Posts Tagged: Ron Guilmette


4
Feb 19

Crooks Continue to Exploit GoDaddy Hole

Godaddy.com, the world’s largest domain name registrar, recently addressed an authentication weakness that cybercriminals were using to blast out spam through legitimate, dormant domains. But several more recent malware spam campaigns suggest GoDaddy’s fix hasn’t gone far enough, and that scammers likely still have a sizable arsenal of hijacked GoDaddy domains at their disposal.

On January 22, KrebsOnSecurity published research showing that crooks behind a series of massive sextortion and bomb threat spam campaigns throughout 2018 — an adversary that’s been dubbed “Spammy Bear” —  achieved an unusual amount of inbox delivery by exploiting a weakness at GoDaddy which allowed anyone to add a domain to their GoDaddy account without validating that they actually owned the domain.

Spammy Bear targeted dormant but otherwise legitimate domains that had one thing in common: They all at one time used GoDaddy’s hosted Domain Name System (DNS) service. Researcher Ron Guilmette discovered that Spammy Bear was able to hijack thousands of these dormant domains for spam simply by registering free accounts at GoDaddy and telling the company’s automated DNS service to allow the sending of email with those domains from an Internet address controlled by the spammers.

Very soon after that story ran, GoDaddy said it had put in place a fix for the problem, and had scrubbed more than 4,000 domain names used in the spam campaigns that were identified in my Jan. 22 story. But on or around February 1, a new spam campaign that leveraged similarly hijacked domains at GoDaddy began distributing Gand Crab, a potent strain of ransomware.

As noted in a post last week at the blog MyOnlineSecurity, the Gand Crab campaign used a variety of lures, including fake DHL shipping notices and phony AT&T e-fax alerts. The domains documented by MyOnlineSecurity all had their DNS records altered between Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 to allow the sending of email from Internet addresses tied to two ISPs identified in my original Jan. 22 report on the GoDaddy weakness.

“What makes these malware laden emails much more likely to be delivered is the fact that the sending domains all have a good reputation,” MyOnlineSecurity observed. “There are dozens, if not hundreds of domains involved in this particular campaign. Almost all the domains have been registered for many years, some for more than 10 years.”

A “passive DNS” lookup shows the DNS changes made by the spammers on Jan. 31 for one of the domains used in the Gand Crab spam campaign documented by MyOnlineSecurity. Image: Farsight Security.

In a statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity, GoDaddy said the company was confident the steps it took to address the problem were working as intended, and that GoDaddy had simply overlooked the domains abused in the recent GandCrab spam campaign.

“The domains used in the Gand Crab campaign were modified before then, but we missed them in our initial sweep,” GoDaddy spokesperson Dan Race said. “While we are otherwise confident of the mitigation steps we took to prevent the dangling DNS issue, we are working to identify any other domains that need to be fixed.”

“We do not believe it is possible for a person to hijack the DNS of one or more domains using the same tactics as used in the Spammy Bear and Gand Crab campaigns,” Race continued. “However, we are assessing if there are other methods that may be used to achieve the same results, and we continue our normal monitoring for account takeover. We have also set up a reporting alias at dns-spam-concerns@godaddy.com to make it easier to report any suspicious activity or any details that might help our efforts to stop this kind of abuse.”

That email address is likely to receive quite a few tips in the short run. Virus Bulletin editor Martijn Grooten this week published his analysis on a January 29 malware email campaign that came disguised as a shipping notice from UPS. Grooten said the spam intercepted from that campaign included links to an Internet address that was previously used to distribute GandCrab, and that virtually all of the domains seen sending the fake UPS notices used one of two pairs of DNS servers managed by GoDaddy.

“The majority of domains, which we think had probably had their DNS compromised, still point to the same IP address though,” Grooten wrote. That IP address is currently home to a Web site that sells stolen credit card data.

The fake UPS message used in a Jan. 29 Gand Crab malware spam campaign. Source: Virus Bulletin.

Grooten told KrebsOnSecurity he suspects criminals may have succeeded at actually compromising several of GoDaddy’s hosted DNS servers. For one thing, he said, the same pair (sometimes two pairs) of name servers keep appearing in the same campaign.

“In quite a few campaigns we saw domains used that were alphabetically close, [and] there are other domains used that had moved away from GoDaddy before these campaigns, yet were still used,” Grooten said. “It’s also interesting to note that hundreds — and perhaps thousands — of domains had their DNS changed within a short period of time. Such a thing is hard to do if you have to log into individual accounts.”

