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Before yesterdayKrebs on Security

Try This One Weird Trick Russian Hackers Hate

17 May 2021 at 14:14

In a Twitter discussion last week on ransomware attacks, KrebsOnSecurity noted that virtually all ransomware strains have a built-in failsafe designed to cover the backsides of the malware purveyors: They simply will not install on a Microsoft Windows computer that already has one of many types of virtual keyboards installed — such as Russian or Ukrainian. So many readers had questions in response to the tweet that I thought it was worth a blog post exploring this one weird cyber defense trick.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) more or less matches the exclusion list on an awful lot of malware coming out of Eastern Europe.

The Twitter thread came up in a discussion on the ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline, which earlier this month shut down 5,500 miles of fuel pipe for nearly a week, causing fuel station supply shortages throughout the country and driving up prices. The FBI said the attack was the work of DarkSide, a new-ish ransomware-as-a-service offering that says it targets only large corporations.

DarkSide and other Russian-language affiliate moneymaking programs have long barred their criminal associates from installing malicious software on computers in a host of Eastern European countries, including Ukraine and Russia. This prohibition dates back to the earliest days of organized cybercrime, and it is intended to minimize scrutiny and interference from local authorities.

In Russia, for example, authorities there generally will not initiate a cybercrime investigation against one of their own unless a company or individual within the country’s borders files an official complaint as a victim. Ensuring that no affiliates can produce victims in their own countries is the easiest way for these criminals to stay off the radar of domestic law enforcement agencies.

Possibly feeling the heat from being referenced in President Biden’s Executive Order on cybersecurity this past week, the DarkSide group sought to distance itself from their attack against Colonial Pipeline. In a message posted to its victim shaming blog, DarkSide tried to say it was “apolitical” and that it didn’t wish to participate in geopolitics.

“Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society,” the DarkSide criminals wrote last week. “From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”

But here’s the thing: Digital extortion gangs like DarkSide take great care to make their entire platforms geopolitical, because their malware is engineered to work only in certain parts of the world.

DarkSide, like a great many other malware strains, has a hard-coded do-not-install list of countries which are the principal members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) — former Soviet satellites that mostly have favorable relations with the Kremlin. The full exclusion list in DarkSide (published by Cybereason) is below:

Image: Cybereason.

Simply put, countless malware strains will check for the presence of one of these languages on the system, and if they’re detected the malware will exit and fail to install.

[Side note. Many security experts have pointed to connections between the DarkSide and REvil (a.k.a. “Sodinokibi”) ransomware groups. REvil was previously known as GandCrab, and one of the many things GandCrab had in common with REvil was that both programs barred affiliates from infecting victims in Syria. As we can see from the chart above, Syria is also exempted from infections by DarkSide ransomware. And DarkSide itself proved their connection to REvil this past week when it announced it was closing up shop after its servers and bitcoin funds were seized.]

CAVEAT EMPTOR

Will installing one of these languages keep your Windows computer safe from all malware? Absolutely not. There is plenty of malware that doesn’t care where in the world you are. And there is no substitute for adopting a defense-in-depth posture, and avoiding risky behaviors online.

But is there really a downside to taking this simple, free, prophylactic approach? None that I can see, other than perhaps a sinking feeling of capitulation. The worst that could happen is that you accidentally toggle the language settings and all your menu options are in Russian.

If this happens (and the first time it does the experience may be a bit jarring) hit the Windows key and the space bar at the same time; if you have more than one language installed you will see the ability to quickly toggle from one to the other. The little box that pops up when one hits that keyboard combo looks like this:

Cybercriminals are notoriously responsive to defenses which cut into their profitability, so why wouldn’t the bad guys just change things up and start ignoring the language check? Well, they certainly can and maybe even will do that (a recent version of DarkSide analyzed by Mandiant did not perform the system language check).

But doing so increases the risk to their personal safety and fortunes by some non-trivial amount, said Allison Nixon, chief research officer at New York City-based cyber investigations firm Unit221B.

Nixon said because of Russia’s unique legal culture, criminal hackers in that country employ these checks to ensure they are only attacking victims outside of the country.

“This is for their legal protection,” Nixon said. “Installing a Cyrillic keyboard, or changing a specific registry entry to say ‘RU’, and so forth, might be enough to convince malware that you are Russian and off limits. This can technically be used as a ‘vaccine’ against Russian malware.”

Nixon said if enough people do this in large numbers, it may in the short term protect some people, but more importantly in the long term it forces Russian hackers to make a choice: Risk losing legal protections, or risk losing income.

“Essentially, Russian hackers will end up facing the same difficulty that defenders in the West must face — the fact that it is very difficult to tell the difference between a domestic machine and a foreign machine masquerading as a domestic one,” she said.

KrebsOnSecurity asked Nixon’s colleague at Unit221B — founder Lance James — what he thought about the efficacy of another anti-malware approach suggested by Twitter followers who chimed in on last week’s discussion: Adding entries to the Windows registry that specify the system is running as a virtual machine (VM). In a bid to stymie analysis by antivirus and security firms, some malware authors have traditionally configured their malware to quit installing if it detects it is running in a virtual environment.

But James said this prohibition is no longer quite so common, particularly since so many organizations have transitioned to virtual environments for everyday use.

“Being a virtual machine doesn’t stop malware like it used to,” James said. “In fact, a lot of the ransomware we’re seeing now is running on VMs.”

