Posts Tagged: Perfect Money

Jul 13

One-Stop Bot Chop-Shops

New fraudster-friendly content management systems are making it more likely than ever that crooks who manage botnets and other large groupings of hacked PCs will extract and sell all credentials of value that can be harvested from the compromised machines.

Templates like this are helping to spread one-stop-fraud shops.

Templates like this are helping to spread one-stop-fraud shops.

I’ve often observed that botmasters routinely fail to fully eat what they kill. That is, they tend to chronically undervalue the computers at their disposal, and instead focus on extracting specific resources from hacked PCs, such as using them as spam relays or harvesting online banking credentials. Meanwhile, other assets on the hacked PC that have street value go unused and “wasted” from the fraudster’s perspective.

More often, when miscreants do seek to extract and monetize all of the account credentials from their hacked PCs, they do so by selling access to their raw botnet “logs” — huge text files that document the notable daily activities of the botted systems. To borrow from another food metaphor, this is the digital equivalent of small farms selling their fruits and vegetables as “pick-your-own;” such commerce produces some added revenue without requiring much more work on the seller’s part.

Recently, I’ve been spotting more online fraud shops set up using what appear to be pre-set templates that can be used to sell all manner of credentials from hacked PCs. These shops all sell credit and debit card information, of course, but also lists of emails culled from victim computers, hacked VPN and RDP credentials, Cpanel installations, PHP mailers, FTP access, SSH logins, and online gambling accounts. Some of the panels are even reselling hacked credentials at popular porn sites. Goods can be purchased via virtual currencies such as Perfect Money and bitcoin.

The shop shown below — blackhatstore[dot]ru — borrows the trademarked image of the Black Hat security conference franchise. It’s sometimes said that there’s no such thing as bad press, but I’m pretty sure the folks at Black Hat don’t want their brand advertised or associated in this way (by the way, I’ll be speaking at this year’s Black Hat in Las Vegas next week). I alerted the Black Hat organizers to this fraudulent site, so I wouldn’t expect it to remain live much longer.

This bot chop shop trades on the good name and trademarks of the Black Hat security conference franchise owned by UBM Tech.

This bot chop shop trades on the good name and trademarks of the Black Hat security conference franchise owned by UBM Tech.

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May 13

Underweb Payments, Post-Liberty Reserve

Following the U.S. government’s seizure this week of virtual currency Liberty Reserve, denizens of the cybercrime underground collectively have been progressing through the classic stages of grief, from denial to anger and bargaining, and now grudging acceptance that any funds they had stashed in the e-currency system are likely gone forever. Over the past few days, the top discussion on many cybercrime forums has been which virtual currency will be the safest bet going forward?

As I mentioned in an appearance today on NPR’s show On Point, the predictable refrain from many in the underground community has been that the demise of Costa Rica-based Liberty Reserve — and of eGold, eBullion, StormPay and a host of other virtual currencies before it — is the death knell of centrally-managed e-currencies. Just as the entertainment industry’s crackdown on music file-sharing network Napster in the late 1990s spawned a plethora of decentralized peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks, the argument goes, so too does the U.S. government’s action against centrally-managed digital currencies herald the ascendancy of P2P currencies — particularly Bitcoin.

Fluctuation in BTC values. Source:

Fluctuation in BTC values. Source:

This knee-jerk reaction is understandable, given that private crime forums are now replete with postings from members who reported losing tens of thousands of LR dollars this week. But as some of the more seasoned and reasoned members of these communities point out, there are several aspects of Bitcoin that make it especially unsuited for everyday criminal commerce.

For one thing, Bitcoin’s conversion rate fluctuates far too wildly for communities accustomed to virtual currencies that are tied to the US Dollar: In both Liberty Reserve and WebMoney — a digital currency founded in Russia — one LR or WMZ (the “Z” designation is added to all purses kept in US currency) has always equaled $1 USD.

The following hypothetical scenario, outlined by one member of an exclusive crime forum, illustrates how Bitcoin’s price volatility could turn an otherwise simple transaction into an ugly mess for both parties.

“Say I pay you $1k today for a project, and its late, and you decide to withdraw tomorrow. You wake up and the $1k I just sent you in Bitcoins is now worth just $600. It’s not yet stable to be used in such a way.”

Another forum member agreed: “BTC on large scale or saving big amounts is a mess because the price changes. Maybe it’s only good cashing out,” noting WebMoney now allows users to convert Bitcoins into a new unit called WMX.

Others compared Bitcoin to a fashionable high-yield investment program (HYIP), a Ponzi-scheme investment scam that promises unsustainably high return on investment by paying previous investors with the money invested by new investors.  As the U.S. government’s complaint alleges, dozens of HYIP schemes had a significant amount of funds wrapped up in Liberty Reserve.

“Bitcoin is a trendy HYIP. There are far more stable and attractive currencies to invest in, if you are willing to take the risk,” wrote “,” a bulletproof hosting provider I profiled in an interview earlier this month. “In the legit ‘real products’ area, which I represent, a very small niche of businesses are willing to accept this form of payment. I understand the drug dealers on Tor sites, since this is pretty much the only thing they can receive without concerns about their identities, but if you sell anything illegal, WMZ should be the choice.”

