Posts Tagged: Verizon

Aug 16

A Life or Death Case of Identity Theft?

Identity thieves have perfected a scam in which they impersonate existing customers at retail mobile phone stores, pay a small cash deposit on pricey new phones, and then charge the rest to the victim’s account. In most cases, switching on the new phones causes the victim account owner’s phone(s) to go dead. This is the story of a Pennsylvania man who allegedly died of a heart attack because his wife’s phone was switched off by ID thieves and she was temporarily unable to call for help.

On Feb. 20, 2016, James William Schwartz, 84, was going about his daily routine, which mainly consisted of caring for his wife, MaryLou. Mrs. Schwartz was suffering from the end stages of endometrial cancer and wasn’t physically mobile without assistance. When Mr. Schwartz began having a heart attack that day, MaryLou went to use her phone to call for help and discovered it was completely shut off.

Little did MaryLou know, but identity thieves had the day before entered a “premium authorized Verizon dealer” store in Florida and impersonated the Schwartzes. The thieves paid a $150 cash deposit to “upgrade” the elderly couple’s simple mobiles to new iPhone 6s devices, with the balance to be placed on the Schwartz’s account.

“Despite her severely disabled and elderly condition, MaryLou Schwartz was finally able to retrieve her husband’s cellular telephone using a mechanical arm,” reads a lawsuit (PDF) filed in Beaver County, Penn. on behalf of the Schwartz’s two daughters, alleging negligence by the Florida mobile phone store. “This monumental, determined and desperate endeavor to reach her husband’s working telephone took Mrs. Schwartz approximately forty minutes to achieve due to her condition. This vital delay in reaching emergency help proved to be fatal.”

By the time paramedics arrived, Mr. Schwartz was pronounced dead. MaryLou Schwartz died seventeen days later, on March 8, 2016. Incredibly, identity thieves would continue robbing the Schwartzes even after they were both deceased: According to the lawsuit, on April 14, 2016 the account of MaryLou Schwartz was again compromised and a tablet device was also fraudulently acquired in MaryLou’s name.

The Schwartz’s daughters say they didn’t learn about the fraud until after both parents passed away. According to them, they heard about it from the guy at a local Verizon reseller that noticed his longtime customers’ phones had been deactivated. That’s when they discovered that while their mother’s phone was inactive at the time of her father’s death, their father’s mobile had inexplicably been able to make but not receive phone calls. Continue reading →

Jun 16

Rise of Darknet Stokes Fear of The Insider

With the proliferation of shadowy black markets on the so-called “darknet” — hidden crime bazaars that can only be accessed through special software that obscures one’s true location online — it has never been easier for disgruntled employees to harm their current or former employer. At least, this is the fear driving a growing stable of companies seeking technical solutions to detect would-be insiders.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc., says she’s been inundated recently with calls from organizations asking what they can do to counter the following scenario: A disaffected or disgruntled employee creates a persona on a darknet market and offers to sell his company’s intellectual property or access to his employer’s network.

A darknet forum discussion generated by a claimed insider at music retailer Guitar Center.

A darknet forum discussion generated by a claimed insider at music retailer Guitar Center.

Litan said a year ago she might have received one such inquiry a month; now Litan says she’s getting multiple calls a week, often from companies that are in a panic.

“I’m getting calls from lots of big companies, including manufacturers, banks, pharmaceutical firms and retailers,” she said. “A year ago, no one wanted to say whether they had or were seriously worried about insiders, but that’s changing.”

Insiders don't have to be smart or sophisticated to be dangerous.

Insiders don’t have to be smart or sophisticated to be dangerous, as this darknet forum discussion thread illustrates.

Some companies with tremendous investments in intellectual property — particularly pharmaceutical and healthcare firms — are working with law enforcement or paying security firms to monitor and track actors on the darknet that promise access to specific data or organizations, Litan said. Continue reading →

Apr 16

A Dramatic Rise in ATM Skimming Attacks

Skimming attacks on ATMs increased at an alarming rate last year for both American and European banks and their customers, according to recent stats collected by fraud trackers. The trend appears to be continuing into 2016, with outbreaks of skimming activity visiting a much broader swath of the United States than in years past.

Two network cable card skimming devices, as found attached to this ATM.

Two network cable card skimming devices, as found attached to this ATM.

