Web Fraud 2.0

GoDaddy Employees Used in Attacks on Multiple Cryptocurrency Services

Fraudsters redirected email and web traffic destined for several cryptocurrency trading platforms over the past week. The attacks were facilitated by scams targeting employees at GoDaddy, the world’s largest domain name registrar, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

The incident is the latest incursion at GoDaddy that relied on tricking employees into transferring ownership and/or control over targeted domains to fraudsters. In March, a voice phishing scam targeting GoDaddy support employees allowed attackers to assume control over at least a half-dozen domain names, including transaction brokering site escrow.com.

And in May of this year, GoDaddy disclosed that 28,000 of its customers’ web hosting accounts were compromised following a security incident in Oct. 2019 that wasn’t discovered until April 2020.

This latest campaign appears to have begun on or around Nov. 13, with an attack on cryptocurrency trading platform liquid.com.

“A domain hosting provider ‘GoDaddy’ that manages one of our core domain names incorrectly transferred control of the account and domain to a malicious actor,” Liquid CEO Mike Kayamori said in a blog post. “This gave the actor the ability to change DNS records and in turn, take control of a number of internal email accounts. In due course, the malicious actor was able to partially compromise our infrastructure, and gain access to document storage.”

In the early morning hours of Nov. 18 Central European Time (CET), cyptocurrency mining service NiceHash disccovered that some of the settings for its domain registration records at GoDaddy were changed without authorization, briefly redirecting email and web traffic for the site. NiceHash froze all customer funds for roughly 24 hours until it was able to verify that its domain settings had been changed back to their original settings.

“At this moment in time, it looks like no emails, passwords, or any personal data were accessed, but we do suggest resetting your password and activate 2FA security,” the company wrote in a blog post.

NiceHash founder Matjaz Skorjanc said the unauthorized changes were made from an Internet address at GoDaddy, and that the attackers tried to use their access to its incoming NiceHash emails to perform password resets on various third-party services, including Slack and Github. But he said GoDaddy was impossible to reach at the time because it was undergoing a widespread system outage in which phone and email systems were unresponsive.

“We detected this almost immediately [and] started to mitigate [the] attack,” Skorjanc said in an email to this author. “Luckily, we fought them off well and they did not gain access to any important service. Nothing was stolen.”

Skorjanc said NiceHash’s email service was redirected to privateemail.com, an email platform run by Namecheap Inc., another large domain name registrar. Using Farsight Security, a service which maps changes to domain name records over time, KrebsOnSecurity instructed the service to show all domains registered at GoDaddy that had alterations to their email records in the past week which pointed them to privateemail.com. Those results were then indexed against the top one million most popular websites according to Alexa.com.

The result shows that several other cryptocurrency platforms also may have been targeted by the same group, including Bibox.com, Celsius.network, and Wirex.app. None of these companies responded to requests for comment.

In response to questions from KrebsOnSecurity, GoDaddy acknowledged that “a small number” of customer domain names had been modified after a “limited” number of GoDaddy employees fell for a social engineering scam. GoDaddy said the outage between 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. PST on Nov. 17 was not related to a security incident, but rather a technical issue that materialized during planned network maintenance.

“Separately, and unrelated to the outage, a routine audit of account activity identified potential unauthorized changes to a small number of customer domains and/or account information,” GoDaddy spokesperson Dan Race said. “Our security team investigated and confirmed threat actor activity, including social engineering of a limited number of GoDaddy employees.

“We immediately locked down the accounts involved in this incident, reverted any changes that took place to accounts, and assisted affected customers with regaining access to their accounts,” GoDaddy’s statement continued. “As threat actors become increasingly sophisticated and aggressive in their attacks, we are constantly educating employees about new tactics that might be used against them and adopting new security measures to prevent future attacks.”

Race declined to specify how its employees were tricked into making the unauthorized changes, saying the matter was still under investigation. But in the attacks earlier this year that affected escrow.com and several other GoDaddy customer domains, the assailants targeted employees over the phone, and were able to read internal notes that GoDaddy employees had left on customer accounts.

What’s more, the attack on escrow.com redirected the site to an Internet address in Malaysia that hosted fewer than a dozen other domains, including the phishing website servicenow-godaddy.com. This suggests the attackers behind the March incident — and possibly this latest one — succeeded by calling GoDaddy employees and convincing them to use their employee credentials at a fraudulent GoDaddy login page.

In August 2020, KrebsOnSecurity warned about a marked increase in large corporations being targeted in sophisticated voice phishing or “vishing” scams. Experts say the success of these scams has been aided greatly by many employees working remotely thanks to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

A typical vishing scam begins with a series of phone calls to employees working remotely at a targeted organization. The phishers often will explain that they’re calling from the employer’s IT department to help troubleshoot issues with the company’s email or virtual private networking (VPN) technology.

The goal is to convince the target either to divulge their credentials over the phone or to input them manually at a website set up by the attackers that mimics the organization’s corporate email or VPN portal.

