Posts Tagged: remote access trojan


4
Apr 17

Dual-Use Software Criminal Case Not So Novel

“He built a piece of software. That tool was pirated and abused by hackers. Now the feds want him to pay for the computer crooks’ crimes.”

The above snippet is the subhead of a story published last month by the The Daily Beast titled, “FBI Arrests Hacker Who Hacked No One.” The subject of that piece — a 26-year-old American named Taylor Huddleston — faces felony hacking charges connected to two computer programs he authored and sold: An anti-piracy product called Net Seal, and a Remote Administration Tool (RAT) called NanoCore that he says was a benign program designed to help users remotely administer their computers.

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The author of the Daily Beast story, former black hat hacker and Wired.com editor Kevin Poulsen, argues that Huddleston’s case raises a novel question: When is a programmer criminally responsible for the actions of his users?

“Some experts say [the case] could have far reaching implications for developers, particularly those working on new technologies that criminals might adopt in unforeseeable ways,” Poulsen wrote.

But a closer look at the government’s side of the story — as well as public postings left behind by the accused and his alleged accomplices — paints a more complex and nuanced picture that suggests this may not be the case to raise that specific legal question in any meaningful way.

Mark Rumold, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said cases like these are not so cut-and-dry because they hinge on intent, and determining who knew what and when.

“I don’t read the government’s complaint as making the case that selling some type of RAT is illegal, and if that were the case I think we would be very interested in this,” Rumold said. “Whether or not [the government’s] claims are valid is going to be extraordinarily fact-specific, but unfortunately there is not a precise set of facts that would push this case from being about the valid reselling of a tool that no one questions can be done legally to crossing that threshold of engaging in a criminal conspiracy.”

Citing group chat logs and other evidence that hasn’t yet been made public, U.S. prosecutors say Huddleston intended NanoCore to function more like a Remote Access Trojan used to remotely control compromised PCs, and they’ve indicted Huddleston on criminal charges of conspiracy as well as aiding and abetting computer intrusions.

Poulsen depicts Huddleston as an ambitious — if extremely naive — programmer struggling to make an honest living selling what is essentially a dual-use software product. Using the nickname “Aeonhack,” Huddleston marketed his NanoCore RAT on Hackforums[dot]net, an English-language hacking forum that is overrun with young, impressionable but otherwise low-skilled hackers who are constantly looking for point-and-click tools and services that can help them demonstrate their supposed hacking prowess.

Yet we’re told that Huddleston was positively shocked to discover that many buyers on the forum were using his tools in a less-than-legal manner, and that in response he chastised and even penalized customers who did so. By way of example, Poulsen writes that Huddleston routinely used his Net Seal program to revoke the software licenses for customers who boasted online about using his NanoCore RAT illegally.

We later learn that — despite Net Seal’s copy protection abilities — denizens of Hackforums were able to pirate copies of NanoCore and spread it far and wide in malware and phishing campaigns. Eventually, Huddleston said he grew weary of all the drama and sold both programs to another Hackforums member, using the $60,000 or so in proceeds to move out of the rusty trailer he and his girlfriend shared and buy a house in a low-income corner of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

From the story:

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31
Oct 16

Hackforums Shutters Booter Service Bazaar

Perhaps the most bustling marketplace on the Internet where people can compare and purchase so-called “booter” and “stresser” subscriptions — attack-for-hire services designed to knock Web sites offline — announced last week that it has permanently banned the sale and advertising of these services.

On Friday, Oct. 28, Jesse LaBrocca — the administrator of the popular English-language hacking forum Hackforums[dot]net — said he was shutting down the “server stress testing” (SST) section of the forum. The move comes amid heightened public scrutiny of the SST industry, which has been linked to several unusually powerful recent attacks and is responsible for the vast majority of denial-of-service (DOS) attacks on the Internet today.

The administrator of Hackforums bans the sale and advertising of server stress testing (SST) services, also known as "booter" or "stresser" online attack-for-hire services.

The administrator of Hackforums bans the sale and advertising of server stress testing (SST) services, also known as “booter” or “stresser” online attack-for-hire services.

