Posts Tagged: Free2Move


17
Sep 15

Who’s Behind Bluetooth Skimming in Mexico?

In the previous two stories, I documented the damage wrought by an organized crime gang in Mexico that has been systematically bribing ATM technicians to install Bluetooth skimming components that allow thieves to steal card and PIN data wirelessly. What follows is a look at a mysterious new ATM company in Mexico that sources say may be tied to the skimming activity.

One ATM company operating in the Cancun area whose machines were apparently free from these skimming devices is a relatively new entity called Intacash. This company’s ATMs positively blanketed many of the areas I visited, particularly in the heavy tourist and commercial areas of downtown Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. For example, in a single city block on Boulevard Kukulcan in Zona Hotelera — probably the busiest tourist spot in Cancun — I counted no fewer than ten Intacash ATMs, most of which were all less than a couple hundred yards from each another.

Intacash ATMs positively blanket downtown Cancun.

Intacash ATMs positively blanket the most busy area of downtown Cancun and in very tight proximity to one another.

The experts I spoke with said they were mystified by Intacash’s strategy of placing so many cash machines in the region. Even for areas like Zona Hotelera with plenty of continuous foot traffic, adding so many cash machines in such a small space produces diminishing returns.

Two different ATM experts familiar with rates charged to place ATMs in the area and who asked to remain anonymous said there is no way Intacash could afford the rent required to place so many ATMs in such close proximity on public property and still turn a monthly profit. No way, that is, unless the company had a different profit motive in mind.

Intacash is a relative newcomer to the ATM scene in Mexico, bringing its first ATMs online there a little more than a year ago. It’s not at all clear who runs or owns Intacash, and there is precious little public information available about this company.

Intacash.com, registered in early 2014, consists of just  four Web pages. There is no contact information for the firm on its site, which to this day has exactly zero sites linking in to it. From its inception, the site’s registration records have been hidden behind WHOIS privacy protection services. Intacash hosts its sites along with more than 6,000 other sites on a shared server at GoDaddy.com (for security and other reasons, financial institutions and service providers more typically spring for their own, dedicated servers).

Despite the presence of nearly 70 Intacash ATMs in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum and other tourist areas in the Yucatan Peninsula, this company seems to have gone out of its way not to be noticed online. What’s more, a review of the text on Intacash.com suggests that much of the Web content on the site has been copied verbatim from other sites that preceded Intacash’s existence on the Internet.

Multiple emails sent to the contact addresses and forms on Intacash’s Web site went unreturned. Intacash’s sponsor bank in Mexico – Multiva — also did not respond to messages seeking comment.

THE INTACASH CONNECTION

Why was I so keen to learn more about Intacash? My source in the ATM industry who tipped me off about the Bluetooth skimming activity showcased in the first two stories here said his technicians began receiving bribes to let strangers install skimming components inside their machines around the same time that Intacash came online in Mexico. By early this year, all of my source’s ATM technicians had reported being approached by one of two guys who were trying to buy access to ATMs. The employees who reported these incidents to my ATM industry source said the men had Eastern European accents.

Intacash.com's home page

Intacash.com’s home page

Several of my source’s employees later identified the men who approached them after managing to locate their profile pages on Whatsapp, a popular mobile messaging service.

“My partner was at a meeting with the operating manager of [a major hotel] in Cancun, doing his sales pitch,” my source recalled in a recent interview. “And the fellow at the hotel told my guy that just the day before he’d been approached by another ATM company, and that the guys were Eastern European.”

My source said that, when pressed, the hotel manager acknowledged that the other company was indeed Intacash. My source said his business partner happened to have bookmarked on his smartphone the Whatsapp profiles of the men who’d tried to bribe his technicians, and that he opened the profiles one by one and showed them to the hotel manager.

“My partner asked, ‘Just out of curiosity was it one of these guys?'” my source said. “The hotel manager said why, yes it was.” Continue reading →


15
Sep 15

Tracking Bluetooth Skimmers in Mexico, Part II

I spent four days last week in Mexico, tracking the damage wrought by an organized crime ring that is bribing ATM technicians to place Bluetooth skimmers inside of cash machines in and around the tourist areas of Cancun. Today’s piece chronicles the work of this gang in coastal regions farther south, following a trail of hacked ATMs from Playa Del Camen down to the ancient Mayan ruins in Tulum.

