Aug 28 2017

Krebs on Security 2017-08-28 10:06:08

A half dozen technology and security companies — some of them competitors — issued the exact same press release today. This unusual level of cross-industry collaboration caps a successful effort to dismantle ‘WireX,’ an extraordinary new crime machine comprising tens of thousands of hacked Android mobile devices that was used this month to launch a series of massive cyber attacks.

Experts involved in the takedown warn that WireX marks the emergence of a new class of attack tools that are more challenging to defend against and thus require broader industry cooperation to defeat.

This graphic shows the rapid growth of the WireX botnet in the first three weeks of August 2017.

This graphic shows the rapid growth of the WireX botnet in the first three weeks of August 2017.

News of WireX’s emergence first surfaced August 2, 2017, when a modest collection of hacked Android devices was first spotted conducting some fairly small online attacks. Less than two weeks later, however, the number of infected Android devices enslaved by WireX had ballooned to the tens of thousands.

More worrisome was that those in control of the botnet were now wielding it to take down several large websites in the hospitality industry — pelting the targeted sites with so much junk traffic that the sites were no longer able to accommodate legitimate visitors.

Experts tracking the attacks soon zeroed in on the malware that powers WireX: Approximately 300 different mobile apps scattered across Google‘s Play store that were mimicking seemingly innocuous programs, including video players, ringtones or simple tools such as file managers.

“We identified approximately 300 apps associated with the issue, blocked them from the Play Store, and we’re in the process of removing them from all affected devices,” Google said in a written statement. “The researchers’ findings, combined with our own analysis, have enabled us to better protect Android users, everywhere.”

Perhaps to avoid raising suspicion, the tainted Play store applications all performed their basic stated functions. But those apps also bundled a small program that would launch quietly in the background and cause the infected mobile device to surreptitiously connect to an Internet server used by the malware’s creators to control the entire network of hacked devices. From there, the infected mobile device would await commands from the control server regarding which Websites to attack and how.

A sampling of the apps from Google's Play store that were tainted with the WireX malware.

A sampling of the apps from Google’s Play store that were tainted with the WireX malware.

Experts involved in the takedown say it’s not clear exactly how many Android devices may have been infected with WireX, in part because only a fraction of the overall infected systems were able to attack a target at any given time. Devices that were powered off would not attack, but those that were turned on with the device’s screen locked could still carry on attacks in the background, they found.

“I know in the cases where we pulled data out of our platform for the people being targeted we saw 130,000 to 160,000 (unique Internet addresses) involved in the attack,” said Chad Seaman, a senior engineer at Akamai, a company that specializes in helping firms weather large DDoS attacks (Akamai protected KrebsOnSecurity from hundreds of attacks prior to the large Mirai assault last year).

The identical press release that Akamai and other firms involved in the WireX takedown agreed to publish says the botnet infected a minimum of 70,000 Android systems, but Seaman says that figure is conservative.

“Seventy thousand was a safe bet because this botnet makes it so that if you’re driving down the highway and your phone is busy attacking some website, there’s a chance your device could show up in the attack logs with three or four or even five different Internet addresses,” Seaman said in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity. “We saw attacks coming from infected devices in over 100 countries. It was coming from everywhere.”

BUILDING ON MIRAI

Security experts from Akamai and other companies that participated in the WireX takedown say the basis for their collaboration was forged in the monstrous and unprecedented distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks launched last year by Mirai, a malware strain that seeks out poorly-secured “Internet of things” (IoT) devices such as security cameras, digital video recorders and Internet routers.

The first and largest of the Mirai botnets was used in a giant attack last September that knocked this Web site offline for several days. Just a few days after that — when the source code that powers Mirai was published online for all the world to see and use — dozens of copycat Mirai botnets emerged. Several of those botnets were used to conduct massive DDoS attacks against a variety of targets, leading to widespread Internet outages for many top Internet destinations.

Allison Nixon, director of security research at New York City-based security firm Flashpoint, said the Mirai attacks were a wake-up call for the security industry and a rallying cry for more collaboration.

“When those really large Mirai DDoS botnets started showing up and taking down massive pieces of Internet infrastructure, that caused massive interruptions in service for people that normally don’t deal with DDoS attacks,” Nixon said. “It sparked a lot of collaboration. Different players in the industry started to take notice, and a bunch of us realized that we needed to deal with this thing because if we didn’t it would just keep getting bigger and rampaging around.”

