Posts Tagged: Paras Jha


19
Sep 18

Mirai Botnet Authors Avoid Jail Time

Citing “extraordinary cooperation” with the government, a court in Alaska on Tuesday sentenced three men to probation, community service and fines for their admitted roles in authoring and using “Mirai,” a potent malware strain used in countless attacks designed to knock Web sites offline — including an enormously powerful attack in 2016 that sidelined this Web site for nearly four days.

The men — 22-year-old Paras Jha Fanwood, New Jersey,  Josiah White, 21 of Washington, Pa., and Dalton Norman from Metairie, La. — were each sentenced to five years probation, 2,500 hours of community service, and ordered to pay $127,000 in restitution for the damage caused by their malware.

Mirai enslaves poorly secured “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices like security cameras, digital video recorders (DVRs) and routers for use in large-scale online attacks.

Not long after Mirai first surfaced online in August 2016, White and Jha were questioned by the FBI about their suspected role in developing the malware. At the time, the men were renting out slices of their botnet to other cybercriminals.

Weeks later, the defendants sought to distance themselves from their creation by releasing the Mirai source code online. That action quickly spawned dozens of copycat Mirai botnets, some of which were used in extremely powerful denial-of-service attacks that often caused widespread collateral damage beyond their intended targets.

A depiction of the outages caused by the Mirai attacks on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company. Source: Downdetector.com.

The source code release also marked a period in which the three men began using their botnet for far more subtle and less noisy criminal moneymaking schemes, including click fraud — a form of online advertising fraud that costs advertisers billions of dollars each year.

In September 2016, KrebsOnSecurity was hit with a record-breaking denial-of-service attack from tens of thousands of Mirai-infected devices, forcing this site offline for several days. Using the pseudonym “Anna_Senpai,” Jha admitted to a friend at the time that the attack on this site was paid for by a customer who rented tens of thousands of Mirai-infected systems from the trio.

In January 2017, KrebsOnSecurity published the results of a four-month investigation into Mirai which named both Jha and White as the likely co-authors of the malware.  Eleven months later, the U.S. Justice Department announced guilty pleas by Jha, White and Norman. Continue reading →


2
Sep 18

Alleged ‘Satori’ IoT Botnet Operator Sought Media Spotlight, Got Indicted

A 20-year-old from Vancouver, Washington was indicted last week on federal hacking charges and for allegedly operating the “Satori” botnet, a malware strain unleashed last year that infected hundreds of thousands of wireless routers and other “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices. This outcome is hardly surprising given that the accused’s alleged alter ego has been relentless in seeking media attention for this global crime machine.

Schuchman, in an undated photo posted online and referenced in a “dox,” which alleged in Feb. 2018 that Schuchman was Nexus Zeta.

The Daily Beast‘s Kevin Poulsen broke the news last week that federal authorities in Alaska indicted Kenneth Currin Schuchman of Washington on two counts of violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by using malware to damage computers between August and November 2017.

The 3-page indictment (PDF) is incredibly sparse, and includes few details about the meat of the charges against Schuchman. But according to Poulsen, the charges are related to Schuchman’s alleged authorship and use of the Satori botnet. Satori, also known as “Masuta,” is a variant of the Mirai botnet, a powerful IoT malware strain that first came online in July 2016.

“Despite the havoc he supposedly wreaked, the accused hacker doesn’t seem to have been terribly knowledgeable about hacking,” Poulsen notes.

Schuchman reportedly went by the handle “Nexus Zeta,” the nickname used by a fairly inexperienced and clumsy ne’er-do-well who has tried on multiple occasions to get KrebsOnSecurity to write about the Satori botnet. In January 2018, Nexus Zeta changed the login page for his botnet control panel that he used to remotely control his hacked routers to include a friendly backhanded reference to this author:

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.

This wasn’t the first time Nexus Zeta said hello. In late November 2017, he chatted me up on on Twitter and Jabber instant message for several days. Most of the communications came from two accounts: “9gigs_ProxyPipe” on Twitter, and ogmemes123@jabber.ru (9gigs_ProxyPipe would later change its Twitter alias to Nexus Zeta, and Nexus Zeta himself admitted that 9gigs_ProxyPipe was his Twitter account.)

