Posts Tagged: Hackforums


20
Nov 19

DDoS-for-Hire Boss Gets 13 Months Jail Time

A 21-year-old Illinois man was sentenced last week to 13 months in prison for running multiple DDoS-for-hire services that launched millions of attacks over several years. This individual’s sentencing comes more than five years after KrebsOnSecurity interviewed both the defendant and his father and urged the latter to take a more active interest in his son’s online activities.

A screenshot of databooter[.]com, circa 2017. Image: Cisco Talos.

The jail time was handed down to Sergiy P. Usatyuk of Orland Park, Ill., who pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to cause damage to Internet-connected computers and owning, administering and supporting illegal “booter” or “stresser” services designed to knock Web sites offline, including exostress[.]in, quezstresser[.]com, betabooter[.]com, databooter[.]com, instabooter[.]com, polystress[.]com and zstress[.]net.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, in just the first 13 months of the 27-month long conspiracy, Usatyuk’s booter users ordered approximately 3,829,812 DDoS attacks. As of September 12, 2017, ExoStresser advertised on its website that this one booter service had launched 1,367,610 DDoS attacks, and caused targets to suffer 109,186.4 hours of network downtime (-4,549 days).

Usatyuk — operating under the hacker aliases “Andrew Quez” and “Brian Martinez,” among others — admitted developing, controlling and operating the aforementioned booter services from around August 2015 through November 2017. But Usatyuk’s involvement in the DDoS-for-hire space very much predates that period.

In February 2014, KrebsOnSecurity reached out to Usatyuk’s father Peter Usatyuk, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I did so because a brief amount of sleuthing on Hackforums[.]net revealed that his then 15-year-old son Sergiy — who at the time went by the nicknames “Rasbora” and “Mr. Booter Master” — was heavily involved in helping to launch crippling DDoS attacks.

I phoned Usatyuk the elder because Sergiy’s alter egos had been posting evidence on Hackforums and elsewhere that he’d just hit KrebsOnSecurity.com with a 200 Gbps DDoS attack, which was then considered a fairly impressive DDoS assault.

“I am writing you after our phone conversation just to confirm that you may call evening time/weekend to talk to my son Sergio regarding to your reasons,” Peter Usatyuk wrote in an email to this author on Feb. 13, 2014. “I also have [a] major concern what my 15 yo son [is] doing. If you think that is any kind of illegal work, please, let me know.” Continue reading →


19
Aug 19

The Rise of “Bulletproof” Residential Networks

Cybercrooks increasingly are anonymizing their malicious traffic by routing it through residential broadband and wireless data connections. Traditionally, those connections have been mainly hacked computers, mobile phones, or home routers. But this story is about so-called “bulletproof residential VPN services” that appear to be built by purchasing or otherwise acquiring discrete chunks of Internet addresses from some of the world’s largest ISPs and mobile data providers.

In late April 2019, KrebsOnSecurity received a tip from an online retailer who’d seen an unusual number of suspicious transactions originating from a series of Internet addresses assigned to a relatively new Internet provider based in Maryland called Residential Networking Solutions LLC.

Now, this in itself isn’t unusual; virtually every provider has the occasional customers who abuse their access for fraudulent purposes. But upon closer inspection, several factors caused me to look more carefully at this company, also known as “Resnet.”

An examination of the IP address ranges assigned to Resnet shows that it maintains an impressive stable of IP blocks — totaling almost 70,000 IPv4 addresses — many of which had until quite recently been assigned to someone else.

Most interestingly, about ten percent of those IPs — more than 7,000 of them — had until late 2018 been under the control of AT&T Mobility. Additionally, the WHOIS registration records for each of these mobile data blocks suggest Resnet has been somehow reselling data services for major mobile and broadband providers, including AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast Cable.

The WHOIS records for one of several networks associated with Residential Networking Solutions LLC.

Drilling down into the tracts of IPs assigned to Resnet’s core network indicates those 7,000+ mobile IP addresses under Resnet’s control were given the label  “Service Provider Corporation” — mostly those beginning with IPs in the range 198.228.x.x.

An Internet search reveals this IP range is administered by the Wireless Data Service Provider Corporation (WDSPC), a non-profit formed in the 1990s to manage IP address ranges that could be handed out to various licensed mobile carriers in the United States.

Back when the WDSPC was first created, there were quite a few mobile wireless data companies. But today the vast majority of the IP space managed by the WDSPC is leased by AT&T Mobility and Verizon Wireless — which have gradually acquired most of their competing providers over the years.

