Posts Tagged: DDoS

Oct 16

DDoS on Dyn Impacts Twitter, Spotify, Reddit

Criminals this morning massively attacked Dyn, a company that provides core Internet services for Twitter, SoundCloud, Spotify, Reddit and a host of other sites, causing outages and slowness for many of Dyn’s customers.

Twitter is experiencing problems, as seen through the social media platform Hootsuite.

Twitter is experiencing problems, as seen through the social media platform Hootsuite.

In a statement, Dyn said that this morning, October 21, Dyn received a global distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on its DNS infrastructure on the east coast starting at around 7:10 a.m. ET (11:10 UTC).

“DNS traffic resolved from east coast name server locations are experiencing a service interruption during this time. Updates will be posted as information becomes available,” the company wrote.

DYN encouraged customers with concerns to check the company’s status page for updates and to reach out to its technical support team.

A DDoS is when crooks use a large number of hacked or ill-configured systems to flood a target site with so much junk traffic that it can no longer serve legitimate visitors.

DNS refers to Domain Name System services. DNS is an essential component of all Web sites, responsible for translating human-friendly Web site names like “” into numeric, machine-readable Internet addresses. Anytime you send an e-mail or browse a Web site, your machine is sending a DNS look-up request to your Internet service provider to help route the traffic.


The attack on DYN comes just hours after DYN researcher Doug Madory presented a talk on DDoS attacks in Dallas, Texas at a meeting of the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG). Madory’s talk — available here on — delved deeper into research that he and I teamed up on to produce the data behind the story DDoS Mitigation Firm Has History of Hijacks. Continue reading →

Oct 16

Spreading the DDoS Disease and Selling the Cure

Earlier this month a hacker released the source code for Mirai, a malware strain that was used to launch a historically large 620 Gbps denial-of-service attack against this site in September. That attack came in apparent retribution for a story here which directly preceded the arrest of two Israeli men for allegedly running an online attack for hire service called vDOS. Turns out, the site where the Mirai source code was leaked had some very interesting things in common with the place vDOS called home.

The domain name where the Mirai source code was originally placed for download — santasbigcandycane[dot]cx — is registered at the same domain name registrar that was used to register the now-defunct DDoS-for-hire service vdos-s[dot]com.

Normally, this would not be remarkable, since most domain registrars have thousands or millions of domains in their stable. But in this case it is interesting mainly because the registrar used by both domains — a company called namecentral.comhas apparently been used to register just 38 domains since its inception by its current owner in 2012, according to a historic WHOIS records gathered by (for the full list see this PDF).

What’s more, a cursory look at the other domains registered via since then reveals a number of other DDoS-for-hire services, also known as “booter” or “stresser” services.

It’s extremely odd that someone would take on the considerable cost and trouble of creating a domain name registrar just to register a few dozen domains. It costs $3,500 to apply to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for a new registrar authority. The annual fee for being an ICANN-approved registrar is $4,000, and then there’s a $800 quarterly fee for smaller registrars. In short, domain name registrars generally need to register many thousands of new domains each year just to turn a profit.

Many of the remaining three dozen or so domains registered via Namecentral over the past few years are tied to vDOS. Before vDOS was taken offline it was massively hacked, and a copy of the user and attack database was shared with KrebsOnSecurity. From those records it was easy to tell which third-party booter services were using vDOS’s application programming interface (API), a software function that allowed them to essentially resell access to vDOS with their own white-labeled stresser.

And a number of those vDOS resellers were registered through Namecentral, including 83144692[dot].com — a DDoS-for-hire service marketed at Chinese customers. Another Namecentral domain — — also was a vDOS reseller.

Other DDoS-for-hire domains registered through Namecentral include xboot[dot]net, xr8edstresser[dot]com, snowstresser[dot]com, ezstress[dot]com, exilestress[dot]com, diamondstresser[dot]net, dd0s[dot]pw, rebelsecurity[dot]net, and beststressers[dot]com.


Namecentral’s current owner is a 19-year-old California man by the name of Jesse Wu. Responding to questions emailed from KrebsOnSecurity, Wu said Namecentral’s policy on abuse was inspired by Cloudflare, the DDoS protection company that guards Namecentral and most of the above-mentioned DDoS-for-hire sites from attacks of the very kind they sell.

