Posts Tagged: National Crime Agency


25
Sep 20

Who is Tech Investor John Bernard?

John Bernard, the subject of a story here last week about a self-proclaimed millionaire investor who has bilked countless tech startups, appears to be a pseudonym for John Clifton Davies, a U.K. man who absconded from justice before being convicted on multiple counts of fraud in 2015. Prior to his conviction, Davies served 16 months in jail before being cleared of murdering his wife on their honeymoon in India.

The Private Office of John Bernard, which advertises itself as a capital investment firm based in Switzerland, has for years been listed on multiple investment sites as the home of a millionaire who made his fortunes in the dot-com boom 20 years ago and who has oodles of cash to invest in tech startups.

But as last week’s story noted, Bernard’s investment company is a bit like a bad slot machine that never pays out. KrebsOnSecurity interviewed multiple investment brokers who all told the same story: After promising to invest millions after one or two phone calls and with little or no pushback, Bernard would insist that companies pay tens of thousands of dollars worth of due diligence fees up front.

However, the due diligence company he insisted on using — another Swiss firm called Inside Knowledge — also was secretly owned by Bernard, who would invariably pull out of the deal after receiving the due diligence money.

Neither Mr. Bernard nor anyone from his various companies responded to multiple requests for comment over the past few weeks. What’s more, virtually all of the employee profiles tied to Bernard’s office have since last week removed those firms from their work experience as listed on their LinkedIn resumes — or else deleted their profiles altogether.

Sometime on Thursday John Bernard’s main website — the-private-office.ch — replaced the content on its homepage with a note saying it was closing up shop.

“We are pleased to announce that we are currently closing The Private Office fund as we have reached our intended investment level and that we now plan to focus on helping those companies we have invested into to grow and succeed,” the message reads.

As noted in last week’s story, the beauty of a scam like the one multiple investment brokers said was being run by Mr. Bernard is that companies bilked by small-time investment schemes rarely pursue legal action, mainly because the legal fees involved can quickly surpass the losses. What’s more, most victims will likely be too ashamed to come forward.

Also, John Bernard’s office typically did not reach out to investment brokers directly. Rather, he had his firm included on a list of angel investors focused on technology companies, so those seeking investments usually came to him.

Finally, multiple sources interviewed for this story said Bernard’s office offered a finders fee for any investment leads that brokers brought his way. While such commissions are not unusual, the amount promised — five percent of the total investment in a given firm that signed an agreement — is extremely generous. However, none of the investment brokers who spoke to KrebsOnSecurity were able to collect those fees, because Bernard’s office never actually consummated any of the deals they referred to him. Continue reading →


25
Jun 20

New Charges, Sentencing in Satori IoT Botnet Conspiracy

The U.S. Justice Department today charged a Canadian and a Northern Ireland man for allegedly conspiring to build botnets that enslaved hundreds of thousands of routers and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices for use in large-scale distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. In addition, a defendant in the United States was sentenced today to drug treatment and 18 months community confinement for his admitted role in the botnet conspiracy.

Indictments unsealed by a federal court in Alaska today allege 20-year-old Aaron Sterritt from Larne, Northern Ireland, and 21-year-old Logan Shwydiuk of Saskatoon, Canada conspired to build, operate and improve their IoT crime machines over several years.

Prosecutors say Sterritt, using the hacker aliases “Vamp” and “Viktor,” was the brains behind the computer code that powered several potent and increasingly complex IoT botnet strains that became known by exotic names such as “Masuta,” “Satori,” “Okiru” and “Fbot.”

Shwydiuk, a.k.a. “Drake,” “Dingle, and “Chickenmelon,” is alleged to have taken the lead in managing sales and customer support for people who leased access to the IoT botnets to conduct their own DDoS attacks.

A third member of the botnet conspiracy — 22-year-old Kenneth Currin Schuchman of Vancouver, Wash. — pleaded guilty in Sept. 2019 to aiding and abetting computer intrusions in September 2019. Schuchman, whose role was to acquire software exploits that could be used to infect new IoT devices, was sentenced today by a judge in Alaska to 18 months of community confinement and drug treatment, followed by three years of supervised release.

