Posts Tagged: LexisNexis


18
Jun 15

OPM’s Database for Sale? Nope, It Came from Another US .Gov

A database supposedly from a sample of information stolen in the much publicized hack at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has been making the rounds in the cybercrime underground, with some ne’er-do-wells even offering to sell it as part of a larger package. But a review of the information made available as a teaser indicates that the database is instead a list of users stolen from a different government agency — Unicor.gov, also known as Federal Prison Industries.

Source: Unicor.gov

Source: Unicor.gov

Earlier this week, miscreants who frequent the Hell cybercrime forum (a “Deep Web” site reachable only via the Tor network) began passing around a text file that contained more than 23,000 records which appeared to be a user database populated exclusively by user accounts with dot-gov email addresses. I thought it rather unlikely that the file had anything to do with the OPM hack, which was widely attributed to Chinese hackers who are typically interested in espionage — not selling the data they steal on open-air markets.

As discussed in my Oct. 2014 post, How to Tell Data Leaks from Publicity Stunts, there are several simple techniques that often can be used to tell whether a given data set is what it claims to be. One method involves sampling email addresses from the leaked/hacked database and then using them in an attempt to create new accounts at the site in question. In most cases, online sites and services will allow only one account per email address, so if a large, random sampling of email addresses from the database all come back as already registered at the site you suspect is the breached entity, then it’s a safe guess the data came from that entity.

How to know the identity of the organization from which the database was stolen? In most cases, database files list the users in the order in which they registered on the site. As a result, the email addresses and/or usernames for the first half-dozen or more users listed in the database are most often from the database administrators and/or site designers. When all of those initial addresses have the same top-level domain — in this case “unicor.gov” — it’s a good bet that’s your victim organization.

Image: Unicor.gov

Image: Unicor.gov

According to Wikipedia, UNICOR is a wholly owned United States government corporation created in 1934 that uses penal labor from the Federal Bureau of Prisons to produce goods and services. It is apparently restricted to selling its products and services to federal government agencies, although recently private companies gained some access to UNICOR workforce. For instance, companies can outsource call centers to UNICOR. Case in point: If you call UNICOR’s main number off-hours, the voicemail message states that during business hours your call may be handled by an inmate! Continue reading →


8
Dec 14

Toward a Breach Canary for Data Brokers

When a retailer’s credit card systems get breached by hackers, banks usually can tell which merchant got hacked soon after those card accounts become available for purchase at underground cybercrime shops. But when companies that collect and sell sensitive consumer data get hacked or are tricked into giving that information to identity thieves, there is no easy way to tell who leaked the data when it ends up for sale in the black market. In this post, we’ll examine one idea to hold consumer data brokers more accountable.

breachcanarySome of the biggest retail credit card breaches of the past year — including the break-ins at Target and Home Depot — were detected by banks well before news of the incidents went public. When cards stolen from those merchants go up for sale on underground cybercrime shops, the banks often can figure out which merchant got hacked by acquiring a handful of their cards and analyzing the customer purchase history of those accounts. The merchant that is common to all stolen cards across a given transaction period is usually the breached retailer.

Sadly, this process of working backwards from stolen data to breach victim generally does not work in the case of breached data brokers that trade in Social Security information and other data, because too often there are no unique markers in the consumer data that would indicate from where the information was obtained.

Even in the handful of cases where underground crime shops selling consumer personal data have included data points in the records they sell that would permit that source analysis, it has taken years’ worth of very imaginative investigation by law enforcement to determine which data brokers were at fault. In Nov. 2011, I wrote about an identity theft service called Superget[dot]info, noting that “each purchasable record contains a two- to three-letter “sourceid,” which may provide clues as to the source of this identity information.”