GoDaddy said there has been no such breach.

“Our DNS servers have not been compromised,” Race said. “The examples provided were dangled domains that had zone files created by the threat actor prior to when we implemented our mitigation on January 23. These domain names were parked until the threat actors activated them. They had the ability to do that because they owned the zone files already. We’re continuing to review customer accounts for other potential zone entries.”
Continue reading →


22
Jan 19

Bomb Threat, Sextortion Spammers Abused Weakness at GoDaddy.com

Two of the most disruptive and widely-received spam email campaigns over the past few months — including an ongoing sextortion email scam and a bomb threat hoax that shut down dozens of schools, businesses and government buildings late last year — were made possible thanks to an authentication weakness at GoDaddy.com, the world’s largest domain name registrar, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

Perhaps more worryingly, experts warn this same weakness that let spammers hijack domains tied to GoDaddy also affects a great many other major Internet service providers, and is actively being abused to launch phishing and malware attacks which leverage dormant Web site names currently owned and controlled by some of the world’s most trusted corporate names and brands.

In July 2018, email users around the world began complaining of receiving spam which began with a password the recipient used at some point in the past and threatened to release embarrassing videos of the recipient unless a bitcoin ransom was paid. On December 13, 2018, a similarly large spam campaign was blasted out, threatening that someone had planted bombs within the recipient’s building that would be detonated unless a hefty bitcoin ransom was paid by the end of the business day.

Experts at Cisco Talos and other security firms quickly drew parallels between the two mass spam campaigns, pointing to a significant overlap in Russia-based Internet addresses used to send the junk emails. Yet one aspect of these seemingly related campaigns that has been largely overlooked is the degree to which each achieved an unusually high rate of delivery to recipients.

Large-scale spam campaigns often are conducted using newly-registered or hacked email addresses, and/or throwaway domains. The trouble is, spam sent from these assets is trivial to block because anti-spam and security systems tend to discard or mark as spam any messages that appear to come from addresses which have no known history or reputation attached to them.

However, in both the sextortion and bomb threat spam campaigns, the vast majority of the email was being sent through Web site names that had already existed for some time, and indeed even had a trusted reputation. Not only that, new research shows many of these domains were registered long ago and are still owned by dozens of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies. 

That’s according to Ron Guilmette, a dogged anti-spam researcher. Researching the history and reputation of thousands of Web site names used in each of the extortionist spam campaigns, Guilmette made a startling discovery: Virtually all of them had at one time received service from GoDaddy.com, a Scottsdale, Ariz. based domain name registrar and hosting provider.

Guilmette told KrebsOnSecurity he initially considered the possibility that GoDaddy had been hacked, or that thousands of the registrar’s customers perhaps had their GoDaddy usernames and passwords stolen.

But as he began digging deeper, Guilmette came to the conclusion that the spammers were exploiting an obscure — albeit widespread — weakness among hosting companies, cloud providers and domain registrars that was first publicly detailed in 2016.

EARLY WARNING SIGNS

In August 2016, security researcher Matthew Bryant wrote about a weakness that could be used to hijack email service for 20,000 established domain names at a U.S. based hosting provider. A few months later, Bryant warned that the same technique could be leveraged to send spam from more than 120,000 trusted domains across multiple providers. And Guilmette says he now believes the attack method detailed by Bryant also explains what’s going on in the more recent sextortion and bomb threat spams.

Grasping the true breadth of Bryant’s prescient discovery requires a brief and simplified primer on how Web sites work. Your Web browser knows how to find a Web site name like example.com thanks to the global Domain Name System (DNS), which serves as a kind of phone book for the Internet by translating human-friendly Web site names (example.com) into numeric Internet address that are easier for computers to manage.

When someone wants to register a domain at a registrar like GoDaddy, the registrar will typically provide two sets of DNS records that the customer then needs to assign to his domain. Those records are crucial because they allow Web browsers to figure out the Internet address of the hosting provider that’s serving that Web site domain. Like many other registrars, GoDaddy lets new customers use their managed DNS services for free for a period of time (in GoDaddy’s case it’s 30 days), after which time customers must pay for the service.