But James says he loves the idea of everyone adding a language from the CIS country list so much he’s produced his own clickable two-line Windows batch script that adds a Russian language reference in the specific Windows registry keys that are checked by malware. The script effectively allows one’s Windows PC to look like it has a Russian keyboard installed without actually downloading the added script libraries from Microsoft.

To install a different keyboard language on a Windows 10 computer the old fashioned way, hit the Windows key and X at the same time, then select Settings, and then select “Time and Language.” Select Language, and then scroll down and you should see an option to install another character set. Pick one, and the language should be installed the next time you reboot. Again, if for some reason you need to toggle between languages, Windows+Spacebar is your friend.

Recycle Your Phone, Sure, But Maybe Not Your Number

19 May 2021 at 15:13

Many online services allow users to reset their passwords by clicking a link sent via SMS, and this unfortunately widespread practice has turned mobile phone numbers into de facto identity documents. Which means losing control over one thanks to a divorce, job termination or financial crisis can be devastating.

Even so, plenty of people willingly abandon a mobile number without considering the potential fallout to their digital identities when those digits invariably get reassigned to someone else. New research shows how fraudsters can abuse wireless provider websites to identify available, recycled mobile numbers that allow password resets at a range of email providers and financial services online.

Researchers in the computer science department at Princeton University say they sampled 259 phone numbers at two major wireless carriers, and found 171 of them were tied to existing accounts at popular websites, potentially allowing those accounts to be hijacked.

The Princeton team further found 100 of those 259 numbers were linked to leaked login credentials on the web, which could enable account hijackings that defeat SMS-based multi-factor authentication.

“Our key finding is that attackers can feasibly leverage number recycling to target previous owners and their accounts,” the researchers wrote. “The moderate to high hit rates of our testing methods indicate that most recycled numbers are vulnerable to these attacks. Furthermore, by focusing on blocks of Likely recycled numbers, an attacker can easily discover available recycled numbers, each of which then becomes a potential target.”

The researchers located newly-recycled mobile numbers by browsing numbers made available to customers interested in signing up for a prepaid account at T-Mobile or Verizon (apparently AT&T doesn’t provide a similar interface). They said they were able to identify and ignore large blocks of new, unused numbers, as these blocks tend to be made available consecutively — much like newly printed money is consecutively numbered in stacks.

The Princeton team has a number of recommendations for T-Mobile and Verizon, noting that both carriers allow unlimited inquiries on their prepaid customer platforms online — meaning there is nothing to stop attackers from automating this type of number reconnaissance.

“On postpaid interfaces, Verizon already has safeguards and T-Mobile does not even support changing numbers online,” the researchers wrote. “However, the number pool is shared between postpaid and prepaid, rendering all subscribers vulnerable to attacks.”

They also recommend the carriers teach their support employees to remind customers about the risks of relinquishing a mobile number without first disconnecting it from other identities and sites online, advice they generally did not find was offered when interacting with customer support regarding number changes.

In addition, the carriers could offer their own “number parking” service for customers who know they will not require phone service for an extended period of time, or for those who just aren’t sure what they want to do with a number. Such services are already offered by companies like NumberBarn and Park My Phone, and they generally cost between $2-5 per month.

The Princeton study recommends consumers who are considering a number change instead either store the digits at an existing number parking service, or “port” the number to something like Google Voice. For a one-time $20 fee, Google Voice will let you port the number, and then you can continue to receive texts and calls to that number via Google Voice, or you can forward them to another number.

Porting seems like less of a hassle and potentially safer considering the average user has something like 150 accounts online, and a significant number of those accounts are going to be tied to one’s mobile number.

While you’re at it, consider removing your phone number as a primary or secondary authentication mechanism wherever possible. Many online services require you to provide a phone number upon registering an account, but in many cases that number can be removed from your profile afterwards.

It’s also important for people to use something other than text messages for two-factor authentication on their email accounts when stronger authentication options are available. Consider instead using a mobile app like AuthyDuo, or Google Authenticator to generate the one-time code. Or better yet, a physical security key if that’s an option.

The full Princeton study is available here (PDF).

How to Tell a Job Offer from an ID Theft Trap

21 May 2021 at 17:41

One of the oldest scams around — the fake job interview that seeks only to harvest your personal and financial data — is on the rise, the FBI warns. Here’s the story of a recent LinkedIn impersonation scam that led to more than 100 people getting duped, and one almost-victim who decided the job offer was too-good-to-be-true.

Last week, someone began posting classified notices on LinkedIn for different design consulting jobs at Geosyntec Consultants, an environmental engineering firm based in the Washington, D.C. area. Those who responded were told their application for employment was being reviewed and that they should email Troy Gwin — Geosyntec’s senior recruiter — immediately to arrange a screening interview.

Gwin contacted KrebsOnSecurity after hearing from job seekers trying to verify the ad, which urged respondents to email Gwin at a Gmail address that was not his. Gwin said LinkedIn told him roughly 100 people applied before the phony ads were removed for abusing the company’s terms of service.

“The endgame was to offer a job based on successful completion of background check which obviously requires entering personal information,” Gwin said. “Almost 100 people applied. I feel horrible about this. These people were really excited about this ‘opportunity’.”

Erica Siegel was particularly excited about the possibility of working in a creative director role she interviewed for at the fake Geosyntec. Siegel said her specialty —  “consulting with start ups and small businesses to create sustainable fashion, home and accessories brands” — has been in low demand throughout the pandemic, so she’s applied to dozens of jobs and freelance gigs over the past few months.