Mirai was notable not only for the unprecedented size of the attacks it could launch but also for its ability to spread rapidly to new machines. But for all its sheer firepower, Mirai is not a particularly sophisticated attack platform. Well, not in comparison to WireX, that is.

CLICK-FRAUD ORIGINS

According to the group’s research, the WireX botnet likely began its existence as a distributed method for conducting “click fraud,” a pernicious form of online advertising fraud that will cost publishers and businesses an estimated $16 billion this year, according to recent estimates. Multiple antivirus tools currently detect the WireX malware as a known click fraud malware variant.

The researchers believe that at some point the click-fraud botnet was repurposed to conduct DDoS attacks. While DDoS botnets powered by Android devices are extremely unusual (if not unprecedented at this scale), it is the botnet’s ability to generate what appears to be regular Internet traffic from mobile browsers that strikes fear in the heart of experts who specialize in defending companies from large-scale DDoS attacks.

DDoS defenders often rely on developing custom “filters” or “signatures” that can help them separate DDoS attack traffic from legitimate Web browser traffic destined for a targeted site. But experts say WireX has the capability to make that process much harder.

That’s because WireX includes its own so-called “headless” Web browser that can do everything a real, user-driven browser can do, except without actually displaying the browser to the user of the infected system.

Also, Wirex can encrypt the attack traffic using SSL — the same technology that typically protects the security of a browser session when an Android user visits a Web site which requires the submission of sensitive data. This adds a layer of obfuscation to the attack traffic, because the defender needs to decrypt incoming data packets before being able to tell whether the traffic inside matches a malicious attack traffic signature.

Translation: It can be far more difficult and time-consuming than usual for defenders to tell WireX traffic apart from clicks generated by legitimate Internet users trying to browse to a targeted site.

“These are pretty miserable and painful attacks to mitigate, and it was these kinds of advanced functionalities that made this threat stick out like a sore thumb,” Akamai’s Seaman said.

NOWHERE TO HIDE

Traditionally, many companies that found themselves on the receiving end of a large DDoS attack sought to conceal this fact from the public — perhaps out of fear that customers or users might conclude the attack succeeded because of some security failure on the part of the victim.

But the stigma associated with being hit with a large DDoS is starting to fade, Flashpoint’s Nixon said, if for no other reason than it is becoming far more difficult for victims to conceal such attacks from public knowledge.

“Many companies, including Flashpoint, have built out different capabilities in order to see when a third party is being DDoS’d,” Nixon said. “Even though I work at a company that doesn’t do DDoS mitigation, we can still get visibility when a third-party is getting attacked. Also, network operators and ISPs have a strong interest in not having their networks abused for DDoS, and many of them have built capabilities to know when their networks are passing DDoS traffic.”

Just as multiple nation states now employ a variety of techniques and technologies to keep tabs on nation states that might conduct underground tests of highly destructive nuclear weapons, a great deal more organizations are now actively looking for signs of large-scale DDoS attacks, Seaman added.

“The people operating those satellites and seismograph sensors to detect nuclear [detonations] can tell you how big it was and maybe what kind of bomb it was, but they probably won’t be able to tell you right away who launched it,” he said. “It’s only when we take many of these reports together in the aggregate that we can get a much better sense of what’s really going on. It’s a good example of none of us being as smart as all of us.”

According to the WireX industry consortium, the smartest step that organizations can take when under a DDoS attack is to talk to their security vendor(s) and make it clear that they are open to sharing detailed metrics related to the attack.

“With this information, those of us who are empowered to dismantle these schemes can learn much more about them than would otherwise be possible,” the report notes. “There is no shame in asking for help. Not only is there no shame, but in most cases it is impossible to hide the fact that you are under a DDoS attack. A number of research efforts have the ability to detect the existence of DDoS attacks happening globally against third parties no matter how much those parties want to keep the issue quiet. There are few benefits to being secretive and numerous benefits to being forthcoming.”

Identical copies of the WireX report and Appendix are available at the following links:

Flashpoint

Akamai

Cloudflare

RiskIQ

Oct 31 2016

Krebs on Security 2016-10-31 13:30:30

Perhaps the most bustling marketplace on the Internet where people can compare and purchase so-called “booter” and “stresser” subscriptions — attack-for-hire services designed to knock Web sites offline — announced last week that it has permanently banned the sale and advertising of these services.