Unfortunately, the world didn’t learn the source of that ID theft service’s data until 2013, a year after U.S. Secret Service agents arrested the site’s proprietor — a 24-year-old from Vietnam who was posing as a private investigator based in the United States. Only then were investigators able to determine that the source ID data matched information being sold by a subsidiary of big-three credit bureau Experian (among other data brokers that were selling to the ID theft service). But federal agents made that connection only after an elaborate investigation that lured the proprietor of that shop out of Vietnam and into a U.S. territory.

Meanwhile, during the more than six years that this service was in operation, Superget.info attracted more than 1,300 customers who paid at least $1.9 million to look up Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, previous addresses, email addresses and other sensitive information on consumers, much of it used for new account fraud and tax return fraud.

Investigators got a lucky break in determining the source of another ID theft service that was busted up and has since changed its name (more on that in a moment). That service — known as “ssndob[dot]ru” — was the service used by exposed[dot]su, a site that proudly displayed the Social Security, date of birth, address history and other information on dozens of Hollywood celebrities, as well as public officials such as First Lady Michelle Obama, then FBI Director Robert Mueller, and CIA Director John Brennan.

As I explained in a 2013 exclusive, civilian fraud investigators working with law enforcement gained access to the back-end server that was being used to handle customer requests for consumer information. That database showed that the site’s 1,300 customers had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars looking up SSNs, birthdays, drivers license records, and obtaining unauthorized credit and background reports on more than four million Americans.

Although four million consumer records may seem like a big number, that figure did not represent the total number of consumer records available through ssndob[dot]ru. Rather, four million was merely the number of consumer records that the service’s customers had paid the service to look up. In short, it appeared that the ID theft service was drawing on active customer accounts inside of major consumer data brokers.

Investigators working on that case later determined that the same crooks who were running ssndob[dot]ru also were operating a small, custom botnet of hacked computers inside of several major data brokers, including LexisNexis, Dun & Bradstreet, and Kroll. All three companies acknowledged infections from the botnet, but shared little else about the incidents.

Despite their apparent role in facilitating (albeit unknowingly) these ID theft services, to my knowledge the data brokers involved have never been held publicly accountable in any court of law or by Congress.

CURRENT ID THEFT SERVICES

At present, there are multiple shops in the cybercrime underground that sell everything one would need to steal someone’s identity in the United States or apply for new lines of credit in their name — including Social Security numbers, addresses, previous addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, and in some cases full credit history. The price of this information is shockingly low — about $3 to $5 per record.

KrebsOnSecurity conducted an exhaustive review of consumer data on sale at some of the most popular underground cybercrime sites. The results show that personal information on some of the most powerful Americans remains available for just a few dollars. And of course, if one can purchase this information on these folks, one can buy it on just about anyone in the United States today.

As an experiment, this author checked two of the most popular ID theft services in the underground for the availability of Social Security numbers, phone numbers, addresses and previous addresses on all members of the Senate Commerce Committee‘s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance. That data is currently on sale for all thirteen Democrat and Republican lawmakers on the panel.

Between these two ID theft services, the same personal information was for sale on Edith Ramirez and Richard Cordray, the heads of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), respectively. Continue reading →


27
Mar 14

Who Built the ID Theft Service SSNDOB.ru?

Previous stories on this blog have highlighted the damage wrought by an identity theft service marketed in the underground called ssndob[dot]ru, which sold Social Security numbers, credit reports, drivers licenses and other sensitive information on more than four million Americans. Today’s post looks at a real-life identity behind the man likely responsible for building this service.

The administration page of ssndob[dot]ru. Note the logged in user, ssndob@ssa.gov, is the administrator.

The administration page of ssndob[dot]ru. Note the logged in user, ssndob@ssa.gov, is the administrator.

Last summer, ssndob[dot]ru (hereafter referred to as “SSNDOB”) was compromised by multiple attackers, its own database plundered. A copy of the SSNDOB database was exhaustively reviewed by KrebsOnSecurity.com. The database shows that the site’s 1,300 customers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars looking up SSNs, birthdays, drivers license records, and obtaining unauthorized credit and background reports on more than four million Americans.

