock photo appearing on more than 100 websites.

Scouring multiple image search sites reveals Ms. Clark’s profile photo on LinkedIn is another stock image that is currently on more than 100 different websites, including Cocodoc[.]com was registered in June 2020 via Alibaba Cloud Beijing in China.

The same Alina Clark and photo materialized in a paid article at the website Ceoblognation, which in 2021 included her at #11 in a piece called “30 Entrepreneurs Describe The Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) for Their Business.” It’s also worth noting that Ms. Clark is currently listed as a “former Forbes Council member” at the media outlet Continue reading

CEO of Data Privacy Company Founded Dozens of People-Search Firms

March 14, 2024

The data privacy company bills itself as a Virginia-based service for helping people remove their personal information from almost 200 people-search websites. However, an investigation into the history of finds this company is operating out of Belarus and Cyprus, and that its founder has launched dozens of people-search services over the years.

Onerep’s “Protect” service starts at $8.33 per month for individuals and $15/mo for families, and promises to remove your personal information from nearly 200 people-search sites. Onerep also markets its service to companies seeking to offer their employees the ability to have their data continuously removed from people-search sites.

A testimonial on

Customer case studies published on state that it struck a deal to offer the service to employees of Permanente Medicine, which represents the doctors within the health insurance giant Kaiser Permanente. Onerep also says it has made inroads among police departments in the United States.

But a review of Onerep’s domain registration records and that of its founder reveal a different side to this company. says its founder and CEO is Dimitri Shelest from Minsk, Belarus, as does Shelest’s profile on LinkedIn. Historic registration records indexed by say Mr. Shelest was a registrant of who used the email address

A search in the data breach tracking service Constella Intelligence for the name Dimitri Shelest brings up the email address Constella also finds that Dimitri Shelest from Belarus used the email address, and the Belarus phone number +375-292-702786. is a people search service whose employees all appear to be from Belarus, and it is one of dozens of people-search companies that Onerep claims to target with its data-removal service.’s website disavows any relationship to, stating quite clearly, “Please note that OneRep is not associated with”

However, there is an abundance of evidence suggesting Mr. Shelest is in fact the founder of Nuwber. Constella found that Minsk telephone number (375-292-702786) has been used multiple times in connection with the email address Recall that’s domain registration records in 2018 list the email address

It appears Mr. Shelest sought to reinvent his online identity in 2015 by adding a “2” to his email address. The Belarus phone number tied to shows up in the domain records for, and DomainTools says this domain is tied to both and Other domains that mention both email addresses in their WHOIS records include,,,, and CEO and founder Dimitri Shelest, as pictured on the “about” page of

A search in DomainTools for the email address shows it is associated with the registration of at least 179 domain names, including dozens of mostly now-defunct people-search companies targeting citizens of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia and Mexico, among others.

Those include, a site registered in 2016 which was identical to the homepage of at the time. DomainTools shows the same email and Belarus phone number are in historic registration records for,, and (all domains linked here are to their cached copies at, where available)., circa 2015. Image:

Update, March 21, 11:15 a.m. ET: Mr. Shelest has provided a lengthy response to the findings in this story. In summary, Shelest acknowledged maintaining an ownership stake in Nuwber, but said there was “zero cross-over or information-sharing with OneRep.” Mr. Shelest said any other old domains that may be found and associated with his name are no longer being operated by him.

“I get it,” Shelest wrote. “My affiliation with a people search business may look odd from the outside. In truth, if I hadn’t taken that initial path with a deep dive into how people search sites work, Onerep wouldn’t have the best tech and team in the space. Still, I now appreciate that we did not make this more clear in the past and I’m aiming to do better in the future.” The full statement is available here (PDF).

Original story:

Historic WHOIS records for show it was registered for many years to a resident of Sioux Falls, SD for a completely unrelated site. But around Sept. 2015 the domain switched from the registrar to eNom, and the registration records were hidden behind privacy protection services. DomainTools indicates around this time started using domain name servers from DNS provider Likewise, first appeared in late 2015, was also registered through eNom, and also started using for DNS at nearly the same time.

Listed on LinkedIn as a former product manager at between 2015 and 2018 is Dimitri Bukuyazau, who says their hometown is Warsaw, Poland. While this LinkedIn profile ( does not mention Nuwber, a search on this name in Google turns up a 2017 blog post from, which laid out a number of reasons to support a conclusion that OneRep and were the same company.