On Friday, Oct. 28, Jesse LaBrocca — the administrator of the popular English-language hacking forum Hackforums[dot]net — said he was shutting down the “server stress testing” (SST) section of the forum. The move comes amid heightened public scrutiny of the SST industry, which has been linked to several unusually powerful recent attacks and is responsible for the vast majority of denial-of-service (DOS) attacks on the Internet today.

The administrator of Hackforums bans the sale and advertising of server stress testing (SST) services, also known as "booter" or "stresser" online attack-for-hire services.

The administrator of Hackforums bans the sale and advertising of server stress testing (SST) services, also known as “booter” or “stresser” online attack-for-hire services.

“Unfortunately once again the few ruin it for the many,” LaBrocca wrote under his Hackforums alias “Omniscient.” “I’m personally disappointed that this is the path I have to take in order to protect the community. I loathe having to censor material that could be beneficial to members. But I need to make sure that we continue to exist and given the recent events I think it’s more important that the section be permanently shut down.”

Last month, a record-sized DDoS hit KrebsOnSecurity.com. The attack was launched with the help of Mirai, a malware strain that enslaves poorly secured Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices like CCTV cameras and digital video recorders and uses them to launch crippling attacks.

At the end of September, a Hackforums user named “Anna_Senpai” used the forum to announce the release the source code for Mirai. A week ago, someone used Mirai to launch a massive attack on Internet infrastructure firm Dyn, which for the better part of a day lead to sporadic outages for some of the Web’s top destinations, including Twitter, PayPal, Reddit and Netflix.

The Hackforums post that includes links to the Mirai source code.

The Hackforums post that includes links to the Mirai source code.

As I noted in last week’s story Are the Days of Booter Services Numbered?, many booter service owners have been operating under the delusion or rationalization that their services are intended solely for Web site owners to test the ability of their sites to withstand data deluges.

Whatever illusions booter service operators or users may have harbored about their activities should have been dispelled following a talk delivered at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas this year. In that speech, FBI Agent Elliott Peterson issued an unambiguous warning that the agency was prepared to investigate and help prosecute people engaged in selling and buying from booter services.

But it wasn’t until this month’s attack on Dyn that LaBrocca warned the Hackforums community he may have to shut down the SST section.

“I can’t image this attention is going to be a good thing,” Omni said in an October 26, 2016 thread titled “Bad things.” “Already a Senator is calling for a hearing on the Internet of Things [link added]. In the end there could be new laws which effect [sic] us all. So for those responsible for the attacks and creating this mess….you dun goofed. I expect a lot of backlash to come out of this.”

If LaBrocca appears steamed from this turn of events, it’s probably with good reason: He stands to lose a fair amount of regular income by banning some of the most lucrative businesses on his forum. Vendors on Hackforums pay fees as high as $25 apiece to achieve a status that allows them to post new sales threads, and banner ads on the forum can run up to $200 per week.

"Stickies" advertising various "booter" or "stresser" DDoS-for-hire services.

“Stickies” advertising various “booter” or “stresser” DDoS-for-hire services.

Vendors who wish to “sticky” their ads — that is, pay to keep the ads displayed prominently near or at the top of a given discussion subforum — pay LaBrocca up to $60 per week for the prime sticky spots. And there were dozens of booter services advertised on Hackforums.

Allison Nixon, director of security research at Flashpoint and an expert on booter services, said the move could put many booter services out of business.

Nixon said the average booter service customer uses the attack services to settle grudges with opponents in online games, and that the closure of the SST subforum may make these services less attractive to those individuals.

“There is probably a lesser likelihood that the average gamer will see these services and think that it’s an okay idea to purchase them,” Nixon said. “The ease of access to these booters services makes people think it’s okay to use them. In gaming circles, for example, people will often use them to DDoS one another and not realize they might be shutting down an innocent person’s network. Recognizing that this is criminal activity on the same level of criminal hacking and fraud may discourage people from using these services, meaning the casual actor may be less likely to buy a booter subscription and launch DDoS attacks.”

While a welcome development, the closure of the SST subforum almost seems somewhat arbitrary given the sheer amount of other illegal hacking activity that is blatantly advertised on Hackforums, Nixon said.

“It’s interesting the norms that are on this forum because they’re so different from how you or I would recognize acceptable behavior,” she said. “For example, most people would think it’s not acceptable to see booter services advertised alongside remote access Trojans, malware crypting services and botnets.”