On July 15, a number of high-profile Twitter accounts were used to tweet out a bitcoin scam that earned more than $100,000 in a few hours. According to Twitter, that attack succeeded because the perpetrators were able to social engineer several Twitter employees over the phone into giving away access to internal Twitter tools.

An alert issued jointly by the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) says the perpetrators of these vishing attacks compile dossiers on employees at their targeted companies using mass scraping of public profiles on social media platforms, recruiter and marketing tools, publicly available background check services, and open-source research.

The FBI/CISA advisory includes a number of suggestions that companies can implement to help mitigate the threat from 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.

Be Very Sparing in Allowing Site Notifications

An increasing number of websites are asking visitors to approve “notifications,” browser modifications that periodically display messages on the user’s mobile or desktop device. In many cases these notifications are benign, but several dodgy firms are paying site owners to install their notification scripts and then selling that communications pathway to scammers and online hucksters.

Notification prompts in Firefox (left) and Google Chrome.

When a website you visit asks permission to send notifications and you approve the request, the resulting messages that pop up appear outside of the browser. For example, on Microsoft Windows systems they typically show up in the bottom right corner of the screen — just above the system clock. These so-called “push notifications” rely on an Internet standard designed to work similarly across different operating systems and web browsers.

But many users may not fully grasp what they are consenting to when they approve notifications, or how to tell the difference between a notification sent by a website and one made to appear like an alert from the operating system or another program that’s already installed on the device.

This is evident by the apparent scale of the infrastructure behind a relatively new company based in Montenegro called PushWelcome, which advertises the ability for site owners to monetize traffic from their visitors. The company’s site currently is ranked by Alexa.com as among the top 2,000 sites in terms of Internet traffic globally.

Website publishers who sign up with PushWelcome are asked to include a small script on their page which prompts visitors to approve notifications. In many cases, the notification approval requests themselves are deceptive — disguised as prompts to click “OK” to view video material, or as “CAPTCHA” requests designed to distinguish automated bot traffic from real visitors.

An ad from PushWelcome touting the money that websites can make for embedding their dodgy push notifications scripts.

Approving notifications from a site that uses PushWelcome allows any of the company’s advertising partners to display whatever messages they choose, whenever they wish to, and in real-time. And almost invariably, those messages include misleading notifications about security risks on the user’s system, prompts to install other software, ads for dating sites, erectile disfunction medications, and dubious investment opportunities.

That’s according to a deep analysis of the PushWelcome network compiled by Indelible LLC, a cybersecurity firm based in Portland, Ore. Frank Angiolelli, vice president of security at Indelible, said rogue notifications can be abused for credential phishing, as well as foisting malware and other unwanted applications on users.

“This method is currently being used to deliver something akin to adware or click fraud type activity,” Angiolelli said. “The concerning aspect of this is that it is so very undetected by endpoint security programs, and there is a real risk this activity can be used for much more nefarious purposes.”

Sites affiliated with PushWelcome often use misleading messaging to trick people into approving notifications.

Angiolelli said the external Internet addresses, browser user agents and other telemetry tied to people who’ve accepted notifications is known to PushWelcome, which could give them the ability to target individual organizations and users with any number of fake system prompts.

Indelible also found browser modifications enabled by PushWelcome are poorly detected by antivirus and security products, although he noted Malwarebytes reliably flags as dangerous publisher sites that are associated with the notifications.

Indeed, Malwarebytes’ Pieter Arntz warned about malicious browser push notifications in a January 2019 blog post. That post includes detailed instructions on how to tell which sites you’ve allowed to send notifications, and how to remove them.

KrebsOnSecurity installed PushWelcome’s notifications on a brand new Windows test machine, and found that very soon after the system was peppered with alerts about malware threats supposedly found on the system. One notification was an ad for Norton antivirus; the other was for McAfee. Clicking either ultimately led to “buy now” pages at either Norton.com or McAfee.com.

Clicking on the PushWelcome notification in the bottom right corner of the screen opened a Web site claiming my brand new test system was infected with 5 viruses.

It seems likely that PushWelcome and/or some of its advertisers are trying to generate commissions for referring customers to purchase antivirus products at these companies. McAfee has not yet responded to requests for comment. Norton issued the following statement:

“We do not believe this actor to be an affiliate of NortonLifeLock. We are continuing to investigate this matter. NortonLifeLock takes affiliate fraud and abuse seriously and monitors ongoing compliance. When an affiliate partner abuses its responsibilities and violates our agreements, we take necessary action to remove these affiliate partners from the program and swiftly terminate our relationships. Additionally, any potential commissions earned as a result of abuse are not paid. Furthermore, NortonLifeLock sends notification to all of our affiliate partner networks about the affiliate’s abuse to ensure the affiliate is not eligible to participate in any NortonLifeLock programs in the future.”

Requests for comment sent to PushWelcome via email were returned as undeliverable. Requests submitted through the contact form on the company’s website also failed to send.

While scammy notifications may not be the most urgent threat facing Internet users today, most people are probably unaware of how this communications pathway can be abused.

