Here’s Some Bitcoin: Oh, and You’ve Been Served!

January 10, 2024

A California man who lost $100,000 in a 2021 SIM-swapping attack is suing the unknown holder of a cryptocurrency wallet that harbors his stolen funds. The case is thought to be the first in which a federal court has recognized the use of information included in a bitcoin transaction — such as a link to a civil claim filed in federal court — as reasonably likely to provide notice of the lawsuit to the defendant. Experts say the development could make it easier for victims of crypto heists to recover stolen funds through the courts without having to wait years for law enforcement to take notice or help.

Ryan Dellone, a healthcare worker in Fresno, Calif., asserts that thieves stole his bitcoin on Dec. 14, 2021, by executing an unauthorized SIM-swap that involved an employee at his mobile phone provider who switched Dellone’s phone number over to a new device the attackers controlled.

Dellone says the crooks then used his phone number to break into his account at Coinbase and siphon roughly $100,000 worth of cryptocurrencies. Coinbase is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which alleges the company ignored multiple red flags, and that it should have detected and stopped the theft. Coinbase did not respond to requests for comment.

Working with experts who track the flow of funds stolen in cryptocurrency heists, Dellone’s lawyer Ethan Mora identified a bitcoin wallet that was the ultimate destination of his client’s stolen crypto. Mora says his client has since been made aware that the bitcoin address in question is embroiled in an ongoing federal investigation into a cryptocurrency theft ring.

Mora said it’s unclear if the bitcoin address that holds his client’s stolen money is being held by the government or by the anonymous hackers. Nevertheless, he is pursuing a novel legal strategy that allows his client to serve notice of the civil suit to that bitcoin address — and potentially win a default judgment to seize his client’s funds within — without knowing the identity of his attackers or anything about the account holder.

In a civil lawsuit seeking monetary damages, a default judgment is usually entered on behalf of the plaintiff if the defendant fails to respond to the complaint within a specified time. Assuming that the cybercriminals who stole the money don’t dispute Dellone’s claim, experts say the money could be seized by cryptocurrency exchanges if the thieves ever tried to move it or spend it.

The U.S. courts have generally held that if you’re going to sue someone, you have to provide some kind of meaningful and timely communication about that lawsuit to the defendant in a way that is reasonably likely to provide them notice.

Not so long ago, you had track down your defendant and hire someone to physically serve them with a copy of the court papers. But legal experts say the courts have evolved their thinking in recent years about what constitutes meaningful service, and now allow notification via email.

On Dec. 14, 2023, a federal judge in the Eastern District of California granted Dellone permission to serve notice of his lawsuit directly to the suspected hackers’ bitcoin address — using a short message that was attached to roughly $100 worth of bitcoin Mora sent to the address.

Bitcoin transactions are public record, and each transaction can be sent along with an optional short message. The message uses what’s known as an “OP RETURN,” or an instruction of the Bitcoin scripting language that allows users to attach metadata to a transaction — and thus save it on the blockchain.

In the $100 bitcoin transaction Mora sent to the disputed bitcoin address, the OP RETURN message read: “OSERVICE – SUMMONS, COMPLAINT U.S. Dist. E.D. Cal. LINK:,” which is a short link to a copy of the lawsuit hosted on Google Drive.

“The courts are adapting to the new style of service of process,” said Mark Rasch, a former federal prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice. “And that’s helpful and useful and necessary.” Continue reading

Meet Ika & Sal: The Bulletproof Hosting Duo from Hell

January 8, 2024

In 2020, the United States brought charges against four men accused of building a bulletproof hosting empire that once dominated the Russian cybercrime industry and supported multiple organized cybercrime groups. All four pleaded guilty to conspiracy and racketeering charges. But there is a fascinating and untold backstory behind the two Russian men involved, who co-ran the world’s top spam forum and worked closely with Russia’s most dangerous cybercriminals.