Other questionable services and subsections advertised on Hackforums include those intended for the sale of hacked social media and e-commerce accounts. More shocking are the dozens of threads wherein Hackforums members advertise the sale of “girl slaves,” essentially access to hacked computers belonging to teenage girls who can be extorted and exploited for payment or naked pictures. It’s worth noting that the youth who was arrested for snapping nude pictures of Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf through her webcam was a regular user of Hackforums.

Hackforums users advertising the sale and procurement of "girl slaves."

Hackforums users advertising the sale and procurement of “girl slaves.”

Nixon said most Hackforums users are essentially good people who are interested in learning more about technology, security and other topics. But she said many of the younger, impressionable members are heavily influenced by some of the more senior forum participants, a number of whom are peddling dangerous products and services.

“Most of the stuff on Hackforums is not that bad,” Nixon said. “There are a lot of kids who are pretty much normal people and interested in hacking and technology. But there are also gangs, and there are definitely criminal organizations that have a presence on the forum that will try to enable criminal activity and take advantage of people.”

The removal of booter services from Hackforums is a gratifying development for me personally and professionally. My site has been under near-constant attack from users of these booter services for several years now. As a result, I have sought to bring more public attention to these crooked businesses and to the young men who’ve earned handsome profits operating over the years. Here are just a few of those stories:

Stress Testing the Booter Services, Financially

Are the Days of Booter Services Numbered?

Israeli Online Attack Service ‘vDOS’ Earned $600,000 in Two Years

Ragebooter: Legit DDoS Service, or Fed Backdoor?

DDoS Services Advertise Openly, Take PayPal

Booter Shells Turn Web Sites Into Weapons

Spreading the DDoS Disease and Selling the Cure

Lizard Stresser Runs on Hacked Home Routers

The New Normal: 200-400 Gpbs DDoS Attacks

Oct 21 2016

Krebs on Security 2016-10-21 17:57:48

A massive and sustained Internet attack that has caused outages and network congestion today for a large number of Web sites was launched with the help of hacked “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices, such as CCTV video cameras and digital video recorders, new data suggests.

Earlier today cyber criminals began training their attack cannons on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company that provides critical technology services to some of the Internet’s top destinations. The attack began creating problems for Internet users reaching an array of sites, including Twitter, Amazon, Tumblr, Reddit, Spotify and Netflix.

l3outage

A depiction of the outages caused by today’s attacks on Dyn, an Internet infrastructure company. Source: Downdetector.com.

At first, it was unclear who or what was behind the attack on Dyn. But over the past few hours, at least one computer security firm has come out saying the attack involved Mirai, the same malware strain that was used in the record 620 Gpbs attack on my site last month. At the end September 2016, the hacker responsible for creating the Mirai malware released the source code for it, effectively letting anyone build their own attack army using Mirai.

Mirai scours the Web for IoT devices protected by little more than factory-default usernames and passwords, and then enlists the devices in attacks that hurl junk traffic at an online target until it can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors or users.

According to researchers at security firm Flashpoint, today’s attack was launched at least in part by a Mirai-based botnet. Allison Nixon, director of research at Flashpoint, said the botnet used in today’s ongoing attack is built on the backs of hacked IoT devices — mainly compromised digital video recorders (DVRs) and IP cameras made by a Chinese hi-tech company called XiongMai Technologies. The components that XiongMai makes are sold downstream to vendors who then use it in their own products.

“It’s remarkable that virtually an entire company’s product line has just been turned into a botnet that is now attacking the United States,” Nixon said, noting that Flashpoint hasn’t ruled out the possibility of multiple botnets being involved in the attack on Dyn.

“At least one Mirai [control server] issued an attack command to hit Dyn,” Nixon said. “Some people are theorizing that there were multiple botnets involved here. What we can say is that we’ve seen a Mirai botnet participating in the attack.”

As I noted earlier this month in Europe to Push New Security Rules Amid IoT Mess, many of these products from XiongMai and other makers of inexpensive, mass-produced IoT devices are essentially unfixable, and will remain a danger to others unless and until they are completely unplugged from the Internet.

That’s because while many of these devices allow users to change the default usernames and passwords on a Web-based administration panel that ships with the products, those machines can still be reached via more obscure, less user-friendly communications services called “Telnet” and “SSH.”