What’s more, dodgy notification networks could be used for less conspicuous and sneakier purposes, including spreading fake news and malware masquerading as update notices from the user’s operating system. I hope it’s clear that regardless of which browser, device or operating system you use, it’s a good idea to be judicious about which sites you allow to serve notifications.

If you’d like to prevent sites from ever presenting notification requests, check out this guide, which has instructions for disabling notification prompts in Chrome, Firefox and Safari. Doing this for any devices you manage on behalf of friends, colleagues or family members might end up saving everyone a lot of headache down the road.

Two Charged in SIM Swapping, Vishing Scams

Two young men from the eastern United States have been hit with identity theft and conspiracy charges for allegedly stealing bitcoin and social media accounts by tricking employees at wireless phone companies into giving away credentials needed to remotely access and modify customer account information.

Prosecutors say Jordan K. Milleson, 21 of Timonium, Md. and 19-year-old Kingston, Pa. resident Kyell A. Bryan hijacked social media and bitcoin accounts using a mix of voice phishing or “vishing” attacks and “SIM swapping,” a form of fraud that involves bribing or tricking employees at mobile phone companies.

Investigators allege the duo set up phishing websites that mimicked legitimate employee portals belonging to wireless providers, and then emailed and/or called employees at these providers in a bid to trick them into logging in at these fake portals.

According to the indictment (PDF), Milleson and Bryan used their phished access to wireless company employee tools to reassign the subscriber identity module (SIM) tied to a target’s mobile device. A SIM card is a small, removable smart chip in mobile phones that links the device to the customer’s phone number, and their purloined access to employee tools meant they could reassign any customer’s phone number to a SIM card in a mobile device they controlled.

That allowed them to seize control over a target’s incoming phone calls and text messages, which were used to reset the password for email, social media and cryptocurrency accounts tied to those numbers.

Interestingly, the conspiracy appears to have unraveled over a business dispute between the two men. Prosecutors say on June 26, 2019, “Bryan called the Baltimore County Police Department and falsely reported that he, purporting to be a resident of the Milleson family residence, had shot his father at the residence.”

“During the call, Bryan, posing as the purported shooter, threatened to shoot himself and to shoot at police officers if they attempted to confront him,” reads a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. “The call was a ‘swatting’ attack, a criminal harassment tactic in which a person places a false call to authorities that will trigger a police or special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team response — thereby causing a life-threatening situation.”

The indictment alleges Bryan swatted his alleged partner in retaliation for Milleson failing to share the proceeds of a digital currency theft. Milleson and Bryan are facing charges of wire fraud, unauthorized access to protected computers, aggravated identity theft and wire fraud conspiracy.

The indictment doesn’t specify the wireless companies targeted by the phishing and vishing schemes, but sources close to the investigation tell KrebsOnSecurity the two men were active members of OGusers, an online forum that caters to people selling access to hijacked social media accounts.

Bryan allegedly used the nickname “Champagne” on OGusers. On at least two occasions in the past few years, the OGusers forum was hacked and its user database — including private messages between forum members — were posted online. In a private message dated Nov. 15, 2019, Champagne can be seen asking another OGusers member to create a phishing site mimicking T-Mobile’s employee login page (t-mobileupdates[.]com).

Sources tell KrebsOnSecurity the two men are part of a larger conspiracy involving individuals from the United States and United Kingdom who’ve used vishing and phishing to trick work-at-home employees into giving away credentials needed to remotely access their employers’ networks.

Amid an Embarrassment of Riches, Ransom Gangs Increasingly Outsource Their Work

There’s an old adage in information security: “Every company gets penetration tested, whether or not they pay someone for the pleasure.” Many organizations that do hire professionals to test their network security posture unfortunately tend to focus on fixing vulnerabilities hackers could use to break in. But judging from the proliferation of help-wanted ads for offensive pentesters in the cybercrime underground, today’s attackers have exactly zero trouble gaining that initial intrusion: The real challenge seems to be hiring enough people to help everyone profit from the access already gained.

One of the most common ways such access is monetized these days is through ransomware, which holds a victim’s data and/or computers hostage unless and until an extortion payment is made. But in most cases, there is a yawning gap of days, weeks or months between the initial intrusion and the deployment of ransomware within a victim organization.

That’s because it usually takes time and a good deal of effort for intruders to get from a single infected PC to seizing control over enough resources within the victim organization where it makes sense to launch the ransomware.

This includes pivoting from or converting a single compromised Microsoft Windows user account to an administrator account with greater privileges on the target network; the ability to sidestep and/or disable any security software; and gaining the access needed to disrupt or corrupt any data backup systems the victim firm may have.

Each day, millions of malware-laced emails are blasted out containing booby-trapped attachments. If the attachment is opened, the malicious document proceeds to quietly download additional malware and hacking tools to the victim machine (here’s one video example of a malicious Microsoft Office attachment from the malware sandbox service any.run). From there, the infected system will report home to a malware control server operated by the spammers who sent the missive.