On Monday, someone claiming to work with Gwin contacted Siegel and asked her to set up an online interview with Geosyntec. Siegel said the “recruiter” sent her a list of screening questions that all seemed relevant to the position being advertised.

Siegel said that within about an hour of submitting her answers, she received a reply saying the company’s board had unanimously approved her as a new hire, with an incredibly generous salary considering she had to do next to no work to get a job she could do from home.

Worried that her potential new dream job might be too-good-to-be-true, she sent the recruiter a list of her own questions that she had about the role and its position within the company.

But the recruiter completely ignored Siegel’s follow-up questions, instead sending a reply that urged her to get in touch with a contact in human resources to immediately begin the process of formalizing her employment. Which of course involves handing over one’s personal (driver’s license info) and financial details for direct deposit.

Multiple things about this job offer didn’t smell right to Siegel.

“I usually have six or seven interviews before getting a job,” Siegel said. “Hardly ever in my lifetime have I seen a role that flexible, completely remote and paid the kind of money I would ask for. You never get all three of those things.”

So she called her dad, an environmental attorney who happens to know and have worked with people at the real Geosyntec Consultants. Then she got in touch with the real Troy Gwin, who confirmed her suspicions that the whole thing was a scam.

“Even after the real Troy said they’d gotten these [LinkedIn] ads shut down, this guy was still emailing me asking for my HR information,” Siegel said. “So my dad said, ‘Troll him back, and tell him you want a signing bonus via money order.’ I was like, okay, what’s the worst that could happen? I never heard from him again.”

HOW TO SPOT A JOB SCAM

In late April, the FBI warned that technology is making these scams easier and more lucrative for fraudsters, who are particularly fond of impersonating recruiters.

“Fake Job or Employment Scams occur when criminal actors deceive victims into believing they have a job or a potential job,” the FBI warned. “Criminals leverage their position as “employers” to persuade victims to provide them with personally identifiable information (PII), become unwitting money mules, or to send them money.”

Last year, some 16,012 people reported being victims of employment scams with losses totaling more than $59 million, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). But the real losses each year from employment scams are likely far higher; as the Justice Department often points out, relatively few victims of these crimes report the matter to the IC3.

LinkedIn said its platform uses automated and manual defenses to detect and address fake accounts or fraudulent payments.

“Any accounts or job posts that violate our policies are blocked from the site,” LinkedIn said in response to a request for comment. “The majority of fake job postings are stopped before going live on our site, and for those job postings that aren’t, whenever we find fake posts, we work to remove it quickly.”

LinkedIn’s most recent transparency report says these automated defenses block or automatically remove 98.4% of the fake accounts. But the scam that ensnared Gwin and Siegel is more of a hybrid, in that the majority of it operates outside of LinkedIn’s control via email services like Gmail and Yahoo.

This, by the way, should be a major red flag for anyone searching for a job, says the FBI: “Potential employers contact victims through non-company email domains and teleconference applications.”

Here are some other telltale signs of a job scam, as per the FBI:

-Interviews are not conducted in-person or through a secure video call.
-Potential employers contact victims through non-company email domains and teleconference applications.
-Potential employers require employees to purchase start-up equipment from the company.
-Potential employers require employees to pay upfront for background investigations or screenings.
-Potential employers request credit card information.
-Potential employers send an employment contract to physically sign asking for PII.
-Job postings appear on job boards, but not on the companies’ websites.
-Recruiters or managers do not have profiles on the job board, or the profiles do not seem to fit their roles.

Boss of ATM Skimming Syndicate Arrested in Mexico

28 May 2021 at 14:47

Florian “The Shark” Tudor, the alleged ringleader of a prolific ATM skimming gang that siphoned hundreds of millions of dollars from bank accounts of tourists visiting Mexico over the last eight years, was arrested in Mexico City on Thursday in response to an extradition warrant from a Romanian court.

Florian Tudor, at a 2020 press conference in Mexico in which he asserted he was a legitimate businessman and not a mafia boss. Image: OCCRP.

Tudor, a native of Craiova, Romania, moved to Mexico to set up Top Life Servicios, an ATM servicing company which managed a fleet of relatively new ATMs based in Mexico branded as Intacash.

Intacash was the central focus of a threepart investigation KrebsOnSecurity published in September 2015. That series tracked the activities of a crime gang working with Intacash that was bribing and otherwise coercing ATM technicians to install sophisticated Bluetooth-based skimmers inside cash machines throughout popular tourist destinations in and around Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula — including Cancun, Cozumel, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

Follow-up reporting last year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found Tudor and his associates compromised more than 100 ATMs across Mexico using skimmers that were able to remain in place undetected for years. The OCCRP, which dubbed Tudor’s group “The Riviera Maya Gang,” estimates the crime syndicate used cloned card data and stolen PINs to steal more than $1.2 billion from bank accounts of tourists visiting the region.

Last year, a Romanian court ordered Tudor’s capture following his conviction in absentia for attempted murder, blackmail and the creation of an organized crime network that specialized in human trafficking.

Mexican authorities have been examining bank accounts tied to Tudor and his companies, and investigators believe Tudor and his associates paid protection and hush money to various Mexican politicians and officials over the years. In February, the leader of Mexico’s Green Party stepped down after it emerged that he received funds from Tudor’s group.

This is the second time Mexican authorities have detained Tudor. In April 2019, Tudor and his deputy were arrested for illegal firearms possession. That arrest came just months after Tudor allegedly ordered the execution of a former bodyguard who was trying to help U.S. authorities bring down the group’s lucrative skimming operations.