Telnet and SSH are command-line, text-based interfaces that are typically accessed via a command prompt (e.g., in Microsoft Windows, a user could click Start, and in the search box type “cmd.exe” to launch a command prompt, and then type “telnet” to reach a username and password prompt at the target host).

“The issue with these particular devices is that a user cannot feasibly change this password,” Flashpoint’s Zach Wikholm told KrebsOnSecurity. “The password is hardcoded into the firmware, and the tools necessary to disable it are not present. Even worse, the web interface is not aware that these credentials even exist.”

Flashpoint’s researchers said they scanned the Internet on Oct. 6 for systems that showed signs of running the vulnerable hardware, and found more than 515,000 of them were vulnerable to the flaws they discovered.

“I truly think this IoT infrastructure is very dangerous on the whole and does deserve attention from anyone who can take action,” Flashpoint’s Nixon said.

It’s unclear what it will take to get a handle on the security problems introduced by millions of insecure IoT devices that are ripe for being abused in these sorts of assaults.

As I noted in The Democratization of Censorship, to address the threat from the mass-proliferation of hardware devices such as Internet routers, DVRs and IP cameras that ship with default-insecure settings, we probably need an industry security association, with published standards that all members adhere to and are audited against periodically.

The wholesalers and retailers of these devices might then be encouraged to shift their focus toward buying and promoting connected devices which have this industry security association seal of approval. Consumers also would need to be educated to look for that seal of approval. Something like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), but for the Internet, perhaps.

Until then, these insecure IoT devices are going to stick around like a bad rash — unless and until there is a major, global effort to recall and remove vulnerable systems from the Internet. In my humble opinion, this global cleanup effort should be funded mainly by the companies that are dumping these cheap, poorly-secured hardware devices onto the market in an apparent bid to own the market. Well, they should be made to own the cleanup efforts as well.

Devices infected with Mirai are instructed to scour the Internet for IoT devices protected by more than 60 default usernames and passwords. The entire list of those passwords — and my best approximation of which firms are responsible for producing those hardware devices — can be found at my story, Who Makes the IoT Things Under Attack.

Update 10:30 a.m., Oct. 22: Corrected attribution on outage graphic.

Sep 08 2016

Israeli Online Attack Service ‘vDOS’ Earned $600,000 in Two Years

vDOS  a “booter” service that has earned in excess of $600,000 over the past two years helping customers coordinate more than 150,000 so-called distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks designed to knock Web sites offline — has been massively hacked, spilling secrets about tens of thousands of paying customers and their targets.

The vDOS database, obtained by KrebsOnSecurity.com at the end of July 2016, points to two young men in Israel as the principal owners and masterminds of the attack service, with support services coming from several young hackers in the United States.

The vDos home page.

The vDos home page.

To say that vDOS has been responsible for a majority of the DDoS attacks clogging up the Internet over the past few years would be an understatement. The various subscription packages to the service are sold based in part on how many seconds the denial-of-service attack will last. And in just four months between April and July 2016, vDOS was responsible for launching more than 277 million seconds of attack time, or approximately 8.81 years worth of attack traffic.

Let the enormity of that number sink in for a moment: That’s nearly nine of what I call “DDoS years” crammed into just four months. That kind of time compression is possible because vDOS handles hundreds — if not thousands — of concurrent attacks on any given day.

Although I can’t prove it yet, it seems likely that vDOS is responsible for several decades worth of DDoS years. That’s because the data leaked in the hack of vDOS suggest that the proprietors erased all digital records of attacks that customers launched between Sept. 2012 (when the service first came online) and the end of March 2016.

HOW vDOS GOT HACKED

The hack of vDOS came about after a source was investigating a vulnerability he discovered on a similar attack-for-hire service called PoodleStresser. The vulnerability allowed my source to download the configuration data for PoodleStresser’s attack servers, which pointed back to api.vdos-s[dot]com. PoodleStresser, as well as a large number of other booter services, appears to rely exclusively on firepower generated by vDOS.

From there, the source was able to exploit a more serious security hole in vDOS that allowed him to dump all of the service’s databases and configuration files, and to discover the true Internet address of four rented servers in Bulgaria (at Verdina.net) that are apparently being used to launch the attacks sold by vDOS. The DDoS-for-hire service is hidden behind DDoS protection firm Cloudflare, but its actual Internet address is 82.118.233.144.

vDOS had a reputation on cybercrime forums for prompt and helpful customer service, and the leaked vDOS databases offer a fascinating glimpse into the logistical challenges associated with running a criminal attack service online that supports tens of thousands of paying customers — a significant portion of whom are all trying to use the service simultaneously.