At that point, control over the victim machine may be transferred or sold multiple times between different cybercriminals who specialize in exploiting such access. These folks are very often contractors who work with established ransomware groups, and who are paid a set percentage of any eventual ransom payments made by a victim company.

THE DOCTOR IS IN

Enter subcontractors like “Dr. Samuil,” a cybercriminal who has maintained a presence on more than a dozen top Russian-language cybercrime forums over the past 15 years. In a series of recent advertisements, Dr. Samuil says he’s eagerly hiring experienced people who are familiar with tools used by legitimate pentesters for exploiting access once inside of a target company — specifically, post-exploit frameworks like the closely-guarded Cobalt Strike.

“You will be regularly provided select accesses which were audited (these are about 10-15 accesses out of 100) and are worth a try,” Dr. Samuil wrote in one such help-wanted ad. “This helps everyone involved to save time. We also have private software that bypasses protection and provides for smooth performance.”

From other classified ads he posted in August and September 2020, it seems clear Dr. Samuil’s team has some kind of privileged access to financial data on targeted companies that gives them a better idea of how much cash the victim firm may have on hand to pay a ransom demand. To wit:

“There is huge insider information on the companies which we target, including information if there are tape drives and clouds (for example, Datto that is built to last, etc.), which significantly affects the scale of the conversion rate.

Requirements:
– experience with cloud storage, ESXi.
– experience with Active Directory.
– privilege escalation on accounts with limited rights.

* Serious level of insider information on the companies with which we work. There are proofs of large payments, but only for verified LEADs.
* There is also a private MEGA INSIDE , which I will not write about here in public, and it is only for experienced LEADs with their teams.
* We do not look at REVENUE / NET INCOME / Accountant reports, this is our MEGA INSIDE, in which we know exactly how much to confidently squeeze to the maximum in total.

According to cybersecurity firm Intel 471, Dr. Samuil’s ad is hardly unique, and there are several other seasoned cybercriminals who are customers of popular ransomware-as-a-service offerings that are hiring sub-contractors to farm out some of the grunt work.

“Within the cybercriminal underground, compromised accesses to organizations are readily bought, sold and traded,” Intel 471 CEO Mark Arena said. “A number of security professionals have previously sought to downplay the business impact cybercriminals can have to their organizations.”

“But because of the rapidly growing market for compromised accesses and the fact that these could be sold to anyone, organizations need to focus more on efforts to understand, detect and quickly respond to network compromises,” Arena continued. “That covers faster patching of the vulnerabilities that matter, ongoing detection and monitoring for criminal malware, and understanding the malware you are seeing in your environment, how it got there, and what it has or could have dropped subsequently.”

WHO IS DR. SAMUIL?

In conducting research for this story, KrebsOnSecurity learned that Dr. Samuil is the handle used by the proprietor of multi-vpn[.]biz, a long-running virtual private networking (VPN) service marketed to cybercriminals who are looking to anonymize and encrypt their online traffic by bouncing it through multiple servers around the globe.

Have a Coke and a Molotov cocktail. Image: twitter.com/multivpn

MultiVPN is the product of a company called Ruskod Networks Solutions (a.k.a. ruskod[.]net), which variously claims to be based in the offshore company havens of Belize and the Seychelles, but which appears to be run by a guy living in Russia.

The domain registration records for ruskod[.]net were long ago hidden by WHOIS privacy services. But according to Domaintools.com [an advertiser on this site], the original WHOIS records for the site from the mid-2000s indicate the domain was registered by a Sergey Rakityansky.

This is not an uncommon name in Russia or in many surrounding Eastern European nations. But a former business partner of MultiVPN who had a rather public falling out with Dr. Samuil in the cybercrime underground told KrebsOnSecurity that Rakityansky is indeed Dr. Samuil’s real surname, and that he is a 32- or 33-year-old currently living in Bryansk, a city located approximately 200 miles southwest of Moscow.

Neither Dr. Samuil nor MultiVPN have responded to requests for comment.

Riding the State Unemployment Fraud ‘Wave’

When a reliable method of scamming money out of people, companies or governments becomes widely known, underground forums and chat networks tend to light up with activity as more fraudsters pile on to claim their share. And that’s exactly what appears to be going on right now as multiple U.S. states struggle to combat a tsunami of phony Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims. Meanwhile, a number of U.S. states are possibly making it easier for crooks by leaking their citizens’ personal data from the very websites the unemployment scammers are using to file bogus claims.

Last week, the U.S. Secret Service warned of “massive fraud” against state unemployment insurance programs, noting that false filings from a well-organized Nigerian crime ring could end up costing the states and federal government hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.

Since then, various online crime forums and Telegram chat channels focused on financial fraud have been littered with posts from people selling tutorials on how to siphon unemployment insurance funds from different states.

Denizens of a Telegram chat channel newly rededicated to stealing state unemployment funds discussing cashout methods.

Yes, for roughly $50 worth of bitcoin, you too can quickly jump on the unemployment fraud “wave” and learn how to swindle unemployment insurance money from different states. The channel pictured above and others just like it are selling different “methods” for defrauding the states, complete with instructions on how best to avoid getting your phony request flagged as suspicious.

