Category: A Little Sunshine

Feb 15 2018

Krebs on Security 2018-02-15 13:11:30

Companies around the globe are scrambling to comply with new European privacy regulations that take effect a little more than three months from now. But many security experts are worried that the changes being ushered in by the rush to adhere to the law may make it more difficult to track down cybercriminals and less likely that organizations will be willing to share data about new online threats.

On May 25, 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) takes effect. The law, enacted by the European Parliament, requires technology companies to get affirmative consent for any information they collect on people within the European Union. Organizations that violate the GDPR could face fines of up to four percent of global annual revenues.

In response, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) — the nonprofit entity that manages the global domain name system — is poised to propose changes to the rules governing how much personal information Web site name registrars can collect and who should have access to the data.

Specifically, ICANN has been seeking feedback on a range of proposals to redact information provided in WHOIS, the system for querying databases that store the registered users of domain names and blocks of Internet address ranges (IP addresses).

Under current ICANN rules, domain name registrars should collect and display a variety of data points when someone performs a WHOIS lookup on a given domain, such as the registrant’s name, address, email address and phone number. (Most registrars offer a privacy protection service that shields this information from public WHOIS lookups; some registrars charge a nominal fee for this service, while others offer it for free).

In a bid to help domain registrars comply with the GDPR regulations, ICANN has floated several proposals, all of which would redact some of the registrant data from WHOIS records. Its mildest proposal would remove the registrant’s name, email, and phone number, while allowing self-certified 3rd parties to request access to said data at the approval of a higher authority — such as the registrar used to register the domain name.

The most restrictive proposal would remove all registrant data from public WHOIS records, and would require legal due process (such as a subpoena or court order) to reveal any information supplied by the domain registrant.

ICANN’s various proposed models for redacting information in WHOIS domain name records.

The full text of ICANN’s latest proposed models (from which the screenshot above was taken) can be found here (PDF). A diverse ICANN working group made up of privacy activists, technologists, lawyers, trademark holders and security experts has been arguing about these details since 2016. For the curious and/or intrepid, the entire archive of those debates up to the current day is available at this link.

WHAT IS THE WHOIS DEBATE?

To drastically simplify the discussions into two sides, those in the privacy camp say WHOIS records are being routinely plundered and abused by all manner of ne’er-do-wells, including spammers, scammers, phishers and stalkers. In short, their view seems to be that the availability of registrant data in the WHOIS records causes more problems than it is designed to solve.

Meanwhile, security experts are arguing that the data in WHOIS records has been indispensable in tracking down and bringing to justice those who seek to perpetrate said scams, spams, phishes and….er….stalks.

Many privacy advocates seem to take a dim view of any ICANN system by which third parties (and not just law enforcement officials) might be vetted or accredited to look at a domain registrant’s name, address, phone number, email address, etc. This sentiment is captured in public comments made by the Electronic Frontier Foundation‘s Jeremy Malcolm, who argued that — even if such information were only limited to anti-abuse professionals — this also wouldn’t work.

“There would be nothing to stop malicious actors from identifying as anti-abuse professionals – neither would want to have a system to ‘vet’ anti-abuse professionals, because that would be even more problematic,” Malcolm wrote in October 2017. “There is no added value in collecting personal information – after all, criminals are not going to provide correct information anyway, and if a domain has been compromised then the personal information of the original registrant isn’t going to help much, and its availability in the wild could cause significant harm to the registrant.”

Anti-abuse and security experts counter that there are endless examples of people involved in spam, phishing, malware attacks and other forms of cybercrime who include details in WHOIS records that are extremely useful for tracking down the perpetrators, disrupting their operations, or building reputation-based systems (such as anti-spam and anti-malware services) that seek to filter or block such activity.

Moreover, they point out that the overwhelming majority of phishing is performed with the help of compromised domains, and that the primary method for cleaning up those compromises is using WHOIS data to contact the victim and/or their hosting provider.