A call to the WDSPC revealed the nonprofit hadn’t leased any new wireless data IP space in more than 10 years. That is, until the organization received a communication at the beginning of this year that it believed was from AT&T, which recommended Resnet as a customer who could occupy some of the company’s mobile data IP address blocks.

“I’m afraid we got duped,” said the person answering the phone at the WDSPC, while declining to elaborate on the precise nature of the alleged duping or the medium that was used to convey the recommendation.

AT&T declined to discuss its exact relationship with Resnet  — or if indeed it ever had one to begin with. It responded to multiple questions about Resnet with a short statement that said, “We have taken steps to terminate this company’s services and have referred the matter to law enforcement.”

Why exactly AT&T would forward the matter to law enforcement remains unclear. But it’s not unheard of for hosting providers to forge certain documents in their quest for additional IP space, and anyone caught doing so via email, phone or fax could be charged with wire fraud, which is a federal offense that carries punishments of up to $500,000 in fines and as much as 20 years in prison.

WHAT IS RESNET?

The WHOIS registration records for Resnet’s main Web site, resnetworking[.]com, are hidden behind domain privacy protection. However, a cursory Internet search on that domain turned up plenty of references to it on Hackforums[.]net, a sprawling community that hosts a seemingly never-ending supply of up-and-coming hackers seeking affordable and anonymous ways to monetize various online moneymaking schemes.

One user in particular — a Hackforums member who goes by the nickname “Profitvolt” — has spent several years advertising resnetworking[.]com and a number of related sites and services, including “unlimited” AT&T 4G/LTE data services, and the immediate availability of more than 1 million residential IPs that he suggested were “perfect for botting, shoe buying.”

The Hackforums user “Profitvolt” advertising residential proxies.

Profitvolt advertises his mobile and residential data services as ideal for anyone who wishes to run “various bots,” or “advertising campaigns.” Those services are meant to provide anonymity when customers are doing things such as automating ad clicks on platforms like Google Adsense and Facebook; generating new PayPal accounts; sneaker bot activity; credential stuffing attacks; and different types of social media spam.

For readers unfamiliar with this term, “shoe botting” or “sneaker bots” refers to the use of automated bot programs and services that aid in the rapid acquisition of limited-release, highly sought-after designer shoes that can then be resold at a profit on secondary markets. All too often, it seems, the people who profit the most in this scheme are using multiple sets of compromised credentials from consumer accounts at online retailers, and/or stolen payment card data.

To say shoe botting has become a thorn in the side of online retailers and regular consumers alike would be a major understatement: A recent State of The Internet Security Report (PDF) from Akamai (an advertiser on this site) noted that such automated bot activity now accounts for almost half of the Internet bandwidth directed at online retailers. The prevalance of shoe botting also might help explain Footlocker‘s recent $100 million investment in goat.com, the largest secondary shoe resale market on the Web.

In other discussion threads, Profitvolt advertises he can rent out an “unlimited number” of so-called “residential proxies,” a term that describes home or mobile Internet connections that can be used to anonymously relay Internet traffic for a variety of dodgy deals.

From a ne’er-do-well’s perspective, the beauty of routing one’s traffic through residential IPs is that few online businesses will bother to block malicious or suspicious activity emanating from them.

That’s because in general the pool of IP addresses assigned to residential or mobile wireless connections cycles intermittently from one user to the next, meaning that blacklisting one residential IP for abuse or malicious activity may only serve to then block legitimate traffic (and e-commerce) from the next user who gets assigned that same IP. Continue reading →


9
Nov 18

Bug Bounty Hunter Ran ISP Doxing Service

A Connecticut man who’s earned bug bounty rewards and public recognition from top telecom companies for finding and reporting security holes in their Web sites secretly operated a service that leveraged these same flaws to sell their customers’ personal data, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

In May 2018, ZDNet ran a story about the discovery of a glaring vulnerability in the Web site for wireless provider T-Mobile that let anyone look up customer home addresses and account PINs. The story noted that T-Mobile disabled the feature in early April after being alerted by a 22-year-old “security researcher” named Ryan Stevenson, and that the mobile giant had awarded Stevenson $1,000 for reporting the discovery under its bug bounty program.

The Twitter account @phobia, a.k.a. Ryan Stevenson. The term “plug” referenced next to his Twitch profile name is hacker slang for employees at mobile phone stores who can be tricked or bribed into helping with SIM swap attacks.

