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FBI, DHS, HHS Warn of Imminent, Credible Ransomware Threat Against U.S. Hospitals

On Monday, Oct. 26, KrebsOnSecurity began following up on a tip from a reliable source that an aggressive Russian cybercriminal gang known for deploying ransomware was preparing to disrupt information technology systems at hundreds of hospitals, clinics and medical care facilities across the United States. Today, officials from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security hastily assembled a conference call with healthcare industry executives warning about an “imminent cybercrime threat to U.S. hospitals and healthcare providers.”

The agencies on the conference call, which included the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), warned participants about “credible information of an increased and imminent cybercrime threat to US hospitals and healthcare providers.”

The agencies said they were sharing the information “to provide warning to healthcare providers to ensure that they take timely and reasonable precautions to protect their networks from these threats.”

The warning came less than two days after this author received a tip from Alex Holden, founder of Milwaukee-based cyber intelligence firm Hold Security. Holden said he saw online communications this week between cybercriminals affiliated with a Russian-speaking ransomware group known as Ryuk in which group members discussed plans to deploy ransomware at more than 400 healthcare facilities in the U.S.

One participant on the government conference call today said the agencies offered few concrete details of how healthcare organizations might better protect themselves against this threat actor or purported malware campaign.

“They didn’t share any IoCs [indicators of compromise], so it’s just been ‘patch your systems and report anything suspicious’,” said a healthcare industry veteran who sat in on the discussion.

However, others on the call said IoCs may be of little help for hospitals that have already been infiltrated by Ryuk. That’s because the malware infrastructure used by the Ryuk gang is often unique to each victim, including everything from the Microsoft Windows executable files that get dropped on the infected hosts to the so-called “command and control” servers used to transmit data between and among compromised systems.

Nevertheless, cybersecurity incident response firm Mandiant today released a list of domains and Internet addresses used by Ryuk in previous attacks throughout 2020 and up to the present day. Mandiant refers to the group by the threat actor classification “UNC1878,” and aired a webcast today detailing some of Ryuk’s latest exploitation tactics.

Charles Carmakal, senior vice president for Mandiant, told Reuters that UNC1878 is one of most brazen, heartless, and disruptive threat actors he’s observed over the course of his career.

“Multiple hospitals have already been significantly impacted by Ryuk ransomware and their networks have been taken offline,” Carmakal said.

One health industry veteran who participated in the call today and who spoke with KrebsOnSecurity on condition of anonymity said if there truly are hundreds of medical facilities at imminent risk here, that would seem to go beyond the scope of any one hospital group and may implicate some kind of electronic health record provider that integrates with many care facilities.

So far, however, nothing like hundreds of facilities have publicly reported ransomware incidents. But there have been a handful of hospitals dealing with ransomware attacks in the past few days.

Becker’s Hospital Review reported today that a ransomware attack hit Klamath Falls, Ore.-based Sky Lakes Medical Center’s computer systems.

WWNY’s Channel 7 News in New York reported yesterday that a Ryuk ransomware attack on St. Lawrence Health System led to computer infections at Caton-Potsdam, Messena and Gouverneur hospitals.

SWNewsMedia.com on Monday reported on “unidentified network activity” that caused disruption to certain operations at Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia, Minn. SWNews says Ridgeview’s system includes Chaska’s Two Twelve Medical Center, three hospitals, clinics and other emergency and long-term care sites around the metro area.

NBC5 reports The University of Vermont Health Network is dealing with a “significant and ongoing system-wide network issue” that could be a malicious cyber attack.

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for further updates.

Update, 10:11 p.m. ET: The FBI, DHS and HHS just jointly issued an alert about this, available here.

FBI, CISA Echo Warnings on ‘Vishing’ Threat

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on Thursday issued a joint alert to warn about the growing threat from voice phishing or “vishing” attacks targeting companies. The advisory came less than 24 hours after KrebsOnSecurity published an in-depth look at a crime group offering a service that people can hire to steal VPN credentials and other sensitive data from employees working remotely during the Coronavirus pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a mass shift to working from home, resulting in increased use of corporate virtual private networks (VPNs) and elimination of in-person verification,” the alert reads. “In mid-July 2020, cybercriminals started a vishing campaign—gaining access to employee tools at multiple companies with indiscriminate targeting — with the end goal of monetizing the access.”

