Posts Tagged: Michael Terpin


9
Jan 20

Lawmakers Prod FCC to Act on SIM Swapping

Crooks have stolen tens of millions of dollars and other valuable commodities from thousands of consumers via “SIM swapping,” a particularly invasive form of fraud that involves tricking a target’s mobile carrier into transferring someone’s wireless service to a device they control. But the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the entity responsible for overseeing wireless industry practices, has so far remained largely silent on the matter. Now, a cadre of lawmakers is demanding to know what, if anything, the agency might be doing to track and combat SIM swapping.

On Thursday, a half-dozen Democrats in the House and Senate sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, asking the agency to require the carriers to offer more protections for consumers against unauthorized SIM swaps.

“Consumers have no choice but to rely on phone companies to protect them against SIM swaps — and they need to be able to count on the FCC to hold mobile carriers accountable when they fail to secure their systems and thus harm consumers,” reads the letter, signed by Sens. Ron Wyden (OR), Sherrod Brown (OH) and Edward Markey (MA), and Reps. Ted Lieu (CA), Anna Eshoo (CA) and Yvette Clarke (NY).

SIM swapping is an insidious form of mobile phone fraud that is often used to steal large amounts of cryptocurrencies and other items of value from victims. All too frequently, the scam involves bribing or tricking employees at mobile phone stores into seizing control of the target’s phone number and diverting all texts and phone calls to the attacker’s mobile device.

Once in control of the stolen phone number, the attacker can then reset the password for any online account that allows password resets and/or two-factor verification requests via text messages or automated phone calls (i.e. most online services, including many of the mobile carrier Web sites).

From there, the scammers can pivot in a variety of directions, including: Plundering the victim’s financial accounts; hacking their identities on social media platforms;  viewing the victim’s email and call history; and abusing that access to harass and scam their friends and family.

The lawmakers asked the FCC to divulge whether it tracks consumer complaints about fraudulent SIM swapping and number “port-outs,” which involve moving the victim’s phone number to another carrier. The legislators demanded to know whether the commission offers any guidance for consumers or carriers on this important issue, and if the FCC has initiated any investigations or taken enforcement actions against carriers that failed to secure customer accounts.

The letter also requires the FCC to respond as to whether there is anything in federal regulations that prevents mobile carriers from sharing with banks information about the most recent SIM swap date of a customer as a way to flag potentially suspicious login attempts — a method already used by financial institutions in other countries, including Australia, the United Kingdom and several nations in Africa.

“Some carriers, both in the U.S. and abroad, have adopted policies that better protect consumers from SIM swaps, such as allowing customers to add optional security protections to their account that prevent SIM swaps unless the customer visits a store and shows ID,” the letter continues. “Unfortunately, implementation of these additional security measures by wireless carriers in the U.S. is still spotty and consumers are not likely to find out about the availability of these obscure, optional security features until it is too late.”

The FCC did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Continue reading →


15
Jan 19

“Stole $24 Million But Still Can’t Keep a Friend”

Unsettling new claims have emerged about Nicholas Truglia, a 21-year-old Manhattan resident accused of hijacking cell phone accounts to steal tens of millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies from victims. The lurid details, made public in a civil lawsuit filed this week by one of his alleged victims, paints a chilling picture of a man addicted to thievery and all its trappings. The documents suggest that Truglia stole from his father and even a dead man — all the while lamenting that his fabulous new wealth brought him nothing but misery.

The unflattering profile was laid out in a series of documents tied to a lawsuit lodged by Michael Terpin, a cryptocurrency investor who co-founded the first angel investor group for bitcoin enthusiasts in 2013. Terpin alleges that crooks stole almost $24 million worth of cryptocurrency after fraudulently executing a “SIM swap” on his mobile phone account at AT&T in early 2018. Terpin also is pursuing a $200 million civil lawsuit against AT&T in connection with the theft.

Authorities arrested Truglia on November 14, 2018 on suspicion of using SIM swaps to steal approximately $1 million worth of cryptocurrencies from a different Silicon Valley executive. But Terpin’s civil lawsuit (PDF) maintains that evidence was revealed at Truglia’s bail hearing that he had texted his father and multiple friends to brag about the $24 million hack on the day of Terpin’s theft, allegedly offering to take friends to the Super Bowl with “porn star escorts.”

Terpin’s lawsuit includes a large number of supporting documents, including an affidavit filed by Chris David, a 25-year-old New York City resident who claims to have been an acquaintance of Truglia’s until he began to unravel the source of his new friend’s overnight riches.

