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Before yesterdayKrebs on Security

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, December 2021 Edition

14 December 2021 at 22:23

Microsoft, Adobe, and Google all issued security updates to their products today. The Microsoft patches include six previously disclosed security flaws, and one that is already being actively exploited. But this month’s Patch Tuesday is overshadowed by the “Log4Shell” 0-day exploit in a popular Java library that web server administrators are now racing to find and patch amid widespread exploitation of the flaw.

Log4Shell is the name picked for a critical flaw disclosed Dec. 9 in the popular logging library for Java called “log4j,” which is included in a huge number of Java applications. Publicly released exploit code allows an attacker to force a server running a vulnerable log4j library to execute commands, such as downloading malicious software or opening a backdoor connection to the server.

According to researchers at Lunasec, many, many services are vulnerable to this exploit.

“Cloud services like Steam, Apple iCloud, and apps like Minecraft have already been found to be vulnerable,” Lunasec wrote. “Anybody using Apache Struts is likely vulnerable. We’ve seen similar vulnerabilities exploited before in breaches like the 2017 Equifax data breach. An extensive list of responses from impacted organizations has been compiled here.”

“If you run a server built on open-source software, there’s a good chance you are impacted by this vulnerability,” said Dustin Childs of Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative. “Check with all the vendors in your enterprise to see if they are impacted and what patches are available.”

Part of the difficulty in patching against the Log4Shell attack is identifying all of the vulnerable web applications, said Johannes Ullrich, an incident handler and blogger for the SANS Internet Storm Center. “Log4Shell will continue to haunt us for years to come. Dealing with log4shell will be a marathon,” Ullrich said. “Treat it as such.” SANS has a good walk-through of how simple yet powerful the exploit can be.

John Hultquist, vice president of intelligence analysis at Mandiant, said the company has seen Chinese and Iranian state actors leveraging the log4j vulnerability, and that the Iranian actors are particularly aggressive, having taken part in ransomware operations that may be primarily carried out for disruptive purposes rather than financial gain.

“We anticipate other state actors are doing so as well, or preparing to,” Hultquist said. “We believe these actors will work quickly to create footholds in desirable networks for follow-on activity, which may last for some time. In some cases, they will work from a wish list of targets that existed long before this vulnerability was public knowledge. In other cases, desirable targets may be selected after broad targeting.”

Researcher Kevin Beaumont had a more lighthearted take on Log4Shell via Twitter:

“Basically the perfect ending to cybersecurity in 2021 is a 90s style Java vulnerability in an open source module, written by two volunteers with no funding, used by large cybersecurity vendors, undetected until Minecraft chat got pwned, where nobody knows how to respond properly.”

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has joined with the FBI, National Security Agency (NSA) and partners abroad in publishing an advisory to help organizations mitigate Log4Shell and other Log4j-related vulnerabilities.

A half-dozen of the vulnerabilities addressed by Microsoft today earned its most dire “critical” rating, meaning malware or miscreants could exploit the flaws to gain complete, remote control over a vulnerable Windows system with little or no help from users.

The Windows flaw already seeing active exploitation is CVE-2021-43890, which is a “spoofing” bug in the Windows AppX installer on Windows 10. Microsoft says it is aware of attempts to exploit this flaw using specially crafted packages to implant malware families like Emotet, Trickbot, and BazaLoader.

Kevin Breen, director of threat research for Immersive Labs, said CVE-2021-43905 stands out of this month’s patch batch.

“Not only for its high CVSS score of 9.6, but also because it’s noted as ‘exploitation more likely’,” Breen observed.

Microsoft also patched CVE-2021-43883, an elevation of privilege vulnerability in Windows Installer.

“This appears to be a fix for a patch bypass of CVE-2021-41379, another elevation of privilege vulnerability in Windows Installer that was reportedly fixed in November,” Satnam Narang of Tenable points out. “However, researchers discovered that fix was incomplete, and a proof-of-concept was made public late last month.”

Google issued five security fixes for Chrome, including one rated critical and three others with high severity. If you’re browsing with Chrome, keep a lookout for when you see an “Update” tab appear to the right of the address bar. If it’s been a while since you closed the browser, you might see the Update button turn from green to orange and then red. Green means an update has been available for two days; orange means four days have elapsed, and red means your browser is a week or more behind on important updates. Completely close and restart the browser to install any pending updates.

Also, Adobe issued patches to correct more than 60 security flaws in a slew of products, including Adobe Audition, Lightroom, Media Encoder, Premiere Pro, Prelude, Dimension, After Effects, Photoshop, Connect, Experience Manager and Premiere Rush.

Standard disclaimer: Before you update Windows, please make sure you have backed up your system and/or important files. It’s not uncommon for a Windows update package to hose one’s system or prevent it from booting properly, and some updates have been known to erase or corrupt files.

So do yourself a favor and backup before installing any patches. Windows 10 even has some built-in tools to help you do that, either on a per-file/folder basis or by making a complete and bootable copy of your hard drive all at once.

And if you wish to ensure Windows has been set to pause updating so you can back up your files and/or system before the operating system decides to reboot and install patches on its own schedule, see this guide.

If you experience glitches or problems installing any of these patches this month, please consider leaving a comment about it below; there’s a decent chance other readers have experienced the same and may chime in here with useful tips.

Additional reading:

SANS ISC listing of each Microsoft vulnerability patched today, indexed by severity and affected component.

NY Man Pleads Guilty in $20 Million SIM Swap Theft

16 December 2021 at 17:52

A 24-year-old New York man who bragged about helping to steal more than $20 million worth of cryptocurrency from a technology executive has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Nicholas Truglia was part of a group alleged to have stolen more than $100 million from cryptocurrency investors using fraudulent “SIM swaps,” scams in which identity thieves hijack a target’s mobile phone number and use that to wrest control over the victim’s online identities.

Truglia admitted to a New York federal court that he let a friend use his account at crypto-trading platform Binance in 2018 to launder more than $20 million worth of virtual currency stolen from Michael Terpin, a cryptocurrency investor who co-founded the first angel investor group for bitcoin enthusiasts.

Following the theft, Terpin filed a civil lawsuit against Truglia with the Los Angeles Superior court. In May 2019, the jury awarded Terpin a $75.8 million judgment against Truglia. In January 2020, a New York grand jury criminally indicted Truglia (PDF) for his part in the crypto theft from Terpin.

A SIM card is the tiny, removable chip in a mobile device that allows it to connect to the provider’s network. Customers can legitimately request a SIM swap when their mobile device has been damaged or lost, or when they are switching to a different phone that requires a SIM card of another size.

Nicholas Truglia, holding bottle. Image: twitter.com/erupts

But fraudulent SIM swaps are frequently abused by scam artists who trick mobile providers into tying a target’s service to a new SIM card and mobile phone controlled by the scammers. Unauthorized SIM swaps often are perpetrated by fraudsters who have already stolen or phished a target’s password, as many financial institutions and online services rely on text messages to send users a one-time code for multi-factor authentication.

Compounding the threat, many websites let customers reset their passwords merely by clicking a link sent via SMS to the mobile phone number tied to the account, meaning anyone who controls that phone number can reset the passwords for those accounts.

Reached for comment, Terpin said his assailant got off easy.

“I am outraged that after nearly four years and hundreds of pages of evidence that the best the prosecutors could recommend was a plea bargain for a single, relatively minor count of the unauthorized use of a Binance exchange account, when all the evidence points toward Truglia being one of two masterminds of a wide-ranging criminal conspiracy to steal crypto from me and others,” Terpin told KrebsOnSecurity.

Terpin said public court records already show Truglia bragging about stealing his funds and using it to finance a lavish lifestyle.

“He at the very least withdrew 100 bitcoin (worth $1.6 million at the time and nearly $5 million today) from my theft into his wallet at a separate, US-based exchange, and then moved or spent it,” Terpin said. “The fact is that the intentional theft of $24 million, whether taken at the point of a gun in a bank or through a SIM card swap, is a major felony. Truglia should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Nicholas Truglia, showing off a diamond-studded Piaget watch while aboard a private jet. Image: twitter.com/erupts.

Terpin also is waging an ongoing civil lawsuit against 18-year-old Ellis Pinsky, who’s accused of working with Truglia as part of a SIM swapping crew that has stolen more than $100 million in cryptocurrency. According to Terpin, Pinsky was 15 when he took part in the $24 million 2018 SIM swap, but he returned $2 million worth of cryptocurrency after being confronted by Terpin’s investigators.

“On the surface, Pinsky is an ‘All American Boy,'” Terpin’s civil suit charges. “The son of privilege, he is active in extracurricular activities and lives a suburban life with a doting mother who is a prominent doctor.”

“Despite their wholesome appearances, Pinsky and his other cohorts are in fact evil computer geniuses with sociopathic traits who heartlessly ruin their innocent victims’ lives and gleefully boast of their multi-million-dollar heists,” the lawsuit continues. “Pinsky is reputed to have used his ill-gotten gains to purchase multi-million-dollar watches and is known to go on nightclub sprees at high end clubs in New York City, and Truglia rented private jets and played the part of a dashing playboy with young women pampering him.”

Pinksy could not be immediately reached for comment. But a review of the latest filings in the lawsuit show that Pinsky’s attorneys stopped representing him because he no longer had the funds to pay for their services. The most recent entry in the New York Southern District’s docket asks the court to give Pinsky additional time to seek counsel, and hints that barring that he may end up representing himself.

Ellis Pinsky, in a photo uploaded to his social media profile.

Truglia is still being criminally prosecuted in Santa Clara, Calif., the home of the REACT task force, which pursues SIM-swapping cases nationwide. In November 2018, REACT investigators and New York authorities arrested Truglia on suspicion of using SIM swaps to steal approximately $1 million worth of cryptocurrencies from Robert Ross, a San Francisco father of two who later went on to found the victim advocacy website stopsimcrime.org.

According to published reports, Truglia and his accomplices also perpetrated SIM swaps against the CEO of the blockchain storage service 0Chain; hedge-funder Myles Danielson, vice president of Hall Capital Partners; and Gabrielle Katsnelson, the co-founder of the startup SMBX.

Truglia is currently slated to be sentenced in April 2022 for his guilty plea in New York. He faces a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Erin West, deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County, told KrebsOnSecurity that SIM swapping remains a major problem. But she said many of the victims they’re now assisting are relatively new cryptocurrency investors for whom a SIM swapping attack can be financially devastating.

“Originally, the SIM swap targets were the early adopters of crypto,” West said. “Now we’re seeing a lot more of what I would call normal people trying their hand at crypto, and that makes a lot more people a target. It makes people who are unfamiliar with their personal security online vulnerable to hackers whose entire job is to figure out how to part people from their money.”

West said REACT continues to train state and local law enforcement officials across the country on how to successfully investigate and prosecute SIM swapping cases.

“The good news is our partners across the nation are learning how to conduct these cases,” she said. “Where this was a relatively new phenomenon three years ago, other smaller jurisdictions around the country are now learning how to prosecute this crime.”

All of the major wireless carriers let customers add security against SIM swaps and related schemes by setting a PIN that needs to be provided over the phone or in person at a store before account changes should be made. But these security features can be bypassed by incompetent or corrupt mobile store employees.

For some tips on how to minimize your chances of becoming the next SIM swapping victim, check out the “What Can You Do?” section at the conclusion of this story.

Happy 12th Birthday, KrebsOnSecurity.com!

29 December 2021 at 21:32

KrebsOnSecurity.com celebrates its 12th anniversary today! Maybe “celebrate” is too indelicate a word for a year wracked by the global pandemics of COVID-19 and ransomware. Especially since stories about both have helped to grow the audience here tremendously in 2021. But this site’s birthday also is a welcome opportunity to thank you all for your continued readership and support, which helps keep the content here free to everyone.

More than seven million unique visitors came to KrebsOnSecurity.com in 2021, generating some 12 million+ pageviews and leaving almost 8,000 comments. We also now have nearly 50,000 subscribers to our email newsletter, which is still just a text-based (non-HTML) email that goes out each time a new story is published here (~2-3 times a week).

Back when this site first began 12 years ago, I never imagined it would attract such a level of engagement. Before launching KrebsOnSecurity, I was a tech reporter for washingtonpost.com. For many years, The Post’s website was physically, financially and editorially separate from what the dot-com employees affectionately called “The Dead Tree Edition.” When the two newsrooms finally merged in 2009, my position was eliminated.

Happily, the blog I authored for four years at washingtonpost.com — Security Fix — had attracted a sizable readership, and it seemed clear that the worldwide appetite for in-depth news about computer security and cybercrime would become practically insatiable in the coming years.

Happier still, The Post offered a severance package equal to six months of my salary. Had they not thrown that lifeline, I doubt I’d have had the guts to go it alone. But at the time, my wife basically said I had six months to make this “blog thing” work, or else find a “real job.”

