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May 13

Reports: Liberty Reserve Founder Arrested, Site Shuttered

The founder of Liberty Reserve, a digital currency that has evolved as perhaps the most popular form of payment in the cybercrime underground, was reportedly arrested in Spain this week on suspicion of money laundering. News of the law enforcement action may help explain an ongoing three-day outage at On Friday, the domain registration records for that site and for several other digital currency exchanges began pointing to, a volunteer organization dedicated to combating global computer crime.

lriconAccording to separate reports in The Tico Times and La Nacion, two Costa Rican daily newspapers, police in Spain arrested Arthur Budovsky Belanchuk, 39, as part of a money laundering investigation jointly run by authorities in New York and Costa Rica.

Update, May 28, 9:11 a.m. ET: is now resolving again, but its homepage has been replaced by a notice saying “THIS DOMAIN NAME HAS BEEN SEIZED,” and features badges from the U.S. Treasury Dept., U.S. Secret Service, and the DHS.

Original story:

The papers cited Costa Rican prosecutor José Pablo González saying that Budovsky, a Costa Rican citizen of Ukrainian origin, has been under investigation since 2011 for money laundering using Liberty Reserve, a company he created in Costa Rica. “Local investigations began after a request from a prosecutor’s office in New York,” Tico Times reporter L. Arias wrote. “On Friday, San José prosecutors conducted raids in Budovsky’s house and offices in Escazá, Santa Ana, southwest of San José, and in the province of Heredia, north of the capital. Budovsky’s businesses in Costa Rica apparently were financed by using money from child pornography websites and drug trafficking.”

For those Spanish-speaking readers out there, Gonzalez can be seen announcing the raids in a news conference documented in this video (the subtitles option for English do a decent job of translation as well).

Liberty Reserve is a largely unregulated money transfer business that allows customers to open accounts using little more than a valid email address, and this relative anonymity has attracted a huge number of customers from underground economies, particularly cybercrime.

In a now 10-page thread on this crime forum, many members are facing steep losses.

In a now 10-page thread on this crime forum, many members are facing steep losses.

The trouble started on Thursday, when inexplicably went offline. The outage set off increasingly anxious discussions on several major cybercrime forums online, as many that work and ply their trade in malicious software and banking fraud found themselves unable to access their funds. For example, a bulletproof hosting provider on known as “” (a hacker profiled in this blog last week) said he stood to lose $25,000, and that the Liberty Reserve shutdown “could be the most massive ownage in the history of e-currency.”

That concern turned to dread for some after it became apparent that this was no ordinary outage. On Friday, the domain name servers for were changed and pointed to and Shadowserver is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that works to help Internet service providers and hosting firms eradicate malware infections and botnets located on their servers.

In computer security lexicon, a sinkhole is basically a way of redirecting malicious Internet traffic so that it can be captured and analyzed by experts and/or law enforcement officials. In its 2011 takedown of the Coreflood botnet, for example, the U.S. Justice Department relied on sinkholes maintained by the nonprofit Internet Systems Consortium (ISC). Sinkholes are most often used to seize control of botnets, by interrupting the DNS names the botnet is programmed to use. Ironically, as of this writing is not resolving, possibly because the Web site is under a botnet attack (hackers from at least one forum threatened to attack in retaliation for losing access to their funds).

Reached via Twitter, a representative from Shadowserver declined to comment on the outage or about Liberty Reserve, saying “We are not able to provide public comment at this time.” I could find no official statement from the U.S. Justice Department on this matter either. is not the only virtual currency exchange that has been redirected to Shadowserver’s DNS servers. According to passive DNS data collected by the ISC, at least five digital currency exchanges — and — also went offline this week, their DNS records changed to the same sinkhole entries at

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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.


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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May 11

Advanced Persistent Tweets: Zero-Day in 140 Characters

The unceasing barrage of targeted email attacks that leverage zero-day software flaws to steal sensitive information from businesses and the U.S. government often are described as being ultra-sophisticated, almost ninja-like in stealth and anonymity. But according to expert analysis of several recent zero-day attacks – including the much publicized break-in at security giant RSA — the Chinese developers of those attack tools left clues aplenty about their identities and locations, with one apparent contender even Tweeting about having newly discovered a vulnerability days in advance of its use in the wild.

Zero-day threats are attacks which exploit security vulnerabilities that a software vendor learns about at the same time as the general public  does;   The vendor has “zero days” to fix the flaw before it gets exploited. RSA and others have labeled recent zero-day attacks as the epitome of the so-called “advanced persistent threat” (APT), a controversial term describing the daily onslaught of digital assaults launched by attackers who are considered highly-skilled, determined and possessed of a long-term perspective on their mission. Because these attacks often result in the theft of sensitive and proprietary information from the government and private industry, the details usually are shrouded in secrecy when law enforcement and national security investigators swoop in.

Open source information available about the tools used in recent attacks labeled APT indicates that some of the actors involved are doing little to cover their tracks: Not only are they potentially identifiable, they don’t seem particularly concerned about suffering any consequences from their actions.

Bragging rights may play a part in the attackers’  lack of duplicity. On Apr. 11, 2011, security experts began publishing information about a new zero-day attack that exploited a previously unknown vulnerability in Adobe‘s Flash Player software, a browser plug-in installed in 96 percent of the world’s Microsoft Windows PCs .  The exploit code was hidden inside a Microsoft Word document titled “Disentangling Industrial Policy and Competition Policy.doc,” and reportedly was emailed to an unknown number of U.S. government employees and contractors.

Four days earlier, on Apr. 7, an individual on Twitter calling himself “Yuange” and adopting the humble motto “No. 1 hacker in China top hacker in the world,” tweeted a small snippet of exploit code, apparently to signal that he had advance knowledge of the attack:

call [0x1111110+0x08].

It wasn’t long before malware researchers were extracting that exact string from the innards of a Flash exploit that was landing in email inboxes around the globe.

Tweeting a key snippet of code hidden in a zero-day exploit in advance of its public release may seem like the hacker equivalent of Babe Ruth pointing to the cheap seats right before nailing a home run. But investigators say the Chinese Internet address used to download the malicious files in the early hours of the April Flash zero-day attacks — — was in some ways bolder than most because that address  would appear highly unusual and memorable to any reasonably vigilant network administrator.

This wasn’t the first time Yuange had bragged about advance knowledge of impending zero-day attacks. On Oct. 27, 2010, he boasted of authoring a zero-day exploit targeting a previously unknown vulnerability in Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser:

Wrote the firefox 0day. You may see “for(inx=0’inx<0x8964;inx++). You should know why 0x8964 here.

That same day, experts discovered that the Web site for the Nobel Peace Prize was serving up malicious software that exploited a new vulnerability in Firefox. An analysis of the attack code published by a member of Mozilla’s security team revealed the exact code snippet Yuange had tweeted.

On February 28, 2011, Yuange taunted on Twitter that new zero-day traps were being set:

ready? new flash 0day is on the way.

On Mar. 14, Adobe acknowledged that a new Flash flaw was being exploited via a booby-trapped Flash component tucked inside of Microsoft Excel files. Three days after that, EMC’s security division RSA dropped a bombshell: Secret files related to its widely used SecurID authentication tokens had been stolen in “an extremely sophisticated cyber attack.” A follow-up blog post from RSA’s Uri River two weeks later stated that the break-in was precipitated by the zero-day Adobe had warned about on Mar. 14, and that the lure used in the attack on RSA was an Excel file named “2011 Recruitment Plan.”

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