Posts Tagged: Spamit


12
Sep 11

Pharma Wars: Paying for Prosecution

In June 2011, Russian authorities arrested Pavel Vrublevsky, co-founder of ChronoPay, Russia’s largest processor of online payments, for allegedly hiring a hacker to attack his company’s rivals. New evidence suggests that Vrublevsky’s arrest was the product of a bribe paid by Igor Gusev, the other co-founder of ChronoPay and a man wanted by Russian police as a spam kingpin.

Igor Gusev, in an undated photo taken at a family birthday celebration.

Two years after forming ChronoPay in 2003, Gusev and Vrublevsky parted ways. Not long after that breakup, Gusev would launch Glavmed and its sister program SpamIt, affiliate operations that paid the world’s most notorious spammers millions of dollars to promote rogue Internet pharmacies. Not to be outdone, Vrublevsky started his own rogue pharmacy program, Rx-Promotion, in 2007, contracting with some of the same spammers who were working at Gusev’s businesses.

By 2009, the former partners were actively trying to scuttle each others’ businesses. Vrublevsky allegedly paid hackers to break into and leak the contact and earnings data from GlavMed/SpamIt. He also reportedly paid a man named Igor “Engel” Artimovich to launch a volley of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against SpamIt.

Gusev told me he long suspected Artimovich was involved in the attacks, and that he had information that Vrublevsky hired Artimovich to attack ChronoPay’s rivals while they were locked in a competition for a lucrative contract to process online payments for Aeroflot, Russia’s biggest airline.

Last month, hundreds of chat conversations apparently between Gusev and his right-hand man, Dmitry Stupin, were leaked online. They indicate that Gusev may have caused Vrublevsky’s arrest by paying Russian law enforcement investigators to go after Artimovich.

Over the past year, Gusev has insisted in numerous phone interviews that the increasingly public conflict between him and Vrublevsky was not a “war,” but more of a personal spat. But if the chat below is accurate, Gusev most certainly viewed the conflict as a war all along.

The following is from a leaked chat, allegedly between Gusev and Stupin, dated Sept. 26, 2010. The two men had already decided to close SpamIt, and were considering whether to do the same with GlavMed. “Red,” mentioned twice in the discussion below, is a reference to Vrublevsky, also known as “RedEye.”

Gusev: $2k from HzMedia to China – it’s mine. We also need to send additional money for salaries plus double bonus to Misha (Michael). I have already paid $50k for Engel’s case (20к – forensics, $30к – to speed up the starting of the criminal case)

Stupin: Why have you paid for Engel’s case ? I was even against paying for the Red’s case. Why pay for Engel’s?  What is the point?

Gusev: To my mind, you do not fully understand what’s been going on for the last year. Paul has a plan to either throw me into jail or end me. His intentions are totally clear. There are only two choices: 1 – do nothing, and pay nothing to nobody, and at the end either go to jail or keep hiding until all the resources are exhausted; 2 – do the same thing, as he is doing, with the same goal.

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30
Aug 11

Pharma Wars: Purchasing Protection

Leaked online chats between the co-owners of the world’s largest pharmacy spam operation reveal the extent to which illicit organizations in Russia purchase political protection, and bribe public officials into initiating or stalling law enforcement investigations.

Last month, there was a leak of more than four years of chat logs seized by Russian police who had arrested and interrogated Dmitry Stupin, allegedly the co-owner of GlavMed and the now-defunct SpamIt, organizations that paid spammers millions of dollars each month to promote fly-by-night online pharmacies.

In the the Jan. 9, 2010 chat between Stupin and Igor Gusev, the alleged other owner of GlavMed and SpamIt, Gusev has just learned that he and his operation are under investigation by Russian authorities (Gusev would be formally charged with illegal business activities in October 2010, forcing the closure of SpamIt). Gusev says he may be able to purchase shelter from the charges by funneling money to key Russian politicians who have influence over investigators.