“Any people search profiles containing your Personally Identifiable Information that were on were also mirrored identically on, down to the relatives’ names and address histories,” wrote. The post continued:

“Both sites offered the same immediate opt-out process. Both sites had the same generic contact and support structure. They were – and remain – the same company (even advocates this fact:”

“Things changed in early 2016 when began offering privacy removal services right alongside their own open displays of your personal information. At this point when you found yourself on OR, you would be provided with the option of opting-out your data on their site for free – but also be highly encouraged to pay them to remove it from a slew of other sites (and part of that payment was removing you from their own site,, as a benefit of their service).”

Reached via LinkedIn, Mr. Bukuyazau declined to answer questions, such as whether he ever worked at However, Constella Intelligence finds two interesting email addresses for employees at, and, which was registered under the name “Dzmitry.”

PrivacyDuck’s claims about how appeared and behaved in the early days are not readily verifiable because the domain has been completely excluded from the Wayback Machine at The Wayback Machine will honor such requests if they come directly from the owner of the domain in question.

Still, Mr. Shelest’s name, phone number and email also appear in the domain registration records for a truly dizzying number of country-specific people-search services, including,,,,,, and

The same details appear in the WHOIS registration records for the now-defunct people-search sites,,, and, a people-search service for French citizens. Continue reading


Patch Tuesday, March 2024 Edition

March 12, 2024

Apple and Microsoft recently released software updates to fix dozens of security holes in their operating systems. Microsoft today patched at least 60 vulnerabilities in its Windows OS. Meanwhile, Apple’s new macOS Sonoma addresses at least 68 security weaknesses, and its latest update for iOS fixes two zero-day flaws.

Last week, Apple pushed out an urgent software update to its flagship iOS platform, warning that there were at least two zero-day exploits for vulnerabilities being used in the wild (CVE-2024-23225 and CVE-2024-23296). The security updates are available in iOS 17.4, iPadOS 17.4, and iOS 16.7.6.

Apple’s macOS Sonoma 14.4 Security Update addresses dozens of security issues. Jason Kitka, chief information security officer at Automox, said the vulnerabilities patched in this update often stem from memory safety issues, a concern that has led to a broader industry conversation about the adoption of memory-safe programming languages [full disclosure: Automox is an advertiser on this site].

On Feb. 26, 2024, the Biden administration issued a report that calls for greater adoption of memory-safe programming languages. On Mar. 4, 2024, Google published Secure by Design, which lays out the company’s perspective on memory safety risks.

Mercifully, there do not appear to be any zero-day threats hounding Windows users this month (at least not yet). Satnam Narang, senior staff research engineer at Tenable, notes that of the 60 CVEs in this month’s Patch Tuesday release, only six are considered “more likely to be exploited” according to Microsoft.

Those more likely to be exploited bugs are mostly “elevation of privilege vulnerabilities” including CVE-2024-26182 (Windows Kernel), CVE-2024-26170 (Windows Composite Image File System (CimFS), CVE-2024-21437 (Windows Graphics Component), and CVE-2024-21433 (Windows Print Spooler).

Narang highlighted CVE-2024-21390 as a particularly interesting vulnerability in this month’s Patch Tuesday release, which is an elevation of privilege flaw in Microsoft Authenticator, the software giant’s app for multi-factor authentication. Narang said a prerequisite for an attacker to exploit this flaw is to already have a presence on the device either through malware or a malicious application. Continue reading

Incognito Darknet Market Mass-Extorts Buyers, Sellers

March 11, 2024

Borrowing from the playbook of ransomware purveyors, the darknet narcotics bazaar Incognito Market has begun extorting all of its vendors and buyers, threatening to publish cryptocurrency transaction and chat records of users who refuse to pay a fee ranging from $100 to $20,000. The bold mass extortion attempt comes just days after Incognito Market administrators reportedly pulled an “exit scam” that left users unable to withdraw millions of dollars worth of funds from the platform.

An extortion message currently on the Incognito Market homepage.

In the past 24 hours, the homepage for the Incognito Market was updated to include a blackmail message from its owners, saying they will soon release purchase records of vendors who refuse to pay to keep the records confidential.