From January 2005 to April 2013, there were two primary administrators of the cybercrime forum Spamdot (a.k.a Spamit), an invite-only community for Russian-speaking people in the businesses of sending spam and building botnets of infected computers to relay said spam. The Spamdot admins went by the nicknames Icamis (a.k.a. Ika), and Salomon (a.k.a. Sal).

Spamdot forum administrator “Ika” a.k.a. “Icamis” responds to a message from “Tarelka,” the botmaster behind the Rustock botnet. Dmsell said: “I’m actually very glad that I switched to legal spam mailing,” prompting Tarelka and Ika to scoff.

As detailed in my 2014 book, Spam Nation, Spamdot was home to crooks controlling some of the world’s nastiest botnets, global malware contagions that went by exotic names like Rustock, Cutwail, Mega-D, Festi, Waledac, and Grum.

Icamis and Sal were in daily communications with these botmasters, via the Spamdot forum and private messages. Collectively in control over millions of spam-spewing zombies, those botmasters also continuously harvested passwords and other data from infected machines.

As we’ll see in a moment, Salomon is now behind bars, in part because he helped to rob dozens of small businesses in the United States using some of those same harvested passwords. He is currently housed in a federal prison in Michigan, serving the final stretch of a 60-month sentence.

But the identity and whereabouts of Icamis have remained a mystery to this author until recently. For years, security experts — and indeed, many top cybercriminals in the Spamit affiliate program — have expressed the belief that Sal and Icamis were likely the same person using two different identities. And there were many good reasons to support this conclusion.

For example, in 2010 Spamdot and its spam affiliate program Spamit were hacked, and its user database shows Sal and Icamis often accessed the forum from the same Internet address — usually from Cherepovets, an industrial town situated approximately 230 miles north of Moscow. Also, it was common for Icamis to reply when Spamdot members communicated a request or complaint to Sal, and vice versa.


Still, other clues suggested Icamis and Sal were two separate individuals. For starters, they frequently changed the status on their instant messenger clients at different times. Also, they each privately discussed with others having attended different universities.

KrebsOnSecurity began researching Icamis’s real-life identity in 2012, but failed to revisit any of that research until recently. In December 2023, KrebsOnSecurity published new details about the identity of “Rescator,” a Russian cybercriminal who is thought to be closely connected to the 2013 data breach at Target.

That story mentioned Rescator’s real-life identity was exposed by Icamis in April 2013, as part of a lengthy farewell letter Ika wrote to Spamdot members wherein Ika said he was closing the forum and quitting the cybercrime business entirely.

To no one’s shock, Icamis didn’t quit the business: He simply became more quiet and circumspect about his work, which increasingly was focused on helping crime groups siphon funds from U.S. bank accounts. But the Rescator story was a reminder that 10 years worth of research on who Ika/Icamis is in real life had been completely set aside. This post is an attempt to remedy that omission.

The farewell post from Ika (aka Icamis), the administrator of both the BlackSEO forum and Pustota, the successor forum to Spamit/Spamdot.


Icamis and Sal offered a comprehensive package of goods and services that any aspiring or accomplished spammer would need on a day-to-day basis: Virtually unlimited bulletproof domain registration and hosting services, as well as services that helped botmasters evade spam block lists generated by anti-spam groups like Here’s snippet of Icamis’s ad on Spamdot from Aug. 2008, wherein he addresses forum members with the salutation, “Hello Gentlemen Scammers.”

