Posts Tagged: Taylor Huddleston


27
Feb 18

Bot Roundup: Avalanche, Kronos, NanoCore

It’s been a busy few weeks in cybercrime news, justifying updates to a couple of cases we’ve been following closely at KrebsOnSecurity. In Ukraine, the alleged ringleader of the Avalanche malware spam botnet was arrested after eluding authorities in the wake of a global cybercrime crackdown there in 2016. Separately, a case that was hailed as a test of whether programmers can be held accountable for how customers use their product turned out poorly for 27-year-old programmer Taylor Huddleston, who was sentenced to almost three years in prison for making and marketing a complex spyware program.

First, the Ukrainian case. On Nov. 30, 2016, authorities across Europe coordinated the arrest of five individuals thought to be tied to the Avalanche crime gang, in an operation that the FBI and its partners abroad described as an unprecedented global law enforcement response to cybercrime. Hundreds of malicious web servers and hundreds of thousands of domains were blocked in the coordinated action.

The global distribution of servers used in the Avalanche crime machine. Source: Shadowserver.org

The alleged leader of the Avalanche gang — 33-year-old Russian Gennady Kapkanov — did not go quietly at the time. Kapkanov allegedly shot at officers with a Kalashnikov assault rifle through the front door as they prepared to raid his home, and then attempted to escape off of his 4th floor apartment balcony. He was later released, after police allegedly failed to file proper arrest records for him.

But on Monday Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that Ukrainian authorities had once again collared Kapkanov, who was allegedly living under a phony passport in Poltav, a city in central Ukraine. No word yet on whether Kapkanov has been charged, which was supposed to happen Monday.

Kapkanov’s drivers license. Source: npu.gov.ua.

HOW WELL DO YOU REALLY WANT TO KNOW YOUR CUSTOMERS?

Lawyers for Taylor Huddleston, a 27-year-old programmer from Hot Springs, Ark., originally asked a federal court to believe that the software he sold on the sprawling hacker marketplace Hackforums — a “remote administration tool” or “RAT” designed to let someone remotely administer one or many computers remotely — was just a benign tool.

The bad things done with Mr. Huddleston’s tools, the defendant argued, were not Mr. Huddleston’s doing. Furthermore, no one had accused Mr. Huddleston of even using his own software.

The Daily Beast first wrote about Huddleston’s case in 2017, and at the time suggested his prosecution raised questions of whether a programmer could be held criminally responsible for the actions of his users. My response to that piece was “Dual-Use Software Criminal Case Not So Novel.

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The court was swayed by evidence that yes, Mr. Huddleston could be held criminally responsible for those actions. It sentenced him to 33 months in prison after the defendant acknowledged that he knew his RAT — a Remote Access Trojan dubbed “NanoCore RAT” — was being used to spy on webcams and steal passwords from systems running the software.

Of course Huddleston knew: He didn’t market his wares on some Craigslist software marketplace ad, or via video promos on his local cable channel: He marketed the NanoCore RAT and another software licensing program called Net Seal exclusively on Hackforums[dot]net.

This sprawling, English language forum has a deep bench of technical forum discussions about using RATs and other tools to surreptitiously record passwords and videos of “slaves,” the derisive term for systems secretly infected with these RATs.

Huddleston knew what many of his customers were doing because many NanoCore users also used Huddleston’s Net Seal program to keep their own RATs and other custom hacking tools from being disassembled or “cracked” and posted online for free. In short: He knew what programs his customers were using Net Seal on, and he knew what those customers had done or intended to do with tools like NanoCore.

The sentencing suggests that where you choose to sell something online says a lot about what you think of your own product and who’s likely buying it.

Daily Beast author Kevin Poulsen noted in a July 2017 story that Huddleston changed his tune and pleaded guilty. The story pointed to an accompanying plea in which Huddleston stipulated that he “knowingly and intentionally aided and abetted thousands of unlawful computer intrusions” in selling the program to hackers and that he “acted with the purpose of furthering these unauthorized computer intrusions and causing them to occur.” Continue reading →


4
Apr 17

Dual-Use Software Criminal Case Not So Novel

“He built a piece of software. That tool was pirated and abused by hackers. Now the feds want him to pay for the computer crooks’ crimes.”

The above snippet is the subhead of a story published last month by the The Daily Beast titled, “FBI Arrests Hacker Who Hacked No One.” The subject of that piece — a 26-year-old American named Taylor Huddleston — faces felony hacking charges connected to two computer programs he authored and sold: An anti-piracy product called Net Seal, and a Remote Administration Tool (RAT) called NanoCore that he says was a benign program designed to help users remotely administer their computers.

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Photo illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

The author of the Daily Beast story, former black hat hacker and Wired.com editor Kevin Poulsen, argues that Huddleston’s case raises a novel question: When is a programmer criminally responsible for the actions of his users?

“Some experts say [the case] could have far reaching implications for developers, particularly those working on new technologies that criminals might adopt in unforeseeable ways,” Poulsen wrote.

But a closer look at the government’s side of the story — as well as public postings left behind by the accused and his alleged accomplices — paints a more complex and nuanced picture that suggests this may not be the case to raise that specific legal question in any meaningful way.

Mark Rumold, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said cases like these are not so cut-and-dry because they hinge on intent, and determining who knew what and when.

“I don’t read the government’s complaint as making the case that selling some type of RAT is illegal, and if that were the case I think we would be very interested in this,” Rumold said. “Whether or not [the government’s] claims are valid is going to be extraordinarily fact-specific, but unfortunately there is not a precise set of facts that would push this case from being about the valid reselling of a tool that no one questions can be done legally to crossing that threshold of engaging in a criminal conspiracy.”

Citing group chat logs and other evidence that hasn’t yet been made public, U.S. prosecutors say Huddleston intended NanoCore to function more like a Remote Access Trojan used to remotely control compromised PCs, and they’ve indicted Huddleston on criminal charges of conspiracy as well as aiding and abetting computer intrusions.

Poulsen depicts Huddleston as an ambitious — if extremely naive — programmer struggling to make an honest living selling what is essentially a dual-use software product. Using the nickname “Aeonhack,” Huddleston marketed his NanoCore RAT on Hackforums[dot]net, an English-language hacking forum that is overrun with young, impressionable but otherwise low-skilled hackers who are constantly looking for point-and-click tools and services that can help them demonstrate their supposed hacking prowess.

Yet we’re told that Huddleston was positively shocked to discover that many buyers on the forum were using his tools in a less-than-legal manner, and that in response he chastised and even penalized customers who did so. By way of example, Poulsen writes that Huddleston routinely used his Net Seal program to revoke the software licenses for customers who boasted online about using his NanoCore RAT illegally.

We later learn that — despite Net Seal’s copy protection abilities — denizens of Hackforums were able to pirate copies of NanoCore and spread it far and wide in malware and phishing campaigns. Eventually, Huddleston said he grew weary of all the drama and sold both programs to another Hackforums member, using the $60,000 or so in proceeds to move out of the rusty trailer he and his girlfriend shared and buy a house in a low-income corner of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

From the story:

Continue reading →