Although, at the rate people in these channels are “flexing” — bragging about their fraudulent earnings with screenshots of recent multiple unemployment insurance payment deposits being made daily — it appears some states aren’t doing a whole lot of fraud-flagging.

A still shot from a video a fraudster posted to a Telegram channel overrun with people engaged in unemployment insurance fraud shows multiple $800+ payments in one day from Massachusetts’ Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA).

A federal fraud investigator who’s helping to trace the source of these crimes and who spoke with KrebsOnSecurity on condition of anonymity said many states have few controls in place to spot patterns in fraudulent filings, such as multiple payments going to the same bank accounts, or filings made for different people from the same Internet address.

In too many cases, he said, the deposits are going into accounts where the beneficiary name does not match the name on the bank account. Worse still, the source said, many states have dramatically pared back the amount of information required to successfully request an unemployment filing.

“The ones we’re seeing worst hit are the states that aren’t aren’t asking where you worked,” the investigator said. “It used to be they’d have a whole list of questions about your previous employer, and you had to show you were trying to find work. But now because of the pandemic, there’s no such requirement. They’ve eliminated any controls they had at all, and now they’re just shoveling money out the door based on Social Security number, name, and a few other details that aren’t hard to find.”

CANARY IN THE GOLDMINE

Earlier this week, email security firm Agari detailed a fraud operation tied to a seasoned Nigerian cybercrime group it dubbed “Scattered Canary,” which has been busy of late bilking states and the federal government out of economic stimulus and unemployment payments. Agari said this group has been filing hundreds of successful claims, all effectively using the same email address.

“Scattered Canary uses Gmail ‘dot accounts’ to mass-create accounts on each target website,” Agari’s Patrick Peterson wrote. “Because Google ignores periods when interpreting Gmail addresses, Scattered Canary has been able to create dozens of accounts on state unemployment websites and the IRS website dedicated to processing CARES Act payments for non-tax filers (freefilefillableforms.com).”

Image: Agari.

Indeed, the very day the IRS unveiled its site for distributing CARES Act payments last month, KrebsOnSecurity warned that it was very likely to be abused by fraudsters to intercept stimulus payments from U.S. citizens, mainly because the only information required to submit a claim was name, date of birth, address and Social Security number.

Agari notes that since April 29, Scattered Canary has filed at least 174 fraudulent claims for unemployment with the state of Washington.

“Based on communications sent to Scattered Canary, these claims were eligible to receive up to $790 a week for a total of $20,540 over a maximum of 26 weeks,” Peterson wrote. “Additionally, the CARES Act includes $600 in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation each week through July 31. This adds up to a maximum potential loss as a result of these fraudulent claims of $4.7 million.”

STATE WEB SITE WOES

A number of states have suffered security issues with the PUA websites that exposed personal details of citizens filing unemployment insurance claims. Perhaps the most galling example comes from Arkansas, whose site exposed the SSNs, bank account and routing numbers for some 30,000 applicants.

In that instance, The Arkansas Times alerted the state after hearing from a computer programmer who was filing for unemployment on the site and found he could see other applicants’ data simply by changing the site’s URL slightly. State officials reportedly ignored the programmer’s repeated attempts to get them to fix the issue, and when it was covered by the newspaper the state governor accused the person who found it of breaking the law.

Over the past week, several other states have discovered similar issues with their PUA application sites, including Colorado, Illinois, and Ohio.

This Service Helps Malware Authors Fix Flaws in their Code

Almost daily now there is news about flaws in commercial software that lead to computers getting hacked and seeded with malware. But the reality is most malicious software also has its share of security holes that open the door for security researchers or ne’er-do-wells to liberate or else seize control over already-hacked systems. Here’s a look at one long-lived malware vulnerability testing service that is used and run by some of the Dark Web’s top cybercriminals.

It is not uncommon for crooks who sell malware-as-a-service offerings such as trojan horse programs and botnet control panels to include backdoors in their products that let them surreptitiously monitor the operations of their customers and siphon data stolen from victims. More commonly, however, the people writing malware simply make coding mistakes that render their creations vulnerable to compromise.

At the same time, security companies are constantly scouring malware code for vulnerabilities that might allow them peer to inside the operations of crime networks, or to wrest control over those operations from the bad guys. There aren’t a lot of public examples of this anti-malware activity, in part because it wades into legally murky waters. More importantly, talking publicly about these flaws tends to be the fastest way to get malware authors to fix any vulnerabilities in their code.

Enter malware testing services like the one operated by “RedBear,” the administrator of a Russian-language security site called Krober[.]biz, which frequently blogs about security weaknesses in popular malware tools.

For the most part, the vulnerabilities detailed by Krober aren’t written about until they are patched by the malware’s author, who’s paid a small fee in advance for a code review that promises to unmask any backdoors and/or harden the security of the customer’s product.

RedBear’s profile on the Russian-language xss[.]is cybercrime forum.