Kenneth “Nexus-Zeta” Schuchman, in an undated photo.

The government says the defendants built and maintained their IoT botnets by constantly scanning the Web for insecure devices. That scanning primarily targeted devices that were placed online with weak, factory default settings and/or passwords. But the group also seized upon a series of newly-discovered security vulnerabilities in these IoT systems — commandeering devices that hadn’t yet been updated with the latest software patches.

Some of the IoT botnets enslaved hundreds of thousands of hacked devices. For example, by November 2017, Masuta had infected an estimated 700,000 systems, allegedly allowing the defendants to launch crippling DDoS attacks capable of hurling 100 gigabits of junk data per second at targets — enough firepower to take down many large websites.

In 2015, then 15-year-old Sterritt was involved in the high-profile hack against U.K. telecommunications provider TalkTalk. Sterritt later pleaded guilty to his part in the intrusion, and at his sentencing in 2018 was ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.

The indictments against Sterritt and Shwydiuk (PDF) do not mention specific DDoS attacks thought to have been carried out with the IoT botnets. In an interview today with KrebsOnSecurity, prosecutors in Alaska declined to discuss any of their alleged offenses beyond building, maintaining and selling the above-mentioned IoT botnets.

But multiple sources tell KrebsOnSecuirty Vamp was principally responsible for the 2016 massive denial-of-service attack that swamped Dyn — a company that provides core Internet services for a host of big-name Web sites. On October 21, 2016, an attack by a Mirai-based IoT botnet variant overwhelmed Dyn’s infrastructure, causing outages at a number of top Internet destinations, including Twitter, Spotify, Reddit and others.

In 2018, authorities with the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) interviewed a suspect in connection with the Dyn attack, but ultimately filed no charges against the youth because all of his digital devices had been encrypted.

“The principal suspect of this investigation is a UK national resident in Northern Ireland,” reads a June 2018 NCA brief on their investigation into the Dyn attack (PDF), dubbed Operation Midmonth. “In 2018 the subject returned for interview, however there was insufficient evidence against him to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.”

The login prompt for Nexus Zeta’s IoT botnet included the message “Masuta is powered and hosted on Brian Kreb’s [sic] 4head.” To be precise, it’s a 5head.

Continue reading →


28
May 20

UK Ad Campaign Seeks to Deter Cybercrime

The United Kingdom’s anti-cybercrime agency is running online ads aimed at young people who search the Web for services that enable computer crimes, specifically trojan horse programs and DDoS-for-hire services. The ad campaign follows a similar initiative launched in late 2017 that academics say measurably dampened demand for such services by explaining that their use to harm others is illegal and can land potential customers in jail.

For example, search in Google for the terms “booter” or “stresser” from a U.K. Internet address, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a paid ad show up on the first page of results warning that using such services to attack others online is illegal. The ads are being paid for by the U.K.’s National Crime Agency, which saw success with a related campaign for six months starting in December 2017.

A Google ad campaign paid for by the U.K.’s National Crime Agency.

NCA Senior Manager David Cox said the agency is targeting its ads to U.K. males age 13 to 22 who are searching for booter services or different types of remote access trojans (RATs), as part of an ongoing effort to help steer young men away from cybercrime and toward using their curiosity and skills for good. The ads link to advertorials and to the U.K.’s Cybersecurity Challenge, which tries gamify computer security concepts and highlight potential careers in cybersecurity roles.

“The fact is, those standing in front of a classroom teaching children have less information about cybercrime than those they’re trying to teach,” Cox said, noting that the campaign is designed to support so-called “knock-and-talk” visits, where investigators visit the homes of young people who’ve downloaded malware or purchased DDoS-for-hire services to warn them away from such activity. “This is all about showing people there are other paths they can take.”

While it may seem obvious to the casual reader that deploying some malware-as-a-service or using a booter to knock someone or something offline can land one in legal hot water, the typical profile of those who frequent these services is young, male, impressionable and participating in online communities of like-minded people in which everyone else is already doing it.

