Posts Tagged: Allison Nixon


31
Oct 16

Hackforums Shutters Booter Service Bazaar

Perhaps the most bustling marketplace on the Internet where people can compare and purchase so-called “booter” and “stresser” subscriptions — attack-for-hire services designed to knock Web sites offline — announced last week that it has permanently banned the sale and advertising of these services.

On Friday, Oct. 28, Jesse LaBrocca — the administrator of the popular English-language hacking forum Hackforums[dot]net — said he was shutting down the “server stress testing” (SST) section of the forum. The move comes amid heightened public scrutiny of the SST industry, which has been linked to several unusually powerful recent attacks and is responsible for the vast majority of denial-of-service (DOS) attacks on the Internet today.

The administrator of Hackforums bans the sale and advertising of server stress testing (SST) services, also known as "booter" or "stresser" online attack-for-hire services.

The administrator of Hackforums bans the sale and advertising of server stress testing (SST) services, also known as “booter” or “stresser” online attack-for-hire services.

“Unfortunately once again the few ruin it for the many,” LaBrocca wrote under his Hackforums alias “Omniscient.” “I’m personally disappointed that this is the path I have to take in order to protect the community. I loathe having to censor material that could be beneficial to members. But I need to make sure that we continue to exist and given the recent events I think it’s more important that the section be permanently shut down.”

Last month, a record-sized DDoS hit KrebsOnSecurity.com. The attack was launched with the help of Mirai, a malware strain that enslaves poorly secured Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices like CCTV cameras and digital video recorders and uses them to launch crippling attacks.

At the end of September, a Hackforums user named “Anna_Senpai” used the forum to announce the release the source code for Mirai. A week ago, someone used Mirai to launch a massive attack on Internet infrastructure firm Dyn, which for the better part of a day lead to sporadic outages for some of the Web’s top destinations, including Twitter, PayPal, Reddit and Netflix.

The Hackforums post that includes links to the Mirai source code.

The Hackforums post that includes links to the Mirai source code.

As I noted in last week’s story Are the Days of Booter Services Numbered?, many booter service owners have been operating under the delusion or rationalization that their services are intended solely for Web site owners to test the ability of their sites to withstand data deluges.

Whatever illusions booter service operators or users may have harbored about their activities should have been dispelled following a talk delivered at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas this year. In that speech, FBI Agent Elliott Peterson issued an unambiguous warning that the agency was prepared to investigate and help prosecute people engaged in selling and buying from booter services.

But it wasn’t until this month’s attack on Dyn that LaBrocca warned the Hackforums community he may have to shut down the SST section.

“I can’t image this attention is going to be a good thing,” Omni said in an October 26, 2016 thread titled “Bad things.” “Already a Senator is calling for a hearing on the Internet of Things [link added]. In the end there could be new laws which effect [sic] us all. So for those responsible for the attacks and creating this mess….you dun goofed. I expect a lot of backlash to come out of this.”

If LaBrocca appears steamed from this turn of events, it’s probably with good reason: He stands to lose a fair amount of regular income by banning some of the most lucrative businesses on his forum. Vendors on Hackforums pay fees as high as $25 apiece to achieve a status that allows them to post new sales threads, and banner ads on the forum can run up to $200 per week.

"Stickies" advertising various "booter" or "stresser" DDoS-for-hire services.

“Stickies” advertising various “booter” or “stresser” DDoS-for-hire services.

Vendors who wish to “sticky” their ads — that is, pay to keep the ads displayed prominently near or at the top of a given discussion subforum — pay LaBrocca up to $60 per week for the prime sticky spots. And there were dozens of booter services advertised on Hackforums.

Allison Nixon, director of security research at Flashpoint and an expert on booter services, said the move could put many booter services out of business.

Nixon said the average booter service customer uses the attack services to settle grudges with opponents in online games, and that the closure of the SST subforum may make these services less attractive to those individuals.

