Posts Tagged: SWATting


25
Jan 19

Three Charged for Working With Serial Swatter

The U.S. Justice Department has filed criminal charges against three U.S. men accused of swatting, or making hoax reports of bomb threats or murders in a bid to trigger a heavily armed police response to a target’s address. Investigators say the men, aged 19 to 23, all carried out the attacks with the help of Tyler Barriss, a convicted serial swatter whose last stunt in late 2018 cost a Kansas man his life.

Image: FBI.gov

FBI agents on Wednesday arrested Neal Patel, 23, of Des Plaines, Ill. and Tyler Stewart, 19 of Gulf Breeze, Fla. The third defendant, Logan Patten, 19, of Greenwood, Mo., agreed to turn himself in. The men are charged in three separate indictments with conspiracy and conveying false information about the use of explosive devices.

Investigators say Patten, who used the Twitter handle “@spared,” hired Barriss in December 2017 to swat individuals and a high school in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Around the same time, Stewart, a.k.a. “@tragic” on Twitter, allegedly worked with Barriss to make two phony bomb threats to evacuate a high school in Gurnee, Ill. In that incident, Barriss admitted telling police in Gurnee he had left explosives in a classroom and was high on methamphetamine and was thinking about shooting teachers and students.

Also in December 2017, Patel allegedly worked with Barriss to plan a bomb threat targeting a video game convention in Dallas, Texas. Patel is also accused of using stolen credit cards to buy items of clothing for Barriss.

The Justice Department’s media release on the indictments doesn’t specify which convention Barriss and Patel allegedly swatted, but a Wired story from last year tied Barriss to a similarly timed bomb threat that caused the evacuation of a major Call of Duty tournament at the Dallas Convention Center.

“When the social media star SoaR Ashtronova tweeted about the confusion she felt as she fled the event beneath the whir of police helicopters, Barriss taunted her from one of his Twitter accounts: ‘It got ran, baby girl. Thats what happens,” Wired reported.

Interestingly, it was a dispute over a $1.50 grudge match in a Call of Duty game that would ultimately lead to Barriss’s final — and fatal — swatting. On Dec. 28, 2017, Barriss phoned police in Wichita, Kan. from his location in California, telling them he was a local man who’d just shot his father and was holding other family members hostage. Continue reading →


23
Dec 18

Serial Swatter and Stalker Mir Islam Arrested for Allegedly Dumping Body in River

A 22-year-old man convicted of cyberstalking and carrying out numerous bomb threats and swatting attacks — including a 2013 swatting incident at my home — was arrested Sunday morning in the Philippines after allegedly helping his best friend dump the body of a housemate into a local river.

Suspects Troy Woody Jr. (left) and Mir Islam, were arrested in Manila this week for allegedly dumping the body of Woody’s girlfriend in a local river. Image:  Manila Police Dept.

Police in Manila say U.S citizens Mir Islam, 22, and Troy Woody Jr., 21, booked a ride from Grab — a local ride hailing service — and asked for the two of them to be picked up at Woody’s condominium in Mandaluyong City. When the driver arrived the two men stuffed a large box into the trunk of the vehicle.

According to the driver, Islam and Woody asked to be driven to a nearby shopping mall, but told the driver along the way to stop at a compound near the Pasig River in Manila, where the two men allegedly dumped the box before getting back in the hailed car.

The Inquirer reports that authorities recovered the box and identified the victim as Tomi Michelle Masters, 23, also a U.S. citizen from Indiana who was reportedly dating Woody and living in the same condo. Masters’ Instagram profile states that she was in a relationship with Woody.

Update, 12:30 p.m. ET, Dec. 24: Both men have since been charged with murder, according to a story today at the Filipino news site Tempo, and the police believe there was some kind of violent struggle between Masters and Woody.

“Police eventually recovered the box that contained the naked body of the victim that was wrapped in duct tape,” Tempo reports. The local police station head was quoted as saying “the victim was believed to have been killed in the Mandaluyong condominium she shared with Woody, her alleged boyfriend. He said medical examination showed scratch marks all over Woody’s body.”

Original story:

Brooklyn, NY native Islam, a.k.a. “Josh the God,” has a long rap sheet for computer-related crimes. He briefly rose to Internet infamy as one of the core members of UGNazi, an online mischief-making group that claimed credit for hacking and attacking a number of high-profile Web sites.