Many commentators observed that, in the end, ICANN is likely to proceed in a way that covers its own backside, and that of its primary constituency — domain registrars. Registrars pay a fee to ICANN for each domain a customer registers, although revenue from those fees has been falling of late, forcing ICANN to make significant budget cuts.

Some critics of the WHOIS privacy effort have voiced the opinion that the registrars generally view public WHOIS data as a nuisance issue for their domain registrant customers and an unwelcome cost-center (from being short-staffed to field a constant stream of abuse complaints from security experts, researchers and others in the anti-abuse community).

“Much of the registrar market is a race to the bottom, and the ability of ICANN to police the contractual relationships in that market effectively has not been well-demonstrated over time,” commenter Andrew Sullivan observed.

In any case, sources close to the debate tell KrebsOnSecurity that ICANN is poised to recommend a WHOIS model loosely based on Model 1 in the chart above.

Specifically, the system that ICANN is planning to recommend, according to sources, would ask registrars and registries to display just the domain name, city, state/province and country of the registrant in each record; the public email addresses would be replaced by a form or message relay link that allows users to contact the registrant. The source also said ICANN plans to leave it up to the registries/registrars to apply these changes globally or only to natural persons living in the European Economic Area (EEA).

In addition, sources say non-public WHOIS data would be accessible via a credentialing system to identify law enforcement agencies and intellectual property rights holders. However, it’s unlikely that such a system would be built and approved before the May 25, 2018 effectiveness date for the GDPR, so the rumor is that ICANN intends to propose a self-certification model in the meantime.

ICANN spokesman Brad White declined to confirm or deny any of the above, referring me instead to a blog post published Tuesday evening by ICANN CEO Göran Marby. That post does not, however, clarify which way ICANN may be leaning on the matter.

“Our conversations and work are on-going and not yet final,” White wrote in a statement shared with KrebsOnSecurity. “We are converging on a final interim model as we continue to engage, review and assess the input we receive from our stakeholders and Data Protection Authorities (PDAs).”

But with the GDPR compliance deadline looming, some registrars are moving forward with their own plans on WHOIS privacy. GoDaddy, one of the world’s largest domain registrars, recently began redacting most registrant data from WHOIS records for domains that are queried via third-party tools. And it seems likely that other registrars will follow GoDaddy’s lead.

ANALYSIS

For my part, I can say without hesitation that few resources are as critical to what I do here at KrebsOnSecurity than the data available in the public WHOIS records. WHOIS records are incredibly useful signposts for tracking cybercrime, and they frequently allow KrebsOnSecurity to break important stories about the connections between and identities behind various cybercriminal operations and the individuals/networks actively supporting or enabling those activities. I also very often rely on WHOIS records to locate contact information for potential sources or cybercrime victims who may not yet be aware of their victimization.

In a great many cases, I have found that clues about the identities of those who perpetrate cybercrime can be found by following a trail of information in WHOIS records that predates their cybercriminal careers. Also, even in cases where online abusers provide intentionally misleading or false information in WHOIS records, that information is still extremely useful in mapping the extent of their malware, phishing and scamming operations.

Anyone looking for copious examples of both need only to search this Web site for the term “WHOIS,” which yields dozens of stories and investigations that simply would not have been possible without the data currently available in the global WHOIS records.

Many privacy activists involved in to the WHOIS debate have argued that other data related to domain and Internet address registrations — such as name servers, Internet (IP) addresses and registration dates — should also be considered private information. My chief concern if this belief becomes more widely held is that security companies might stop sharing such information for fear of violating the GDPR, thus hampering the important work of anti-abuse and security professionals.

This is hardly a theoretical concern. Last month I heard from a security firm based in the European Union regarding a new Internet of Things (IoT) botnet they’d discovered that was unusually complex and advanced. Their outreach piqued my curiosity because I had already been working with a researcher here in the United States who was investigating a similar-sounding IoT botnet, and I wanted to know if my source and the security company were looking at the same thing.

But when I asked the security firm to share a list of Internet addresses related to their discovery, they told me they could not do so because IP addresses could be considered private data — even after I assured them I did not intend to publish the data.

