Posts Tagged: Fox IT

Aug 15

Inside the $100M ‘Business Club’ Crime Gang

New research into a notorious Eastern European organized cybercrime gang accused of stealing more than $100 million from banks and businesses worldwide provides an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes look at an exclusive “business club” that dabbled in cyber espionage and worked closely with phantom Chinese firms on Russia’s far eastern border.

In the summer of 2014, the U.S. Justice Department joined multiple international law enforcement agencies and security firms in taking down the Gameover ZeuS botnet, an ultra-sophisticated, global crime machine that infected upwards of a half-million PCs.

Thousands of freelance cybercrooks have used a commercially available form of the ZeuS banking malware for years to siphon funds from Western bank accounts and small businesses. Gameover ZeuS, on the other hand, was a closely-held, customized version secretly built by the ZeuS author himself (following a staged retirement) and wielded exclusively by a cadre of hackers that used the systems in countless online extortion attacks, spam and other illicit moneymaking schemes.

Last year’s takedown of the Gameover ZeuS botnet came just months after the FBI placed a $3 million bounty on the botnet malware’s alleged author — a Russian programmer named Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev who used the hacker nickname “Slavik.” But despite those high-profile law enforcement actions, little has been shared about the day-to-day operations of this remarkably resourceful cybercrime gang.

That changed today with the release of a detailed report from Fox-IT, a security firm based in the Netherlands that secretly gained access to a server used by one of the group’s members. That server, which was rented for use in launching cyberattacks, included chat logs between and among the crime gang’s core leaders, and helped to shed light on the inner workings of this elite group.

The alleged ZeuS Trojan author, Yevgeniy Bogachev, Evgeniy Mikhaylovich Bogachev, a.k.a. "lucky12345", "slavik", "Pollingsoon". Source: "most wanted, cyber.

The alleged ZeuS Trojan author, Yevgeniy Bogachev, Evgeniy Mikhaylovich Bogachev, a.k.a. “lucky12345”, “slavik”, “Pollingsoon”. Source: “most wanted, cyber.


The chat logs show that the crime gang referred to itself as the “Business Club,” and counted among its members a core group of a half-dozen people supported by a network of more than 50 individuals. In true Oceans 11 fashion, each Business Club member brought a cybercrime specialty to the table, including 24/7 tech support technicians, third-party suppliers of ancillary malicious software, as well as those engaged in recruiting “money mules” — unwitting or willing accomplices who could be trained or counted on to help launder stolen funds.

“To become a member of the business club there was typically an initial membership fee and also typically a profit sharing agreement,” Fox-IT wrote. “Note that the customer and core team relationship was entirely built on trust. As a result not every member would directly get full access, but it would take time until all the privileges of membership would become available.”

Michael Sandee, a principal security expert at Fox-IT and author of the report, said although Bogachev and several other key leaders of the group were apparently based in or around Krasnodar — a temperate area of Russia on the Black Sea — the crime gang had members that spanned most of Russia’s 11 time zones.

Geographic diversity allowed the group — which mainly worked regular 9-5 hour days Monday through Friday — to conduct their cyberheists against banks by following the rising sun across the globe — emptying accounts at Australia and Asian banks in the morning there, European banks in the afternoon, before handing the operations over to a part of the late afternoon team based in Eastern Europe that would attempt to siphon funds from banks that were just starting their business day in the United States.

“They would go along with the time zone, starting with banks in Australia, then continuing in Asia and following the business day wherever it was, ending the day with [attacks against banks in] the United States,” Sandee said.



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Feb 15

The Great Bank Heist, or Death by 1,000 Cuts?

I received a number of media requests and emails from readers over the weekend to comment on a front-page New York Times story about an organized gang of cybercriminals pulling off “one of the largest bank heists ever.” Turns out, I reported on this gang’s activities in December 2014, although my story ran minus many of the superlatives in the Times piece.

The Times’ story, “Bank Hackers Steal Millions Via Malware,” looks at the activities of an Eastern European cybercrime group that Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab calls the “Carbanak” gang. According to Kaspersky, this group deployed malware via phishing scams to get inside of computers at more than 100 banks and steal upwards of USD $300 million — possibly as high as USD $1 billion.