In each case, this person wanted to talk about a new IoT botnet that he was “researching” and that he thought deserved special attention for its size and potential disruptive impact should it be used in a massive Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack aimed at knocking a Web site offline — something for which Satori would soon become known.

A Jabber instant message conversation with Nexus Zeta on Nov. 29, 2017.

Nexus Zeta’s Twitter nickname initially confused me because both 9gigs and ProxyPipe are names claimed by Robert Coelho, owner of ProxyPipe hosting (9gigs is a bit from one of Coelho’s Skype account names). Coelho’s sleuthing was quite instrumental in helping to unmask 21-year-old New Jersey resident Paras Jha as the author of the original Mirai IoT botnet (Jha later pleaded guilty to co-authoring and using Mirai and is due to be sentenced this month in Alaska and New Jersey). “Ogmemes” is from a nickname used by Jha and his Mirai botnet co-author.

On Nov. 28, 2017, 9gigs_ProxyPipe sent a message to the KrebsOnSecurity Twitter account:

“I have some information in regards to an incredibly dangerous IoT botnet you may find interesting,” the Twitter message read. “Let me know how you would prefer to communicate assuming you are interested.”

We connected on Jabber instant message. In our chats, Ogmemes123 said he couldn’t understand why nobody had noticed a botnet powered by a Mirai variant that had infected hundreds of thousands of IoT devices (he estimated the size of the botnet to be about 300,000-500,000 at the time). He also talked a lot about how close he was with Jha. Nexus Zeta’s Twitter account profile photo is a picture of Paras Jha. He also said he knew this new botnet was being used to attack ProxyPipe.

Less than 24 hours after that tweet from Nexus Zeta, I heard from ProxyPipe’s Coelho. They were under attack from a new Mirai variant. Continue reading →


21
Dec 17

U.K. Man Avoids Jail Time in vDOS Case

A U.K. man who pleaded guilty to launching more than 2,000 cyberattacks against some of the world’s largest companies has avoided jail time for his role in the attacks. The judge in the case reportedly was moved by pleas for leniency that cited the man’s youth at the time of the attacks and a diagnosis of autism.

In early July 2017, the West Midlands Police in the U.K. arrested 19-year-old Stockport resident Jack Chappell and charged him with using a now-defunct attack-for-hire service called vDOS to launch attacks against the Web sites of AmazonBBCBTNetflixT-MobileVirgin Media, and Vodafone, between May 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016.

One of several taunting tweets Chappell sent to his DDoS victims.

Chappell also helped launder money for vDOS, which until its demise in September 2016 was by far the most popular and powerful attack-for-hire service — allowing even completely unskilled Internet users to launch crippling assaults capable of knocking most Web sites offline.

Using the Twitter handle @fractal_warrior, Chappell would taunt his victims while  launching attacks against them. The tweet below was among several sent to the Jisc Janet educational support network and Manchester College, where Chappell was a student. In total, Chappell attacked his school at least 21 times, prosecutors showed.

Another taunting Chappell tweet.

Chappell was arrested in April 2016 after investigators traced his Internet address to his home in the U.K. For more on the clues that likely led to his arrest, check out this story.

Nevertheless, the judge in the case was moved by pleas from Chappell’s lawyer, who argued that his client was just an impressionable youth at the time who has autism, a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.

The defense called on an expert who reportedly testified that Chappell was “one of the most talented people with a computer he had ever seen.”

“He is in some ways as much of a victim, he has been exploited and used,” Chappell’s attorney Stuart Kaufman told the court, according to the Manchester Evening News. “He is not malicious, he is mischievous.”

The same publication quoted Judge Maurice Greene at Chappell’s sentencing this week, saying to the young man: “You were undoubtedly taken advantage of by those more criminally sophisticated than yourself. You would be extremely vulnerable in a custodial element.”

Judge Greene decided to suspend a sentence of 16 months at a young offenders institution; Chappell will instead “undertake 20 days rehabilitation activity,” although it’s unclear exactly what that will entail.

ANALYSIS/RANT

It’s remarkable when someone so willingly and gleefully involved in a crime spree such as this can emerge from it looking like the victim. “Autistic Hacker Had Been Exploited,” declared a headline about the sentence in the U.K. newspaper The Times.