“We got one final little nasty surprise for y’all,” reads the message to Incognito Market users. “We have accumulated a list of private messages, transaction info and order details over the years. You’ll be surprised at the number of people that relied on our ‘auto-encrypt’ functionality. And by the way, your messages and transaction IDs were never actually deleted after the ‘expiry’….SURPRISE SURPRISE!!! Anyway, if anything were to leak to law enforcement, I guess nobody never slipped up.”

Incognito Market says it plans to publish the entire dump of 557,000 orders and 862,000 cryptocurrency transaction IDs at the end of May.

“Whether or not you and your customers’ info is on that list is totally up to you,” the Incognito administrators advised. “And yes, this is an extortion!!!!”

The extortion message includes a “Payment Status” page that lists the darknet market’s top vendors by their handles, saying at the top that “you can see which vendors care about their customers below.” The names in green supposedly correspond to users who have already opted to pay.

The “Payment Status” page set up by the Incognito Market extortionists.

We’ll be publishing the entire dump of 557k orders and 862k crypto transaction IDs at the end of May, whether or not you and your customers’ info is on that list is totally up to you. And yes, this is an extortion!!!!

Incognito Market said it plans to open up a “whitelist portal” for buyers to remove their transaction records “in a few weeks.” Continue reading

A Close Up Look at the Consumer Data Broker Radaris

March 8, 2024

If you live in the United States, the data broker Radaris likely knows a great deal about you, and they are happy to sell what they know to anyone. But how much do we know about Radaris? Publicly available data indicates that in addition to running a dizzying array of people-search websites, the co-founders of Radaris operate multiple Russian-language dating services and affiliate programs. It also appears many of their businesses have ties to a California marketing firm that works with a Russian state-run media conglomerate currently sanctioned by the U.S. government.

Formed in 2009, Radaris is a vast people-search network for finding data on individuals, properties, phone numbers, businesses and addresses. Search for any American’s name in Google and the chances are excellent that a listing for them at will show up prominently in the results.

Radaris reports typically bundle a substantial amount of data scraped from public and court documents, including any current or previous addresses and phone numbers, known email addresses and registered domain names. The reports also list address and phone records for the target’s known relatives and associates. Such information could be useful if you were trying to determine the maiden name of someone’s mother, or successfully answer a range of other knowledge-based authentication questions.

Currently, consumer reports advertised for sale at are being fulfilled by a different people-search company called TruthFinder. But Radaris also operates a number of other people-search properties — like — that sell consumer reports directly and behave almost identically to TruthFinder: That is, reel the visitor in with promises of detailed background reports on people, and then charge a $34.99 monthly subscription fee just to view the results.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) assigns Radaris a rating of “F” for consistently ignoring consumers seeking to have their information removed from Radaris’ various online properties. Of the 159 complaints detailed there in the last year, several were from people who had used third-party identity protection services to have their information removed from Radaris, only to receive a notice a few months later that their Radaris record had been restored.

What’s more, Radaris’ automated process for requesting the removal of your information requires signing up for an account, potentially providing more information about yourself that the company didn’t already have (see screenshot above).

Radaris has not responded to requests for comment.

Radaris, TruthFinder and others like them all force users to agree that their reports will not be used to evaluate someone’s eligibility for credit, or a new apartment or job. This language is so prominent in people-search reports because selling reports for those purposes would classify these firms as consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) and expose them to regulations under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

These data brokers do not want to be treated as CRAs, and for this reason their people search reports typically do not include detailed credit histories, financial information, or full Social Security Numbers (Radaris reports include the first six digits of one’s SSN).

But in September 2023, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission found that TruthFinder and another people-search service Instant Checkmate were trying to have it both ways. The FTC levied a $5.8 million penalty against the companies for allegedly acting as CRAs because they assembled and compiled information on consumers into background reports that were marketed and sold for employment and tenant screening purposes.

An excerpt from the FTC’s complaint against TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate.

The FTC also found TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate deceived users about background report accuracy. The FTC alleges these companies made millions from their monthly subscriptions using push notifications and marketing emails that claimed that the subject of a background report had a criminal or arrest record, when the record was merely a traffic ticket.

“All the while, the companies touted the accuracy of their reports in online ads and other promotional materials, claiming that their reports contain “the MOST ACCURATE information available to the public,” the FTC noted. The FTC says, however, that all the information used in their background reports is obtained from third parties that expressly disclaim that the information is accurate, and that TruthFinder and Instant Checkmate take no steps to verify the accuracy of the information.