On June 25, 2012, Islam and nearly two-dozen others were caught up in an FBI dragnet dubbed Operation Card Shop. The government accused Islam of being a founding member of carders[dot]org — a credit card fraud forum — trafficking in stolen credit card information, and possessing information for more than 50,000 credit cards.

JoshTheGod’s (Mir Islam’s ) Twitter feed, in April 2012 warning fellow carding forum carderprofit members that the forum was being run by the FBI.

In June 2016, Islam was sentenced to a year in prison for an impressive array of crimes, including stalking people online and posting their personal data on the Internet. Islam also pleaded guilty to reporting phony bomb threats and fake hostage situations at the homes of celebrities and public officials (as well as this author). Continue reading →


14
Nov 18

Calif. Man Pleads Guilty in Fatal Swatting Case, Faces 20+ Years in Prison

A California man who pleaded guilty Tuesday to causing dozens of swatting attacks — including a deadly incident in Kansas last year — now faces 20 or more years in prison.

Tyler Raj Barriss, in an undated selfie.

Tyler Barriss, 25, went by the nickname SWAuTistic on Twitter, and reveled in perpetrating “swatting” attacks. These dangerous hoaxes involve making false claims to emergency responders about phony hostage situations or bomb threats, with the intention of prompting a heavily-armed police response to the location of the claimed incident.

On Dec. 28, 2017, Barriss placed a call from California to police in Wichita, Kansas, claiming that he was a local resident who’d just shot his father and was holding other family members hostage.

When Wichita officers responded to the address given by the caller — 1033 W. McCormick — they shot and killed 28-year-old Andrew Finch, a father of two who had done nothing wrong.

Barriss admitted setting that fatal swatting attack in motion after getting in the middle of a dispute between two Call of Duty gamers, 18-year-old Casey Viner from Ohio and Shane Gaskill, 20, from Wichita.

Viner allegedly asked Barriss to swat Gaskill. But when Gaskill noticed Barriss’ Twitter account (@swattingaccount) suddenly following him online, he tried to deflect the attack. Barriss says Gaskill allegedly dared him to go ahead with the swat, but then gave Barriss an old home address — 1033 W. McCormick — which was then being occupied by Finch’s family.

Viner and Gaskill are awaiting trial. A more detailed account of their alleged dispute is told here.

According to the Justice Department, Barriss pleaded guilty to making hoax bomb threats in phone calls to the headquarters of the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. He also made bomb threat and swatting calls from Los Angeles to emergency numbers in Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, Massachusetts, Illinois, Utah, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, Missouri, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New York, Michigan, Florida and Canada.

U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said Barriss faces 20 years or more in prison. Barriss is due to be sentenced Jan. 30, 2019.

Many readers following this story over the past year have commented here that the officer who fired the shot which killed Andrew Finch should also face prosecution. However, the district attorney for the county that encompasses Wichita decided in April that the officer will not face charges, and will not be named because he isn’t being charged with a crime. Continue reading →


29
Dec 17

Kansas Man Killed In ‘SWATting’ Attack

A 28-year-old Kansas man was shot and killed by police officers on the evening of Dec. 28 after someone fraudulently reported a hostage situation ongoing at his home. The false report was the latest in a dangerous hoax known as “swatting,” wherein the perpetrator falsely reports a dangerous situation at an address with the goal of prompting authorities to respond to that address with deadly force. This particular swatting reportedly originated over a $1.50 wagered match in the online game Call of Duty. Compounding the tragedy is that the man killed was an innocent party who had no part in the dispute.

The following is an analysis of what is known so far about the incident, as well as a brief interview with the alleged and self-professed perpetrator of this crime.

It appears that the dispute and subsequent taunting originated on Twitter. One of the parties to that dispute — allegedly using the Twitter handle “SWauTistic” — threatened to swat another user who goes by the nickname “7aLeNT“. @7aLeNT dared someone to swat him, but then tweeted an address that was not his own.

Swautistic responded by falsely reporting to the Kansas police a domestic dispute at the address 7aLenT posted, telling the authorities that one person had already been murdered there and that several family members were being held hostage.