“According to many forums, IPs should be considered personal data as it enters the scope of ‘online identifiers’,” the researcher wrote in an email to KrebsOnSecurity, declining to answer questions about whether their concern was related to provisions in the GDPR specifically.  “Either way, it’s IP addresses belonging to people with vulnerable/infected devices and sharing them may be perceived as bad practice on our end. We consider the list of IPs with infected victims to be private information at this point.”

Certainly as the Internet matures and big companies develop ever more intrusive ways to hoover up data on consumers, we also need to rein in the most egregious practices while giving Internet users more robust tools to protect and preserve their privacy. In the context of Internet security and the privacy principles envisioned in the GDPR, however, I’m worried that cybercriminals may end up being the biggest beneficiaries of this new law.

Feb 12 2018

Krebs on Security 2018-02-12 09:41:53

Newtek Business Services Corp. [NASDAQ:NEWT], a Web services conglomerate that operates more than 100,000 business Web sites and some 40,000 managed technology accounts, had several of its core domain names stolen over the weekend. The theft shut off email and stranded Web sites for many of Newtek’s customers.

An email blast Newtek sent to customers late Saturday evening made no mention of a breach or incident, saying only that the company was changing domains due to “increased” security. A copy of that message can be read here (PDF).

In reality, three of their core domains were hijacked by a Vietnamese hacker, who replaced the login page many Newtek customers used to remotely manage their Web sites (webcontrolcenter[dot]com) with a live Web chat service. As a result, Newtek customers seeking answers to why their Web sites no longer resolved correctly ended up chatting with the hijacker instead.

The PHP Web chat client that the intruder installed on Webcontrolcenter[dot]com, a domain that many Newtek customers used to manage their Web sites with the company. The perpetrator can be seen in this chat using the name “admin.” Click to enlarge.

In a follow-up email sent to customers 10 hours later (PDF), Newtek acknowledged the outage was the result of a “dispute” over three domains, webcontrolcenter[dot]com, thesba[dot]com, and crystaltech[dot]com.

“We strongly request that you eliminate these domain names from all your corporate or personal browsers, and avoid clicking on them,” the company warned its customers. “At this hour, it has become apparent that as a result over the dispute for these three domain names, we do not currently have control over the domains or email coming from them.”

The warning continued: “There is an unidentified third party that is attempting to chat and may engage with clients when visiting the three domains. It is imperative that you do not communicate or provide any sensitive data at these locations.”

Newtek did not respond to requests for comment.

Domain hijacking is not a new problem, but it can be potentially devastating to the victim organization. In control of a hijacked domain, a malicious attacker could seamlessly conduct phishing attacks to steal personal information, or use the domain to foist malicious software on visitors.

Newtek is not just a large Web hosting firm: It aims to be a one-stop shop for almost any online service a small business might need. As such, it’s a mix of very different business units rolled up into one since its founding in 1998, including lending solutions, HR, payroll, managed cloud solutions, group health insurance and disaster recovery solutions.

“NEWT’s tentacles go deep into their client’s businesses through providing data security, human resources, employee benefits, payments technology, web design and hosting, a multitude of insurance solutions, and a suite of IT services,” reads a Sept. 2017 profile of the company at SeekingAlpha, a crowdsourced market analysis publication.

Newtek’s various business lines. Source: Newtek.

Reached via the Web chat client he installed at webcontrolcenter[dot]com, the person who claimed responsibility for the hijack said he notified Newtek five days ago about a “bug” he found in the company’s online operations, but that he received no reply.

A Newtek customer who resells the company’s products to his clients said he had to spend much of the weekend helping clients regain access to email accounts and domains as a result of the incident. The customer, who asked to remain anonymous, said he was shocked that Newtek made little effort to convey the gravity of the hijack to its customers — noting that the company’s home page still makes no mention of the incident.

“They also fail to make it clear that any data sent to any host under the domain could be recorded (email passwords, web credentials, etc.) by the attacker,” he said. “I’m floored at how bad their communication was to their users. I’m not surprised, but concerned, that they didn’t publish the content in the emails directly on their website.”