The FTC said both companies deceived customers by providing “Remove” and “Flag as Inaccurate” buttons that did not work as advertised. Rather, the “Remove” button removed the disputed information only from the report as displayed to that customer; however, the same item of information remained visible to other customers who searched for the same person.

The FTC also said that when a customer flagged an item in the background report as inaccurate, the companies never took any steps to investigate those claims, to modify the reports, or to flag to other customers that the information had been disputed.


According to Radaris’ profile at the investor website, the company’s founder and “co-chief executive officer” is a Massachusetts resident named Gary Norden, also known as Gary Nard.

An analysis of email addresses known to have been used by Mr. Norden shows his real name is Igor Lybarsky (also spelled Lubarsky). Igor’s brother Dmitry, who goes by “Dan,” appears to be the other co-CEO of Radaris. Dmitry Lybarsky’s Facebook/Meta account says he was born in March 1963.

The Lybarsky brothers Dmitry or “Dan” (left) and Igor a.k.a. “Gary,” in an undated photo.

Indirectly or directly, the Lybarskys own multiple properties in both Sherborn and Wellesley, Mass. However, the Radaris website is operated by an offshore entity called Bitseller Expert Ltd, which is incorporated in Cyprus. Neither Lybarsky brother responded to requests for comment.

A review of the domain names registered by Gary Norden shows that beginning in the early 2000s, he and Dan built an e-commerce empire by marketing prepaid calling cards and VOIP services to Russian expatriates who are living in the United States and seeking an affordable way to stay in touch with loved ones back home.

A Sherborn, Mass. property owned by Barsky Real Estate Trust and Dmitry Lybarsky.

In 2012, the main company in charge of providing those calling services — Wellesley Hills, Mass-based Unipoint Technology Inc. — was fined $179,000 by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which said Unipoint never applied for a license to provide international telecommunications services. shows the email address is tied to 137 domains, including DomainTools also shows that the email addresses used by Gary Norden for more than two decades —, and, among others — appear in WHOIS registration records for an entire fleet of people-search websites, including:,,,,, and

Still more people-search platforms tied to Gary Norden– like and — currently funnel interested customers to third-party search companies, such as TruthFinder and

The email addresses used by Gary Nard/Gary Norden are also connected to a slew of data broker websites that sell reports on businesses, real estate holdings, and professionals, including,,,,, and Continue reading

BlackCat Ransomware Group Implodes After Apparent $22M Payment by Change Healthcare

March 5, 2024

There are indications that U.S. healthcare giant Change Healthcare has made a $22 million extortion payment to the infamous BlackCat ransomware group (a.k.a. “ALPHV“) as the company struggles to bring services back online amid a cyberattack that has disrupted prescription drug services nationwide for weeks. However, the cybercriminal who claims to have given BlackCat access to Change’s network says the crime gang cheated them out of their share of the ransom, and that they still have the sensitive data Change reportedly paid the group to destroy. Meanwhile, the affiliate’s disclosure appears to have prompted BlackCat to cease operations entirely.

Image: Varonis.

In the third week of February, a cyber intrusion at Change Healthcare began shutting down important healthcare services as company systems were taken offline. It soon emerged that BlackCat was behind the attack, which has disrupted the delivery of prescription drugs for hospitals and pharmacies nationwide for nearly two weeks.

On March 1, a cryptocurrency address that security researchers had already mapped to BlackCat received a single transaction worth approximately $22 million. On March 3, a BlackCat affiliate posted a complaint to the exclusive Russian-language ransomware forum Ramp saying that Change Healthcare had paid a $22 million ransom for a decryption key, and to prevent four terabytes of stolen data from being published online.

The affiliate claimed BlackCat/ALPHV took the $22 million payment but never paid him his percentage of the ransom. BlackCat is known as a “ransomware-as-service” collective, meaning they rely on freelancers or affiliates to infect new networks with their ransomware. And those affiliates in turn earn commissions ranging from 60 to 90 percent of any ransom amount paid.

“But after receiving the payment ALPHV team decide to suspend our account and keep lying and delaying when we contacted ALPHV admin,” the affiliate “Notchy” wrote. “Sadly for Change Healthcare, their data [is] still with us.”