Tudor’s arrest this week inside the premises of the Mexican Attorney General’s Office did not go smoothly, according to Mexican news outlets. El Universal reports that a brawl broke out between Tudor’s lawyers and officials at the Mexican AG’s office, and a video released by the news outlet on Twitter shows Tudor resisting arrest as he is being hauled out of the building hand and foot.

A Mexican judge will decide on Tudor’s extradition to Romania in the coming weeks.

Using Fake Reviews to Find Dangerous Extensions

29 May 2021 at 16:14

Fake, positive reviews have infiltrated nearly every corner of life online these days, confusing consumers while offering an unwelcome advantage to fraudsters and sub-par products everywhere. Happily, identifying and tracking these fake reviewer accounts is often the easiest way to spot scams. Here’s the story of how bogus reviews on a counterfeit Microsoft Authenticator browser extension exposed dozens of other extensions that siphoned personal and financial data.

Comments on the fake Microsoft Authenticator browser extension show the reviews for these applications are either positive or very negative — basically calling it out as a scam. Image: chrome-stats.com.

After hearing from a reader about a phony Microsoft Authenticator extension that appeared on the Google Chrome Store, KrebsOnSecurity began looking at the profile of the account that created it. There were a total of five reviews on the extension before it was removed: Three Google users gave it one star, warning people to stay far away from it; but two of the reviewers awarded it between three and four stars.

“It’s great!,” the Google account Theresa Duncan enthused, improbably. “I’ve only had very occasional issues with it.”

“Very convenient and handing,” assessed Anna Jones, incomprehensibly.

Google’s Chrome Store said the email address tied to the account that published the knockoff Microsoft extension also was responsible for one called “iArtbook Digital Painting.” Before it was removed from the Chrome Store, iArtbook had garnered just 22 users and three reviews. As with the knockoff Microsoft extension, all three reviews were positive, and all were authored by accounts with first and last names, like Megan Vance, Olivia Knox, and Alison Graham.

Google’s Chrome Store doesn’t make it easy to search by reviewer. For that I turned to Hao Nguyen, the developer behind chrome-stats.com, which indexes and makes searchable a broad array of attributes about extensions available from Google.

Looking at the Google accounts that left positive reviews on both the now-defunct Microsoft Authenticator and iArtbook extensions, KrebsOnSecurity noticed that each left positive reviews on a handful of other extensions that have since been removed.

Reviews on the iArtbook extension were all from apparently fake Google accounts that each reviewed two other extensions, one of which was published by the same developer. This same pattern was observed across 45 now-defunct extensions.

Like an ever-expanding venn diagram, a review of the extensions commented on by each new fake reviewer found led to the discovery of even more phony reviewers and extensions. In total, roughly 24 hours worth of digging through chrome-stats.com unearthed more than 100 positive reviews on a network of patently fraudulent extensions.

Those reviews in turn lead to the relatively straightforward identification of:

-39 reviewers who were happy with extensions that spoofed major brands and requested financial data
-45 malicious extensions that collectively had close to 100,000 downloads
-25 developer accounts tied to multiple banned applications

The extensions spoofed a range of consumer brands, including Adobe, Amazon, Facebook, HBO, Microsoft, Roku and Verizon. Scouring the manifests for each of these other extensions in turn revealed that many of the same developers were tied to multiple apps being promoted by the same phony Google accounts.

Some of the fake extensions have only a handful of downloads, but most have hundreds or thousands. A fake Microsoft Teams extension attracted 16,200 downloads in the roughly two months it was available from the Google store. A counterfeit version of CapCut, a professional video editing software suite, claimed nearly 24,000 downloads over a similar time period.

More than 16,000 people downloaded a fake Microsoft Teams browser extension over the roughly two months it was available for download from the Google Chrome store.

Unlike malicious browser extensions that can turn your PC into a botnet or harvest your cookies, none of the extensions examined here request any special permissions from users. Once installed, however, they invariably prompt the user to provide personal and financial data — all the while pretending to be associated with major brand names.

In some cases, the fake reviewers and phony extension developers used in this scheme share names, such as the case with “brook ice,” the Google account that positively reviewed the malicious Adobe and Microsoft Teams extensions. The email address [email protected] was used to register the developer account responsible for producing two of the phony extensions examined in this review (PhotoMath and Dollify).

Some of the data that informed this report. The full spreadsheet is available as a link at the end of the story.

As we can see from the spreadsheet snippet above, many of the Google accounts that penned positive reviews on patently bogus extensions left comments on multiple apps on the same day.

Additionally, Google’s account recovery tools indicate many different developer email addresses tied to extensions reviewed here share the same recovery email — suggesting a relatively few number of anonymous users are controlling the entire scheme. When the spreadsheet data shown above is sorted by email address of the extension developer, the grouping of the reviews by date becomes even clearer.

KrebsOnSecurity shared these findings with Google and will update this story in the event they respond. Either way, Google somehow already detected all of these extensions as fraudulent and removed them from its store.

However, there may be a future post here about how long that bad extension identification and removal process has taken over time. Overall, most of these extensions were available for two to three months before being taken down.

As for the “so what?” here? I performed this research mainly because I could, and I thought it was interesting enough to share. Also, I got fascinated with the idea that finding fake applications might be as simple as identifying and following the likely fake reviewers. I’m positive there is more to this network of fraudulent extensions than is documented here.

