Posts Tagged: U.S. Justice Department

Jan 18

Expert: IoT Botnets the Work of a ‘Vast Minority’

In December 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice announced indictments and guilty pleas by three men in the United States responsible for creating and using Mirai, a malware strain that enslaves poorly-secured “Internet of Things” or IoT devices like security cameras and digital video recorders for use in large-scale cyberattacks.

The FBI and the DOJ had help in their investigation from many security experts, but this post focuses on one expert whose research into the Dark Web and its various malefactors was especially useful in that case. Allison Nixon is director of security research at Flashpoint, a cyber intelligence firm based in New York City. Nixon spoke with KrebsOnSecurity at length about her perspectives on IoT security and the vital role of law enforcement in this fight.

Brian Krebs (BK): Where are we today with respect to IoT security? Are we better off than were a year ago, or is the problem only worse?

Allison Nixon (AN): In some aspects we’re better off. The arrests that happened over the last year in the DDoS space, I would call that a good start, but we’re not out of the woods yet and we’re nowhere near the end of anything.

BK: Why not?

AN: Ultimately, what’s going with these IoT botnets is crime. People are talking about these cybersecurity problems — problems with the devices, etc. — but at the end of the day it’s crime and private citizens don’t have the power to make these bad actors stop.

BK: Certainly security professionals like yourself and others can be diligent about tracking the worst actors and the crime machines they’re using, and in reporting those systems when it’s advantageous to do so?

AN: That’s a fair argument. I can send abuse complaints to servers being used maliciously. And people can write articles that name individuals. However, it’s still a limited kind of impact. I’ve seen people get named in public and instead of stopping, what they do is improve their opsec [operational security measures] and keep doing the same thing but just sneakier. In the private sector, we can frustrate things, but we can’t actually stop them in the permanent, sanctioned way that law enforcement can. We don’t really have that kind of control.

BK: How are we not better off?

AN: I would say that as time progresses, the community that practices DDoS and malicious hacking and these pointless destructive attacks get more technically proficient when they’re executing attacks, and they just become a more difficult adversary.

BK: A more difficult adversary?

AN: Well, if you look at the individuals that were the subject of the announcement this month, and you look in their past, you can see they’ve been active in the hacking community a long time. Litespeed [the nickname used by Josiah White, one of the men who pleaded guilty to authoring Mirai] has been credited with lots of code.  He’s had years to develop and as far as I could tell he didn’t stop doing criminal activity until he got picked up by law enforcement.

BK: It seems to me that the Mirai authors probably would not have been caught had they never released the source code for their malware. They said they were doing so because multiple law enforcement agencies and security researchers were hot on their trail and they didn’t want to be the only ones holding the source code when the cops showed up at their door. But if that was really their goal in releasing it, doing so seems to have had the exact opposite effect. What’s your take on that?

AN: You are absolutely, 100 million percent correct. If they just shut everything down and left, they’d be fine now. The fact that they dumped the source was a tipping point of sorts. The damages they caused at that time were massive, but when they dumped the source code the amount of damage their actions contributed to ballooned [due to the proliferation of copycat Mirai botnets]. The charges against them specified their actions in infecting the machines they controlled, but when it comes to what interested researchers in the private sector, the moment they dumped the source code — that’s the most harmful act they did out of the entire thing.

BK: Do you believe their claimed reason for releasing the code?

AN: I believe it. They claimed they released it because they wanted to hamper investigative efforts to find them. The problem is that not only is it incorrect, it also doesn’t take into account the researchers on the other end of the spectrum who have to pick from many targets to spend their time looking at. Releasing the source code changed that dramatically. It was like catnip to researchers, and was just a new thing for researchers to look at and play with and wonder who wrote it.

If they really wanted to stay off law enforcement’s radar, they would be as low profile as they could and not be interesting. But they did everything wrong: They dumped the source code and attacked a security researcher using tools that are interesting to security researchers. That’s like attacking a dog with a steak. I’m going to wave this big juicy steak at a dog and that will teach him. They made every single mistake in the book.

BK: What do you think it is about these guys that leads them to this kind of behavior? Is it just a kind of inertia that inexorably leads them down a slippery slope if they don’t have some kind of intervention?

AN: These people go down a life path that does not lead them to a legitimate livelihood. They keep doing this and get better at it and they start to do these things that really can threaten the Internet as a whole. In the case of these DDoS botnets, it’s worrying that these individuals are allowed to go this deep before law enforcement catches them. Continue reading →

Jan 18

Some Basic Rules for Securing Your IoT Stuff

Most readers here have likely heard or read various prognostications about the impending doom from the proliferation of poorly-secured “Internet of Things” or IoT devices. Loosely defined as any gadget or gizmo that connects to the Internet but which most consumers probably wouldn’t begin to know how to secure, IoT encompasses everything from security cameras, routers and digital video recorders to printers, wearable devices and “smart” lightbulbs.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, attacks from massive botnets made up entirely of hacked IoT devices had many experts warning of a dire outlook for Internet security. But the future of IoT doesn’t have to be so bleak. Here’s a primer on minimizing the chances that your IoT things become a security liability for you or for the Internet at large.

-Rule #1: Avoid connecting your devices directly to the Internet — either without a firewall or in front it, by poking holes in your firewall so you can access them remotely. Putting your devices in front of your firewall is generally a bad idea because many IoT products were simply not designed with security in mind and making these things accessible over the public Internet could invite attackers into your network. If you have a router, chances are it also comes with a built-in firewall. Keep your IoT devices behind the firewall as best you can.

-Rule #2: If you can, change the thing’s default credentials to a complex password that only you will know and can remember. And if you do happen to forget the password, it’s not the end of the world: Most devices have a recessed reset switch that can be used to restore to the thing to its factory-default settings (and credentials). Here’s some advice on picking better ones.