“I’m not sure (since registrations are automated) but I’m going to guess that the reason you’re interested in us is because some stories you’ve written in the past had domains registered on our service or otherwise used one of our services,” Wu wrote.

“We have a policy inspired by Cloudflare’s similar policy that we ourselves will remain content-neutral and in the support of an open Internet, we will almost never remove a registration or stop providing services, and furthermore we’ll take any effort to ensure that registrations cannot be influenced by anyone besides the actual registrant making a change themselves – even if such website makes us uncomfortable,” Wu said. “However, as a US based company, we are held to US laws, and so if we receive a valid court issued order to stop providing services to a client, or to turn over/disable a domain, we would happily comply with such order.”

Wu’s message continued:

“As of this email, we have never received such an order, we have never been contacted by any law enforcement agency, and we have never even received a legitimate, credible abuse report. We realize this policy might make us popular with ‘dangerous’ websites but even then, if we denied them services, simply not providing them services would not make such website stop existing, they would just have to find some other service provider/registrar or change domains more often. Our services themselves cannot be used for anything harmful – a domain is just a string of letters, and the rest of our services involve website/ddos protection/ecommerce security services designed to protect websites.”

Taking a page from Cloudflare, indeed. I’ve long taken Cloudflare to task for granting DDoS protection for countless DDoS-for-hire services, to no avail. I’ve maintained that Cloudflare has a blatant conflict of interest here, and that the DDoS-for-hire industry would quickly blast itself into oblivion because the proprietors of these attack services like nothing more than to turn their attack cannons on each other. Cloudflare has steadfastly maintained that picking and choosing who gets to use their network is a slippery slope that it will not venture toward.

Although Mr. Wu says he had nothing to do with the domains registered through Namecentral, public records filed elsewhere raise serious unanswered questions about that claim.

In my Sept. 8 story, Israeli Online Attack Service Earned $600,000 in Two Years, I explained that the hacked vDOS database indicated the service was run by two 18-year-old Israeli men. At some point, vDOS decided to protect all customer logins to the service with an extended validation (EV) SSL certificate. And for that, it needed to show it was tied to an actual corporate entity.

My investigation into those responsible for supporting vDOS began after I took a closer look at the SSL certificate that vDOS-S[dot]com used to encrypt customer logins. On May 12, 2015, issued an EV SSL certificate for vDOS, according to this record.

As we can see, whoever registered that EV cert did so using the business name VS NETWORK SERVICES LTD, and giving an address in the United Kingdom of 217 Blossomfield Rd., Solihull, West Midlands.

Who owns VS NETWORK SERVICES LTD? According this record from Companies House UK — an official ledger of corporations located in the United Kingdom — the director of the company was listed as one Thomas McGonagall. 

Records from Companies House UK on the firm responsible for registering vDOS's SSL certificate.

Records from Companies House UK on the firm responsible for registering vDOS’s SSL certificate.

This individual gave the same West Midlands address, stating that he was appointed to VS Network Services on May 12, 2015, and that his birthday was in May 1988. A search in Companies House for Thomas McGonagall shows that a person by that same name and address also was listed that very same day as a director for a company called REBELSECURITY LTD.

If we go back even further into the corporate history of this mysterious Mr. McGonagall we find that he was appointed director of NAMECENTRAL LTD on August 18, 2014. Mr. McGonagall’s birthday is listed as December 1995 in this record, and his address is given as 29 Wigorn Road, 29 Wigorn Road, Smethwick, West Midlands, United Kingdom, B67 5HL. Also on that same day, he was appointed to run EZSTRESS LTD, a company at the same Smethwick, West Midlands address.

Strangely enough, those company names correspond to other domains registered through Namecentral around the same time the companies were created, including rebelsecurity[dot]net, ezstress[dot]net.

Asked to explain the odd apparent corporate connections between Namecentral, vDOS, EZStress and Rebelsecurity, Wu chalked that up to an imposter or potential phishing attack.

“I’m not sure who that is, and we are not affiliated with Namecentral Ltd.,” he wrote. “I looked it up though and it seems like it is either closed or has never been active. From what you described it could be possible someone set up shell companies to try and get/resell EV certs (and someone’s failed attempt to set up a phishing site for us – thanks for the heads up).”