Specifically, Gusev suggests purchasing a sponsorship of the Volleyball Federation of Russia. The price tag for this is an official sponsorship fee of 10 million rubles (about $350,000 USD), plus $150,000 in cash. The official head of the federation, Nikolai Patrushev, is a powerful man in Russian law enforcement. Patrushev was director of the Russian FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, from 1999 to 2008; he has been secretary of the Security Council of Russia since 2008.

Sources say it is typical for Russian sport leagues and charities to be used as vehicles for funneling money into the pockets of policymakers. One example comes from a book by Lennart Dahlgren, former head of the Russian division of Swedish furniture maker IKEA. In Despite Absurdity: How I Conquered Russia While It Conquered Me, Dahlgren writes of having to pay bribes of 30 million Rubles ($1 million USD) to Russian charities that helped funnel money to bureaucrats and top officials.

In this chat, translated from Russian into English, Gusev mentions that a close friend of his family is a director general of the Volleyball Federation;

Gusev: We have big problems. Register fake mailbox somewhere. I will send you something very important.

Gusev: Let’s move Jabber to a new server and encrypt it. We’ll have a trusted communication channel. Everything is very bad 🙁

Gusev: asdas12334@mail.ru / mgadjadtwa2009. check the e-mail.

Gusev: Are you reading?

Stupin: Yes. Do not know what to say.

Gusev: There is nothing to say. We have only two ways: find someone from law enforcement, pay up and be under protection [or] be placed in jail for 7-9 years and do self-analysis. I have one more way out, but I could not decide regarding it in December, because it was very expensive. It is about 10 million rubles officially and 150K under the table.

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19
Aug 11

Pharma Wars, Part II

Earlier this year, Russian police arrested Dmitry Stupin, a man known in hacker circles as “SaintD.” Stupin was long rumored to be the right-hand man of Igor Gusev, the alleged proprietor of GlavMed and SpamIt, two shadowy sister organizations that until this time last year were the largest sources of spam touting rogue Internet pharmacies.

According to several sources who are familiar with the matter, Russian police pulled Stupin off of a plane before it left Moscow. The police also reportedly took Stupin’s MacBook and copied its contents. The police detained Stupin as part of an investigation into Gusev launched nearly a year ago. Gusev fled his native Moscow last year and has not returned.

Sometime in the past few days, more than four years’ worth of chat conversations — apparently between Stupin, Gusev and dozens of other GlavMed employees — were leaked. Those conversations offer a fascinating glimpse into the day-to-day operations one of the world’s largest cyber criminal organizations.

The chat logs also catalog the long-running turf battle between Gusev and his former business partner, Pavel Vrublevsky. The two men were co-founders of ChronoPay, one of Russia’s largest online payments processor. Vrublevsky is now in jail awaiting trial on charges of hiring a hacker to attack his company’s rivals. He also has been identified as a co-owner of a competing rogue pharmacy program, the now-defunct Rx-Promotion.

I have had numerous interviews with both Gusev and Vrublevsky, both of whom accuse one another of bribing Russian law enforcement officials and politicians to initiate criminal proceedings against each other.

While there is no direct evidence Vrublevsky paid for a prosecution of Gusev, documents stolen from ChronoPay last year by hackers indicate that the company arranged to pay the salaries of several people on the Russian Association of Electronic Communications (RAEC). Those same documents show that Vrublevsky and RAEC members were closely involved in the investigation into Gusev the months and weeks leading up to the official charges against him.

The chat records between Stupin and Gusev, a tiny sliver of which is translated here from Russian into English, suggest that the two men paid authorities for protection. Contacted via email, Gusev declined to say whether the chats logs were legitimate or comment further, explaining that he was still reviewing the documents.

“If at least some of these logs are legit, then it means that I was telling the truth about paid criminal case against me initiated by Pavel and his constant connection with investigators,” Gusev said. “I know for sure that Pavel had access to evidences which were gathered by the investigators while he shouldn’t have such access. Before I just didn’t have any proof for this. Now I have.”

