Posts Tagged: small business victims


25
Jul 17

How a Citadel Trojan Developer Got Busted

A U.S. District Court judge in Atlanta last week handed a five year prison sentence to Mark Vartanyan, a Russian hacker who helped develop and sell the once infamous and widespread Citadel banking trojan. This fact has been reported by countless media outlets, but far less well known is the fascinating backstory about how Vartanyan got caught.

For several years, Citadel ruled the malware scene for criminals engaged in stealing online banking passwords and emptying bank accounts. U.S. prosecutors say Citadel infected more than 11 million computers worldwide, causing financial losses of at least a half billion dollars.

Like most complex banking trojans, Citadel was marketed and sold in secluded, underground cybercrime markets. Often the most time-consuming and costly aspect of malware sales and development is helping customers with any tech support problems they may have in using the crimeware.

In light of that, one innovation that Citadel brought to the table was to crowdsource some of this support work, easing the burden on the malware’s developers and freeing them up to spend more time improving their creations and adding new features.

Citadel users discuss the merits of including a module to remove other parasites from host PCs.

Citadel users discuss the merits of including a module to remove other parasites from host PCs.

Citadel boasted an online tech support system for customers designed to let them file bug reports, suggest and vote on new features in upcoming malware versions, and track trouble tickets that could be worked on by the malware developers and fellow Citadel users alike. Citadel customers also could use the system to chat and compare notes with fellow users of the malware.

It was this very interactive nature of Citadel’s support infrastructure that FBI agents would ultimately use to locate and identify Vartanyan, who went by the nickname “Kolypto.” The nickname of the core seller of Citadel was “Aquabox,” and the FBI was keen to identify Aquabox and any programmers he’d hired to help develop Citadel.

In June 2012, FBI agents bought several licenses of Citadel from Aquabox, and soon the agents were suggesting tweaks to the malware that they could use to their advantage. Posing as an active user of the malware, FBI agents informed the Citadel developers that they’d discovered a security vulnerability in the Web-based interface that Citadel customers used to keep track of and collect passwords from infected systems (see screenshot below).

A screenshot of the Citadel botnet panel.

A screenshot of the Web-based Citadel botnet control panel.

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9
Mar 10

Cyber Crooks Leave Traditional Bank Robbers in the Dust

Organized cyber criminals stole more than $25 million from small to mid-sized businesses in brazen e-banking heists in the 3rd quarter of 2009 alone, federal regulators said last week. In contrast, traditional stick-up artists hauled less than $9.5 million out of U.S. banks over that same time period last year.

Speaking at the RSA Security Conference in San Francisco last week, David Nelson, an examination specialist with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), said online banking attacks against small businesses of the sort I have chronicled countless times over the past year netted thieves $25 million between July and September of 2009.

I wondered how that stacked up against real-life bank robbers here in the U.S., so I had a look at the FBI‘s published bank crime statistics for that same time period last year. Turns out, traditional bank robbers committed a total of 1,184 bank robberies during those three months, netting slightly more than $9.4 million (including $3,071 in travelers checks).

In fact, real-life bank robbers stole a total of just over $30 million in the first three quarters of 2009, just $5 million more than cyber crooks did in the third quarter of last year alone.

Small wonder that the haul from cyber bank robberies has overtaken that of physical heists:  Cyber thieves take far fewer risks to life, liberty and limb than do real-life bank robbers. In that same three month period last year, the FBI says bank robberies at bricks-and-mortar institutions caused five deaths — all them perpetrators of the crime.

What’s more, the perpetrators of these incessant attacks against small businesses banking online for the most part reside in countries that are traditionally beyond the reach and influence of U.S. law enforcement. Sure, bank robbers occasionally kill people (more often themselves) while they’re stealing your money, instead of silently lifting it out of your bank account from afar like cyber thieves. That alone makes them a more emotional high-value target for the feds. But let’s face it: Traditional stick up artists are a lot easier to collar. For one thing, by necessity they are all here in the United States.

In addition, while traditional bank robbers are limited to the amount of money they can physically carry from the scene of the crime, cyber thieves have a seemingly limitless supply of accomplices to help them haul the loot, by hiring so-called money mules to carry the cash for them.

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29
Dec 09

Story-Driven Résumé: My Best Work 2005-2009

I began writing for The Washington Post in 1996, and started covering computer and Internet security in 1999. Below are links to what I believe is some of my best work over the past four years or so. Virtually all of the stories and blog posts listed here were either Washington Post/Security Fix exclusives, or were the result of my investigative reporting and research aimed at shining a light on the Internet’s darkest corners, and educating readers about the importance of security.

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