Interestingly, among the three dozen or so domains registered through is “,” a site that until recently included nearly identical content as Namecentral’s home page and appears to be aimed at selling EV certs. was responding as of early-October, but it is no longer online.

I also asked Wu why he chose to become a domain registrar when it appeared he had very few domains to justify the substantial annual costs of maintaining a registrar business. Continue reading →

Oct 16

Source Code for IoT Botnet ‘Mirai’ Released

The source code that powers the “Internet of Things” (IoT) botnet responsible for launching the historically large distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against KrebsOnSecurity last month has been publicly released, virtually guaranteeing that the Internet will soon be flooded with attacks from many new botnets powered by insecure routers, IP cameras, digital video recorders and other easily hackable devices.

The leak of the source code was announced Friday on the English-language hacking community Hackforums. The malware, dubbed “Mirai,” spreads to vulnerable devices by continuously scanning the Internet for IoT systems protected by factory default or hard-coded usernames and passwords.

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

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

Vulnerable devices are then seeded with malicious software that turns them into “bots,” forcing them to report to a central control server that can be used as a staging ground for launching powerful DDoS attacks designed to knock Web sites offline.

The Hackforums user who released the code, using the nickname “Anna-senpai,” told forum members the source code was being released in response to increased scrutiny from the security industry.

“When I first go in DDoS industry, I wasn’t planning on staying in it long,” Anna-senpai wrote. “I made my money, there’s lots of eyes looking at IOT now, so it’s time to GTFO [link added]. So today, I have an amazing release for you. With Mirai, I usually pull max 380k bots from telnet alone. However, after the Kreb [sic] DDoS, ISPs been slowly shutting down and cleaning up their act. Today, max pull is about 300k bots, and dropping.”

Sources tell KrebsOnSecurity that Mirai is one of at least two malware families that are currently being used to quickly assemble very large IoT-based DDoS armies. The other dominant strain of IoT malware, dubbed “Bashlight,” functions similarly to Mirai in that it also infects systems via default usernames and passwords on IoT devices.

According to research from security firm Level3 Communications, the Bashlight botnet currently is responsible for enslaving nearly a million IoT devices and is in direct competition with botnets based on Mirai.

“Both [are] going after the same IoT device exposure and, in a lot of cases, the same devices,” said Dale Drew, Level3’s chief security officer.
Continue reading →

Sep 16

The Democratization of Censorship

John Gilmore, an American entrepreneur and civil libertarian, once famously quipped that “the Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” This notion undoubtedly rings true for those who see national governments as the principal threats to free speech.

However, events of the past week have convinced me that one of the fastest-growing censorship threats on the Internet today comes not from nation-states, but from super-empowered individuals who have been quietly building extremely potent cyber weapons with transnational reach.


More than 20 years after Gilmore first coined that turn of phrase, his most notable quotable has effectively been inverted — “Censorship can in fact route around the Internet.” The Internet can’t route around censorship when the censorship is all-pervasive and armed with, for all practical purposes, near-infinite reach and capacity. I call this rather unwelcome and hostile development the “The Democratization of Censorship.”

Allow me to explain how I arrived at this unsettling conclusion. As many of you know, my site was taken offline for the better part of this week. The outage came in the wake of a historically large distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack which hurled so much junk traffic at that my DDoS protection provider Akamai chose to unmoor my site from its protective harbor.

Let me be clear: I do not fault Akamai for their decision. I was a pro bono customer from the start, and Akamai and its sister company Prolexic have stood by me through countless attacks over the past four years. It just so happened that this last siege was nearly twice the size of the next-largest attack they had ever seen before. Once it became evident that the assault was beginning to cause problems for the company’s paying customers, they explained that the choice to let my site go was a business decision, pure and simple.

Nevertheless, Akamai rather abruptly informed me I had until 6 p.m. that very same day — roughly two hours later — to make arrangements for migrating off their network. My main concern at the time was making sure my hosting provider wasn’t going to bear the brunt of the attack when the shields fell. To ensure that absolutely would not happen, I asked Akamai to redirect my site to — effectively relegating all traffic destined for into a giant black hole.