“There is probably a lesser likelihood that the average gamer will see these services and think that it’s an okay idea to purchase them,” Nixon said. “The ease of access to these booters services makes people think it’s okay to use them. In gaming circles, for example, people will often use them to DDoS one another and not realize they might be shutting down an innocent person’s network. Recognizing that this is criminal activity on the same level of criminal hacking and fraud may discourage people from using these services, meaning the casual actor may be less likely to buy a booter subscription and launch DDoS attacks.”

While a welcome development, the closure of the SST subforum almost seems somewhat arbitrary given the sheer amount of other illegal hacking activity that is blatantly advertised on Hackforums, Nixon said.

“It’s interesting the norms that are on this forum because they’re so different from how you or I would recognize acceptable behavior,” she said. “For example, most people would think it’s not acceptable to see booter services advertised alongside remote access Trojans, malware crypting services and botnets.”

Other questionable services and subsections advertised on Hackforums include those intended for the sale of hacked social media and e-commerce accounts. More shocking are the dozens of threads wherein Hackforums members advertise the sale of “girl slaves,” essentially access to hacked computers belonging to teenage girls who can be extorted and exploited for payment or naked pictures. It’s worth noting that the youth who was arrested for snapping nude pictures of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf through her webcam was a regular user of Hackforums.

Hackforums users advertising the sale and procurement of "girl slaves."

Hackforums users advertising the sale and procurement of “girl slaves.”

Continue reading →


21
Oct 16

Hacked Cameras, DVRs Powered Today’s Massive Internet Outage

A massive and sustained Internet attack that has caused outages and network congestion today for a large number of Web sites was launched with the help of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices, such as CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders, new data suggests.

Earlier today cyber criminals began training their attack cannons on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company that provides critical technology services to some of the Internet’s top destinations. The attack began creating problems for Internet users reaching an array of sites, including Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify and Netflix.

l3outage

A depiction of the outages caused by today’s attacks on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company. Source: Downdetector.com.

At first, it was unclear who or what was behind the attack on Dyn. But over the past few hours, at least one computer security firm has come out saying the attack involved Mirai, the same malware strain that was used in the record 620 Gpbs attack on my site last month. At the end September 2016, the hacker responsible for creating the Mirai malware released the source code for it, effectively letting anyone build their own attack army using Mirai.

Mirai scours the Web for IoT devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords, and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users.

According to researchers at security firm Flashpoint, today’s attack was launched at least in part by a Mirai-based botnet. Allison Nixon, director of research at Flashpoint, said the botnet used in today’s ongoing attack is built on the backs of hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies. The components that XiongMai makes are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” Nixon said, noting that Flashpoint hasn’t ruled out the possibility of multiple botnets being involved in the attack on Dyn.

“At least one Mirai [control server] issued an attack command to hit Dyn,” Nixon said. “Some people are theorizing that there were multiple botnets involved here. What we can say is that we’ve seen a Mirai botnet participating in the attack.”

As I noted earlier this month in Europe to Push New Security Rules Amid IoT Mess, many of these products from XiongMai and other makers of inexpensive, mass-produced IoT devices are essentially unfixable, and will remain a danger to others unless and until they are completely unplugged from the Internet. Continue reading →


8
Sep 16

Israeli Online Attack Service ‘vDOS’ Earned $600,000 in Two Years

vDOS  a “booter” service that has earned in excess of $600,000 over the past two years helping customers coordinate more than 150,000 so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks designed to knock Web sites offline — has been massively hacked, spilling secrets about tens of thousands of paying customers and their targets.

The vDOS database, obtained by KrebsOnSecurity.com at the end of July 2016, points to two young men in Israel as the principal owners and masterminds of the attack service, with support services coming from several young hackers in the United States.

The vDos home page.

The vDos home page.

To say that vDOS has been responsible for a majority of the DDoS attacks clogging up the Internet over the past few years would be an understatement. The various subscription packages to the service are sold based in part on how many seconds the denial-of-service attack will last. And in just four months between April and July 2016, vDOS was responsible for launching more than 277 million seconds of attack time, or approximately 8.81 years worth of attack traffic.