Image courtesey @mattcarries

A story in the Wichita Eagle says officers responded to the 1000 block of McCormick and got into position, preparing for a hostage situation.

“A male came to the front door,” Livingston said. “As he came to the front door, one of our officers discharged his weapon.”

“Livingston didn’t say if the man, who was 28, had a weapon when he came to the door, or what caused the officer to shoot the man. Police don’t think the man fired at officers, but the incident is still under investigation, he said. The man, who has not been identified by police, died at a local hospital.

“A family member identified that man who was shot by police as Andrew Finch. One of Finch’s cousins said Finch didn’t play video games.”

Not long after that, Swautistic was back on Twitter saying he could see on television that the police had fallen for his swatting attack. When it became apparent that a man had been killed as a result of the swatting, Swautistic tweeted that he didn’t get anyone killed because he didn’t pull the trigger (see image above).

Swautistic soon changed his Twitter handle to @GoredTutor36, but KrebsOnSecurity managed to obtain several weeks’ worth of tweets from Swautistic before his account was renamed. Those tweets indicate that Swautistic is a serial swatter — meaning he has claimed responsibility for a number of other recent false reports to the police.

Among the recent hoaxes he’s taken credit for include a false report of a bomb threat at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that disrupted a high-profile public meeting on the net neutrality debate. Swautistic also has claimed responsibility for a hoax bomb threat that forced the evacuation of the Dallas Convention Center, and another bomb threat at a high school in Panama City, Fla, among others.

After tweeting about the incident extensively this afternoon, KrebsOnSecurity was contacted by someone in control of the @GoredTutor36 Twitter account. GoredTutor36 said he’s been the victim of swatting attempts himself, and that this was the reason he decided to start swatting others.

He said the thrill of it “comes from having to hide from police via net connections.” Asked about the FCC incident, @GoredTutor36 acknowledged it was his bomb threat. “Yep. Raped em,” he wrote.

“Bomb threats are more fun and cooler than swats in my opinion and I should have just stuck to that,” he wrote. “But I began making $ doing some swat requests.”

Asked whether he feels remorse about the Kansas man’s death, he responded “of course I do.”

But evidently not enough to make him turn himself in.

“I won’t disclose my identity until it happens on its own,” the user said in a long series of direct messages on Twitter. “People will eventually (most likely those who know me) tell me to turn myself in or something. I can’t do that; though I know its [sic] morally right. I’m too scared admittedly.”

Update, 7:15 p.m.: A recording of the call to 911 operators that prompted this tragedy can be heard at this link. The playback of the recorded emergency calls starts around 10 minutes into the video.

Update, Dec. 30, 8:06 a.m. ET: Police in Los Angeles reportedly have arrested 25-year-old Tyler Raj Barriss in connection with the swatting attack.

Continue reading →


25
Sep 17

Canadian Man Gets 9 Months Detention for Serial Swattings, Bomb Threats

A 19-year-old Canadian man was found guilty of making almost three dozen fraudulent calls to emergency services across North America in 2013 and 2014. The false alarms, two of which targeted this author — involved phoning in phony bomb threats and multiple attempts at “swatting” — a dangerous hoax in which the perpetrator spoofs a call about a hostage situation or other violent crime in progress in the hopes of tricking police into responding at a particular address with deadly force.

Curtis Gervais of Ottawa was 16 when he began his swatting spree, which prompted police departments across the United States and Canada to respond to fake bomb threats and active shooter reports at a number of schools and residences.

Gervais, who taunted swatting targets using the Twitter accounts “ProbablyOnion” and “ProbablyOnion2,” got such a high off of his escapades that he hung out a for-hire shingle on Twitter, offering to swat anyone with the following tweet:

wantswat

Several Twitter users apparently took him up on that offer. On March 9, 2014, @ProbablyOnion started sending me rude and annoying messages on Twitter. A month later (and several weeks after blocking him on Twitter), I received a phone call from the local police department. It was early in the morning on Apr. 10, and the cops wanted to know if everything was okay at our address.

Since this was not the first time someone had called in a fake hostage situation at my home, the call I received came from the police department’s non-emergency number, and they were unsurprised when I told them that the Krebs manor and all of its inhabitants were just fine.