Today, I am happy to report that the site is back up — this time under Project Shield, a free program run by Google to help protect journalists from online censorship. And make no mistake, DDoS attacks — particularly those the size of the assault that hit my site this week — are uniquely effective weapons for stomping on free speech, for reasons I’ll explore in this post.

Google's Project Shield is now protecting

Google’s Project Shield is now protecting

Why do I speak of DDoS attacks as a form of censorship? Quite simply because the economics of mitigating large-scale DDoS attacks do not bode well for protecting the individual user, to say nothing of independent journalists.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Akamai executives said the attack — if sustained — likely would have cost the company millions of dollars. In the hours and days following my site going offline, I spoke with multiple DDoS mitigation firms. One offered to host KrebsOnSecurity for two weeks at no charge, but after that they said the same kind of protection I had under Akamai would cost between $150,000 and $200,000 per year.

Ask yourself how many independent journalists could possibly afford that kind of protection money? A number of other providers offered to help, but it was clear that they did not have the muscle to be able to withstand such massive attacks.

I’ve been toying with the idea of forming a 501(c)3 non-profit organization — ‘The Center for the Defense of Internet Journalism’, if you will — to assist Internet journalists with obtaining the kind of protection they may need when they become the targets of attacks like the one that hit my site.  Maybe a Kickstarter campaign, along with donations from well-known charitable organizations, could get the ball rolling.  It’s food for thought. Continue reading →

Sep 16

KrebsOnSecurity Hit With Record DDoS

On Tuesday evening, was the target of an extremely large and unusual distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack designed to knock the site offline. The attack did not succeed thanks to the hard work of the engineers at Akamai, the company that protects my site from such digital sieges. But according to Akamai, it was nearly double the size of the largest attack they’d seen previously, and was among the biggest assaults the Internet has ever witnessed.

The attack began around 8 p.m. ET on Sept. 20, and initial reports put it at approximately 665 Gigabits of traffic per second. Additional analysis on the attack traffic suggests the assault was closer to 620 Gbps in size, but in any case this is many orders of magnitude more traffic than is typically needed to knock most sites offline.

Martin McKeay, Akamai’s senior security advocate, said the largest attack the company had seen previously clocked in earlier this year at 363 Gbps. But he said there was a major difference between last night’s DDoS and the previous record holder: The 363 Gpbs attack is thought to have been generated by a botnet of compromised systems using well-known techniques allowing them to “amplify” a relatively small attack into a much larger one.

In contrast, the huge assault this week on my site appears to have been launched almost exclusively by a very large botnet of hacked devices.

The largest DDoS attacks on record tend to be the result of a tried-and-true method known as a DNS reflection attack. In such assaults, the perpetrators are able to leverage unmanaged DNS servers on the Web to create huge traffic floods.

Ideally, DNS servers only provide services to machines within a trusted domain. But DNS reflection attacks rely on consumer and business routers and other devices equipped with DNS servers that are (mis)configured to accept queries from anywhere on the Web. Attackers can send spoofed DNS queries to these so-called “open recursive” DNS servers, forging the request so that it appears to come from the target’s network. That way, when the DNS servers respond, they reply to the spoofed (target) address.

The bad guys also can amplify a reflective attack by crafting DNS queries so that the responses are much bigger than the requests. They do this by taking advantage of an extension to the DNS protocol that enables large DNS messages. For example, an attacker could compose a DNS request of less than 100 bytes, prompting a response that is 60-70 times as large. This “amplification” effect is especially pronounced if the perpetrators query dozens of DNS servers with these spoofed requests simultaneously.

But according to Akamai, none of the attack methods employed in Tuesday night’s assault on KrebsOnSecurity relied on amplification or reflection. Rather, many were garbage Web attack methods that require a legitimate connection between the attacking host and the target, including SYN, GET and POST floods.

That is, with the exception of one attack method: Preliminary analysis of the attack traffic suggests that perhaps the biggest chunk of the attack came in the form of traffic designed to look like it was generic routing encapsulation (GRE) data packets, a communication protocol used to establish a direct, point-to-point connection between network nodes. GRE lets two peers share data they wouldn’t be able to share over the public network itself.