Likewise, AT&T has recognized Stevenson for reporting security holes in its services. AT&T’s bug bounty site lets contributors share a social media account or Web address where they can be contacted, and in Stevenson’s case he gave the now-defunct Twitter handle “@Phoobia.”

Stevenson’s Linkedin profile — named “Phobias” — says he specializes in finding exploits in numerous Web sites, including hotmail.com, yahoo.com, aol.com, paypal.com and ebay.com. Under the “contact info” tab of Stevenson’s profile it lists the youtube.com account of “Ryan” and the Facebook account “Phobia” (also now deleted).

Coincidentally, I came across multiple variations on this Phobia nickname as I was researching a story published this week on the epidemic of fraudulent SIM swaps, a complex form of mobile phone fraud that is being used to steal millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies.

Unauthorized SIM swaps also are often used to hijack so-called “OG” user accounts — usually short usernames on top social network and gaming Web sites that are highly prized by many hackers because they can make the account holder appear to have been a savvy, early adopter of the service before it became popular and before all of the short usernames were taken. Some OG usernames can be sold for thousands of dollars in underground markets.

This week’s SIM swapping story quoted one recent victim who lost $100,000 after his mobile phone number was briefly stolen in a fraudulent SIM swap. The victim said he was told by investigators in Santa Clara, Calif. that the perpetrators of his attack were able to access his T-Mobile account information using a specialized piece of software that gave them backdoor access to T-Mobile’s customer database.

Both the Santa Clara investigators and T-Mobile declined to confirm or deny the existence of this software. But their non-denials prompted me to start looking for it on my own. So naturally I began searching at ogusers-dot-com, a forum dedicated to the hacking, trading and sale of OG accounts. Unsurprisingly, ogusers-dot-com also has traditionally been the main stomping grounds for many individuals involved in SIM swapping attacks.

It didn’t take long to discover an account on ogusers named “Ryan,” who for much of 2018 has advertised a number of different “doxing” services — specifically those aimed at finding the personal information of customers at major broadband and telecom companies. Continue reading →


16
Jul 18

‘LuminosityLink RAT’ Author Pleads Guilty

A 21-year-old Kentucky man has pleaded guilty to authoring and distributing a popular hacking tool called “LuminosityLink,” a malware strain that security experts say was used by thousands of customers to gain unauthorized access to tens of thousands of computers across 78 countries worldwide.

The LuminosityLink Remote Access Tool (RAT) was sold for $40 to thousands of customers, who used the tool to gain unauthorized access to tens of thousands of computers worldwide.

Federal prosecutors say Colton Ray Grubbs of Stanford, Ky. conspired with others to market and distribute the LuminosityLink RAT, a $40 Remote Access Tool that made it simple for buyers to hack into computers to surreptitiously view documents, photographs and other files on victim PCs. The RAT also let users view what victims were typing on their keyboards, disable security software, and secretly activate the webcam on the target’s computer.

Grubbs, who went by the pseudonym “KFC Watermelon,” began selling the tool in May 2015. By mid-2017 he’d sold LuminosityLink to more than 8,600 customers, according to Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency.

Speculation that Grubbs had been arrested began surfacing last year after KFC Watermelon stopped responding to customer support queries on Hackforums[dot]net, the Web site where he primarily sold his product. Continue reading →


27
Feb 18

Bot Roundup: Avalanche, Kronos, NanoCore

It’s been a busy few weeks in cybercrime news, justifying updates to a couple of cases we’ve been following closely at KrebsOnSecurity. In Ukraine, the alleged ringleader of the Avalanche malware spam botnet was arrested after eluding authorities in the wake of a global cybercrime crackdown there in 2016. Separately, a case that was hailed as a test of whether programmers can be held accountable for how customers use their product turned out poorly for 27-year-old programmer Taylor Huddleston, who was sentenced to almost three years in prison for making and marketing a complex spyware program.

First, the Ukrainian case. On Nov. 30, 2016, authorities across Europe coordinated the arrest of five individuals thought to be tied to the Avalanche crime gang, in an operation that the FBI and its partners abroad described as an unprecedented global law enforcement response to cybercrime. Hundreds of malicious web servers and hundreds of thousands of domains were blocked in the coordinated action.