The source said that at a minimum Newtek should have expired all passwords immediately and required resets through non-compromised hosts.

“And maybe put a notice about this on their home page instead of relying on email, because a lot of my customers can’t get email right now as a result of this,” the source said.

There are a few clues that suggest the perpetrator of these domain hijacks is indeed being truthful about both his nationality and that he located a bug in Newtek’s service. Two of the hijacked domains were moved to a Vietnamese domain registrar (inet.vn).

This individual gave me an email address to contact him at — hd2416@gmail.com — although he has so far not responded to questions beyond promising to reply in Vietenamese. The email is tied to two different Vietnamese-language social networking profiles.

A search at Domaintools indicates that this address is linked to the registration records for four domains, including one (giakiemnew[dot]com) that was recently hosted on a dedicated server operated by Newtek’s legacy business unit Crystaltek [full disclosure: Domaintools is an advertiser on this site]. Recall that Crystaltek[dot]com was among the three hijacked domains.

In addition, the domain giakiemnew[dot]com was registered through Newtek Technology Services, a domain registration service offered by Newtek. This suggests that the perpetrator was in fact a customer of Newtek, and perhaps did discover a vulnerability while using the service.

Feb 08 2018

Krebs on Security 2018-02-08 14:04:22

The U.S. Justice Department announced charges on Wednesday against three dozen individuals thought to be key members of ‘Infraud,” a long-running cybercrime forum that federal prosecutors say cost consumers more than a half billion dollars. In conjunction with the forum takedown, 13 alleged Infraud members from the United States and six other countries were arrested.

A screenshot of the Infraud forum, circa Oct. 2014. Like most other crime forums, it had special sections dedicated to vendors of virtually every kind of cybercriminal goods or services imaginable. Click to enlarge.

Started in October 2010, Infraud was short for “In Fraud We Trust,” and collectively the forum referred to itself as the “Ministry of Fraudulently [sic] Affairs.” As a mostly English-language fraud forum, Infraud attracted nearly 11,000 members from around the globe who sold, traded and bought everything from stolen identities and credit card accounts to ATM skimmers, botnet hosting and malicious software.

“Today’s indictment and arrests mark one of the largest cyberfraud enterprise prosecutions ever undertaken by the Department of Justice,” said John P. Cronan, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s criminal division. “As alleged in the indictment, Infraud operated like a business to facilitate cyberfraud on a global scale.”

The complaint released by the DOJ lists 36 Infraud members — some only by their hacker nicknames, others by their alleged real names and handles, and still others just as “John Does.” Having been a fairly regular lurker on Infraud over the past seven years who has sought to independently identify many of these individuals, I can say that some of these names and nick associations sound accurate but several do not.

The government says the founder and top member of Infraud was Svyatoslav Bondarenko, a hacker from Ukraine who used the nicknames “Rector” and “Helkern.” The first nickname is well supported by copies of the forum obtained by this author several years back; indeed, Rector’s profile listed him an administrator, and Rector can be seen on countless Infraud discussion threads vouching for sellers who had paid the monthly fee to advertise their services in “sticky” threads on the forum.

However, I’m not sure the Helkern association with Bondarenko is accurate. In December 2014, just days after breaking the story about the theft of some 40 million credit and debit cards from retail giant Target, KrebsOnSecurity posted a lengthy investigation into the identity of “Rescator” — the hacker whose cybercrime shop was identified as the primary vendor of cards stolen from Target.

That story showed that Rescator changed his nickname from Helkern after Helkern’s previous cybercrime forum (Darklife) got massively hacked, and it presented clues indicating that Rescator/Helkern was a different Ukrainian man named Andrey Hodirevski. For more on that connection, see Who’s Selling Cards from Target.

Also, Rescator was a separate vendor on Infraud, and there are no indications that I could find suggesting that Rector and Rescator were the same people. Here is Rescator’s most recent sales thread for his credit card shop on Infraud — dated almost a year after the Target breach. Notice the last comment on that thread alleges that Rescator had recently been arrested and that his shop was being run by law enforcement officials: 

Another top administrator of Infraud used the nickname “Stells.” According to the Justice Department, Stells’ real name is Sergey Medvedev. The government doesn’t describe his exact role, but it appears to have been administering the forum’s escrow service (see screenshot below).