Minutes after my local police department received that fake notification, @ProbablyOnion was bragging on Twitter about swatting me, including me on his public messages: “You have 5 hostages? And you will kill 1 hostage every 6 times and the police have 25 minutes to get you $100k in clear plastic.” Another message read: “Good morning! Just dispatched a swat team to your house, they didn’t even call you this time, hahaha.”

po2-swatbk

I told this user privately that targeting an investigative reporter maybe wasn’t the brightest idea, and that he was likely to wind up in jail soon.  On May 7, @ProbablyOnion tried to get the swat team to visit my home again, and once again without success. “How’s your door?” he tweeted. I replied: “Door’s fine, Curtis. But I’m guessing yours won’t be soon. Nice opsec!”

I was referring to a document that had just been leaked on Pastebin, which identified @ProbablyOnion as a 19-year-old Curtis Gervais from Ontario. @ProbablyOnion laughed it off but didn’t deny the accuracy of the information, except to tweet that the document got his age wrong.

A day later, @ProbablyOnion would post his final tweet before being arrested: “Still awaiting for the horsies to bash down my door,” a taunting reference to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

A Sept. 14, 2017 article in the Ottawa Citizen doesn’t name Gervais because it is against the law in Canada to name individuals charged with or convicted of crimes committed while they are a minor. But the story quite clearly refers to Gervais, who reportedly is now married and expecting a child. Continue reading →


18
Jan 17

Who is Anna-Senpai, the Mirai Worm Author?

On September 22, 2016, this site was forced offline for nearly four days after it was hit with “Mirai,” a malware strain that enslaves poorly secured Internet of Things (IoT) devices like wireless routers and security cameras into a botnet for use in large cyberattacks. Roughly a week after that assault, the individual(s) who launched that attack — using the name “Anna-Senpai” — released the source code for Mirai, spawning dozens of copycat attack armies online.

After months of digging, KrebsOnSecurity is now confident to have uncovered Anna-Senpai’s real-life identity, and the identity of at least one co-conspirator who helped to write and modify the malware.

The Hackforums post that includes links to the Mirai source code.

Mirai co-author Anna-Senpai leaked the source code for Mirai on Sept. 30, 2016.

Before we go further, a few disclosures are probably in order. First, this is easily the longest story I’ve ever written on this blog. It’s lengthy because I wanted to walk readers through my process of discovery, which has taken months to unravel. The details help in understanding the financial motivations behind Mirai and the botnet wars that preceded it. Also, I realize there are a great many names to keep track of as you read this post, so I’ve included a glossary.

The story you’re reading now is the result of hundreds of hours of research.  At times, I was desperately seeking the missing link between seemingly unrelated people and events; sometimes I was inundated with huge amounts of information — much of it intentionally false or misleading — and left to search for kernels of truth hidden among the dross.  If you’ve ever wondered why it seems that so few Internet criminals are brought to justice, I can tell you that the sheer amount of persistence and investigative resources required to piece together who’s done what to whom (and why) in the online era is tremendous.

As noted in previous KrebsOnSecurity articles, botnets like Mirai are used to knock individuals, businesses, governmental agencies, and non-profits offline on a daily basis. These so-called “distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are digital sieges in which an attacker causes thousands of hacked systems to hit a target with so much junk traffic that it falls over and remains unreachable by legitimate visitors. While DDoS attacks typically target a single Web site or Internet host, they often result in widespread collateral Internet disruption.

A great deal of DDoS activity on the Internet originates from so-called ‘booter/stresser’ services, which are essentially DDoS-for-hire services which allow even unsophisticated users to launch high-impact attacks.  And as we will see, the incessant competition for profits in the blatantly illegal DDoS-for-hire industry can lead those involved down some very strange paths, indeed.

THE FIRST CLUES

The first clues to Anna-Senpai’s identity didn’t become clear until I understood that Mirai was just the latest incarnation of an IoT botnet family that has been in development and relatively broad use for nearly three years.

Earlier this summer, my site was hit with several huge attacks from a collection of hacked IoT systems compromised by a family of botnet code that served as a precursor to Mirai. The malware went by several names, including “Bashlite,” “Gafgyt,” “Qbot,” “Remaiten,” and “Torlus.”