In his affidavit (PDF), David describes himself as a self-employed private jet broker who met Truglia in a fitness center attached to Truglia’s luxury apartment building. Truglia allegedly struck up a conversation about booking private jets with his cryptocurrency. When the two met again a few days later, David says Truglia showed him accounts on his mobile phone and computer indicating he had over $7 million in cash in a JP Morgan account and more than $12 million in various cryptocurrencies.

“At the same time, Nick showed me two thumb drives (Trezors),” David recounted. “One had over $40 million in cash value of various cryptos, and the other one had over $20 million cash value of various cryptos.”

David said Truglia initially explained his wealth by saying he’d made the money by mining cryptocurrencies, but that Truglia later would admit he stole the funds.

“Over the next few months, Nick and I socialized at nightclubs, local bars, the gym, and in his apartment playing video games,” David recounted. “Gradually, I got to know Nick. He does not have a job or visible means of support. His typical day is to get up late, go to the gym, eat at the deli across the street, play video games late into the night and he had no friends. Nick was an egotistical braggart about his life and wealth. For example, once at a crowded lounge, he said: ‘Chris, I have more money than all of the people here tonight.'”

David started documenting Truglia’s activities after he and several of his friends were arrested for allegedly stealing Truglia’s laptop, mobile phone and Trezor drive. That incident, recounted in this New York Post story  and in David’s own testimony, indicates that Truglia later recanted the accusation and chalked it up to confusion resulting from a heavy night of drinking.

According to David, when Truglia wasn’t bragging about his wealth he was displaying it openly: He lived in a $6,000 per month apartment, wore a Rolex watch which he claimed cost $100,000, and boasted he was going to purchase a $250,000 McLaren sports car. David also said he recorded conversations with Truglia in which the latter admitted to stealing $24 million from Terpin.

David said he even witnessed Truglia attempting a SIM swap at a Times Square AT&T store in August 2018. Here’s David’s account of that hijack effort, which allegedly failed when Truglia declined to pay the target’s overdue phone bill:

The affidavit states that later in the month David took screen shots of a now-defunct Twitter account that Truglia allegedly used (@erupts), which included six different messages about what the theft of $24 million had wrought.

Tweets from the account @erupts, allegedly penned by Nicholas Truglia.

“Stole 24 million but still can’t keep a friend,” reads another tweet allegedly tied to Truglia’s account:

David says Truglia even acknowledged stealing $15,000 after hacking into his own father’s accounts. According to David, Truglia’s dad asked to be repaid, and that his son agreed to return the money — but in bitcoin. In the image below — which David claims was a screenshot he took of a mobile phone chat conversation between Truglia and his father — the elder expresses mystification and frustration about how to complete the transaction.

A screen shot David says he took of an alleged chat conversation between Truglia and his father regarding repayment of $15,000.

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16
Aug 18

Hanging Up on Mobile in the Name of Security

An entrepreneur and virtual currency investor is suing AT&T for $224 million, claiming the wireless provider was negligent when it failed to prevent thieves from hijacking his mobile account and stealing millions of dollars in cryptocurrencies. Increasingly frequent, high-profile attacks like these are prompting some experts to say the surest way to safeguard one’s online accounts may be to disconnect them from the mobile providers entirely.

The claims come in a lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles on behalf of Michael Terpin, who co-founded the first angel investor group for bitcoin enthusiasts in 2013. Terpin alleges that crooks stole almost $24 million worth of cryptocurrency after fraudulently executing a “SIM swap” on his mobile phone account at AT&T in early 2018.

A SIM card is the tiny, removable chip in a mobile device that allows it to connect to the provider’s network. Customers can legitimately request a SIM swap when their existing SIM card has been damaged, or when they are switching to a different phone that requires a SIM card of another size.

But SIM swaps are frequently abused by scam artists who trick mobile providers into tying a target’s service to a new SIM card and mobile phone that the attackers control. Unauthorized SIM swaps often are perpetrated by fraudsters who have already stolen or phished a target’s password, as many banks and online services rely on text messages to send users a one-time code that needs to be entered in addition to a password for online authentication.

Terpin alleges that on January 7, 2018, someone requested an unauthorized SIM swap on his AT&T account, causing his phone to go dead and sending all incoming texts and phone calls to a device the attackers controlled. Armed with that access, the intruders were able to reset credentials tied to his cryptocurrency accounts and siphon nearly $24 million worth of digital currencies.

According to Terpin, this was the second time in six months someone had hacked his AT&T number. On June 11, 2017, Terpin’s phone went dead. He soon learned his AT&T password had been changed remotely after 11 attempts in AT&T stores had failed. At the time, AT&T suggested Terpin take advantage of the company’s “extra security” feature — a customer-specified six-digit PIN which is required before any account changes can be made.