As noted in Wednesday’s story, the agencies said the phishing sites set up by the attackers tend to include hyphens, the target company’s name, and certain words — such as “support,” “ticket,” and “employee.” The perpetrators focus on social engineering new hires at the targeted company, and impersonate staff at the target company’s IT helpdesk.

The joint FBI/CISA alert (PDF) says the vishing gang also compiles dossiers on employees at the specific companies using mass scraping of public profiles on social media platforms, recruiter and marketing tools, publicly available background check services, and open-source research. From the alert:

“Actors first began using unattributed Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) numbers to call targeted employees on their personal cellphones, and later began incorporating spoofed numbers of other offices and employees in the victim company. The actors used social engineering techniques and, in some cases, posed as members of the victim company’s IT help desk, using their knowledge of the employee’s personally identifiable information—including name, position, duration at company, and home address—to gain the trust of the targeted employee.”

“The actors then convinced the targeted employee that a new VPN link would be sent and required their login, including any 2FA [2-factor authentication] or OTP [one-time passwords]. The actor logged the information provided by the employee and used it in real-time to gain access to corporate tools using the employee’s account.”

The alert notes that in some cases the unsuspecting employees approved the 2FA or OTP prompt, either accidentally or believing it was the result of the earlier access granted to the help desk impersonator. In other cases, the attackers were able to intercept the one-time codes by targeting the employee with SIM swapping, which involves social engineering people at mobile phone companies into giving them control of the target’s phone number.

The agencies said crooks use the vished VPN credentials to mine the victim company databases for their customers’ personal information to leverage in other attacks.

“The actors then used the employee access to conduct further research on victims, and/or to fraudulently obtain funds using varying methods dependent on the platform being accessed,” the alert reads. “The monetizing method varied depending on the company but was highly aggressive with a tight timeline between the initial breach and the disruptive cashout scheme.”

The advisory includes a number of suggestions that companies can implement to help mitigate the threat from these vishing attacks, including:

• Restrict VPN connections to managed devices only, using mechanisms like hardware checks or installed certificates, so user input alone is not enough to access the corporate VPN.

• Restrict VPN access hours, where applicable, to mitigate access outside of allowed times.

• Employ domain monitoring to track the creation of, or changes to, corporate, brand-name domains.

• Actively scan and monitor web applications for unauthorized access, modification, and anomalous activities.

• Employ the principle of least privilege and implement software restriction policies or other controls; monitor authorized user accesses and usage.

• Consider using a formalized authentication process for employee-to-employee communications made over the public telephone network where a second factor is used to
authenticate the phone call before sensitive information can be discussed.

• Improve 2FA and OTP messaging to reduce confusion about employee authentication attempts.

• Verify web links do not have misspellings or contain the wrong domain.

• Bookmark the correct corporate VPN URL and do not visit alternative URLs on the sole basis of an inbound phone call.

• Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits, or email messages from unknown individuals claiming to be from a legitimate organization. Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you are certain of a person’s authority to have the information. If possible, try to verify the caller’s identity directly with the company.

• If you receive a vishing call, document the phone number of the caller as well as the domain that the actor tried to send you to and relay this information to law enforcement.

• Limit the amount of personal information you post on social networking sites. The internet is a public resource; only post information you are comfortable with anyone seeing.

• Evaluate your settings: sites may change their options periodically, so review your security and privacy settings regularly to make sure that your choices are still appropriate.

New Charges, Sentencing in Satori IoT Botnet Conspiracy

The U.S. Justice Department today charged a Canadian and a Northern Ireland man for allegedly conspiring to build botnets that enslaved hundreds of thousands of routers and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices for use in large-scale distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. In addition, a defendant in the United States was sentenced today to drug treatment and 18 months community confinement for his admitted role in the botnet conspiracy.