The latest leaked archive contains more than 166 megabytes of chat logs, allegedly between Stupin, Gusev and others. The following chat log is dated Aug. 28, 2010, just days after Vrublevsky leaked the SpamIt and GlavMed affiliate and customer data to U.S. law enforcement agencies. In this conversation, Stupin and Gusev allegedly discuss whether to close SpamIt (SpamIt would be closed a month later). “Red” in the first sentence is a reference to Vrublevsky, well known to use the hacker alias “RedEye.”

Gusev: It looks like I am in deep shit.  Red gave our database to Americans.

Dmitriy Stupin

Stupin: To which Americans?

Gusev: I can’t tell exactly, yet. Probably to FBI or Secret Service. Have you read on Krebs’ blog about meeting at White House regarding illegal pharmacy problems on the Internet?

Stupin: No.

Gusev: http://krebsonsecurity.com/2010/08/white-house-calls-meeting-on-rogue-online-pharmacies

Stupin: Maybe you return back to Russia?

Gusev: I am planning to do that. I am really worried now 🙁

Stupin: What about Red? For that money. May be let’s close down everything?

Gusev: In any case, he will be squished to the end. Everything is done pretty properly. Chronology: – He got thrown out from major banks (Masterbank, Bank Standard and almost from UCS. Too many clients left him. Investigations have been made on data regarding processing. Major issue now – close down the channel via Azerbaijan  (the only place where he can do his own processing and processing for his clients). We need him have an acute issue with money, otherwise he is going to slow down the investigation as much as he can.

Gusev: Do you think “closing down” will help? Just realize: they have our ENTIRE database… there are 900,000 records. What are we going to do with those? For conviction and 5-year jail time it is only necessary to prove 1 transaction! What is the worst? They combine the sentences and it is possible to get 5 life sentences.

Stupin: I think yes, we will receive lower priority.

Gusev: And who is considered a high priority? I am trying to figure out how he gave us up, and do the same for him. There will be 2 cases instead of one.

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26
Jul 11

Spam & Fake AV: Like Ham & Eggs

An explosion of online fraud tools and services online makes it easier than ever for novices to get started in computer crime. At the same time, a growing body of evidence suggests that much of the world’s cybercrime activity may be the work of a core group of miscreants who’ve been at it for many years.

I recently highlighted the financial links among the organizations responsible for promoting fake antivirus products and spam-advertised pharmacies; all were relying on a few banks in Azerbaijan to process credit card payments.

In this segment, I’ll look at the personnel overlap between the fake AV and pharma industries. The data is drawn from two places: a study done by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) that examined three of the most popular fake AV affiliate services which pay hackers to foist worthless software on clueless Internet users; and the leaked Glavmed/Spamit affiliate database, which includes the financial and contact information for many of the world’s top spammers and hackers.

UCSB researcher Brett Stone-Gross and I compared the ICQ instant message numbers belonging to affiliates from Glavmed/Spamit with the ICQ numbers used by affiliates of the largest of the fake AV programs measured by his research team. The result? 417 out of 998 affiliates who were registered with the fake AV distribution service — a whopping 42.2 percent — also were registered pharma spammers with Glavmed/Spamit.

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28
Mar 11

Microsoft Hunting Rustock Controllers

Who controlled the Rustock botnet? The question remains unanswered: Microsoft’s recent takedown of the world’s largest spam engine offered tantalizing new clues to the identity and earnings of the Rustock botmasters. The data shows that Rustock’s curators made millions by pimping rogue Internet pharmacies, but also highlights the challenges that investigators still face in tracking down those responsible for building and profiting from this complex crime machine.

Earlier this month, Microsoft crippled Rustock by convincing a court to let it seize dozens of Rustock control servers that were scattered among several U.S.-based hosting providers. Shortly after that takedown, I began following the money trail to learn who ultimately paid the botnet controllers’ hosts for their services.

According to interviews with investigators involved in the Rustock takedown, approximately one-third of the control servers were rented from U.S. hosting providers by one entity: A small business in Eastern Europe that specializes in reselling hosting services to shadowy individuals who frequent underground hacker forums.

KrebsOnSecurity.com spoke to that reseller. In exchange for the agreement that I not name his operation or his location, he provided payment information about the customer who purchased dozens of servers that were used to manipulate the day-to-day operations of the massive botnet.

