Posts Tagged: vDos


21
Nov 17

Correcting the Record on vDOS Prosecutions

KrebsOnSecurity recently featured a story about a New Mexico man who stands accused of using the now-defunct vDOS attack-for-hire service to hobble the Web sites of several former employers. That piece stated that I wasn’t aware of any other prosecutions related to vDOS customers, but as it happens there was a prosecution in the United Kingdom earlier this year of a man who’s admitted to both using and helping to administer vDOS. Here’s a look at some open-source clues that may have led to the U.K. man’s arrest.

Jack Chappell, outside of a court hearing in the U.K. earlier this year.

In early July 2017, the West Midlands Police in the U.K. arrested 19-year-old Stockport resident Jack Chappell and charged him with aiding the vDOS co-founders — two Israeli men who were arrested late year and charged with running the service.

Until its demise in September 2016, vDOS was by far the most popular and powerful attack-for-hire service, allowing even completely unskilled Internet users to launch crippling assaults capable of knocking most Web sites offline. vDOS made more than $600,000 in just two of the four years it was in operation, launching more than 150,000 attacks against thousands of victims (including this site).

For his part, Chappell was charged with assisting in attacks against Web sites for some of the world’s largest companies, including Amazon, BBC, BT, Netflix, T-Mobile, Virgin Media, and Vodafone, between May 1, 2015 and April 30, 2016.

At the end of July 2017, Chappell pleaded guilty to those allegations, as well as charges of helping vDOS launder money from customers wishing to pay for attacks with PayPal accounts.

A big factor in that plea was the leak of the vDOS attacks, customer support and payments databases to this author and to U.S. law enforcement officials in the fall of 2016. Those databases provided extremely detailed information about co-conspirators, paying customers and victims.

But as with many other cybercrime investigations, the perpetrator in this case appears to have been caught thanks to a combination of several all-too-common factors, including password re-use, an active presence on the sprawling English-language hacking community Hackforums, and domain names registered in his real name. In combination, these clues provide a crucial bridge between Chappell’s online and real-world identities. Continue reading →


10
Nov 17

Hack of Attack-for-Hire Service vDOS Snares New Mexico Man

A New Mexico man is facing federal hacking charges for allegedly using the now defunct attack-for-hire service vDOS to launch damaging digital assaults aimed at knocking his former employer’s Web site offline. Prosecutors were able to bring the case in part because vDOS got massively hacked last year, and its customer database of payments and targets leaked to this author and to the FBI.

Prosecutors in Minnesota have charged John Kelsey Gammell, 46, with using vDOS and other online attack services to hurl a year’s worth of attack traffic at the Web sites associated with Washburn Computer Group, a Minnesota-based company where Gammell used to work.

vDOS as it existed on Sept. 8, 2016.

vDOS existed for nearly four years, and was known as one of the most powerful and effective pay-to-play tools for launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The vDOS owners used a variety of methods to power their service, including at least one massive botnet consisting of tens of thousands of hacked Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as compromised Internet routers and security cameras. vDOS also was used in numerous DDoS attacks against this site.

Investigators allege that although Gammell used various methods to hide his identity, email addresses traced back to him were found in the hacked user and target databases from vDOS.

More importantly, prosecutors say, someone began taunting Washburn via Yahoo and Gmail messages while the attacks were underway, asking how everything was going at the company and whether the IT department needed any help.

“Also attached to this second email was an image of a mouse laughing,” the Justice Department indictment (PDF) alleges. “Grand jury subpoenas for subscriber information were subsequently served on Google…and Yahoo. Analysis of the results showed information connecting both accounts to an individual named John Gammell. Both email addresses were created using the cell phone number 612-205-8609.”

The complaint notes that the government subpoenaed AT&T for subscriber information and traced that back to Gammell as well, but phone number also is currently listed as the recovery number for a Facebook account tied to John K. Gammell.