God bless her eternal patience with my adopted occupation, because KrebsOnSecurity has helped me avoid finding a real job for a dozen years now. And hopefully they let me keep doing this, because at this point I’m certainly unqualified to do much else.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to remind Dear Readers that advertisers do help keep the content free here to everyone. For security and privacy reasons, KrebsOnSecurity does not host any third-party content on this site — and this includes the ad creatives, which are simply images or GIFs vetted by Yours Truly and served directly from krebsonsecurity.com.

That’s a long-winded way of asking: If you regularly visit KrebsOnSecurity.com with an ad blocker, please consider adding an exception for this site.

Thanks again, Dear Readers. Please stay safe, healthy and alert in 2022. See you on the other side!

Norton 360 Now Comes With a Cryptominer

6 January 2022 at 17:26

Norton 360, one of the most popular antivirus products on the market today, has installed a cryptocurrency mining program on its customers’ computers. Norton’s parent firm says the cloud-based service that activates the program and allows customers to profit from the scheme — in which the company keeps 15 percent of any currencies mined — is “opt-in,” meaning users have to agree to enable it. But many Norton users complain the mining program is difficult to remove, and reactions from longtime customers have ranged from unease and disbelief to, “Dude, where’s my crypto?”

Norton 360 is owned by Tempe, Ariz.-based NortonLifeLock Inc. In 2017, the identity theft protection company LifeLock was acquired by Symantec Corp., which was renamed to NortonLifeLock in 2019 (LifeLock is now included in the Norton 360 service).

According to the FAQ posted on its site, “Norton Crypto” will mine Ethereum (ETH) cryptocurrency while the customer’s computer is idle. The FAQ also says Norton Crypto will only run on systems that meet certain hardware and software requirements (such as an NVIDIA graphics card with at least 6 GB of memory).

“Norton creates a secure digital Ethereum wallet for each user,” the FAQ reads. “The key to the wallet is encrypted and stored securely in the cloud. Only you have access to the wallet.”

NortonLifeLock began offering the mining service in July 2021, and early news coverage of the program did not immediately receive widespread attention. That changed on Jan. 4, when Boing Boing co-editor Cory Doctorow tweeted that NortonCrypto would run by default for Norton 360 users.

NortonLifeLock says Norton Crypto is an opt-in feature only and is not enabled without user permission.

“If users have turned on Norton Crypto but no longer wish to use the feature, it can be disabled by temporarily shutting off ‘tamper protection’ (which allows users to modify the Norton installation) and deleting NCrypt.exe from your computer,” NortonLifeLock said in a written statement. However, many users have reported difficulty removing the mining program.

From reading user posts on the Norton Crypto community forum, it seems some longtime Norton customers were horrified at the prospect of their antivirus product installing coin-mining software, regardless of whether the mining service was turned off by default.

“How on Earth could anyone at Norton think that adding crypto mining within a security product would be a good thing?,” reads a Dec. 28 thread titled “Absolutely furious.”

“Norton should be DETECTING and killing off crypto mining hijacking, not installing their own,” the post reads. “The product people need firing. What’s the next ‘bright idea’? Norton Botnet? ‘ And I was just about to re-install Norton 360 too, but this has literally has caused me to no longer trust Norton and their direction.”

It’s an open question whether Norton Crypto users can expect to see much profit from participating in this scheme, at least in the short run. Mining cryptocurrencies basically involves using your computer’s spare resources to help validate financial transactions of other crypto users. Crypto mining causes one’s computer to draw more power, which can increase one’s overall electricity costs.

“Norton is pretty much amplifying energy consumption worldwide, costing their customers more in electricity use than the customer makes on the mining, yet allowing Norton to make a ton of profit,” tweeted security researcher Chris Vickery. “It’s disgusting, gross, and brand-suicide.”

Then there’s the matter of getting paid. Norton Crypto lets users withdraw their earnings to an account at cryptocurrency platform CoinBase, but as Norton Crypto’s FAQ rightly points out, there are coin mining fees as well as transaction costs to transfer Ethereum.

“The coin mining fee is currently 15% of the crypto allocated to the miner,” the FAQ explains. “Transfers of cryptocurrencies may result in transaction fees (also known as “gas” fees) paid to the users of the cryptocurrency blockchain network who process the transaction. In addition, if you choose to exchange crypto for another currency, you may be required to pay fees to an exchange facilitating the transaction. Transaction fees fluctuate due to cryptocurrency market conditions and other factors. These fees are not set by Norton.”

Which might explain why so many Norton Crypto users have taken to the community’s online forum to complain they were having trouble withdrawing their earnings. Those gas fees are the same regardless of the amount of crypto being moved, so the system simply blocks withdrawals if the amount requested can’t cover the transfer fees.

Norton Crypto. Image: Bleeping Computer.

I guess what bothers me most about Norton Crypto is that it will be introducing millions of perhaps less savvy Internet users to the world of cryptocurrency, which comes with its own set of unique security and privacy challenges that require users to “level up” their personal security practices in fairly significant ways.

Several of my elder family members and closest friends are longtime Norton users who renew their subscription year after year (despite my reminding them that it’s way cheaper just to purchase it again each year as a new user). None of them are particularly interested in or experts at securing their computers and digital lives, and the thought of them opening CoinBase accounts and navigating that space is terrifying.

Big Yellow is not the only brand that’s cashing in on investor fervor over cryptocurrencies and hoping to appeal to a broader (or maybe just older) audience: The venerable electronics retailer RadioShack, which relaunched in 2020 as an online-focused brand, now says it plans to chart a future as a cryptocurrency exchange.

“RadioShack’s argument is basically that as a very old brand, it’s primed to sell old CEOs on cryptocurrency,” writes Adi Robertson for The Verge.

“Too many [cryptocurrency companies] focused on speculation and not enough on making the ‘old-school’ customer feel comfortable,” the company’s website states, claiming that the average “decision-making” corporate CEO is 68 years old. “The older generation simply doesn’t trust the new-fangled ideas of the Bitcoin youth.”

500M Avira Antivirus Users Introduced to Cryptomining

8 January 2022 at 18:05

Many readers were surprised to learn recently that the popular Norton 360 antivirus suite now ships with a program which lets customers make money mining virtual currency. But Norton 360 isn’t alone in this dubious endeavor: Avira antivirus — which has built a base of 500 million users worldwide largely by making the product free — was recently bought by the same company that owns Norton 360 and is introducing its customers to a service called Avira Crypto.

Avira Crypto

Founded in 2006, Avira Operations GmbH & Co. KG is a German multinational software company best known for their Avira Free Security (a.k.a. Avira Free Antivirus). In January 2021, Avira was acquired by Tempe, Ariz.-based NortonLifeLock Inc., the same company that now owns Norton 360.

In 2017, the identity theft protection company LifeLock was acquired by Symantec Corp., which was renamed to NortonLifeLock in 2019. LifeLock is now included in the Norton 360 service; Avira offers users a similar service called Breach Monitor.

Like Norton 360, Avira comes with a cryptominer already installed, but customers have to opt in to using the service that powers it. Avira’s FAQ on its cryptomining service is somewhat sparse. For example, it doesn’t specify how much NortonLifeLock gets out of the deal (NortonLifeLock keeps 15 percent of any cryptocurrency mined by Norton Crypto).

“Avira Crypto allows you to use your computer’s idle time to mine the cryptocurrency Ethereum (ETH),” the FAQ explains. “Since cryptomining requires a high level of processing power, it is not suitable for users with an average computer. Even with compatible hardware, mining cryptocurrencies on your own can be less rewarding. Your best option is to join a mining pool that shares their computer power to improve their chance of mining cryptocurrency. The rewards are then distributed evenly to all members in the pool.”

NortonLifeLock hasn’t yet responded to requests for comment, so it’s unclear whether Avira uses the same cryptomining code as Norton Crypto. But there are clues that suggest that’s the case. NortonLifeLock announced Avira Crypto in late October 2021, but multiple other antivirus products have flagged Avira’s installer as malicious or unsafe for including a cryptominer as far back as Sept. 9, 2021.

Avira was detected as potentially unsafe for including a cryptominer back in Sept. 2021. Image: Virustotal.com.

The above screenshot was taken on Virustotal.com, a service owned by Google that scans submitted files against dozens of antivirus products. The detection report pictured was found by searching Virustotal for “ANvOptimusEnablementCuda,” a function included in the Norton Crypto mining component “Ncrypt.exe.”

Some longtime Norton customers took to NortonLifeLock’s online forum to express horror at the prospect of their antivirus product installing coin-mining software, regardless of whether the mining service was turned off by default.

“Norton should be DETECTING and killing off crypto mining hijacking, not installing their own,” reads a Dec. 28 thread on Norton’s forum titled “Absolutely furious.”

Others have charged that the crypto offering will end up costing customers more in electricity bills than they can ever hope to gain from letting their antivirus mine ETH. What’s more, there are hefty fees involved in moving any ETH mined by Norton or Avira Crypto to an account that the user can cash out, and many users apparently don’t understand they can’t cash out until they at least earn enough ETH to cover the fees.

In August 2021, NortonLifeLock said it had reached an agreement to acquire Avast, another longtime free antivirus product that also claims to have around 500 million users. It remains to be seen whether Avast Crypto will be the next brilliant offering from NortonLifeLock.

As mentioned in this week’s story on Norton Crypto, I get that participation in these cryptomining schemes is voluntary, but much of that ultimately hinges on how these crypto programs are pitched and whether users really understand what they’re doing when they enable them. But what bugs me most is they will be introducing hundreds of millions of perhaps less savvy Internet users to the world of cryptocurrency, which comes with its own set of unique security and privacy challenges that require users to “level up” their personal security practices in fairly significant ways.

Update, Jan. 28, 9:41 a.m.: I meant to add this sooner, but not long after this story ran I heard from NortonLifeLock that the company only had 80 million customers, and that my 500 million headline was incorrect.

“Your headline says that 500M Avira AV users were introduced to Cryptomining,” NortonLifeLock wrote to KrebsOnSecurity. “However, our company has approximately 80 million users globally. Additionally, NortonLifeLock and Avast remain separate companies.”

I thought this was odd, given that Avira’s homepage very clearly stated the company had 500 million users:

NortonLifeLock thanked me for the information, and said it was removing all instances of that number from its Web properties. The company has yet to explain whether that 500 million number was ever anywhere close to reality, and if so what happened to all those users.

‘Wormable’ Flaw Leads January 2022 Patch Tuesday

11 January 2022 at 22:18

Microsoft today released updates to plug nearly 120 security holes in Windows and supported software. Six of the vulnerabilities were publicly detailed already, potentially giving attackers a head start in figuring out how to exploit them in unpatched systems. More concerning, Microsoft warns that one of the flaws fixed this month is “wormable,” meaning no human interaction would be required for an attack to spread from one vulnerable Windows box to another.

Nine of the vulnerabilities fixed in this month’s Patch Tuesday received Microsoft’s “critical” rating, meaning malware or miscreants can exploit them to gain remote access to vulnerable Windows systems through no help from the user.

By all accounts, the most severe flaw addressed today is CVE-2022-21907, a critical, remote code execution flaw in the “HTTP Protocol Stack.” Microsoft says the flaw affects Windows 10 and Windows 11, as well as Server 2019 and Server 2022.

“While this is definitely more server-centric, remember that Windows clients can also run http.sys, so all affected versions are affected by this bug,” said Dustin Childs from Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative. “Test and deploy this patch quickly.”

Quickly indeed. In May 2021, Microsoft patched a similarly critical and wormable vulnerability in the HTTP Protocol Stack; less than a week later, computer code made to exploit the flaw was posted online.

Microsoft also fixed three more remote code execution flaws in Exchange Server, a technology that hundreds of thousands of organizations worldwide use to manage their email. Exchange flaws are a major target of malicious hackers. Almost a year ago, hundreds of thousands of Exchange servers worldwide were compromised by malware after attackers started mass-exploiting four zero-day flaws in Exchange.

Microsoft says the limiting factor with these three newly found Exchange flaws is that an attacker would need to be tied to the target’s network somehow to exploit them. But Satnam Narang at Tenable notes Microsoft has labeled all three Exchange flaws as “exploitation more likely.”

“One of the flaws, CVE-2022-21846, was disclosed to Microsoft by the National Security Agency,” Narang said. “Despite the rating, Microsoft notes the attack vector is adjacent, meaning exploitation will require more legwork for an attacker, unlike the ProxyLogon and ProxyShell vulnerabilities which were remotely exploitable.”

Security firm Rapid7 points out that roughly a quarter of the security updates this month address vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s Edge browser via Chromium.

“None of these have yet been seen exploited in the wild, though six were publicly disclosed prior to today,” Rapid7’s Greg Wiseman said. “This includes two Remote Code Execution vulnerabilities affecting open source libraries that are bundled with more recent versions of Windows: CVE-2021-22947, which affects the curl library, and CVE-2021-36976 which affects libarchive.”

Wiseman said slightly less scary than the HTTP Protocol Stack vulnerability is CVE-2022-21840, which affects all supported versions of Office, as well as Sharepoint Server.

“Exploitation would require social engineering to entice a victim to open an attachment or visit a malicious website,” he said. “Thankfully the Windows preview pane is not a vector for this attack.”