Private messages and postings on various crime forums show that the service offered at ssndob[dot]ru was originally registered in 2009 at a domain called ssndob-search.info. A historic records lookup purchased from domaintools.com shows that ssndob-search was first registered to an Armand Ayakimyan from Apsheronsk, Russia. This registrant used the email address lxg89@rambler.ru.

In 2013, a copy of the carding forum carder[dot]pro was leaked online. Forum records show that the lxg89@rambler.ru address was used by a member who picked the username “Zack,” and who told other members to contact him on the ICQ instant messenger account 383337. On Vkontakte.ru, a popular Russian social networking site, Mr. Zack is the name of a profile for a 24-year-old Armand Ayakimyan from Sukhumi, a city in western Georgia and the capital of Abkhazia — a disputed region on the Black Sea coast.

Mr. Zack lists his date of birth as August 27 and current town as Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, (although the Mr. Zack account appears to have been dormant for some time). We can see some pictures of Mr. Ayakimyan (DOB: Aug. 27, 1989) at this profile by the same name at promodj.com, a music mixing site. That profile is tied to a group profile created by an Armand Ayakimyan in Sochi.

Mr. Ayakimyan appears to have used a number of different nicknames on various forums, including “Darkill,” “Darkglow” and “Planovoi”. That’s according to the administrators of verified[dot]cm, a top Russian crime forum at which he had apparently created numerous accounts. In an amusing multi-page thread on verified, the administrators respond to multiple member complaints about Plaovoi’s behavior by “doxing” him, essentially listing all of the identifiers that point from various email addresses, ICQ numbers and aliases back to accounts tied to Armand Ayakimyan.

KrebsOnSecurity attempted to reach Ayakimyan via multiple email addresses tied to his various profiles, including Facebook. An individual responding at the main Jabber address used by the operator of SSNDOB — ssndob@swissjabber.ch — declined to comment for this story, saying only “Я против блога. Выберите другой сервис,” or, “I am against the blog. Choose another service.” This reply came immediately after the user of this profile updated his status message notifying customers that his identity theft service was just freshly stocked with a huge new update of personal data on Americans.

The conclusion that Ayakimyan is/was involved with the operation of SSNDOB is supported with evidence gathered from Symantec, which published a blog post last week linking the young man to the identity theft service. According to Big Yellow, Ayakimyan is but one of several men allegedly responsible for creating and stocking the ID theft bazaar, a group Symantec calls the “Cyclosa gang.” From their report:

Continue reading →


24
Oct 13

Senator Demands More Info From Experian

In the wake of revelations that credit bureau Experian sold consumer data to the proprietors of an underground identity theft service, a powerful U.S. senator is calling on the company to divulge more information on the extent of the potential damage to consumers.

EXPWest Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, on Wednesday sent a letter (PDF) to Experian demanding additional details about the security breach. Specifically, Rockefeller asked for responses to questions about Experian’s vetting process for its customers and current practices for sharing consumer data. The senator also urged Experian to fully respond to his related previous inquiries regarding Experian’s customers, its oversight of its disclosure to third parties, and Experian’s data sources.

“The committee’s investigation has focused to date on how companies including Experian collect and sell consumer information for marketing purposes, while the information Experian reportedly sold to identity thieves – such as Social Security numbers and banking information – appears to be data Experian collects and sells for risk assessment activities,” Sen. Rockefeller wrote in the letter to Experian President Donald Robert. “However, if these recent news accounts are accurate, they raise serious questions about whether Experian as a company has appropriate practices in place for vetting its customers and sharing sensitive consumer data with them, regardless of the particular line of business.”

The letter is a follow-up to an investigation that Sen. Rockefeller launched in October 2012 regarding several data brokers — including Experian — to understand how the companies collect, store, and share personal consumer data. According to the committee, Experian is one of several companies that has refused to fully respond to Rockefeller’s request for information – which Rockefeller discussed publicly in this letter.