Change Healthcare has neither confirmed nor denied paying, and has responded to multiple media outlets with a similar non-denial statement — that the company is focused on its investigation and on restoring services.

Assuming Change Healthcare did pay to keep their data from being published, that strategy seems to have gone awry: Notchy said the list of affected Change Healthcare partners they’d stolen sensitive data from included Medicare and a host of other major insurance and pharmacy networks.

On the bright side, Notchy’s complaint seems to have been the final nail in the coffin for the BlackCat ransomware group, which was infiltrated by the FBI and foreign law enforcement partners in late December 2023. As part of that action, the government seized the BlackCat website and released a decryption tool to help victims recover their systems.

BlackCat responded by re-forming, and increasing affiliate commissions to as much as 90 percent. The ransomware group also declared it was formally removing any restrictions or discouragement against targeting hospitals and healthcare providers.

However, instead of responding that they would compensate and placate Notchy, a representative for BlackCat said today the group was shutting down and that it had already found a buyer for its ransomware source code.

The seizure notice now displayed on the BlackCat darknet website.

“There’s no sense in making excuses,” wrote the RAMP member “Ransom.” “Yes, we knew about the problem, and we were trying to solve it. We told the affiliate to wait. We could send you our private chat logs where we are shocked by everything that’s happening and are trying to solve the issue with the transactions by using a higher fee, but there’s no sense in doing that because we decided to fully close the project. We can officially state that we got screwed by the feds.” Continue reading

Fulton County, Security Experts Call LockBit’s Bluff

February 29, 2024

The ransomware group LockBit told officials with Fulton County, Ga. they could expect to see their internal documents published online this morning unless the county paid a ransom demand. LockBit removed Fulton County’s listing from its victim shaming website this morning, claiming the county had paid. But county officials said they did not pay, nor did anyone make payment on their behalf. Security experts say LockBit was likely bluffing and probably lost most of the data when the gang’s servers were seized this month by U.S. and U.K. law enforcement.

The LockBit website included a countdown timer until the promised release of data stolen from Fulton County, Ga. LockBit would later move this deadline up to Feb. 29, 2024.

LockBit listed Fulton County as a victim on Feb. 13, saying that unless it was paid a ransom the group would publish files stolen in a breach at the county last month. That attack disrupted county phones, Internet access and even their court system. LockBit leaked a small number of the county’s files as a teaser, which appeared to include sensitive and sealed court records in current and past criminal trials.

On Feb. 16, Fulton County’s entry — along with a countdown timer until the data would be published — was removed from the LockBit website without explanation. The leader of LockBit told KrebsOnSecurity this was because Fulton County officials had engaged in last-minute negotiations with the group.

But on Feb. 19, investigators with the FBI and the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) took over LockBit’s online infrastructure, replacing the group’s homepage with a seizure notice and links to LockBit ransomware decryption tools.

In a press briefing on Feb. 20, Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts told reporters the county did not pay a ransom demand, noting that the board “could not in good conscience use Fulton County taxpayer funds to make a payment.”

Three days later, LockBit reemerged with new domains on the dark web, and with Fulton County listed among a half-dozen other victims whose data was about to be leaked if they refused to pay. As it does with all victims, LockBit assigned Fulton County a countdown timer, saying officials had until late in the evening on March 1 until their data was published.

LockBit revised its deadline for Fulton County to Feb. 29.

LockBit soon moved up the deadline to the morning of Feb. 29. As Fulton County’s LockBit timer was counting down to zero this morning, its listing disappeared from LockBit’s site. LockBit’s leader and spokesperson, who goes by the handle “LockBitSupp,” told KrebsOnSecurity today that Fulton County’s data disappeared from their site because county officials paid a ransom.

“Fulton paid,” LockBitSupp said. When asked for evidence of payment, LockBitSupp claimed. “The proof is that we deleted their data and did not publish it.”

But at a press conference today, Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts said the county does not know why its data was removed from LockBit’s site.

“As I stand here at 4:08 p.m., we are not aware of any data being released today so far,” Pitts said. “That does not mean the threat is over. They could release whatever data they have at any time. We have no control over that. We have not paid any ransom. Nor has any ransom been paid on our behalf.” Continue reading

Calendar Meeting Links Used to Spread Mac Malware

February 28, 2024

Malicious hackers are targeting people in the cryptocurrency space in attacks that start with a link added to the target’s calendar at Calendly, a popular application for scheduling appointments and meetings. The attackers impersonate established cryptocurrency investors and ask to schedule a video conference call. But clicking the meeting link provided by the scammers prompts the user to run a script that quietly installs malware on macOS systems.