We are glad to present you our services!
Many are already aware (and are our clients), but publicity is never superfluous. 🙂

– all major gtlds (com, net, org, info, biz)
– many interesting and uninteresting cctlds
– options for any topic
– processing of any quantities
– guarantees
– exceptionally low prices for domains for white and gray schemes (including any SEO and affiliate spam )
– control panel with balances and auto-registration
– all services under the Ikamis brand, proven over the years;)

– long-term partnerships with several [data centers] in several parts of the world for any topic
– your own data center (no longer in Russia ;)) for gray and white topics
– any configuration and any hardware
– your own IP networks (PI, not PA) and full legal support
– realtime backups to neutral sites
– guarantees and full responsibility for the services provided
– non-standard equipment on request
– our own admins to resolve any technical issues (services are free for clients)
– hosting (shared and vps) is also possible

Non-standard and related services.
– ssl certificates signed by geotrust and thawte
– old domains (any year, any quantity)
– beautiful domains (keyword, short, etc.)
– domains with indicators (any, for SEO, etc.)
– making unstable gtld domains stable
– interception and hijacking of custom domains (expensive)
– full domain posting via with restoration of native content (preliminary applications)
– any updates to our panels to suit your needs upon request (our own coders)

All orders for the “Domains” sections and “Servers” are carried out during the day (depending on our workload).
For non-standard and related services, a preliminary application is required 30 days in advance (except for ssl certificates – within 24 hours).

Icamis and Sal frequently claimed that their service kept Spamhaus and other anti-spam groups several steps behind their operations. But it’s clear that those anti-spam operations had a real and painful impact on spam revenues, and Salomon was obsessed with striking back at anti-spam groups, particularly Spamhaus.

In 2007, Salomon collected more than $3,000 from botmasters affiliated with competing spam affiliate programs that wanted to see Spamhaus suffer, and the money was used to fund a week-long distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against Spamhaus and its online infrastructure. But rather than divert their spam botnets from their normal activity and thereby decrease sales, the botmasters voted to create a new DDoS botnet by purchasing installations of DDoS malware on thousands of already-hacked PCs (at a rate of $25 per 1,000 installs).

Continue reading


Happy 14th Birthday, KrebsOnSecurity!

December 29, 2023

KrebsOnSecurity celebrates its 14th year of existence today! I promised myself this post wouldn’t devolve into yet another Cybersecurity Year in Review. Nor do I wish to hold forth about whatever cyber horrors may await us in 2024. But I do want to thank you all for your continued readership, encouragement and support, without which I could not do what I do.

As of this birthday, I’ve officially been an independent investigative journalist for longer than I was a reporter for The Washington Post (1995-2009). Of course, not if you count the many years I worked as a paperboy schlepping The Washington Post to dozens of homes in Springfield, Va. (as a young teen, I inherited a largish paper route handed down from my elder siblings).

True story: At the time I was hired as a lowly copy aide by The Washington Post, all new hires — everyone from the mailroom and janitors on up to the executives — were invited to a formal dinner in the Executive Suite with the publisher Don Graham. On the evening of my new hires dinner, I was feeling underdressed, undershowered and out of place. After wolfing down some food, I tried to slink away to the elevator with another copy aide, but was pulled aside by the guy who hired me. “Hey Brian, not so fast! Come over and meet Don!”

I was 23 years old, and I had no clue what to say except to tell him that paper route story, and that I’d already been working for him for half my life. Mr. Graham laughed and told me that was the best thing he’d heard all day. Which of course made my week, and made me feel more at ease among the suits. Continue reading

BlackCat Ransomware Raises Ante After FBI Disruption

December 19, 2023

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) disclosed today that it infiltrated the world’s second most prolific ransomware gang, a Russia-based criminal group known as ALPHV and BlackCat. The FBI said it seized the gang’s darknet website, and released a decryption tool that hundreds of victim companies can use to recover systems. Meanwhile, BlackCat responded by briefly “unseizing” its darknet site with a message promising 90 percent commissions for affiliates who continue to work with the crime group, and open season on everything from hospitals to nuclear power plants.

A slightly modified version of the FBI seizure notice on the BlackCat darknet site (Santa caps added).

Whispers of a possible law enforcement action against BlackCat came in the first week of December, after the ransomware group’s darknet site went offline and remained unavailable for roughly five days. BlackCat eventually managed to bring its site back online, blaming the outage on equipment malfunctions.