After reading the coverage of this case in the press, I half expected to see another story saying someone had pinned a medal on Chappell or offered him a job. Continue reading →


13
Dec 17

Mirai IoT Botnet Co-Authors Plead Guilty

The U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday unsealed the guilty pleas of two men first identified in January 2017 by KrebsOnSecurity as the likely co-authors of Mirai, a malware strain that remotely enslaves so-called “Internet of Things” devices such as security cameras, routers, and digital video recorders for use in large scale attacks designed to knock Web sites and entire networks offline (including multiple major attacks against this site).

Entering guilty pleas for their roles in developing and using Mirai are 21-year-old Paras Jha from Fanwood, N.J. and Josiah White, 20, from Washington, Pennsylvania.

Jha and White were co-founders of Protraf Solutions LLC, a company that specialized in mitigating large-scale DDoS attacks. Like firemen getting paid to put out the fires they started, Jha and White would target organizations with DDoS attacks and then either extort them for money to call off the attacks, or try to sell those companies services they claimed could uniquely help fend off the attacks.

CLICK FRAUD BOTNET

In addition, the Mirai co-creators pleaded guilty to charges of using their botnet to conduct click fraud — a form of online advertising fraud that will cost Internet advertisers more than $16 billion this year, according to estimates from ad verification company Adloox. 

The plea agreements state that Jha, White and another person who also pleaded guilty to click fraud conspiracy charges — a 21-year-old from Metairie, Louisiana named Dalton Norman — leased access to their botnet for the purposes of earning fraudulent advertising revenue through click fraud activity and renting out their botnet to other cybercriminals.

As part of this scheme, victim devices were used to transmit high volumes of requests to view web addresses associated with affiliate advertising content. Because the victim activity resembled legitimate views of these websites, the activity generated fraudulent profits through the sites hosting the advertising content, at the expense of online advertising companies.

Jha and his co-conspirators admitted receiving as part of the click fraud scheme approximately two hundred bitcoin, valued on January 29, 2017 at over $180,000.

Prosecutors say Norman personally earned over 30 bitcoin, valued on January 29, 2017 at approximately $27,000. The documents show that Norman helped Jha and White discover new, previously unknown vulnerabilities in IoT devices that could be used to beef up their Mirai botnet, which at its height grew to more than 300,000 hacked devices.

MASSIVE ATTACKS

The Mirai malware is responsible for coordinating some of the largest and most disruptive online attacks the Internet has ever witnessed. The biggest and first to gain widespread media attention began on Sept. 20, 2016, when KrebsOnSecurity came under a sustained distributed denial-of-service attack from more than 175,000 IoT devices (the size estimates come from this Usenix paper (PDF) on the Mirai botnet evolution).

That September 2016 digital siege maxed out at 620 Gbps, almost twice the size of the next-largest attack that Akamai — my DDoS mitigation provider at the time — had ever seen.

Continue reading →


18
Jan 17

Who is Anna-Senpai, the Mirai Worm Author?

On September 22, 2016, this site was forced offline for nearly four days after it was hit with “Mirai,” a malware strain that enslaves poorly secured Internet of Things (IoT) devices like wireless routers and security cameras into a botnet for use in large cyberattacks. Roughly a week after that assault, the individual(s) who launched that attack — using the name “Anna-Senpai” — released the source code for Mirai, spawning dozens of copycat attack armies online.

After months of digging, KrebsOnSecurity is now confident to have uncovered Anna-Senpai’s real-life identity, and the identity of at least one co-conspirator who helped to write and modify the malware.

The Hackforums post that includes links to the Mirai source code.

Mirai co-author Anna-Senpai leaked the source code for Mirai on Sept. 30, 2016.

Before we go further, a few disclosures are probably in order. First, this is easily the longest story I’ve ever written on this blog. It’s lengthy because I wanted to walk readers through my process of discovery, which has taken months to unravel. The details help in understanding the financial motivations behind Mirai and the botnet wars that preceded it. Also, I realize there are a great many names to keep track of as you read this post, so I’ve included a glossary.

The story you’re reading now is the result of hundreds of hours of research.  At times, I was desperately seeking the missing link between seemingly unrelated people and events; sometimes I was inundated with huge amounts of information — much of it intentionally false or misleading — and left to search for kernels of truth hidden among the dross.  If you’ve ever wondered why it seems that so few Internet criminals are brought to justice, I can tell you that the sheer amount of persistence and investigative resources required to piece together who’s done what to whom (and why) in the online era is tremendous.