That Facebook account features numerous references to the hacker collective known as Anonymous. This is notable because according to the government Gammell used two different accounts at vDOS: One named “AnonCunnilingus” and another called “anonrooster.” The email addresses this user supplied when signing up at vDOS (jkgammell@gmail.com and jkgammell@icloud.com) include other addresses quite clearly tied to multiple accounts for John K. Gammell.

John K. Gammell’s Facebook account.

Below is a snippet from a customer service ticket that the AnonCunnilingus account filed in Aug. 2015

“Dear Colleagues, this is Mr. Cunnilingus. You underestimate your capabilities. Contrary to your statement of “Notice!” It appears from our review that you are trying to stress test a DDoS protected host, vDOS stresser is not capable of taking DDoS protected hosts down which means you will not be able to drop this hosting using vDOS stresser…As they do not have my consent to use my internet, after their site being down for two days, they changed their IP and used rackspace DDoS mitigation and must now be removed from cyberspace. Verified by downbyeveryone. We will do much business. Thank you for your outstanding product 🙂 We Are Anonymous USA.”

Gammell has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He has not responded to requests for comment. The indictment states that Gammell allegedly attacked at least a half-dozen other companies over a year-long period between mid-2015 and July 2016, including several banks and two other companies at which he either previously worked or with whom he’d interviewed for a job. Continue reading →


23
Oct 17

Reaper: Calm Before the IoT Security Storm?

It’s been just over a year since the world witnessed some of the world’s top online Web sites being taken down for much of the day by “Mirai,” a zombie malware strain that enslaved “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices such as wireless routers, security cameras and digital video recorders for use in large-scale online attacks.

Now, experts are sounding the alarm about the emergence of what appears to be a far more powerful strain of IoT attack malware — variously named “Reaper” and “IoTroop” — that spreads via security holes in IoT software and hardware. And there are indications that over a million organizations may be affected already.

Reaper isn’t attacking anyone yet. For the moment it is apparently content to gather gloom to itself from the darkest reaches of the Internet. But if history is any teacher, we are likely enjoying a period of false calm before another humbling IoT attack wave breaks.

On Oct. 19, 2017, researchers from Israeli security firm CheckPoint announced they’ve been tracking the development of a massive new IoT botnet “forming to create a cyber-storm that could take down the Internet.” CheckPoint said the malware, which it called “IoTroop,” had already infected an estimated one million organizations.

The discovery came almost a year to the day after the Internet witnessed one of the most impactful cyberattacks ever — against online infrastructure firm Dyn at the hands of “Mirai,” an IoT malware strain that first surfaced in the summer of 2016. According to CheckPoint, however, this new IoT malware strain is “evolving and recruiting IoT devices at a far greater pace and with more potential damage than the Mirai botnet of 2016.”

Unlike Mirai — which wriggles into vulnerable IoT devices using factory-default or hard-coded usernames and passwords — this newest IoT threat leverages at least nine known security vulnerabilities across nearly a dozen different device makers, including AVTECH, D-Link, GoAhead, Netgear, and Linksys, among others (click each vendor’s link to view security advisories for the flaws).

This graphic from CheckPoint charts a steep, recent rise in the number of Internet addresses trying to spread the new IoT malware variant, which CheckPoint calls “IoTroop.”

Both Mirai and IoTroop are computer worms; they are built to spread automatically from one infected device to another. Researchers can’t say for certain what IoTroop will be used for but it is based at least in part on Mirai, which was made to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

While DDoS attacks target a single Web site or Internet host, they often result in widespread collateral Internet disruption. IoT malware spreads by scanning the Internet for other vulnerable devices, and sometimes this scanning activity 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.