Multiple vDOS tech support tickets were filed by customers who complained that they were unable to order attacks on Web sites in Israel. Responses from the tech support staff show that the proprietors of vDOS are indeed living in Israel and in fact set the service up so that it was unable to attack any Web sites in that country — presumably so as to not attract unwanted attention to their service from Israeli authorities. Here are a few of those responses:

(‘4130′,’Hello `d0rk`,rnAll Israeli IP ranges have been blacklisted due to security reasons.rnrnBest regards,rnP1st.’,’03-01-2015 08:39),

(‘15462′,’Hello `g4ng`,rnMh, neither. I’m actually from Israel, and decided to blacklist all of them. It’s my home country, and don’t want something to happen to them :)rnrnBest regards,rnDrop.’,’11-03-2015 15:35),

(‘15462′,’Hello `roibm123`,rnBecause I have an Israeli IP that is dynamic.. can’t risk getting hit/updating the blacklist 24/7.rnrnBest regards,rnLandon.’,’06-04-2015 23:04),

(‘4202′,’Hello `zavi156`,rnThose IPs are in israel, and we have all of Israel on our blacklist. Sorry for any inconvinience.rnrnBest regards,rnJeremy.’,’20-05-2015 10:14),

(‘4202′,’Hello `zavi156`,rnBecause the owner is in Israel, and he doesn’t want his entire region being hit offline.rnrnBest regards,rnJeremy.’,’20-05-2015 11:12),

(‘9057′,’There is a option to buy with Paypal? I will pay more than $2.5 worth.rnThis is not the first time I am buying booter from you.rnIf no, Could you please ask AplleJack? I know him from Israel.rnThanks.’,’21-05-2015 12:51),

(‘4120′,’Hello `takedown`,rnEvery single IP that’s hosted in israel is blacklisted for safety reason. rnrnBest regards,rnAppleJ4ck.’,’02-09-2015 08:57),

WHO RUNS vDOS?

As we can see from the above responses from vDOS’s tech support, the owners and operators of vDOS are young Israeli hackers who go by the names P1st a.k.a. P1st0, and AppleJ4ck. The two men market their service mainly on the site hackforums[dot]net, selling monthly subscriptions using multiple pricing tiers ranging from $20 to $200 per month. AppleJ4ck hides behind the same nickname on Hackforums, while P1st goes by the alias “M30w” on the forum.

Some of P1st/M30W's posts on Hackforums regarding his service vDOS.

Some of P1st/M30W’s posts on Hackforums regarding his service vDOS.

vDOS appears to be the longest-running booter service advertised on Hackforums, and it is by far and away the most profitable such business. Records leaked from vDOS indicate that since July 2014, tens of thousands of paying customers spent a total of more than $618,000 at the service using Bitcoin and PayPal.

Incredibly, for brief periods the site even accepted credit cards in exchange for online attacks, although it’s unclear how much the site might have made in credit card payments because the information is not in the leaked databases.

The Web server hosting vDOS also houses several other sites, including huri[dot]biz, ustress[dot]io, and vstress[dot]net. Virtually all of the administrators at vDOS have an email account that ends in v-email[dot]org, a domain that also is registered to an Itay Huri with a phone number that traces back to Israel.

The proprietors of vDOS set their service up so that anytime a customer asked for technical assistance the site would blast a text message to six different mobile numbers tied to administrators of the service, using an SMS service called Nexmo.com. Two of those mobile numbers go to phones in Israel. One of them is the same number listed for Itay Huri in the Web site registration records for v-email[dot]org; the other belongs to an Israeli citizen named Yarden Bidani. Neither individual responded to requests for comment.

The leaked database and files indicate that vDOS uses Mailgun for email management, and the secret keys needed to manage that Mailgun service were among the files stolen by my source. The data shows that vDOS support emails go to itay@huri[dot]biz, itayhuri8@gmail.com and raziel.b7@gmail.com.

LAUNDERING THE PROCEEDS FROM DDOS ATTACKS

The $618,000 in earnings documented in the vDOS leaked logs is almost certainly a conservative income figure. That’s because the vDOS service actually dates back to Sept 2012, yet the payment records are not available for purchases prior to 2014. As a result, it’s likely that this service has made its proprietors more than $1 million.

vDOS does not currently accept PayPal payments. But for several years until recently it did, and records show the proprietors of the attack service worked assiduously to launder payments for the service through a round-robin chain of PayPal accounts.