As I noted in yesterday’s story, the skimmers that this gang is placing in hacked ATMs consist of two Bluetooth components: One connected to the card reader inside each machine, and another attached to the PIN pad. Both components beacon out a Bluetooth signal called “Free2Move.” The thieves can retrieve the purloined card and PIN data just by strolling up to the hacked ATM with a smartphone, entering a secret passcode, and downloading all of the collected information.

Having found two hacked ATMs in Cancun — including one in the lobby of my hotel (the Marriott CasaMagna) — I decided to check out other tourist destinations in the region. On the way to Tulum, I dropped in at the Barcelo, a huge, all-inclusive resort. The security guards at the front gate at the resort initially prevented me from entering the complex because I didn’t have reservations.

After 10 minutes of Googling on my phone and a call to the front desk, the guards seemed satisfied that I was interested in buying a day pass to the hotel’s various facilities. The gate lifted and I was let in. Five minutes later, the very first ATM I stopped at was found to be emanating the telltale Free2Move Bluetooth signals indicating a compromise.

No sooner had I finished documenting that hacked ATM than a security guard rode up on a motorcycle and asked if I was having trouble finding the day-pass desk. I replied that I’d be headed that way shortly.

The Barcelo security guard followed me closely as I returned to my rented Jetta and drove to a different building in the complex. Multiple security guards were beginning to shadow me at a respectful distance. I decided it was best to at least demonstrate that I had an intention of buying a day pass.

The Barcelo reception desk said the price would be USD $80 per person. Feigning shock over the hefty price tag, I declared loudly that I had to hit the hotel’s ATM to withdraw more cash in order to pay such exorbitant prices. That ATM also was beaconing the Free2Move Bluetooth signal, but the ATM itself returned errors stating that it was temporarily offline and unable to dispense cash.

That outage turned out to be the perfect excuse to visit a third ATM in the complex, as I again loudly explained to the security guy following a few paces behind.  By this point, a much more stern and beefy guard began following me around on foot, his walkie-talkie buzzing periodically as I crossed the hotel campus. The third and final ATM I checked also was compromised. While I was sure there were more ATMs I hadn’t checked in other areas of the resort, I decided not to press my luck, and hopped back in the Jetta and resumed my journey to Tulum.

TULUM

Halfway down the southbound four-lane highway from Cancun to the ancient ruins in Tulum, traffic inexplicably slowed to a halt. There was some sort of checkpoint ahead by the Mexican Federal Police. I began to wonder whether it was a good idea to have brought along the ATM skimmer I’d received from a source instead of leaving it in the hotel safe. If the cops searched my stuff, how could I explain having ultra-sophisticated Bluetooth ATM skimmer components in my backpack?

A sign across the street from the police department in Tulum.

A sign across the street from the police department in Tulum.

After several nervous minutes of creeping traffic, I was waved on through the checkpoint and immediately felt silly for having gotten so worked up about it. However, upon my arrival 20 minutes later in Tulum — a popular tourist destination due to its proximity to the Mayan ruins — I would have a much closer encounter with the police.

As I pulled into the area where tour buses normally drop off passengers by the hundreds each hour, a number of men stood waving pamphlets and offering “Cheap!” parking that was anything but (or at least I thought at the time). Each was trying to direct me to park the Volkswagen in one of several large, dusty lots.

“I’ll just be about five minutes,” I said, stupidly putting the vehicle in park on the main street right in front of the tourist lot. The attendants just shook their heads and began hailing other newcomers.

The Tulum visit yielded another three ATMs within a few hundred meters of each other that were all emanating the Free2Move signal. But unfortunately, that jaunt took more than five minutes: When I returned to the Volkswagen, I found a parking ticket on the windshield and the parking attendants smirking, gleefully shouting in Spanish that I should have listened to them and parked in their lot. Continue reading →


14
Sep 15

Tracking a Bluetooth Skimmer Gang in Mexico

-Sept. 9, 12:30 p.m. CT, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico: Halfway down the southbound four-lane highway from Cancun to the ancient ruins in Tulum, traffic inexplicably slowed to a halt. There was some sort of checkpoint ahead by the Mexican Federal Police. I began to wonder whether it was a good idea to have brought along the ATM skimmer instead of leaving it in the hotel safe. If the cops searched my stuff, how could I explain having ultra-sophisticated Bluetooth ATM skimmer components in my backpack?