KrebsOnSecurity recently heard from a reader who works at a startup that is seeking investment for building a new blockchain platform for the Web. The reader spoke on condition that their name not be used in this story, so for the sake of simplicity we’ll call him Doug.

Being in the cryptocurrency scene, Doug is also active on the instant messenger platform Telegram. Earlier this month, Doug was approached by someone on Telegram whose profile name, image and description said they were Ian Lee, from Signum Capital, a well-established investment firm based in Singapore. The profile also linked to Mr. Lee’s Twitter/X account, which features the same profile image.

The investor expressed interest in financially supporting Doug’s startup, and asked if Doug could find time for a video call to discuss investment prospects. Sure, Doug said, here’s my Calendly profile, book a time and we’ll do it then.

When the day and time of the scheduled meeting with Mr. Lee arrived, Doug clicked the meeting link in his calendar but nothing happened. Doug then messaged the Mr. Lee account on Telegram, who said there was some kind of technology issue with the video platform, and that their IT people suggested using a different meeting link.

Doug clicked the new link, but instead of opening up a videoconference app, a message appeared on his Mac saying the video service was experiencing technical difficulties.

“Some of our users are facing issues with our service,” the message read. “We are actively working on fixing these problems. Please refer to this script as a temporary solution.”

Doug said he ran the script, but nothing appeared to happen after that, and the videoconference application still wouldn’t start. Mr. Lee apologized for the inconvenience and said they would have to reschedule their meeting, but he never responded to any of Doug’s follow-up messages.

It didn’t dawn on Doug until days later that the missed meeting with Mr. Lee might have been a malware attack. Going back to his Telegram client to revisit the conversation, Doug discovered his potential investor had deleted the meeting link and other bits of conversation from their shared chat history.

In a post to its Twitter/X account last month, Signum Capital warned that a fake profile pretending to be their employee Mr. Lee was trying to scam people on Telegram.

The file that Doug ran is a simple Apple Script (file extension “.scpt”) that downloads and executes a malicious trojan made to run on macOS systems. Unfortunately for us, Doug freaked out after deciding he’d been tricked — backing up his important documents, changing his passwords, and then reinstalling macOS on his computer. While this a perfectly sane response, it means we don’t have the actual malware that was pushed to his Mac by the script.

But Doug does still have a copy of the malicious script that was downloaded from clicking the meeting link (the online host serving that link is now offline). A search in Google for a string of text from that script turns up a December 2023 blog post from cryptocurrency security firm SlowMist about phishing attacks on Telegram from North Korean state-sponsored hackers.

“When the project team clicks the link, they encounter a region access restriction,” SlowMist wrote. “At this point, the North Korean hackers coax the team into downloading and running a ‘location-modifying’ malicious script. Once the project team complies, their computer comes under the control of the hackers, leading to the theft of funds.”

Image: SlowMist.

SlowMist says the North Korean phishing scams used the “Add Custom Link” feature of the Calendly meeting scheduling system on event pages to insert malicious links and initiate phishing attacks.

“Since Calendly integrates well with the daily work routines of most project teams, these malicious links do not easily raise suspicion,” the blog post explains. “Consequently, the project teams may inadvertently click on these malicious links, download, and execute malicious code.” Continue reading

FBI’s LockBit Takedown Postponed a Ticking Time Bomb in Fulton County, Ga.

February 25, 2024

The FBI’s takedown of the LockBit ransomware group last week came as LockBit was preparing to release sensitive data stolen from government computer systems in Fulton County, Ga. But LockBit is now regrouping, and the gang says it will publish the stolen Fulton County data on March 2 unless paid a ransom. LockBit claims the cache includes documents tied to the county’s ongoing criminal prosecution of former President Trump, but court watchers say teaser documents published by the crime gang suggest a total leak of the Fulton County data could put lives at risk and jeopardize a number of other criminal trials.

A new LockBit website listing a countdown timer until the promised release of data stolen from Fulton County, Ga.

In early February, Fulton County leaders acknowledged they were responding to an intrusion that caused disruptions for its phone, email and billing systems, as well as a range of county services, including court systems.