But earlier today, the BlackCat website was replaced with an FBI seizure notice, while federal prosecutors in Florida released a search warrant explaining how FBI agents were able to gain access to and disrupt the group’s operations.

A statement on the operation from the U.S. Department of Justice says the FBI developed a decryption tool that allowed agency field offices and partners globally to offer more than 500 affected victims the ability to restore their systems.

“With a decryption tool provided by the FBI to hundreds of ransomware victims worldwide, businesses and schools were able to reopen, and health care and emergency services were able to come back online,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said. “We will continue to prioritize disruptions and place victims at the center of our strategy to dismantle the ecosystem fueling cybercrime.”

The DOJ reports that since BlackCat’s formation roughly 18 months ago, the crime group has targeted the computer networks of more than 1,000 victim organizations. BlackCat attacks usually involve encryption and theft of data; if victims refuse to pay a ransom, the attackers typically publish the stolen data on a BlackCat-linked darknet site.

BlackCat formed by recruiting operators from several competing or disbanded ransomware organizations — including REvil, BlackMatter and DarkSide. The latter group was responsible for the Colonial Pipeline attack in May 2021 that caused nationwide fuel shortages and price spikes.

Like many other ransomware operations, BlackCat operates under the “ransomware-as-a-service” model, where teams of developers maintain and update the ransomware code, as well as all of its supporting infrastructure. Affiliates are incentivized to attack high-value targets because they generally reap 60-80 percent of any payouts, with the remainder going to the crooks running the ransomware operation.

BlackCat was able to briefly regain control over their darknet server today. Not long after the FBI’s seizure notice went live the homepage was “unseized” and retrofitted with a statement about the incident from the ransomware group’s perspective. Continue reading

Ten Years Later, New Clues in the Target Breach

December 14, 2023

On Dec. 18, 2013, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that U.S. retail giant Target was battling a wide-ranging computer intrusion that compromised more than 40 million customer payment cards over the previous month. The malware used in the Target breach included the text string “Rescator,” which also was the handle chosen by the cybercriminal who was selling all of the cards stolen from Target customers. Ten years later, KrebsOnSecurity has uncovered new clues about the real-life identity of Rescator.

Rescator, advertising a new batch of cards stolen in a 2014 breach at P.F. Chang’s.

Shortly after breaking the Target story, KrebsOnSecurity reported that Rescator appeared to be a hacker from Ukraine. Efforts to confirm my reporting with that individual ended when they declined to answer questions, and after I declined to accept a bribe of $10,000 not to run my story.

That reporting was based on clues from an early Russian cybercrime forum in which a hacker named Rescator — using the same profile image that Rescator was known to use on other forums — claimed to have originally been known as “Helkern,” the nickname chosen by the administrator of a cybercrime forum called Darklife.

KrebsOnSecurity began revisiting the research into Rescator’s real-life identity in 2018, after the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed an indictment that named a different Ukrainian man as Helkern.

It may be helpful to first recap why Rescator is thought to be so closely tied to the Target breach. For starters, the text string “Rescator” was found in some of the malware used in the Target breach. Investigators would later determine that a variant of the malware used in the Target breach was used in 2014 to steal 56 million payment cards from Home Depot customers. And once again, cards stolen in the Home Depot breach were sold exclusively at Rescator’s shops.

On Nov. 25, 2013, two days before Target said the breach officially began, Rescator could be seen in instant messages hiring another forum member to verify 400,000 payment cards that Rescator claimed were freshly stolen.

By the first week of December 2013, Rescator’s online store — rescator[.]la — was selling more than six million payment card records stolen from Target customers. Prior to the Target breach, Rescator had mostly sold much smaller batches of stolen card and identity data, and the website allowed cybercriminals to automate the sending of fraudulent wire transfers to money mules based in Lviv, Ukraine.