That 2012 letter was sent to the three major credit bureaus, including Experian, Equifax, TransUnion. Rockefeller also queried Reed Elsevier, the parent company of data aggregator LexisNexis. Last month, KrebsOnSecurity broke a story showing that LexisNexis was among three other data brokers that had been hacked by a cybercriminal gang which operated a competing underground identity theft service — ssndob[dot]ms.

In a statement provided to The New York Times, Experian spokesman Gerry Tschopp said: “We have responded — and will continue to respond – in a very transparent manner to Senator Rockefeller.”

According to The Times, Sen. Rockefeller last month widened his probe, asking a dozen popular Web sites to provide information on their information-sharing practices with data brokers. The sites included in that inquiry were About.com, Babycenter.com, Bankrate.com, Health.com, Investopedia.com, Mensfitness.com and Self.com.

“While some consumers may not object to having their information categorized and used for marketing,” the senator wrote, “before they share personal information, it is important that they know it may be used for purposes beyond those for which they originally provided it.”


20
Oct 13

Experian Sold Consumer Data to ID Theft Service

An identity theft service that sold Social Security and drivers license numbers — as well as bank account and credit card data on millions of Americans — purchased much of its data from Experian, one of the three major credit bureaus, according to a lengthy investigation by KrebsOnSecurity.

superget.info home page

superget.info home page

In November 2011, this publication ran a story about an underground service called Superget.info, a fraudster-friendly site that marketed the ability to look up full Social Security numbers, birthdays, drivers license records and financial information on millions of Americans. Registration was free, and accounts were funded via WebMoney and other virtual currencies that are popular in the cybercriminal underground.

Each SSN search on Superget.info returned consumer records that were marked with a set of varying and mysterious two- and three-letter “sourceid:” identifiers, including “TH,” “MV,” and “NCO,” among others. I asked readers who may have a clue about the meaning or source of those abbreviations to contact me. In the weeks following that post, I heard from many readers who had guesses and ideas, but none who seemed to have conclusive information.

That changed in the past week. An individual who read a story about the operators of a similar ID theft service online having broken into the networks of LexisNexis and other major data brokers wrote to say that he’d gone back and reviewed my previous stories on this topic, and that he’d identified the source of the data being resold by Superget.info. The reader said the abbreviations matched data sets produced by Columbus, Ohio-based USInfoSearch.com.

Contacted about the reader’s claim, U.S. Info Search CEO Marc Martin said the data sold by the ID theft service was not obtained directly through his company, but rather via Court Ventures, a third-party company with which US Info Search had previously struck an information sharing agreement. Martin said that several years ago US Info Search and CourtVentures each agreed to grant the other company complete access to its stores of information on US consumers.

Founded in 2001, Court Ventures described itself as a firm that “aggregates, repackages and distributes public record data, obtained from over 1,400 state and county sources.” Cached, historic copies of courtventures.com are available through archive.org.

THE ROLE OF EXPERIAN

In March 2012, Court Ventures was purchased by Costa Mesa, Calif.-based Experian, one of the three major consumer credit bureaus. According to Martin, the proprietors of Superget.info had gained access to Experian’s databases by posing as a U.S.-based private investigator. In reality, Martin said, the individuals apparently responsible for running Superget.info were based in Vietnam.

Martin said he first learned of the ID theft service after hearing from a U.S. Secret Service agent who called and said the law enforcement agency was investigating Experian and had obtained a grand jury subpoena against the company.

The "sourceid" abbreviations pointed toward Court Ventures.

The “sourceid” abbreviations pointed toward Court Ventures.

While the private investigator ruse may have gotten the fraudsters past Experian and/or CourtVentures’ screening process, according to Martin there were other signs that should have alerted Experian to potential fraud associated with the account. For example, Martin said the Secret Service told him that the alleged proprietor of Superget.info had paid Experian for his monthly data access charges using wire transfers sent from Singapore.