Indictments unsealed by a federal court in Alaska today allege 20-year-old Aaron Sterritt from Larne, Northern Ireland, and 31-year-old Logan Shwydiuk of Saskatoon, Canada conspired to build, operate and improve their IoT crime machines over several years.

Prosecutors say Sterritt, using the hacker aliases “Vamp” and “Viktor,” was the brains behind the computer code that powered several potent and increasingly complex IoT botnet strains that became known by exotic names such as “Masuta,” “Satori,” “Okiru” and “Fbot.”

Shwydiuk, a.k.a. “Drake,” “Dingle, and “Chickenmelon,” is alleged to have taken the lead in managing sales and customer support for people who leased access to the IoT botnets to conduct their own DDoS attacks.

A third member of the botnet conspiracy — 22-year-old Kenneth Currin Schuchman of Vancouver, Wash. — pleaded guilty in Sept. 2019 to aiding and abetting computer intrusions in September 2019. Schuchman, whose role was to acquire software exploits that could be used to infect new IoT devices, was sentenced today by a judge in Alaska to 18 months of community confinement and drug treatment, followed by three years of supervised release.

Kenneth “Nexus-Zeta” Schuchman, in an undated photo.

The government says the defendants built and maintained their IoT botnets by constantly scanning the Web for insecure devices. That scanning primarily targeted devices that were placed online with weak, factory default settings and/or passwords. But the group also seized upon a series of newly-discovered security vulnerabilities in these IoT systems — commandeering devices that hadn’t yet been updated with the latest software patches.

Some of the IoT botnets enslaved hundreds of thousands of hacked devices. For example, by November 2017, Masuta had infected an estimated 700,000 systems, allegedly allowing the defendants to launch crippling DDoS attacks capable of hurling 100 gigabits of junk data per second at targets — enough firepower to take down many large websites.

In 2015, then 15-year-old Sterritt was involved in the high-profile hack against U.K. telecommunications provider TalkTalk. Sterritt later pleaded guilty to his part in the intrusion, and at his sentencing in 2018 was ordered to complete 50 hours of community service.

The indictments against Sterritt and Shwydiuk (PDF) do not mention specific DDoS attacks thought to have been carried out with the IoT botnets. In an interview today with KrebsOnSecurity, prosecutors in Alaska declined to discuss any of their alleged offenses beyond building, maintaining and selling the above-mentioned IoT botnets.

But multiple sources tell KrebsOnSecuirty Vamp was principally responsible for the 2016 massive denial-of-service attack that swamped Dyn — a company that provides core Internet services for a host of big-name Web sites. On October 21, 2016, an attack by a Mirai-based IoT botnet variant overwhelmed Dyn’s infrastructure, causing outages at a number of top Internet destinations, including Twitter, Spotify, Reddit and others.

In 2018, authorities with the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) interviewed a suspect in connection with the Dyn attack, but ultimately filed no charges against the youth because all of his digital devices had been encrypted.

“The principal suspect of this investigation is a UK national resident in Northern Ireland,” reads a June 2018 NCA brief on their investigation into the Dyn attack (PDF), dubbed Operation Midmonth. “In 2018 the subject returned for interview, however there was insufficient evidence against him to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.”

The login prompt for Nexus Zeta’s IoT botnet included the message “Masuta is powered and hosted on Brian Kreb’s [sic] 4head.” To be precise, it’s a 5head.

The unsealing of the indictments against Sterritt and Shwydiuk came just minutes after Schuchman was sentenced today. Schuchman has been confined to an Alaskan jail for the past 13 months, and Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess today ordered the sentence of 18 months community confinement to begin Aug. 1.

Community confinement in Schuchman’s case means he will spend most or all of that time in a drug treatment program. In a memo (PDF) released prior to Schuchman’s sentencing today, prosecutors detailed the defendant’s ongoing struggle with narcotics, noting that on multiple occasions he was discharged from treatment programs after testing positive for Suboxone — which is used to treat opiate addiction and is sometimes abused by addicts — and for possessing drug contraband.

The government’s sentencing memo also says Schuchman on multiple occasions absconded from pretrial supervision, and went right back to committing the botnet crimes for which he’d been arrested — even communicating with Sterritt about the details of the ongoing FBI investigation.