As this story illustrates, it pays to be judicious about installing extensions. Leaving aside these extensions which are outright fraudulent, so many legitimate extensions get abandoned or sold each year to shady marketers that it’s wise to only trust extensions that are actively maintained (and perhaps have a critical mass of users that would make noise if anything untoward happened with the software).

According to chrome-stats.com, the majority of extensions — more than 100,000 of them — are effectively abandoned by their authors, or haven’t been updated in more than two years. In other words, there a great many developers who are likely to be open to someone else buying up their creation along with their user base.

The information that informed this report is searchable in this Google spreadsheet.

Adventures in Contacting the Russian FSB

7 June 2021 at 13:35

KrebsOnSecurity recently had occasion to contact the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the process of doing so, I encountered a small snag: The FSB’s website said in order to communicate with them securely, I needed to download and install an encryption and virtual private networking (VPN) appliance that is flagged by at least 20 antivirus products as malware.

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

The reason I contacted the FSB — one of the successor agencies to the Russian KGB — ironically enough had to do with security concerns raised by an infamous Russian hacker about the FSB’s own preferred method of being contacted.

KrebsOnSecurity was seeking comment from the FSB about a blog post published by Vladislav “BadB” Horohorin, a former international stolen credit card trafficker who served seven years in U.S. federal prison for his role in the theft of $9 million from RBS WorldPay in 2009. Horohorin, a citizen of Russia, Israel and Ukraine, is now back where he grew up in Ukraine, running a cybersecurity consulting business.

Horohorin’s BadB carding store, badb[.]biz, circa 2007. Image: Archive.org.

Visit the FSB’s website and you might notice its web address starts with http:// instead of https://, meaning the site is not using an encryption certificate. In practical terms, any information shared between the visitor and the website is sent in plain text and will be visible to anyone who has access to that traffic.

This appears to be the case regardless of which Russian government site you visit. According to Russian search giant Yandex, the laws of the Russian Federation demand that encrypted connections be installed according to the Russian GOST cryptographic algorithm.

That means those who have a reason to send encrypted communications to a Russian government organization — including ordinary things like making a payment for a government license or fine, or filing legal documents — need to first install CryptoPro, a Windows-only application that loads the GOST encryption libraries on a user’s computer.

But if you want to talk directly to the FSB over an encrypted connection, you can just install their own client, which bundles the CryptoPro code. Visit the FSB’s site and select the option to “transfer meaningful information to operational units,” and you’ll see a prompt to install a “random number generation” application that is needed before a specific contact form on the FSB’s website will load properly.

Mind you, I’m not suggesting anyone go do that: Horohorin pointed out that this random number generator was flagged by 20 different antivirus and security products as malicious.

“Think well before contacting the FSB for any questions or dealing with them, and if you nevertheless decide to do this, it is better to use a virtual machine,” Horohorin wrote. “And a spacesuit. And, preferably, while in another country.”

Antivirus product detections on the FSB’s VPN software. Image: VirusTotal.

It’s probably worth mentioning that the FSB is the same agency that’s been sanctioned for malicious cyber activity by the U.S. government on multiple occasions over the past five years. According to the most recent sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department, the FSB is known for recruiting criminal hackers from underground forums and offering them legal cover for their actions.

“To bolster its malicious cyber operations, the FSB cultivates and co-opts criminal hackers, including the previously designated Evil Corp., enabling them to engage in disruptive ransomware attacks and phishing campaigns,” reads a Treasury assessment from April 2021.

While Horohorin seems convinced the FSB is disseminating malware, it is not unusual for a large number of security tools used by VirusTotal or other similar malware “sandbox” services to incorrectly flag safe files as bad or suspicious — an all-too-common condition known as a “false positive.”

Late last year I warned my followers on Twitter to put off installing updates for their Dell products until the company could explain why a bunch of its software drivers were being detected as malware by two dozen antivirus tools. Those all turned out to be false positives.

To really figure out what this FSB software was doing, I turned to Lance James, the founder of Unit221B, a New York City based cybersecurity firm. James said each download request generates a new executable program. That is because the uniqueness of the file itself is part of what makes the one-to-one encrypted connection possible.

“Essentially it is like a temporary, one-time-use VPN, using a separate key for each download” James said. “The executable is the handshake with you to exchange keys, as it stores the key for that session in the exe. It’s a terrible approach. But it’s what it is.”

James said the FSB’s program does not appear to be malware, at least in terms of the actions it takes on a user’s computer.

“There’s no sign of actual trojan activity here except the fact it self deletes,” James said. “It uses GOST encryption, and [the antivirus products] may be thinking that those properties look like ransomware.”

James says he suspects the antivirus false-positives were triggered by certain behaviors which could be construed as malware-like. The screenshot below — from VirusTotal — says some of the file’s contents align with detection rules made to find instances of ransomware.

Some of the malware detection rules triggered by the FSB’s software. Source: VirusTotal.

Other detection rules tripped by this file include program routines that erase event logs from the user’s system — a behavior often seen in malware that is trying to hide its tracks.

On a hunch that just including the GOST encryption routine in a test program might be enough to trigger false positives in VirusTotal, James wrote and compiled a short program in C++ that invoked the GOST cipher but otherwise had no networking components. He then uploaded the file for scanning at VirusTotal.

Even though James’ test program did nothing untoward or malicious, it was flagged by six antivirus engines as potentially hostile. Symantec’s machine learning engine seemed particularly certain that James’ file might be bad, awarding it the threat name “ML.Attribute.HighConfidence” — the same designation it assigned to the FSB’s program.