“The issue in my mind was the fact that this went on for almost a year after Experian did their due diligence and purchased” Court Ventures, Martin said. “Why didn’t they question cash wires coming in every month? Experian portrays themselves as the databreach experts, and they sell identity theft protection services. How this could go on without them detecting it I don’t know. Our agreement with them was that our information was to be used for fraud prevention and ID verification, and was only to be sold to licensed and credentialed U.S. businesses, not to someone overseas.”

Experian declined multiple requests for an interview. But in a written statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity, Experian acknowledged the broad outlines of Martin’s story and said it had worked with the Secret Service to bring a Vietnamese national to justice in connection with the online ID theft service. Their statement is as follows:

“Experian acquired Court Ventures in March, 2012 because of its national public records database. After the acquisition, the US Secret Service notified Experian that Court Ventures had been and was continuing to resell data from US Info Search to a third party possibly engaged in illegal activity. Following notice by the US Secret Service, Experian discontinued reselling US Info Search data and worked closely and in full cooperation with law enforcement to bring Vietnamese national Hieu Minh Ngo, the alleged perpetrator, to justice.  Experian’s credit files were not accessed.  Because of the ongoing federal investigation, we are not free to say anything further at this time.”

Continue reading →


1
Oct 13

Data Broker Hackers Also Compromised NW3C

The same miscreants responsible for breaking into the networks of America’s top consumer and business data brokers appear to have also infiltrated and stolen huge amounts of data from the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), a congressionally-funded non-profit organization that provides training, investigative support and research to agencies and entities involved in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of cybercrime.

The bot that was resident for  almost 3 months inside of NW3C.

The bot that was resident for almost 3 months inside of NW3C.

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity reported that entrepreneurs behind the underground criminal identity theft service ssndob[dot]ms also were responsible for operating a small but powerful collection of hacked computers exclusively at top data brokers, including LexisNexis, Dun & Bradstreet and HireRight/Kroll. A closer analysis of the Web server used to control that collection of hacked PCs shows that the attackers also had at least one infected system for several months this summer inside of the NW3c.

Core to the NW3C’s mission is its Investigative Support division, which according to the organization’s site “provides timely, relevant and effective services to member agencies involved in the prevention, investigation and prosecution of economic and high-tech crimes. The section has no investigative authority but can provide analytical assistance and perform public database searches.”

The NW3C said its analysts are frequently called upon to assist in establishing financial transaction patterns, developing possible links between criminal targets and associated criminal activity and providing link charts, timelines and graphs for court presentations. “Information obtained through public database searches can assist investigations by locating suspects, establishing property ownership and finding hidden assets, just to name a few of the benefits,” the organization’s Web site explains.

The NW3C also works with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to run the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which accepts online Internet crime complaints from victims of cybercrime.

Neither the NW3C nor the IC3 responded to requests for comment on this story. FBI Spokeswoman Lindsay Godwin would say only that the FBI was “looking into it,” but declined to elaborate further, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation.

THE CRIME MACHINE

A number of indicators suggest that the attackers first gained access to the NW3C’s internal network on or around May 28, 2013. According to records in the online communications panel that the miscreants used to control their network of hacked systems, the affected NW3C server was taken offline on or around Aug. 17, 2013, indicating that the organization’s networks were compromised for approximately 11 weeks this summer. It’s not clear at this point why the miscreants marked this organization’s listing with a “(hacker)” designation, as shown in the snapshot of their botnet control panel below.

nw3cBAP

The attackers appear to have compromised a public-facing server at NW3C that was designed to handle incoming virtual private network (VPN) communications. Organizations frequently set up VPNs so that their remote employees can create an encrypted communications tunnel back to an otherwise closed network, and these setups are an integral component of most modern business applications.

A page from the ColdFusion exploit server used by the attackers.

A page from the ColdFusion exploit server used by the attackers.

Alarmingly, the machine name of the compromised NW3C system was “data.” On May 28, 2013, the attackers uploaded a file — nbc.exe — designed to open up an encrypted tunnel of communications from the hacked VPN server to their botnet controller on the public Internet. This appears to be the same nbc.exe file that was found on the two hacked servers at LexisNexis.