Image: Kaspersky

Image: Kaspersky

Such jaw-dropping numbers were missing from a story I wrote in December 2014 about this same outfit, Gang Hacked ATMs From Inside Banks. That piece was based on similar research published (PDF) jointly by Dutch security firm Fox-IT and by Group-IB, a Russian computer forensics company. Fox-IT and Group-IB called the crime group “Anunak,” and described how the crooks sent malware laced Microsoft Office attachments in spear phishing attacks to compromise specific users inside targeted banks.

“Most cybercrime targets consumers and businesses, stealing account information such as passwords and other data that lets thieves cash out hijacked bank accounts, as well as credit and debit cards,” my December 2014 story observed. “But this gang specializes in hacking into banks directly, and then working out ingenious ways to funnel cash directly from the financial institution itself.”

I also noted that a source told me this group of hackers is thought to be the same criminal gang responsible for several credit and debit card breaches at major retailers across the United States, including women’s clothier Bebe Stores Inc., western wear store Sheplers, and office supply store Staples Inc.

Andy Chandler, Fox-IT’s general manager and senior vice president, said the group profiled in its December report and in the Kaspersky study are the same.

“Anunak or Carbanak are the same,” Chandler said. “We continue to track this organization but there are no major revelations since December. So far in 2015, the financial industry have been kept busy by other more creative criminal groups,” such as those responsible for spreading the Dyre and Dridex banking malware, he said. Continue reading →

Dec 14

Gang Hacked ATMs from Inside Banks

An organized gang of hackers from Russia and Ukraine has broken into internal networks at dozens of financial institutions and installed malicious software that allowed the gang to drain bank ATMs of cash. While none of the victim institutions were in the United States or Western Europe, experts say the stealthy methods used by the attackers in these heists would likely work across a broad range of western banks.

robotrobkbMost cybercrime targets consumers and businesses, stealing account information such as passwords and other data that lets thieves cash out hijacked bank accounts, as well as credit and debit cards. But this gang specializes in hacking into banks directly, and then working out ingenious ways to funnel cash directly from the financial institution itself.

A number of the gang’s members are believed to be tied to a group of Eastern European hackers accused of stealing more than USD $2 million from Russian banks using a powerful, custom-made banking trojan known as Carberp. Eight men in Moscow were arrested in 2012 and accused of building and using Carberp, but sources say the core members of the gang were out of jail within hours after their arrest and have been busy rebuilding their crime machine ever since.

According to report released today by Fox-IT and Group-IB, security firms based in The Netherlands and Russia, respectively, the Carberp guys have since changed their tactics: Instead of stealing from thousands of bank account holders, this gang has decided to focus on siphoning funds right out of banks’ coffers. So far, the security firms report, the gang has stolen more than $15 million from Eastern European banks.

To gain a foothold inside financial institutions, this crime group — dubbed the “Anunak group” — sent bank employees targeted, malware-laced emails made to look like the missives were sent by Russian banking regulators. The phishing emails contained malicious software designed to exploit recently-patched security holes in Microsoft Office products.

Incredibly, the group also reportedly bought access to Windows PCs at targeted banks that were already compromised by opportunistic malware spread by other cyber criminals. Indeed, Fox-IT and Group-IB report that the Anunak gang routinely purchased installations of their banking malware from other cybercriminals who operated massive botnets (collections of hacked PCs).

Once inside a financial institution, the criminals typically abused that access to launch even more convincing spear-phishing attacks against other banks. They also gained access to isolated bank network segments that handled ATM transactions, downloading malicious programs made to work specifically with Wincor ATMs. The hackers used that malware — along with a modified legitimate program for managing ATM cash trays — to change the denomination settings for bank notes in 52 different ATMs.

As a result, they were able to make it so that when co-conspirators went to affected ATMs to withdraw 10 bills totaling 100 Russian rubles, they were instead issued 10 bank notes with the denomination of 5,000 rubles, the report notes.

The Anunak gang reportedly modified this legitimate program for managing bill denominations in ATMs.

The Anunak gang reportedly modified this legitimate program for managing bill denominations in ATMs.

