Posts Tagged: Europol

Jun 15

A Busy Week for Ne’er-Do-Well News

We often hear about the impact of cybercrime, but too seldom do we read about the successes that law enforcement officials have in apprehending those responsible and bringing them to justice. Last week was an especially busy time for cybercrime justice, with authorities across the globe bringing arrests, prosecutions and some cases stiff sentences in connection with a broad range of cyber crimes, including ATM and bank account cashouts, malware distribution and “swatting” attacks.

Ercan Findikoglu, posing with piles of cash.

Ercan Findikoglu, posing with piles of cash.

Prosecutors in New York had a big week. Appearing in the U.S. court system for the first time last week was Ercan “Segate” Findikoglu, a 33-year-old Turkish man who investigators say was the mastermind behind a series of Oceans 11-type ATM heists between 2011 and 2013 that netted thieves more than $55 million.

According to prosecutors, Findikoglu organized the so-called “ATM cashouts” by hacking into networks of several credit and debit card payment processors. With each processor, the intruders were able to simultaneously lift the daily withdrawal limits on numerous prepaid accounts and dramatically increase the account balances on those cards to allow ATM withdrawals far in excess of the legitimate card balances.

The cards were then cloned and sent to dozens of co-conspirators around the globe, who used the cards at ATMs to withdraw millions in cash in the span of just a few hours. Investigators say these attacks are known in the cybercrime underground as “unlimited operations” because the manipulation of withdrawal limits lets the crooks steal literally unlimited amounts of cash until the operation is shut down.

Two of the attacks attributed to Findikoglu and his alleged associates were first reported on this blog, including a February 2011 attack against Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), and a $5 million heist in late 2012 involving a card network in India. The most brazen and lucrative heist, a nearly $40 million cashout against the Bank of Muscat in Oman, was covered in a May 2013 New York Times piece, which concludes with a vignette about the violent murder of alleged accomplice in the scheme.

Also in New York, a Manhattan federal judge sentenced the co-creator of the “Blackshades” Trojan to nearly five years in prison after pleading guilty to helping hundreds of people use and spread the malware. Twenty-five year old Swedish national Alexander Yucel was ordered to forfeit $200,000 and relinquish all of the computer equipment he used in commission of his crimes.

As detailed in this May 2014 piece, Blackshades Users Had It Coming, the malware was sophisticated but marketed mainly on English language cybecrime forums to young men who probably would have a hard time hacking their way out of a paper bag, let alone into someone’s computer. Initially sold via PayPal for just $40, Blackshades offered users a way to remotely spy on victims, and even included tools and tutorials to help users infect victim PCs. Many of Yucel’s customers also have been rounded up by law enforcement here in the U.S. an abroad. Continue reading →

Dec 13

ZeroAccess Botnet Down, But Not Out

Europol, Microsoft Kneecap Click-Fraud Botnet

Authorities in Europe joined Microsoft Corp. this week in disrupting “ZeroAccess,” a vast botnet that has enslaved more than two million PCs with malicious software in an elaborate and lucrative scheme to defraud online advertisers.

The action comes partly from Europol’s European Cybercrime Center (EC3), as well as law enforcement cybercrime units from Germany, Latvia, Switzerland and the Netherlands, countries that hosted many of the Internet servers used to control the ZeroAccess botnet.

In tandem with the law enforcement moves in Europe, Microsoft filed a civil lawsuit to unmask eight separate cybercriminals thought to be operating the giant botnet, and to block incoming and outgoing communications between infected PCs in the United States and those 18 control servers, according to a statement released by EC3.

The malware the powers the botnet, also known as “ZAccess” and “Sirefef,” is a complex threat that has evolved significantly since its inception in 2009. It began as a malware delivery platform that was used to spread other threats, such as fake antivirus software (a.k.a. “scareware”).

In recent years, however, the miscreants behind ZeroAccess rearchitected the botnet so that infected systems were forced to perpetrate a moneymaking scheme known as “click fraud” — the practice of fraudulently generating clicks on ads without any intention of fruitfully interacting with the advertiser’s site.

Maps of ZeroAccess infected PCs in Texas. Source:

Maps of ZeroAccess infected PCs in Texas. Source:

It remains unclear how much this coordinated action will impact the operations of ZeroAccess over the long term. Early versions of ZeroAccess relied on a series of control servers to receive updates, but recent versions of the botnet malware were designed to make the network as a whole more resilient and resistant to targeted takedowns such as the one executed this week.

Specifically, ZeroAccess employs a peer-to-peer (P2P) architecture in which new instructions and payloads are distributed from one infected host to another. P2P-based botnets are designed to eliminate a single point of failure, so that if one node used to control the botnet is knocked offline, the remainder of the botnet can still function.

The actions this week appear to have targeted the servers that deliver a specific component of ZeroAccess that gives infected systems new instructions on how to defraud various online advertisers — including Microsoft. While this effort will not disable the ZeroAccess botnet (the infected systems will likely remain infected), it should allow Microsoft to determine which online affiliates and publishers are associated with the miscreants behind ZeroAccess, since those publishers will have stopped sending traffic directly after the takedown occurred.

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