“Defendant’s performance on pretrial supervision has been spectacularly poor,” prosecutors explained. “Even after being interviewed by the FBI and put on restrictions, he continued to create and operate a DDoS botnet.”

Prosecutors told the judge that when he was ultimately re-arrested by U.S. Marshals, Schuchman was found at a computer in violation of the terms of his release. In that incident, Schuchman allegedly told his dad to trash his computer, before successfully encrypting his hard drive (which the Marshals service is still trying to decrypt). According to the memo, the defendant admitted to marshals that he had received and viewed videos of “juveniles engaged in sex acts with other juveniles.”

“The circumstances surrounding the defendant’s most recent re-arrest are troubling,” the memo recounts. “The management staff at the defendant’s father’s apartment complex, where the defendant was residing while on abscond status, reported numerous complaints against the defendant, including invitations to underage children to swim naked in the pool.”

Adam Alexander, assistant US attorney for the district of Alaska, declined to say whether the DOJ would seek extradition of Sterritt and Shwydiuk. Alexander said the success of these prosecutions is highly dependent on the assistance of domestic and international law enforcement partners, as well as a list of private and public entities named at the conclusion of the DOJ’s press release on the Schuchman sentencing (PDF).

However, a DOJ motion (PDF) to seal the case records filed back in September 2019 says the government is in fact seeking to extradite the defendants.

Chief Judge Burgess was the same magistrate who presided over the 2018 sentencing of the co-authors of Mirai, a highly disruptive IoT botnet strain whose source code was leaked online in 2016 and was built upon by the defendants in this case. Both Mirai co-authors were sentenced to community service and home confinement thanks to their considerable cooperation with the government’s ongoing IoT botnet investigations.

Asked whether he was satisfied with the sentence handed down against Schuchman, Alexander maintained it was more than just another slap on the wrist, noting that Schuchman has waived his right to appeal the conviction and faces additional confinement of two years if he absconds again or fails to complete his treatment.

“In every case the statutory factors have to do with the history of the defendants, who in these crimes tend to be extremely youthful offenders,” Alexander said. “In this case, we had a young man who struggles with mental health and really pronounced substance abuse issues. Contrary to what many people might think, the goal of the DOJ in cases like this is not to put people in jail for as long as possible but to try to achieve the best balance of safeguarding communities and affording the defendant the best possible chance of rehabilitation.”

William Walton, supervisory special agent for the FBI’s cybercrime investigation division in Anchorage, Ala., said he hopes today’s indictments and sentencing send a clear message to what he described as a relatively insular and small group of individuals who are still building, running and leasing IoT-based botnets to further a range of cybercrimes.

“One of the things we hope in our efforts here and in our partnerships with our international partners is when we identify these people, we want very much to hold them to account in a just but appropriate way,” Walton said. “Hopefully, any associates who are aspiring to fill the vacuum once we take some players off the board realize that there are going to be real consequences for doing that.”

Hackers Were Inside Citrix for Five Months

Networking software giant Citrix Systems says malicious hackers were inside its networks for five months between 2018 and 2019, making off with personal and financial data on company employees, contractors, interns, job candidates and their dependents. The disclosure comes almost a year after Citrix acknowledged that digital intruders had broken in by probing its employee accounts for weak passwords.

Citrix provides software used by hundreds of thousands of clients worldwide, including most of the Fortune 100 companies. It is perhaps best known for selling virtual private networking (VPN) software that lets users remotely access networks and computers over an encrypted connection.

In March 2019, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) alerted Citrix they had reason to believe cybercriminals had gained access to the company’s internal network. The FBI told Citrix the hackers likely got in using a technique called “password spraying,” a relatively crude but remarkably effective attack that attempts to access a large number of employee accounts (usernames/email addresses) using just a handful of common passwords.

In a statement released at the time, Citrix said it appeared hackers “may have accessed and downloaded business documents,” and that it was still working to identify what precisely was accessed or stolen.

But in a letter sent to affected individuals dated Feb. 10, 2020, Citrix disclosed additional details about the incident. According to the letter, the attackers “had intermittent access” to Citrix’s internal network between Oct. 13, 2018 and Mar. 8, 2019, and that there was no evidence that the cybercrooks still remain in the company’s systems.