In a series of recent alerts, the FICO Card Alert Service warned of large and sudden spikes in ATM skimming attacks. On April 8, FICO noted that its fraud-tracking service recorded a 546 percent increase in ATM skimming attacks from 2014 to 2015.

“The number of ATM compromises in 2015 was the highest ever recorded by the FICO Card Alert Service, which monitors hundreds of thousands of ATMs in the US,” the company said. “Criminal activity was highest at non-bank ATMs, such as those in convenience stores, where 10 times as many machines were compromised as in 2014.”

While 2014 saw skimming attacks targeting mainly banks in big cities on the east and west coasts of the United States, last year’s skimming attacks were far more spread out across the country, the FICO report noted.

Earlier this year, I published a post about skimming attacks targeting non-bank ATMs using hidden cameras and skimming devices plugged into the ATM network cables to intercept customer card data. The skimmer pictured in that story was at a 7-Eleven convenience store.

Since that story ran I’ve heard from multiple banking industry sources who said they have seen a spike in ATM fraud targeting cash machines in 7-Elevens and other convenience stores, and that the commonality among the machines is that they are all operated by ATM giant Cardtronics (machines in 7-Eleven locations made up for 17.5 percent of Cardtronics’ revenue last year, according to this report at ATM Marketplace).

Some financial institutions are taking dramatic steps to head off skimming activity. Trailhead Credit Union in Portland, Ore., for example, has posted a notice to customers atop its Web site, stating:

“ALERT: Until further notice, we have turned off ATM capabilities at all 7-11 ATMs due to recent fraudulent activity. Please use our ATM locator for other locations. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

Trailhead Credit Union has stopped allowing members to withdraw cash from 7-11 ATMs.

Trailhead Credit Union has stopped allowing members to withdraw cash from 7-11 ATMs.

7-Eleven did not respond to requests for comment. Cardtronics said it wasn’t aware of any banks blocking withdrawals across the board at 7-11 stores or at Cardtronics machines.

“While Cardtronics is aware that a single financial institution [Xceed Financial Credit Union] temporarily restricted ATM access late in 2015, it soon thereafter restored full ATM access to its account holders,” the company said in a statement. “As the largest ATM services provider, Cardtronics has a long history of executing a layered security strategy and implementing innovative security enhancements at our ATMs. As criminals modify their attack, Cardtronics always has and always will aggressively respond, reactively and proactively, with innovation to address these instances.” Continue reading →

Sep 15

Inside Target Corp., Days After 2013 Breach

In December 2013, just days after a data breach exposed 40 million customer debit and credit card accounts, Target Corp. hired security experts at Verizon to probe its networks for weaknesses. The results of that confidential investigation — until now never publicly revealed — confirm what pundits have long suspected: Once inside Target’s network, there was nothing to stop attackers from gaining direct and complete access to every single cash register in every Target store.

targetsmashAccording to an internal corporate report obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, Target commissioned the study “in anticipation of litigation” from banks that might join together to sue the retailer in a bid to recoup the costs of reissuing cards to their customers. Last week, a federal judge cleared those claims to go forward in a class action suit.

The Verizon assessment, conducted between December 21, 2013 to March 1, 2014, notably found “no controls limiting their access to any system, including devices within stores such as point of sale (POS) registers and servers.”

The report noted that Verizon consultants were able to directly communicate with point-of-sale registers and servers from the core network. In one instance, they were able to communicate directly with cash registers in checkout lanes after compromising a deli meat scale located in a different store.

Verizon’s findings lend credence to the working theory about how hackers initially broke into Target. In February 2014, KrebsOnSecurity was the first to report that investigators had zeroed in on the source of the breach: Fazio Mechanical, a small heating and air conditioning firm in Pennsylvania that worked with Target and had suffered its own breach via malware delivered in an email. In that intrusion, the thieves managed to steal the virtual private network credentials that Fazio’s technicians used to remotely connect to Target’s network.

Verizon’s report offers a likely playbook for how the Target hackers used that initial foothold provided by Fazio’s hack to push malicious software down to all of the cash registers at more than 1,800 stores nationwide.

Target spokesperson Molly Snyder would neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the documents referenced in this report, but she maintained that Target has made great strides and is now an industry leader on cybersecurity.

“We’ve brought in new leaders, built teams, and opened a state-of-the-art cyber fusion center,” Snyder said. “We are proud of where we stand as a company and will be absolutely committed to being a leader on cybersecurity going forward.”