The crux of Bryant’s discovery was that the spammers in those 2016 campaigns learned that countless hosting firms and registrars would allow anyone to add a domain to their account without ever validating that the person requesting the change actually owned the domain. Here’s what Bryant wrote about the threat back in 2016:

“In addition to the hijacked domains often having past history and a long age, they also have WHOIS information which points to real people unrelated to the person carrying out the attack. Now if an attacker launches a malware campaign using these domains, it will be harder to pinpoint who/what is carrying out the attack since the domains would all appear to be just regular domains with no observable pattern other than the fact that they all use cloud DNS. It’s an attacker’s dream, troublesome attribution and an endless number of names to use for malicious campaigns.”

SAY WHAT?

For a more concrete example of what’s going on here, we’ll look at just one of the 4,000+ domains that Guilmette found were used in the Dec. 13, 2018 bomb threat hoax. Virtualfirefox.com is a domain registered via GoDaddy in 2013 and currently owned by The Mozilla Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mozilla Foundation — the makers of the popular Firefox Web browser.

The domain’s registration has been renewed each year since its inception, but the domain itself has sat dormant for some time. When it was initially set up, it took advantage of two managed DNS servers assigned to it by GoDaddy — ns17.domaincontrol.com, and ns18.domaincontrol.com.

GoDaddy is a massive hosting provider, and it has more than 100 such DNS servers to serve the needs of its clients. To hijack this domain, the attackers in the December 2018 spam campaign needed only to have created a free account at GoDaddy that was assigned the exact same DNS servers handed out to Virtualfirefox.com (ns17.domaincontrol.com and ns18.domaincontrol.com). After that, the attackers simply claim ownership over the domain, and tell GoDaddy to allow the sending of email with that domain from an Internet address they control.

Mozilla spokesperson Ellen Canale said Mozilla took ownership of virtualfirefox.com in September 2017 after a trademark dispute, but that the DNS nameserver for the record was not reset until January of 2019.

“This oversight created a state where the DNS pointed to a server controlled by a third party, leaving it vulnerable to misuse,” Canale said. “We’ve reviewed the configuration of both our registrar and nameservers and have found no indication of misuse. In addition to addressing the immediate problem, we have reviewed the entire catalog of properties we own to ensure they are properly configured.”

According to both Guilmette and Bryant, this type of hijack is possible because GoDaddy — like many other managed DNS providers — does little to check whether someone with an existing account (free or otherwise) who is claiming ownership over a given domain actually controls that domain name.

Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, GoDaddy acknowledged the authentication weakness documented by Guilmette.

“After investigating the matter, our team confirmed that a threat actor(s) abused our DNS setup process,” the company said in an emailed statement.

“We’ve identified a fix and are taking corrective action immediately,” the statement continued. “While those responsible were able to create DNS entries on dormant domains, at no time did account ownership change nor was customer information exposed.” Continue reading →


10
Dec 18

How Internet Savvy are Your Leaders?

Back in April 2015, I tweeted about receiving a letter via snail mail suggesting the search engine rankings for a domain registered in my name would suffer if I didn’t pay a bill for some kind of dubious-looking service I’d never heard of. But it wasn’t until the past week that it become clear how many organizations — including towns, cities and political campaigns — actually have fallen for this brazen scam.

Image: Better Business Bureau.

The letter I tweeted about was from a company called Web Listings Inc., and it said I should pay a $85 charge for an “annual web site search engine” service.

The first clue that this was probably a scam was the letter said halfway down in capital letters “THIS IS NOT A BILL,” although it sure was made to look like one. Also, the domain it referenced was “fuckbriankrebs.com,” which was indeed registered using my street address but certainly not by me.

The sad truth is plenty of organizations *are* paying the people behind this charade, which is probably why Web Listings has been running it continuously for more than a decade. Most likely that’s because some percentage of recipients confuse this notice with a warning about a domain name they own that is about to expire and needs to be renewed.

We know plenty of people are getting snookered thanks to searchable online records filed by a range of political campaigns, towns, cities and municipalities — all of which are required to publicly report how they spend their money (or at least that of their constituents).

According to a statement filed with the Federal Election Commission, one of the earliest public records involving a payment to Web Listings dates back to 2008 and comes from none other than the the 2008 Hillary Clinton for President fund.

The documents unearthed in this story all came compliments of Ron Guilmette, a most dogged and intrepid researcher who usually spends his time tracking down and suing spammers. Guilmette said most of the public references he found regarding payments to Web Services Inc. are from political campaigns and small towns.

“Which naturally raises the question: Should we really be trusting these people with our money?” Guilmette said. “What kind of people or organizations are most likely to pay a bill that is utterly phony baloney, and that actually isn’t due and payable? The answer is people and organizations that are not spending their own money.”