Citrix said the information taken by the intruders may have included Social Security Numbers or other tax identification numbers, driver’s license numbers, passport numbers, financial account numbers, payment card numbers, and/or limited health claims information, such as health insurance participant identification number and/or claims information relating to date of service and provider name.

It is unclear how many people received this letter, but the communication suggests Citrix is contacting a broad range of individuals who work or worked for the company at some point, as well as those who applied for jobs or internships there and people who may have received health or other benefits from the company by virtue of having a family member employed by the company.

Citrix’s letter was prompted by laws in virtually all U.S. states that require companies to notify affected consumers of any incident that jeopardizes their personal and financial data. While the notification does not specify whether the attackers stole proprietary data about the company’s software and internal operations, the intruders certainly had ample opportunity to access at least some of that information as well.

Shortly after Citrix initially disclosed the intrusion in March 2019, a little-known security company Resecurity claimed it had evidence Iranian hackers were responsible, had been in Citrix’s network for years, and had offloaded terabytes of data. Resecurity also presented evidence that it notified Citrix of the breach as early as Dec. 28, 2018, a claim Citrix initially denied but later acknowledged.

Iranian hackers recently have been blamed for hacking VPN servers around the world in a bid to plant backdoors in large corporate networks. A report released this week (PDF) by security firm ClearSky details how Iran’s government-backed hacking units have been busy exploiting security holes in popular VPN products from Citrix and a number of other software firms.

ClearSky says the attackers have focused on attacking VPN tools because they provide a long-lasting foothold at the targeted organizations, and frequently open the door to breaching additional companies through supply-chain attacks. The company says such tactics have allowed the Iranian hackers to gain persistent access to the networks of companies across a broad range of sectors, including IT, security, telecommunications, oil and gas, aviation, and government.

Among the VPN flaws available to attackers is a recently-patched vulnerability (CVE-2019-19781) in Citrix VPN servers dubbed “Shitrix” by some in the security community. The derisive nickname may have been chosen because while Citrix initially warned customers about the vulnerability in mid-December 2019, it didn’t start releasing patches to plug the holes until late January 2020 — roughly two weeks after attackers started using publicly released exploit code to break into vulnerable organizations.

How would your organization hold up to a password spraying attack? As the Citrix hack shows, if you don’t know you should probably check, and then act on the results accordingly. It’s a fair bet the bad guys are going to find out even if you don’t.

Alleged Member of Neo-Nazi Swatting Group Charged

Federal investigators on Friday arrested a Virginia man accused of being part of a neo-Nazi group that targeted hundreds of people in “swatting” attacks, wherein fake bomb threats, hostage situations and other violent scenarios were phoned in to police as part of a scheme to trick them into visiting potentially deadly force on a target’s address.

In July 2018, KrebsOnSecurity published the story Neo-Nazi Swatters Target Dozens of Journalists, which detailed the activities of a loose-knit group of individuals who had targeted hundreds of individuals for swatting attacks, including federal judges, corporate executives and almost three-dozen journalists (myself included).

A portion of the Doxbin, as it existed in late 2019.

An FBI affidavit unsealed this week identifies one member of the group as John William Kirby Kelley. According to the affidavit, Kelley was instrumental in setting up and maintaining the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel called “Deadnet” that was used by he and other co-conspirators to plan, carry out and document their swatting attacks.

Prior to his recent expulsion on drug charges, Kelley was a student studying cybersecurity at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. Interestingly, investigators allege it was Kelley’s decision to swat his own school in late November 2018 that got him caught. Using the handle “Carl,” Kelley allegedly explained to fellow Deadnet members he hoped the swatting would get him out of having to go to class.

The FBI says Kelley used virtual private networking (VPN) services to hide his true Internet location and various voice-over-IP (VoIP) services to conduct the swatting calls. In the ODU incident, investigators say Kelley told ODU police that someone was armed with an AR-15 rifle and had placed multiple pipe bombs within the campus buildings.

