Posts Tagged: Richard Boscovich


27
Jun 13

Carberp Code Leak Stokes Copycat Fears

The source code for “Carberp” — a botnet creation kit coded by a team of at least two dozen hackers who used it to relieve banks of an estimated $250 million — has been posted online for anyone to download. The code leak offers security experts a fascinating and somewhat rare glimpse into the malcoding economy, but many also worry that its publication will spawn new hybrid strains of sophisticated banking malware.

Carberp admin panel. Source: Xylibox.blogspot.com

Carberp admin panel. Source: Xylibox.blogspot.com

The leak appears to have begun, as these things often do, with the sale of the source code in a semi-private cybercrime forum. On June 5, a member of the Lampeduza crime forum said he was selling the Carberp source to a single buyer, with a starting price of $25,000. The seller said he was helping out one of the developers of the code, who was short on cash.

By mid-June, links to download the entire Carberp archive were being posted on multiple forums, as first documented by Trusteer. Since then, experts from around the world have been tearing through the two-gigabyte archive to learn more about the code and its potential for future abuse in new and existing malware creations.

Leaking the source code was not like the leaking of a weapon, but more like the leaking of a tank factory,” wrote one Ukrainian tech blogger on Livejournal.

According to Peter Kruse, a specialist with the Copenhagen-based CSIS Security Group, the package includes the Carberp bootkit; this is a component that can subvert the Patchguard protection in Windows 7 x86 and 64-bit systems so that the malware loads itself at the most basic levels of the system (Kruse said the bootkit component is incomplete and does not work against Windows 8 PCs).

Also included are components of a Trojan known as UrSnif, as well as an extremely popular and prevalent rival botnet creation kit called Citadel.

“As with the leakage of the ZeuS source code, back in May 2011, this means that criminals have every chance to modify and even add new features to the kit,” Kruse wrote, noting that the Carberp archive also contains several text files that appear to be records of private chats and various usernames and passwords.

CHEEKY CODERS

Last year, Russian and Ukrainian authorities arrested a loosely-affiliated group of hackers accused of programming and using Carberp to rob millions from bank accounts of their countrymen. According to an account of the law enforcement action in the Russian news outlet Kommersant, Carberp was coded by a team of about 20-25 people under the age of 30. Most of the men had never met face-to-face. Each worked remotely and was responsible for developing specific modules of the Carberp code, components that were then transmitted to a main development server in Odessa, Ukraine.

Some of the leaked Carberp source code archives.

Some of the leaked Carberp source code archives.

Members of the coding forum kernelmode.info have been poring over comments left in the code by the Carberp developers. One set of comments, translated from Russian by a KrebsOnSecurity reader, suggests the developer was frustrated by having to program within the confines of what he considered sloppy operating system or perhaps Web browser plugin code.

“I will rip off someone’s hands for this kind of code!” the unidentified developer noted in one section of the Carberp source. “This stupid thing does God-knows-what.”

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19
Sep 12

Malware Dragnet Snags Millions of Infected PCs

Last week, Microsoft Corp. made headlines when it scored an unconventional if not unprecedented legal victory: Convincing a U.S. court to let it seize control of a Chinese Internet service provider’s network as part of a crackdown on piracy.

I caught up with Microsoft’s chief legal strategist shortly after that order was executed, in a bid to better understand what they were seeing after seizing control over more than 70,000 domains that were closely associated with distributing hundreds of strains of malware. Microsoft said that within hours of the takeover order being granted, it saw more than 35 million unique Internet addresses phoning home to those 70,000 malicious domains.

First, the short version of how we got here: Microsoft investigators found that computer stores in China were selling PCs equipped with Windows operating system versions that were pre-loaded with the “Nitol” malware, and that these systems were phoning home to subdomains at 3322.org. The software giant subsequently identified thousands of sites at 3322.org that were serving Nitol and hundreds of other malware strains, and convinced a federal court in Virginia to grant it temporary control over portions of the dynamic DNS provider.

Microsoft was able to do that because – while 3322.org is owned by a firm in China — the dot-org registry is run by a company based in Virginia. Yet, as we can see from the graphic above provided by Microsoft, Nitol infections were actually the least of the problems hosted at 3322.org (more on this later).