Other patches include fixes for .NET Framework, Microsoft Dynamics, Windows Hyper-V, Windows Defender, and the Windows Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). As usual, the SANS Internet Storm Center has a per-patch breakdown by severity and impact.

Standard disclaimer: Before you update Windows, please make sure you have backed up your system and/or important files. It’s not uncommon for a Windows update package to hose one’s system or prevent it from booting properly, and some updates have been known to erase or corrupt files.

So do yourself a favor and backup before installing any patches. Windows 10 even has some built-in tools to help you do that, either on a per-file/folder basis or by making a complete and bootable copy of your hard drive all at once.

And if you wish to ensure Windows has been set to pause updating so you can back up your files and/or system before the operating system decides to reboot and install patches on its own schedule, see this guide.

If you experience glitches or problems installing any of these patches this month, please consider leaving a comment about it below; there’s a decent chance other readers have experienced the same and may chime in here with useful tips.

Update, Jan. 12, 9:02 a.m.: Apparently some of the updates Microsoft released yesterday — KB5009557 (2019) and KB5009555 (2022) — are causing something to fail on domain controllers, which then keep rebooting every few minutes. That’s according to this growing thread on Reddit (hat tip to @campuscodi).

Who is the Network Access Broker ‘Wazawaka?’

12 January 2022 at 05:17

In a great many ransomware attacks, the criminals who pillage the victim’s network are not the same crooks who gained the initial access to the victim organization. More commonly, the infected PC or stolen VPN credentials the gang used to break in were purchased from a cybercriminal middleman known as an initial access broker. This post examines some of the clues left behind by “Wazawaka,” the hacker handle chosen by a major access broker in the Russian-speaking cybercrime scene.

Wazawaka has been a highly active member of multiple cybercrime forums over the past decade, but his favorite is the Russian-language community Exploit. Wazawaka spent his early days on Exploit and other forums selling distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that could knock websites offline for about USD $80 a day. But in more recent years, Wazawaka has focused on peddling access to organizations and to databases stolen from hacked companies.

“Come, rob, and get dough!,” reads a thread started by Wazawaka on Exploit in March 2020, in which he sold access to a Chinese company with more than $10 billion in annual revenues. “Show them who is boss.”

According to their posts on Exploit, Wazawaka has worked with at least two different ransomware affiliate programs, including LockBit. Wazawaka said LockBit had paid him roughly $500,000 in commissions for the six months leading up to September 2020.

Wazawaka also said he’d teamed up with DarkSide, the ransomware affiliate group responsible for the six-day outage at Colonial Pipeline last year that caused nationwide fuel shortages and price spikes. The U.S. Department of State has since offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any DarkSide affiliates.

Wazawaka seems to have adopted the uniquely communitarian view that when organizations being held for ransom decline to cooperate or pay up, any data stolen from the victim should be published on the Russian cybercrime forums for all to plunder — not privately sold to the highest bidder. In thread after thread on the crime forum XSS, Wazawaka’s alias “Uhodiransomwar” can be seen posting download links to databases from companies that have refused to negotiate after five days.

“The only and the main principle of ransomware is: the information that you steal should never be sold,” Uhodiransomwar wrote in August 2020. “The community needs to receive it absolutely free of charge if the ransom isn’t paid by the side that this information is stolen from.”

Wazawaka hasn’t always been so friendly to other cybercrooks. Over the past ten years, his contact information has been used to register numerous phishing domains intended to siphon credentials from people trying to transact on various dark web marketplaces. In 2018, Wazawaka registered a slew of domains spoofing the real domain for the Hydra dark web market. In 2014, Wazawaka confided to another crime forum member via private message that he made good money stealing accounts from drug dealers on these marketplaces.

“I used to steal their QIWI accounts with up to $500k in them,” Wazawaka recalled. “A dealer would never go to the cops and tell them he was selling stuff online and someone stole his money.”


Wazawaka used multiple email addresses and nicknames on several Russian crime forums, but data collected by cybersecurity firm Constella Intelligence show that Wazawaka’s alter egos always used one of three fairly unique passwords: 2k3x8x57, 2k3X8X57, and 00virtual.

Those three passwords were used by one or all of Wazawaka’s email addresses on the crime forums over the years, including [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected].

That last email address was used almost a decade ago to register a Vkontakte (Russian version of Facebook) account under the name Mikhail “Mix” Matveev. The phone number tied to that Vkontakte account — 7617467845 — was assigned by the Russian telephony provider MegaFon to a resident in Khakassia, situated in the southwestern part of Eastern Siberia.

DomainTools.com [an advertiser on this site] reports [email protected] was used to register three domains between 2008 and 2010: ddosis.ru, best-stalker.com, and cs-arena.org. That last domain was originally registered in 2009 to a Mikhail P. Matveyev, in Abakan, Khakassia.

Mikhail Matveev is not the most unusual name in Russia, but other clues help narrow things down quite a bit. For example, early in his postings to Exploit, Wazawaka can be seen telling members that he can be contacted via the ICQ instant message account 902228.

An Internet search for Wazawaka’s ICQ number brings up a 2009 account for a Wazawaka on a now defunct discussion forum about Kopyovo-a, a town of roughly 4,400 souls in the Russian republic of Khakassia:


Also around 2009, someone using the nickname Wazawaka and the 902228 ICQ address started posting to Russian social media networks trying to convince locals to frequent the website “fureha.ru,” which was billed as another website catering to residents of Khakassia.

According to the Russian domain watcher 1stat.ru, fureha.ru was registered in January 2009 to the email address [email protected] and the phone number +79617467845, which is the same number tied to the Mikhail “Mix” Matveev Vkontakte account.

DomainTools.com says the [email protected] address was used to register two domains: one called badamania[.]ru, and a defunct porn site called tvporka[.]ru. The phone number tied to that porn site registration back in 2010 was 79235810401, also issued by MegaFon in Khakassia.

A search in Skype for that number shows that it was associated more than a decade ago with the username “matveevatanya1.” It was registered to a now 29-year-old Tatayana Matveeva Deryabina, whose Vkontakte profile says she currently resides in Krasnoyarsk, the largest city that is closest to Abakan and Abaza.

It seems likely that Tatayana is a relative of Mikhail Matveev, perhaps even his sister. Neither responded to requests for comment. In 2009, a Mikhail Matveev from Abaza, Khakassia registered the username Wazawaka on weblancer.net, a freelance job exchange for Russian IT professionals. The Weblancer account says Wazawaka is currently 33 years old.

In March 2019, Wazawaka explained a lengthy absence on Exploit by saying he’d fathered a child. “I will answer everyone in a week or two,” the crime actor wrote. “Became a dad — went on vacation for a couple of weeks.”

One of the many email addresses Wazawaka used was [email protected], which is tied to a more recent but since-deleted Vkontakte account for a Mikhail Matveev and used the password 2k3X8X57. As per usual, I put together a mind map showing the connections referenced in this story:

A rough mind map of the connections mentioned in this story.

Analysts with cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint say Wazawaka’s postings on various Russian crime forums show he is proficient in many specializations, including botnet operations, keylogger malware, spam botnets, credential harvesting, Google Analytics manipulation, selling databases for spam operations, and launching DDoS attacks.

Flashpoint says it is likely Wazawaka/Mix/M1x has shared cybercriminal identities and accounts with multiple other forum members, most of whom appear to have been partners in his DDoS-for-hire business a decade ago. For example, Flashpoint points to an Antichat forum thread from 2009 where members said M1x worked on his DDoS service with a hacker by the nickname “Vedd,” who was reputedly also a resident of Abakan.


All of this is academic, of course, provided Mr. Wazawaka chooses to a) never leave Russia and b) avoid cybercrime activities that target Russian citizens. In a January 2021 thread on Exploit regarding the arrest of an affiliate for the NetWalker ransomware program and its subsequent demise, Wazawaka seems already resigned those limitations.

“Don’t shit where you live, travel local, and don’t go abroad,” Wazawaka said of his own personal mantra.

Which might explain why Wazawaka is so lackadaisical about hiding and protecting his cybercriminal identities: Incredibly, Wazawaka’s alter ego on the forum XSS — Uhodiransomware — still uses the same password on the forum that he used for his Vkontakte account 10 years ago. Lucky for him, XSS also demands a one-time code from his mobile authentication app.

The second step of logging into Wazawaka’s account on XSS (Uhodiransomwar).

Wazawaka said NetWalker’s closure was the result of its administrator (a.k.a. “Bugatti”) getting greedy, and then he proceeds to preach about the need to periodically re-brand one’s cybercriminal identity.

“I’ve had some business with Bugatti,” Wazawaka said. “The guy got too rich and began recruiting Americans as affiliate partners. What happened now is the result. That’s okay, though. I wish Bugatti to do some rebranding and start from the beginning 🙂 As for the servers that were seized, they should’ve hosted their admin panels in Russia to avoid getting their servers seized by INTERPOL, the FBI, or whatever.”

“Mother Russia will help you,” Wazawaka concluded. “Love your country, and you will always get away with everything.”

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy Who Is the Network Access Broker “Babam”?

At Request of U.S., Russia Rounds Up 14 REvil Ransomware Affiliates

14 January 2022 at 22:41

The Russian government said today it arrested 14 people accused of working for “REvil,” a particularly aggressive ransomware group that has extorted hundreds of millions of dollars from victim organizations. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said the actions were taken in response to a request from U.S. officials, but many experts believe the crackdown is part of an effort to reduce tensions over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to station 100,000 troops along the nation’s border with Ukraine.

The FSB headquarters at Lubyanka Square, Moscow. Image: Wikipedia.

The FSB said it arrested 14 REvil ransomware members, and searched more than two dozen addresses in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Leningrad and Lipetsk. As part of the raids, the FSB seized more than $600,000 US dollars, 426 million rubles (~$USD 5.5 million), 500,000 euros, and 20 “premium cars” purchased with funds obtained from cybercrime.

“The search activities were based on the appeal of the US authorities, who reported on the leader of the criminal community and his involvement in encroaching on the information resources of foreign high-tech companies by introducing malicious software, encrypting information and extorting money for its decryption,” the FSB said. “Representatives of the US competent authorities have been informed about the results of the operation.”

The FSB did not release the names of any of the individuals arrested, although a report from the Russian news agency TASS mentions two defendants: Roman Gennadyevich Muromsky, and Andrey Sergeevich Bessonov. Russian media outlet RIA Novosti released video footage from some of the raids:

REvil is widely thought to be a reincarnation of GandCrab, a Russian-language ransomware affiliate program that bragged of stealing more than $2 billion when it closed up shop in the summer of 2019. For roughly the next two years, REvil’s “Happy Blog” would churn out press releases naming and shaming dozens of new victims each week. A February 2021 analysis from researchers at IBM found the REvil gang earned more than $120 million in 2020 alone.

But all that changed last summer, when REvil associates working with another ransomware group — DarkSide — attacked Colonial Pipeline, causing fuel shortages and price spikes across the United States. Just months later, a multi-country law enforcement operation allowed investigators to hack into the REvil gang’s operations and force the group offline.

In November 2021, Europol announced it arrested seven REvil affliates who collectively made more than $230 million worth of ransom demands since 2019. At the same time, U.S. authorities unsealed two indictments against a pair of accused REvil cybercriminals, which referred to the men as “REvil Affiliate #22” and “REvil Affiliate #23.”

It is clear that U.S. authorities have known for some time the real names of REvil’s top captains and moneymakers. Last fall, President Biden told Putin that he expects Russia to act when the United States shares information on specific Russians involved in ransomware activity.

So why now? Russia has amassed approximately 100,000 troops along its southern border with Ukraine, and diplomatic efforts to defuse the situation have reportedly broken down. The Washington Post and other media outlets today report that the Biden administration has accused Moscow of sending saboteurs into Eastern Ukraine to stage an incident that could give Putin a pretext for ordering an invasion.

“The most interesting thing about these arrests is the timing,” said Kevin Breen, director of threat research at Immersive Labs. “For years, Russian Government policy on cybercriminals has been less than proactive to say the least. With Russia and the US currently at the diplomatic table, these arrests are likely part of a far wider, multi-layered, political negotiation.”

President Biden has warned that Russia can expect severe sanctions should it choose to invade Ukraine. But Putin in turn has said such sanctions could cause a complete break in diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Dmitri Alperovitch, co-founder of and former chief technology officer for the security firm CrowdStrike, called the REvil arrests in Russia “ransomware diplomacy.”

“This is Russian ransomware diplomacy,” Alperovitch said on Twitter. “It is a signal to the United States — if you don’t enact severe sanctions against us for invasion of Ukraine, we will continue to cooperate with you on ransomware investigations.”

The REvil arrests were announced as many government websites in Ukraine were defaced by hackers with an ominous message warning Ukrainians that their personal data was being uploaded to the Internet. “Be afraid and expect the worst,” the message warned.

Experts say there is good reason for Ukraine to be afraid. Ukraine has long been used as the testing grounds for Russian offensive hacking capabilities. State-backed Russian hackers have been blamed for the Dec. 23, 2015 cyberattack on Ukraine’s power grid that left 230,000 customers shivering in the dark.