Most large cybercrime forums have an escrow service, which holds the buyer’s virtual currency until forum administrators can confirm the seller has consummated the transaction acceptably to both parties. The escrow feature is designed to cut down on members ripping one another off — but it also can add considerably to the final price of the item(s) for sale.

In April 2016, Medvedev would take over as the “admin and owner” of Infraud, after he posted a note online saying that Bondarenko had gone missing, the Justice Department said.

One defendant in the case, a well-known vendor of stolen credit and debit cards who goes by the nickname “Zo0mer,” is listed as a John Doe. But according to a New York Times story from 2006, Zo0mer’s real name is Sergey Kozerev, and he hails from St. Petersburg, Russia.

The indictments also list two other major vendors of stolen credit and debit cards: hackers who went by the nicknames “Unicc” and “TonyMontana” (the latter being a reference to the fictional gangster character played by Al Pacino in the 1983 movie Scarface). Both hackers have long operated and operate to this day their own carding shops:

Unicc shop, which sells stolen credit card data as well as Social Security numbers and other consumer information that can be used for identity theft.

The government says Unicc’s real name is Andrey Sergeevich Novak. TonyMontana is listed in the complaint as John Doe #1.

TonyMontana’s carding shop.

Perhaps the most successful vendor of skimming devices made to be affixed to ATMs and fuel pumps was a hacker known on Infraud and other crime forums as “Rafael101.” Several of my early stories about new skimming innovations came from discussions with Rafael in which this author posed as an interested buyer and asked for videos, pictures and technical descriptions of his skimming devices.

A confidential source who asked not to be named told me a few years back that Rafael had used the same password for his skimming sales accounts on multiple competing cybercrime forums. When one of those forums got hacked, it enabled this source to read Rafael’s emails (Rafael evidently used the same password for his email account as well).

The source said the emails showed Rafael was ordering the parts for his skimmers in bulk from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, and that he charged a significant markup on the final product. The source said Rafael had the packages all shipped to a Jose Gamboa in Norwalk, Calif — a suburb of Los Angeles. Sure enough, the indictment unsealed this week says Rafael’s real name is Jose Gamboa and that he is from Los Angeles.

A private message from the skimmer vendor Rafael101, from on a competing cybercrime forum (carder.su) in 2012.

The Justice Department says the arrests in this case took place in Australia, France, Italy, Kosovo, Serbia, the United Kingdom and the United States. The defendants face a variety of criminal charges, including identity theft, bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. A copy of the indictment is available here.

Jan 26 2018

Krebs on Security 2018-01-26 15:43:29

KrebsOnSecurity has long warned readers to plant your own flag at the my Social Security online portal of the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) — even if you are not yet drawing benefits from the agency — because identity thieves have been registering accounts in peoples’ names and siphoning retirement and/or disability funds. This is the story of a Midwest couple that took all the right precautions and still got hit by ID thieves who impersonated them to the SSA directly over the phone.

In mid-December 2017 this author heard from Ed Eckenstein, a longtime reader in Oklahoma whose wife Ruth had just received a snail mail letter from the SSA about successfully applying to withdraw benefits. The letter confirmed she’d requested a one-time transfer of more than $11,000 from her SSA account. The couple said they were perplexed because both previously had taken my advice and registered accounts with MySocialSecurity, even though Ruth had not yet chosen to start receiving SSA benefits.

The fraudulent one-time payment that scammers tried to siphon from Ruth Eckenstein’s Social Security account.

Sure enough, when Ruth logged into her MySocialSecurity account online, there was a pending $11,665 withdrawal destined to be deposited into a Green Dot prepaid debit card account (funds deposited onto a Green Dot card can be spent like cash at any store that accepts credit or debit cards). The $11,655 amount was available for a one-time transfer because it was intended to retroactively cover monthly retirement payments back to her 65th birthday.

