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.
Cybercrooks increasingly are anonymizing their malicious traffic by routing it through residential broadband and wireless data connections. Most often, those connections are hacked computers, mobile phones, or home routers. But this is the story of a sprawling “bulletproof residential VPN” service that appears to have been built by acquiring chunks of Internet addresses from some the largest ISPs and mobile data providers in the United States and abroad.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In early August 2017, FBI agents in Las Vegas arrested 23-year-old U.K. resident 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 a British newspaper 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 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 was overstepping on flimsy 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.
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.
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 a vDOS, perhaps the most successful booter service of all time. The pair were detained within hours of being named in a story on this blog as the co-proprietors of the service (this site 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).
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.
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 Herfordshire, 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.
“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 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.
The author of the Daily Beast story, former black hat hacker and Wired.com editor Kevin Poulsen, argues that Huddelston’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.”
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 legal question in a meaningful way.