Also paying $85 (PDF) to Web Listings was the 2015 campaign for Democrat Jim Kenney, the current mayor of Philadelphia.

A fund for the New York City Council campaign of Zead Ramadan (D) forked over $85 to Web Listings in 2013.

Also in 2013, the Committee to Elect Judge Victor Heutsche (D) paid $85 to keep his Web site in good standing with Web Listings. Paul T. Davis, a former Democratic state representative from Kansas handed $85 (PDF) to Web Listings in 2012.
Continue reading →


25
Aug 18

Who’s Behind the Screencam Extortion Scam?

The sextortion email scam last month that invoked a real password used by each recipient and threatened to release embarrassing Webcam videos almost certainly was not the work of one criminal or even one group of criminals. Rather, it’s likely that additional spammers and scammers piled on with their own versions of the phishing email after noticing that some recipients were actually paying up. The truth is we may never find out who’s responsible, but it’s still fun to follow some promising leads and see where they take us.

On August 7, 2018, a user on the forum of free email service hMailServer posted a copy of the sextortion email he received, noting that it included a password he’d formerly used online.

Helpfully, this user pasted a great deal of information from the spam email message, including the domain name from which it was sent (williehowell-dot-com) and the Internet address of the server that sent the message (46.161.42.91).

A look at the other domain names registered to this IP address block 46.161.42.x reveals some interesting patterns:

46.161.42.51 mail25.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.52 mail24.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.53 mail23.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.54 mail22.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.55 mail21.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.56 mail20.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.57 mail19.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.58 mail18.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.59 mail17.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.60 mail16.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.61 mail15.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.62 mail14.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.63 mail13.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.64 mail12.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.65 mail11.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.66 mail10.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.67 mail9.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.68 mail8.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.69 mail7.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.70 mail6.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.71 mail5.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.72 mail4.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.73 mail3.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.74 mail2.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.75 mail1.uscourtsgov[.]com
46.161.42.76 mail[.]commarysmith[.]com
46.161.42.77 mail.joancooper[.]com
46.161.42.78 mail.florencewoods[.]com
46.161.42.79 mail.ednawest[.]com
46.161.42.80 mail.ethelwebb[.]com
46.161.42.81 mail.eleanorhunt[.]com
46.161.42.82 mail.sallypierce[.]com
46.161.42.83 mail.reginaberry[.]com
46.161.42.84 mail.junecarroll[.]com
46.161.42.85 mail.robertaharper[.]com
46.161.42.86 mail.reneelane[.]com
46.161.42.87 mail.almaaustin[.]com
46.161.42.88 mail.elsiekelley[.]com
46.161.42.89 mail.vickifields[.]com
46.161.42.90 mail.ellaoliver[.]com
46.161.42.91 mail.williehowell[.]com
46.161.42.92 mail.veramccoy[.]com
46.161.42.93 mail.agnesbishop[.]com
46.161.42.94 mail.tanyagilbert[.]com
46.161.42.95 mail.mattiehoffman[.]com
46.161.42.96 mail.hildahopkins[.]com
46.161.42.97 beckymiles[.]com
46.161.42.98 mail.fayenorris[.]com
46.161.42.99 mail.joannaleonard[.]com
46.161.42.100 mail.rosieweber[.]com
46.161.42.101 mail.candicemanning[.]com
46.161.42.102 mail.sherirowe[.]com
46.161.42.103 mail.leticiagoodman[.]com
46.161.42.104 mail.myrafrancis[.]com
46.161.42.105 mail.jasminemaxwell[.]com
46.161.42.106 mail.eloisefrench[.]com

Search Google for any of those two-name domains above (e.g., fayenorris-dot-com) and you’ll see virtually all of them were used in these sextortion emails, and most were registered at the end of May 2018 through domain registrar Namecheap.

Notice the preponderance of the domain uscourtsgov-dot-com in the list above. All of those two-name domains used domain name servers (DNS servers) from uscourtsgov-dot-com at the time these emails were sent. In early June 2018, uscourtsgov-dot-com was associated with a Sigma ransomware scam delivered via spam. Victims who wanted their files back had to pay a bitcoin ransom.