The warning left behind on Ukrainian government websites that were defaced in the last 24 hours. The same statement is written in Ukrainian, Russian and Polish.

Russia also has been suspected of releasing NotPetya, a large-scale cyberattack initially aimed at Ukrainian businesses that ended up creating an extremely disruptive and expensive global malware outbreak.

Although there has been no clear attribution of these latest attacks to Russia, there is reason to suspect Russia’s hand, said David Salvo, deputy director of The Alliance for Securing Democracy.

“These are tried and true Russian tactics. Russia used cyber operations and information operations in the run-up to its invasion of Georgia in 2008. It has long waged massive cyberattacks against Ukrainian infrastructure, as well as information operations targeting Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian citizens. And it is completely unsurprising that it would use these tactics now when it is clear Moscow is looking for any pretext to invade Ukraine again and cast blame on the West in its typical cynical fashion.”

IRS Will Soon Require Selfies for Online Access

19 January 2022 at 17:15

If you created an online account to manage your tax records with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS), those login credentials will cease to work later this year. The agency says that by the summer of 2022, the only way to log in to irs.gov will be through ID.me, an online identity verification service that requires applicants to submit copies of bills and identity documents, as well as a live video feed of their faces via a mobile device.

The IRS says it will require ID.me for all logins later this summer.

McLean, Va.-based ID.me was originally launched in 2010 with the goal of helping e-commerce sites validate the identities of customers who might be eligible for discounts at various retail establishments, such as veterans, teachers, students, nurses and first responders.

These days, ID.me is perhaps better known as the online identity verification service that many states now use to help stanch the loss of billions of dollars in unemployment insurance and pandemic assistance stolen each year by identity thieves. The privately-held company says it has approximately 64 million users, and gains roughly 145,000 new users each day.

Some 27 states already use ID.me to screen for identity thieves applying for benefits in someone else’s name, and now the IRS is joining them. The service requires applicants to supply a great deal more information than typically requested for online verification schemes, such as scans of their driver’s license or other government-issued ID, copies of utility or insurance bills, and details about their mobile phone service.

When an applicant doesn’t have one or more of the above — or if something about their application triggers potential fraud flags — ID.me may require a recorded, live video chat with the person applying for benefits.

Since my credentials at the IRS will soon no longer work, I opted to create an ID.me account and share the experience here. An important preface to this walk-through is that verifying one’s self with Id.me requires one to be able to take a live, video selfie — either with the camera on a mobile device or a webcam attached to a computer (your webcam must be able to open on the device you’re using to apply for the ID.me account).

Update, Feb.7, 2022, 10:21 p.m. ET: The IRS said today it is transitioning away from requiring face biometric data to identify taxpayers. Read more here: IRS To Ditch Biometric Requirement for Online Access.

Original story: Also, successfully verifying your identity with ID.me may require a significant investment of time, and quite a bit of patience. For example, stepping away from one part of the many-step application process for a little more than five minutes necessitated another login, and then the re-submission of documents I’d previously uploaded.

After entering an email address and picking a password, you are prompted to confirm your email address by clicking a link sent to that address. After confirmation, ID.me prompts users to choose a multi-factor authentication (MFA) option.

The MFA options range from a six-digit code sent via text message or phone call to code generator apps and FIDO Security Keys. ID.me even suggests using its own branded one-time code generating app, which can “push” a prompt to your mobile device for you to approve whenever you log in. I went with and would encourage others to use the strongest MFA option — a physical Security Key. For more on the benefits of using a Security Key for MFA, see this post.

When the MFA option is verified, the system produces a one-time backup code and suggests you save that in a safe place in case your chosen MFA option is unavailable the next time you try to use a service that requires ID.me.

Next, applicants are asked to upload images of their driver’s license, state-issued ID, or passport — either via a saved file or by scanning them with a webcam or mobile device.

If your documents get accepted, ID.me will then prompt you to take a live selfie with your mobile device or webcam. That took several attempts. When my computer’s camera produced an acceptable result, ID.me said it was comparing the output to the images on my driver’s license scans.

After this, ID.me requires the verification of your phone number, which means they will ask your mobile or landline provider to validate you are indeed an existing, paying customer who can be reached at that number. ID.me says it currently does not accept phone numbers tied to voice-over-IP services like Google Voice and Skype.

My application got stuck interminably at the “Confirming Your Phone” stage, which is somewhere near the middle of the entire verification process.

An email to ID.me’s support people generated a message with a link to complete the verification process via a live video chat. Unfortunately, clicking that link brought up prompts to re-upload all of the information I’d already supplied, and then some.

Some of the primary and secondary documents requested by ID.me.

For example, completing the process requires submitting at least two secondary identification documents, such as as a Social Security card, a birth certificate, health insurance card, W-2 form, electric bill, or financial institution statement.

After re-uploading all of this information, ID.me’s system prompted me to “Please stay on this screen to join video call.” However, the estimated wait time when that message first popped up said “3 hours and 27 minutes.”

I appreciate that ID.me’s system relies on real human beings seeking to interview applicants in real-time, and that not all of those representatives can be expected to handle all of these immediately. And I get that slowing things down is an important part of defeating identity fraudsters who are seeking to exploit automated identity verification systems that largely rely on static data about consumers.

That said, I started this “Meet an agent” process at around 9:30 in the evening, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to staying up until midnight to complete it. But not long after the message about waiting 3 hours came up, I got a phone call from an ID.me technician who was CC’d on my original email to ID.me’s founder. Against my repeated protests that I wanted to wait my turn like everyone else, he said he would handle the process himself.

Sure enough, a minute later I was connected with the ID.me support person, who finished the verification in a video phone call. That took about one minute. But for anyone who fails the automated signup, count on spending several hours getting verified.

When my application was finally approved, I headed back to irs.gov and proceeded to log in with my new ID.me account. After granting the IRS access to the personal data I’d shared with ID.me, I was looking at my most recent tax data on the IRS website.

I was somewhat concerned that my ID verification might fail because I have a security freeze on my credit file with the three major consumer credit bureaus. But at no time during my application process did ID.me even mention the need to lift or thaw that security freeze to complete the authentication process.

The IRS previously relied upon Equifax for its identity proofing process, and even then anyone with frozen credit files had to lift the freeze to make it through the IRS’s legacy authentication system. For several years, the result of that reliance was that ID thieves massively abused the IRS’s own website to impersonate taxpayers, view their confidential tax records, and ultimately obtain fraudulent tax refunds in their names.

The IRS canceled its “taxpayer identity” contract with Equifax in October 2017, after the credit bureau disclosed that a failure to patch a four-month-old zero-day security flaw led to the theft of Social Security numbers and personal and financial information on 148 million Americans.

Perhaps in light of that 2017 megabreach, many readers will be rightfully concerned about being forced to provide so much sensitive information to a relatively unknown private company. KrebsOnSecurity spoke with ID.me founder and CEO Blake Hall in last year’s story, How $100 Million in Jobless Claims Went to Inmates. I asked Hall what ID.me does to secure all this sensitive information it collects, which would no doubt serve as an enticing target for hackers and identity thieves.

Hall said ID.me is certified against the NIST 800-63-3 digital identity guidelines, employs multiple layers of security, and fully segregates static consumer data tied to a validated identity from a token used to represent that identity.

“We take a defense-in-depth approach, with partitioned networks, and use very sophisticated encryption scheme so that when and if there is a breach, this stuff is firewalled,” Hall said. “You’d have to compromise the tokens at scale and not just the database. We encrypt all that stuff down to the file level with keys that rotate and expire every 24 hours. And once we’ve verified you we don’t need that data about you on an ongoing basis.”

ID.me’s privacy policy states that if you sign up for ID.me “in connection with legal identity verification or a government agency we will not use your verification information for any type of marketing or promotional purposes.”

Signing up at ID.me requires users to approve a biometric data policy that states the company will not sell, lease, or trade your biometric data to any third parties or seek to derive any profit from that information. ID.me says users can delete their biometric data at any time, but there was no apparent option to do so when I logged straight into my new account at ID.me.

When I asked the support technician who conducted the video interview to remove my biometric data, he sent me a link to a process for deleting one’s ID.me account. So, it seems that removing one’s data from ID.me post-verification equals deleting one’s account, and potentially having to re-register at some point in the future.

Over the years, I’ve tried to stress the importance of creating accounts online tied to your various identity, financial and communications services before identity thieves do it for you. But all of those places where you should “Plant Your Flag” conduct identity verification in an automated fashion, using entirely static data points about consumers that have been breached many times over (SSNs, DoBs, etc).

Love it or hate it, ID.me is likely to become one of those places where Americans need to plant their flag and mark their territory, if for no other reason than it will probably be needed at some point to manage your relationship with the federal government and/or your state. And given the potential time investment needed to successfully create an ID.me account, it might be a good idea to do that before you’re forced to do so at the last minute (such as waiting until the eleventh hour to pay your quarterly or annual estimated taxes).

If you’ve visited the sign-in page at the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) lately, you’ll notice that on or around Sept. 18, 2021 the agency stopped allowing new accounts to be created with only a username and password. Anyone seeking to create an account at the SSA is now steered toward either ID.me or Login.gov, a single sign-on solution for U.S. government websites.

Crime Shop Sells Hacked Logins to Other Crime Shops

21 January 2022 at 17:11

Up for the “Most Meta Cybercrime Offering” award this year is Accountz Club, a new cybercrime store that sells access to purloined accounts at services built for cybercriminals, including shops peddling stolen payment cards and identities, spamming tools, email and phone bombing services, and those selling authentication cookies for a slew of popular websites.

Criminals ripping off other crooks is a constant theme in the cybercrime underworld; Accountz Club’s slogan  — “the best autoshop for your favorite shops’ accounts” — just normalizes this activity by making logins stolen from users of various cybercrime shops for sale at a fraction of their account balances.

The site says it sells “cracked” accounts, or those that used passwords which could be easily guessed or enumerated by automated tools. All of the credentials being sold by Accountz provide access to services that in turn sell access to stolen information or hijacked property, as in the case of “bot shops” that resell access to infected computers.

One example is Genesis Market, where customers can search for stolen credentials and authentication cookies from a broad range of popular online destinations. Genesis even offers a custom-made web browser where you can load authentication cookies from botted PCs and waltz right into the account without having to enter a username or password or mess with multi-factor authentication.

Accountz is currently selling four different Genesis logins for about 40-50 percent of their unspent balances. Genesis mostly gets its inventory of botted computers and stolen logins from resellers who specialize in deploying infostealer malware via email and booby-trapped websites. Likewise, it appears Accountz also derives much of its stock from a handful of resellers, who presumably are the same ones doing the cybercrime service account cracking.

The Genesis bot shop.

In essence, Accountz customers are paying for illicit access to cybercrime services that sell access to compromised resources that can be abused for cybercrime. That’s seriously meta.

Accountz says its inventory is low right now but that it expects to offer a great deal more stock in the coming days. I don’t doubt that’s true, and it’s somewhat remarkable that services like this aren’t more common: From reporting my “Breadcrumbs” series on prominent cybercrime actors, it’s clear that a great many cybercriminals will use the same username and password across multiple services online.

What’s more, relatively few cybercrime shops online offer their users any sort of multi-factor authentication. That’s probably because so few customers supply their real contact information when they sign up. As a result, it is often far easier for customers to simply create a new account than it is to regain control over a hacked one, or to change a forgotten password. On top of that, most shops have only rudimentary tools for blocking automated login attempts and password cracking activity.

It will be interesting to see whether any of the cybercrime shops most heavily represented in the logins for sale at Accountz start to push back. After all, draining customer account balances and locking out users is likely to increase customer support costs for these shops, lower customer satisfaction, and perhaps even damage their reputations on the crime forums where they peddle their wares.

Oh, the horror.

Scary Fraud Ensues When ID Theft & Usury Collide

25 January 2022 at 19:48

What’s worse than finding out that identity thieves took out a 546 percent interest payday loan in your name? How about a 900 percent interest loan? Or how about not learning of the fraudulent loan until it gets handed off to collection agents? One reader’s nightmare experience spotlights what can happen when ID thieves and hackers start targeting online payday lenders.

The reader who shared this story (and copious documentation to go with it) asked to have his real name omitted to avoid encouraging further attacks against his identity. So we’ll just call him “Jim.” Last May, someone applied for some type of loan in Jim’s name. The request was likely sent to an online portal that takes the borrower’s loan application details and shares them with multiple prospective lenders, because Jim said over the next few days he received dozens of emails and calls from lenders wanting to approve him for a loan.

Many of these lenders were eager to give Jim money because they were charging exorbitant 500-900 percent interest rates for their loans. But Jim has long had a security freeze on his credit file with the three major consumer credit reporting bureaus, and none of the lenders seemed willing to proceed without at least a peek at his credit history.

Among the companies that checked to see if Jim still wanted that loan he never applied for last May was Mountain Summit Financial (MSF), a lending institution owned by a Native American tribe in California called the Habematelol Pomo of Upper Lake.