“Seeing that much attack coming from GRE is really unusual,” Akamai’s McKeay said. “We’ve only started seeing that recently, but seeing it at this volume is very new.” Continue reading →

Mar 16

Hackers Target Anti-DDoS Firm Staminus

Staminus Communications Inc., a California-based Internet hosting provider that specializes in protecting customers from massive “distributed denial of service” (DDoS) attacks aimed at knocking sites offline, has itself apparently been massively hacked. Staminus’s entire network was down for more than 20 hours until Thursday evening, leaving customers to vent their rage on the company’s Facebook and Twitter pages. In the midst of the outage, someone posted online download links for what appear to be Staminus’s customer credentials, support tickets, credit card numbers and other sensitive data.

The e-zine posted online Thursday following an outage at Staminus Communications.

The e-zine posted online Thursday following an outage at Staminus Communications.

Newport Beach, Calif.-based Staminus first acknowledged an issue on its social media pages because the company’s Web site was unavailable much of Thursday.

“Around 5am PST today, a rare event cascaded across multiple routers in a system wide event, making our backbone unavailable,” Staminus wrote to its customers. “Our technicians quickly began working to identify the problem. We understand and share your frustration. We currently have all hands on deck working to restore service but have no ETA for full recovery.”

Staminus now says its global services are back online, and that ancillary services are being brought back online. However, the company’s Web site still displays a black page with a short message directing customers to Staminus’s social media pages.

Meanwhile, a huge trove of data appeared online Thursday, in a classic “hacker e-zine” format entitled, “Fuck ’em all.” The page includes links to download databases reportedly stolen from Staminus and from Intreppid, another Staminus project that targets customers looking for protection against large DDoS attacks. Continue reading →

Dec 14

Cowards Attack Sony PlayStation, Microsoft xBox Networks

A gaggle of young misfits that has long tried to silence this Web site now is taking credit for preventing millions of users from playing Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox Live games this holiday season.

The group, which calls itself LizardSquad, started attacking the gaming networks on or around Christmas Day. Various statements posted by self-described LizardSquad members on their open online chat forum — — suggest that these misguided individuals launched the attack for no other reason than because they thought it would be amusing to annoy and disappoint people who received new Xbox and Playstation consoles as holiday gifts.

Such assaults, known as distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks — harness the Internet connectivity of many hacked or misconfigured systems so that those systems are forced to simultaneously flood a target network with junk internet traffic. The goal, of course, is to prevent legitimate visitors from being able to load the site or or use the service under attack.

It’s unfortunate that some companies which specialize in DDoS protection services have chosen to promote their products by categorizing these latest attacks as “herculean” and “sophisticated;” these adjectives describe neither the attackers nor their attacks. The sad truth is that these attacks take advantage of compromised and misconfigured systems online, and there are tens of millions of these systems that can be freely leveraged to launch such attacks. What’s more, the tools and instructions for launching such assaults are widely available.

The LizardSquad leadership is closely tied to a cybercrime forum called Darkode[dot]com, a network of ne’er-do-wells that I have written about extensively. So much so, in fact, that the LizardSquad has made attacking and keeping it offline for at least 30 minutes a prerequisite “proof of skills” for any new members who wish to join their ranks (see the screen shot below).

LizardSquad wannabes trying to prove their "skills" by knocking my site offline.

LizardSquad wannabes trying to prove their “skills” by knocking my site offline.

Continue reading →

May 13

Conversations with a Bulletproof Hoster

Criminal commerce on the Internet would mostly grind to a halt were it not for the protection offered by so-called “bulletproof hosting” providers — the online equivalent of offshore havens where shady dealings go ignored. Last month I had an opportunity to interview a provider of bulletproof services for one of the Web’s most notorious cybercrime forums, and who appears to have been at least partly responsible for launching what’s been called the largest cyber attack the Internet has ever seen.'s intro to Darkode’s intro post to Darkode

Earlier this year, the closely-guarded English-language crime forum was compromised and came under a series of heavy distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks aimed at keeping it offline. Around that same time, welcomed a new member — a bulletproof hosting broker aptly named “” — who promised to defend the site from future DDoS attacks. also said he could offer more robust and crime-friendly hosting services than darkode’s previous provider — Santrex, literally an offshore hosting facility located in the Seychelles, a 115-island country that spans an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.’s timing was perfect: Darkode desperately needed both, and seemed to know his stuff, so he was admitted to the forum and given stewardship of the site’s defense and hosting. recruits Stophaus members on darkode. recruits Stophaus members on darkode.