However, according to research released Oct. 20 by Chinese security firm Netlab 360, the scanning performed by the new IoT malware strain (Netlab calls it the more memorable “Reaper”) is not very aggressive, and is intended to spread much more deliberately than Mirai. Netlab’s researchers say Reaper partially borrows some Mirai source code, but is significantly different from Mirai in several key behaviors, including an evolution that allows Reaper to more stealthily enlist new recruits and more easily fly under the radar of security tools looking for suspicious activity on the local network. Continue reading →


9
Aug 17

Alleged vDOS Operators Arrested, Charged

Two young Israeli men alleged by this author to have co-founded vDOS — until recently the largest and most profitable cyber attack-for-hire service online — were arrested and formally indicted this week in Israel on conspiracy and hacking charges.

On Sept. 8, 2016, KrebsOnSecurity published a story about the hacking of vDOS, a service that attracted tens of thousands of paying customers and facilitated more than two million distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks over the four year period it was in business.

That story named two then 18-year-old Israelis — Yarden “applej4ck” Bidani and Itay “p1st” Huri — as the likely owners and operators of vDOS. Within hours of that story’s publication the two were detained by Israeli police, placed on house arrest for 10 days, and forbidden from using the Internet for a month.

vDOS as it existed on Sept. 8, 2016.

vDOS as it existed on Sept. 8, 2016.

On Tuesday, Israeli prosecutors announced they had formally arrested and charged two 19-year-olds with conspiring to commit a felony, prohibited activities, tampering with or disrupting a computer, and storing or disseminating false information. A statement from a spokesman for the Israeli state attorney’s office said prosecutors couldn’t name the accused because their alleged crimes were committed while they were minors.

But a number of details match perfectly with previous reporting on Bidani and Huri. As noted in the original Sept. 2016 expose’ on vDOS’s alleged founders, Israeli prosecutors say the two men made more than $600,000 in two of the four years the service was in operation. vDOS was shuttered for good not longer after Bidani and Huri’s initial detention in Sept. 2016.

“The defendants were constantly improving the attack code and finding different network security weaknesses that would enable them to offer increased attack services that could overcome existing defenses and create real damage to servers and services worldwide,” Israeli prosecutors alleged of the accused and their enterprise. Continue reading →


5
Jul 17

Who is the GovRAT Author and Mirai Botmaster ‘Bestbuy’?

In February 2017, authorities in the United Kingdom arrested a 29-year-old U.K. man on suspicion of knocking more than 900,000 Germans offline in an attack tied to Mirai, a malware strain that enslaves Internet of Things (IoT) devices like security cameras and Internet routers for use in large-scale cyberattacks. Investigators haven’t yet released the man’s name, but news reports suggest he may be better known by the hacker handle “Bestbuy.” This post will follow a trail of clues back to one likely real-life identity of Bestbuy.

At the end of November 2016, a modified version of Mirai began spreading across the networks of German ISP Deutsche Telekom. This version of the Mirai worm spread so quickly that the very act of scanning for new infectable hosts overwhelmed the devices doing the scanning, causing outages for more than 900,000 customers. The same botnet had previously been tied to attacks on U.K. broadband providers Post Office and Talk Talk.

dtoutage

Security firm Tripwire published a writeup on that failed Mirai attack, noting that the domain names tied to servers used to coordinate the activities of the botnet were registered variously to a “Peter Parker” and “Spider man,” and to a street address in Israel (27 Hofit St). We’ll come back to Spider Man in a moment.

According to multiple security firms, the Mirai botnet responsible for the Deutsche Telekom outage was controlled via servers at the Internet address 62.113.238.138. Farsight Security, a company that maps which domain names are tied to which Internet addresses over time, reports that this address has hosted just nine domains.

The only one of those domains that is not related to Mirai is dyndn-web[dot]com, which according to a 2015 report from BlueCoat (now Symantec) was a domain tied to the use and sale of a keystroke logging remote access trojan (RAT) called “GovRAT.” The trojan is documented to have been used in numerous cyber espionage campaigns against governments, financial institutions, defense contractors and more than 100 corporations.

Another report on GovRAT — this one from security firm InfoArmor — shows that the GovRAT malware was sold on Dark Web cybercrime forums by a hacker or hackers who went by the nicknames BestBuy and “Popopret” (some experts believe these were just two different identities managed by the same cybercriminal).