The global distribution of servers used in the Avalanche crime machine. Source: Shadowserver.org

The alleged leader of the Avalanche gang — 33-year-old Russian Gennady Kapkanov — did not go quietly at the time. Kapkanov allegedly shot at officers with a Kalashnikov assault rifle through the front door as they prepared to raid his home, and then attempted to escape off of his 4th floor apartment balcony. He was later released, after police allegedly failed to file proper arrest records for him.

But on Monday Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that Ukrainian authorities had once again collared Kapkanov, who was allegedly living under a phony passport in Poltav, a city in central Ukraine. No word yet on whether Kapkanov has been charged, which was supposed to happen Monday.

Kapkanov’s drivers license. Source: npu.gov.ua.

HOW WELL DO YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS?

Lawyers for Taylor Huddleston, a 27-year-old programmer from Hot Springs, Ark., originally asked a federal court to believe that the software he sold on the sprawling hacker marketplace Hackforums — a “remote administration tool” or “RAT” designed to let someone remotely administer one or many computers remotely — was just a benign tool.

The bad things done with Mr. Huddleston’s tools, the defendant argued, were not Mr. Huddleston’s doing. Furthermore, no one had accused Mr. Huddleston of even using his own software.

The Daily Beast first wrote about Huddleston’s case in 2017, and at the time suggested his prosecution raised questions of whether a programmer could be held criminally responsible for the actions of his users. My response to that piece was “Dual-Use Software Criminal Case Not So Novel.

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The court was swayed by evidence that yes, Mr. Huddleston could be held criminally responsible for those actions. It sentenced him to 33 months in prison after the defendant acknowledged that he knew his RAT — a Remote Access Trojan dubbed “NanoCore RAT” — was being used to spy on webcams and steal passwords from systems running the software.

Of course Huddleston knew: He didn’t market his wares on some Craigslist software marketplace ad, or via video promos on his local cable channel: He marketed the NanoCore RAT and another software licensing program called Net Seal exclusively on Hackforums[dot]net.

This sprawling, English language forum has a deep bench of technical forum discussions about using RATs and other tools to surreptitiously record passwords and videos of “slaves,” the derisive term for systems secretly infected with these RATs.

Huddleston knew what many of his customers were doing because many NanoCore users also used Huddleston’s Net Seal program to keep their own RATs and other custom hacking tools from being disassembled or “cracked” and posted online for free. In short: He knew what programs his customers were using Net Seal on, and he knew what those customers had done or intended to do with tools like NanoCore.

The sentencing suggests that where you choose to sell something online says a lot about what you think of your own product and who’s likely buying it.

Daily Beast author Kevin Poulsen noted in a July 2017 story that Huddleston changed his tune and pleaded guilty. The story pointed to an accompanying plea in which Huddleston stipulated that he “knowingly and intentionally aided and abetted thousands of unlawful computer intrusions” in selling the program to hackers and that he “acted with the purpose of furthering these unauthorized computer intrusions and causing them to occur.” Continue reading →


21
Nov 17

Correcting the Record on vDOS Prosecutions

KrebsOnSecurity recently featured a story about a New Mexico man who stands accused of using the now-defunct vDOS attack-for-hire service to hobble the Web sites of several former employers. That piece stated that I wasn’t aware of any other prosecutions related to vDOS customers, but as it happens there was a prosecution in the United Kingdom earlier this year of a man who’s admitted to both using and helping to administer vDOS. Here’s a look at some open-source clues that may have led to the U.K. man’s arrest.

Jack Chappell, outside of a court hearing in the U.K. earlier this year.

In early July 2017, the West Midlands Police in the U.K. arrested 19-year-old Stockport resident Jack Chappell and charged him with aiding the vDOS co-founders — two Israeli men who were arrested late year and charged with running the service.

Until its demise in September 2016, vDOS was by far the most popular and powerful attack-for-hire service, allowing even completely unskilled Internet users to launch crippling assaults capable of knocking most Web sites offline. vDOS made more than $600,000 in just two of the four years it was in operation, launching more than 150,000 attacks against thousands of victims (including this site).

For his part, Chappell was charged with assisting in attacks against Web sites for some of the world’s largest companies, including Amazon, BBC, BT, Netflix, T-Mobile, Virgin Media, and Vodafone, between May 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016.

At the end of July 2017, Chappell pleaded guilty to those allegations, as well as charges of helping vDOS launder money from customers wishing to pay for attacks with PayPal accounts.