KrebsOnSecurity installed the FSB’s software on a test computer using a separate VPN, and straight away it connected to an Internet address currently assigned to the FSB (213.24.76.xxx).

The program prompted me to click on various parts of the screen to generate randomness for an encryption key, and when that was done it left a small window which explained in Russian that the connection was established and that I should visit a specific link on the FSB’s site.

The FSB’s random number generator in action.

Doing so opened up a page where I could leave a message for the FSB. I asked them if they had any response to their program being broadly flagged as malware.

The contact form that ultimately appeared after installing the FSB’s software and clicking a specific link at fsb[.]ru.

After all the effort, I’m disappointed to report that I have not yet received a reply. Nor did I hear back from S-Terra CSP, the company that makes the VPN software offered by the FSB.

James said that given their position, he could see why many antivirus products might think it’s malware.

“Since they won’t use our crypto and we won’t use theirs,” James said. “It’s a great explanation on political weirdness with crypto.”

Still, James said, a number of things just don’t make sense about the way the FSB has chosen to deploy its one-time VPN software.

“The way they have set this up to suddenly trust a dynamically changing exe is still very concerning. Also, why would you send me a 256 random number generator seed in an exe when the computer has a perfectly valid and tested random number generator built in? You’re sending an exe to me with a key you decide over a non-secure environment. Why the fuck if you’re a top intelligence agency would you do that?”

Why indeed. I wonder how many people would share information about federal crimes with the FBI if the agency required everyone to install an executable file first — to say nothing of one that looks a lot like ransomware to antivirus firms?

After doing this research, I learned the FSB recently launched a website that is only reachable via Tor, software that protects users’ anonymity by bouncing their traffic between different servers and encrypting the traffic at every step of the way. Unlike the FSB’s clear web site, the agency’s Tor site does not ask visitors to download some dodgy software before contacting them.

“The application is running for a limited time to ensure your safety,” the instructions for the FSB’s random number generator assure, with just a gentle nudge of urgency. “Do not forget to close the application when finished.”

Yes, don’t forget that. Also, do not forget to incinerate your computer when finished.

Justice Dept. Claws Back $2.3M Paid by Colonial Pipeline to Ransomware Gang

7 June 2021 at 23:18

The U.S. Department of Justice said today it has recovered $2.3 million worth of Bitcoin that Colonial Pipeline paid to ransomware extortionists last month. The funds had been sent to DarkSide, a ransomware-as-a-service syndicate that disbanded after a May 14 farewell message to affiliates saying its Internet servers and cryptocurrency stash were seized by unknown law enforcement entities.

On May 7, the DarkSide ransomware gang sprang its attack against Colonial, which ultimately paid 75 Bitcoin (~$4.4 million) to its tormentors. The company said the attackers only hit its business IT networks — not its pipeline security and safety systems — but that it shut the pipeline down anyway as a precaution [several publications noted Colonial shut down its pipeline because its billing system was impacted, and it had no way to get paid].

On or around May 14, the DarkSide representative on several Russian-language cybercrime forums posted a message saying the group was calling it quits.

“Servers were seized, money of advertisers and founders was transferred to an unknown account,” read the farewell message. “Hosting support, apart from information ‘at the request of law enforcement agencies,’ does not provide any other information.”

A message from the DarkSide and REvil ransomware-as-a-service cybercrime affiliate programs.

Many security experts said they suspected DarkSide was just laying low for a while thanks to the heat from the Colonial attack, and that the group would re-emerge under a new banner in the coming months. And while that may be true, the seizure announced today by the DOJ certainly supports the DarkSide administrator’s claims that their closure was involuntary.

Security firms have suspected for months that the DarkSide gang shares some leadership with that of REvil, a.k.a. Sodinokibi, another ransomware-as-a-service platform that closed up shop in 2019 after bragging that it had extorted more than $2 billion from victims. That suspicion was solidified further when the REvil administrator added his comments to the announcement about DarkSide’s closure (see screenshot above).

First surfacing on Russian language hacking forums in August 2020, DarkSide is a ransomware-as-a-service platform that vetted cybercriminals can use to infect companies with ransomware and carry out negotiations and payments with victims. DarkSide says it targets only big companies, and forbids affiliates from dropping ransomware on organizations in several industries, including healthcare, funeral services, education, public sector and non-profits.

According to an analysis published May 18 by cryptocurrency security firm Elliptic, 47 cybercrime victims paid DarkSide a total of $90 million in Bitcoin, putting the average ransom payment of DarkSide victims at just shy of $2 million.

HOW DID THEY DO IT?

The DoJ’s announcement left open the question of how exactly it was able to recover a portion of the payment made by Colonial, which shut down its Houston to New England fuel pipeline for a week and prompted long lines, price hikes and gas shortages at filling stations across the nation.

The DOJ said law enforcement was able to track multiple transfers of bitcoin and identify that approximately 63.7 bitcoins (~$3.77 million on May 8), “representing the proceeds of the victim’s ransom payment, had been transferred to a specific address, for which the FBI has the ‘private key,’ or the rough equivalent of a password needed to access assets accessible from the specific Bitcoin address.”

A passage from the DOJ’s press release today.

How it came to have that private key is the key question. Nicholas Weaver, a lecturer at the computer science department at University of California, Berkeley, said the most likely explanation is that law enforcement agents seized money from a specific DarkSide affiliate responsible for bringing the crime gang the initial access to Colonial’s systems.

“The ‘obtained the private key’ part of their statement is doing a lot of work,” Weaver said, pointing out that the amount the FBI recovered was less than the full amount Colonial paid.