To learn more about the outcome of the seizure, I spoke with Richard Boscovich, a senior attorney with the company’s digital crimes unit (DCU) who helped to coordinate this action and previous legal sneak attacks against malware havens. Our interview came just hours after Microsoft had been cleared to seize control over the 70,000+ subdomains at 3322.org. I asked Boscovich to describe what the company was seeing.

“The numbers are quite large,” he said. “Just a quick view of what we’ve been seeing so far is upwards of 35 million unique IP [addresses] trying to connect with the 70,000 subdomains.”

Certainly IP addresses can be very dynamic — a single computer can have multiple IP addresses over a period of a few days, for example. But even if there were half as many infected PCs than unique IPs that Microsoft observed reporting to those 70,000 domains, we’d still be talking about an amalgamation of compromised PCs that is far larger than any known botnet on the planet today.  So how certain was Microsoft that these 35 million unique IPs were in fact infected computers?

“We started identifying what our AV company blocks,” Boscovich explained. “We saw a lot of different types of malware, from keyloggers to DDoS tools and botnets going back there. Our position would be if you’re reaching out to these 70,000 subdomains, that the purpose would be you’re directed there to be infected or you are already infected with something. And that something was up to 560 or so malware strains we identified [tracing back] to 3322.org.”

COLLATERAL DAMAGE?

Microsoft’s past unilateral actions against malware purveyors and botnets have engendered their share of harsh reactions from members of the security community, and I fully expected this one also would be controversial. I wasn’t disappointed: Writing for Internet policy news site CircleID, longtime antispam activist Suresh Ramasubramanian warned that Microsoft’s action would cause “extremely high collateral damage,” both to innocent sites and to ongoing investigations.

“So, in the medium to long term run …all that Microsoft DCU and Mr. Boscovich have achieved are laudatory quotes in various newspapers and a public image as fearless and indefatigable fighters waging a lone battle against cybercrime,” Ramasubramanian wrote. “That manifestly is not the case. There are several other organizations (corporations, independent security researchers, law enforcement across several countries) that are involved in studying and mitigating botnets, and a lot of their work just gets abruptly disrupted (jeopardizing ongoing investigations, destroying evidence and carefully planted monitoring).”

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13
Sep 12

Microsoft Disrupts ‘Nitol’ Botnet in Piracy Sweep

Microsoft said Thursday that it convinced a U.S. federal court to grant it control over a botnet believed to be closely linked to counterfeit versions Windows that were sold in various computer stores across China. The legal victory also highlights a Chinese Internet service that experts say has long been associated with targeted, espionage attacks against U.S. and European corporations.

Source: Microsoft.com

Microsoft said it sought to disrupt a counterfeit supply-chain operation that sold knockoff versions of Windows PCs that came pre-loaded with a strain of malware called “Nitol,” which lets attackers control the systems from afar for a variety of nefarious purposes.

In legal filings unsealed Thursday by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Microsoft described how its researchers purchased computers from various cities in China, and found that approximately 20 percent of them were already infected with Nitol.

It’s not clear precisely how many systems are infected with Nitol, but it does not appear to be a particularly major threat. Microsoft told the court that it had detected nearly 4,000 instances of Windows computers infected with some version of the malware, but that this number likely represented “only a subset of the number of infected computers.” The company said the majority of Nitol infections and Internet servers used to control the botnet were centered around China, although several U.S. states — including California, New York and Pennsylvania — were home to significant numbers of compromised hosts.

Dubbed “Operation b70” by Microsoft, the courtroom maneuvers are the latest in a series of legal stealth attacks that the software giant has executed against large-scale cybercrime operations. Previous targets included the Waledac, Rustock, Kelihos and ZeuS botnets.

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4
May 12

Microsoft to Botmasters: Abandon Your Inboxes

If the miscreants behind the ZeuS botnets that Microsoft sought to destroy with a civil lawsuit last month didn’t already know that the software giant also wished to unmask them, they almost certainly do now. Google, and perhaps other email providers, recently began notifying the alleged botmasters that Microsoft was requesting their personal details.

Page 1 of a subpoena Microsoft sent to Google.

Microsoft’s unconventional approach to pursuing dozens of ZeuS botmasters offers a rare glimpse into how email providers treat subpoenas for account information. But the case also is once again drawing fire from a number of people within the security community who question the wisdom and long-term consequences of Microsoft’s strategy for combating cybercrime without involving law enforcement officials.