The reseller was willing to share information about his client because the customer turned out to be a deadbeat: The customer walked out on two months worth of rent, an outstanding debt of $1,600. The reseller also seemed willing to talk to me because I might be able bend the ear of Spamhaus.org, the anti-spam group that urged ISPs worldwide to block his Internet addresses (several thousand dollars worth of rented servers) shortly after Microsoft announced the Rustock takedown.

I found the reseller advertising his services on a Russian-language forum that caters exclusively to spammers, where he describes the hardware, software and connection speed capabilities of the very servers that he would later rent out to the Rustock botmaster. That solicitation, which was posted on a major spammer forum in January 2010, offered prospective clients flexible terms without setting too many boundaries on what they could do with the servers. A translated version of part of his message:

“I am repeating again that the servers are legitimate, funded by us and belong to our company. To the datacenters, we are responsible to ensure that you are our client, and that you will not break the terms of use. Also, to you we are responsible to make sure that the servers are not going to be closed down because of credit card chargebacks, as it happens with servers funded with stolen credit cards. In conclusion, they do not have an abuse report center, they are suitable for legitimate projects, VPNs and everything else that does not lead to problems and complaints to the data center from active Internet users. Please, take it in consideration, so that nobody is pissed off and there is no bad impression from our partnership.”

The reseller said he had no idea that his customer was using the servers to control the Rustock botnet, but he hastened to add that this particular client didn’t attract too much attention to himself. According to the reseller, the servers he resold to the Rustock botmaster generated just two abuse complaints from the Internet service providers (ISPs) that hosted those servers. Experts say this makes sense because botnet control servers typically generate few abuse complaints, because they are almost never used for the sort of activity that usually prompts abuse reports, such as sending spam or attacking others online. Instead, the servers only were used to coordinate the activities of hundreds of thousands of PCs infected with Rustock, periodically sending them program updates and new spamming instructions.

The reseller was paid for the servers from an account at WebMoney, a virtual currency similar to PayPal but more popular among Russian and Eastern European consumers. The reseller shared the unique numeric ID attached to that WebMoney account — WebMoney purse “Z166284889296.” That purse belonged to an “attested” WebMoney account, meaning that the account holder at some point had to verify his identity by presenting an official Russian passport at a WebMoney office. A former law enforcement officer involved in the Rustock investigation said the name attached to that attested account was “Vladimir Shergin.” According to the reseller, the client stated in an online chat that he was from Saint Petersburg, Russia.

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25
Feb 11

Pharma Wars

How do you chronicle the struggle for control of an underground empire when neither combatant wants to admit that he is fighting or even that a war is underway? That’s the nature of a business-feud turned turf-war that is playing out right now between the bosses of two of the Internet’s largest illicit pharmacy operations.

On Thursday, I wrote about an anonymous source using the pseudonym “Despduck” who shared a copy of the back-end database for Glavmed, a.k.a. “SpamIt”, until recently the biggest black market distributor of generic pharmaceuticals on the Internet. The database indicates that Glavmed processed in excess of 1.5 million orders from more than 800,000 consumers who purchased knockoff prescription drugs between May 2007 and June 2010.

Despduck first proffered the Glavmed data through a mutual source in the anti-spam community, and claimed that the alleged owner of the pharmacy program, a Russian businessman named Igor Gusev, would soon be charged with illegal business activities. Sure enough, near the end of September 2010, Russian officials announced a criminal investigation into Gusev and his businesses. Shortly after those charges were brought, SpamIt.com was closed down. Consequently, the volume of spam flowing into inboxes around the world fell precipitously, likely because SpamIt.com affiliates fell into a period of transitioning to other pharmacy networks.

Gusev is now in exile from Russia; he blames his current predicament– and the leak of the Glavmed data — on his former business partner, fellow Muscovite Pavel Vrublevsky. The latter is a founder of Russian e-payment giant ChronoPay, a company Gusev also helped to co-found almost eight years ago (according to incorporation documents I obtained from the Netherlands Chamber of Commerce — where ChronoPay was established — for a time Gusev and Vrublevsky were 50/50 partners in ChronoPay).