Let the enormity of that number sink in for a moment: That’s nearly nine of what I call “DDoS years” crammed into just four months. That kind of time compression is possible because vDOS handles hundreds — if not thousands — of concurrent attacks on any given day.

Although I can’t prove it yet, it seems likely that vDOS is responsible for several decades worth of DDoS years. That’s because the data leaked in the hack of vDOS suggest that the proprietors erased all digital records of attacks that customers launched between Sept. 2012 (when the service first came online) and the end of March 2016.

HOW vDOS GOT HACKED

The hack of vDOS came about after a source was investigating a vulnerability he discovered on a similar attack-for-hire service called PoodleStresser. The vulnerability allowed my source to download the configuration data for PoodleStresser’s attack servers, which pointed back to api.vdos-s[dot]com. PoodleStresser, as well as a large number of other booter services, appears to rely exclusively on firepower generated by vDOS.

From there, the source was able to exploit a more serious security hole in vDOS that allowed him to dump all of the service’s databases and configuration files, and to discover the true Internet address of four rented servers in Bulgaria (at Verdina.net) that are apparently being used to launch the attacks sold by vDOS. The DDoS-for-hire service is hidden behind DDoS protection firm Cloudflare, but its actual Internet address is 82.118.233.144.

vDOS had a reputation on cybercrime forums for prompt and helpful customer service, and the leaked vDOS databases offer a fascinating glimpse into the logistical challenges associated with running a criminal attack service online that supports tens of thousands of paying customers — a significant portion of whom are all trying to use the service simultaneously.

Multiple vDOS tech support tickets were filed by customers who complained that they were unable to order attacks on Web sites in Israel. Responses from the tech support staff show that the proprietors of vDOS are indeed living in Israel and in fact set the service up so that it was unable to attack any Web sites in that country — presumably so as to not attract unwanted attention to their service from Israeli authorities. Here are a few of those responses:

(‘4130′,’Hello `d0rk`,\r\nAll Israeli IP ranges have been blacklisted due to security reasons.\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nP1st.’,’03-01-2015 08:39),

(‘15462′,’Hello `g4ng`,\r\nMh, neither. I\’m actually from Israel, and decided to blacklist all of them. It\’s my home country, and don\’t want something to happen to them :)\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nDrop.’,’11-03-2015 15:35),

(‘15462′,’Hello `roibm123`,\r\nBecause I have an Israeli IP that is dynamic.. can\’t risk getting hit/updating the blacklist 24/7.\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nLandon.’,’06-04-2015 23:04),

(‘4202′,’Hello `zavi156`,\r\nThose IPs are in israel, and we have all of Israel on our blacklist. Sorry for any inconvinience.\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nJeremy.’,’20-05-2015 10:14),

(‘4202′,’Hello `zavi156`,\r\nBecause the owner is in Israel, and he doesn\’t want his entire region being hit offline.\r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nJeremy.’,’20-05-2015 11:12),

(‘9057′,’There is a option to buy with Paypal? I will pay more than $2.5 worth.\r\nThis is not the first time I am buying booter from you.\r\nIf no, Could you please ask AplleJack? I know him from Israel.\r\nThanks.’,’21-05-2015 12:51),

(‘4120′,’Hello `takedown`,\r\nEvery single IP that\’s hosted in israel is blacklisted for safety reason. \r\n\r\nBest regards,\r\nAppleJ4ck.’,’02-09-2015 08:57),

WHO RUNS vDOS?

As we can see from the above responses from vDOS’s tech support, the owners and operators of vDOS are young Israeli hackers who go by the names P1st a.k.a. P1st0, and AppleJ4ck. The two men market their service mainly on the site hackforums[dot]net, selling monthly subscriptions using multiple pricing tiers ranging from $20 to $200 per month. AppleJ4ck hides behind the same nickname on Hackforums, while P1st goes by the alias “M30w” on the forum.

Some of P1st/M30W's posts on Hackforums regarding his service vDOS.