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Aug 14

New Site Recovers Files Locked by Cryptolocker Ransomware

Until today, Microsoft Windows users who’ve been unfortunate enough to have the personal files on their computer encrypted and held for ransom by a nasty strain of malware called CryptoLocker have been faced with a tough choice: Pay cybercrooks a ransom of a few hundred to several thousand dollars to unlock the files, or kiss those files goodbye forever. That changed this morning, when two security firms teamed up to launch a free new online service that can help victims unlock and recover files scrambled by the malware.

clssFirst spotted in September 2013, CryptoLocker is a prolific and very damaging strain of malware that uses strong encryption to lock files that are likely to be the most valued by victim users, including Microsoft Office documents, photos, and MP3 files.

Infected machines typically display a warning that the victim’s files have been locked and can only be decrypted by sending a certain fraction or number of Bitcoins to a decryption service run by the perpetrators. Victims are given 72 hours to pay the ransom — typically a few hundred dollars worth of Bitcoins — after which time the ransom demand increases fivefold or more.

But early Wednesday morning, two security firms – Milpitas, Calf. based FireEye and Fox-IT in the Netherlands — launched, a site that victims can use to recover their files. Victims need to provide an email address and upload just one of the encrypted files from their computer, and the service will email a link that victims can use to download a recovery program to decrypt all of their scrambled files.

The free decryption service was made possible because Fox-IT was somehow able to recover the private keys that the cybercriminals who were running the CryptoLocker scam used on their own (not free) decryption service. Neither company is disclosing much about how exactly those keys were recovered other than to say that the opportunity arose as the crooks were attempting to recover from Operation Tovar, an international effort in June that sought to dismantle the infrastructure that CryptoLocker used to infect PCs.

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Jul 13

Haunted by the Ghosts of ZeuS & DNSChanger

One of the challenges in malware research is separating the truly novel innovations in malcoding from new nasties that merely include nominal or superficial tweaks. This dynamic holds true for both malware researchers and purveyors, albeit for different reasons. Researchers wish to avoid being labeled alarmist in calling special attention to what appears to be an emerging threat that turns out to be old news; the bad guys just want to avoid getting scammed into paying for an old malware kit dressed up as the new next big thing.

Source: RSA

Source: RSA

On Tuesday, RSA Security somewhat breathlessly announced that it had spotted KINS, a ZeuS Trojan variant that looked like “a new professional-grade banking Trojan” that was likely to emerge as the “next Trojan epiphany” in the cybercrime underground. RSA said the emergence of KINS was notable because the reigning ZeuS Trojan derivative – the Citadel Trojan — had long ago been taken off the market, and that crooks were anxiously awaiting the development and sale of a new botnet creation kit based on the leaked ZeuS source code.

Since December 2012, when the spokesperson of the Citadel team took the Trojan off the semi-open underground market, cyber criminals have been scrambling to find a replacement,” RSA’s Limor Kessem wrote. “In early February 2013, RSA fraud intelligence researchers began tracing hints about a new crimeware tool called ‘KINS’. At the time, the information about the Trojan just a rumor, but in sporadic comments, fraudsters were associating a Trojan named KINS with the Citadel source code, looking for its developer in order to reach out to him and purchase KINS. The rumors were soon hushed and ties to Citadel were denied, mostly in what appeared as a case of fearful fraudsters who did not want to be denied the possibility to buy the next Trojan.”

But according to Fox-IT, a security research and consulting group based in The Netherlands, KINS has been used in private since at least December 2011 to attack financial institutions in Europe, specifically Germany and The Netherlands. Fox-IT says KINS is short for “Kasper Internet Non-Security,” which is likely the malware author’s not-so-subtle dig at the security suite offered by Russian antivirus maker Kaspersky.

Source: Fox-IT

Source: Fox-IT

In its own analysis of the banking Trojan malware, Fox-IT said KINS is fully based on the leaked ZeuS source code, and includes only minor additions. What’s more, Fox-IT notes, many of the users of KINS have already migrated to yet another ZeuS variant, suggesting that perhaps they were unsatisfied with the product and that it didn’t deliver as advertised.

“While the technical additions are interesting, they are far from ground breaking,” wrote Michael Sandee, principal security expert at Fox-IT. “With an array of fairly standard features, and relatively simple additions to the standard ZeuS, such as reporting of installed security product information, the malware platform does not bring anything really new. There are however some features of this malware, not aimed at the functionality for the person using it, but aimed at complicating malware analysis.”