A big factor in that plea was the leak of the vDOS attacks, customer support and payments databases to this author and to U.S. law enforcement officials in the fall of 2016. Those databases provided extremely detailed information about co-conspirators, paying customers and victims.

But as with many other cybercrime investigations, the perpetrator in this case appears to have been caught thanks to a combination of several all-too-common factors, including password re-use, an active presence on the sprawling English-language hacking community Hackforums, and domain names registered in his real name. In combination, these clues provide a crucial bridge between Chappell’s online and real-world identities. Continue reading →


5
Sep 17

Who Is Marcus Hutchins?

In early August 2017, FBI agents in Las Vegas arrested 23-year-old British security researcher Marcus Hutchins on suspicion of authoring and/or selling “Kronos,” a strain of malware designed to steal online banking credentials. Hutchins was virtually unknown to most in the security community until May 2017 when the U.K. media revealed him as the “accidental hero” who inadvertently halted the global spread of WannaCry, a ransomware contagion that had taken the world by storm just days before.

Relatively few knew it before his arrest, but Hutchins has for many years authored the popular cybersecurity blog MalwareTech. When this fact became more widely known — combined with his hero status for halting Wannacry — a great many MalwareTech readers quickly leapt to his defense to denounce his arrest. They reasoned that the government’s case was built on flimsy and scant evidence, noting that Hutchins has worked tirelessly to expose cybercriminals and their malicious tools. To date, some 226 supporters have donated more than $14,000 to his defense fund.

Marcus Hutchins, just after he was revealed as the security expert who stopped the WannaCry worm. Image: twitter.com/malwaretechblog

Marcus Hutchins, just after he was revealed as the security expert who stopped the WannaCry worm. Image: twitter.com/malwaretechblog

At first, I did not believe the charges against Hutchins would hold up under scrutiny. But as I began to dig deeper into the history tied to dozens of hacker forum pseudonyms, email addresses and domains he apparently used over the past decade, a very different picture began to emerge.

In this post, I will attempt to describe and illustrate more than three weeks’ worth of connecting the dots from what appear to be Hutchins’ earliest hacker forum accounts to his real-life identity. The clues suggest that Hutchins began developing and selling malware in his mid-teens — only to later develop a change of heart and earnestly endeavor to leave that part of his life squarely in the rearview mirror.

GH0STHOSTING/IARKEY

I began this investigation with a simple search of domain name registration records at domaintools.com [full disclosure: Domain Tools recently was an advertiser on this site]. A search for “Marcus Hutchins” turned up a half dozen domains registered to a U.K. resident by the same name who supplied the email address “surfallday2day@hotmail.co.uk.”

One of those domains — Gh0sthosting[dot]com (the third character in that domain is a zero) — corresponds to a hosting service that was advertised and sold circa 2009-2010 on Hackforums[dot]net, a massively popular forum overrun with young, impressionable men who desperately wish to be elite coders or hackers (or at least recognized as such by their peers).

The surfallday2day@hotmail.co.uk address tied to Gh0sthosting’s initial domain registration records also was used to register a Skype account named Iarkey that listed its alias as “Marcus.” A Twitter account registered in 2009 under the nickname “Iarkey” points to Gh0sthosting[dot]com.

Gh0sthosting was sold by a Hackforums user who used the same Iarkey nickname, and in 2009 Iarkey told fellow Hackforums users in a sales thread for his business that Gh0sthosting was “mainly for blackhats wanting to phish.” In a separate post just a few days apart from that sales thread, Iarkey responds that he is “only 15” years old, and in another he confirms that his email address is surfallday2day@hotmail.co.uk.

daloseronly15

A review of the historic reputation tied to the Gh0sthosting domain suggests that at least some customers took Iarkey up on his offer: Malwaredomainlist.com, for example, shows that around this same time in 2009 Gh0sthosting was observed hosting plenty of malware, including trojan horse programs, phishing pages and malware exploits.

A “reverse WHOIS” search at Domaintools.com shows that Iarkey’s surfallday2day email address was used initially to register several other domains, including uploadwith[dot]us and thecodebases[dot]com.

Shortly after registering Gh0sthosting and other domains tied to his surfallday2day@hotmail.co.uk address, Iarkey evidently thought better of including his real name and email address in his domain name registration records. Thecodebases[dot]com, for example, changed its WHOIS ownership to a “James Green” in the U.K., and switched the email to “herpderpderp2@hotmail.co.uk.”

