Posts Tagged: Inc.


20
Dec 16

Report: $3-5M in Ad Fraud Daily from ‘Methbot’

New research suggests that an elaborate cybercrime ring is responsible for stealing between $3 million and $5 million worth of revenue from online publishers and video advertising networks each day. Experts say the scam relies on a vast network of cloaked Internet addresses, rented data centers, phony Web sites and fake users made to look like real people watching short ad segments online.

Online advertising fraud is a $7 billion a year problem, according to AdWeek. Much of this fraud comes from hacked computers and servers that are infected with malicious software which forces the computers to participate in ad fraud. Malware-based ad fraud networks are cheap to acquire and to run, but they’re also notoriously unstable and unreliable because they are constantly being discovered and cleaned up by anti-malware companies.

Now researchers say they’ve uncovered a new class of ad robot or “bot” fraud that was designed from the ground up to keep its nose clean — running not on infected hosts but instead distributed across a vast, rented network of dedicated Web servers and computers.

The Methbot ad fraud infrastructure. Image: White Ops.

The Methbot ad fraud infrastructure. Image: White Ops.

According to White Ops, a digital advertising security company based in New York City, those rented computers are connected to a network of more than 570,000 Internet addresses apparently leased or hijacked from various sources.

White Ops dubbed the video ad fraud network “Methbot,” and says the individuals at the helm of this network are spending upwards of $200,000 a month just maintaining a fully automated fraud network that imitates real Web site publishers showing real viewers video-based advertisements.

Ryan Castellucci, principal security researcher at White Ops, said Methbot’s coders built many of the fraud network’s tools from scratch — including the Web browser that each rented computer in the network uses to mimic Web sites displaying video ads. Spoofing actual news Web sites and other popular video-rich destinations, Methbot requests video ads from ad networks, and serves the ads to a vast array of bots that “watch” the videos.

To make each Web browsing session appear more like one generated by a human, Methbot simulates cursor clicks and mouse movements, and even forges social network login information so that it appears the user who viewed the ad was logged in to a social network at the time.

“They’ve written their own browser from scratch in Javascript, and this allows them to arbitrarily control the information that gets fed back to the ad networks and to companies like us who try to detect this stuff,” Castellucci said. “This has allowed Methbot to scale to beyond anything the industry has seen before, putting it in a new class of ad fraud.”

Interestingly, the registration records for virtually all of those Internet addresses have been forged so they appear to be controlled by some of the world’s largest Internet service providers (ISPs).

For instance, one of the many Internet addresses White Ops says was used by Methbot — 196.62.126*117 — is registered in October 2015 to AT&T Services Inc., but the contact address is “adw0rd.yandex.ru@gmail.com” (the letter “o” is a zero). Adw0rd is no doubt a play on Google Adwords, an online advertising service where advertisers pay to display brief advertising copy to Web users.

Another address tied to Methbot — 196.62.3*117 — is registered to the same adw0rd.yandex.ru@gmail.com account but also to “Comcast Cable Communications, Inc.” Records for another Methbot IP — 161.8.252.* — says the address is owned by “Verizon Trademark Services LLC.

Whoever dreamed up Methbot clearly spent a great deal of time and money building the fraud machine. For example, White Ops says the address space alone used by this ad fraud operation has a current market value of approximately $4 million. A full list of the 570,000+ Internet addresses used by Methbot is published in the White Ops report page.

“Methbot operators invested significant time, research, development, and resources to build infrastructure designed to remove these limitations and provide them with unlimited scale,” White Ops said in its report. “They created dedicated data centers to support proxy networks in order to hide the single origin source of their operation. This is the first time we’ve seen data centers impersonating residential internet connections. This makes the scale of this operation virtually unlimited, with none of the typical durability issues of maintaining a constant base of infected user machines.”

Methbot is thought to have made quite a bit more than malware-based ad bots that came before it. Source: White Ops.

Methbot is thought to have helped steal quite a bit more ad revenue than malware-based ad bots that came before it. Source: White Ops.