In the months just before either the password-laced sextortion scam or the uscourtsgov-dot-com ransomware scam, uscourtsgov-com was devoid of content, aside from a message promoting the spamming services of the web site mtaexpert-dot-info. Uscourtsgov-dot-com is now offline, but it was active as of two weeks ago. Here’s what its homepage looked like:

The domain uscourtsgov-dot-com was redirecting visitors to mtaexpert-dot-info for many months up to and including the sextortion email campaign. Image: Domaintools.com

Interestingly, this same message promoting mtaexpert-dot-info appeared on the homepages of many other two-name domain names mentioned above (including fayenorris-dot-com):

Like uscourtsgov-dot-com, Fayenorris-dot-com also urged visitors to go to mtaexpert-dot-info.

Continue reading →


11
Jul 18

Notorious ‘Hijack Factory’ Shunned from Web

Score one for the good guys: Bitcanal, a Portuguese Web hosting firm long accused of helping spammers hijack large swaths of dormant Internet address space over the years, was summarily kicked off the Internet this week after a half-dozen of the company’s bandwidth providers chose to sever ties with the company.

Spammers and Internet service providers (ISPs) that facilitate such activity often hijack Internet address ranges that have gone unused for periods of time. Dormant or “unannounced” address ranges are ripe for abuse partly because of the way the global routing system works: Miscreants can “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting facilities are the authorized location for given Internet addresses. If nothing or nobody objects to the change, the Internet address ranges fall into the hands of the hijacker.

For years, security researchers have tracked the suspected theft of millions of IPv4 Internet addresses back to Bitcanal, which was also doing business under the name “Ebony Horizon.” Experts say shortly after obtaining a chunk of IP addresses, Bitcanal would apparently sell or lease the space to spammers, who would then begin sending junk email from those addresses — taking full advantage of the good or at least neutral Internet reputation of the previous owner to evade anti-spam blacklists.

Much of the hijacked address space routed by Bitcanal was once assigned to business entities that no longer exist. But some of the more brazen hijacks attributed to Bitcanal and its customers involved thousands of Internet addresses assigned to active organizations, such as the company’s well-documented acquisition of address space assigned to the Texas State Attorney General’s office, as well as addresses managed by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Bitcanal’s reputation finally caught up with the company late last month, when anti-spam activist and researcher Ron Guilmette documented yet another new major IP address hijack at the company and challenged Bitcanal’s upstream Internet providers to stop routing traffic for it (KrebsOnSecurity has published several stories about previous high-profile IP address hijacks involving spammers who were flagged by Guilmette).

Guilmette said Bitcanal and its proprietor — Portuguese businessman Joao Silveira — have a well-documented history of “behaving badly and coloring outside the lines for literally years.”

“His actions in absconding with other people’s IP address space, over the years, are those of either a spoiled child or else those of a sociopath, depending on one’s personal point of view,” Guilmette said. “In either case the Internet will, by and large, be glad to see his backside, and will be better off without him.”

Doug Madory, a researcher for Internet performance management firm Dyn (now owned by Oracle), published a blog post chronicling Bitcanal’s history as an address “hijack factory.” That post also documents the gradual ostracization of Bitcanal over the past week, as one major Internet exchange after another pulled the plug on the company.

Dyn’s depiction of Bitcanal’s final remaining upstream Internet provider pulling the plug on the company on July 10, effectively severing it from existence on the Web. Source: Dyn.

Reached for comment just days before Bitcanal was shunned by all of its peering providers, Mr. Silveira expressed shock and surprise over what he called unfair attacks against his company’s reputation. He blamed the besmirchment on one or two “bad” customers who abused his service over the years.

“My thought is that one or two customer in my network maybe [imitated] people acting like a client and force the errors or injecting bad network space,” Silveira said in an emailed response to KrebsOnSecurity. “I am not the problem and this public trial and conviction will not solve the prefix hijacking matter. If these questions remain without solution, those actors will keep doing it.” Continue reading →


2
Jul 17

Is it Time to Can the CAN-SPAM Act?

Regulators at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are asking for public comment on the effectiveness of the CAN-SPAM Act, a 14-year-old federal law that seeks to crack down on unsolicited commercial email. Judging from an unscientific survey by this author, the FTC is bound to get an earful.

spamspamspam

Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act” was passed in response to a rapid increase in junk email marketing.

The law makes it a misdemeanor to spoof the information in the “from:” field of any marketing message, and prohibits the sending of sexually-oriented spam without labeling it “sexually explicit.” The law also requires spammers to offer recipients a way to opt-out of receiving further messages, and to process unsubscribe requests within 10 business days.