As noted in previous KrebsOnSecurity articles, botnets like Mirai are used to knock individuals, businesses, governmental agencies, and non-profits offline on a daily basis. These so-called “distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are digital sieges in which an attacker causes thousands of hacked systems to hit a target with so much junk traffic that it falls over and remains unreachable by legitimate visitors. While DDoS attacks typically target a single Web site or Internet host, they often result in widespread collateral Internet disruption.

A great deal of DDoS activity on the Internet originates from so-called ‘booter/stresser’ services, which are essentially DDoS-for-hire services which allow even unsophisticated users to launch high-impact attacks.  And as we will see, the incessant competition for profits in the blatantly illegal DDoS-for-hire industry can lead those involved down some very strange paths, indeed.

THE FIRST CLUES

The first clues to Anna-Senpai’s identity didn’t become clear until I understood that Mirai was just the latest incarnation of an IoT botnet family that has been in development and relatively broad use for nearly three years.

Earlier this summer, my site was hit with several huge attacks from a collection of hacked IoT systems compromised by a family of botnet code that served as a precursor to Mirai. The malware went by several names, including “Bashlite,” “Gafgyt,” “Qbot,” “Remaiten,” and “Torlus.”

All of these related IoT botnet varieties infect new systems in a fashion similar to other well-known Internet worms — propagating from one infected host to another. And like those earlier Internet worms, sometimes the Internet scanning these systems perform to identify other candidates for inclusion into the botnet is so aggressive that it constitutes an unintended DDoS on the very home routers, Web cameras and DVRs that the bot code is trying to subvert and recruit into the botnet. This kind of self-defeating behavior will be familiar to those who recall the original Morris Worm, NIMDA, CODE RED, Welchia, Blaster and SQL Slammer disruptions of yesteryear.

Infected IoT devices constantly scan the Web for other IoT things to compromise, wriggling into devices that are protected by little more than insecure factory-default settings and passwords. The infected devices are then forced to participate in DDoS attacks (ironically, many of the devices most commonly infected by Mirai and similar IoT worms are security cameras).

Mirai’s ancestors had so many names because each name corresponded to a variant that included new improvements over time. In 2014, a group of Internet hooligans operating under the banner “lelddos” very publicly used the code to launch large, sustained attacks that knocked many Web sites offline.

The most frequent target of the lelddos gang were Web servers used to host Minecraft, a wildly popular computer game sold by Microsoft that can be played from any device and on any Internet connection.

The object of Minecraft is to run around and build stuff, block by large pixelated block. That may sound simplistic and boring, but an impressive number of people positively adore this game – particularly pre-teen males. Microsoft has sold more than a 100 million copies of Minecraft, and at any given time there are over a million people playing it online. Players can build their own worlds, or visit a myriad other blocky realms by logging on to their favorite Minecraft server to play with friends.

Image: Minecraft.net

Image: Minecraft.net

A large, successful Minecraft server with more than a thousand players logging on each day can easily earn the server’s owners upwards of $50,000 per month, mainly from players renting space on the server to build their Minecraft worlds, and purchasing in-game items and special abilities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top-earning Minecraft servers eventually attracted the attention of ne’er-do-wells and extortionists like the lelddos gang. Lelddos would launch a huge DDoS attack against a Minecraft server, knowing that the targeted Minecraft server owner was likely losing thousands of dollars for each day his gaming channel remained offline.

Adding urgency to the ordeal, many of the targeted server’s loyal customers would soon find other Minecraft servers to patronize if they could not get their Minecraft fix at the usual online spot.

Robert Coelho is vice president of ProxyPipe, Inc., a San Francisco company that specializes in protecting Minecraft servers from attacks.

“The Minecraft industry is so competitive,” Coelho said. “If you’re a player, and your favorite Minecraft server gets knocked offline, you can switch to another server. But for the server operators, it’s all about maximizing the number of players and running a large, powerful server. The more players you can hold on the server, the more money you make. But if you go down, you start to lose Minecraft players very fast — maybe for good.”

In June 2014, ProxyPipe was hit with a 300 gigabit per second DDoS attack launched by lelddos, which had a penchant for publicly taunting its victims on Twitter just as it began launching DDoS assaults at the taunted.

The hacker group "lelddos" tweeted at its victims before launching huge DDoS attacks against them.