Snyder said Target believes “that sharing accurate and actionable information – with consumers, policy makers, and even other companies and industries – will help make all of us safer and stronger,” she said in an emailed statement. “Sometimes that means providing information directly to consumers, other times that means sharing information about possible industry threats with other companies or through our participation in the Financial Services and Retail Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), and sometimes that means working with law enforcement. What we don’t think it means is continuing to rehash a narrative that is nearly two years old.”

A high-level graphic showing the various routes that Verizon penetration testers were able to use to get all the way down to Target's cash registers in 2013 and 2014.

A high-level graphic showing the various routes that Verizon penetration testers were able to use to get all the way down to Target’s cash registers in 2013 and 2014.


The report notes that “while Target has a password policy, the Verizon security consultants discovered that it was not being followed. The Verizon consultants discovered a file containing valid network credentials being stored on several servers. The Verizon consultants also discovered systems and services utilizing either weak or default passwords. Utilizing these weak passwords the consultants were able to instantly gain access to the affected systems.”

Default passwords in key internal systems and servers also allowed the Verizon consultants to assume the role of a system administrator with complete freedom to move about Target’s sprawling internal network.

“The Verizon security consultants identified several systems that were using misconfigured services, such as several Microsoft SQL servers that had a weak administrator password, and Apache Tomcat servers using the default administrator password,” the report observes. “Through these weaknesses, the Verizon consultants were able to gain initial access to the corporate network and to eventually gain domain administrator access.”

Within one week, the security consultants reported that they were able to crack 472,308 of Target’s 547,470 passwords (86 percent) that allowed access to various internal networks, including;,;;;;; and Continue reading →

Dec 13

The Case for a Compulsory Bug Bounty

Security experts have long opined that one way to make software more secure is to hold software makers liable for vulnerabilities in their products.  This idea is often dismissed as unrealistic and one that would stifle innovation in an industry that has been a major driver of commercial growth and productivity over the years. But a new study released this week presents perhaps the clearest economic case yet for compelling companies to pay for information about security vulnerabilities in their products.

Before I delve into this modest proposal, let’s postulate a few assumptions that hopefully aren’t terribly divisive:

  • Modern societies are becoming increasingly dependent on software and computer programs.
  • After decades of designing software, human beings still build imperfect, buggy, and insecure programs.
  • Estimates of the global damage from cybercrime ranges from the low billions to hundreds of billions of dollars annually.
  • The market for finding, stockpiling and hoarding (keeping secret) software flaws is expanding rapidly.
  • Vendor-driven “bug bounty” programs which reward researchers for reporting and coordinating the patching of flaws are expanding, but currently do not offer anywhere near the prices offered in the underground or by private buyers.
  • Software security is a “negative externality”: like environmental pollution, vulnerabilities in software impose costs on users and on society as a whole, while software vendors internalize profits and externalize costs. Thus, absent any demand from their shareholders or customers, profit-driven businesses tend not to invest in eliminating negative externalities.

Earlier this month, I published a piece called How Many Zero-Days Hit You Today, which examined a study by vulnerability researcher Stefan Frei about the bustling market for “zero-day” flaws — security holes in software that not even the makers of those products know about. These vulnerabilities — particularly zero-days found in widely-used software like Flash and Java — are extremely valuable because attackers can use them to slip past security defenses unnoticed.

Frei’s analysis conservatively estimated that private companies which purchase software vulnerabilities for use by nation states and other practitioners of cyber espionage provide access to at least 85 zero-day exploits on any given day of the year. That estimate doesn’t even consider the number of zero-day bugs that may be sold or traded each day in the cybercrime underground.

At the end of that post, I asked readers whether it was possible and/or desirable to create a truly global, independent bug bounty program that would help level the playing field in favor of the defenders and independent security researchers. Frei’s latest paper outlines one possible answer.


Frei proposes creating a multi-tiered, “international vulnerability purchase program” (IVPP), in which the major software vendors would be induced to purchase all of the available and known vulnerabilities at prices well above what even the black market is willing to pay for them. But more on that in a bit.

The director of research for Austin, Texas-based NSS Labs, Frei examined all of the software vulnerabilities reported in 2012, and found that the top 10 software makers were responsible for more than 30 percent of all flaws fixed. Frei estimates that if these vendors were to have purchased information on all of those flaws at a steep price of $150,000 per vulnerability — an amount that is well above what cybercriminals or vulnerability brokers typically offer for such bugs — this would still come to less than one percent of the annual revenues for these software firms.