RedBear’s service is marketed not only to malware creators, but to people who rent or buy malicious software and services from other cybercriminals. A chief selling point of this service is that, crooks being crooks, you simply can’t trust them to be completely honest.

“We can examine your (or not exactly your) PHP code for vulnerabilities and backdoors,” reads his offering on several prominent Russian cybercrime forums. “Possible options include, for example, bot admin panels, code injection panels, shell control panels, payment card sniffers, traffic direction services, exchange services, spamming software, doorway generators, and scam pages, etc.”

As proof of his service’s effectiveness, RedBear points to almost a dozen articles on Krober[.]biz which explain in intricate detail flaws found in high-profile malware tools whose authors have used his service in the past, including; the Black Energy DDoS bot administration panel; malware loading panels tied to the Smoke and Andromeda bot loaders; the RMS and Spyadmin trojans; and a popular loan scan script.

ESTRANGED BEDFELLOWS

RedBear doesn’t operate this service on his own. Over the years he’s had several partners in the project, including two very high-profile cybercriminals (or possibly just one, as we’ll see in a moment) who until recently operated under the hacker aliases “upO” and “Lebron.”

From 2013 to 2016, upO was a major player on Exploit[.]in — one of the most active and venerated Russian-language cybercrime forums in the underground — authoring almost 1,500 posts on the forum and starting roughly 80 threads, mostly focusing on malware. For roughly one year beginning in 2016, Lebron was a top moderator on Exploit.

One of many articles Lebron published on Krober[.]biz that detailed flaws found in malware submitted to RedBear’s vulnerability testing service.

In 2016, several members began accusing upO of stealing source code from malware projects under review, and then allegedly using or incorporating bits of the code into malware projects he marketed to others.

up0 would eventually be banned from Exploit for getting into an argument with another top forum contributor, wherein both accused the other of working for or with Russian and/or Ukrainian federal authorities, and proceeded to publish personal information about the other that allegedly outed their real-life identities.

The cybercrime actor “upO” on Exploit[.]in in late 2016, complaining that RedBear was refusing to pay a debt owed to him.

Lebron first appeared on Exploit in September 2016, roughly two months before upO was banished from the community. After serving almost a year on the forum while authoring hundreds of posts and threads (including many articles first published on Krober), Lebron abruptly disappeared from Exploit.

His departure was prefaced by a series of increasingly brazen accusations by forum members that Lebron was simply upO using a different nickname. His final post on Exploit in May 2017 somewhat jokingly indicated he was joining an upstart ransomware affiliate program.

RANSOMWARE DREAMS

According to research from cyber intelligence firm Intel 471, upO had a strong interest in ransomware and had partnered with the developer of the Cerber ransomware strain, an affiliate program operating between Feb. 2016 and July 2017 that sought to corner the increasingly lucrative and competitive market for ransomware-as-a-service offerings.

Intel 471 says a rumor has been circulating on Exploit and other forums upO frequented that he was the mastermind behind GandCrab, another ransomware-as-a-service affiliate program that first surfaced in January 2018 and later bragged about extorting billions of dollars from hacked businesses when it closed up shop in June 2019.

Multiple security companies and researchers (including this author) have concluded that GandCrab didn’t exactly go away, but instead re-branded to form a more exclusive ransomware-as-a-service offering dubbed “REvil” (a.k.a. “Sodin” and “Sodinokibi”). REvil was first spotted in April 2019 after being installed by a GandCrab update, but its affiliate program didn’t kick into high gear until July 2019.

Last month, the public face of the REvil ransomware affiliate program — a cybercriminal who registered on Exploit in July 2019 using the nickname “UNKN” (a.k.a. “Unknown”) — found himself the target of a blackmail scheme publicly announced by a fellow forum member who claimed to have helped bankroll UNKN’s ransomware business back in 2016 but who’d taken a break from the forum on account of problems with the law.

That individual, using the nickname “Vivalamuerte,” said UNKN still owed him his up-front investment money, which he reckoned amounted to roughly $190,000. Vivalamuerte said he would release personal details revealing UNKN’s real-life identity unless he was paid what he claims he is owed.

In this Google-translated blackmail post by Vivalamuerte to UNKN, the latter’s former nickname was abbreviated to “L”.

Vivalamuerte also claimed UNKN has used four different nicknames, and that the moniker he interacted with back in 2016 began with the letter “L.” The accused’s full nickname was likely redacted by forum administrators because a search on the forum for “Lebron” brings up the same post even though it is not visible in any of Vivalamuerte’s threatening messages.

Reached by KrebsOnSecurity, Vivalamuerte declined to share what he knew about UNKN, saying the matter was still in arbitration. But he said he has proof that Lebron was the principle coder behind the GandCrab ransomware, and that the person behind the Lebron identity plays a central role in the REvil ransomware extortion enterprise as it exists today.

U.S. Secret Service: “Massive Fraud” Against State Unemployment Insurance Programs

A well-organized Nigerian crime ring is exploiting the COVID-19 crisis by committing large-scale fraud against multiple state unemployment insurance programs, with potential losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a new alert issued by the U.S. Secret Service.