Some of P1st/M30W’s posts on Hackforums regarding his service vDOS.

vDOS appears to be the longest-running booter service advertised on Hackforums, and it is by far and away the most profitable such business. Records leaked from vDOS indicate that since July 2014, tens of thousands of paying customers spent a total of more than $618,000 at the service using Bitcoin and PayPal.

Incredibly, for brief periods the site even accepted credit cards in exchange for online attacks, although it’s unclear how much the site might have made in credit card payments because the information is not in the leaked databases.

The Web server hosting vDOS also houses several other sites, including huri[dot]biz, ustress[dot]io, and vstress[dot]net. Virtually all of the administrators at vDOS have an email account that ends in v-email[dot]org, a domain that also is registered to an Itay Huri with a phone number that traces back to Israel.

The proprietors of vDOS set their service up so that anytime a customer asked for technical assistance the site would blast a text message to six different mobile numbers tied to administrators of the service, using an SMS service called Nexmo.com. Two of those mobile numbers go to phones in Israel. One of them is the same number listed for Itay Huri in the Web site registration records for v-email[dot]org; the other belongs to an Israeli citizen named Yarden Bidani. Neither individual responded to requests for comment.

The leaked database and files indicate that vDOS uses Mailgun for email management, and the secret keys needed to manage that Mailgun service were among the files stolen by my source. The data shows that vDOS support emails go to itay@huri[dot]biz, itayhuri8@gmail.com and raziel.b7@gmail.com.

LAUNDERING THE PROCEEDS FROM DDOS ATTACKS

The $618,000 in earnings documented in the vDOS leaked logs is almost certainly a conservative income figure. That’s because the vDOS service actually dates back to Sept 2012, yet the payment records are not available for purchases prior to 2014. As a result, it’s likely that this service has made its proprietors more than $1 million.

vDOS does not currently accept PayPal payments. But for several years until recently it did, and records show the proprietors of the attack service worked assiduously to launder payments for the service through a round-robin chain of PayPal accounts.

They did this because at the time PayPal was working with a team of academic researchers to identify, seize and shutter PayPal accounts that were found to be accepting funds on behalf of booter services like vDOS. Anyone interested in reading more on their success in making life harder for these booter service owners should check out my August 2015 story, Stress-Testing the Booter Services, Financially.

People running dodgy online services that violate PayPal’s terms of service generally turn to several methods to mask the true location of their PayPal Instant Payment Notification systems. Here is an interesting analysis of how popular booter services are doing so using shell corporations, link shortening services and other tricks.

Turns out, AppleJ4ck and p1st routinely recruited other forum members on Hackforums to help them launder significant sums of PayPal payments for vDOS each week.

“The paypals that the money are sent from are not verified,” AppleJ4ck says in one recruitment thread. “Most of the payments will be 200$-300$ each and I’ll do around 2-3 payments per day.”

vDos co-owner AppleJ4ck recruiting Hackforums members to help launder PayPal payments for his booter service.

vDos co-owner AppleJ4ck recruiting Hackforums members to help launder PayPal payments for his booter service.

It is apparent from the leaked vDOS logs that in July 2016 the service’s owners implemented an additional security measure for Bitcoin payments, which they accept through Coinbase. The data shows that they now use an intermediary server (45.55.55.193) to handle Coinbase traffic. When a Bitcoin payment is received, Coinbase notifies this intermediary server, not the actual vDOS servers in Bulgaria.

A server situated in the middle and hosted at a U.S.-based address from Digital Ocean then updates the database in Bulgaria, perhaps because the vDOS proprietors believed payments from the USA would attract less interest from Coinbase than huge sums traversing through Bulgaria each day. Continue reading →


2
Jun 16

Dropbox Smeared in Week of Megabreaches

Last week, LifeLock and several other identity theft protection firms erroneously alerted their customers to a breach at cloud storage giant Dropbox.com — an incident that reportedly exposed some 73 million usernames and passwords. The only problem with that notification was that Dropbox didn’t have a breach; the data appears instead to have come from another breach revealed this week at social network Tumblr.