Jim told MSF and others who called or emailed that identity thieves had applied for the funds using his name and information; that he would never take out a payday loan; and would they please remove his information from their database? Jim says MSF assured him it would, and the loan was never issued.

Jim spent months sorting out that mess with MSF and other potential lenders, but after a while the inquiries died down. Then on Nov. 27 — Thanksgiving Day weekend — Jim got a series of rapid-fire emails from MSF saying they’ve received his loan application, that they’d approved it, and that the funds requested were now available at the bank account specified in his MSF profile.

Curiously, the fraudsters had taken out a loan in Jim’s name with MSF using his real email address — the same email address the fraudsters had used to impersonate him to MSF back in May 2021. Although he didn’t technically have an account with MSF, their authentication system is based on email addresses, so Jim requested that a password reset link be sent to his email address. That worked, and once inside the account Jim could see more about the loan details:

The terms of the unauthorized loan in Jim’s name from MSF.

Take a look at that 546.56 percent interest rate and finance charges listed in this $1,000 loan. If you pay this loan off in a year at the suggested bi-weekly payment amounts, you will have paid $3,903.57 for that $1,000.

Jim contacted MSF as soon as they opened the following week and found out the money had already been dispersed to a Bank of America account Jim didn’t recognize. MSF had Jim fill out an affidavit claiming the loan was the result of identity theft, which necessitated filing a report with the local police and a number of other steps. Jim said numerous calls to Bank of America’s fraud team went nowhere because they refused to discuss an account that was not in his name.

Jim said MSF ultimately agreed that the loan wasn’t legitimate, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t tell him how his information got pushed through to a loan — even though MSF was never able to pull his credit file.

Then in mid-January, Jim heard from MSF via snail mail that they’d discovered a data breach.

“We believe the outsider may have had an opportunity to access the accounts of certain customers, including your account, at which point they would be able to view personal information pertaining to that customer and potentially obtain an unauthorized loan using the customer’s credentials,” MSF said.

MSF said the personal information involved in this incident may have included name, date of birth, government-issued identification numbers (e.g., SSN or DLN), bank account number and routing number, home address, email address, phone number and other general loan information.

A portion of the Jan. 14, 2022 breach notification letter from tribal lender Mountain Summit Financial.

Nevermind that his information was only in MSF’s system because of an earlier attempt by ID thieves: The intruders were able to update his existing (never-deleted) record with new banking information and then push the application through MSF’s systems.

“MSF was the target of a suspected third-party attack,” the company said, noting that it was working with the FBI, the California Sheriff’s Office, and the Tribal Commission for Lake County, Calif.  “Ultimately, MSF confirmed that these trends were part of an attack that originated outside of the company.”

MSF has not responded to questions about the aforementioned third party or parties that may be involved. But it is possible that other tribal lenders could have been affected: Jim said that not long after the phony MSF payday loan was pushed through, he received at least three inquiries in rapid succession from other lenders who were all of a sudden interested in offering him a loan.

In a statement sent to KrebsOnSecurity, MSF said it was “the victim of a malicious attack that originated outside of the company, by unknown perpetrators.”

“As soon as the issue was uncovered, the company initiated cybersecurity incident response measures to protect and secure its information; and notified law enforcement and regulators,” MSF wrote. “Additionally, the company has notified individuals whose personal identifiable information may have been impacted by this crime and is actively working with law enforcement in its investigation. As this is an ongoing criminal investigation, we can make no additional comment at this time.”

According to the Native American Financial Services Association (NAFSA), a trade group in Washington, D.C. representing tribal lenders, the short-term installment loan products offered by NAFSA members are not payday loans but rather “installment loans” — which are amortized, have a definite loan term, and require payments that go toward not just interest, but that also pay down the loan principal.

NAFSA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Nearly all U.S. states have usury laws that limit the amount of interest a company can charge on a loan, but those limits traditionally haven’t applied to tribal lenders.

Leslie Bailey is a staff attorney at Public Justice, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization in Oakland, Calif. Bailey says an increasing number of online payday lenders have sought affiliations with Native American tribes in an effort to take advantage of the tribes’ special legal status as sovereign nations.

“The reason is clear: Genuine tribal businesses are entitled to ‘tribal immunity,’ meaning they can’t be sued,” Bailey wrote in a blog post. “If a payday lender can shield itself with tribal immunity, it can keep making loans with illegally-high interest rates without being held accountable for breaking state usury laws.”

Bailey said in one common type of arrangement, the lender provides the necessary capital, expertise, staff, technology, and corporate structure to run the lending business and keeps most of the profits. In exchange for a small percent of the revenue (usually 1-2%), the tribe agrees to help draw up paperwork designating the tribe as the owner and operator of the lending business.

“Then, if the lender is sued in court by a state agency or a group of cheated borrowers, the lender relies on this paperwork to claim it is entitled to immunity as if it were itself a tribe,” Bailey wrote. “This type of arrangement — sometimes called ‘rent-a-tribe’ — worked well for lenders for a while, because many courts took the corporate documents at face value rather than peering behind the curtain at who’s really getting the money and how the business is actually run. But if recent events are any indication, legal landscape is shifting towards increased accountability and transparency.”

In 2017, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued four tribal online payday lenders in federal court — including Mountain Summit Financial — for allegedly deceiving consumers and collecting debt that was not legally owed in many states. All four companies are owned by the Habematolel Pomo of Upper Lake.

The CFPB later dropped that inquiry. But a class action lawsuit (PDF) against those same four lenders is proceeding in Virginia, where a group of plaintiffs have alleged the defendants violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Virginia usury laws by charging interest rates between 544 and 920 percent.

According to Buckley LLP, a financial services law firm based in Washington, D.C., a district court dismissed the RICO claims but denied the defense’s motion to compel arbitration and dismiss the case, ruling that the arbitration provision was unenforceable as a prospective waiver of the borrowers’ federal rights and that the defendants could not claim tribal sovereign immunity. The district court also “held the loan agreements’ choice of tribal law unenforceable as a violation of Virginia’s strong public policy against unregulated lending of usurious loans.”

Buckley notes that on Nov. 16, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the district court ruling, concluding that the arbitration clauses in the loan agreements “impermissibly force borrowers to waive their federal substantive rights under federal consumer protection laws, and contained an unenforceable tribal choice-of-law provision because Virginia law caps general interest rates at 12 percent.”

Jim said he learned of the Thanksgiving weekend MSF loan only because the hackers apparently figured it was easier to push through loans using existing MSF customer account information than it was to alter anything in the records other than the bank account for receiving the funds.

But had the hackers changed the email address, Jim might have first found out about the loan when the collection agencies came calling. And by then, his exorbitant loan would be in default and racking up some wicked late charges.

Jim says he’s still hopping mad at MSF, and these days he’s just waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“They issued this loan in my name without verification and without even checking my credit at all, even though they were already on notice that they shouldn’t have been dealing with me from the May incident,” Jim said. “I still feel like I’m going to get that call at some point from a collection agency asking why I haven’t been making payments on some installment loan I never asked for.”

Who Wrote the ALPHV/BlackCat Ransomware Strain?

28 January 2022 at 13:18

In December 2021, researchers discovered a new ransomware-as-a-service named ALPHV (a.k.a. “BlackCat“), considered to be the first professional cybercrime group to create and use a ransomware strain written in the Rust programming language. In this post, we’ll explore some of the clues left behind by a developer who was reputedly hired to code the ransomware variant.

Image: Varonis.

According to an analysis released this week by Varonis, ALPHV is actively recruiting operators from several ransomware organizations — including REvil, BlackMatter and DarkSide — and is offering affiliates up to 90 percent of any ransom paid by a victim organization.

“The group’s leak site, active since early December 2021, has named over twenty victim organizations as of late January 2022, though the total number of victims, including those that have paid a ransom to avoid exposure, is likely greater,” Varonis’s Jason Hill wrote.

One concern about more malware shifting to Rust is that it is considered a much more secure programming language compared to C and C++, writes Catalin Cimpanu for The Record. The upshot? Security defenders are constantly looking for coding weaknesses in many ransomware strains, and if more start moving to Rust it could become more difficult to find those soft spots.

Researchers at Recorded Future say they believe the ALPHV/BlackCat author was previously involved with the infamous REvil ransomware cartel in some capacity. Earlier this month the Russian government announced that at the United States’ request it arrested 14 individuals in Russia thought to be REvil operators.

Still, REvil rolls on despite these actions, according to Paul Roberts at ReversingLabs. “The recent arrests have NOT led to a noticeable change in detections of REvil malicious files,” Roberts wrote. “In fact, detections of files and other software modules associated with the REvil ransomware increased modestly in the week following the arrests by Russia’s FSB intelligence service.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has a standing $10 million reward for information leading to the identification or location of any individuals holding key leadership positions in REvil.


A confidential source recently had a private conversation with a support representative who fields questions and inquiries on several cybercrime forums on behalf of a large and popular ransomware affiliate program. The affiliate rep confirmed that a coder for ALPHV was known by the handle “Binrs” on multiple Russian-language forums.

On the cybercrime forum RAMP, the user Binrs says they are a Rust developer who’s been coding for 6 years. “My stack is Rust, nodejs, php, golang,” Binrs said in an introductory post, in which they claim to be fluent in English. Binrs then signs the post with their identification number for ToX, a peer-to-peer instant messaging service.

That same ToX ID was claimed by a user called “smiseo” on the Russian forum BHF, in which smiseo advertises “clipper” malware written in Rust that swaps in the attacker’s bitcoin address when the victim copies a cryptocurrency address to their computer’s temporary clipboard.

The nickname “YBCatadvertised that same ToX ID on Carder[.]uk, where this user claimed ownership over the Telegram account @CookieDays, and said they could be hired to do software and bot development “of any level of complexity.” YBCat mostly sold “installs,” offering paying customers to ability to load malware of their choice on thousands of hacked computers simultaneously.

There is also an active user named Binrs on the Russian crime forum wwh-club[.]co who says they’re a Rust coder who can be reached at the @CookieDays Telegram account.

On the Russian forum Lolzteam, a member with the username “DuckerMan” uses the @CookieDays Telegram account in his signature. In one thread, DuckerMan promotes an affiliate program called CookieDays that lets people make money by getting others to install cryptomining programs that are infected with malware. In another thread, DuckerMan is selling a different clipboard hijacking program called Chloe Clipper.

The CookieDays moneymaking program.

According to threat intelligence firm Flashpoint, the Telegram user DuckerMan employed another alias — Sergey Duck. These accounts were most active in the Telegram channels “Bank Accounts Selling,” “Malware developers community,” and “Raidforums,” a popular English-language cybercrime forum.


The GitHub account for a Sergey DuckerMan lists dozens of code repositories this user has posted online over the years. The majority of these projects were written in Rust, and the rest in PHP, Golang and Nodejs — the same coding languages specified by Binrs on RAMP. The Sergey DuckerMan GitHub account also says it is associated with the “DuckerMan” account on Telegram.

Sergey DuckerMan’s GitHub profile.

Sergey DuckerMan has left many accolades for other programmers on GitHub — 460 to be exact. In June 2020, for example, DuckerMan gave a star to a proof-of-concept ransomware strain written in Rust.

Sergey DuckerMan’s Github profile says their social media account at Vkontakte (Russian version of Facebook/Meta) is vk.com/duckermanit. That profile is restricted to friends-only, but states that it belongs to a Sergey Pechnikov from Shuya, Russia.

A look at the Duckermanit VKontakte profile in Archive.org shows that until recently it bore a different name: Sergey Kryakov. The current profile image on the Pechnikov account shows a young man standing closely next to a young woman.

KrebsOnSecurity reached out to Pechnikov in transliterated Russian via the instant message feature built into VKontakte.

“I’ve heard about ALPHV,” Pechnikov replied in English. “It sounds really cool and I’m glad that Rust becomes more and more popular, even in malware sphere. But I don’t have any connections with ransomware at all.”

I began explaining the clues that led to his VK account, and how a key cybercriminal actor in the ransomware space had confirmed that Binrs was a core developer for the ALPHV ransomware.

“Binrs isn’t even a programmer,” Pechnikov interjected. “He/she can’t be a DuckerMan. I am DuckerMan.”

BK: Right. Well, according to Flashpoint, the Telegram user DuckerMan also used the alias Sergey Duck.

Sergey: Yep, that’s me.

BK: So you can see already how I arrived at your profile?

Sergey: Yep, you’re a really good investigator.

BK: I noticed this profile used to have a different name attached to it. A ‘Sergey Kryakov.’

Sergey: It was my old surname. But I hated it so much I changed it.

BK: What did you mean Binrs isn’t even a programmer?

Sergey: I haven’t found any [of] his accounts on sites like GitHub/stack overflow. I’m not sure, does binrs sell Rust Clipper?

BK: So you know his work! I take it that despite all of this, you maintain you are not involved in coding malware?

Sergey: Well, no, but I have some “connections” with these guys. Speaking about Binrs, I’ve been researching his personality since October too.