The “CAN” in CAN-SPAM was a play on the verb “to can,” as in “to put an end to,” or “to throw away,” but critics of the law often refer to it as the YOU-CAN-SPAM Act, charging that it essentially legalized spamming. That’s partly because the law does not require spammers to get permission before they send junk email. But also because the act prevents states from enacting stronger anti-spam protections, and it bars individuals from suing spammers except under laws not specific to email.

Those same critics often argue that the law is rarely enforced, although a search on the FTC’s site for CAN-SPAM press releases produces quite a few civil suits brought by the commission against marketers over the years. Nevertheless, any law affecting Internet commerce is bound to need a few tweaks over the years, and CAN-SPAM has been showing its age for some time now.

Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam activists whose work has been profiled extensively on this blog, didn’t sugar-coat it, calling CAN-SPAM “a travesty that was foisted upon the American people by a small handful of powerful companies, most notably AOL and Microsoft, and by their obedient lackeys in Congress.”

According to Guilmette, the Act was deliberately fashioned so as to nullify California’s more restrictive anti-spam law, and it made it impossible for individual victims of spam to sue spam senders. Rather, he said, that right was reserved only for the same big companies that lobbied heavily for the passage of the CAN-SPAM Act.

“The entire Act should be thrown out and replaced,” Guilmette said. “It hasn’t worked to control spam, and it has in fact only served to make the problem worse.”

In the fix-it-don’t-junk-it camp is Joe Jerome, policy counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group. Jerome allowed that CAN-SPAM is far from perfect, but he said it has helped to set some ground rules.

“In her announcement on this effort, Acting Chairman Ohlhausen hinted that regulations can be excessive, outdated, or unnecessary,” Jerome said. “Nothing can be further from the case with respect to spam. CAN-SPAM was largely ineffective in stopping absolutely bad, malicious spammers, but it’s been incredibly important in creating a baseline for commercial email senders. Advertising transparency and easy opt-outs should not be viewed as a burden on companies, and I’d worry that weakening CAN-SPAM would set us back. If anything, we need stronger standards around opt-outs and quicker turn-around time, not less.” Continue reading →


19
Apr 17

Tracing Spam: Diet Pills from Beltway Bandits

Reading junk spam messages isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but sometimes fun can be had when you take a moment to check who really sent the email. Here’s the simple story of how a recent spam email advertising celebrity “diet pills” was traced back to a Washington, D.C.-area defense contractor that builds tactical communications systems for the U.S. military and intelligence communities.

atballYour average spam email can contain a great deal of information about the systems used to blast junk email. If you’re lucky, it may even offer insight into the organization that owns the networked resources (computers, mobile devices) which have been hacked for use in sending or relaying junk messages.

Earlier this month, anti-spam activist and expert Ron Guilmette found himself poring over the “headers” for a spam message that set off a curious alert. “Headers” are the usually unseen addressing and routing details that accompany each message. They’re generally unseen because they’re hidden unless you know how and where to look for them.

Let’s take the headers from this particular email — from April 12, 2017 — as an example. To the uninitiated, email headers may seem like an overwhelming dump of information. But there really are only a few things we’re interested in here (Guilmette’s actual email address has been modified to “ronsdomain.example.com” in the otherwise unaltered spam message headers below): Continue reading →


3
Aug 16

The Reincarnation of a Bulletproof Hoster

In April 2016, security firm Trend Micro published a damning report about a Web hosting provider referred to only as a “cyber-attack facilitator in the Netherlands.” If the Trend analysis lacked any real punch that might have been because — shortly after the report was published — names were redacted so that it was no longer immediately clear who the bad hosting provider was. This post aims to shine a bit more light on the individuals apparently behind this mysterious rogue hosting firm — a company called HostSailor[dot]com.

The Trend report observes that the unnamed, Netherlands-based virtual private sever (VPS) hosting provider appears to have few legitimate customers, and that the amount of abuse emanating from it “is so staggering that this company will remain on our watchlist in the next few months.”

hstm

What exactly is the awfulness spewing from the company that Trend takes great pains not to name as HostSailor.com? For starters, according to Trend’s data (PDF) HostSailor has long been a home for attacks tied to a Russian cyber espionage campaign dubbed “Pawn Storm.” From the report:

“Pawn Storm seems to feel quite at home. They used the VPS hosting company for at least 80 attacks since May 2015. Their attacks utilized C&C servers, exploit sites, spear-phishing campaigns, free Webmail phishing sites targeting high profile users, and very specific credential phishing sites against Government agencies of countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Malaysia, Montenegro, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ukraine, and United Arab Emirates. Pawn Storm also uses the VPS provider in the Netherlands for domestic espionage in Russia regularly.”