From the bad-guy perspective, this infighting over malware innovation is on display in a new malware offering that surfaced today on a semi-private forum: The seller is pitching a resurrected and modified version of the DNSChanger Trojan, a global contagion that once infected millions of PCs. The DNSChanger botnet, which hooked into infected systems quite deeply and spread to both Windows and Mac computers, was eradicated only by a worldwide, concerted digital quarantine and vaccination effort — combined with the arrest of its creators.

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Apr 12

Microsoft Responds to Critics Over Botnet Bruhaha

Microsoft’s most recent anti-botnet campaign — a legal sneak attack against dozens of ZeuS botnets — seems to have ruffled the feathers of many in security community. The chief criticism is that the Microsoft operation exposed sensitive information that a handful of researchers had shared in confidence, and that countless law enforcement investigations may have been delayed or derailed as a result. In this post, I interview a key Microsoft attorney about these allegations.

Since Microsoft announced Operation B71, I’ve heard from several researchers who said they were furious at the company for publishing data on a group of hackers thought to be behind a majority of the ZeuS botnet activity — specifically those targeting small to mid-sized organizations that are getting robbed via cyber heists. The researchers told me privately that they believed Microsoft had overstepped its bounds with this action, using privileged information without permission from the source(s) of that data (many exclusive industry discussion lists dedicated to tracking cybercriminal activity have strict rules about sourcing and using information shared by other members).

At the time, nobody I’d heard from with complaints about the action wanted to speak on the record. Then, late last week, Fox IT, a Dutch security firm, published a lengthy blog post blasting Microsoft’s actions as “irresponsible,” and accusing the company of putting its desire for a public relations campaign ahead of its relationship with the security industry.

“This irresponsible action by Microsoft has led to hampering and even compromising a number of large international investigations in the US, Europe and Asia that we knew of and also helped with,” wrote Michael Sandee, Principal Security Expert at Fox IT. “It has also damaged and will continue to damage international relationships between public parties and also private parties. It also sets back cooperation between public and private parties, so called public private partnerships, as sharing will stop or will be definitely less valuable than it used to be for all parties involved.”

Sandee said that a large part of the information that Microsoft published about the miscreants involved was sourced from individuals and organizations without their consent, breaking various non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and unspoken rules.

“In light of the whole Responsible Disclosure debate  [link added] from the end of Microsoft this unauthorized and uncoordinated use and publication of information protected under an NDA is obviously troublesome and shows how Microsoft only cares about protecting their own interests,” Sandee wrote.

Given the strong feelings that Microsoft’s actions have engendered in the Fox IT folks and among the larger security community, I reached out to Richard Boscovich, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer who was one of the key architects of Microsoft’s legal initiative against ZeuS. One complaint I heard from several researchers who believed that Microsoft used and published data they uncovered was that the company kept the operation from nearly everyone. I asked Boscovich how this operation was different from previous actions against botnets such as Rustock and Waledac.

Boscovich: It’s essentially the same approach we’ve done in all the other operations. The problem that I think some people have is that due to the type of operation, we can’t have the entire community involved. That’s for several reasons. One is operational security. The bigger the number of people involved, the more likely is that is someone will make a mistake and say something that could jeopardize all of the work that everyone has done. Also, we’re making representations to a federal court that this is an ex-parte motion and very limited people know about it. If you have multiple people knowing, and the entire security community knows, let’s say we submit declarations from 30-40 people. A court may say, ‘Well there’s a lot of people here who know about this, so isn’t this information that’s already publicly available? Don’t these people know you’re looking at them already?’ We’re really asking for an extraordinary remedy: an ex-parte TRO [temporary restraining order] is a very high standard. We have to show an immediate threat and harm, ongoing, so much so that we can’t even give the other side notice that we’re going to sue them and take away their property.

The other concern is more operational. When I was in the Justice Department — I was there for just shy of 18 years — we even compartmentalized operations there. Information was shared on a need-to-know basis, to make sure the operation would be a success and that there wouldn’t be any inadvertent leaks. It wasn’t because we didn’t trust people, but because people sometimes make mistakes. So in this operation, just like the others, we engaged with industry partners, academic partners, and some of those who wished to be open, and others who preferred to do things behind the scenes.

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