BK: Interesting. What made you want to research his personality? Also, please help me understand what you mean by “connections.”

Sergey: I think he is actually a group of some people. I’ve written him on telegram from different accounts, and his way of speaking is different. Maybe some of them somehow tied with ALPHV. But on forums (I’ve checked only XSS and Exploit) his ways of speaking are the same.

BK: …..

Sergey: I don’t know how to explain this. By the way, binrs now is really silent, I think he’s lying low. Well, this is all I know.

No doubt he is. I enjoyed speaking with Sergey, but I also had difficulty believing most of what he said. Also, I was bothered that Sergey hadn’t exactly disputed the logic behind the clues that led to his VK account. In fact, he’d stated several times that he was impressed with the investigation.

In many previous Breadcrumbs stories, it is common at this point for the interviewee to claim they were being set up or framed. But Sergey never even floated the idea.

I asked Sergey what might explain all these connections if he wasn’t somehow involved in coding malicious software. His answer, our final exchange, was again equivocal.

“Well, all I have is code on my github,” he replied. “So it can be used [by] anyone, but I don’t think my projects suit for malwares.”

Update, Jan 29, 4:26 p.m. ET: Sergey Duckerman has deleted their GitHub account. Meanwhile, the user Binrs has been (preemptively?) banning their profile from multiple cybercrime forums where they were previously active.

Fake Investor John Bernard Sinks Norwegian Green Shipping Dreams

29 January 2022 at 18:05

Several articles here have delved into the history of John Bernard, the pseudonym used by a fake billionaire technology investor who tricked dozens of startups into giving him tens of millions of dollars. Bernard’s latest victim — a Norwegian company hoping to build a fleet of environmentally friendly shipping vessels — is now embroiled in a lawsuit over a deal gone bad, in which Bernard falsely claimed to have secured $100 million from six other wealthy investors, including the founder of Uber and the artist Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd.

John Bernard is a pseudonym used by John Clifton Davies, a convicted fraudster from the United Kingdom who is currently a fugitive from justice and residing in Ukraine. Davies’ Bernard persona has fleeced dozens of technology companies out of an estimated $30 million with the promise of lucrative investments.

For several years until reinventing himself again quite recently, Bernard pretended to be a billionaire Swiss investor who made his fortunes in the dot-com boom 20 years ago and who was seeking investment opportunities. Bernard generated a stream of victims by offering extraordinarily generous finder’s fees for investment brokers who helped him secure new clients. But those brokers would eventually get stiffed as well because Bernard’s company would never consummate a deal.

In case after case, Bernard would promise to invest millions in tech startups, and then insist that companies pay tens of thousands of dollars worth of due diligence fees up front. However, the due diligence company he insisted on using — another Swiss firm called Inside Knowledge — also was secretly owned by Bernard, who would invariably pull out of the deal after receiving the due diligence money.

The scam artist John Bernard (left) in a recent Zoom call, and a photo of John Clifton Davies from 2015.

But Bernard would adopt a slightly different approach to stealing from Freidig Shipping Ltd., a Norwegian company formed in 2017 that was seeking the equivalent of USD $100 million investment to bring its green fleet of 30 new offshore service vessels to fruition.

Journalists Harald Vanvik and Harald Berglihn from the Norwegian Business Daily write that through investment advisors in London, Bernard was introduced to Nils-Odd Tønnevold, co-founder of Freidig Shipping and an investment advisor with 20 years of experience.

“Both Bernard and Inside Knowledge appeared to be professionals,” the reporters wrote in a story that’s behind a paywall. “Bernard appeared to be experienced. He knew a lot about start-ups and got into things quickly. Credible and reliable was the impression of him, said Tønnevold.”

“Bernard eventually took on the role of principal investor, claiming he had six other wealthy investors on the team, including artist Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known as The Weeknd, Uber founder Garrett Camp and Norilsk Nickel owner Russian Vladimir Potanin,” the Norwegian journalists wrote. “These committed to contribute $99.25 million to Freidig.”

So in this case Bernard conveniently claimed he’d come up with almost all of the investment, which came $750,000 short of the goal. Another investor, a Belgian named Guy Devos, contributed the remaining $750,000.

But by the spring of 2020, it was clear that Devos and others involved in the shipping project had been tricked, and that all the money which had been paid to Bernard — an estimated NOK 15 million (~USD $1.67 million) — had been lost. By that time the two co-founders and their families had borrowed USD $1.5 million, and had transferred the funds to Inside Knowledge.

“Further investigations indicated that Bernard was in fact a convicted and wanted Briton based in the Ukrainian capital Kiev,” the Norwegian Business Daily reported. “Guy Devos has sued Nils-Odd Tønnevold with a claim of 750,000 dollars because he believes Tønnevold has a responsibility for the money being transferred to Bernard. Tønnevold rejects this.”

Bernard’s scam is genius because he never approaches investors directly; rather, investors are incentivized to put his portfolio in front of tech firms seeking financial backing. And because the best cons begin as an idea or possibility planted in the target’s mind.

What’s remarkable about Freidig Shipping’s fleecing is that we heard about it at all. In the first of this now five-part series, we heard from Jason Kane, an attorney who focuses on investment fraud. Kane said companies bilked by small-time investment schemes rarely pursue legal action, mainly because the legal fees involved can quickly surpass the losses. What’s more, most victims will likely be too ashamed to come forward.

“These are cases where you might win but you’ll never collect any money,” Kane said. “This seems like an investment twist on those fairly simple scams we all can’t believe people fall for, but as scams go this one is pretty good. Do this a few times a year and you can make a decent living and no one is really going to come after you.”

It does appear that Bernard took advantage of a stunning lack of due diligence by the Freidig co-founders. In this May 2020 post on Twitter — well after their funds had already been transferred to Bernard — Nils-Odd Tønnevold can be seen asking Uber co-founder Garrett Camp if he indeed had agreed to invest in his company:

John Clifton Davies, a.k.a. John Bernard, Jonathan Bibi, John Cavendish, is a U.K. man who absconded from justice before being convicted on multiple counts of fraud in 2015. Prior to his conviction, Davies served 16 months in jail on suspicion of murdering his third wife on their honeymoon in India. The U.K. authorities later dropped the murder charges for lack of evidence. Davies currently resides with his fourth wife in or near Kyiv, Ukraine.

If you liked this story, check out my previous reporting on John Bernard/Davies:

Due Diligence That Money Can’t Buy

Who is Tech Investor John Bernard?

Promising Infusions of Cash, Fake Investor John Bernard Walked Away With $30 Million

Investment Scammer John Davies Reinvents Himself?

How Phishers Are Slinking Their Links Into LinkedIn

3 February 2022 at 18:49

If you received a link to LinkedIn.com via email, SMS or instant message, would you click it? Spammers, phishers and other ne’er-do-wells are hoping you will, because they’ve long taken advantage of a marketing feature on the business networking site which lets them create a LinkedIn.com link that bounces your browser to other websites, such as phishing pages that mimic top online brands (but chiefly Linkedin’s parent firm Microsoft).

At issue is a “redirect” feature available to businesses that chose to market through LinkedIn.com. The LinkedIn redirect links allow customers to track the performance of ad campaigns, while promoting off-site resources. These links or “Slinks” all have a standard format: “https://www.linkedin.com/slink?code=” followed by a short alphanumeric variable.

Here’s the very first Slink created: http://www.linkedin.com/slink?code=1, which redirects to the homepage for LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

The trouble is, there’s little to stop criminals from leveraging newly registered or hacked LinkedIn business accounts to create their own ad campaigns using Slinks. Urlscan.io, a free service that provides detailed reports on any scanned URLs, also offers a historical look at suspicious links submitted by other users. This search via Urlscan reveals dozens of recent phishing attacks that have leveraged the Slinks feature.

Here’s one example from Jan. 31 that uses Linkedin.com links to redirect anyone who clicks to a site that spoofs Adobe, and then prompts users to log in to their Microsoft email account to view a shared document.

A recent phishing site that abused LinkedIn’s marketing redirect. Image: Urlscan.io.

Urlscan also found this phishing scam from Jan. 12 that uses Slinks to spoof the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Here’s a Feb. 3 example that leads to a phish targeting Amazon customers. This Nov. 26 sample from Urlscan shows a LinkedIn link redirecting to a Paypal phishing page.

Let me be clear that the activity described in this post is not new. Way back in 2016, security firm Fortinet blogged about LinkedIn’s redirect being used to promote phishing sites and online pharmacies. More recently in late 2021, Jeremy Fuchs of Avanan wrote that the use of a LinkedIn URL may mean that any profession — the market for LinkedIn — could click.

“Plus, more employees have access to billing and invoice information, meaning that a spray-and-pray campaign can be effective,” Fuchs wrote. “The idea is to create a link that contains a clean page, redirecting to a phishing page.”

In a statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity, Linkedin said it has “industry standard technologies in place for URL sharing and chained redirects that help us identify and prevent the spread of malware, phishing and spam.” LinkedIn also said it uses 3rd party services — such as Google Safe Browsing, Spamhaus, Microsoft, and others — to identify known-bad URLs.

KrebsOnSecurity couldn’t find any evidence of phishers recently using LinkedIn’s redirect to phish LinkedIn credentials, but that’s certainly not out of the question. In a less complex attack, an adversary could send an email appearing to be a connection request from LinkedIn that redirects through LinkedIn to a malicious or phishous site.

Also, malicious or phishous emails that leverage LinkedIn’s Slinks are unlikely to be blocked by anti-spam or anti-malware filters, because LinkedIn is widely considered a trusted domain, and the redirect obscures the link’s ultimate destination.

Linkedin’s parent company — Microsoft Corp — is by all accounts the most-phished brand on the Internet today. A report last year from Check Point found roughly 45 percent of all brand phishing attempts globally target Microsoft. Check Point said LinkedIn was the sixth most phished brand last year.

The best advice to sidestep phishing scams is to avoid clicking on links that arrive unbidden in emails, text messages and other mediums. Most phishing scams invoke a temporal element that warns of dire consequences should you fail to respond or act quickly. If you’re unsure whether the message is legitimate, take a deep breath and visit the site or service in question manually — ideally, using a browser bookmark to avoid potential typosquatting sites.

IRS To Ditch Biometric Requirement for Online Access

7 February 2022 at 20:56

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) said today it will be transitioning away from requiring biometric data from taxpayers who wish to access their records at the agency’s website. The reversal comes as privacy experts and lawmakers have been pushing the IRS and other federal agencies to find less intrusive methods for validating one’s identity with the U.S. government online.

Late last year, the login page for the IRS was updated with text advising that by the summer of 2022, the only way for taxpayers to access their records at irs.gov will be through ID.me, an online identity verification service that collects biometric data — such as live facial scans using a mobile device or webcam.

The IRS first announced its partnership with ID.me in November, but the press release received virtually no attention. On Jan. 19, KrebsOnSecurity published the story IRS Will Soon Require Selfies for Online Access, detailing a rocky experience signing up for IRS access via ID.me. That story immediately went viral, bringing this site an almost unprecedented amount of traffic. A tweet about it quickly garnered more than two million impressions.

It was clear most readers had no idea these new and more invasive requirements were being put in place at the IRS and other federal agencies (the Social Security Administration also is steering new signups to ID.me).

ID.me says it has approximately 64 million users, with 145,000 new users signing up each day. Still, the bulk of those users are people who have been forced to sign up with ID.me as a condition of receiving state or federal financial assistance, such as unemployment insurance, child tax credit payments, and pandemic assistance funds.

In the face of COVID, dozens of states collectively lost tens of billions of dollars at the hands of identity thieves impersonating out-of-work Americans seeking unemployment insurance. Some 30 states and 10 federal agencies now use ID.me to screen for ID thieves applying for benefits in someone else’s name.

But ID.me has been problematic for many legitimate applicants who saw benefits denied or delayed because they couldn’t complete ID.me’s verification process.  Critics charged the IRS’s plan would unfairly disadvantage people with disabilities or limited access to technology or Internet, and that facial recognition systems tend to be less accurate for people with darker skin.

Many readers were aghast that the IRS would ask people to hand over their biometric and personal data to a private company that begin in 2010 as a way to help veterans, teachers and other public servants qualify for retail discounts. These readers had reasonable questions: Who has (or will have) access to this data? Why should it be stored indefinitely (post-verification)? What happens if ID.me gets breached?

The Washington Post reported today that in a meeting with lawmakers, IRS officials said they were considering another identity verification option that wouldn’t use facial recognition. At the same time, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) challenged the Treasury Department and IRS to reconsider the biometric requirements.

In a statement published today, the IRS said it was transitioning away from using a third-party service for facial recognition to help authenticate people creating new online accounts.

“The transition will occur over the coming weeks in order to prevent larger disruptions to taxpayers during filing season,” the IRS said. “During the transition, the IRS will quickly develop and bring online an additional authentication process that does not involve facial recognition. The IRS will also continue to work with its cross-government partners to develop authentication methods that protect taxpayer data and ensure broad access to online tools.”