The hacker "bestbuy" selling his Govrat trojan on the dark web forum "Hell." Image: InfoArmor.

The hacker “bestbuy” selling his GovRAT trojan on the dark web forum “Hell.” Image: InfoArmor.

GovRAT has been for sale on various other malware and exploit-related sites since at least 2014. On oday[dot]today, for example, GovRAT was sold by a user who picked the nickname Spdr, and who used the email address spdr01@gmail.com.

Recall that the domains used to control the Mirai botnet that hit Deutsche Telekom all had some form of Spider Man in the domain registration records. Also, recall that the controller used to manage the GovRAT trojan and that Mirai botnet were both at one time hosted on the same server with just a handful of other (Mirai-related) domains.

According to a separate report (PDF) from InfoArmor, GovRAT also was sold alongside a service that allows anyone to digitally sign their malware using code-signing certificates stolen from legitimate companies. InfoArmor said the digital signature it found related to the service was issued to an open source developer Singh Aditya, using the email address parkajackets@gmail.com.

Interestingly, both of these email addresses — parkajackets@gmail.com and spdr01@gmail.com — were connected to similarly-named user accounts at vDOS, for years the largest DDoS-for-hire service (that is, until KrebsOnSecurity last fall outed its proprietors as two 18-year-old Israeli men).

Last summer vDOS got massively hacked, and a copy of its user and payments databases was shared with this author and with U.S. federal law enforcement agencies. The leaked database shows that both of those email addresses are tied to accounts on vDOS named “bestbuy” (bestbuy and bestbuy2).

Spdr01's sales listing for the GovRAT trojan on a malware and exploits site shows he used the email address spdr01@gmail.com

Spdr01’s sales listing for the GovRAT trojan on a malware and exploits site shows he used the email address spdr01@gmail.com

The leaked vDOS database also contained detailed records of the Internet addresses that vDOS customers used to log in to the attack-for-hire service. Those logs show that the bestbuy and bestbuy2 accounts logged in repeatedly from several different IP addresses in the United Kingdom and in Hong Kong.

The technical support logs from vDOS indicate that the reason the vDOS database shows two different accounts named “bestbuy” is the vDOS administrators banned the original “bestbuy” account after it was seen logged into the account from both the UK and Hong Kong. Bestbuy’s pleas to the vDOS administrators that he was not sharing the account and that the odd activity could be explained by his recent trip to Hong Kong did not move them to refund his money or reactivate his original account.

A number of clues in the data above suggest that the person responsible for both this Mirai botnet and GovRAT had ties to Israel. For one thing, the email address spdr01@gmail.com was used to register at least three domain names, all of which are tied back to a large family in Israel. What’s more, in several dark web postings, Bestbuy can be seen asking if anyone has any “weed for sale in Israel,” noting that he doesn’t want to risk receiving drugs in the mail.

The domains tied to spdr01@gmail.com led down a very deep rabbit hole that ultimately went nowhere useful for this investigation. But it appears the nickname “spdr01” and email spdr01@gmail.com was used as early as 2008 by a core member of the Israeli hacking forum and IRC chat room Binaryvision.co.il. Continue reading →


6
Jun 17

Following the Money Hobbled vDOS Attack-for-Hire Service

A new report proves the value of following the money in the fight against dodgy cybercrime services known as “booters” or “stressers” — virtual hired muscle that can be rented to knock nearly any website offline.

Last fall, two 18-year-old Israeli men were arrested for allegedly running vDOS, perhaps the most successful booter service of all time. The young men were detained within hours of being named in a story on this blog as the co-proprietors of the service (KrebsOnSecurity.com would later suffer a three-day outage as a result of an attack that was alleged to have been purchased in retribution for my reporting on vDOS).

The vDos home page.

The vDos home page.