A memo seen by KrebsOnSecurity that the Secret Service circulated to field offices around the United States on Thursday says the ring has been filing unemployment claims in different states using Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information (PII) belonging to identity theft victims, and that “a substantial amount of the fraudulent benefits submitted have used PII from first responders, government personnel and school employees.”

“It is assumed the fraud ring behind this possesses a substantial PII database to submit the volume of applications observed thus far,” the Secret Service warned. “The primary state targeted so far is Washington, although there is also evidence of attacks in North Carolina, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Florida.”

The Secret Service said the fraud network is believed to consist of hundred of “mules,” a term used to describe willing or unwitting individuals who are recruited to help launder the proceeds of fraudulent financial transactions.

“In the state of Washington, individuals residing out-of-state are receiving multiple ACH deposits from the State of Washington Unemployment Benefits Program, all in different individuals’ names with no connection to the account holder,” the notice continues.

The Service’s memo suggests the crime ring is operating in much the same way as crooks who specialize in filing fraudulent income tax refund requests with the states and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), a perennial problem that costs the states and the U.S. Treasury hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year.

In those schemes, the scammers typically recruit people — often victims of online romance scams or those who also are out of work and looking for any source of income — to receive direct deposits from the fraudulent transactions, and then forward the bulk of the illicit funds to the perpetrators.

A federal fraud investigator who spoke with KrebsOnSecurity on condition of anonymity said many states simply don’t have enough controls in place to detect patterns that might help better screen out fraudulent unemployment applications, such as looking for multiple applications involving the same Internet addresses and/or bank accounts. The investigator said in some states fraudsters need only to submit someone’s name, Social Security number and other basic information for their claims to be processed.

The alert follows news reports by media outlets in Washington and Rhode Island about millions of dollars in fraudulent unemployment claims in those states. On Thursday, The Seattle Times reported that the activity had halted unemployment payments for two days after officials found more than $1.6 million in phony claims.

“Between March and April, the number of fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits jumped 27-fold to 700,” the state Employment Security Department (ESD) told The Seattle Times. The story noted that the ESD’s fraud hotline has been inundated with calls, and received so many emails last weekend that it temporarily shut down.

WPRI in Rhode Island reported on May 4 that the state’s Department of Labor and Training has received hundreds of complaints of unemployment insurance fraud, and that “the number of purportedly fraudulent accounts is keeping pace with the unprecedented number of legitimate claims for unemployment insurance.”

The surge in fraud comes as many states are struggling to process an avalanche of jobless claims filed as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. The U.S. government reported Thursday that nearly three million people filed unemployment claims last week, bringing the total over the last two months to more than 36 million. The Treasury Department says unemployment programs delivered $48 billion in payments in April alone.

A few of the states listed as key targets of this fraud ring are experiencing some of the highest levels of unemployment claims in the country. Washington has seen nearly a million unemployment claims, with almost 30 percent of its workforce currently jobless, according to figures released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Rhode Island is even worse off, with 31.4 percent of its workforce filing for unemployment, the Chamber found.

“The banks targeted have been at all levels including local banks, credit unions, and large national banks,” the Secret Service alert concluded. “It is extremely likely every state is vulnerable to this scheme and will be targeted if they have not been already.”

How Cybercriminals are Weathering COVID-19

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a boon to cybercriminals: With unprecedented numbers of people working from home and anxious for news about the virus outbreak, it’s hard to imagine a more target-rich environment for phishers, scammers and malware purveyors. In addition, many crooks are finding the outbreak has helped them better market their cybercriminal wares and services. But it’s not all good news: The Coronavirus also has driven up costs and disrupted key supply lines for many cybercriminals. Here’s a look at how they’re adjusting to these new realities.

FUELED BY MULES

One of the more common and perennial cybercriminal schemes is “reshipping fraud,” wherein crooks buy pricey consumer goods online using stolen credit card data and then enlist others to help them collect or resell the merchandise.

Most online retailers years ago stopped shipping to regions of the world most frequently associated with credit card fraud, including Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Russia. These restrictions have created a burgeoning underground market for reshipping scams, which rely on willing or unwitting residents in the United States and Europe — derisively referred to as “reshipping mules” — to receive and relay high-dollar stolen goods to crooks living in the embargoed areas.

A screen shot from a user account at “Snowden,” a long-running reshipping mule service.

But apparently a number of criminal reshipping services are reporting difficulties due to the increased wait time when calling FedEx or UPS (to divert carded goods that merchants end up shipping to the cardholder’s address instead of to the mule’s). In response, these operations are raising their prices and warning of longer shipping times, which in turn could hamper the activities of other actors who depend on those services.

That’s according to Intel 471, a cyber intelligence company that closely monitors hundreds of online crime forums. In a report published today, the company said since late March 2020 it has observed several crooks complaining about COVID-19 interfering with the daily activities of their various money mules (people hired to help launder the proceeds of cybercrime).