In 2017, the NCA published “Pathways into Cyber Crime,” a report that drew upon interviews conducted with a number of young men who were visited by U.K. law enforcement agents in connection with various cybercrime investigations.

Those findings, which the NCA said came about through knock-and-talk interviews with a number of suspected offenders, found that 61 percent of suspects began engaging in criminal hacking before the age of 16, and that the average age of suspects and arrests of those involved in hacking cases was 17 years old.

The majority of those engaged in, or on the periphery of, cyber crime, told the NCA they became involved via an interest in computer gaming.

A large proportion of offenders began to participate in gaming cheat websites and “modding” forums, and later progressed to criminal hacking forums.

The NCA learned the individuals visited had just a handful of primary motivations in mind, including curiosity, overcoming a challenge, or proving oneself to a larger group of peers. According to the report, a typical offender faces a perfect storm of ill-boding circumstances, including a perceived low risk of getting caught, and a perception that their offenses in general amounted to victimless crimes.

“Law enforcement activity does not act as a deterrent, as individuals consider cyber crime to be low risk,” the NCA report found. “Debrief subjects have stated that they did not consider law enforcement until someone they knew or had heard of was arrested. For deterrence to work, there must be a closing of the gap between offender (or potential offender) with law enforcement agencies functioning as a visible presence for these individuals.”

Cox said the NCA will continue to run the ads indefinitely, and that it is seeking funding from outside sources — including major companies in online gaming industry, whose platforms are perhaps the most targeted by DDoS-for-hire services. He called the program a “great success,” noting that in the past 30 days (13 of which the ads weren’t running for funding reasons), the ads generated some 5.32 million impressions, and more than 57,000 clicks.

FLATTENING THE CURVE

Richard Clayton is director of the University of Cambridge Cybercrime Centre, which has been monitoring DDoS attacks for several years using a variety of sensors across the Internet that pretend to be the types of systems which are typically commandeered and abused to help launch such assaults.

Last year, Clayton and fellow Cambridge researchers published a paper showing that law enforcement interventions — including the NCA’s anti-DDoS ad campaign between 2017 and 2018 — demonstrably slowed the growth in demand for DDoS-for-hire services.

“Our data shows that by running that ad campaign, the NCA managed to flatten out demand for booter services over that period,” Clayton said. “In other words, the demand for these services didn’t grow over the period as we would normally see, and we didn’t see more people doing it at the end of the period than at the beginning. When we showed this to the NCA, they were ever so pleased, because that campaign cost them less than ten thousand [pounds sterling] and it stopped this type of cybercrime from growing for six months.”

The Cambridge study found various interventions by law enforcement officials had measurable effects on the demand for and damage caused by booter and stresser services. Source: Booting the Booters, 2019.

Clayton said part of the problem is that many booter/stresser providers claim they’re offering lawful services, and many of their would-be customers are all too eager to believe this is true. Also, the price point is affordable: A typical booter service will allow customers to launch fairly high-powered DDoS attacks for just a few dollars per month.

“There are legitimate companies that provide these types of services in a legal manner, but there are all types of agreements that have to be in place before this can happen,” Clayton said. “And you don’t get that for ten bucks a month.” Continue reading →


14
Jan 19

Courts Hand Down Hard Jail Time for DDoS

Seldom do people responsible for launching crippling cyberattacks face justice, but increasingly courts around the world are making examples of the few who do get busted for such crimes. On Friday, a 34-year-old Connecticut man received a whopping 10-year prison sentence for carrying out distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against a number of hospitals in 2014. Also last week, a 30-year-old in the United Kingdom was sentenced to 32 months in jail for using an army of hacked devices to crash large portions of Liberia’s Internet access in 2016.

Daniel Kaye. Photo: National Crime Agency

Daniel Kaye, an Israel-U.K. dual citizen, admitted attacking an African phone company in 2016, and to inadvertently knocking out Internet access for much of the country in the process. Kaye launched the attack using a botnet powered by Mirai, a malware strain that enslaves hacked Internet of Things (IoT) devices like poorly-secured Internet routers and Web-based cameras for use in large-scale cyberattacks.