“It is ONLY the Colonial Pipeline ransom, and it looks to be only the affiliate’s take.”

Experts at Elliptic came to the same conclusion.

“Any ransom payment made by a victim is then split between the affiliate and the developer,” writes Elliptic’s co-founder Tom Robinson. “In the case of the Colonial Pipeline ransom payment, 85% (63.75 BTC) went to the affiliate and 15% went to the DarkSide developer.”

The Biden administration is under increasing pressure to do something about the epidemic of ransomware attacks. In conjunction with today’s action, the DOJ called attention to the wins of its Ransomware and Digital Extortion Task Force, which have included successful prosecutions of crooks behind such threats as the Netwalker and SamSam ransomware strains.

The DOJ also released a June 3 memo from Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco instructing all federal prosecutors to observe new guidelines that seek to centralize reporting about ransomware victims.

Having a central place for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to gather and act on ransomware threats was one of the key recommendations of a ransomware task force being led by some of the world’s top tech firms. In an 81-page report, the industry led task force called for an international coalition to combat ransomware criminals, and for a global network of investigation hubs. Their recommendations focus mainly on disrupting cybercriminal ransomware gangs by limiting their ability to get paid, and targeting the individuals and finances of the organized thieves behind these crimes.

Microsoft Patches Six Zero-Day Security Holes

8 June 2021 at 20:53

Microsoft today released another round of security updates for Windows operating systems and supported software, including fixes for six zero-day bugs that malicious hackers already are exploiting in active attacks.

June’s Patch Tuesday addresses just 49 security holes — about half the normal number of vulnerabilities lately. But what this month lacks in volume it makes up for in urgency: Microsoft warns that bad guys are leveraging a half-dozen of those weaknesses to break into computers in targeted attacks.

Among the zero-days are:

CVE-2021-33742, a remote code execution bug in a Windows HTML component.
CVE-2021-31955, an information disclosure bug in the Windows Kernel
CVE-2021-31956, an elevation of privilege flaw in Windows NTFS
CVE-2021-33739, an elevation of privilege flaw in the Microsoft Desktop Window Manager
CVE-2021-31201, an elevation of privilege flaw in the Microsoft Enhanced Cryptographic Provider
CVE-2021-31199, an elevation of privilege flaw in the Microsoft Enhanced Cryptographic Provider

Kevin Breen, director of cyber threat research at Immersive Labs, said elevation of privilege flaws are just as valuable to attackers as remote code execution bugs: Once the attacker has gained an initial foothold, he can move laterally across the network and uncover further ways to escalate to system or domain-level access.

“This can be hugely damaging in the event of ransomware attacks, where high privileges can enable the attackers to stop or destroy backups and other security tools,” Breen said. “The ‘exploit detected’ tag means attackers are actively using them, so for me, it’s the most important piece of information we need to prioritize the patches.”

Microsoft also patched five critical bugs — flaws that can be remotely exploited to seize control over the targeted Windows computer without any help from users. CVE-2021-31959 affects everything from Windows 7 through Windows 10 and Server versions 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2019.

Sharepoint also got a critical update in CVE-2021-31963; Microsoft says this one is less likely to be exploited, but then critical Sharepoint flaws are a favorite target of ransomware criminals.

Interestingly, two of the Windows zero-day flaws — CVE-2021-31201 and CVE-2021-31199 — are related to a patch Adobe released recently for CVE-2021-28550, a flaw in Adobe Acrobat and Reader that also is being actively exploited.

“Attackers have been seen exploiting these vulnerabilities by sending victims specially crafted PDFs, often attached in a phishing email, that when opened on the victim’s machine, the attacker is able to gain arbitrary code execution,” said Christopher Hass, director of information security and research at Automox. “There are no workarounds for these vulnerabilities, patching as soon as possible is highly recommended.”

In addition to updating Acrobat and Reader, Adobe patched flaws in a slew of other products today, including Adobe Connect, Photoshop, and Creative Cloud. The full list is here, with links to updates.

The usual disclaimer:

Before you update with this month’s patch batch, please make sure you have backed up your system and/or important files. It’s not uncommon for Windows updates to hose one’s system or prevent it from booting properly, and some updates even 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.

As always, if you experience glitches or problems installing any of these patches this month, please consider leaving a comment about it below; there’s a better-than-even chance other readers have experienced the same and may chime in here with some helpful tips.

For a quick visual breakdown of each update released today and its severity level, check out the this Patch Tuesday post from the SANS Internet Storm Center.

How Does One Get Hired by a Top Cybercrime Gang?

15 June 2021 at 15:41

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) last week announced the arrest of a 55-year-old Latvian woman who’s alleged to have worked as a programmer for Trickbot, a malware-as-a-service platform responsible for infecting millions of computers and seeding many of those systems with ransomware.

Just how did a self-employed web site designer and mother of two come to work for one of the world’s most rapacious cybercriminal groups and then leave such an obvious trail of clues indicating her involvement with the gang? This post explores answers to those questions, as well as some of the ways Trickbot and other organized cybercrime gangs gradually recruit, groom and trust new programmers.

Alla Witte’s personal website — allawitte[.]nl — circa October 2018.

The indictment released by the DOJ (PDF) is heavily redacted, and only one of the defendants is named: Alla “Max” Witte, a 55-year-old Latvian national who was arrested Feb. 6 in Miami, Fla.