Abundant evidence left behind by the attackers suggests that they broke into the NW3C using a Web-based attack tool that focuses on exploiting recently-patched weaknesses in servers powered by ColdFusion, a Web application platform owned by Adobe Systems. I managed to get hold of the multiple exploits used in the attack server, and shared them with Adobe and with Rob Brooks-Bilson, a ColdFusion expert and author of the O’Reilly books Programming ColdFusion MX and Programming ColdFusion.

Although some of the exploits were listed as “0day” in the attack tool — suggesting they were zero-day, unpatched vulnerabilities in Adobe ColdFusion — Bilson said all of the exploits appear to attack vulnerabilities that are fixed in the most recent versions of ColdFusion. For example, three of the four exploits seems to have involved CVE-2013-0632, a vulnerability that Adobe first patched in January 2013, not long after the flaw was first spotted in actual zero-day online attacks. The remaining exploit in the attack kit targets a bug that Adobe fixed in 2010.

“The big issue with ColdFusion is that so many people install and set it up without following any of Adobe’s hardening guidelines,” Brooks-Bilson said in an email to KrebsOnSecurity. “Most of the exploits that have come out in the recent past have all worked via a similar mechanism that is easily mitigated by following Adobe’s guide. Of course, so many people disregard that advice and end up with servers that are easily compromised.”

STEALING DATA ON VICTIMS AND FELLOW CROOKS ALIKE

The ColdFusion exploit server contains plenty of records indicating that the attackers in this case plundered many of the databases that they were able to access while inside of NW3C. Part of the reason for the persistence of this evidence has to do with the way that the attackers queried local databases and offloaded stolen data. It appears that once inside the NW3C’s network, the bad guys quickly scanned all of the organization’s systems for security vulnerabilities and database servers. They also uploaded a Web-based “shell” which let them gain remote access to the hacked server via a Web browser.

The attack server and shell also let the attackers execute system commands on the compromised hosts, which appear to be Microsoft IIS servers. Their method also left a detailed (if not complete) log of many of their activities inside the network. One of the first things the attackers did upon compromising the “Data” server on the network was run a query that forced the local database to dump a copy of itself to a file — including a list of the authorized users and passwords —  that the attackers could download.

A snippet of redacted complaint data stolen from IC3.

A snippet of redacted complaint data stolen from IC3.

The bad guys in this case also appear to have used their access to the NW3C to steal 10 years’ worth of consumer complaint information from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), the aforementioned partnership between the NW3C and the FBI that tracks complaints about cybercrime.

Present on the attacker’s server are some 2.659 million records apparently lifted from the IC3. The records range in date from about the time of the IC3’s inception — May 8, 2000 — to Jan. 22, 2013.

It’s not clear if the stolen IC3 data set includes all of the consumer complaints ever filed, but it seems likely that the archive is lacking just the past few months of records. In a report released earlier this year, the IC3 said it was receiving about 24,000 complaints per month, and that consumers had filed 289,874 complaints last year. The IC3’s site doesn’t maintain annual complaint numbers prior to 2003, but according to the site some 2.35 million have been filed with the system since then. To put the year-over-year growth in complaints in perspective, the IC3 said it wasn’t until 2007 — nearly seven years after its birth — that the organization received its millionth complaint.

Continue reading →


25
Sep 13

Data Broker Giants Hacked by ID Theft Service

An identity theft service that sells Social Security numbers, birth records, credit and background reports on millions of Americans has infiltrated computers at some of America’s largest consumer and business data aggregators, according to a seven-month investigation by KrebsOnSecurity.

ssndobhomeThe Web site ssndob[dot]ms (hereafter referred to simply as SSNDOB) has for the past two years marketed itself on underground cybercrime forums as a reliable and affordable service that customers can use to look up SSNs, birthdays and other personal data on any U.S. resident. Prices range from 50 cents to $2.50 per record, and from $5 to $15 for credit and background checks. Customers pay for their subscriptions using largely unregulated and anonymous virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin and WebMoney.

