Posts Tagged: Barry Greene


9
Nov 11

‘Biggest Cybercriminal Takedown in History’

The proprietors of shadowy online businesses that have become synonymous with cybercrime in recent years were arrested in their native Estonia on Tuesday and charged with running a sophisticated click fraud scheme that infected with malware more than four million computers in over 100 countries — including an estimated 500,000 PCs in the United States. The law enforcement action, dubbed “Operation Ghost Click,” was the result  of a multi-year investigation, and is being called the “biggest cybercriminal takedown in history.”

Vladimir Tsastsin, in undated photo.

Estonian authorities arrested six men, including Vladimir Tsastsin, 31, the owner of several Internet companies that have been closely associated with the malware community for many years. Tsastsin previously headed EstDomains Inc. a domain name registrar that handled the registrations for tens of thousands of domains associated with the far-flung Russian Business Network.

Reporting for The Washington Post in September 2008, I detailed how Tsastsin’s prior convictions in Estonia for credit card fraud, money laundering and forgery violated the registrar agreement set forth by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which bars convicted felons from serving as officers of a registrar. ICANN later agreed, and revoked EstDomains’ ability to act as a domain registrar, citing Tsastsin’s criminal history.

Also arrested were Timur Gerassimenko, 31; Dmitri Jegorov, 33; Valeri Aleksejev, 31; Konstantin Poltev, 28 (quoted in the above-linked stories as the spokesperson for EstDomains); and Anton Ivanvov, 26. All six men were arrested and taken into custody this week by the Estonian Police and Border Guard. A seventh defendant, a 31-year-old Russian national named Andrey Taame, is still at large.

Source: FBI

Indictments returned against the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the South District of New York detail how the defendants allegedly used a strain of malware generically known as DNS Changer to hijack victim computers for the purposes of redirecting Web browsers to ads that generated pay-per-click revenue for the defendants and their clients. U.S. authorities allege that the men made more than $14 million through click hijacking and advertisement replacement fraud.

DNS Changer most often comes disguised as a video “codec” supposedly needed to view adult movies. It infects systems at the boot sector level, hooking into the host computer at a very low level and making it often very challenging to remove. This malware family didn’t just infect Microsoft Windows systems: Several versions of DNS changer would just as happily infect Mac systems as well. Other variants of the malware even hijacked DNS settings on wireless home routers. The FBI has posted several useful links to help users learn whether their systems are infected with DNS Changer.

Feike Hacquebord, senior threat researcher for security vendor Trend Micro, called the arrest the “biggest cybercriminal takedown in history.” In a blog post published today, Hacquebord and Trend detail the multi-year takedown, which involved a number of front companies, but principally an entity that Tsastsin founded named Rove Digital:

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14
Apr 11

U.S. Government Takes Down Coreflood Botnet

The U.S. Justice Department and the FBI were granted unprecedented authority this week to seize control over a criminal botnet that enslaved millions of computers and to use that power to disable the malicious software on infected PCs.

Sample network diagram of Coreflood, Source:FBI

Sample network diagram of Coreflood, Source:FBI

The target of the takedown was “Coreflood,” an infamous botnet that emerged almost a decade ago as a high-powered virtual weapon designed to knock targeted Web sites offline. Over the years, the crooks running the botnet began to use it to defraud owners of the victim PCs by stealing bank account information and draining balances.

Coreflood has morphed into a menacing crime machine since its emergence in 2002. As I noted in a 2008 story for The Washington Post, this is the same botnet that was used to steal more than $90,000 from Joe Lopez in 2005, kicking off the first of many high profile lawsuits that would be brought against banks by victims of commercial account takeovers. According to the Justice Department, Coreflood also was implicated in the theft of $241,866 from a defense contractor in Tennessee; $115,771 from a real estate company in Michigan; and $151,201 from an investment firm in North Carolina.

By 2008, Coreflood had infected some 378,000 PCs, including computers at hospitals and government agencies. According to research done by Joe Stewart, senior malware researcher for Dell SecureWorks, the thieves in charge of Coreflood had stolen more than 500 gigabytes of banking credentials and other sensitive data, enough data to fill 500 pickup trucks if printed on paper.

On April 11, 2011, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut filed a civil complaint against 13 unknown (“John Doe”) defendants responsible for running Coreflood, and was granted authority to seize 29 domain names used to control the daily operations of the botnet. The government also was awarded a temporary restraining order (TRO) allowing it to send individual PCs infected with Coreflood a command telling the machines to stop the bot software from running.

The government was able to do this because it also won the right to have the Coreflood control servers redirected to networks run by the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium (ISC). When bots reported to the control servers – as they were programmed to do periodically – the ISC servers would reply with commands telling the bot program to quit.

ISC President Barry Greene said the government was wary of removing the bot software from infected machines.

“They didn’t want to do the uninstall, just exit,” Greene said. “Baby steps. But this was significant for the DOJ to be able to do this. People have been saying we should be able to do this for a long time, and nobody has done what we’re doing until now.”

No U.S. law enforcement authority has ever sought to commandeer a botnet using such an approach. Last year, Dutch authorities took down the Bredolab botnet using a similar method that directed affected users to a Web page warning of the infection. Last month, Microsoft took down the Rustock spam botnet by convincing a court to grant it control over both the botnet’s control domains and the hard drives used by those control servers.

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