A reverse WHOIS lookup at domaintools.com for that email address shows it was used to register a Hackforums parody (or phishing?) site called Heckforums[dot]net. The domain records showed this address was tied to a Hackforums clique called “Atthackers.” The records also listed a Michael Chanata from Florida as the owner. We’ll come back to Michael Chanata and Atthackers at the end of this post. Continue reading →


6
Jun 17

Following the Money Hobbled vDOS Attack-for-Hire Service

A new report proves the value of following the money in the fight against dodgy cybercrime services known as “booters” or “stressers” — virtual hired muscle that can be rented to knock nearly any website offline.

Last fall, two 18-year-old Israeli men were arrested for allegedly running vDOS, perhaps the most successful booter service of all time. The young men were detained within hours of being named in a story on this blog as the co-proprietors of the service (KrebsOnSecurity.com would later suffer a three-day outage as a result of an attack that was alleged to have been purchased in retribution for my reporting on vDOS).

The vDos home page.

The vDos home page.

That initial vDOS story was based on data shared by an anonymous source who had hacked vDOS and obtained its private user and attack database. The story showed how the service made approximately $600,000 over just two of the four years it was in operation. Most of those profits came in the form of credit card payments via PayPal.

But prior to vDOS’s takedown in September 2016, the service was already under siege thanks to work done by a group of academic researchers who teamed up with PayPal to identify and close accounts that vDOS and other booter services were using to process customer payments. The researchers found that their interventions cut profits in half for the popular booter service, and helped reduce the number of attacks coming out of it by at least 40 percent.

At the height of vDOS’s profitability in mid-2015, the DDoS-for-hire service was earning its proprietors more than $42,000 a month in PayPal and Bitcoin payments from thousands of subscribers. That’s according to an analysis of the leaked vDOS database performed by researchers at New York University.

As detailed in August 2015’s “Stress-Testing the Booter Services, Financially,” the researchers posed as buyers of nearly two dozen booter services — including vDOS —  in a bid to discover the PayPal accounts that booter services were using to accept payments. In response to their investigations, PayPal began seizing booter service PayPal accounts and balances, effectively launching their own preemptive denial-of-service attacks against the payment infrastructure for these services.

Those tactics worked, according to a paper the NYU researchers published today (PDF) at the Weis 2017 workshop at the University of California, San Diego.

“We find that VDoS’s revenue was increasing and peaked at over $42,000/month for the month before the start of PayPal’s payment intervention and then started declining to just over $20,000/month for the last full month of revenue,” the paper notes.

subscribersThe NYU researchers found that vDOS had extremely low costs, and virtually all of its business was profit. Customers would pay up front for a subscription to the service, which was sold in booter packages priced from $5 to $300. The prices were based partly on the overall number of seconds that an attack may last (e.g., an hour would be 3,600 worth of attack seconds).

In just two of its four year in operation vDOS was responsible for launching 915,000 DDoS attacks, the paper notes. In adding up all the attack seconds from those 915,000 DDoS attacks, the researchers found vDOS was responsible for 48 “attack years” — the total amount of DDoS time faced by the victims of vDOS. Continue reading →


25
Apr 17

UK Man Gets Two Years in Jail for Running ‘Titanium Stresser’ Attack-for-Hire Service

A 20-year-old man from the United Kingdom was sentenced to two years in prison today after admitting to operating and selling access to “Titanium Stresser,” a simple-to-use service that let paying customers launch crippling online attacks against Web sites and individual Internet users.

Adam Mudd of Hertfordshire, U.K. admitted to three counts of computer misuse connected with his creating and operating the attack service, also known as a “stresser” or “booter” tool. Services like Titanium Stresser coordinate so-called “distributed denial-of-service” or DDoS attacks that hurl huge barrages of junk data at a site in a bid to make it crash or become otherwise unreachable to legitimate visitors.

Mudd's TitaniumStresser service.

Mudd’s TitaniumStresser service.

According to U.K. prosecutors, Mudd’s Titanium Stresser service was used by others in more than 1.7 million denial-of-service attacks against victims worldwide, with most countries in the world affected at some point. He originally built the booter service at the age of 15, earning more than $300,000 in ill-gotten gains from it. Also during his interviews, he admitted security breaches against his own college while he was there studying computer science.

Mudd pleaded guilty to three offences under the U.K. Computer Misuse Act and a further offense of money laundering under the Proceeds of Crime Act in October 2016.