Until very recently, the source of the data sold by SSNDOB has remained a mystery. That mystery began to unravel in March 2013, when teenage hackers allegedly associated with the hacktivist group UGNazi showed just how deeply the service’s access went. The young hackers used SSNDOB to collect data for exposed.su, a Web site that listed the SSNs, birthdays, phone numbers, current and previous addresses for dozens of top celebrities — such as performers Beyonce, Kanye West and Jay Z — as well as prominent public figures, including First Lady Michelle Obama, CIA Director John Brennan, and then-FBI Director Robert Mueller.

Earlier this summer, SSNDOB was compromised by multiple attackers, its own database plundered. A copy of the SSNDOB database was exhaustively reviewed by KrebsOnSecurity.com. The database shows that the site’s 1,300 customers have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars looking up SSNs, birthdays, drivers license records, and obtaining unauthorized credit and background reports on more than four million Americans.

Frustratingly, the SSNDOB database did not list the sources of that stolen information; it merely indicated that the data was being drawn from a number of different places designated only as “DB1,” “DB2,” and so on.

But late last month, an analysis of the networks, network activity and credentials used by SSNDOB administrators indicate that these individuals also were responsible for operating a small but very potent botnet — a collection of hacked computers that are controlled remotely by attackers. This botnet appears to have been in direct communications with internal systems at several large data brokers in the United States.  The botnet’s Web-based interface (portions of which are shown below) indicated that the miscreants behind this ID theft service controlled at least five infected systems at different U.S.-based consumer and business data aggregators.

The botnet interface used by  the miscreants who own and operate ssndob[dot]ms

The botnet interface used by the miscreants who own and operate ssndob[dot]ms

DATA-BROKER BOTNET

Two of the hacked servers were inside the networks of Atlanta, Ga.-based LexisNexis Inc., a company that according to Wikipedia maintains the world’s largest electronic database for legal and public-records related information. Contacted about the findings, LexisNexis confirmed that the two systems listed in the botnet interface were public-facing LexisNexis Web servers that had been compromised.

One of two bots connected to SSNDOB that was inside of LexisNexis.

One of two bots connected to SSNDOB that was inside of LexisNexis.

The botnet’s online dashboard for the LexisNexis systems shows that a tiny unauthorized program called “nbc.exe” was placed on the servers as far back as April 10, 2013, suggesting the intruders have had access to the company’s internal networks for at least the past five months. The program was designed to open an encrypted channel of communications from within LexisNexis’s internal systems to the botnet controller on the public Internet.

Two other compromised systems were located inside the networks of Dun & Bradstreet, a Short Hills, New Jersey data aggregator that licenses information on businesses and corporations for use in credit decisions, business-to-business marketing and supply chain management. According to the date on the files listed in the botnet administration panel, those machines were compromised at least as far back as March 27, 2013.

The fifth server compromised as part of this botnet was located at Internet addresses assigned to Kroll Background America, Inc., a company that provides employment background, drug and health screening. Kroll Background America is now part of HireRight, a background-checking firm managed by the Falls Church, Va.-based holding company Altegrity, which owns both the Kroll and HireRight properties. Files left behind by intruders into the company’s internal network suggest the HireRight breach extends back to at least June 2013.

An initial analysis of the malicious bot program installed on the hacked servers reveals that it was carefully engineered to avoid detection by antivirus tools. A review of the bot malware in early September using Virustotal.com — which scrutinizes submitted files for signs of malicious behavior by scanning them with antivirus software from nearly four dozen security firms simultaneously — gave it a clean bill of health: none of the 46 top anti-malware tools on the market today detected it as malicious (as of publication, the malware is currently detected by 6 out of 46 anti-malware tools at Virustotal).