Finally, there is some honor among thieves, and in the marketplace for stolen payment card data it is considered poor form to advertise a batch of cards as “yours” if you are merely reselling cards sold to you by a third-party card vendor or thief. When serious stolen payment card shop vendors wish to communicate that a batch of cards is uniquely their handiwork or that of their immediate crew, they refer to it as “our base.” And Rescator was quite clear in his advertisements that these millions of cards were obtained firsthand.


The new clues about Rescator’s identity came into focus when I revisited the reporting around an April 2013 story here that identified the author of the OSX Flashback Trojan, an early Mac malware strain that quickly spread to more than 650,000 Mac computers worldwide in 2012.

That story about the Flashback author was possible because a source had obtained a Web browser authentication cookie for a founding member of a Russian cybercrime forum called BlackSEO. Anyone in possession of that cookie could then browse the invite-only BlackSEO forum and read the user’s private messages without having to log in. VIP member “Mavook” tells forum admin Ika in a private message that he is the Flashback author.

The legitimate owner of that BlackSEO user cookie went by the nickname Ika, and Ika’s private messages on the forum showed he was close friends with the Flashback author. At the time, Ika also was the administrator of Pustota[.]pw — a closely-guarded Russian forum that counted among its members some of the world’s most successful and established spammers and malware writers.

For many years, Ika held a key position at one of Russia’s largest Internet service providers, and his (mostly glowing) reputation as a reliable provider of web hosting to the Russian cybercrime community gave him an encyclopedic knowledge about nearly every major player in that scene at the time.

The story on the Flashback author featured redacted screenshots that were taken from Ika’s BlackSEO account (see image above). The day after that story ran, Ika posted a farewell address to his mates, expressing shock and bewilderment over the apparent compromise of his BlackSEO account.

In a lengthy post on April 4, 2013 titled “I DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING,” Ika told Pustota forum members he was so spooked by recent events that he was closing the forum and quitting the cybercrime business entirely. Ika recounted how the Flashback story had come the same week that rival cybercriminals tried to “dox” him (their dox named the wrong individual, but included some of Ika’s more guarded identities).

“It’s no secret that karma farted in my direction,” Ika said at the beginning of his post. Unbeknownst to Ika at the time, his Pustota forum also had been completely hacked that week, and a copy of its database shared with this author.

A Google translated version of the farewell post from Ika, the administrator of Pustota, a Russian language cybercrime forum focused on botnets and spam. Click to enlarge.

Ika said the two individuals who tried to dox him did so on an even more guarded Russian language forum — DirectConnection[.]ws, perhaps the most exclusive Russian cybercrime community ever created. New applicants of this forum had to pay a non-refundable deposit, and receive vouches by three established cybercriminals already on the forum. Even if one managed to steal (or guess) a user’s DirectConnection password, the login page could not be reached unless the visitor also possessed a special browser certificate that the forum administrator gave only to approved members.

In no uncertain terms, Ika declared that Rescator went by the nickname MikeMike on DirectConnection:

“I did not want to bring any of this to real life. Especially since I knew the patron of the clowns – specifically Pavel Vrublevsky. Yes, I do state with confidence that the man with the nickname Rescator a.k.a. MikeMike with his partner Pipol have been Pavel Vrublevsky’s puppets for a long time.”

Pavel Vrublevsky is a convicted cybercriminal who became famous as the CEO of the Russian e-payments company ChronoPay, which specialized in facilitating online payments for a variety of “high-risk” businesses, including gambling, pirated Mp3 files, rogue antivirus software and “male enhancement” pills.

As detailed in my 2014 book Spam Nation, Vrublevsky not-so-secretly ran a pharmacy affiliate spam program called Rx-Promotion, which paid spammers and virus writers to blast out tens of billions of junk emails advertising generic Viagra and controlled pharmaceuticals like pain relief medications. Much of my reporting on Vrublevsky’s cybercrime empire came from several years worth of internal ChronoPay emails and documents that were leaked online in 2010 and 2011.

Pavel Vrublevsky’s former Facebook profile photo.

Continue reading

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