That initial vDOS story was based on data shared by an anonymous source who had hacked vDOS and obtained its private user and attack database. The story showed how the service made approximately $600,000 over just two of the four years it was in operation. Most of those profits came in the form of credit card payments via PayPal.

But prior to vDOS’s takedown in September 2016, the service was already under siege thanks to work done by a group of academic researchers who teamed up with PayPal to identify and close accounts that vDOS and other booter services were using to process customer payments. The researchers found that their interventions cut profits in half for the popular booter service, and helped reduce the number of attacks coming out of it by at least 40 percent.

At the height of vDOS’s profitability in mid-2015, the DDoS-for-hire service was earning its proprietors more than $42,000 a month in PayPal and Bitcoin payments from thousands of subscribers. That’s according to an analysis of the leaked vDOS database performed by researchers at New York University.

As detailed in August 2015’s “Stress-Testing the Booter Services, Financially,” the researchers posed as buyers of nearly two dozen booter services — including vDOS —  in a bid to discover the PayPal accounts that booter services were using to accept payments. In response to their investigations, PayPal began seizing booter service PayPal accounts and balances, effectively launching their own preemptive denial-of-service attacks against the payment infrastructure for these services.

Those tactics worked, according to a paper the NYU researchers published today (PDF) at the Weis 2017 workshop at the University of California, San Diego.

“We find that VDoS’s revenue was increasing and peaked at over $42,000/month for the month before the start of PayPal’s payment intervention and then started declining to just over $20,000/month for the last full month of revenue,” the paper notes.

subscribersThe NYU researchers found that vDOS had extremely low costs, and virtually all of its business was profit. Customers would pay up front for a subscription to the service, which was sold in booter packages priced from $5 to $300. The prices were based partly on the overall number of seconds that an attack may last (e.g., an hour would be 3,600 worth of attack seconds).

In just two of its four year in operation vDOS was responsible for launching 915,000 DDoS attacks, the paper notes. In adding up all the attack seconds from those 915,000 DDoS attacks, the researchers found vDOS was responsible for 48 “attack years” — the total amount of DDoS time faced by the victims of vDOS. Continue reading →


27
Mar 17

Alleged vDOS Owners Poised to Stand Trial

Police in Israel are recommending that the state attorney’s office indict and prosecute two 18-year-olds suspected of operating vDOS, until recently the most popular attack service for knocking Web sites offline.

On Sept. 8, 2016, KrebsOnSecurity published a story about the hacking of vDOS, a service that attracted tens of thousands of paying customers and facilitated countless distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks over the four year period it was in business. That story named two young Israelis — Yarden Bidani and Itay Huri — as the likely owners and operators of vDOS, and within hours of its publication the two were arrested by Israeli police, placed on house arrest for 10 days, and forbidden from using the Internet for a month.

The front page of vDOS, when it was still online last year.

The front page of vDOS, when it was still online last year.

After those restrictions came and went, some readers expressed surprise that there were no formal charges announced against either of the young men. This week, however, Israeli police sent letters to lawyers for both men stating that the official investigation was nearing completion and that they planned to urge government prosecutors to pursue criminal charges.

The police are preparing to recommend prosecutors charge the men with computer fraud and extortion, alleging they caused more than six million shekels worth of damage (approximately USD $1.65 million).

Bidani’s attorney Perach Aroch told KrebsOnSecurity that her client has not yet been officially charged with any crime. But she said once the investigation is complete the defense will have 30 days to review the evidence and to make arguments as to why the case should be dismissed.

“They have to give us 30 days to see all the evidence and to try to convince them why they should not take this case to court,” Aroch said. “After that, [the prosecutors will] decide if it should go to trial.”

18-year-old Yarden Bidani.

18-year-old Yarden Bidani.

The arrest of Bidani and Huri came after the police received information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). But the United States apparently isn’t the only country weighing in on this case: According to a story published Sunday by Israeli news outlet TheMarker.com, the government of Sweden also is urging Israeli prosecutors to pursue formal charges.