All of these related IoT botnet varieties infect new systems in a fashion similar to other well-known Internet worms — propagating from one infected host to another. And like those earlier Internet worms, sometimes the Internet scanning these systems perform to identify other candidates for inclusion into the botnet is so aggressive that it constitutes an unintended DDoS on the very home routers, Web cameras and DVRs that the bot code is trying to subvert and recruit into the botnet. This kind of self-defeating behavior will be familiar to those who recall the original Morris Worm, NIMDA, CODE RED, Welchia, Blaster and SQL Slammer disruptions of yesteryear.

Infected IoT devices constantly scan the Web for other IoT things to compromise, wriggling into devices that are protected by little more than insecure factory-default settings and passwords. The infected devices are then forced to participate in DDoS attacks (ironically, many of the devices most commonly infected by Mirai and similar IoT worms are security cameras).

Mirai’s ancestors had so many names because each name corresponded to a variant that included new improvements over time. In 2014, a group of Internet hooligans operating under the banner “lelddos” very publicly used the code to launch large, sustained attacks that knocked many Web sites offline.

The most frequent target of the lelddos gang were Web servers used to host Minecraft, a wildly popular computer game sold by Microsoft that can be played from any device and on any Internet connection.

The object of Minecraft is to run around and build stuff, block by large pixelated block. That may sound simplistic and boring, but an impressive number of people positively adore this game – particularly pre-teen males. Microsoft has sold more than a 100 million copies of Minecraft, and at any given time there are over a million people playing it online. Players can build their own worlds, or visit a myriad other blocky realms by logging on to their favorite Minecraft server to play with friends.

Image: Minecraft.net

Image: Minecraft.net

A large, successful Minecraft server with more than a thousand players logging on each day can easily earn the server’s owners upwards of $50,000 per month, mainly from players renting space on the server to build their Minecraft worlds, and purchasing in-game items and special abilities.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top-earning Minecraft servers eventually attracted the attention of ne’er-do-wells and extortionists like the lelddos gang. Lelddos would launch a huge DDoS attack against a Minecraft server, knowing that the targeted Minecraft server owner was likely losing thousands of dollars for each day his gaming channel remained offline.

Adding urgency to the ordeal, many of the targeted server’s loyal customers would soon find other Minecraft servers to patronize if they could not get their Minecraft fix at the usual online spot.

Robert Coelho is vice president of ProxyPipe, Inc., a San Francisco company that specializes in protecting Minecraft servers from attacks.

“The Minecraft industry is so competitive,” Coelho said. “If you’re a player, and your favorite Minecraft server gets knocked offline, you can switch to another server. But for the server operators, it’s all about maximizing the number of players and running a large, powerful server. The more players you can hold on the server, the more money you make. But if you go down, you start to lose Minecraft players very fast — maybe for good.”

In June 2014, ProxyPipe was hit with a 300 gigabit per second DDoS attack launched by lelddos, which had a penchant for publicly taunting its victims on Twitter just as it began launching DDoS assaults at the taunted.

The hacker group "lelddos" tweeted at its victims before launching huge DDoS attacks against them.

The hacker group “lelddos” tweeted at its victims before launching huge DDoS attacks against them.

At the time, ProxyPipe was buying DDoS protection from Reston, Va. -based security giant Verisign. In a quarterly report published in 2014, Verisign called the attack the largest it had ever seen, although it didn’t name ProxyPipe in the report – referring to it only as a customer in the media and entertainment business.

Verisign said the 2014 attack was launched by a botnet of more than 100,000 servers running on SuperMicro IPMI boards. Days before the huge attack on ProxyPipe, a security researcher published information about a vulnerability in the SuperMicro devices that could allow them to be remotely hacked and commandeered for these sorts of attacks.

THE CENTRALITY OF PROTRAF

Coelho recalled that in mid-2015 his company’s Minecraft customers began coming under attack from a botnet made up of IoT devices infected with Qbot. He said the attacks were directly preceded by a threat made by a then-17-year-old Christopher “CJ” Sculti, Jr., the owner and sole employee of a competing DDoS protection company called Datawagon.

Datawagon also courted Minecraft servers as customers, and its servers were hosted on Internet space claimed by yet another Minecraft-focused DDoS protection provider — ProTraf Solutions.

CJ Sculti, Jr.

Christopher “CJ” Sculti, Jr.