Today’s post examines some of the missteps that preceded this embarrassing and potentially brand-damaging “oops.” We’ll also explore the limits of automated threat intelligence gathering in an era of megabreaches like the ones revealed over the past week that exposed more than a half billion usernames and passwords stolen from Tumblr, MySpace and LinkedIn.

The credentials leaked in connection with breaches at those social networking sites were stolen years ago, but the full extent of the intrusions only became clear recently — when several huge archives of email addresses and hashed passwords from each service were posted to the dark web and to file-sharing sites.

Last week, a reader referred me to a post by a guy named Andrew on the dropbox.com help forum. Andrew said he’d just received alerts blasted out by two different credit monitoring firms that his dropbox credentials had been compromised and were found online (see screenshot below).

A user on the dropbox forum complains of receiving alerts from separate companies warning of a huge password breach at dropbox.com.

A user on the dropbox forum complains of receiving alerts from separate companies warning of a huge password breach at dropbox.com.

Here’s what LifeLock sent out on May 23, 2016 to many customers who pay for the company’s credential recovery services:

Alert Date: 05-23-2016
Alert Type: Monitoring
Alert Category: Internet-Black Market Website
**Member has received a File Sharing Network alert Email: *****
Password: ****************************************
Where your data was found: social media
Type of Compromise: breach
Breached Sector: business
Breached Site: www.dropbox.com
Breached Record Count: 73361477
Password Status: hashed
Severity: red|email,password
Site: www.dropbox.com

LifeLock said it got the alert data via an information sharing agreement with a third party threat intelligence service, but it declined to name the service that sent the false positive alert.

“We can confirm that we recently notified a small segment of LifeLock members that a version of their dropbox.com credentials were detected on the internet,” LifeLock said in a written statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity. “When we are notified about this type of information from a partner, it is usually a “list” that is being given away, traded or sold on the dark web. The safety and security of our members’ data is our highest priority. We are continuing to monitor for any activity within our source network. At this time, we recommend that these LifeLock members change their Dropbox password(s) as a precautionary measure.”

Dropbox says it didn’t have a breach, and if it had the company would be seeing huge amounts of account checking activity and other oddities going on right now. And that’s just not happening, they say.

“We have learned that LifeLock and MyIdCare.com are reporting that Dropbox account details of some of their customers are potentially compromised,” said Patrick Heim, head of trust and security at Dropbox. “An initial investigation into these reports has found no evidence of Dropbox accounts being impacted. We’re continuing to look into this issue and will update our users if we find evidence that Dropbox accounts have been impacted.” Continue reading →


22
May 14

Expert: Fake eBay Customer List is Bitcoin Bait

In the wake of eBay’s disclosure that a breach may have exposed the personal data on tens of millions of users, several readers have written in to point out an advertisement that is offering to sell the full leaked user database for 1.4 bitcoins (roughly USD $772 at today’s exchange rates). The ad has even prompted some media outlets to pile on that the stolen eBay data is now for sale. But a cursory examination of the information suggests that it is almost certainly little more than a bid to separate the unwary from their funds.

The advertisement, posted on Pastebin here, promises a “full ebay user database dump with 145, 312, 663 unique records”, for sale to anyone who sends 1.453 bitcoins to a specific bitcoin wallet. The ad includes a link to a supposed “sample dump” of some 12,663 users from the Asia-Pacific region.

ebay-btcThere is a surprisingly simple method for determining the validity of these types of offers. Most Web-based businesses allow one user or customer account per email address, and eBay is no exception here. I took a random sampling of five email addresses from the 12,663 users in that file, and tried registering new accounts with them. The outcome? Success on all five.

For a sanity check on my results, I reached out to Allison Nixon, a threat researcher with Deloitte & Touche LLP (and one of the best sources I’ve met for vetting and debunking these supposed “leaks”). Nixon did the same, and came away with identical results.