It’s unclear exactly why the Swedish government is so interested in this case, but the vDOS service has been implicated in a series high-profile attacks that brought down some of the country’s largest news media Web sites last year.

Shortly after those attacks in March 2016, Somerville, Mass.-based security intelligence firm Recorded Future published an analysis linking the assaults against Swedish media sites to vDOS and to “applej4ck,” the hacker nickname allegedly used by Bidani.

In publicizing the news of vDOS’s hack last year, KrebsOnSecurity also published several months of attack logs from the vDOS service. However, those logs only dated back to May 2016.

Itay Huri’s lawyer declined to comment for this story, but TheMarker’s Amitai Ziv obtained a statement from Huri’s attorney, who accused Israeli police of applying pressure and terror through the media instead of looking for the truth.

Ziv said sources he’s spoken to believe the case will almost certainly go to trial.

“Professionals involved in the case said the likelihood of indictments in the affair is very high,” he wrote.

According to Bidani’s lawyer Aroch, the two former friends are now pointing the finger of blame at each other and are no longer speaking to one another.

“They each now accuse each other in things, so it’s a little bit of a problem,” Aroch said.

Aroch said both Bidani and Huri are free to travel and even leave the country, although both men have had their bank and PayPal accounts frozen.

Bidani and Huri allegedly started vDOS when they were 14 years old. By the time the service was shut down last September, it had attracted tens of thousands of customers who paid for attacks in PayPal (when vDOS’s PayPal accounts were shut down, the service briefly shifted to accepting payment via Bitcoin).

My Sept. 2016 investigation into the hacking of vDOS revealed that in just two of the four years the service was in operation, it brought in revenues of more than $600,000. 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 →


13
Dec 16

‘Operation Tarpit’ Targets Customers of Online Attack-for-Hire Services

Federal investigators in the United States and Europe last week arrested nearly three-dozen people suspected of patronizing so-called “booter” services that can be hired to knock targeted Web sites offline. The global crackdown is part of an effort by authorities to weaken demand for these services by impressing upon customers that hiring someone to launch cyberattacks on your behalf can land you in jail.

On Dec. 9, 2016, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrested Sean Sharma, a 26-year-old student at the University of California accused of using a booter service to knock a San Francisco chat service company’s Web site offline.

Sharma was one of almost three dozen others across 13 countries who were arrested on suspicion of paying for cyberattacks. As part of a coordinated law enforcement effort dubbed “Operation Tarpit,” investigators here and abroad also executed more than 100 so-called “knock-and-talk” interviews with booter buyers who were quizzed about their involvement but not formally charged with crimes.

Netspoof's DDoS-for-hire packages. Image: Samsclass.info.

Netspoof’s DDoS-for-hire packages. Image: Samsclass.info.

Stresser and booter services leverage commercial hosting services and security weaknesses in Internet-connected devices to hurl huge volleys of junk traffic at targeted Web sites. These attacks, known as “distributed denial-of-service” (DDoS) assaults, are digital sieges aimed at causing a site to crash or at least to remain unreachable by legitimate Web visitors.

“DDoS tools are among the many specialized cyber crime services available for hire that may be used by professional criminals and novices alike,” said Steve Kelly, FBI unit chief of the International Cyber Crime Coordination Cell, a task force created earlier this year by the FBI whose stated mission is to ‘defeat the most significant cyber criminals and enablers of the cyber underground.’ “While the FBI is working with our international partners to apprehend and prosecute sophisticated cyber criminals, we also want to deter the young from starting down this path.”

According to Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, the operation involved arrests and interviews of suspected DDoS-for-hire customers in Australia, Belgium, France, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. Europol said investigators are only warning one-time users, but aggressively pursuing repeat offenders who frequented the booter services.

“This successful operation marks the kick-off of a prevention campaign in all participating countries in order to raise awareness of the risk of young adults getting involved in cybercrime,” reads a statement released Monday by Europol. “Many do it for fun without realizing the consequences of their actions – but the penalties can be severe and have a negative impact on their future prospects.”