“Apart from Pawn Storm, a less sophisticated group of threat actors called DustySky (PDF link added) is using the VPS provider. These actors target Israel, companies who do business in Israel, Egypt and some other Middle Eastern governments.”

WHO IS HOSTSAILOR?

Trend’s report on HostSailor points to a LinkedIn profile for an Alexander Freeman at HostSailor who lists his location as Dubai. HostSailor’s Web site says the company has servers in The Netherlands and in Romania, and that it is based in Dubai. The company first came online in early 2013.

Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam researcher who tipped me off to the Trend report and whose research has been featured several times on this blog, reached out to Freeman via email. Guilmette later posted at the Ripe.net mailing list the vitriolic and threatening response he said he received in reply.

A snippet from the response that Guilmette said he received from a HostSailor employee named Alexander Freeman.

A snippet from the response that Guilmette said he received from a HostSailor employee named Alexander Freeman.

Perhaps Mr. Freeman’s ire was previously leveled at Trend Micro, which could explain their redaction of the name “HostSailor” from its report. A spokesperson for Trend Micro declined to explain why the company redacted its own report post-publication, saying only that “at the time of publication, we were following our standard disclosure protocol.”

In any case, I began to suspect that “Alexander Freeman” was just a pseudonym (Trend noted this suspicion in its report as well). In combing through the historic WHOIS registration records for the domain hostsailor.com, I noticed that the domain name changed hands sometime in late 2012. Sure enough, a simple Google search popped up this thread at Webhostingtalk.com back in Dec. 2012, which was started by a Jordan Peterson who says he’s looking to sell hostsailor.com.

Contacted by KrebsOnSecurity, Mr. Peterson said the person who responded about purchasing the domain was named Ali Al-Attiyah, and that this individual used the following email addresses:

ali.alattiyah@yahoo.com
ali.alattiyah@mail.com
hostsailor@hush.com

“I remember Ali telling me he didn’t have a paypal so a friend sent me the money for the domain, I looked up the paypal info for you and [Ali’s friend’s] name is Khalid Cook, masrawyz@yahoo.com,” Peterson told me. “The legal information for the domain transfer was given as:

152-160 City Road
London ec1v 2nx
UK”

That street address corresponds to a business named “yourvirtualofficelondon.co.uk,” which offers call answering services for companies that wish to list a prestigious London address without actually having a physical presence there.

Ali Al-Attiyah is listed as the official registrant of hostsailor.com and several other very similar domains. More interesting, however, is that email address given for Mr. Khalid Cook: masrawyz@yahoo.com. According to a “reverse WHOIS” search ordered from DomainTools.com, that Yahoo email address was used in the original registration records for exactly one domain: santrex.net.

Santrex (better known on Webhostingtalk.com as “Scamtrex“) was an extremely dodgy “bulletproof hosting” company — essentially a mini-ISP that specializes in offering services that are largely immune from takedown requests and pressure from Western law enforcement agencies. At the time, Google’s Safebrowsing database warned that almost 90 percent of the sites on Santrex’s network were attempting to foist malicious software on visitors or were hosting malware used in online attacks.

Santrex was forced out of business in early 2013, after the company’s core servers were massively hacked and the PayPal and credit card accounts it used to accept payments from customers were reportedly seized by unknown parties. In its final days as a hosting provider, Santrex’s main voice on Webhostingtalk.com — a user named “khalouda” — posted many rants that eerily echo the invective leveled at Guilmette by HostSailor’s Mr. Freeman.

Google’s take on the world’s most densely malicious networks over the past 12 months.

Google’s take on the world’s most densely malicious networks over the past 12 months.

WHO IS KHALID COOK?

Continue reading →


18
Jul 16

Carbanak Gang Tied to Russian Security Firm?

Among the more plunderous cybercrime gangs is a group known as “Carbanak,” Eastern European hackers blamed for stealing more than a billion dollars from banks. Today we’ll examine some compelling clues that point to a connection between the Carbanak gang’s staging grounds and a Russian security firm that claims to work with some of the world’s largest brands in cybersecurity.

The Carbanak gang derives its name from the banking malware used in countless high-dollar cyberheists. The gang is perhaps best known for hacking directly into bank networks using poisoned Microsoft Office files, and then using that access to force bank ATMs into dispensing cash. Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab estimates that the Carbanak Gang has likely stolen upwards of USD $1 billion — but mostly from Russian banks.