Continue reading →


13
Apr 12

Thieves Replacing Money Mules With Prepaid Cards?

Recent ebanking heists — such as a $121,000 online robbery at a New York fuel supplier last month — suggest that cyber thieves increasingly are cashing out by sending victim funds to prepaid debit card accounts. The shift appears to be an effort to route around a major bottleneck for these crimes: Their dependency on unreliable money mules.

Mules traditionally have played a key role in helping thieves cash out hacked accounts and launder money.  They are recruited through email-based work-at-home job scams, and are told they will be helping companies process payments. In a typical scheme, the mule provides her banking details to the recruiter, who eventually sends a fraudulent transfer and tells the mule to withdraw the funds in cash, keep a small percentage, and wire the remainder to co-conspirators abroad.

Some of the mule gangs I’ve identified.

But mules are hardly the most expedient method of extracting funds. To avoid arousing suspicion (and triggering anti-money laundering reporting requirements by the banks), cyber crooks usually send less than $10,000 to each mule. In other words, for every $100,000 that the thieves want to steal, they need to have  at least 10 money mules at the ready.

In reality, though, that number is quite often closer to 15 mules per $100,000. That’s because the thieves may send much lower amounts to mules that bank at institutions which have low transfer limit triggers. For instance, they almost always limit transfers to less than $5,000 when dealing with Bank of America mules, because they know transfers for more than that amount to consumer accounts will raise fraud flags at BofA.

Thus, the average mule is worth up to $10,000 to a cybercrook. Unsurprisingly, there is much competition and demand for available money mules in the cybercriminal underground. I’ve identified close to two dozen distinct money mule recruitment networks, most of which demand between 40-50 percent of the fraudulent transfer amounts for their trouble. Not only are mule expensive to acquire, they often take weeks to groom before they’re trusted with transfers.

But these mules also come with their own, well, baggage. I’ve interviewed now more than 200 money mules, and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that many mules simply are not the sharpest crayons in the box. They often have trouble following simple instructions, and frequently screw up important details when it comes time to cash out (there are probably good reasons that a lot of these folks are unemployed). Common goofs include transposing digits in account and routing numbers, or failing to get to the bank to withdraw the cash shortly after the fraudulent transfer, giving the victim’s bank precious time to reverse the transaction. In isolated cases, the mules simply disappear with the money and stiff the cyber thieves.

In several recent ebanking heists, however, thieves appear to have sent at least half of the transfers to prepaid cards, potentially sidestepping the expense and hassle of hiring and using money mules. For example, last month cyber crooks struck Alta East, a wholesale gasoline dealer in Middletown, N.Y. According to the firm’s comptroller Debbie Weeden, the thieves initiated 30 separate fraudulent transfers totaling more than $121,000. Half of those transfers went to prepaid cards issued by Metabank, a large prepaid card provider.

Prepaid cards are ideal because they can be purchased anonymously for small amounts ($25-$100 values) from supermarkets and other stores. A majority of these low-value cards are not reloadable, unless the cardholder goes online and provides identity information that the prepaid card issuer can tie to a legitimate credit holder. After that card is activated, it can be reloaded remotely by transferring or depositing funds into the account, and it can be used like a debit, ATM or credit card.

“The information we gather in opening it is the same information you’d be asked if you were opening a credit card account online,” said Brad Hanson, president of Metabank’s payment systems division. “We do checks against different public resources like Experian and LexisNexis to verify that all the information matches and is accurate, and that we have a reasonable belief that you are the person applying for the card.”

The trouble is, the thieves pulling these ebanking heists have access to massive amounts of stolen data that can be used to fraudulently open up prepaid cards in the names of people whose identities and computers have already been hijacked. Once those cards are approved, the crooks can simply transfer funds to them from cyberheist victims, and extract the cash at ATMs. Alternatively, wire transfer locations like Western Union even allow senders to use their debit cards to execute a “debit spend,” thereby sending money overseas directly from the card.

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