The arrests stemmed at least in part from successes that investigators had infiltrating a booter service operating under the name “Netspoof.” According to the U.K.’s National Crime Agency, Netspoof offered subscription packages ranging from £4 (~USD $5) to ÂŁ380 (~USD $482) – with some customers paying more than ÂŁ8,000 (> USD $10,000) to launch hundreds of attacks. The NCA said twelve people were arrested in connection with the Netspoof investigation, and that victims included gaming providers, government departments, internet hosting companies, schools and colleges.

The Netspoof portion of last week’s operation was fueled by the arrest of Netspoof’s founder — 20-year-old U.K. resident Grant Manser. As Bleeping Computer reports, Manser’s business had 12,800 registered users, of which 400 bought his tools, launching 603,499 DDoS attacks on 224,548 targets.

Manser was sentenced in April 2016 to two years youth detention suspended for 18 months, as well as 100 hours of community service. According to BC’s Catalin Cimpanu, the judge in Manser’s case went easy on him because he built safeguards in his tools that prevented customers from attacking police, hospitals and government institutions. Continue reading →


22
Nov 16

Akamai on the Record KrebsOnSecurity Attack

Internet infrastructure giant Akamai last week released a special State of the Internet report. Normally, the quarterly accounting of noteworthy changes in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks doesn’t delve into attacks on specific customers. But this latest Akamai report makes an exception in describing in great detail the record-sized attack against KrebsOnSecurity.com in September, the largest such assault it has ever mitigated.

“The attacks made international headlines and were also covered in depth by Brian Krebs himself,” Akamai said in its report, explaining one reason for the exception. “The same data we’ve shared here was made available to Krebs for his own reporting and we received permission to name him and his site in this report. Brian Krebs is a security blogger and reporter who does in-depth research and analysis of cybercrime throughout the world, with a recent emphasis on DDoS. His reporting exposed a stressor site called vDOS and the security firm BackConnect Inc., which made him the target of a series of large DDoS attacks starting September 15, 2016.”

A visual depiction of the increasing size and frequency of DDoS attacks against KrebsOnSecurity.com, between 2012 and 2016. Source: Akamai.

A visual depiction of the increasing size and frequency of DDoS attacks against KrebsOnSecurity.com, between 2012 and 2016. Source: Akamai.

Akamai said so-called “booter” or “stresser” DDoS-for-hire services that sell attacks capable of knocking Web sites offline continue to account for a large portion of the attack traffic in mega attacks. According to Akamai, most of the traffic from those mega attacks in Q3 2016 were thanks to Mirai — the now open-source malware family that was used to coordinate the attack on this site in September and a separate assault against infrastructure provider Dyn in October.

Akamai said the attack on Sept. 20 was launched by just 24,000 systems infected with Mirai, mostly hacked Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as digital video recorders and security cameras.

“The first quarter of 2016 marked a high point in the number of attacks peaking at more than 100 Gbps,” Akamai stated in its report. “This trend was matched in Q3 2016, with another 19 mega attacks. It’s interesting that while the overall number of attacks fell by 8% quarter over quarter, the number of large attacks, as well as the size of the biggest attacks, grew significantly.”

As detailed here in several previous posts, KrebsOnSecurity.com was a pro-bono customer of Akamai, beginning in August 2012 with Prolexic before Akamai acquired them. Akamai mentions this as well in explaining its decision to terminate our pro-bono arrangement. KrebsOnSecurity is now behind Google‘s Project Shield, a free program run by Google to help protect journalists and dissidents from online censorship.

“Almost as soon as the site was on the Prolexic network, it was hit by a trio of attacks based on the Dirt Jumper DDoS tookit,” Akamai wrote of this site. “Those attacks marked the start of hundreds of attacks that were mitigated on the routed platform.”

In total, Akamai found, this site received 269 attacks in the little more than four years it was on the Prolexic/Akamai network. Continue reading →