“Unfortunately once again the few ruin it for the many,” LaBrocca wrote under his Hackforums alias “Omniscient.” “I’m personally disappointed that this is the path I have to take in order to protect the community. I loathe having to censor material that could be beneficial to members. But I need to make sure that we continue to exist and given the recent events I think it’s more important that the section be permanently shut down.”

Last month, a record-sized DDoS hit KrebsOnSecurity.com. The attack was launched with the help of Mirai, a malware strain that enslaves poorly secured Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices like CCTV cameras and digital video recorders and uses them to launch crippling attacks.

At the end of September, a Hackforums user named “Anna_Senpai” used the forum to announce the release the source code for Mirai. A week ago, someone used Mirai to launch a massive attack on Internet infrastructure firm Dyn, which for the better part of a day lead to sporadic outages for some of the Web’s top destinations, including Twitter, PayPal, Reddit and Netflix.

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

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

As I noted in last week’s story Are the Days of Booter Services Numbered?, many booter service owners have been operating under the delusion or rationalization that their services are intended solely for Web site owners to test the ability of their sites to withstand data deluges.

Whatever illusions booter service operators or users may have harbored about their activities should have been dispelled following a talk delivered at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas this year. In that speech, FBI Agent Elliott Peterson issued an unambiguous warning that the agency was prepared to investigate and help prosecute people engaged in selling and buying from booter services.

But it wasn’t until this month’s attack on Dyn that LaBrocca warned the Hackforums community he may have to shut down the SST section.

“I can’t image this attention is going to be a good thing,” Omni said in an October 26, 2016 thread titled “Bad things.” “Already a Senator is calling for a hearing on the Internet of Things [link added]. In the end there could be new laws which effect [sic] us all. So for those responsible for the attacks and creating this mess….you dun goofed. I expect a lot of backlash to come out of this.”

If LaBrocca appears steamed from this turn of events, it’s probably with good reason: He stands to lose a fair amount of regular income by banning some of the most lucrative businesses on his forum. Vendors on Hackforums pay fees as high as $25 apiece to achieve a status that allows them to post new sales threads, and banner ads on the forum can run up to $200 per week.

"Stickies" advertising various "booter" or "stresser" DDoS-for-hire services.

“Stickies” advertising various “booter” or “stresser” DDoS-for-hire services.

Vendors who wish to “sticky” their ads — that is, pay to keep the ads displayed prominently near or at the top of a given discussion subforum — pay LaBrocca up to $60 per week for the prime sticky spots. And there were dozens of booter services advertised on Hackforums.

Allison Nixon, director of security research at Flashpoint and an expert on booter services, said the move could put many booter services out of business.

Nixon said the average booter service customer uses the attack services to settle grudges with opponents in online games, and that the closure of the SST subforum may make these services less attractive to those individuals.

“There is probably a lesser likelihood that the average gamer will see these services and think that it’s an okay idea to purchase them,” Nixon said. “The ease of access to these booters services makes people think it’s okay to use them. In gaming circles, for example, people will often use them to DDoS one another and not realize they might be shutting down an innocent person’s network. Recognizing that this is criminal activity on the same level of criminal hacking and fraud may discourage people from using these services, meaning the casual actor may be less likely to buy a booter subscription and launch DDoS attacks.”

While a welcome development, the closure of the SST subforum almost seems somewhat arbitrary given the sheer amount of other illegal hacking activity that is blatantly advertised on Hackforums, Nixon said.

“It’s interesting the norms that are on this forum because they’re so different from how you or I would recognize acceptable behavior,” she said. “For example, most people would think it’s not acceptable to see booter services advertised alongside remote access Trojans, malware crypting services and botnets.”

Other questionable services and subsections advertised on Hackforums include those intended for the sale of hacked social media and e-commerce accounts. More shocking are the dozens of threads wherein Hackforums members advertise the sale of “girl slaves,” essentially access to hacked computers belonging to teenage girls who can be extorted and exploited for payment or naked pictures. It’s worth noting that the youth who was arrested for snapping nude pictures of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf through her webcam was a regular user of Hackforums.

Hackforums users advertising the sale and procurement of "girl slaves."

Hackforums users advertising the sale and procurement of “girl slaves.”

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