“One Russian-speaking actor running a fraud network complained about their subordinates (“money mules”) in Italy, Spain and other countries being unable to withdraw funds, since they currently were afraid to leave their homes,” Intel 471 observed. “Also some actors have reported that banks’ customer-support lines are being overloaded, making it difficult for fraudsters to call them for social-engineering activities (such as changing account ownership, raising withdrawal limits, etc).”

Still, every dark cloud has a silver lining: Intel 471 noted many cybercriminals appear optimistic that the impending global economic recession (and resultant unemployment) “will make it easier to recruit low-level accomplices such as money mules.”

Alex Holden, founder and CTO of Hold Security, agreed. He said while the Coronavirus has forced reshipping operators to make painful shifts in several parts of their business, the overall market for available mules has never looked brighter.

“Reshipping is way up right now, but there are some complications,” he said.

For example, reshipping scams have over the years become easier for both reshipping mule operators and the mules themselves. Many reshipping mules are understandably concerned about receiving stolen goods at their home and risking a visit from the local police. But increasingly, mules have been instructed to retrieve carded items from third-party locations.

“The mules don’t have to receive stolen goods directly at home anymore,” Holden said. “They can pick them up at Walgreens, Hotel lobbies, etc. There are a ton of reshipment tricks out there.”

But many of those tricks got broken with the emergence of COVID-19 and social distancing norms. In response, more mule recruiters are asking their hires to do things like reselling goods shipped to their homes on platforms like eBay and Amazon.

“Reshipping definitely has become more complicated,” Holden said. “Not every mule will run 10 times a day to the post office, and some will let the goods sit by the mailbox for days. But on the whole, mules are more compliant these days.”

GIVE AND TAKE

KrebsOnSecurity recently came to a similar conclusion: Last month’s story, “Coronavirus Widens the Money Mule Pool,” looked at one money mule operation that had ensnared dozens of mules with phony job offers in a very short period of time. Incidentally, the fake charity behind that scheme — which promised to raise money for Coronavirus victims — has since closed up shop and apparently re-branded itself as the Tessaris Foundation.

Charitable cybercriminal endeavors were the subject of a report released this week by cyber intel firm Digital Shadows, which looked at various ways computer crooks are promoting themselves and their hacking services using COVID-19 themed discounts and giveaways.

Like many commercials on television these days, such offers obliquely or directly reference the economic hardships wrought by the virus outbreak as a way of connecting on an emotional level with potential customers.

“The illusion of philanthropy recedes further when you consider the benefits to the threat actors giving away goods and services,” the report notes. “These donors receive a massive boost to their reputation on the forum. In the future, they may be perceived as individuals willing to contribute to forum life, and the giveaways help establish a track record of credibility.”

Brian’s Club — one of the underground’s largest bazaars for selling stolen credit card data and one that has misappropriated this author’s likeness and name in its advertising — recently began offering “pandemic support” in the form of discounts for its most loyal customers.

It stands to reason that the virus outbreak might depress cybercriminal demand for “dumps,” or stolen account data that can be used to create physical counterfeit credit cards. After all, dumps are mainly used to buy high-priced items from electronics stores and other outlets that may not even be open now thanks to the widespread closures from the pandemic.

If that were the case, we’d also expect to see dumps prices fall significantly across the cybercrime economy. But so far, those price changes simply haven’t materialized, says Gemini Advisory, a New York based company that monitors the sale of stolen credit card data across dozens of stores in the cybercrime underground.

Stas Alforov, Gemini’s director of research and development, said there’s been no notable dramatic changes in pricing for both dumps and card data stolen from online merchants (a.k.a. “CVVs”) — even though many cybercrime groups appear to be massively shifting their operations toward targeting online merchants and their customers.

“Usually, the huge spikes upward or downward during a short period is reflected by a large addition of cheap records that drive the median price change,” Alforov said, referring to the small and temporary price deviations depicted in the graph above.

Intel 471 said it came to a similar conclusion.

“You might have thought carding activity, to include support aspects such as checker services, would decrease due to both the global lockdown and threat actors being infected with COVID-19,” the company said. “We’ve even seen some actors suggest as much across some shops, but the reality is there have been no observations of major changes.”

CONSCIENCE VS. COMMERCE

Interestingly, the Coronavirus appears to have prompted discussion on a topic that seldom comes up in cybercrime communities — i.e., the moral and ethical ramifications of their work. Specifically, there seems to be much talk these days about the potential karmic consequences of cashing in on the misery wrought by a global pandemic.

For example, Digital Shadows said some have started to question the morality of targeting healthcare providers, or collecting funds in the name of Coronavirus causes and then pocketing the money.

“One post on the gated Russian-language cybercriminal forum Korovka laid bare the question of threat actors’ moral obligation,” the company wrote. “A user initiated a thread to canvass opinion on the feasibility of faking a charitable cause and collecting donations. They added that while they recognized that such a plan was ‘cruel,’ they found themselves in an ‘extremely difficult financial situation.’ Responses to the proposal were mixed, with one forum user calling the plan ‘amoral,’ and another pointing out that cybercrime is inherently an immoral affair.”