White Ops said it estimated the earning potential of Methbot by looking at the number of phony video ad impressions it could serve up and the average cost to advertisers for displaying those ads. Assuming an average CPM (cost per mille, or per thousand number of impressions) of $13, the company estimates Methbot has the ability to serve between more than 300 million impressions each day, with a daily revenue ranging from $2.6 million to $5.2 million. Continue reading →


6
Jan 14

Deconstructing the $9.84 Credit Card Hustle

Over the holidays, I heard from a number of readers who were seeing strange, unauthorized charges showing up on their credit and debit cards for $9.84. Many wondered whether this was the result of the Target breach; I suppose I asked for this, having repeatedly advised readers to keep a close eye on their bank statements for bogus transactions. It’s still not clear how consumers’ card numbers are being stolen here, but the fraud appears to stem from an elaborate network of affiliate schemes that stretch from Cyprus to India and the United Kingdom.

homecsOne reader said the $9.84 charge on her card  came with a notation stating the site responsible was eetsac.com. I soon discovered that there are dozens of sites complaining about similar charges from similarly-constructed domains; for example, this 30-page thread at Amazon’s customer help forums includes gripes from hundreds of people taken by this scam.

I did a bit of digging into that eetsac.com domain, ordering a historic WHOIS report from domaintools.com. The report shows that the domain eetsac.com was originally registered using the email address walter.kosevo@ymail.com. Domaintools also reports that this email address was used to register more than 230 other sites; a full list is available here (CSV).

A closer look at some of those domains reveals a few interesting facts. Callscs.in, for example, is a Web site for a call center and a domain that has been associated with these $9.84 fraudulent charges. Callscs.in lists as its local phone number 43114300. That number traces back to a call center in India, Call Connect India, Inc., which registers its physical address as Plot No 82, Sector 12 A, Dwarka. New Delhi – 110075.

iwepThe next site like that one on the list — cewcs.com — references the domain insiderwebeducationpro.com, another domain on the list of sites registered to that ymail.com email address. The homepage of insiderwebeducationpro.com lists the following contact information:

Copyright © 2014. All Rights Reserved – Lasorea Ltd

Lasorea Ltd.
Site and billing supported by:cewcs.com cs@cewcs.com
Premier Business Centre 47-49 Park Royal Road
London UK NW107LQ
8555311090

A search at companieshouse.gov.uk, a government site which maintains records about companies based in the United Kingdom, turned up incorporation records (PDF) showing that Lasorea Ltd. was founded in January 2013 by Emil Darbinian, a 28-year-old self-described accountant from Nicosia, Cyprus. Other records searches on Mr. Darbinian indicate he owns at least two other companies at the same address, including Testohealth Labs. Ltd — which appears to be a software company — and a firm called Levantos Venture Ltd. Mr. Darbinian did not return messages seeking comment.

Another domain on the list — etosac.com — is listed as the support and billing site for webtutorialpro.com, a site which bills itself as an “affiliate learning system.” In fact, of the 235 domains registered to walter.kosevo@ymail.com, all seem to be either affiliate programs of one kind (diet pills, work-at-home) or support/call center sites.

Dozens of sites like this one are the source of the $9.84 charges.

Dozens of sites like this one are the apparent source of the $9.84 charges.

Webtutorialpro.com lists on its homepage a company named Lukria, Ltd., and an address at the same London business park as Mr. Darbinian’s companies. If we step through the signup process to become an affiliate at Webtutorialpro.com, we can see that everything — from the “online store in a box” to “pay per click extreme” and the tutorial on “how to get FREE web traffic — all retail for….wait for it….$9.84!

Lukria, according to incorporation documents (PDF) purchased from companieshouse.co.uk, was created on the same day as Lasorea Ltd., and lists as its director a Sergey Babayan, also from Cyprus. According to the Facebook pages of both Mr. Darbinian and Mr. Babayan, the two men are friends. Mr. Babayan has not responded to requests for comment.

Mr. Babayan’s Facebook profile says he works at a company called Prospectacy Limited, which LinkedIn says is an accounting firm in Nicosia, Cyprus. According to Prospectacy’s Web site, this company specializes in “corporate services,” including “company formation,” “banking,” and “virtual office” services. The company seems to be in the business of establishing offshore firms; according to a reverse WHOIS record lookup from domaintools.com, the email address used to register Prospectacy’s domain also was used to register at least ten other domains, including registerincyprus.com, registerinuk.com, setupincyprus.com and setupineu.com.

A number of these affiliate sites include on their home page links to credorax.com, a Southborough, Mass. based acquiring bank Malta-based acquiring bank that is in the business of processing credit and debit card payments for merchants. It’s not clear whether either cewcs.com or insiderwebeducationpro.com use Credorax Inc. for payment processing, but it seems to suggest that by association. I reached out to Credorax to learn whether this site (and perhaps others that are the subject of this story) are customers, and will update this story if I hear back from them.

