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.

Nov 15 2017

Krebs on Security 2017-11-15 10:25:58

root9B Holdings, a company that many in the security industry consider little more than a big-name startup aimed at cashing in on the stock market’s insatiable appetite for cybersecurity firms, surprised no one this week when it announced it was ceasing operations at the end of the year.

Founded in 2011 as root9B Technologies, the company touted itself as an IT security training firm staffed by an impressive list of ex-military leaders with many years of cybersecurity experience at the Department of Defense and National Security Agency (NSA). As it began to attract more attention from investors, root9B’s focus shifted to helping organizations hunt for cyber intruders within their networks.

By 2015, root9B was announcing lucrative cybersecurity contracts with government agencies and the infusion of millions from investors. The company’s stock was ballooning in price, reaching an all-time high in mid-May 2015.

That was just days after root9B issued a headline-grabbing report about how its cyber intelligence had single-handedly derailed a planned Russian cyber attack on several U.S. financial institutions.

The report, released May 12, 2015, claimed root9B had uncovered plans by an infamous Russian hacking group to target several banks. The company said the thwarted operation was orchestrated by Fancy Bear/Sofacy, a so-called “advanced persistent threat” (APT) hacking group known for launching sophisticated phishing attacks aimed at infiltrating some of the world’s biggest corporations.  root9B released its Q1 2015 earnings two days later, reporting record revenues.

On May 20, 2015, KrebsOnSecurity published a rather visceral dissection of that root9B report: Security Firm Redefines APT; African Phishing Threat. The story highlighted the thinness of the report’s claims, pointing to multiple contradictory findings by other security firms which suggested the company had merely detected several new phishing domains being erected by a comparatively low-skilled African phishing gang that was well-known to investigators and U.S. banks.

In mid-June 2015, an anonymous researcher who’d apparently done a rather detailed investigation into root9B’s finances said the company was “a worthless reverse-merger created by insiders with [a] long history of penny-stock wipeouts, fraud allegations, and disaster.”

That report, published by the crowd-sourced financial market research site SeekingAlpha.com, sought to debunk claims by root9B that it possessed “proprietary” cybersecurity hardware and software, noting that the company mainly acts as a reseller of a training module produced by a third party.

root9B’s stock price never recovered from those reports, and began a slow but steady decline after mid-2015. In Dec. 2016, root9B Technologies announced a reverse split of its issued and outstanding common stock, saying it would be moving to the NASDAQ market with the trading symbol RTNB and a new name — root9B Holdings. On January 18, 2017, a reshuffled root9B rang the market opening bell at NASDAQ, and got a bounce when it said it’d been awarded a five-year training contract to support the U.S. Defense Department.

The company’s founders remained upbeat even into mid-2017. On June 6, 2017 it announced that Michael Hayden, the four-star general who until recently served as director of the U.S. National Security Agency, had joined the company’s board.

On June 23, 2017, root9B issued a press release reminding everyone that the company had remained #1 on the Cybersecurity 500 for the 6th consecutive quarter. The Cybersecurity 500, by the way, rates cybersecurity firms based on their “branding and marketing.”

Nobody ever accused root9B of bad marketing. But all the press releases in the world couldn’t hide the fact that the company had never turned a profit. It lost more than $18.3 million in 2016, more than doubling a $8.03 million loss in 2015.

Since August 2017, shares of the company’s stock have fallen more than 90 percent. On Sept. 28, 2017, all of root9B Holdings’ assets were acquired by venture investment firm Tracker Capital Management LLC, and then sold at auction.

On Nov. 13, root9B Holdings issued a press release saying NASDAQ was de-listing the firm on Nov. 15 and that it was ceasing operations at the end of this year.

“With the absence of any operating assets remaining after the Foreclosure, the Company will cease any and all operations effective, December 31, 2017,” the (final?) root9B press release concludes.

Several followers on Twitter say it’s too soon to sound the death knell for root9B as a whole, pointing out that while root9B Holdings may have been gutted and sold, for now it appears the security company root9B LLC is intact and is merely going back to being a private concern.

In any case, the demise of root9B Holdings resonates loudly with that of Norse Corp., another flashy, imploded cybersecurity startup that banked heavily on attracting and touting top talent, while managing to produce very little that was useful to or actionable by anybody.

Companies like these are a reminder that your success or failure in business as in life is directly tied to what you produce — not what you promise or represent. There is no shortcut to knowledge, success or mastery, and this goes for infosec students as well as active practitioners of the craft. Focus on consistently producing quality, unique content and/or services that are of real value to others, and the rest will take care of itself.

Update, 10:30 a.m.: Added perspective from Twitter readers.