On Feb. 13, the LockBit ransomware group posted on its victim shaming blog a new entry for Fulton County, featuring a countdown timer saying the group would publish the data on Feb. 16 unless county leaders agreed to negotiate a ransom.

“We will demonstrate how local structures negligently handled information protection,” LockBit warned. “We will reveal lists of individuals responsible for confidentiality. Documents marked as confidential will be made publicly available. We will show documents related to access to the state citizens’ personal data. We aim to give maximum publicity to this situation; the documents will be of interest to many. Conscientious residents will bring order.”

Yet on Feb. 16, the entry for Fulton County was removed from LockBit’s site without explanation. This usually only happens after the victim in question agrees to pay a ransom demand and/or enters into negotiations with their extortionists.

However, Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said the board decided it “could not in good conscience use Fulton County taxpayer funds to make a payment.”

“We did not pay nor did anyone pay on our behalf,” Pitts said at an incident briefing on Feb. 20.

Just hours before that press conference, LockBit’s various websites were seized by the FBI and the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA), which replaced the ransomware group’s homepage with a seizure notice and used the existing design of LockBit’s victim shaming blog to publish press releases about the law enforcement action.

The feds used the existing design on LockBit’s victim shaming website to feature press releases and free decryption tools.

Dubbed “Operation Cronos,” the effort involved the seizure of nearly three-dozen servers; the arrest of two alleged LockBit members; the release of a free LockBit decryption tool; and the freezing of more than 200 cryptocurrency accounts thought to be tied to the gang’s activities. The government says LockBit has claimed more than 2,000 victims worldwide and extorted over $120 million in payments.


In a lengthy, rambling letter published on Feb. 24 and addressed to the FBI, the ransomware group’s leader LockBitSupp announced that their victim shaming websites were once again operational on the dark web, with fresh countdown timers for Fulton County and a half-dozen other recent victims.

“The FBI decided to hack now for one reason only, because they didn’t want to leak information,” LockBitSupp wrote. “The stolen documents contain a lot of interesting things and Donald Trump’s court cases that could affect the upcoming US election.”

A screen shot released by LockBit showing various Fulton County file shares that were exposed.

LockBit has already released roughly two dozen files allegedly stolen from Fulton County government systems, although none of them involve Mr. Trump’s criminal trial. But the documents do appear to include court records that are sealed and shielded from public viewing.

George Chidi writes The Atlanta Objective, a Substack publication on crime in Georgia’s capital city. Chidi says the leaked data so far includes a sealed record related to a child abuse case, and a sealed motion in the murder trial of Juwuan Gaston demanding the state turn over confidential informant identities.

Chidi cites reports from a Fulton County employee who said the confidential material includes the identities of jurors serving on the trial of the rapper Jeffery “Young Thug” Williams, who is charged along with five other defendants in a racketeering and gang conspiracy.

“The screenshots suggest that hackers will be able to give any attorney defending a criminal case in the county a starting place to argue that evidence has been tainted or witnesses intimidated, and that the release of confidential information has compromised cases,” Chidi wrote. “Judge Ural Glanville has, I am told by staff, been working feverishly behind the scenes over the last two weeks to manage the unfolding disaster.”

LockBitSupp also denied assertions made by the U.K.’s NCA that LockBit did not delete stolen data as promised when victims agreed to pay a ransom. The accusation is an explosive one because nobody will pay a ransom if they don’t believe the ransomware group will hold up its end of the bargain.

The ransomware group leader also confirmed information first reported here last week, that federal investigators managed to hack LockBit by exploiting a known vulnerability in PHP, a scripting language that is widely used in Web development.

“Due to my personal negligence and irresponsibility I relaxed and did not update PHP in time,” LockBitSupp wrote. “As a result of which access was gained to the two main servers where this version of PHP was installed.”

LockBitSupp’s FBI letter said the group kept copies of its stolen victim data on servers that did not use PHP, and that consequently it was able to retain copies of files stolen from victims. The letter also listed links to multiple new instances of LockBit dark net websites, including the leak page listing Fulton County’s new countdown timer.

LockBit’s new data leak site promises to release stolen Fulton County data on March 2, 2024, unless paid a ransom demand.