Last month, Microsoft made news when it announced a civil lawsuit that it said disrupted a major cybercrime operation that used malware to steal $100 million from consumers and businesses over the past five years. That legal maneuver may have upset some cyber criminal operations, but it also angered many in the security research community who said they felt betrayed by the action. Critics accused Microsoft of exposing sensitive information that a handful of researchers had shared in confidence, and of delaying or derailing international law enforcement investigations into ZeuS Trojan activity.

Part of the controversy stems from the bargain that Microsoft struck with a federal judge in the case. The court granted Microsoft the authority to quietly seize dozens of domain names and Internet servers that miscreants used to control the botnets. In exchange, Microsoft agreed to make every effort to identify the “John Does” that had used those resources, and to give them an opportunity to contest the seizure. The security community was initially upset by Microsoft’s first stab at that effort, in which it published the nicknames, email addresses and other identifying information on the individuals thought to be responsible for renting those servers and domains.

And then the other shoe dropped: Over the past few days, Google began alerting the registrants of more than three dozen Gmail accounts that were the subject of Microsoft’s subpoenas for email records. The email addresses were already named in Microsoft’s initial complaint posted at zeuslegalnotice.com, which listed nicknames and other information tied to 39 separate “John Does” that Microsoft is seeking to identify. But when Microsoft subpoenaed the email account information on those John Does, Google followed its privacy policy, which is to alert each of the account holders that it was prepared to turn over their personal information unless they formally objected to the action by a certain date.

According to sources who received the notices but asked not to be named, the Google alerts read:

“Hello,

Google has received a subpoena for information related to your Google
account in a case entitled Microsoft Corp., FS-ISAC, Inc. and NACHA v.
John Does 1-39 et al., US District Court, Northern District of California,
1:12-cv-01335 (SJ-RLM) (Internal Ref. No. 224623).

To comply with the law, unless you provide us with a copy of a motion
to quash the subpoena (or other formal objection filed in court) via
email at google-legal-support@google.com by 5pm Pacific Time on May
22, 2012, Google may provide responsive documents on this date.

For more information about the subpoena, you may wish to contact the
party seeking this information at:

Jacob M. Heath
Orrick, Herrington, & Sutcliffe, LLP
Jacob M. Heath, 1000 Marsh Road
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Google is not in a position to provide you with legal advice.

If you have other questions regarding the subpoena, we encourage you
to contact your attorney.

Thank you.”

Unlike most of its competitors in the Webmail industry, Google is exceptionally vocal about its policy for responding to subpoenas. This has earned it top marks from privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which recently ranked ISPs and social media firms on the transparency of their policies about responding to requests for information filed by the government or from law enforcement.

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16
Apr 12

Microsoft Responds to Critics Over Botnet Bruhaha

Microsoft’s most recent anti-botnet campaign — a legal sneak attack against dozens of ZeuS botnets — seems to have ruffled the feathers of many in security community. The chief criticism is that the Microsoft operation exposed sensitive information that a handful of researchers had shared in confidence, and that countless law enforcement investigations may have been delayed or derailed as a result. In this post, I interview a key Microsoft attorney about these allegations.

Since Microsoft announced Operation B71, I’ve heard from several researchers who said they were furious at the company for publishing data on a group of hackers thought to be behind a majority of the ZeuS botnet activity — specifically those targeting small to mid-sized organizations that are getting robbed via cyber heists. The researchers told me privately that they believed Microsoft had overstepped its bounds with this action, using privileged information without permission from the source(s) of that data (many exclusive industry discussion lists dedicated to tracking cybercriminal activity have strict rules about sourcing and using information shared by other members).

At the time, nobody I’d heard from with complaints about the action wanted to speak on the record. Then, late last week, Fox IT, a Dutch security firm, published a lengthy blog post blasting Microsoft’s actions as “irresponsible,” and accusing the company of putting its desire for a public relations campaign ahead of its relationship with the security industry.

“This irresponsible action by Microsoft has led to hampering and even compromising a number of large international investigations in the US, Europe and Asia that we knew of and also helped with,” wrote Michael Sandee, Principal Security Expert at Fox IT. “It has also damaged and will continue to damage international relationships between public parties and also private parties. It also sets back cooperation between public and private parties, so called public private partnerships, as sharing will stop or will be definitely less valuable than it used to be for all parties involved.”