“The IRS takes taxpayer privacy and security seriously, and we understand the concerns that have been raised,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig wrote. “Everyone should feel comfortable with how their personal information is secured, and we are quickly pursuing short-term options that do not involve facial recognition.”

The statement further stressed that the transition announced today does not interfere with the taxpayer’s ability to file their return or pay taxes owed. “During this period, the IRS will continue to accept tax filings, and it has no other impact on the current tax season,” the IRS said. “People should continue to file their taxes as they normally would.”

It remains unclear what other service or method the IRS will use going forward to validate the identities of new account signups. Wyden and others have urged the IRS to use Login.gov, a single sign-on service that Congress required federal agencies to use in 2015.

“Login.gov is already used to access 200 websites run by 28 Federal agencies and over 40 million Americans have accounts,” Wyden wrote in a letter to the IRS today. “Unfortunately, login.gov has not yet reached its full potential, in part because many agencies have flouted the Congressional mandate that they use it, and because successive Administrations have failed to prioritize digital identity. The cost of this inaction has been billions of dollars in fraud, which has in turn fueled a black market for stolen personal data, and enabled companies like ID.me to commercialize what should be a core government service.”

Login.gov is run by the U.S. General Services Administration, which told The Post that it was “committed to not deploying facial recognition…or any other emerging technology for use with government benefits and services until a rigorous review has given us confidence that we can do so equitably and without causing harm to vulnerable populations.”

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, February 2022 Edition

8 February 2022 at 22:38

Microsoft today released software updates to plug security holes in its Windows operating systems and related software. This month’s relatively light patch batch is refreshingly bereft of any zero-day threats, or even scary critical vulnerabilities. But it does fix four dozen flaws, including several that Microsoft says will likely soon be exploited by malware or malcontents.

While none of the patches address bugs that earned Microsoft’s most dire “critical” rating, there are multiple “remote code execution” vulnerabilities that Redmond believes are ripe for exploitation. Among those is CVE-2022-22005, a weakness in Microsoft’s Sharepoint Server versions 2013-2019 that could be exploited by any authenticated user.

“The vulnerability does require an attacker to be authenticated in order to exploit it, which is likely why Microsoft only labeled it ‘Important,'” said Allan Liska, senior security architect at Recorded Future. “However, given the number of stolen credentials readily available on underground markets, getting authenticated could be trivial. Organizations that have public-facing SharePoint Servers should prioritize implementing this patch.”

Kevin Breen at Immersive Labs called attention to CVE-2022-21996, an elevation of privilege vulnerability in the core Windows component “Win32k.”

“In January we saw CVE-2022-21882, a vulnerability in Win32k that was being actively exploited in the wild, which prompted CISA to issue a directive to all federal agencies to mandate that patches be applied,” Breen said. “February sees more patches for the same style of vulnerability in this same component. It’s not clear from the release notes whether this is a brand new vulnerability or if it is related to the previous month’s update. Either way, we have seen attackers leverage this vulnerability so it’s safer to err on the side of caution and update this one quickly.”

Another elevation of privilege flaw CVE-2022-21989 — in the Windows Kernel — was the only vulnerability fixed this month that was publicly disclosed prior to today.

“Despite the lack of critical fixes, it’s worth remembering that attackers love to use elevation of privilege vulnerabilities, of which there are 18 this month,” said Greg Wiseman, product manager at Rapid7. “Remote code execution vulnerabilities are also important to patch, even if they may not be considered ‘wormable.’ In terms of prioritization, defenders should first focus on patching server systems.”

February’s Patch Tuesday is once again brought to you by Print Spooler, the Windows component responsible for handling printing jobs. Four of the bugs quashed in this release relate to our friend Mr. Print Spooler. In July 2021, Microsoft issued an emergency fix for a Print Spooler flaw dubbed “PrintNightmare” that was actively being exploited to remotely compromise Windows PCs. Redmond has been steadily spooling out patches for this service ever since.

One important item to note this week is that Microsoft announced it will start blocking Internet macros by default in Office. This is a big deal because malicious macros hidden in Office documents have become a huge source of intrusions for organizations, and they are often the initial vector for ransomware attacks.

As Andrew Cunningham writes for Ars Technica, under the new regime when files that use macros are downloaded from the Internet, those macros will now be disabled entirely by default. The change will also be enabled for all currently supported standalone versions of Office, including versions 2021, 2019, 2016, and 2013.

“Current versions of the software offer an alert banner on these kinds of files that can be clicked through, but the new version of the banner offers no way to enable the macros,” Cunningham wrote. “The change will be previewed starting in April before being rolled out to all users of the continuously updated Microsoft 365 version of Office starting in June.”

January’s patch release was a tad heavier and rockier than most, with Microsoft forced to re-issue several patches to address unexpected issues caused by the updates. Breen said while February’s comparatively light burden should give system administrators some breathing room, it shouldn’t be viewed as an excuse to skip updates.

“But it does reinforce how important it is to test patches in a staging environment or use a staggered rollout, and why monitoring for any adverse impacts should always be a key step in your patching policy,” Breen said.

For a complete rundown of all patches released by Microsoft today and indexed by severity and other metrics, check out the always-useful Patch Tuesday roundup from the SANS Internet Storm Center. And it’s not a bad idea to hold off updating for a few days until Microsoft works out any kinks in the updates: AskWoody.com usually has the lowdown on any patches that may be causing problems for Windows users.

As always, please consider backing up your system or at least your important documents and data before applying system updates. And if you run into any problems with these patches, please drop a note about it here in the comments.

Russian Govt. Continues Carding Shop Crackdown

10 February 2022 at 01:34

Russian authorities have arrested six men accused of operating some of the most active online bazaars for selling stolen payment card data. The crackdown — the second closure of major card fraud shops by Russian authorities in as many weeks — comes closely behind Russia’s arrest of 14 alleged affiliates of the REvil ransomware gang, and has many in the cybercrime underground asking who might be next.

Dept. K’s message for Trump’s Dumps users.

On Feb. 7 and 8, the domains for the carding shops Trump’s Dumps, Ferum Shop, Sky-Fraud and UAS were seized by Department K, a division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation that focuses on computer crimes. The websites for the carding stores were retrofitted with a message from Dept. K asking, “Which one of you is next?”

According to cyber intelligence analysts at Flashpoint, that same message was included in the website for UniCC, another major and venerated carding shop that was seized by Dept. K in January.

Around the same time Trump’s Dumps and the other three shops began displaying the Dept. K message, the Russian state-owned news outlet TASS moved a story naming six Russian men who were being charged with “the illegal circulation of means of payment.”

TASS reports the six detained include Denis Pachevsky, general director of Saratovfilm Film Company LLC; Alexander Kovalev, an individual entrepreneur; Artem Bystrykh, an employee of Transtekhkom LLC; Artem Zaitsev; an employee of Get-net LLC; and two unemployed workers, Vladislav Gilev and Yaroslav Solovyov.

None of the stories about the arrests tie the men to the four carding sites. But Flashpoint found that all of the domains seized by Dept. K. were registered and hosted through Zaitsev’s company — Get-net LLC.

“All four sites frequently advertised one another, which is generally atypical for two card marketplaces competing in the same space,” Flashpoint analysts wrote.

Stas Alforov is director of research for Gemini Advisory, a New York firm that monitors underground cybercrime markets. Alforov said it is most unusual for the Russians to go after carding sites that aren’t selling data stolen from Russian citizens.

“It’s not in their business to be taking down Russian card shops,” Alforov said. “Unless those shops were somehow selling data on Russian cardholders, which they weren’t.”

A carding shop that sold stolen credit cards and invoked 45’s likeness and name was among those taken down this week by Russian authorities.

Debuting in 2011, Ferum Shop is one of the oldest observed dark web marketplaces selling “card not present” data (customer payment records stolen from hacked online merchants), according to Gemini.

“Every year for the last 5 years, the marketplace has been a top 5 source of card not present records in terms of records posted for sale,” Gemini found. “In this time period, roughly 66% of Ferum Shop’s records have been from United States financial institutions. The remaining 34% have come from over 200 countries.”

In contrast, Trump’s Dumps focuses on selling card data stolen from hacked point-of-sale devices, and it benefited greatly from the January 2021 retirement of Joker’s Stash, which for years dwarfed most other carding shops by volume. Gemini found Trump’s Dumps gained roughly 40 percent market share after Joker’s closure, and that more than 87 percent of the payment card records it sells are from U.S. financial institutions.

“In the past 5 years, Ferum Shop and Trump’s Dumps have cumulatively added over 64 million compromised payment cards,” Alforov wrote. “Based on average demand for CP and CNP records and the median price of $10, the total revenue from these sales is estimated to be over $430 million. Due to the 20 to 30% commission that shops generally receive, the administrators of Ferum Shop and Trump’s Dumps likely generated between $86 and $129 million in profits from these card sales.”

The arrests of the six men comes less than two weeks after Russian law enforcement officials detained four suspected carders — including Andrey Sergeevich Novak, the reputed owner of the extremely popular and long-running UniCC carding shop.

In 2018, the U.S. Justice Department charged Novak and three dozen other defendants thought to be key members of “Infraud,” a huge cybercrime community online that prosecutors say cost merchants and consumers more than half a billion dollars.

Unicc shop, which sold stolen credit card data as well as Social Security numbers and other consumer information that can be used for identity theft. It was seized by Dept. K in January 2020.

Flashpoint said the recent arrests represent the first major actions against Russia-based cybercriminals since March 2020, when the FSB detained more than thirty members of an illicit carding operation, charging twenty-five of them with “illegal circulation of means of payment.”

Dumps, or card data stolen from compromised point-of-sale devices, have been declining in popularity among fraudsters for years as more financial institutions have issued more secure chip-based cards. In contrast, card-not-present data stolen from online stores continues to be in high demand, because it helps facilitate fraud at online retailers. Gemini says the supply of card-not-present data rose by 50 percent in 2021 versus 2020, fed largely by the success of Magecart e-skimmers that target vulnerabilities in e-commerce sites.

Alforov says while the carding shop closures are curiously timed, he doubts the supply of stolen card data is going to somehow shrink as a result. Rather, he said, some of the lower-tier card shops that were previously just resellers working with Trump’s Dumps and others are now suddenly ramping up inventory with their own new suppliers — very likely thanks to the same crooks who were selling cards to the six men arrested this week in Russia.

“What we’re seeing now is a lot of those reseller shops are coming to the market and saying, ‘We don’t have that order data we were getting from Ferum Shop but now have our own vendors,'” Alforov said. “Some of the lesser tier shops are starting to move up the food chain.”

Wazawaka Goes Waka Waka

14 February 2022 at 18:22

In January, KrebsOnSecurity examined clues left behind by “Wazawaka,” the hacker handle chosen by a major ransomware criminal in the Russian-speaking cybercrime scene. Wazawaka has since “lost his mind” according to his erstwhile colleagues, creating a Twitter account to drop exploit code for a widely-used virtual private networking (VPN) appliance, and publishing bizarre selfie videos taunting security researchers and journalists.

Wazawaka, a.k.a. Mikhail P. Matveev, a.k.a. “Orange,” a.k.a. “Boriselcin,” showing off his missing ring finger.

In last month’s story, we explored clues that led from Wazawaka’s multitude of monikers, email addresses, and passwords to a 30-something father in Abakan, Russia named Mikhail Pavlovich Matveev. This post concerns itself with the other half of Wazawaka’s identities not mentioned in the first story, such as how Wazawaka also ran the Babuk ransomware affiliate program, and later became “Orange,” the founder of the ransomware-focused Dark Web forum known as “RAMP.”

The same day the initial profile on Wazawaka was published here, someone registered the Twitter account “@fuck_maze,” a possible reference to the now-defunct Maze Ransomware gang.

The background photo for the @fuck_maze profile included a logo that read “Waka Waka;” the bio for the account took a swipe at Dmitry Smilyanets, a researcher and blogger for The Record who was once part of a cybercrime group the Justice Department called the “largest known data breach conspiracy ever prosecuted.”

The @fuck_maze account messaged me a few times on Twitter, but largely stayed silent until Jan. 25, when it tweeted three videos of a man who appeared identical to Matveev’s social media profile on Vkontakte (the Russian version of Facebook). The man seemed to be slurring his words quite a bit, and started by hurling obscenities at Smilyanets, journalist Catalin Cimpanu (also at The Record), and a security researcher from Cisco Talos.

At the beginning of the videos, Matveev holds up his left hand to demonstrate that his ring finger is missing. This he smugly presents as evidence that he is indeed Wazawaka.

The story goes that Wazwaka at one point made a bet wherein he wagered his finger, and upon losing the bet severed it himself. It’s unclear if that is the real story about how Wazawaka lost the ring finger on his left hand; his remaining fingers appear oddly crooked.

“Hello Brian Krebs! You did a really great job actually, really well, fucking great — it’s great that journalism works so well in the US,” Matveev said in the video. “By the way, it is my voice in the background, I just love myself a lot.”

In one of his three videos, Wazawaka says he’s going to release exploit code for a security vulnerability. Later that same day, the @fuck_maze account posted a link to a Pastebin-like site that included working exploit code for a recently patched security hole in SonicWall VPN appliances (CVE-2021-20028).