The letter the Eckensteins received from the SSA indicated that the benefits had been requested over the phone, meaning the crook(s) had called the SSA pretending to be Ruth and supplied them with enough information about her to enroll her to begin receiving benefits. Ed said he and his wife immediately called the SSA to notify them of fraudulent enrollment and pending withdrawal, and they were instructed to appear in person at an SSA office in Oklahoma City.

The SSA ultimately put a hold on the fraudulent $11,665 transfer, but Ed said it took more than four hours at the SSA office to sort it all out. Mr. Eckenstein said the agency also informed them that the thieves had signed his wife up for disability payments. In addition, her profile at the SSA had been changed to include a phone number in the 786 area code (Miami, Fla.).

“They didn’t change the physical address perhaps thinking that would trigger a letter to be sent to us,” Ed explained.

Thankfully, the SSA sent a letter anyway. Ed said many additional hours spent researching the matter with SSA personnel revealed that in order to open the claim on Ruth’s retirement benefits, the thieves had to supply the SSA with a short list of static identifiers about her, including her birthday, place of birth, mother’s maiden name, current address and phone number.

Unfortunately, most (if not all) of this data is available on a broad swath of the American populace for free online (think Zillow, Ancestry.com, Facebook, etc.) or else for sale in the cybercrime underground for about the cost of a latte at Starbucks.

The Eckensteins thought the matter had been resolved until Jan. 14, when Ruth received a 1099 form from the SSA indicating they’d reported to the IRS that she had in fact received an $11,665 payment.

“We’ve emailed our tax guy for guidance on how to deal with this on our taxes,” Mr. Eckenstein wrote in an email to KrebsOnSecurity. “My wife logged into SSA portal and there was a note indicating that corrected/updated 1099s would be available at the end of the month. She’s not sure whether that message was specific to her or whether everyone’s seeing that.”

NOT SMALL IF IT HAPPENS TO YOU

Identity thieves have been exploiting authentication weaknesses to divert retirement account funds almost since the SSA launched its portal eight years ago. But the crime really picked up in 2013, around the same time KrebsOnSecurity first began warning readers to register their own accounts at the MySSA portal. That uptick coincided with a move by the U.S. Treasury to start requiring that all beneficiaries receive payments through direct deposit (though the SSA says paper checks are still available to some beneficiaries under limited circumstances).

More than 34 million Americans now conduct business with the Social Security Administration (SSA) online. A story this week from Reuters says the SSA doesn’t track data on the prevalence of identity theft. Nevertheless, the agency assured the news outlet that its anti-fraud efforts have made the problem “very rare.”

But Reuters notes that a 2015 investigation by the SSA’s Office of Inspector General investigation identified more than 30,000 suspicious MySSA registrations, and more than 58,000 allegations of fraud related to MySSA accounts from February 2013 to February 2016.

“Those figures are small in the context of overall MySSA activity – but it will not seem small if it happens to you,” writes Mark Miller for Reuters.

The SSA has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Ed and Ruth’s experience notwithstanding, it’s still a good idea to set up a MySSA account — particularly if you or your spouse will be eligible to withdraw benefits soon. The agency has been trying to beef up online authentication for citizens logging into its MySSA portal. Last summer the SSA began requiring all users to enter a username and password in addition to a one-time security code sent their email or phone, although as previously reported here that authentication process could be far more robust.

The Reuters story reminds readers to periodically use the MySSA portal to make sure that your personal information – such as date of birth and mailing address – are correct. “For current beneficiaries, if you notice that a monthly payment has not arrived, you should notify the SSA immediately via the agency’s toll-free line (1-800-772-1213) or at your local field office,” Miller advised. “In most cases, the SSA will make you whole if the theft is reported quickly.”

Another option is to use the SSA’s “Block Electronic Access” feature, which blocks any automatic telephone or online access to your Social Security record – including by you (although it’s unclear if blocking access this way would have stopped ID thieves who manage to speak with a live SSA representative). To restore electronic access, you’ll need to contact the Social Security Administration and provide proof of your identity.