Frei points out that the cost of purchasing all vulnerabilities for all products would be considerably lower than the savings that would occur as a result of the expected reduction in losses occurring as a result of cyber crime — even under the conservative estimate that these losses would be reduced by only 10 percent.

In the above chart, for example, we can see Oracle — the software vendor responsible for Java and a whole heap of database software code that is found in thousands of organizations — fixed more than 427 vulnerabilities last year. It also brought in more than $37 billion in revenues that year. If Oracle were to pay researchers top dollar ($150,000) for each vulnerability, that would still come to less than two-tenths of one percent of the company’s annual revenues (USD $67 million).

Frei posits that if vendors were required to internalize the cost of such a program, they would likely be far more motivated to review and/or enhance the security of their software development processes.


Likewise, Frei said, such a lucrative bug bounty system would virtually ensure that every release of commercial software products would be scrutinized by legions of security experts.

“In the short term, it would hit the vendors very badly,” Frei said in a phone interview with KrebsOnSecurity. “But in the long term, this would produce much more secure software.”

“When you look at new innovations like cars, airplanes and electricity, we see that security and reliability was enhanced tremendously with each as soon as there was independent testing,” said Frei, an experienced helicopter pilot. “I was recently reading a book about the history of aviation, and [it noted that in] the first iteration of the NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] it was explicitly stated that when they investigate an accident, if they could not find a mechanical failure, they blamed the pilot. This is what we do now with software: We blame the user. We say, you should have installed antivirus, or done this and that.”

Continue reading →

Jun 13

Web Badness Knows No Bounds

If your strategy for remaining safe and secure online is mainly to avoid visiting dodgy Web sites, it’s time to consider a new approach. Data released today by Google serves as a welcome reminder that drive-by malware attacks are far more likely to come from hacked, legitimate Web sites than from sites set up by attackers to intentionally host and distribute malicious software.

Today, Google released a truckload of data from its Safe Browsing program, which flags and warns users about more than 10,000 suspicious and malicious Web sites each day. The information clearly shows that gone are the days when folks could avoid giving their computers a nasty little rash simply by staying out of the Internet’s red-light districts (networks with large aggregations of porn and piracy sites, for example).

Hacked, malicious Web sites far exceed malware sites constructed by attackers. Source: Google

Hacked, malicious Web sites far exceed malware sites constructed by attackers. Source: Google

At the same time, some places on the Internet clearly are far more dangerous than others, Google’s data sets show. Have a look at the following graphic, which lists the most hostile Internet providers in the United States (the U.S. is currently responsible for just 2 percent of the world’s malicious sites, Google says).

Concentrations of hacked and malicious sites at U.S. Internet providers.Source: Google

Concentrations of hacked and malicious sites at U.S. Internet providers.Source: Google

The most malicious U.S. network listed by Google — a data center run by a company in New York called Pilosoft — is no stranger to lists charting the top sources of badness online. Pilosoft figured prominently in Operation Ghost Click, a U.S. Justice Department takedown targeting the DNS Changer botnet, which had a significant portion of its operations based at Pilosoft. Google says it has scanned 13 percent of Pilosoft’s network, and found that more than half of the sites it scanned were malicious.

Other top badness concentrations have a history of courting malware purveyors. Ask Google’s report to display the most densely malicious ISPs regardless of country and you’ll notice some interesting names float to the top of the list. Among them, Santrex Internet Services, is a well-known offshore bulletproof hosting provider based in the Seychelles.

Some networks are completely overrun with malicious sites, and some actively seek out this condition.

Some networks are completely overrun with malicious sites, and some actively seek out this condition.

Of course, more mainstream networks and ISPs also are constantly battling malicious sites within their borders.  It’s worth noting that 22 percent of the sites hosted at one section of the network run by major ISP Comcast (AS20214)  are malicious, according to Google, although the company says it has scanned only 4 percent of this portion Comcast’s network so far. Google’s data is broken down by “autonomous system” (AS) numbers — which are basically a numerical way of keeping track of networks — and a large ISP may control numerous ASes.