The above paragraph is an excerpt that I pulled from the body of Part II in this series of articles and video essays stemming from a recent four-day trip to Mexico. During that trip, I found at least 19 different ATMs that all apparently had been hacked from the inside and retrofitted with tiny, sophisticated devices that store and transmit stolen card data and PINs wirelessly.

In June 2015, I heard from a source at an ATM firm who wanted advice and help in reaching out to the right people about what he described as an ongoing ATM fraud campaign of unprecedented sophistication, organization and breadth. Given my focus on ATM skimming technology and innovations, I was immediately interested.

My source asked to have his name and that of his employer omitted from the story because he fears potential reprisals from the alleged organized criminal perpetrators of this scam. According to my source, several of his employer’s ATM installation and maintenance technicians in the Cancun area reported recently being approached by men with Eastern European accents, asking each tech if he would be interested in making more than 100 times his monthly salary just for providing direct, physical access to the inside of a single ATM that the technician served.

One of my source’s co-workers was later found to have accepted the bribes, which apparently had only grown larger and more aggressive after technicians in charge of specific, very busy ATMs declined an initial offer.

My source said his company fired the rogue employee who’d taken the bait, but that the employee’s actions had still been useful because experts were now able to examine the skimming technology first-hand. The company tested the hardware by installing it into ATMs that were not in service. When they turned the devices on, they discovered each component was beaconing out the same Bluetooth signal: “Free2Move.”

Turns out, Free2Move is the default name for a bluetooth beacon in a component made by a legitimate wireless communications company of the same name. I also located a sales thread in a dubious looking site that specializes in offering this technology in mini form for ATM PIN pads and card readers for $550 per component (although the site claims it won’t sell the products to scammers).

f2mThe Bluetooth circuit boards allegedly supplied by the Eastern Europeans who bribed my source’s technician were made to be discretely wired directly onto the electronic ATM circuit boards which independently serve the machine’s debit card reader and PIN pad.

Each of the bluetooth circuit boards are tiny — wafer thin and about 1 cm wide by 2 cm long. Each also comes with its own data storage device. Stolen card data can be retrieved from the bluetooth components wirelessly: The thief merely needs to be within a few meters of the compromised ATM to pull stolen card data and PINs off the devices, providing he has the secret key needed to access that bluetooth wireless connection.

Even if you knew the initial PIN code to connect to the Bluetooth wireless component on the ATM —the stolen data that is sent by the bluetooth components is encrypted. Decrypting that data requires a private key that ostensibly only the owners of this crimeware possess.

These are not your ordinary skimming devices. Most skimmers are detectable because they are designed to be affixed to the outside of the ATMs. But with direct, internal access to carefully targeted cash machines, the devices could sit for months or even years inside of compromised ATMs before being detected (depending in part on how quickly and smartly the thieves used or sold the stolen card numbers and PINs).

Not long after figuring out the scheme used by this skimmer, my source instructed his contacts in Cancun and the surrounding area to survey various ATMs in the region to see if any of these machines were emitting a Bluetooth signal called “Free2Move.” Sure enough, the area was blanketed with cash machines spitting out Free2Move signals.

Going to the cops would be useless at best, and potentially dangerous; Mexico’s police force is notoriously corrupt, and for all my source knew the skimmer scammers were paying for their own protection from the police.

Rather, he said he wanted to figure out a way to spot compromised ATMs where those systems were deployed across Mexico (but mainly in the areas popular with tourists from Europe and The United States).

When my source said he knew where I could obtain one of these skimmers in Mexico firsthand, I volunteered to scour the tourist areas in and around Cancun to look for ATMs spitting out the Free2Move bluetooth signal.

I’d worked especially hard the previous two months: So much so that July and August were record traffic months for KrebsOnSecurity, with several big breach stories bringing more than a million new readers to the site. It was time to schedule a quasi-vacation, and this was the perfect excuse. I had a huge pile of frequent flier miles burning a hole in my pocket, and I wasted no time in using those miles to book a hotel and flight to Cancun. Continue reading →