Later that day, Kelley allegedly called ODU police again but forgot to obscure his real phone number on campus, and quickly apologized for making an accidental phone call. When authorities determined that the voice on the second call matched that from the bomb threat earlier in the day, they visited and interviewed the young man.

Investigators say Kelley admitted to participating in swatting calls previously, and consented to a search of his dorm room, wherein they found two phones, a laptop and various electronic storage devices.

The affidavit says one of the thumbs drive included multiple documents that logged statements made on the Deadnet IRC channel, which chronicled “countless examples of swatting activity over an extended period of time.” Those included videos Kelley allegedly recorded of his computer screen which showed live news footage of police responding to swatting attacks while he and other Deadnet members discussed the incidents in real-time on their IRC forum.

The FBI believes Kelley also was linked to a bomb threat incident in November 2018 at the predominantly African American Alfred Baptist Church in Old Town Alexandria, an incident that led to the church being evacuated during evening worship services while authorities swept the building for explosives.

The FBI affidavit was based in part on interviews with an unnamed co-conspirator, who told investigators that he and the others on Deadnet IRC are white supremacists and sympathetic to the neo-Nazi movement.

“The group’s neo-Nazi ideology is apparent in the racial tones throughout the conversation logs,” the affidavit reads. “Kelley and other co-conspirators are affiliated with or have expressed sympathy for Atomwafen Division,” an extremist group whose members are suspected of having committed multiple murders in the U.S. since 2017.

Investigators say on one of Kelley’s phones they found a photo of he and others in tactical gear holding automatic weapons next to pictures of Atomwaffen recruitment material and the neo-Nazi publication Siege.

As I reported last summer, several Deadnet members maintained a site on the Dark Web called the “Doxbin,” which listed the names, addresses, phone number and often known IP addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other sensitive information on hundreds of people — and in some cases the personal information of the target’s friends and family. After those indexed on the Doxbin were successfully swatted, a blue gun icon would be added next to the person’s name.

One of the core members of the group on Deadnet — an individual who used the nickname “Chanz,” among others — stated that he was responsible for maintaining SiegeCulture, a white supremacist Web site that glorifies the writings of neo-Nazi James Mason (whose various books call on followers to start a violent race war in the United States).

Deadnet chat logs obtained by KrebsOnSecurity show that another key swatting suspect on Deadnet who used the handle “Zheme” told other IRC members in March 2019 that one of his friends had recently been raided by federal investigators for allegedly having connections to the person responsible for the mass shooting in October 2018 at the Tree of Life Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh.

At one point last year, Zheme also reminded denizens of Deadnet about a court hearing in the murder trial of Sam Woodward, an alleged Atomwaffen member who’s been charged with killing a 19-year-old gay Jewish college student.

As reported by this author last year, Deadnet members targeted dozens of journalists whose writings they considered threatening to their worldviews. Indeed, one of the targets successfully swatted by Deadnet members was Pulitzer prize winning columnist Leonard G. Pitts Jr., whose personal information as listed on the Doxbin was annotated with a blue gun icon and the label “anti-white race/politics writer.”

In another Deadnet chat log seen by this author, Chanz admits to calling in a bomb threat at the UCLA campus following a speech by Milo Yiannopoulos. Chanz bragged that he did it to frame feminists at the school for acts of terrorism.

On a personal note, I sincerely hope this arrest is just the first of many to come for those involved in swatting attacks related to Deadnet and the Doxbin. KrebsOnSecurity has obtained information indicating that several members of my family also have been targeted for harassment and swatting by this group.

Finally, it’s important to note that while many people may assume that murders and mass shootings targeting people because of their race, gender, sexual preference or religion are carried out by so-called “lone wolf” assailants, the swatting videos created and shared by Deadnet members are essentially propaganda that hate groups can use to recruit new members to their cause.

The Washington Post reports that Kelley had his first appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Va. on Friday.

“His public defender did not comment on the allegations but said his client has ‘very limited funds,’” The Post’s courts reporter Rachel Weiner wrote.

The charge against Kelley of conspiracy to make threats carries up to five years in prison. The affidavit in Kelley’s arrest is available here (PDF).