As reported in my story earlier this week, tens of thousands of internal documents and emails stolen from ChronoPay and leaked to key individuals suggest that Vrublevsky is managing a competing online pharmacy network called Rx-Promotion. It turns out that the Glavmed database was stolen at about the same time as ChronoPay’s breach.

Vrublevsky denies being the source of the purloined Glavmed/SpamIt database, but the bounty of leaked ChronoPay documents suggests otherwise. Included in the email records are messages sent to and from an inbox that used the display name “Kill Glavmed.” What was the email address tied to that name? “Despduck@gmail.com,” the very same address used to communicate with my anti-spam source.

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1
Dec 10

FBI Identifies Russian ‘Mega-D’ Spam Kingpin

Federal investigators have identified a 23-year-old Russian man as the mastermind behind the notorious “Mega-D” botnet, a network of spam-spewing PCs that once accounted for roughly a third of all spam sent worldwide.

According to public court documents related to an ongoing investigation, a grand jury probe has indicted Moscow resident Oleg Nikolaenko as the author and operator of the Mega-D botnet.

Federal agents settled on Nikolaenko thanks to information provided by Lance Atkinson, an Australian man named as a co-conspirator in the “Affking” e-mail marketing and counterfeiting operation that was shuttered in 2008 after investigations by the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission and international law enforcement authorities. The Affking program generated revenues of $500,000 a month using spam to promote counterfeit Rolexes, herbal “male enhancement” pills and generic prescription drugs.

As part of his guilty plea to spam violations, Atkinson provided investigators information on the top spammers who helped to promote the Affking products. Among them was an affiliate who used the online nickname “Docent,” who earned nearly $467,000 in commissions over a six month period in 2007.

Atkinson told investigators that Docent’s commissions were sent to an ePassporte account, under the name “Genbucks_dcent,” that was tied to the e-mail address “4docent@gmail.com.” Records subpoenaed by the grand jury found that the ePassporte account was registered in Nikolaenko’s name to an address in Moscow.

According to court documents, investigators found numerous executable files in Docent’s Gmail inbox. Those files were analyzed by researchers at SecureWorks, an Atlanta based security firm, which found them to be samples of the Mega-D malware.

Update: [Nikolaenko was reportedly arrested in the United States recently. See update at the end, after the jump.]

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27
Sep 10

Spam Affiliate Program Spamit.com to Close

Spamit, a closely guarded affiliate program that for years has paid some of the world’s top spammers to promote counterfeit pharmacy Web sites, now says that it will close up shop at the end of September.

Spamit administrators blamed the impending closure on increased public attention to its program, which interacted with affiliates via several sites bearing the spamit brand, including spamit.com, spamit.biz, and spamdot.biz.

The program’s homepage was replaced with the following message (pictured above) a few days ago:

Because of the numerous negative events happened last year and the risen attention to our affiliate program we’ve decided to stop accepting the traffic from 1.10.2010 [Oct. 1, 2010]. We find the decision the most appropriate in this situation. It provides avoiding the sudden work stop which leads to the program collapse and not paying your profit.

In our case the whole profit will be paid normally. All possible frauds are excluded. Please transfer your traffic to other affiliate programs till 1.10.2010.

Thank you for your cooperation! We appreciate your trust very much!

Dmitry Samosseiko, senior manager of SophosLabs Canada, wrote last year in his excellent Partnerka paper (PDF) that Spamit affiliates are thought to responsible for managing some of the world’s most disruptive, infectious and sophisticated collections of hacked PCs or “botnets,” including Storm, Waledec and potentially Conficker.

A Canadian Pharmacy site advertised by Glavmed/Spamit

Spamit affiliates are best known for promoting the ubiquitous ‘Canadian Pharmacy’ Web sites, such as the one pictured to the left (zithmed.com). While at any given time there are thousands of these fly-by-night Canadian Pharmacy sites online selling prescription drugs without requiring a prescription, these pharmacies are about as Canadian as caviar: Experts say most of the drugs sent to buyers are made in and shipped from India and/or China.

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