According to court testimony, Kaye was hired in 2015 to attack Lonestar, Liberia’s top mobile phone and Internet provider. Kaye pocketed $10,000 for the attack, which was alleged to have been paid for by an individual working for Cellcom, Lonestar’s competitor in the region. As reported by Israeli news outlet Haaretz, Kaye testified that the attack was ordered by the CEO of Cellcom Liberia.

In February 2017, authorities in the United Kingdom arrested Kaye and extradited him to Germany to face charges of knocking more than 900,000 Germans offline in a Mirai attack in November 2016. Prosecutors withheld Kaye’s full name throughout the trial in Germany, but in July 2017 KrebsOnSecurity published findings that named Kaye as the likely culprit. Kaye ultimately received a suspended sentence for the attack in Germany, and was sent back to the U.K. to face charges there.

The July 2017 KrebsOnSecurity investigation also linked Kaye to the development and sale of a sophisticated piece of spyware named GovRAT, which is documented to have been used in numerous cyber espionage campaigns against governments, financial institutions, defense contractors and more than 100 corporations.

The U.K.’s National Crime Agency called Kaye perhaps the most significant cyber criminal yet caught in Britain. A report on the trial from the BBC says Kaye wept as he was taken away to jail. Continue reading →


6
Sep 18

Leader of DDoS-for-Hire Gang Pleads Guilty to Bomb Threats

A 19-year-old man from the United Kingdom who headed a cybercriminal group whose motto was “Feds Can’t Touch Us” pleaded guilty this week to making bomb threats against thousands of schools.

On Aug. 31, officers with the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) arrested Hertfordshire resident George Duke-Cohan, who admitted making bomb threats to thousands of schools and a United Airlines flight traveling from the U.K. to San Francisco last month.

One of many tweets from the attention-starved Apophis Squad, which launched multiple DDoS attacks against KrebsOnsecurity and Protonmail over the past few months.

Duke-Cohan — a.k.a. “7R1D3N7,” “DoubleParallax” and “Optcz1” — was among the most vocal members of a group of Internet hooligans that goes by the name “Apophis Squad,” which for the better part of 2018 has been launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against multiple Web sites, including KrebsOnSecurity and Protonmail.com.

Incredibly, all self-described members of Duke-Cohan’s clique were active users of Protonmail, even as they repeatedly attacked its servers and taunted the company on social media.

“What we found, combined with intelligence provided by renowned cyber security journalist Brian Krebs, allowed us to conclusively identify Duke-Cohan as a member of Apophis Squad in the first week of August, and we promptly informed law enforcement,” Protonmail wrote in a blog post published today. “British police did not move to immediately arrest Duke-Cohan however, and we believe there were good reasons for that. Unfortunately, this meant that through much of August, ProtonMail remained under attack, but due to the efforts of Radware, ProtonMail users saw no impact.” Continue reading →


25
Apr 18

DDoS-for-Hire Service Webstresser Dismantled

Authorities in the U.S., U.K. and the Netherlands on Tuesday took down popular online attack-for-hire service WebStresser.org and arrested its alleged administrators. Investigators say that prior to the takedown, the service had more than 136,000 registered users and was responsible for launching somewhere between four and six million attacks over the past three years.

The action, dubbed “Operation Power Off,” targeted WebStresser.org (previously Webstresser.co), one of the most active services for launching point-and-click distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. WebStresser was one of many so-called “booter” or “stresser” services — virtual hired muscle that anyone can rent to knock nearly any website or Internet user offline.

Webstresser.org (formerly Webstresser.co), as it appeared in 2017.

“The damage of these attacks is substantial,” reads a statement from the Dutch National Police in a Reddit thread about the takedown. “Victims are out of business for a period of time, and spend money on mitigation and on (other) security measures.”