I say “if you can,” at the beginning of Rule #2 because very often IoT devices — particularly security cameras and DVRs — are so poorly designed from a security perspective that even changing the default password to the thing’s built-in Web interface does nothing to prevent the things from being reachable and vulnerable once connected to the Internet.

Also, many of these devices are found to have hidden, undocumented “backdoor” accounts that attackers can use to remotely control the devices. That’s why Rule #1 is so important. Continue reading →

Jul 14

Feds Charge Carding Kingpin in Retail Hacks

The U.S. Justice Department on Monday announced the arrest of a Russian hacker accused of running a network of online crime shops that sold credit and debit card data stolen in breaches at restaurants and retailers throughout the United States.

The government alleges that the hacker known in the underground as “nCux” and “Bulba” was Roman Seleznev, a 30-year-old Russian citizen who was recently arrested by the U.S. Secret Service.

Seleznev was initially identified by the government in 2012, when it named him as part of a conspiracy involving more than three dozen popular merchants on carder[dot]su, a bustling fraud forum where Bulba and other members openly marketed various cybercrime-oriented services.

According to Seleznev’s own indictment, which was filed in 2011 but made public this week, he was allegedly part of a group that hacked into restaurants between 2009 and 2011 and planted malicious software to steal card data from store point-of-sale devices.

The indictment further alleges that Seleznev and unnamed accomplices used his online monikers to sell stolen credit and debit cards at bulba[dot]cc and track2[dot]name. Customers of these services paid for their cards with virtual currencies, including WebMoney and Bitcoin. As explained in the screen shot below, the track2[dot]name site stopped accepting new members in 2011, and new applicants were directed to bulba[dot]cc, which claimed to be an authorized reseller.

Bulba[dot]cc, as it looked in May 2011.

Bulba[dot]cc, as it looked in May 2011.

Recently, however, track2[dot]name began accepting new members who agreed to pay up-front deposits. The deposits ranged from one bitcoin (about $624 USD) for a basic account, to 20 bitcoins (roughly $12,484 USD) for a “corporate” account that is eligible for generous volume discounts and lengthy replacement times for purchased cards that turn out later to be canceled by issuing banks. Continue reading →

Nov 12

MoneyGram Fined $100 Million for Wire Fraud

A week ago Friday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that MoneyGram International had agreed to pay a $100 million fine and admit to criminally aiding and abetting wire fraud and failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. Loyal readers of this blog no doubt recognize the crucial role that MoneyGram and its competitors play in the siphoning of millions of dollars annually from hacked small- to mid-sized business, but incredibly this settlement appears to be unrelated to these cyber heists.

According to the DOJ, the scams – which generally targeted the elderly and other vulnerable groups – included posing as victims’ relatives in urgent need of money and falsely promising victims large cash prizes, various high-ticket items for sale over the Internet at deeply discounted prices or employment opportunities as ‘secret shoppers.’  In each case, the perpetrators required the victims to send them funds through MoneyGram’s money transfer system.”

The government found that the heart of the problems at MoneyGram stemmed from the age-old conflict between the security staff and the folks in sales & marketing (oh, and willful neglect of employee fraud).

“Despite thousands of complaints by customers who were victims of fraud, MoneyGram failed to terminate agents that it knew were involved in scams.  As early as 2003, MoneyGram’s fraud department would identify specific MoneyGram agents believed to be involved in fraud schemes and recommended termination of those agents to senior management.  These termination recommendations were rarely accepted because they were not approved by executives in the sales department and, as a result, fraudulent activity grew from 1,575 reported instances of fraud by customers in the United States and Canada in 2004 to 19,614 reported instances in 2008.  Cumulatively, from 2004 through 2009, MoneyGram customers reported instances of fraud totaling at least $100 million…To date, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has brought conspiracy, fraud and money laundering charges against 28 former MoneyGram agents.”

$100 million may seem like a painful fine, unless you take a look at MoneyGram’s company facts page, which states some fairly staggering figures: “MoneyGram has 293,000 agent locations in 197 countries and territories,” or, to put it another way, “more than twice the locations of McDonald’s, Starbucks, Subway and Wal-Mart combined.”

The company doesn’t say how much money it moved last year, but an older version of that page said that in 2010, approximately $19 billion was sent around the world using MoneyGram transfer services. The same page notes that MoneyGram is the second-largest money transfer company in the world. Second only to Western Union, no doubt, which has long struggled with many of the same anti-money laundering problems.

Each week, I reach out to or am contacted by organizations that are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars via cyber heists. In nearly every case, the sequence of events is virtually the same: The organization’s controller opens a malware-laced email attachment, and infects his or her PC with a Trojan that lets the attackers control the system from afar. The attackers then log in to the victim’s bank accounts, check the account balances – and assuming there are funds to be plundered — add dozens of money mules to the victim organization’s payroll. The money mules are then instructed to visit their banks and withdraw the fraudulent transfers in cash, and wire the money in smaller chunks via a combination of nearby MoneyGram and Western Union locations.

The latest example: On Nov. 16, 2012, attackers logged into accounts at Performance Autoplex II Ltd., a Honda dealer based in Midland, Texas, and began adding money mules to the company’s payroll. The thieves added at least nine mules, sending each a little more than $9,000. One of the mules used in this attack — a Louisa Lies (no kidding, that’s her real last name) — got two transfers totaling $9,220.58. She was instructed to visit two different Western Union locations, sending a total of $3,844 to two different recipients (one in Russia, the other Ukraine); Lies sent another pair of transfers (again, to two different people in Russia and Ukraine) totaling just over $5,000, via two separate MoneyGram locations. Lies said she paid $155 in fees to Western Union, and $136 in MoneyGram charges.
Continue reading →