Posts Tagged: aqua


27
Jan 20

Russian Cybercrime Boss Burkov Pleads Guilty

Aleksei Burkov, an ultra-connected Russian hacker once described as “an asset of supreme importance” to Moscow, has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to running a site that sold stolen payment card data and to administering a highly secretive crime forum that counted among its members some of the most elite Russian cybercrooks.

Aleksei Burkov, seated second from right, attends a hearing in Jerusalem in 2015. Andrei Shirokov / Tass via Getty Images.

Burkov, 29, admitted to running CardPlanet, a site that sold more than 150,000 stolen credit card accounts, and to being the founder and administrator of DirectConnection — a closely guarded underground community that attracted some of the world’s most-wanted Russian hackers. He pleaded guilty last week in a Virginia court to access device fraud and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, identity theft, wire fraud and money laundering.

As KrebsOnSecurity noted in a November 2019 profile of Burkov’s hacker nickname ‘k0pa,’ “a deep dive into the various pseudonyms allegedly used by Burkov suggests this individual may be one of the most connected and skilled malicious hackers ever apprehended by U.S. authorities, and that the Russian government is probably concerned that he simply knows too much.”

Membership in the DirectConnection fraud forum was heavily restricted. New members had to be native Russian speakers, provide a $5,000 deposit, and be vouched for by three existing crime forum members. Also, members needed to have a special encryption certificate installed in their Web browser before the forum’s login page would even load.

DirectConnection was something of a Who’s Who of major cybercriminals, and many of its most well-known members have likewise been extradited to and prosecuted by the United States. Those include Sergey “Fly” Vovnenko, who was sentenced to 41 months in prison for operating a botnet and stealing login and payment card data. Vovnenko also served as administrator of his own cybercrime forum, which he used in 2013 to carry out a plan to have Yours Truly framed for heroin possession.

As noted in last year’s profile of Burkov, an early and important member of DirectConnection was a hacker who went by the moniker “aqua” and ran the banking sub-forum on Burkov’s site. In December 2019, the FBI offered a $5 million bounty leading to the arrest and conviction of aqua, who’s been identified as Maksim Viktorovich Yakubets. The Justice Department says Yakubets/aqua ran a transnational cybercrime organization called “Evil Corp.” that stole roughly $100 million from victims.

In this 2011 screenshot of DirectConnection, we can see the nickname of “aqua,” who ran the “banking” sub-forum on DirectConecttion. Aqua, a.k.a. Maksim V. Yakubets of Russia, now has a $5 million bounty on his head from the FBI.

Continue reading →


16
Dec 19

Inside ‘Evil Corp,’ a $100M Cybercrime Menace

The U.S. Justice Department this month offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a Russian man indicted for allegedly orchestrating a vast, international cybercrime network that called itself “Evil Corp” and stole roughly $100 million from businesses and consumers. As it happens, for several years KrebsOnSecurity closely monitored the day-to-day communications and activities of the accused and his accomplices. What follows is an insider’s look at the back-end operations of this gang.

Image: FBI

The $5 million reward is being offered for 32 year-old Maksim V. Yakubets, who the government says went by the nicknames “aqua,” and “aquamo,” among others. The feds allege Aqua led an elite cybercrime ring with at least 16 others who used advanced, custom-made strains of malware known as “JabberZeus” and “Bugat” (a.k.a. “Dridex“) to steal banking credentials from employees at hundreds of small- to mid-sized companies in the United States and Europe.

From 2009 to the present, Aqua’s primary role in the conspiracy was recruiting and managing a continuous supply of unwitting or complicit accomplices to help Evil Corp. launder money stolen from their victims and transfer funds to members of the conspiracy based in Russia, Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe. These accomplices, known as “money mules,” are typically recruited via work-at-home job solicitations sent out by email and to people who have submitted their resumes to job search Web sites.

Money mule recruiters tend to target people looking for part-time, remote employment, and the jobs usually involve little work other than receiving and forwarding bank transfers. People who bite on these offers sometimes receive small commissions for each successful transfer, but just as often end up getting stiffed out of a promised payday, and/or receiving a visit or threatening letter from law enforcement agencies that track such crime (more on that in a moment).

HITCHED TO A MULE

KrebsOnSecurity first encountered Aqua’s work in 2008 as a reporter for The Washington Post. A source said they’d stumbled upon a way to intercept and read the daily online chats between Aqua and several other mule recruiters and malware purveyors who were stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars weekly from hacked businesses.