Terpin claims an investigation by AT&T into the 2018 breach found that an employee at an AT&T store in Norwich, Conn. somehow executed the SIM swap on his account without having to enter his “extra security” PIN, and that AT&T knew or should have known that employees could bypass its customer security measures.

Terpin is suing AT&T for his $24 million worth of cryptocurrencies, plus $200 million in punitive damages. A copy of his complaint is here (PDF).

AT&T declined to comment on specific claims in the lawsuit, saying only in a statement that, “We dispute these allegations and look forward to presenting our case in court.”

AN ‘IDENTITY CRISIS’?

Mobile phone companies are a major weak point in authentication because so many companies have now built their entire procedure for authenticating customers on a process that involves sending a one-time code to the customer via SMS or automated phone call.

In some cases, thieves executing SIM swaps have already phished or otherwise stolen a target’s bank or email password. But many major social media platforms — such as Instagramallow users to reset their passwords using nothing more than text-based (SMS) authentication, meaning thieves can hijack those accounts just by having control over the target’s mobile phone number.

Allison Nixon is director of security research at Flashpoint, a security company in New York City that has been closely tracking the murky underworld of communities that teach people how to hijack phone numbers assigned to customer accounts at all of the major mobile providers.

Nixon calls the current SIM-jacking craze “a major identity crisis” for cybersecurity on multiple levels.

“Phone numbers were never originally intended as an identity document, they were designed as a way to contact people,” Nixon said. “But because of all these other companies are building in security measures, a phone number has become an identity document.”

In essence, mobile phone companies have become “critical infrastructure” for security precisely because so much is riding on who controls a given mobile number. At the same time, so little is needed to undo weak security controls put in place to prevent abuse.

“The infrastructure wasn’t designed to withstand the kind of attacks happening now,” Nixon said. “The protocols need to be changed, and there are probably laws affecting the telecom companies that need to be reviewed in light of how these companies have evolved.”

Unfortunately, with the major mobile providers so closely tied to your security, there is no way you can remove the most vulnerable chunks of this infrastructure — the mobile store employees who can be paid or otherwise bamboozled into helping these attacks succeed.

No way, that is, unless you completely disconnect your mobile phone number from any sort of SMS-based authentication you currently use, and replace it with Internet-based telephone services that do not offer “helpful” customer support — such as Google Voice.

Google Voice lets users choose a phone number that gets tied to their Google account, and any calls or messages to that number will be forwarded to your mobile number. But unlike phone numbers issued by the major mobile providers, Google Voice numbers can’t be stolen unless someone also hacks your Google password — in which case you likely have much bigger problems.

With Google Voice, there is no customer service person who can be conned over the phone into helping out. There is no retail-store employee who will sell access to your SIM information for a paltry $80 payday. In this view of security, customer service becomes a customer disservice.

Mind you, this isn’t my advice. The above statement summarizes the arguments allegedly made by one of the most accomplished SIM swap thieves in the game today. On July 12, 2018, police in California arrested Joel Ortiz, a 20-year-old college student from Boston who’s accused of using SIM swaps to steal more than $5 million in cryptocurrencies from 40 victims.

Ortiz allegedly had help from a number of unnamed accomplices who collectively targeted high-profile and wealthy people in the cryptocurrency space. In one of three brazen attacks at a bitcoin conference this year, Ortiz allegedly used his SIM swapping skills to steal more than $1.5 million from a cryptocurrency entrepreneur, including nearly $1 million the victim had crowdfunded.

A July 2018 posting from the “OG” Instagram account “0”, allegedly an account hijacked by Joel Ortiz (pictured holding an armload of Dom Perignon champagne).

Ortiz reportedly was a core member of OGUsers[dot]com, a forum that’s grown wildly popular among criminals engaging in SIM swaps to steal cryptocurrency and hijack high-value social media accounts. OG is short for “original gangster,” and it refers to a type of “street cred” for possession of social media account names that are relatively short (between one and six characters). On ogusers[dot]com, Ortiz allegedly picked the username “j”. Short usernames are considered more valuable because they confer on the account holder the appearance of an early adopter on most social networks.

Discussions on the Ogusers forum indicate Ortiz allegedly is the current occupant of perhaps the most OG username on Twitter — an account represented by the number zero “0”. The alias displayed on that twitter profile is “j0”. He also apparently controls the Instagram account by the same number, as well as the Instagram account “t”, which lists its alias as “Joel.”

Shown below is a cached snippet from an Ogusers forum posting by “j” (allegedly Ortiz), advising people to remove their mobile phone number from all important multi-factor authentication options, and to replace it with something like Google Voice.

Ogusers SIM swapper “j” advises forum members on how not to become victims of SIM swapping. Click to enlarge.

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