Sandee said that a large part of the information that Microsoft published about the miscreants involved was sourced from individuals and organizations without their consent, breaking various non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and unspoken rules.

“In light of the whole Responsible Disclosure debate  [link added] from the end of Microsoft this unauthorized and uncoordinated use and publication of information protected under an NDA is obviously troublesome and shows how Microsoft only cares about protecting their own interests,” Sandee wrote.

Given the strong feelings that Microsoft’s actions have engendered in the Fox IT folks and among the larger security community, I reached out to Richard Boscovich, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer who was one of the key architects of Microsoft’s legal initiative against ZeuS. One complaint I heard from several researchers who believed that Microsoft used and published data they uncovered was that the company kept the operation from nearly everyone. I asked Boscovich how this operation was different from previous actions against botnets such as Rustock and Waledac.

Boscovich: It’s essentially the same approach we’ve done in all the other operations. The problem that I think some people have is that due to the type of operation, we can’t have the entire community involved. That’s for several reasons. One is operational security. The bigger the number of people involved, the more likely is that is someone will make a mistake and say something that could jeopardize all of the work that everyone has done. Also, we’re making representations to a federal court that this is an ex-parte motion and very limited people know about it. If you have multiple people knowing, and the entire security community knows, let’s say we submit declarations from 30-40 people. A court may say, ‘Well there’s a lot of people here who know about this, so isn’t this information that’s already publicly available? Don’t these people know you’re looking at them already?’ We’re really asking for an extraordinary remedy: an ex-parte TRO [temporary restraining order] is a very high standard. We have to show an immediate threat and harm, ongoing, so much so that we can’t even give the other side notice that we’re going to sue them and take away their property.

The other concern is more operational. When I was in the Justice Department — I was there for just shy of 18 years — we even compartmentalized operations there. Information was shared on a need-to-know basis, to make sure the operation would be a success and that there wouldn’t be any inadvertent leaks. It wasn’t because we didn’t trust people, but because people sometimes make mistakes. So in this operation, just like the others, we engaged with industry partners, academic partners, and some of those who wished to be open, and others who preferred to do things behind the scenes.

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26
Mar 12

Microsoft Takes Down Dozens of Zeus, SpyEye Botnets

Microsoft today announced the execution of a carefully planned takedown of dozens of botnets powered by ZeuS and SpyEye — powerful banking Trojans that have helped thieves steal more than $100 million from small to mid-sized businesses in the United States and abroad.

Microsoft, U.S. Marshals pay a surprise visit to a Scranton, Pa. hosting facility.

In a consolidated legal filing, Microsoft received court approval to seize several servers in Scranton, Penn. and Lombard, Ill. used to control dozens of ZeuS and SpyEye botnets. The company also was granted permission to take control of 800 domains that were used by the crime machines.The company published a video showing a portion of the seizures, conducted late last week with the help of U.S. Marshals.

This is the latest in a string of botnet takedowns executed by Microsoft’s legal team, but it appears to be the first one in which the company invoked the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

“The RICO Act is often associated with cases against organized crime; the same is true in applying the civil section of the law to this case against what we believe is an organization of people behind the Zeus family of botnets,” wrote Richard Boscovich, senior attorney for Microsoft’s Digital Crimes Unit. “By incorporating the use of the RICO Act, we were able to pursue a consolidated civil case against everyone associated with the Zeus criminal operation, even if those involved in the “organization” were not necessarily part of the core enterprise.”

It’s too soon to say how much of an impact this effort will have, or whether it will last long. Previous takedowns by Microsoft — such as its targeting of the Kelihos botnet last fall — have produced mixed results. There also are indications that this takedown may have impacted legitimate — albeit hacked — sites that crooks were using in their botnet operations. According to data recorded by Abuse.ch, a Swiss security site that tracks ZeuS and SpyEye control servers, some of the domains Microsoft seized appear to belong to legitimate businesses whose sites were compromised and used to host components of the malware infrastructure. Among them is a site in Italy that sells iPhone cases, a Thai social networking forum, and a site in San Diego that teaches dance lessons.

The effort also shines a spotlight on an elusive group of cyber thieves operating out of Ukraine who have been tagged as the brains behind a great deal of the ebanking losses over the past five years, including the authors of ZeuS (Slavik/Monstr) and SpyEye (Harderman/Gribodemon), both identities that were outed on this blog more than 18 months ago. Over the past few years, KrebsOnSecurity has amassed a virtual treasure trove of data about these and other individuals named in the complaint. Look for a follow-up piece with more details on these actors.