The hacker group “lelddos” tweeted at its victims before launching huge DDoS attacks against them.

At the time, ProxyPipe was buying DDoS protection from Reston, Va. -based security giant Verisign. In a quarterly report published in 2014, Verisign called the attack the largest it had ever seen, although it didn’t name ProxyPipe in the report – referring to it only as a customer in the media and entertainment business.

Verisign said the 2014 attack was launched by a botnet of more than 100,000 servers running on SuperMicro IPMI boards. Days before the huge attack on ProxyPipe, a security researcher published information about a vulnerability in the SuperMicro devices that could allow them to be remotely hacked and commandeered for these sorts of attacks.

THE CENTRALITY OF PROTRAF

Coelho recalled that in mid-2015 his company’s Minecraft customers began coming under attack from a botnet made up of IoT devices infected with Qbot. He said the attacks were directly preceded by a threat made by a then-17-year-old Christopher “CJ” Sculti, Jr., the owner and sole employee of a competing DDoS protection company called Datawagon.

Datawagon also courted Minecraft servers as customers, and its servers were hosted on Internet space claimed by yet another Minecraft-focused DDoS protection provider — ProTraf Solutions.

CJ Sculti, Jr.

Christopher “CJ” Sculti, Jr.

According to Coelho, ProTraf was trying to woo many of his biggest Minecraft server customers away from ProxyPipe. Coelho said in mid-2015, Sculti reached out to him on Skype and said he was getting ready to disable Coelho’s Skype account. At the time, an exploit for a software weakness in Skype was being traded online, and this exploit could be used to remotely and instantaneously disable any Skype account.

Sure enough, Coelho recalled, his Skype account and two others used by co-workers were shut off just minutes after that threat, effectively severing a main artery of support for ProxyPipe’s customers – many of whom were accustomed to communicating with ProxyPipe via Skype.

“CJ messaged me about five minutes before the DDoS started, saying he was going to disable my skype,” Coelho said. “The scary thing about when this happens is you don’t know if your Skype account has been hacked and under control of someone else or if it just got disabled.”

Once ProxyPipe’s Skype accounts were disabled, the company’s servers were hit with a massive, constantly changing DDoS attack that disrupted ProxyPipe’s service to its Minecraft server customers. Coelho said within a few days of the attack, many of ProxyPipe’s most lucrative Minecraft servers had moved over to servers protected by ProTraf Solutions.

“In 2015, the ProTraf guys hit us offline tons, so a lot of our customers moved over to them,” Coelho said. “We told our customers that we knew [ProTraf] were the ones doing it, but some of the customers didn’t care and moved over to ProTraf anyway because they were losing money from being down.”

I found Coelho’s story fascinating because it eerily echoed the events leading up to my Sept. 2016 record 620 Gbps attack. I, too, was contacted via Skype by Sculti — on two occasions. The first was on July 7, 2015, when Sculti reached out apropos of nothing to brag about scanning the Internet for IoT devices running default usernames and passwords, saying he had uploaded some kind of program to more than a quarter-million systems that his scans found.

Here’s a snippet of that conversation:

July 7, 2015:

21:37 CJ: http://krebsonsecurity.com/2015/06/crooks-use-hacked-routers-to-aid-cyberheists/
21:37 CJ: vulnerable routers are a HUGE issue
21:37 CJ: a few months ago
21:37 CJ: I scanned the internet with a few sets of defualt logins
21:37 CJ: for telnet
21:37 CJ: and I was able to upload and execute a binary
21:38 CJ: on 250k devices
21:38 CJ: most of which were routers
21:38 Brian Krebs: o_0

The second time I heard from Sculti on Skype was Sept. 20, 2016 — the day of my 620 Gbps attack. Sculti was angry over a story I’d just published that mentioned his name, and he began rather saltily maligning the reputation of a source and friend who had helped me with that story.

Indignant on behalf of my source and annoyed at Sculti’s rant, I simply blocked his Skype account from communicating with mine and went on with my day. Just minutes after that conversation, however, my Skype account was flooded with thousands of contact requests from compromised or junk Skype accounts, making it virtually impossible to use the software for making phone calls or instant messaging.

Six hours after that Sept. 20 conversation with Sculti, the huge 620 Gbps DDoS attack commenced on this site. Continue reading →