According to Coelho, ProTraf was trying to woo many of his biggest Minecraft server customers away from ProxyPipe. Coelho said in mid-2015, Sculti reached out to him on Skype and said he was getting ready to disable Coelho’s Skype account. At the time, an exploit for a software weakness in Skype was being traded online, and this exploit could be used to remotely and instantaneously disable any Skype account.

Sure enough, Coelho recalled, his Skype account and two others used by co-workers were shut off just minutes after that threat, effectively severing a main artery of support for ProxyPipe’s customers – many of whom were accustomed to communicating with ProxyPipe via Skype.

“CJ messaged me about five minutes before the DDoS started, saying he was going to disable my skype,” Coelho said. “The scary thing about when this happens is you don’t know if your Skype account has been hacked and under control of someone else or if it just got disabled.”

Once ProxyPipe’s Skype accounts were disabled, the company’s servers were hit with a massive, constantly changing DDoS attack that disrupted ProxyPipe’s service to its Minecraft server customers. Coelho said within a few days of the attack, many of ProxyPipe’s most lucrative Minecraft servers had moved over to servers protected by ProTraf Solutions.

“In 2015, the ProTraf guys hit us offline tons, so a lot of our customers moved over to them,” Coelho said. “We told our customers that we knew [ProTraf] were the ones doing it, but some of the customers didn’t care and moved over to ProTraf anyway because they were losing money from being down.”

I found Coelho’s story fascinating because it eerily echoed the events leading up to my Sept. 2016 record 620 Gbps attack. I, too, was contacted via Skype by Sculti — on two occasions. The first was on July 7, 2015, when Sculti reached out apropos of nothing to brag about scanning the Internet for IoT devices running default usernames and passwords, saying he had uploaded some kind of program to more than a quarter-million systems that his scans found.

Here’s a snippet of that conversation:

July 7, 2015:

21:37 CJ: http://krebsonsecurity.com/2015/06/crooks-use-hacked-routers-to-aid-cyberheists/
21:37 CJ: vulnerable routers are a HUGE issue
21:37 CJ: a few months ago
21:37 CJ: I scanned the internet with a few sets of defualt logins
21:37 CJ: for telnet
21:37 CJ: and I was able to upload and execute a binary
21:38 CJ: on 250k devices
21:38 CJ: most of which were routers
21:38 Brian Krebs: o_0

The second time I heard from Sculti on Skype was Sept. 20, 2016 — the day of my 620 Gbps attack. Sculti was angry over a story I’d just published that mentioned his name, and he began rather saltily maligning the reputation of a source and friend who had helped me with that story.

Indignant on behalf of my source and annoyed at Sculti’s rant, I simply blocked his Skype account from communicating with mine and went on with my day. Just minutes after that conversation, however, my Skype account was flooded with thousands of contact requests from compromised or junk Skype accounts, making it virtually impossible to use the software for making phone calls or instant messaging.

Six hours after that Sept. 20 conversation with Sculti, the huge 620 Gbps DDoS attack commenced on this site. Continue reading →


11
Jul 16

Serial Swatter, Stalker and Doxer Mir Islam Gets Just 1 Year in Jail

Mir Islam, a 21-year-old Brooklyn man who pleaded guilty to an impressive array of cybercrimes including cyberstalking, “doxing” and “swatting” celebrities and public officials (as well as this author), was sentenced in federal court today to two years in prison. Unfortunately, thanks to time served in this and other cases, Islam will only see a year of jail time in connection with some fairly heinous assaults that are becoming all too common.

While Islam’s sentence fell well short of the government’s request for punishment, the case raises novel legal issues as to how federal investigators intend to prosecute ongoing cases involving swatting — an extremely dangerous prank in which police are tricked into responding with deadly force to a phony hostage crisis or bomb scare at a residence or business.

Mir Islam, at his sentencing hearing today. Sketches copyright by Hennessy / CourtroomArt.com

Mir Islam, at his sentencing hearing today. Sketches copyright by Hennessy / CourtroomArt.com. Yours Truly is pictured in the blue shirt behind Islam.