What’s more, MtGox — Bitcoin’s biggest exchanger and the primary method that users get money into and out of the P2P currency — today posted a note saying that it will now be requiring ID verification from anyone who wants to deposit money with it in order to buy Bitcoins.

A logo from

A logo from

Perhaps the closest competitor to Liberty Reserve and WebMoney — a Panamanian e-currency known as Perfect Money (or just “PM” to many) — appears to have been busy over the past few days seizing and closing accounts of some of its more active users, according to the dozens of complaints I saw on several different crime forums. Perfect Money also announced on Saturday, May 25 that it would no longer accept new account registrations from U.S. citizens or companies.

For now, it seems the primary beneficiary of the Liberty Reserve takedown will be WebMoney. This virtual currency also has barred U.S. citizens from creating new accounts (it did so in March 2013, in apparent response to the U.S. Treasury Department’s new regulations on virtual currencies.) Still, WebMoney has been around for so long — and its logo is about as ubiquitous on Underweb stores as the Visa and MasterCard logos are at legitimate Web storefronts — that most miscreants and n’er-do-wells in the underground already have accounts there.

But not everyone in the underground who got burned by Liberty Reserve is ready to place his trust in yet another virtual currency. The curmudgeon-in-chief on this point is a hacker nicknamed “Ninja,” the administrator of — a crime forum with thousands of active members from around the world. Ninja was among the most vocal and prominent doubters that Liberty Reserve had been seized, even after the company’s homepage featured seizure warnings from a trio of U.S. federal law enforcement agencies. Ninja so adamantly believed this that, prior to the official press announcements from the U.S. Justice Department on Tuesday, he offered a standing bet of $1,000 to any takers on the forum that Liberty Reserve would return. Only two forum members took him up on the wager.

Now, Ninja says, he’s ready to pay up, but he’s not interested in buying into yet another virtual currency. Instead, he says he’s planning to create a new “carding payment system,” one that will serve forum members and be housed at Internet servers in North Korea, or perhaps Iran (really, any country that has declared the United States a sworn enemy would do).


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May 13

U.S. Government Seizes

Indictment, arrest of virtual currency founder targets alleged “financial hub of the cybercrime world.”

U.S. federal law enforcement agencies on Tuesday announced the closure and seizure of Liberty Reserve, an online, virtual currency that the U.S. government alleges acted as “a financial hub of the cyber-crime world” and processed more more than $6 billion in criminal proceeds over the past seven years.

After being unreachable for four days,'s homepage now includes this seizure notice.

After being unreachable for four days, now includes this seizure notice.

The news comes four days after inexplicably went offline and newspapers in Costa Rica began reporting the arrest in Spain of the company’s founder Arthur Budovsky, 39-year-old Ukrainian native who moved to Costa Rica to start the business.

According to an indictment (PDF) filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Budovsky and five alleged co-conspirators designed and operated Liberty Reserve as “a financial hub of the cyber-crime world, facilitating a broad range of online criminal activity, including credit card fraud, identity theft, investment fraud, computer hacking, child pornography, and narcotics trafficking.”

The U.S. government alleges that Liberty Reserve processed more than 12 million financial transactions annually, with a combined value of more than $1.4 billion. “Overall, from 2006 to May 2013, Liberty Reserve processed an estimated 55 million separate financial transactions and is believed to have laundered more than $6  billion in criminal proceeds,” the government’s indictment reads. Liberty Reserve “deliberately attracted and maintained a customer base of criminals by making financial activity on Liberty Reserve anonymous and untraceable.”

Despite the government’s claims, certainly not everyone using Liberty Reserve was involved in shady or criminal activity. As noted by the BBC, many users — principally those outside the United States — simply viewed the currency as cheaper, more secure and private alternative to PayPal. The company charged a one percent fee for each transaction, plus a 75 cent “privacy fee” according to court documents.

“It had allowed users to open accounts and transfer money, only requiring them to provide a name, date of birth and an email address,”  BBC wrote. “Cash could be put into the service using a credit card, bank wire, postal money order or other money transfer service. It was then “converted” into one of the firm’s own currencies – mirroring either the Euro or US dollar – at which point it could be transferred to another account holder who could then extract the funds.”

But according to the Justice Department, one of the ways that Liberty Reserve enabled the use of its services for criminal activity was by offering a shopping cart interface that merchant Web sites could use to accept Liberty Reserve as a form of payment (I’ve written numerous stories about many such services).

“The ‘merchants’ who accepted LR currency were overwhelmingly criminal in nature,” the government’s indictment alleges. “They included, for example, traffickers of stolen credit card data and personal identity information; peddlers of various types of online Ponzi and get-rich-quick schemes; computer hackers for hire; unregulated gambling enterprises; and underground drug-dealing websites.”

A Liberty Reserve shopping cart at an underground shop that sells stolen credit cards.

A Liberty Reserve shopping cart at an underground shop that sells stolen credit cards.

It remains unclear how much money is still tied up in Liberty Reserve, and whether existing customers will be afforded access to their funds. At a press conference today on the indictments, representatives from the Justice Department said the Liberty Reserve accounts are frozen. In a press release, the agency didn’t exactly address this question, saying: “If you believe you were a victim of a crime and were defrauded of funds through the use of Liberty Reserve, and you wish to provide information to law enforcement and/or receive notice of future developments in the case or additional information, please contact (888) 238- 0696 or (212) 637-1583.”

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