In a separate statement released this morning, Europol — the law enforcement agency of the European Union — said “further measures were taken against the top users of this marketplace in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong.” The servers powering WebStresser were located in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, according to Europol.

The U.K.’s National Crime Agency said WebStresser could be rented for as little as $14.99, and that the service allowed people with little or no technical knowledge to launch crippling DDoS attacks around the world.

Neither the Dutch nor U.K. authorities would say who was arrested in connection with this takedown. But according to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, the administrator of WebStresser allegedly was a 19-year-old from Prokuplje, Serbia named Jovan Mirkovic.

Mirkovic, who went by the hacker nickname “m1rk,” also used the alias “Mirkovik Babs” on Facebook where for years he openly discussed his role in programming and ultimately running WebStresser. The last post on Mirkovic’s Facebook page, dated April 3 (the day before the takedown), shows the young hacker sipping what appears to be liquor while bathing. Below that image are dozens of comments left in the past few hours, most of them simply, “RIP.”

Continue reading →


17
Nov 16

Adobe Fined $1M in Multistate Suit Over 2013 Breach; No Jail for Spamhaus Attacker

Adobe will pay just $1 million to settle a lawsuit filed by 15 state attorneys general over its huge 2013 data breach that exposed payment records on approximately 38 million people. In other news, the 39-year-old Dutchman responsible for coordinating an epic, weeks-long distributed denial-of-service attack against anti-spam provider Spamhaus in 2013 will avoid any jail time for his crimes thanks to a court ruling in Amsterdam this week.

On Oct. 3, 2013, KrebsOnSecurity broke the story that Adobe had just suffered a breach in which hackers siphoned usernames, passwords and payment card data on 38 million customers. The intruders also made off with digital truckloads of source code for some of Adobe’s most valuable software properties — including Adobe Acrobat and Reader, Photoshop and ColdFusion.

On Monday, Nov. 11, North Carolina Attorney General  Roy Cooper joined his counterparts in 14 other states in announcing a $1 million settlement with Adobe over the 2013 breach. According to Cooper, the hacked Adobe servers contained the personal information of approximately 552,000 residents of the participating 15 states. That works out to about $1.80 per victim across all 15 states.

A posting on anonnews.org that was later deleted.

A posting on anonnews.org that was later deleted.

According to a statement by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, “an investigation by the states revealed that in September 2013, Adobe received an alert that the hard drive for one of its application servers was nearing capacity. In responding to the alert, Adobe learned that an unauthorized attempt was being made to decrypt customer payment card numbers maintained on the server.”

“Adobe discovered that one or more unauthorized intruder(s) had compromised a public-facing web server and used it to access other servers on Adobe’s network, including areas where Adobe stored consumer data,” the statement from Healey’s office reads. “The intruder(s) ultimately stole consumer data from Adobe’s servers, including encrypted payment card numbers and expiration dates, names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, usernames (Adobe IDs), and passwords associated with the usernames.”

When I think of the Adobe breach I’m reminded of that scene out of the 1982 Spielberg horror classic “Poltergeist,” when Craig T. Nelson as “Steve Freeling” seizes the horrified neighborhood developer Mr. Teague by his coat collars and screams, “You son of a bitch! You moved the cemetery but you left the bodies, didn’t ya?! You left left the bodies and you only moved the headstones!! Why?!?!?! Whyyyyyyeeeiee??!?!?”

A scene from Poltergeist. Image: IMDB.

A scene from Poltergeist. Image: IMDB.

Likewise, Adobe had various storefronts for its various software products, but it eventually centralized many store operations. The main trouble was the company left copies of their customer records in multiple internal network locations that were no longer as protected as Adobe’s globally centralized storefront.

North Carolina’s Cooper said in a statement on the settlement that businesses and government must do more to protect consumer data. But if this settlement was meant as a deterrent to dissuade other companies from hosting customer payment data on public-facing Web servers, the fine might be more effective if it were more commensurate with the company’s size and the number of customers impacted.