On March 14, 2014, Islam and a group of as-yet-unnamed co-conspirators used a text-to-speech (TTY) service for the deaf to relay a message to our local police department stating that there was an active hostage situation going on at our modest town home in Annandale, Va. Nearly a dozen heavily-armed officers responded to the call, forcing me out of my home at gunpoint and putting me in handcuffs before the officer in charge realized it was all a hoax.

At the time, Islam and his pals were operating a Web site called Exposed[dot]su, which sought to “dox” public officials and celebrities by listing the name, birthday, address, previous address, phone number and Social Security number of at least 50 public figures and celebrities, including First Lady Michelle Obama, then-FBI director Robert Mueller, and then Central Intelligence Agency Director John Brennan.

Exposed.su also documented which of these celebrities and public figures had been swatted, including a raft of California celebrities and public figures, such as former California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, actor Ashton Kutcher, and performer Jay Z.

Exposed[dot]su was built with the help of identity information obtained and/or stolen from ssndob[dot]ru.

Exposed[dot]su was built with the help of identity information obtained and/or stolen from ssndob[dot]ru.

At the time, most media outlets covering the sheer amount of celebrity exposure at Exposed[dot]su focused on the apparently starling revelation that “if they can get this sensitive information on these people, they can get it on anyone.” But for my part, I was more interested in how they were obtaining this data in the first place.

On March 13, 2013 KrebsOnSecurity featured a story — Credit Reports Sold for Cheap in the Underweb –which sought to explain how the proprietors of Exposed[dot]su had obtained the records for the public officials and celebrities from a Russian online identity theft service called sssndob[dot]ru.

I noted in that story that sources close to the investigation said the assailants were using data gleaned from the ssndob[dot]ru ID theft service to gather enough information so that they could pull credit reports on targets directly from annualcreditreport.com, a site mandated by Congress to provide consumers a free copy of their credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus.

Peeved that I’d outed his methods for doxing public officials, Islam helped orchestrate my swatting the very next day. Within the span of 45 minutes, KrebsOnSecurity.com came under a sustained denial-of-service attack which briefly knocked my site offline.

At the same time, my hosting provider received a phony letter from the FBI stating my site was hosting illegal content and needed to be taken offline. And, then there was the swatting which occurred minutes after that phony communique was sent.

All told, the government alleges that Islam swatted at least 19 other people, although only seven of the victims (or their representatives) showed up in court today to tell similarly harrowing stories (I was asked to but did not testify).

Officers responding to my 2013 swatting incident.

Security camera footage of Fairfax County police officers responding to my 2013 swatting incident.

Going into today’s sentencing hearing, the court advised that under the government’s sentencing guidelines Islam was facing between 37 and 46 months in prison for the crimes to which he’d pleaded guilty. But U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss seemed especially curious about the government’s rationale for charging Islam with conspiracy to transmit a threat to kidnap or harm using a deadly weapon.

Judge Moss said the claim raises a somewhat novel legal question: Can the government allege the use of deadly force when the perpetrator of a swatting incident did not actually possess a weapon?

Corbin Weiss, an assistant US attorney and a cybercrime coordinator with the U.S. Department of Justice, argued that in most of the swatting attacks Islam perpetrated he expressed to emergency responders that any responding officers would be shot or blown up. Thus, the government argued, Islam was using police officers as a proxy for assault with a deadly weapon by ensuring that responding officers would be primed to expect a suspect who was armed and openly hostile to police. Continue reading →


19
Nov 15

Federal Legislation Targets “Swatting” Hoaxes

A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday targets “swatting,” an increasingly common and costly hoax in which perpetrators spoof a communication to authorities about a hostage situation or other violent crime in progress in the hopes of tricking police into responding at a particular address with deadly force.

swatnet1

The Interstate Swatting Hoax Act of 2015, introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), targets what proponents call a loophole in current law. “While federal law prohibits using the telecommunications system to falsely report a bomb threat hoax or terrorist attack, falsely reporting other emergency situations is not currently prohibited,” reads a statement by the House co-sponsors.