A breakdown of the court documents related to this case is available at zeuslegalnotice.com.


18
Jul 11

Microsoft Offers $250K Bounty for Rustock Author

Microsoft said today that it is offering a $250,000 reward for new information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for the Rustock botnet, a now-defunct crime machine that was once responsible for sending 40 percent of all junk email.

The bounty is the software giant’s latest salvo in its war on Rustock; Microsoft secured a major victory in March, when it worked with ISPs and security firms to launch a successful sneak attack against the botnet, knocking out its support infrastructure. Richard Boscovich, senior attorney for Microsoft’s digital crimes unit, said that although spam from Rustock-infected PCs has ceased, there are still hundreds of thousands of infected computers around the world to be cleaned of the botnet malware.

Microsoft's Rustock notice in The Moscow News, June 14

“This reward offer stems from Microsoft’s recognition that the Rustock botnet is responsible for a number of criminal activities and serves to underscore our commitment to tracking down those behind it,” Boscovich wrote in a post on the official Microsoft blog. “While the primary goal for our legal and technical operation has been to stop and disrupt the threat that Rustock has posed for everyone affected by it, we also believe the Rustock bot-herders should be held accountable for their actions.”

Microsoft recently ran advertisements in major newspapers in Moscow and St. Petersburg, as part of a deal the company struck with a U.S. court to help dismantle Rustock; the court granted Microsoft dominion over the Rustock control servers and domains as long as the company made a “good faith” effort to notify the unidentified owners.

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21
Mar 11

Homegrown: Rustock Botnet Fed by U.S. Firms

Aaron Wendel opened the doors of his business to some unexpected visitors on the morning of Mar. 16, 2011. The chief technology officer of Kansas City based hosting provider Wholesale Internet found that two U.S. marshals, a pair of computer forensics experts and a Microsoft lawyer had come calling, armed with papers allowing them to enter the facility and to commandeer computer hard drives and portions of the hosting firm’s network. Anyone attempting to interfere would be subject to arrest and prosecution.

Weeks earlier, Microsoft had convinced a federal judge (PDF)  to let the software giant seize control of server hard drives and reroute Internet addresses as part of a carefully timed takedown of the Rustock botnet, which had long reigned as the world’s most active spam-spewing crime machine.

In tandem with the visit to Wholesale Internet, Microsoft employees and U.S. marshals were serving similar orders at several other hosting providers at locations around country.  Microsoft’s plan of attack — which it spent about six months hatching with the help of a tightly knit group of industry and academic partners — was to stun the Rustock botnet, by disconnecting more than 100 control servers that the botnet was using to communicate with hundreds of thousands of infected Windows PCs.

Only two of the control servers were located outside the United States; the rest operated from hosting providers here in the US, many at relatively small ISPs in Middle America.

Concentrations of Rustock control networks.

Microsoft was careful not to make any accusations that hosting providers were complicit in helping the Rustock botmasters; however, some of these control servers existed for more than a year, and most likely would have continued to operate undisturbed had Microsoft and others not intervened. Using data gathered by Milpitas, Calif. based security firm FireEye, which assisted Microsoft in the takedown, I was able to plot the location and lifetime of each control server (the map above is clickable and should let you drill down to the details of each control server; the raw data is here). The average life of each controller was 251 days — a little over eight months.

Wholesale Internet’s Wendel said his organization takes action against any customers that appear to be violating the company’s terms of use or its policies. But he insisted that the visit by Microsoft and the marshals was the first time he’d heard that any of the 16 Rustock command and control servers were located on his network.

“To be perfectly honest with you, we never heard of Rustock until Wednesday,” Wendel said in a phone interview last Friday. Wendel also said he  hadn’t heard anything about the problematic servers from either Spamhaus or Shadowserver, which allow ISPs and hosting providers to receive reports about apparent botnet control servers and bot infections on their networks. Both Shadowserver and Spamhaus dispute this claim, saying that while they certainly did not alert Wholesale to all of the problem Internet addresses that it may have had on its network, they filed several reports with the company over the past six months that should have given the company cause to take a closer look at its customers and systems.

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