Image: Kaspersky

Image: Kaspersky

I recently heard from security researcher Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam crusader whose sleuthing has been featured on several occasions on this site and in the blog I wrote for The Washington Post. Guilmette said he’d found some interesting commonalities in the original Web site registration records for a slew of sites that all have been previously responsible for pushing malware known to be used by the Carbanak gang.

For example, the domains “weekend-service[dot]com” “coral-trevel[dot]com” and “freemsk-dns[dot]com” all were documented by multiple security firms as distribution hubs for Carbanak crimeware. Historic registration or “WHOIS” records maintained by Domaintools.com for all three domains contain the same phone and fax numbers for what appears to be a Xicheng Co. in China — 1066569215 and 1066549216, each preceded by either a +86 (China’s country code) or +01 (USA). Each domain record also includes the same contact address: “williamdanielsen@yahoo.com“.

According to data gathered by ThreatConnect, a threat intelligence provider [full disclosure: ThreatConnect is an advertiser on this blog], at least 484 domains were registered to the williamdanielsen@yahoo.com address or to one of 26 other email addresses that listed the same phone numbers and Chinese company.  “At least 304 of these domains have been associated with a malware plugin [that] has previously been attributed to Carbanak activity,” ThreatConnect told KrebsOnSecurity.

Going back to those two phone numbers, 1066569215 and 1066549216; at first glance they appear to be sequential, but closer inspection reveals they differ slightly in the middle. Among the very few domains registered to those Chinese phone numbers that haven’t been seen launching malware is a Web site called “cubehost[dot]biz,” which according to records was registered in Sept. 2013 to a 28-year-old Artem Tveritinov of Perm, Russia.

Cubehost[dot]biz is a dormant site, but it appears to be the sister property to a Russian security firm called Infocube (also spelled “Infokube”). The InfoKube web site — infokube.ru — is also registered to Mr. Tveritinov of Perm, Russia; there are dozens of records in the WHOIS history for infokube.ru, but only the oldest, original record from 2011 contains the email address atveritinov@gmail.com. 

That same email address was used to register a four-year-old profile account at the popular Russian social networking site Vkontakte for Artyom “LioN” Tveritinov from Perm, Russia. The “LioN” bit is an apparent reference to an Infokube anti-virus product by the same name. Continue reading →


13
Nov 14

Network Hijackers Exploit Technical Loophole

Spammers have been working methodically to hijack large chunks of Internet real estate by exploiting a technical and bureaucratic loophole in the way that various regions of the globe keep track of the world’s Internet address ranges.

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity featured an in-depth piece about a well-known junk email artist who acknowledged sending from two Bulgarian hosting providers. These two providers had commandeered tens of thousands of Internet addresses from ISPs around the globe, including Brazil, China, India, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Taiwan and Vietnam.

For example, a closer look at the Internet addresses hijacked by one of the Bulgarian providers — aptly named “Mega-Spred” with an email contact of “abuse@grimhosting” — shows that this provider has been slowly  gobbling up far-flung IP address ranges since late August 2014.

This table, with data from the RIPE NCC -- of the regional Internet Registries, shows IP address hijacking activity by Bulgarian host Mega-Spred.

This table, with data from the RIPE NCC — of the regional Internet Registries, shows IP address hijacking activity by Bulgarian host Mega-Spred.

According to several security and anti-spam experts who’ve been following this activity, Mega-Spred and the other hosting provider in question (known as Kandi EOOD) have been taking advantage of an administrative weakness in the way that some countries and regions of the world keep tabs on the IP address ranges assigned to various hosting providers and ISPs. Neither Kandi nor Mega-Spred responded to requests for comment.

IP address hijacking is hardly a new phenomenon. Spammers sometimes hijack Internet address ranges that go unused for periods of time. Dormant or “unannounced” address ranges are ripe for abuse partly because of the way the global routing system works: Miscreants can “announce” to the rest of the Internet that their hosting facilities are the authorized location for given Internet addresses. If nothing or nobody objects to the change, the Internet address ranges fall into the hands of the hijacker.

Experts say the hijackers also are exploiting a fundamental problem with record-keeping activities of RIPE NCC, the regional Internet registry (RIR) that oversees the allocation and registration of IP addresses for Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. RIPE is one of several RIRs, including ARIN (which handles mostly North American IP space) and APNIC (Asia Pacific), LACNIC (Latin America) and AFRINIC (Africa). Continue reading →