When KrebsOnSecurity first started researching Wazawaka in 2021, it appeared this individual also used two other important nicknames on the Russian-speaking crime forums. One was Boriselcin, a particularly talkative and brash personality who was simultaneously the public persona of Babuk, a ransomware affiliate program that surfaced on New Year’s Eve 2020.

The other handle that appeared tied to Wazawaka was “Orange,” the founder of the RAMP ransomware forum. I just couldn’t convincingly connect those two identities with Wazawaka using the information available at the time. This post is an attempt to remedy that.

On Aug. 26, 2020, a new user named Biba99 registered on the English language cybercrime forum RaidForums. But the Biba99 account didn’t post to RaidForums until Dec. 31, 2020, when they announced the creation of the Babuk ransomware affiliate program.

On January 1, 2021, a new user “Babuk” registered on the crime forum Verified, using the email address [email protected], and the instant message address “[email protected]” “We run an affiliate program,” Babuk explained in their introductory post on Verified.

A variety of clues suggest Boriselcin was the individual acting as spokesperson for Babuk. Boriselcin talked openly on the forums about working with Babuk, and fought with other members of the ransomware gang about publishing access to data stolen from victim organizations.

According to analysts at cyber intelligence firm Flashpoint, between January and the end of March 2021, Babuk continued to post databases stolen from companies that refused to pay a ransom, but they posted the leaks to both their victim shaming blog and to multiple cybercrime forums, an unusual approach.

This matches the ethos and activity of Wazawaka’s posts on the crime forums over the past two years. As I wrote in January:

“Wazawaka seems to have adopted the uniquely communitarian view that when organizations being held for ransom decline to cooperate or pay up, any data stolen from the victim should be published on the Russian cybercrime forums for all to plunder — not privately sold to the highest bidder. In thread after thread on the crime forum XSS, Wazawaka’s alias ‘Uhodiransomwar’ can be seen posting download links to databases from companies that have refused to negotiate after five days.”

Around Apr. 27, 2021, Babuk hacked the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, demanding $4 million in virtual currency in exchange for a promise not to publish the police department’s internal data.

Flashpoint says that on April 30, Babuk announced they were shuttering the affiliate program and its encryption services, and that they would now focus on data theft and extortion instead. On May 3, the group posted two additional victims of their data theft enterprise, showing they are still in operation.

On May 11, 2021, Babuk declared negotiations with the MPD had reached an impasse, and leaked 250 gigabytes worth of MPD data.

On May 14, 2021, Boriselcin announced on XSS his intention to post a writeup on how they hacked the DC Police (Boriselcin claims it was via the organization’s VPN).

On May 17, Babuk posted about an upcoming new ransomware leaks site that will serve as a “huge platform for independent leaks,” — i.e., a community that would publish data stolen by no-name ransomware groups that don’t already have their own leaks/victim shaming platforms.

On May 31, 2021, Babuk’s website began redirecting to Payload[.]bin. On June 23, 2021, Biba99 posted to RaidForums saying he’s willing to buy zero-day vulnerabilities in corporate VPN products. Biba99 posts his unique user ID for Tox, a peer-to-peer instant messaging service.

On July 13, 2021, Payload[.]bin was renamed to RAMP, which according to Orange stands for “Ransom Anon Market Place.” Flashpoint says RAMP was created “directly in response to several large Dark Web forums banning ransomware collectives on their site following the Colonial Pipeline attack by ransomware group ‘DarkSide.” [links added]

“Babuk noted that this new platform will not have rules or ‘bosses,'” Flashpoint observed in a report on the group. “This reaction distinguishes Babuk from other ransomware collectives, many of which changed their rules following the attack to attract less attention from law enforcement.”

The RAMP forum opening was announced by the user “TetyaSluha. That nickname soon switched to “Orange,” who appears to have registered on RAMP with the email address “[email protected]” Recall that this is the same email address used by the spokesperson for the Babuk ransomware gang — Boriselcin/Biba99.

In a post on RAMP Aug. 18, 2021, in which Orange is attempting to recruit penetration testers, he claimed the same Tox ID that Biba99 used on RaidForums.

On Aug. 22, Orange announced a new ransomware affiliate program called “Groove,” which claimed to be an aggressive, financially motivated criminal organization dealing in industrial espionage for the previous two years.

In November 2021, Groove’s blog disappeared, and Boriselcin posted a long article to the XSS crime forum explaining that Groove was little more than a pet project to mess with the media and security industries.

On Sept. 13, 2021, Boriselcin posted to XSS saying he would pay handsomely for a reliable, working exploit for CVE-2021-20028, the same exploit that @fuck_maze would later release to Twitter on Jan. 25, 2022.

Asked for comment on this research, cyber intelligence firm Intel 471 confirmed that its analysts reached the same conclusion.

“We identified the user as the Russian national Михаил Павлович Матвеев aka Mikhail Pavlovich Matveev, who was widely known in the underground community as the actor using the Wazawaka handle, a.k.a. Alfredpetr, andry1976, arestedByFbi, boriselcin, donaldo, ebanatv2, futurama, gotowork, m0sad, m1x, Ment0s, ment0s, Ment0s, Mixalen, mrbotnet, Orange, posholnarabotu, popalvprosak, TetyaSluha, uhodiransomwar, and 999,” Intel 471 wrote.

As usual, I put together a rough mind map on how all these data points indicate a connection between Wazawaka, Orange, and Boriselcin.

A mind map connecting Wazawaka to the RAMP forum administrator “Orange” and the founder of the Babuk ransomware gang.

As noted in January’s profile, Wazawaka has worked with at least two different ransomware affiliate programs, including LockBit. Wazawaka said LockBit had paid him roughly $500,000 in commissions for the six months leading up to September 2020.

Wazawaka also said he’d teamed up with DarkSide, the ransomware affiliate group responsible for the six-day outage at Colonial Pipeline last year that caused nationwide fuel shortages and price spikes. The U.S. Department of State has since offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any DarkSide affiliates.

Red Cross Hack Linked to Iranian Influence Operation?

16 February 2022 at 16:44

A network intrusion at the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) in January led to the theft of personal information on more than 500,000 people receiving assistance from the group. KrebsOnSecurity has learned that the email address used by a cybercriminal actor who offered to sell the stolen ICRC data also was used to register multiple domain names the FBI says are tied to a sprawling media influence operation originating from Iran.

On Jan. 19, the ICRC disclosed the compromise of servers hosting the personal information of more than 500,000 people receiving services from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The ICRC said the hacked servers contained data relating to the organization’s Restoring Family Links services, which works to reconnect people separated by war, violence, migration and other causes.

The same day the ICRC went public with its breach, someone using the nickname “Sheriff” on the English-language cybercrime forum RaidForums advertised the sale of data from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Sheriff’s sales thread suggests the ICRC was asked to pay a ransom to guarantee the data wouldn’t be leaked or sold online.

“Mr. Mardini, your words have been heard,” Sheriff wrote, posting a link to the Twitter profile of ICRC General Director Robert Mardini and urging forum members to tell him to check his email. “Check your email and send a figure you can pay.”

RaidForums member “unindicted” aka Sheriff selling access to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement data. Image: Ke-la.com

In their online statement about the hack (updated on Feb. 7) the ICRC said it had not had any contact with the hackers, and no ransom demand had been made.

“In line with our standing practice to engage with any actor who can facilitate or impede our humanitarian work, we are willing to communicate directly and confidentially with whoever may be responsible for this operation to impress upon them the need to respect our humanitarian action,” the ICRC statement reads.

Asked to comment on Sheriff’s claims, the ICRC issued the following statement:

“Right now, we do not have any conclusive evidence that this information from the data breach has been published or is being traded. Our cybersecurity team has looked into any reported allegation of data being available on the dark web.”

Update, 2:00 p.m., ET: The ICRC just published an update to its FAQ on the breach. The ICRC now says the hackers broke in on Nov. 9, 2021, using an unpatched critical vulnerability (CVE-2021-40539). “This vulnerability allows malicious cyber actors to place web shells and conduct post-exploitation activities such as compromising administrator credentials, conducting lateral movement, and exfiltrating registry hives and Active Directory files. Once inside our network, the hackers were able to deploy offensive security tools which allowed them to disguise themselves as legitimate users or administrators. This in turn allowed them to access the data, despite this data being encrypted.”

Original story:

The email address that Sheriff used to register at RaidForums — [email protected] — appears in an affidavit for a search warrant filed by the FBI roughly a year ago. That FBI warrant came on the heels of an investigation published by security firm FireEye, which examined an Iranian-based network of inauthentic news sites and social media accounts aimed at the United States., U.K. and other western audiences.

“This operation is leveraging a network of inauthentic news sites and clusters of associated accounts across multiple social media platforms to promote political narratives in line with Iranian interests,” FireEye researchers wrote. “These narratives include anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes, as well as support for specific U.S. policies favorable to Iran.”

The FBI says the domains registered by the email address tied to Sheriff’s RaidForums account were used in service of the Liberty Front Press, a network of phony news sites thought to originate from Iran.

According to the FBI affidavit, the address [email protected] was used to register at least three different domains for phony news sites, including awdnews[.]com, sachtimes[.]com, and whatsupic[.]com. A reverse WHOIS search on that email address at DomainTools.com (an advertiser on this site) shows it was used to register 17 domains between 2012 and 2021, including moslimyouthmedia[.]com, moslempress[.]com, and realneinovosti[.]net.

A review of Sheriff’s postings to RaidForum reveals he has used two other nicknames since registering on the forum in December 2021: “Unindicted,” and “threat_actor.” In several posts, Sheriff taunts one FireEye employee by name.

In a Jan. 3, 2022 post, Sheriff says their “team” is seeking licenses for the Cobalt Strike penetration testing tool, and that they’re prepared to pay $3,000 – $4,000 per license. Cobalt Strike is a legitimate security product that is sold only to vetted partners, but compromised or ill-gotten Cobalt Strike licenses frequently are used in the run-up to ransomware attacks.

“We will buy constantly, make contact,” Sheriff advised. “Do not ask if we still need)) the team is interested in licenses indefinitely.”

On Jan. 4, 2022, Sheriff tells RaidForums that their team is in need of access to a specific data broker platform, and offers to pay as much as $35,000 for that access. Sheriff says they will only accept offers that are guaranteed through the forum’s escrow account.

The demand for escrow in a sales thread is almost universally a sign that someone means business and they are ready to transact on whatever was advertised or requested. That’s because escrow transactions necessarily force the buyer to make a deposit with the forum’s administrators before proceeding on any transaction.

Sheriff appears to have been part of a group on RaidForums that offered to buy access to organizations that could be extorted with ransomware or threatened with the publication of stolen data (PDF screenshot from threat intelligence firm KELA). In a “scam report” filed against Sheriff by another RaidForums member on Dec. 31, 2021, the claimant says Sheriff bought access from them and agreed to pay 70 percent of any ransom paid by the victim organization.

Instead, the claimant maintains, Sheriff only paid them roughly 25 percent. “The company pay $1.35 million ransom and only payment was made of $350k to me, so i ask for $600k to fix this dispute,” the affiliate wrote.

In another post on RaidForums, a user aptly named “FBI Agent” advised other denizens to steer clear of Sheriff’s ransomware affiliate program, noting that transacting with this person could run afoul of sanctions from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) that restrict commerce with people residing in Iran.

“To make it clear, we don’t work with individuals under the OFAC sanctions list, which @Sheriff is under,” the ransomware affiliate program administrator wrote in reply.

RaidForums says Sheriff was referred to the forum by Pompompurin, the same hacker who used a security hole in the FBI’s website last year to blast a phony alert about a cybercrime investigation to state and local authorities. Pompompurin has been quite active on RaidForums for the past few years, frequently posting databases from newly-hacked organizations, and selling access to stolen information.

Reach via Twitter, Pompompurin said they had no idea who might have offered money and information on Sheriff, and that they would never “snitch” on Sheriff.

“I know who he is but I’m not saying anything,” Pompompurin replied.

The information about Sheriff was brought to my attention by an anonymous person who initially contacted KrebsOnSecurity saying they wanted to make a donation to the publication. When the person offering the gift asked if it was okay that the money came from a ransomware transaction, I naturally declined the offer.

That person then proceeded to share the information about the connection between Sheriff’s email address and the FBI search warrant, as well as the account’s credentials.

The same identity approached several other security researchers and journalists, one of whom was able to validate that the [email protected] address actually belonged to Sheriff’s account. Those researchers were likewise offered tainted donations, except the individual offering the donation seemed to use a different story with each person about who they were or why they were offering money. Others contacted by the same anonymous user said they also received unsolicited details about Sheriff.

It seems clear that whoever offered that money and information has their own agenda, which may also involve attempts to make members of the news media appear untrustworthy for agreeing to accept stolen funds. However, the information they shared checks out, and since there is precious little public reporting on the source of the ICRC intrusion, the potential connection to hacker groups based in Iran seems worth noting.