Update, 12:43 p.m. ET: I heard from Michael Burtscher, vice president of acquiring risk and fraud management at Credorax. Burtscher clarified that his company has offices in the U.S. but is based in Malta. Burtscher confirmed that Credorax had until recently helped to process cards for the network of sites named in this story, but that the company has severed that relationship. He declined to say when exactly the relationship ended, or indeed whether my information about the client’s identities was accurate. Burtscher would only say that Credorax terminated its relationship with the client in response to consumer complaints about the fraudulent charges. “This was one of those cases where when we onboarded them it looked like a legitimate account, but when we saw there were issues we decided to take action.”

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25
Jul 13

Hacker Ring Stole 160 Million Credit Cards

U.S. federal authorities have indicted five men — four Russians and a Ukrainian – for allegedly perpetrating many of the biggest cybercrimes of the past decade, including the theft of more than 160 million credit card numbers from major U.S. retailers, banks and card processors.

The gang is thought to be responsible for the 2007 breach at credit card processor Heartland Payment Systems that exposed some 130 million card numbers, as well as the 2011 breach at Global Payments that involved nearly a million accounts and cost the company almost $100 million.

Federal prosecutors in New Jersey today called the case the largest hacking scheme ever prosecuted in the U.S. Justice Department officials said the men were part of a gang run by Albert “Soupnazi” Gonzalez, a hacker arrested in 2008 who is currently serving a 20-year-prison sentence for his role in many of the breaches, including the theft of some 90 million credit cards from retailer TJX.

One of the accused, 27-year-0ld Dmitriy Smilianets, is in U.S. custody. Vladimir Drinkman, 32 of Syktyvkar, Russia, is awaiting extradition to the United States. Three others named in the indictments remain at large, including Aleksandr Kalinin, 26 of St. Petersburg; 32-year-old Roman Kotov from Moscow; and Mikhail Rytikov, 26, of Odessa, Ukraine.

According to the government’s indictment, other high-profile heists tied to this gang include compromises at:

Hannaford Brothers Co: 2007, 4.2 million card numbers

Carrefour S.A.: 2007, 2 million card numbers

Commidea Ltd.: 2008, 30 million card numbers

Euronet: 2010, 2 million card numbers

Visa, Inc.: 2011, 800,000 card numbers

Discover Financial Services: 500,000 Diners card numbers

In addition, the group is being blamed for breaking into and planting malware on the networks of NASDAQ, 7-Eleven, JetBlue, JCPenny, Wet Seal, Dexia, Dow Jones, and Ingenicard.

The hackers broke into their targets using SQL injection attacks, which take advantage of weak server configurations to inject malicious code into the database behind the public-facing Web server. Once inside, the attackers can upload software and siphon data.

The government’s indictment alleges that the thieves were at times overwhelmed by the sheer amount of data yielded by their SQL attacks.  On Aug. 12, 2007, Kalinin allegedly sent Gonzalez  an instant message that he’d just gained access to 30 SQL servers on NASDAQ’s network, but hadn’t yet cracked the administrator passwords that secured the data inside. “These [databases] are hell big and I think most of info is trading histories.” On Jan. 9, 2008, after Gonzalez offered to help attack the trading floor’s computer systems, Kalinin allegedly messaged back, “NASDAQ is owned.”

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2
Aug 10

Texas Firm Blames Bank for $50,000 Cyber Heist

A business telephone equipment company in Texas is trying to force its bank to settle a liability claim over an attack by organized cyber thieves last year that cost the company $50,000.

Attorneys for Dallas-based Hi-Line Supply Inc. recently convinced a state court to require depositions from officials at Community Bank, Inc. of Rockwall, Texas. Hi-Line requested the sworn statements to learn more about what the bank knew in the time surrounding Aug. 20, 2009, when crooks broke into the company’s online bank accounts and transferred roughly $50,000 to four individuals across the country who had no prior business with Hi-Line.

While the contents of that deposition remain closed under a confidentiality order, Hi-Line’s lawyers say the information gleaned in the interviews shows serious security missteps by Community Bank, and that they are ready to sue if the bank does not offer a settlement.

“In the event Community Bank refuses to resolve this matter, now that we have uncovered some of the information obtained by virtue of the court’s order, Hi-Line intends to assert claims for misrepresentation, violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, fraud, and breach of warranties, among other things,” said Michael Lyons, a partner with the Dallas law firm Deans Lyons.

Hi-Line president Gary Evans said the fraud began on Thursday, Aug. 20, about the same time the company processes its normal $25,000 payroll. After Hi-Line submitted that batch of payments to its bank, the unknown intruders attempted two more transfers of nearly identical amounts on Friday and the following Monday, Aug. 24.

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