The source also discovered a pattern in the naming convention and appearance of several money mule recruitment Web sites being operated by Aqua. People who responded to recruitment messages were invited to create an account at one of these sites, enter personal and bank account data (mules were told they would be processing payments for their employer’s “programmers” based in Eastern Europe) and then log in each day to check for new messages.

Each mule was given busy work or menial tasks for a few days or weeks prior to being asked to handle money transfers. I believe this was an effort to weed out unreliable money mules. After all, those who showed up late for work tended to cost the crooks a lot of money, as the victim’s bank would usually try to reverse any transfers that hadn’t already been withdrawn by the mules.

One of several sites set up by Aqua and others to recruit and manage money mules.

When it came time to transfer stolen funds, the recruiters would send a message through the mule site saying something like: “Good morning [mule name here]. Our client — XYZ Corp. — is sending you some money today. Please visit your bank now and withdraw this payment in cash, and then wire the funds in equal payments — minus your commission — to these three individuals in Eastern Europe.”

Only, in every case the company mentioned as the “client” was in fact a small business whose payroll accounts they’d already hacked into.

Here’s where it got interesting. Each of these mule recruitment sites had the same security weakness: Anyone could register, and after logging in any user could view messages sent to and from all other users simply by changing a number in the browser’s address bar. As a result, it was trivial to automate the retrieval of messages sent to every money mule registered across dozens of these fake company sites.

So, each day for several years my morning routine went as follows: Make a pot of coffee; shuffle over to the computer and view the messages Aqua and his co-conspirators had sent to their money mules over the previous 12-24 hours; look up the victim company names in Google; pick up the phone to warn each that they were in the process of being robbed by the Russian Cyber Mob.

My spiel on all of these calls was more or less the same: “You probably have no idea who I am, but here’s all my contact info and what I do. Your payroll accounts have been hacked, and you’re about to lose a great deal of money. You should contact your bank immediately and have them put a hold on any pending transfers before it’s too late. Feel free to call me back afterwards if you want more information about how I know all this, but for now please just call or visit your bank.”

Messages to and from a money mule working for Aqua’s crew, circa May 2011.

In many instances, my call would come in just minutes or hours before an unauthorized payroll batch was processed by the victim company’s bank, and some of those notifications prevented what otherwise would have been enormous losses — often several times the amount of the organization’s normal weekly payroll. At some point I stopped counting how many tens of thousands of dollars those calls saved victims, but over several years it was probably in the millions.

Just as often, the victim company would suspect that I was somehow involved in the robbery, and soon after alerting them I would receive a call from an FBI agent or from a police officer in the victim’s hometown. Those were always interesting conversations. Needless to say, the victims that spun their wheels chasing after me usually suffered far more substantial financial losses (mainly because they delayed calling their financial institution until it was too late).

Collectively, these notifications to Evil Corp.’s victims led to dozens of stories over several years about small businesses battling their financial institutions to recover their losses. I don’t believe I ever wrote about a single victim that wasn’t okay with my calling attention to their plight and to the sophistication of the threat facing other companies. Continue reading →


25
Feb 15

FBI: $3M Bounty for ZeuS Trojan Author

The FBI this week announced it is offering a USD $3 million bounty for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of one Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, a Russian man the government believes is responsible for building and distributing the ZeuS banking Trojan.

Bogachev is thought to be a core architect of ZeuS, a malware strain that has been used to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from bank accounts — mainly from small- to mid-sized businesses based in the United States and Europe. Bogachev also is accused of being part of a crime gang that infected tens of millions of computers, harvested huge volumes of sensitive financial data, and rented the compromised systems to other hackers, spammers and online extortionists.

So much of the intelligence gathered about Bogachev and his alleged accomplices has been scattered across various court documents and published reports over the years, but probably just as much on this criminal mastermind and his associates has never seen the light of day. What follows is a compendium of knowledge — a bit of a dossier, if you will — on Bogachev and his trusted associates.

I first became aware of Bogachev by his nickname at the time –“Slavik” — in June 2009, after writing about a $415,000 cyberheist against Bullitt County, Kentucky. I was still working for The Washington Post then, but that story would open the door to sources who were tracking the activities of an organized cybercrime gang that spanned from Ukraine and Russia to the United Kingdom.