They did this because at the time PayPal was working with a team of academic researchers to identify, seize and shutter PayPal accounts that were found to be accepting funds on behalf of booter services like vDOS. Anyone interested in reading more on their success in making life harder for these booter service owners should check out my August 2015 story, Stress-Testing the Booter Services, Financially.

People running dodgy online services that violate PayPal’s terms of service generally turn to several methods to mask the true location of their PayPal Instant Payment Notification systems. Here is an interesting analysis of how popular booter services are doing so using shell corporations, link shortening services and other tricks.

Turns out, AppleJ4ck and p1st routinely recruited other forum members on Hackforums to help them launder significant sums of PayPal payments for vDOS each week.

“The paypals that the money are sent from are not verified,” AppleJ4ck says in one recruitment thread. “Most of the payments will be 200$-300$ each and I’ll do around 2-3 payments per day.”

vDos co-owner AppleJ4ck recruiting Hackforums members to help launder PayPal payments for his booter service.

vDos co-owner AppleJ4ck recruiting Hackforums members to help launder PayPal payments for his booter service.

It is apparent from the leaked vDOS logs that in July 2016 the service’s owners implemented an additional security measure for Bitcoin payments, which they accept through Coinbase. The data shows that they now use an intermediary server (45.55.55.193) to handle Coinbase traffic. When a Bitcoin payment is received, Coinbase notifies this intermediary server, not the actual vDOS servers in Bulgaria.

A server situated in the middle and hosted at a U.S.-based address from Digital Ocean then updates the database in Bulgaria, perhaps because the vDOS proprietors believed payments from the USA would attract less interest from Coinbase than huge sums traversing through Bulgaria each day.

ANALYSIS

The extent to which the proprietors of vDOS went to launder profits from the service and to obfuscate their activities clearly indicate they knew that the majority of their users were using the service to knock others offline.

Defenders of booter and stresser services argue the services are legal because they can be used to help Web site owners stress-test their own sites and to build better defenses against such attacks. While it’s impossible to tell what percentage of vDOS users actually were using the service to stress-test their own sites, the leaked vDOS logs show that a huge percentage of the attack targets are online businesses.

In reality, the methods that vDOS uses to sustain its business are practically indistinguishable from those employed by organized cybercrime gangs, said Damon McCoy, an assistant professor of computer science at New York University.

“These guys are definitely taking a page out of the playbook of the Russian cybercriminals,” said McCoy, the researcher principally responsible for pushing vDOS and other booter services off of PayPal (see the aforementioned story Stress-Testing the Booter Services, Financially for more on this).

“A lot of the Russian botnet operators who routinely paid people to infect Windows computers with malware used to say they wouldn’t buy malware installs from Russia or CIS countries,” McCoy said. “The main reason was they didn’t want to make trouble in their local jurisdiction in the hopes that no one in their country would be a victim and have standing to bring a case against them.”

The service advertises attacks at up to 50 gigabits of data per second (Gbps). That’s roughly the equivalent of trying to cram two, high-definition Netflix movies down a target’s network pipe all at the same moment.

But Allison Nixon, director of security research at business risk intelligence firm Flashpoint, said her tests of vDOS’s service generated attacks that were quite a bit smaller than that — 14 Gbps and 6 Gbps. Nevertheless, she noted, even an attack that generates just 6 Gbps is well more than enough to cripple most sites which are not already protected by anti-DDoS services.

And herein lies the rub with services like vDOS: They put high-powered, point-and-click cyber weapons in the hands of people — mostly young men in their teens — who otherwise wouldn’t begin to know how to launch such attacks. Worse still, they force even the smallest of businesses to pay for DDoS protection services or else risk being taken offline by anyone with a grudge or agenda.

“The problem is that this kind of firepower is available to literally anyone willing to pay $30 a month,” Nixon said. “Basically what this means is that you must have DDoS protection to participate on the Internet. Otherwise, any angry young teenager is going to be able to take you offline in a heartbeat. It’s sad, but these attack services mean that DDoS protection has become the price of admission for running a Web site these days.”

Stay tuned for the next piece in this series on the hack of vDOS, which will examine some of the more interesting victims of this service.