“A lot of this is inference — finding out whether an account exists,” Nixon said. “A lot of the time if they generate fake leaks, they’re not doing it based on data from real accounts, because if they did then they might as well hack the real web site.” Continue reading →


14
Feb 14

The New Normal: 200-400 Gbps DDoS Attacks

Over the past four years, KrebsOnSecurity has been targeted by countless denial-of-service attacks intended to knock it offline. Earlier this week, KrebsOnSecurity was hit by easily the most massive and intense such attack yet — a nearly 200 Gbps assault leveraging a simple attack method that industry experts say is becoming alarmingly common.

prolexicattack

At issue is a seemingly harmless feature built into many Internet servers known as the Network Time Protocol (NTP), which is used to sync the date and time between machines on a network. The problem isn’t with NTP itself, per se, but with certain outdated or hard-coded implementations of it that attackers can use to turn a relatively negligible attack into something much, much bigger. Symantec‘s writeup on this threat from December 2013 explains the problem succinctly:

Similar to DNS amplification attacks, the attacker sends a small forged packet that requests a large amount of data be sent to the target IP Address. In this case, the attackers are taking advantage of the monlist command.  Monlist is a remote command in older version of NTP that sends the requester a list of the last 600 hosts who have connected to that server.  For attackers the monlist query is a great reconnaissance tool.  For a localized NTP server it can help to build a network profile.  However, as a DDoS tool, it is even better because a small query can redirect megabytes worth of traffic.

Matthew Prince, the CEO of Cloudflare — a company that helps Web sites stay online in the face of huge DDoS attacks — blogged Thursday about a nearly 400 Gbps attack that recently hit one of the company’s customers and leveraged NTP amplification. Prince said that while Cloudflare “generally [was] able to mitigate the attack, it was large enough that it caused network congestion in parts of Europe.”

“Monday’s DDoS proved these attacks aren’t just theoretical. To generate approximately 400Gbps of traffic, the attacker used 4,529 NTP servers running on 1,298 different networks,” Prince wrote. “On average, each of these servers sent 87Mbps of traffic to the intended victim on CloudFlare’s network. Remarkably, it is possible that the attacker used only a single server running on a network that allowed source IP address spoofing to initiate the requests. An attacker with a 1 Gbps connection can theoretically generate more than 200Gbps of DDoS traffic.” Continue reading →


16
May 13

Ragebooter: ‘Legit’ DDoS Service, or Fed Backdoor?

On Monday, I profiled asylumbooter.com, one of several increasingly public DDoS-for-hire services posing as Web site “stress testing” services. Today, we’ll look at ragebooter.net, yet another attack service except for one secret feature which sets it apart from the competition: According the site’s proprietor, ragebooter.net includes a hidden backdoor that lets the FBI monitor customer activity.

Ddos-for-hire site ragebooter.net

Ddos-for-hire site ragebooter.net

This bizarre story began about a week ago, when I first started trying to learn who was responsible for running RageBooter. In late March, someone hacked and leaked the users table for ragebooter.net. The database showed that the very first user registered on the site picked the username “Justin,” and signed up with the email address “primalpoland@gmail.com.”

That email address is tied to a now-defunct Facebook account for 22-year-old Justin Poland from Memphis, Tenn. Poland’s personal Facebook account used the alias “PRIMALRAGE,” and was connected to a Facebook page for an entity called Rage Productions. Shortly after an interview with KrebsOnSecurity, Poland’s personal Facebook page was deleted, and his name was removed from the Rage Productions page.

Ragebooter.net’s registration records are hidden behind WHOIS privacy protection services. But according to a historic WHOIS lookup at domaintools.com, that veil of secrecy briefly fell away when the site was moved behind Cloudflare.com, a content distribution network that also protects sites against DDoS attacks like the ones Ragebooter and its ilk help to create (as I noted in Monday’s story, some of the biggest targets of booter services are in fact other booter services). For a brief period in Oct. 2012, the WHOIS records showed that ragebooter.net was registered by a Justin Poland in Memphis.