Yevgeniy Bogachev, Evgeniy Mikhaylovich Bogachev, a.k.a. "lucky12345", "slavik", "Pollingsoon". Source: FBI.gov "most wanted, cyber.

Yevgeniy Bogachev, Evgeniy Mikhaylovich Bogachev, a.k.a. “lucky12345”, “slavik”, “Pollingsoon”. Source: FBI.gov “most wanted, cyber.

Not long after that Bullitt County cyberheist story ran, I heard from a source who’d hacked the Jabber instant message server that these crooks were using to plan and coordinate their cyberheists. The members of this crew quickly became regular readers of my Security Fix blog at The Post after seeing their exploits detailed on the blog.

bullittcar-thumb-250x110They also acknowledged in their chats that they’d been in direct contact with the Zeus author himself — and that the gang had hired the malware author to code a custom version of the Trojan that would latter become known as “Jabberzeus.” The “jabber” part of the name is a reference to a key feature of the malware that would send an Jabber instant message to members of the gang anytime a new victim logged into a bank account that had a high balance.

Here’s a snippet from that chat, translated from Russian. “Aqua” was responsible for recruiting and managing a network of “money mules” to help cash out the payroll accounts that these crooks were hijacking with the help of their custom Jabberzeus malware. “Dimka” is Aqua’s friend, and Aqua explains to him that they hired the ZeuS author to create the custom malware and help them troubleshoot it. But Aqua is unhappy because the ZeuS author declined to help them keep it undetectable by commercial antivirus tools.

dimka: I read about the king of seas, was that your handiwork?

aqua: what are you talking about?

dimka: zeus

aqua: yes, we are using it right now. its developer sits with us on the system

dimka: it seems to be very popular right now

aqua: but that fucker annoyed the hell out of everyone. he refuses to write bypass of [anti-malware] scans, and trojan penetration is only 35-40%. we need better

aqua: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/securityfix read this. here you find almost everything about us

aqua: we’re using this [custom] system. we are the Big Dog. the rest using Zeus are doing piddly crap.

Days later, other members of the Jabberzeus crew  were all jabbering about the Bullitt County cyberheist story. The individual who uses the nickname “tank” in the conversation below managed money mules for the gang and helped coordinate the exchange of stolen banking credentials. Tank begins the conversation by pasting a link to my Washington Post story about the Bullitt County hack.

tank@incomeet.com: That is about us. Only the figures are fairytales. 

haymixer@jabber.ru/dimarikk: This was from your botnet account. Apparently, this is why our hosters in service rejected the old ones. They caused a damn commotion.

tank@incomeet.com: I have already become paranoid over this. Such bullshit as this in the Washington Post.

haymixer@jabber.ru/dimarikk: I almost dreamed of this bullshit at night. He writes about everything that I touch in any manner…Klik Partners, ESTHost, MCCOLO…

tank@incomeet.com: Now you are not alone.  Just 2 weeks before this I contacted him as an expert to find out anything new. It turns out that he wrote this within 3 days. Now we also will dream about him.

In a separate conversation between Tank and the Zeus author (using the nickname “lucky12345” here), the two complain about news coverage of Zeus:

tank: Are you there?

tank: This is what they damn wrote about me.

tank: [pasting a link to the Washington Post story]

tank: I’ll take a quick look at history

tank: Originator: BULLITT COUNTY FISCAL Company: Bullitt County Fiscal Court

tank: Well, you got it from that cash-in.

lucky12345: From 200k?

tank: Well, they are not the right amounts and the cash out from that account was shitty.

tank: Levak was written there.

tank: Because now the entire USA knows about Zeus.

tank: 🙁

lucky12345: It’s fucked.

After the Bullitt County story, my source and I tracked this gang as they hit one small business after another. In the ensuing six months before my departure from The Post, I wrote about this gang’s attacks against more than a dozen companies in the United States.

By this time, Slavik was openly selling the barebones ZeuS Trojan code that Jabberzeus was built on to anyone who could pay several thousand dollars for the crimeware kit. There is evidence he also was using his own botnet kit or at least taking a fee to set up instances of it on behalf of buyers. In late 2009, security researchers had tracked dozens of Zeus control servers that phoned home to domains which bore his nickname, such as slaviki-res1.com, slavik1[dot]com, slavik2[dot]com, slavik3[dot]com, and so on. Continue reading →