To address this shortcoming, the bill “would close this loophole by prohibiting the use of the internet telecommunications system to knowingly transmit false information with the intent to cause an emergency law enforcement response.” Continue reading →


27
Jul 15

The Wheels of Justice Turn Slowly

On the evening March 14, 2013, a heavily-armed police force surrounded my home in Annandale, Va., after responding to a phony hostage situation that someone had alerted authorities to at our address. I’ve recently received a notice from the U.S. Justice Department stating that one of the individuals involving in that “swatting” incident had pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge.

swatnet“A federal investigation has revealed that several individuals participated in a scheme to commit swatting in the course of which these individuals committed various federal criminal offenses,” reads the DOJ letter, a portion of which is here (PDF). “You were the victim of the criminal conduct which resulted in swattings in that you were swattted.”

The letter goes on to state that one of the individuals who participated in the scheme has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges (Title 18, Section 371) in federal court in Washington, D.C.

The notice offers little additional information about the individual who pleaded guilty or about his co-conspirators, and the case against him is sealed. It could be the individual identified at the conclusion of this story, or someone else. In any case, my own digging on this investigation suggests the government is in the process of securing charges or guilty pleas in connection with a group of young men who ran the celebrity “doxing” Web site exposed[dot]su (later renamed exposed[dot]re).

As I noted in a piece published just days after my swatting incident, the attack came not long after I wrote a story about the site, which was posting the Social Security numbers, previous addresses, phone numbers and credit reports on a slew of high-profile individuals, from the director of the FBI to Kim Kardashian, Bill Gates and First Lady Michelle Obama. Many of those individuals whose personal data were posted at the site also were the target of swatting attacks, including P. Diddy, Justin Timberlake and Ryan Seacrest.

The Web site exposed[dot]su featured the personal data of celebrities and public figures.

The Web site exposed[dot]su featured the personal data of celebrities and public figures.

Continue reading →


27
Jun 15

A Busy Week for Ne’er-Do-Well News

We often hear about the impact of cybercrime, but too seldom do we read about the successes that law enforcement officials have in apprehending those responsible and bringing them to justice. Last week was an especially busy time for cybercrime justice, with authorities across the globe bringing arrests, prosecutions and some cases stiff sentences in connection with a broad range of cyber crimes, including ATM and bank account cashouts, malware distribution and “swatting” attacks.

Ercan Findikoglu, posing with piles of cash.

Ercan Findikoglu, posing with piles of cash.

Prosecutors in New York had a big week. Appearing in the U.S. court system for the first time last week was Ercan “Segate” Findikoglu, a 33-year-old Turkish man who investigators say was the mastermind behind a series of Oceans 11-type ATM heists between 2011 and 2013 that netted thieves more than $55 million.

According to prosecutors, Findikoglu organized the so-called “ATM cashouts” by hacking into networks of several credit and debit card payment processors. With each processor, the intruders were able to simultaneously lift the daily withdrawal limits on numerous prepaid accounts and dramatically increase the account balances on those cards to allow ATM withdrawals far in excess of the legitimate card balances.

The cards were then cloned and sent to dozens of co-conspirators around the globe, who used the cards at ATMs to withdraw millions in cash in the span of just a few hours. Investigators say these attacks are known in the cybercrime underground as “unlimited operations” because the manipulation of withdrawal limits lets the crooks steal literally unlimited amounts of cash until the operation is shut down.

Two of the attacks attributed to Findikoglu and his alleged associates were first reported on this blog, including a February 2011 attack against Fidelity National Information Services (FIS), and a $5 million heist in late 2012 involving a card network in India. The most brazen and lucrative heist, a nearly $40 million cashout against the Bank of Muscat in Oman, was covered in a May 2013 New York Times piece, which concludes with a vignette about the violent murder of alleged accomplice in the scheme.

Also in New York, a Manhattan federal judge sentenced the co-creator of the “Blackshades” Trojan to nearly five years in prison after pleading guilty to helping hundreds of people use and spread the malware. Twenty-five year old Swedish national Alexander Yucel was ordered to forfeit $200,000 and relinquish all of the computer equipment he used in commission of his crimes.

As detailed in this May 2014 piece, Blackshades Users Had It Coming, the malware was sophisticated but marketed mainly on English language cybecrime forums to young men who probably would have a hard time hacking their way out of a paper bag, let alone into someone’s computer. Initially sold via PayPal for just $40, Blackshades offered users a way to remotely spy on victims, and even included tools and tutorials to help users infect victim PCs. Many of Yucel’s customers also have been rounded up by law enforcement here in the U.S. an abroad. Continue reading →