Several other Comcast ASes are listed in the first few pages of Google’s index of U.S.-based badness. To be fair, Comcast is the nation’s largest cable Internet provider, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it hosts so many compromised sites. However, Comcast’s largest competitor in the United States — Verizon — doesn’t appear until page 19 of Google’s results (with 5 percent of scanned sites malicious and 5 percent of the network scanned).

Continue reading →

Apr 13

How Not to Install an ATM Skimmer

Experts in the United States and Europe are tracking a marked increase in ATM skimmer scams. But let’s hope that at least some of that is the result of newbie crooks who fail as hard as the thief who tried to tamper with a Bank of America ATM earlier this week in Nashville.

Nashville police released a series of still photos (which I made into a slideshow, below) that show a man attaching a card skimming device to a local ATM, and then affixing a false panel above the PIN pad that includes a tiny video camera to record victims entering their PINs. According to Nashville NBC affiliate, this scammer’s scheme didn’t work as planned: The card skimmer overlay came off of the ATM in the hands of the first customer who tried to use it.

As you can see in the image montage, the first would-be victim arrives less than seven minutes after the thief installs the skimmer. The story doesn’t state this, but the customer who accidentally pulled the card skimmer off of the ATM actually drove off with the device. Interestingly, the fraudster returns a few minutes later to salvage what’s left of his kit (and perhaps his pride).

As lame as this ATM skimming attempt was, a few aspects of this crime are worth highlighting because they show up repeatedly in skimming attacks. One is that the vast majority of skimming devices are installed on Saturdays and Sundays, when the crooks know the banks will be closed for at least a day. As a result, you have a much higher chance of encountering a skimmer if you regularly use ATMs on a weekend.

Second, the thieves who install these fraud devices very often are lurking somewhere nearby — to better keep an eye on their investments. If you ever happen to discover a skimming device attached to an ATM, just remember that while walking or driving off with the thing might seem like a good idea at the time, the miscreant who put it there may be watching or following you as you depart the ATM area.

Once or twice a month I am interviewed by various news outlets about ATM skimming attacks, and I’m nearly always asked for recent figures on the incident and cost of these crimes. Those stats are hard to come by; I believe the last time the U.S. Secret Service released figures about the crime, it estimated that annual losses from ATM fraud totaled about $1 billion, but that was for 2008.

Source: Verizon

Source: Verizon

Today’s figures are almost certainly higher. On Tuesday, Verizon Enterprise Solutions released its annual data breach investigations report, a deep dive into more than 620 data breaches from the past year. Interestingly, this year’s report shows that of the Top 20 Threat Actions the company tracked across all of the breaches from 2012, physical tampering was the most frequent cause — present in more than 30 percent of all incidents detailed in the report.

“Physical tampering is our way of categorizing the installation of a skimming device, and that was the number one threat action out of everything we looked at,” said Wade Baker, managing principal of RISK intelligence at Verizon. “If you look at the last two [Verizon annual] reports, a large majority of the data set was the point-of-sale intrusions at small organizations such as retail establishments and restaurants, and those are actually a much smaller portion of our data set this time.”

Continue reading →

Jul 11

Is Your Voicemail Wide Open?

The “phone-hacking” scandal that has gripped the U.K. is now making waves on this side of the pond. It stems from an alleged series of intrusions into the wireless voicemail boxes of high profile celebrities and 9/11 victims. The news stories about this scandal make it sound as if the attacks were sophisticated — an investigation into exactly what happened is still pending — but many people would be surprised to learn just how easy it is to “hack” into someone’s voicemail.

For years, it has been a poorly-kept secret that some of the world’s largest wireless providers rely on caller ID information to verify that a call to check voicemail is made from the account holder’s mobile phone. Unfortunately, this means that if you haven’t set up your voicemail account to require a PIN for access, your messages may be vulnerable to snooping by anyone who has access to caller ID “spoofing” technology. Several companies offer caller ID spoofing services, and the tools needed to start your own spoofing operation are freely available online.

I wanted to check whether this is possible with my AT&T account — so I chose my wife’s new iPhone as the target; I was reasonably sure she hadn’t set a PIN on her voicemail. I surfed over to and found that I still had $10 in credits in my account. I instructed Spooftel to call her number, and to use that same number as the caller ID information that gets transmitted to my wife’s phone. Her phone rang 4 times before going to voicemail; I pressed the # sign on my iPhone and was immediately presented with her saved messages. Continue reading →