“Today, he was sentenced to 24 months imprisonment for his own DDoS attacks, nine months for running a titanium stressor service and 24 months for money laundering the proceeds made from the stressor service, all to run concurrently,” reads a press release issued by the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), an anti-cybercrime unit that worked with the U.K.’s National Crime Agency to investigate Mudd.

Detective Chief Inspector Martin Peters of the ERSOU’s Regional Crime Unit recalled that at sentencing the judge said the defendant likely would have received six years if he’d been tried as an adult and if he had no medical issues. Mudd had been slated to be sentenced last week, but that hearing was delayed until today after the court heard medical testimony on Mudd’s apparent struggles with autism.

The Mudd case is the latest in a string of law enforcement actions in the U.K., U.S. and elsewhere targeting booter service operators and their customers. In December 2016, federal investigators in the United States and Europe arrested nearly three-dozen people suspected of patronizing booter services. That crackdown was part of an effort by authorities to weaken demand for booter and stresser services and to impress upon customers that hiring someone to launch cyberattacks on your behalf can land you in jail.

In October 2016, the U.S. Justice Department charged two 19-year-old men alleged to have run booter services tied to the “Lizard Squad” hacking group. That same month the sprawling discussion forum Hackforums — once the most bustling marketplace on the Internet where people could compare and purchase booter and stresser service subscriptions — announced that it was permanently banning the sale and advertising of bootersContinue reading →


4
Apr 17

Dual-Use Software Criminal Case Not So Novel

“He built a piece of software. That tool was pirated and abused by hackers. Now the feds want him to pay for the computer crooks’ crimes.”

The above snippet is the subhead of a story published last month by the The Daily Beast titled, “FBI Arrests Hacker Who Hacked No One.” The subject of that piece — a 26-year-old American named Taylor Huddleston — faces felony hacking charges connected to two computer programs he authored and sold: An anti-piracy product called Net Seal, and a Remote Administration Tool (RAT) called NanoCore that he says was a benign program designed to help users remotely administer their computers.

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The author of the Daily Beast story, former black hat hacker and Wired.com editor Kevin Poulsen, argues that Huddleston’s case raises a novel question: When is a programmer criminally responsible for the actions of his users?

“Some experts say [the case] could have far reaching implications for developers, particularly those working on new technologies that criminals might adopt in unforeseeable ways,” Poulsen wrote.

But a closer look at the government’s side of the story — as well as public postings left behind by the accused and his alleged accomplices — paints a more complex and nuanced picture that suggests this may not be the case to raise that specific legal question in any meaningful way.

Mark Rumold, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said cases like these are not so cut-and-dry because they hinge on intent, and determining who knew what and when.

“I don’t read the government’s complaint as making the case that selling some type of RAT is illegal, and if that were the case I think we would be very interested in this,” Rumold said. “Whether or not [the government’s] claims are valid is going to be extraordinarily fact-specific, but unfortunately there is not a precise set of facts that would push this case from being about the valid reselling of a tool that no one questions can be done legally to crossing that threshold of engaging in a criminal conspiracy.”

Citing group chat logs and other evidence that hasn’t yet been made public, U.S. prosecutors say Huddleston intended NanoCore to function more like a Remote Access Trojan used to remotely control compromised PCs, and they’ve indicted Huddleston on criminal charges of conspiracy as well as aiding and abetting computer intrusions.

Poulsen depicts Huddleston as an ambitious — if extremely naive — programmer struggling to make an honest living selling what is essentially a dual-use software product. Using the nickname “Aeonhack,” Huddleston marketed his NanoCore RAT on Hackforums[dot]net, an English-language hacking forum that is overrun with young, impressionable but otherwise low-skilled hackers who are constantly looking for point-and-click tools and services that can help them demonstrate their supposed hacking prowess.

Yet we’re told that Huddleston was positively shocked to discover that many buyers on the forum were using his tools in a less-than-legal manner, and that in response he chastised and even penalized customers who did so. By way of example, Poulsen writes that Huddleston routinely used his Net Seal program to revoke the software licenses for customers who boasted online about using his NanoCore RAT illegally.

We later learn that — despite Net Seal’s copy protection abilities — denizens of Hackforums were able to pirate copies of NanoCore and spread it far and wide in malware and phishing campaigns. Eventually, Huddleston said he grew weary of all the drama and sold both programs to another Hackforums member, using the $60,000 or so in proceeds to move out of the rusty trailer he and his girlfriend shared and buy a house in a low-income corner of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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