“Even after the FBI hack, the stolen data will be published on the blog, there is no chance of destroying the stolen data without payment,” LockBitSupp wrote. “All FBI actions are aimed at destroying the reputation of my affiliate program, my demoralization, they want me to leave and quit my job, they want to scare me because they can not find and eliminate me, I can not be stopped, you can not even hope, as long as I am alive I will continue to do pentest with postpaid.” Continue reading

New Leak Shows Business Side of China’s APT Menace

February 22, 2024

A new data leak that appears to have come from one of China’s top private cybersecurity firms provides a rare glimpse into the commercial side of China’s many state-sponsored hacking groups. Experts say the leak illustrates how Chinese government agencies increasingly are contracting out foreign espionage campaigns to the nation’s burgeoning and highly competitive cybersecurity industry.

A marketing slide deck promoting i-SOON’s Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) capabilities.

A large cache of more than 500 documents published to GitHub last week indicate the records come from i-SOON, a technology company headquartered in Shanghai that is perhaps best known for providing cybersecurity training courses throughout China. But the leaked documents, which include candid employee chat conversations and images, show a less public side of i-SOON, one that frequently initiates and sustains cyberespionage campaigns commissioned by various Chinese government agencies.

The leaked documents suggest i-SOON employees were responsible for a raft of cyber intrusions over many years, infiltrating government systems in the United Kingdom and countries throughout Asia. Although the cache does not include raw data stolen from cyber espionage targets, it features numerous documents listing the level of access gained and the types of data exposed in each intrusion.

Security experts who reviewed the leaked data say they believe the information is legitimate, and that i-SOON works closely with China’s Ministry of Public Security and the military. In 2021, the Sichuan provincial government named i-SOON as one of “the top 30 information security companies.”

“The leak provides some of the most concrete details seen publicly to date, revealing the maturing nature of China’s cyber espionage ecosystem,” said Dakota Cary, a China-focused consultant at the security firm SentinelOne. “It shows explicitly how government targeting requirements drive a competitive marketplace of independent contractor hackers-for-hire.”

Mei Danowski is a former intelligence analyst and China expert who now writes about her research in a Substack publication called Natto Thoughts. Danowski said i-SOON has achieved the highest secrecy classification that a non-state-owned company can receive, which qualifies the company to conduct classified research and development related to state security.

i-SOON’s “business services” webpage states that the company’s offerings include public security, anti-fraud, blockchain forensics, enterprise security solutions, and training. Danowski said that in 2013, i-SOON established a department for research on developing new APT network penetration methods.

APT stands for Advanced Persistent Threat, a term that generally refers to state-sponsored hacking groups. Indeed, among the documents apparently leaked from i-SOON is a sales pitch slide boldly highlighting the hacking prowess of the company’s “APT research team” (see screenshot above).

i-SOON CEO Wu Haibo, in 2011. Image:

The leaked documents included a lengthy chat conversation between the company’s founders, who repeatedly discuss flagging sales and the need to secure more employees and government contracts. Danowski said the CEO of i-SOON, Wu Haibo (“Shutdown” in the leaked chats) is a well-known first-generation red hacker or “Honker,” and an early member of Green Army — the very first Chinese hacktivist group founded in 1997. Mr. Haibo has not yet responded to a request for comment.

In October 2023, Danowski detailed how i-SOON became embroiled in a software development contract dispute when it was sued by a competing Chinese cybersecurity company called Chengdu 404. In September 2020, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed indictments against multiple Chengdu 404 employees, charging that the company was a facade that hid more than a decade’s worth of cyber intrusions attributed to a threat actor group known as “APT 41.”

Danowski said the existence of this legal dispute suggests that Chengdu 404 and i-SOON have or at one time had a business relationship, and that one company likely served as a subcontractor to the other.

“From what they chat about we can see this is a very competitive industry, where companies in this space are constantly poaching each others’ employees and tools,” Danowski said. “The infosec industry is always trying to distinguish [the work] of one APT group from another. But that’s getting harder to do.”

It remains unclear if i-SOON’s work has earned it a unique APT designation. But Will Thomas, a cyber threat intelligence researcher at Equinix, found an Internet address in the leaked data that corresponds to a domain flagged in a 2019 Citizen Lab report about one-click mobile phone exploits that were being used to target groups in Tibet. The 2019 report referred to the threat actor behind those attacks as an APT group called Poison Carp. Continue reading