Posts Tagged: BEC Mailing List


25
Oct 18

How Do You Fight a $12B Fraud Problem? One Scammer at a Time

The fraudsters behind the often laughable Nigerian prince email scams have long since branched out into far more serious and lucrative forms of fraud, including account takeovers, phishing, dating scams, and malware deployment. Combating such a multifarious menace can seem daunting, and it calls for concerted efforts to tackle the problem from many different angles. This post examines the work of a large, private group of volunteers dedicated to doing just that.

According to the most recent statistics from the FBI‘s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the most costly form of cybercrime stems from a complex type of fraud known as the “Business Email Compromise” or BEC scam. A typical BEC scam involves phony e-mails in which the attacker spoofs a message from an executive at a company or a real estate escrow firm and tricks someone into wiring funds to the fraudsters.

The FBI says BEC scams netted thieves more than $12 billion between 2013 and 2018. However, BEC scams succeed thanks to help from a variety of seemingly unrelated types of online fraud — most especially dating scams. I recently interviewed Ronnie Tokazowski, a reverse engineer at New York City-based security firm Flashpoint and something of an expert on BEC fraud.

Tokazowski is an expert on the subject thanks to his founding in 2015 of the BEC Mailing List, a private discussion group comprising more than 530 experts from a cross section of security firms, Internet and email providers and law enforcement agents that is dedicated to making life more difficult for scammers who perpetrate these schemes.

Earlier this month, Tokazowski was given the JD Falk award by the Messaging Malware Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group (M3AAWG) for his efforts in building and growing the BEC List (loyal readers here may recognize the M3AAWG name: KrebsOnSecurity received a different award from M3AAWG in 2014). M3AAWG presents its JD Falk Award annually to recognize “a project that helps protect the internet and embodies a spirit of volunteerism and community building.”

Here are some snippets from our conversation:

Brian Krebs (BK): You were given the award by M3AAWG in part for your role in starting the BEC mailing list, but more importantly for the list’s subsequent growth and impact on the BEC problem as a whole. Talk about why and how that got started and evolved.

Ronnie Tokazowski (RT): The why is that there’s a lot of money being lost to this type of fraud. If you just look at the financial losses across cybercrime — including ransomware, banking trojans and everything else — BEC is number one. Something like 63 percent of fraud losses reported to the FBI are related to it.

When we started the list around Christmas of 2015, it was just myself and one FBI agent. When we had our first conference in May 2016, there were about 20 people attending to try to figure out how to tackle all of the individual pieces of this type of fraud.

Fast forward to today, and the group now has about 530 people, we’ve now held three conferences, and collectively the group has directly or indirectly contributed to over 100 arrests for people involved in BEC scams.

BK: What did you discover as the group began to coalesce?

RT: As we started getting more and more people involved, we realized BEC was much broader than just phishing emails. These guys actually maintain vast networks of money mules, technical and logistical infrastructure, as well as tons of romance scam accounts that they have to maintain over time.

BK: I want to ask you more about the romance scam aspect of BEC fraud in just a moment, because that’s one of the most fascinating cogs in this enormous crime machine. But I’m curious about what short-term goals the group set in identifying the individuals behind these extremely lucrative scams?

RT: We wanted to start a collaboration group to fight BEC, and really a big part of that involved just trying to social engineer the actors and get them to click on links that we could use to find out more about them and where they’re coming from. Continue reading →