I “friended” Poland on Facebook and said I wanted to interview him. He accepted my request and sent me a chat to ask why I wanted to speak with him. I said I was eager to learn more about his business, and in particular why he thought it was okay to run a DDoS-for-hire service. While we were chatting, I took the liberty of perusing his profile pictures, which included several of a large tattoo he’d had inked across the top of his back — “Primal Rage” in a typeface fashioned after the text used in the Transformers movie series.

Poland is serious about his business.

Poland is serious about his business.

“Since it is a public service on a public connection to other public servers this is not illegal,” Poland explained, saying that he’d even consulted with an attorney about the legality of his business. When I asked whether launching reflected DNS attacks was okay, Poland said his service merely took advantage of the default settings of some DNS servers.

“Nor is spoofing the sender address [illegal],” he wrote. “If the root user of the server does not want that used they can simple disable recursive DNS. My service is a legal testing service. How individuals use it is at there [sic] own risk and responsibilitys [sic].  I do not advertise this service anywhere nor do I entice or encourage illegal usage of the product. How the user uses it is at their own risk. I provide logs to any legal law enforcement and keep logs for up to 7 days.”

The conversation got interesting when I asked the logical follow-up question: Had the police or federal authorities ever asked for information about his customers?

That was when Poland dropped the bomb, informing me that he was actually working for the FBI.

“I also work for the FBI on Tuesdays at 1pm in memphis, tn,” Poland wrote. “They allow me to continue this business and have full access. The FBI also use the site so that they can moniter [sic] the activitys [sic] of online users.. They even added a nice IP logger that logs the users IP when they login.”

When I asked Poland to provide more information that I might use to verify his claims that he was working for the FBI, the conversation turned combative, and he informed me that I wasn’t allowed to use any of the information he’d already shared with me. I replied that I hadn’t and wouldn’t agree that any of our discussion was to be off the record, and he in turn promised to sue me if I ran this story. That was more or less the end of that conversation.

As to the relative legality of booter services, I consulted Mark Rasch, a security expert and former attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. Rasch said companies hire stress testing services all the time, but usually as part of a more inclusive penetration testing engagement. In such engagements, Rasch said, it is common for the parties conducting the tests to insist upon and obtain beforehand a “get out of jail free card,” essentially a notarized letter from the customer stating that the testing firm was hired to break into and otherwise probe the security and stability of the targeted Web site.

“This is also why locksmiths generally force you to show ID that proves your address before they’ll break into a house for you,” Rasch said. “The standard in the security industry is not only to require proof that you own the sites that are going to be shut down or attacked, but also an indemnification provision.”

On Monday, I pinged Mr. Poland once more, again using Facebook’s chat function. I wanted to hear more about his claim that he was working for the feds. To my surprise, he gave me the number of a Memphis man he referred to as his FBI contact, a man Poland said he knew only as “Agent Lies.”

The man who answered at the phone number supplied by Poland declined to verify his name, seemed peeved that I’d called, and demanded to know who gave me his phone number. When I told him that I was referred to him by Mr. Poland, the person on the other end of the line informed me that he was not authorized to to speak with the press directly. He rattled off the name and number of the press officer in the FBI’s Memphis field office, and hung up.

Just minutes after I spoke with “Agent Lies,” Justin dropped me a line to say that he could not be my ‘friend’ any longer. “I have been asked to block you. Have a nice day,” Poland wrote in a Facebook chat, without elaborating. His personal Facebook page disappeared moments later.

Not long after that, I heard back from Joel Siskovic, spokesman for the Memphis FBI field office, who said he could neither confirm nor deny Poland’s claims. Siskovic also declined to verify whether the FBI had an Agent Lies.

“People come forward all the time and make claims they are working with us, and sometimes it’s true and sometimes it’s not,” Siskovic said. “But it wouldn’t be prudent for us to confirm that we have individuals helping us or assisting us, either because they’re being good citizens or because they’re somehow compelled to.”

Update, June 1: A little Googling shows that there is in fact an FBI Agent Lies in the Memphis area. Many of the public cases that Agent Lies has testified in appear to be child-exploitation related, such as this one (PDF).

Continue reading →