As Digital Trends notes, such a breach under the new General Data Protection Regulation going into effect in 2018, would be quite a bit more costly. “Adobe could face fines of up to four percent of its annual global turnover,” wrote Jonathan Keane for DT. “Last we checked, Adobe’s previous quarterly earnings were $1.4 billion.”

Keane also notes that Adobe had previously settled a similar case in California where it settled for an undisclosed amount and $1.1 million in legal fees.

One interesting nugget tucked in at the end of the statement from the North Carolina AG’s office is this bit: More than 3,700 breaches impacting nearly 10 million North Carolinians have been reported since the state’s data breach notification law took effect in 2005, including 677 breaches reported so far in 2016. According to the United States Census Bureau, there were just over 10 million residents in North Carolina as of July 2015. Continue reading →


4
Nov 16

Ne’er-Do-Well News and Cyber Justice

Way back in the last millennium when I was a lowly copy aide at The Washington Post, I pitched the Metro Section editor on an idea for new column: “And the Good News Is…” The editor laughed me out of her office. But I still think it’s a decent idea — particularly in the context of cybersecurity — to periodically highlight the good news when people allegedly responsible for spewing so much badness online are made to face justice.

NCA officials lead away a suspect arrested in this week's raids. Image: NCA.

NCA officials lead away a suspect arrested in this week’s raids. Image: NCA.

In the United Kingdom this week, 14 people were arrested on suspicion of laundering at least £11 million (~USD $13.7M) on behalf of thieves who stole the money using sophisticated banking Trojans like Dridex and Dyre. A statement issued by the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said 13 men and a woman, aged between 23 and 52, were arrested in the roundup, including a number of foreign nationals.

The NCA warned in a report released this year that cybercrime had overtaken traditional crime in the United Kingdom. According to the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics, there were 2.46 million cyber incidents and 2.11 million victims of cybercrime in the U.K. in 2015.

Also in the U.K., 19-year-old Adam Mudd pleaded guilty to operating and profiting from Titanium Stresser, an attack-for-hire or “booter” service that could be hired to knock Web sites offline. When U.K. authorities arrested Mudd at his home last year, they found detailed records of the attack service’s customers and victims, which included evidence of more than 1.7 million attacks. Prosecutors say Mudd launched the service when he was 15 years old.

TitaniumStresser[dot]net, as it appeared in 2014.

TitaniumStresser[dot]net, as it appeared in 2014.

As I noted in this 2014 story, the source code for Titanium Stresser was later used by miscreants with the Lizard Squad hacking group to power their Lizard Stresser attack service. Happily, two other 19-year-olds were arrested earlier this month and accused of operating the Lizard Stresser attack service. It’s nice to see authorities here and abroad sending a message that operating booter service can land you in jail, full stop. Continue reading →


28
Aug 15

Six Nabbed for Using LizardSquad Attack Tool

Authorities in the United Kingdom this week arrested a half-dozen young males accused of using the Lizard Squad’s Lizard Stresser tool, an online service that allowed paying customers to launch attacks capable of taking Web sites offline for up to eight hours at a time.

The Lizard Stresser came to prominence not long after Christmas Day 2014, when a group of young n’er-do-wells calling itself the Lizard Squad used the tool to knock offline the Sony Playstation and Microsoft Xbox gaming networks. As first reported by KrebsOnSecurity on Jan. 9, the Lizard Stresser drew on Internet bandwidth from hacked home Internet routers around the globe that are protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords. The LizardStresser service was hacked just days after that Jan. 9 story, and disappeared shortly after that.

The Lizard Stresser's add-on plans. In case it wasn't clear, this service is *not* sponsored by Brian Krebs.

The Lizard Stresser’s add-on plans. In case it wasn’t clear, this service was *not* sponsored by Brian Krebs as suggested in the screenshot.

“Those arrested are suspected of maliciously deploying Lizard Stresser, having bought the tool using alternative payment services such as Bitcoin in a bid to remain anonymous,” reads a statement from the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA). “Organisations believed to have been targeted by the suspects include a leading national newspaper, a school, gaming companies and a number of online retailers.” Continue reading →