Of course, to successfully defend a network against DDoS attacks one must know a great deal about how to launch such assaults. Indeed, was an integral member of Stophaus, an upstart group of bulletproof hosters that banded together in March to launch a massive Internet attack against anti-spam group

Hundreds of ISPs route or deny traffic based in part on Spamhaus’s blacklists of known, cybercrime-friendly ISPs, and Stophaus formed in response to Spamhaus’s listing of bulletproof hosting provider in particular: A network known alternatively as CB3ROB, a.k.a. “Cyberbunker” because it operated from a heavily fortified NATO bunker in The Netherlands. is moderator of the Stophaus forum, and not long after joining, he was recruiting fellow darkode members for the Stophaus cause. Stophaus’s records show that another core member was “0ptik,” a competing bulletproof hosting provider. Spamhaus had listed dozens of Optik’s domains, as well as virtually all of the IP address ranges had rented at abuse-friendly Romanian hosting provider Voxility. It was payback time.

In late March, Spamhaus became the target of what experts called one of the largest computer attacks on the Internet. The method of attack — a DNS amplification attack — was similar to that first seen used in attacks more than a decade ago that targeted the heart of the Internet’s routing system, except that it was by most accounts much larger. calls Spamhaus assault "our prank." calls Spamhaus assault “our prank.”

“DNS amplification attacks can bring up to 140 Gbps to a single resource from a single controller,” wrote in a posting less than 24 hours after the attack on Spamhaus began. “The beauty of it [is] that the ‘bots’ are just open DNS resolvers in the world.” Linking to a writeup from about the attack, stated that “Some BP hosters were lately united, check out our latest prank.”

Last month, authorities in Spain arrested Sven Kamphuis, a 35-year-old Dutch man, thought to be responsible for coordinating the unprecedented attack on Spamhaus. According to Spamhaus, Kamphuis made claims about being his own independent country in the Republic of Cyberbunker. But according to, Kamphuis was just the public face of the movement. “Sven didn’t attack anyone,” wrote in an online chat with KrebsOnSecurity.

If Kamphuis was just a mouthpiece, who was responsible for the attack? What is interesting about the Stophaus movement is that very well may have prompted Spamhaus to finally place CB3ROB/Cyberbunker at the top of its World’s Worst Spam-Support ISPs list, a move that helped to precipitate this conflict.

According to Spamhaus, while Cyberbunker and Spamhaus certainly have a bit of a history together, Cyberbunker wasn’t really a focus of Spamhaus’s blocking efforts until the fall of 2012. That’s when Spamhaus began noticing a large number of malware and botnet control servers being stood up inside of Cyberbunker’s Internet address ranges.

“We didn’t really notice these guys at CB3ROB much until last fall, when they started hosting botnet controllers, malware droppers and a lot of pharma spam stuff,” said a Spamhaus member who would only give his name as “Barry.” “Before that, it was mainly routing for some Chinese guys — Vincent Chan — fake Chinese products.” sells BP hosting out of Cyberbunker selling BP hosting out of Cyberbunker

Oddly enough, this coincides with’s entrance on the bulletproof hosting scene (at least as advertised on crime forums). In his introduction post to Darkode,  referenced his bulletproof hosting sales threads at two Russian-language forums — and In these threads, which began in Sept. 2012, advertised the ability to host ZeuS and SpyEye botnet command and control networks for between $99 and $199 per month, and bulletproof domain registration from $30 per month. More importantly, proudly announced that he was offering a premiere BP hosting service for $400 a month that was housed in an old NATO bunker in Holland and that used IP addresses assigned to CB3ROB (see screenshot to left).

Continue reading →

Feb 13

DDoS Attack on Bank Hid $900,000 Cyberheist

A Christmas Eve cyberattack against the Web site of a regional California financial institution helped to distract bank officials from an online account takeover against one of its clients, netting thieves more than $900,000.

Ascent1At approximately midday on December 24, 2012, organized cyber crooks began moving money out of corporate accounts belonging to Ascent Builders, a construction firm based in Sacramento, Calif. In short order, the company’s financial institution – San Francisco-based Bank of the West — came under a large distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, a digital assault which disables a targeted site using a flood of junk traffic from compromised PCs.

KrebsOnSecurity contacted Ascent Builders on the morning of Dec. 26 to inform them of the theft, after interviewing one of the money mules used in the scam. Money mules are individuals who are willingly or unwittingly recruited to help the fraudsters launder stolen money and transfer the funds abroad. The mule in this case had been hired through a work-at-home job offer after posting her resume to a job search site, and said she suspected that she’d been conned into helping fraudsters.

Ascent was unaware of the robbery at the time, but its bank would soon verify that a series of unauthorized transactions had been initiated on the 24th and then again on the 26th. The money mule I spoke with was just one of 62 such individuals in the United States recruited to haul the loot stolen from Ascent. Most of the mules in this case were sent transfers of between $4,000 and $9,000, but several of them had bank accounts tied to businesses, to which the crooks wired huge transfers from Ascent’s account; five of the fraudulent transfers were for amounts ranging from $80,000 to $100,000.

Mark Shope, president of Ascent Builders, said that when the company’s controller originally went online on the morning of Dec. 24 to check the firm’s accounts, her browser wouldn’t let her access the bank’s page. She didn’t know it at the time, but her computer was being remotely controlled by the attackers’ malware, which blocked her from visiting the bank’s site.

“It said the bank was offline for 24 hours, and we couldn’t get in to the site,” Shope said. “We called the bank and they said everything was fine.”

But soon enough, everything would not be fine from Bank of the West’s end. Not long after putting through a batch of fraudulent automated clearing house (ACH) and wire transfers from Ascent’s accounts, the fraudsters initiated a DDoS attack against the bank’s Web site, effectively knocking it offline. It’s not clear what tactics or botnets may have been used in the DDoS attack, but the cyberheist+DDoS approach matches the profile of cybercrime gangs using the Gameover Trojan — a ZeuS Trojan variant that has been tied to numerous DDoS attacks initiated to distract attention from high-dollar cyberheists.

Continue reading →

Aug 12

Triple DDoS vs. KrebsOnSecurity

“When nobody hates you, nobody knows you’re alive.” – Diplomacy, by Chris Smither

During the last week of July, a series of steadily escalating cyber attacks directed at my Web site and hosting provider prevented many readers from being able to reach the site or read the content via RSS. Sorry about that. What follows is a post-mortem on those digital sieges, which featured a mix of new and old-but-effective attack methods.

Junk traffic sent by a DNS amplification attack.

I still don’t know who was attacking my site or why. It’s not as if the perpetrator(s) sent a love letter along with the traffic flood. There was one indication that a story I published just hours before the attacks began — about a service for mass-registering domain names used for malware, spam and other dodgy business — may have struck a nerve: In one of the attacks, all of the assailing systems were instructed to load that particular story many times per second.

Oddly enough, the activity began just one day after I’d signed up with Prolexic. The Hollywood, Fla. based company helps businesses fend off distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, assaults in which miscreants knock targeted sites offline by flooding them with garbage traffic. Prolexic was among several anti-DDoS companies that offered to help earlier this year, when came under a separate spate of debilitating attacks.

The first DDoS campaigns consisted of several hundred systems repeatedly requesting image-heavy pages on my site. Prolexic’s analysts say the traffic signatures of these attacks matched that of a family of kits sold in the underground that allow anyone to quickly create their own botnet specifically for launching DDoS attacks. Both are believed to have been created by the same individual(s) behind the Dirt Jumper DDoS toolkit. The traffic signatures from the attack strongly suggest the involvement of two Dirt Jumper progeny: Di-BoTNet and Pandora.

Image courtesy Prolexic

Pandora is the latest in the Dirt Jumper family, and features four different attack methods. According to Prolexic, the one used against was Attack Type 4, a.k.a “Max Flood”; this method carries a fairly unique signature of issuing POST requests against a server that are over a million bytes in length.

Pandora’s creators boast that it only takes 10 PCs infected with the DDoS bot to bring down small sites, and about 30 bots to put down a mid-sized site that lacks protection against DDoS attacks. They claim 1,000 Pandora bots are enough to bring Russian search engine giant to a crawl, but that strikes me as a bit of salesmanship and exaggeration. Prolexic said more than 1,500 Pandora-infected bots were used in the assault on my site.

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