The DOJ alleges Witte was responsible for “overseeing the creation of code related to the monitoring and tracking of authorized users of the Trickbot malware, the control and deployment of ransomware, obtaining payments from ransomware victims, and developing tools and protocols for the storage of credentials stolen and exfiltrated from victims infected by Trickbot.”

The indictment also says Witte provided code to the Trickbot Group for a web panel used to access victim data stored in a database. According to the government, that database contained a large number of credit card numbers and stolen credentials from the Trickbot botnet, as well as information about infected machines available as bots.

“Witte provided code to this repository that showed an infected computer or ‘bot’ status in different colors based on the colors of a traffic light and allowed other Trickbot Group members to know when their co-conspirators were working on a particular infected machine,” the indictment alleges.

While any law enforcement action against a crime group that has targeted hospitals, schools, public utilities and governments is good news, Witte’s indictment and arrest were probably inevitable: It is hard to think of an accused cybercriminal who has made more stunningly poor and rookie operational security mistakes than this Latvian senior citizen.

For starters, it appears at one point in 2020 Witte actually hosted Trickbot malware on a vanity website registered in her nameallawitte[.]nl.

While it is generally a bad idea for cybercriminals to mix their personal life with work, Witte’s social media accounts mention a close family member (perhaps her son or husband) had the first name “Max,” which allegedly was her hacker handle.

Unlike many accused cybercriminals who hail from Russia or former Soviet countries, Witte did not feel obligated to avoid traveling to areas where she might be within reach of U.S. law enforcement agencies. According to her indictment, Witte was living in the South American nation of Suriname and she was arrested in Miami while flying from Suriname. It is not clear where her intended destination was.

A Google-translated post Witte made to her Vkontakte page, five years before allegedly joining the Trickbot group.

Alex Holden, founder of the cybersecurity intelligence firm Hold Security, said Witte’s greatest lapse in judgment came around Christmas time in 2019, when she infected one of her own computers with the Trickbot malware — allowing it to steal and log her data within the botnet interface.

“On top of the password re-use, the data shows a great insight into her professional and personal Internet usage,” Holden wrote in a blog post on Witte’s arrest.

“Many in the gang not only knew her gender but her name too,” Holden wrote. “Several group members had AllaWitte folders with data. They refer to Alla almost like they would address their mothers.”

So how did this hacker mom with apparently zero sense of self-preservation come to work for one of the world’s most predatory cybercriminal gangs?

The government’s indictment dedicates several pages to describing the hiring processes of the Trickbot group, which continuously scoured fee-based Russian and Belarussian-based job websites for resumes of programmers looking for work. Those who responded were asked to create various programs designed to test the applicant’s problem-solving and coding skills.

Here’s a snippet of translated instant message text between two of the unnamed Trickbot defendants, in which they discuss an applicant who understood immediately that he was being hired to help with cybercrime activity.

A conversation between two Trickbot group members concerning a potential new hire. Image: DOJ.

The following conversation, on or about June 1, 2016, concerned a potential new Trickbot hire who successfully completed a test task that involved altering a Firefox Web browser.

Other conversation snippets in the indictment suggest most new recruits understand that the projects and test tasks they are being asked to tackle are related to cybercrime activity.

“The majority understand that this is blackhat and asking for the commercial target,” wrote the defendant identified only as Co-Conspirator 8 (CC8).

But what about new hires that aren’t hip to exactly how the programs they’re being asked to create get used? Another source in the threat intelligence industry who has had access to the inner workings of Trickbot provided some additional context on how developers are onboarded into the group.

“There’s a two-step hiring process where at first you may not understand who you’re working for,” said the source. “But that timeframe is typically pretty short, like less than a year.”

After that, if the candidate is talented and industrious enough, someone in the Trickbot group will “read in” the new recruit — i.e. explain in plain terms how their work is being used.

“If you’re good, at some point they’re going to read you in and you’ll know, but if you’re not good or you’re not okay with that, they will triage that pretty quickly and your services will no longer be required,” the source said. “But if you make it past that first year, the chances that you still don’t know what you’re doing are very slim.”

According to the DOJ, Witte had access to Trickbot for roughly two years between 2018 and 2020.

Investigators say prior to launching Trickbot, some members of the conspiracy previously were responsible for disseminating Dyre, a particularly stealthy password stealer that looked for passwords used at various banks. The government says Trickbot members — including Witte — routinely used bank account passwords stolen by their malware to drain victim bank accounts and send the money to networks of money mules.

The hiring model adopted by Trickbot allows the gang to recruit a steady stream of talented developers cheaply and covertly. But it also introduces the very real risk that new recruits may offer investigators a way to infiltrate the group’s operations, and possibly even identify co-conspirators.

Ransomware attacks are nearly all perpetrated these days by ransomware affiliate groups which constantly recruit new members to account for attrition, competition from other ransomware groups, and for the odd affiliate who gets busted by law enforcement.

Under the ransomware affiliate model, a cybercriminal can earn up to 85 percent of the total ransom paid by a victim company he or she is responsible for compromising and bringing to the group. But from time to time, poor operational security by an affiliate exposes the gang’s entire operation.

On June 7, the DOJ announced it had clawed back $2.3 million worth of Bitcoin that Colonial Pipeline paid to ransomware extortionists last month. The funds had been sent to DarkSide, a ransomware-as-a-service syndicate that disbanded after a May 14 farewell message to affiliates saying its Internet servers and cryptocurrency stash were seized by unknown law enforcement entities.

“The proceeds of the victim’s ransom payment…had been transferred to a specific address, for which the FBI has the ‘private key,’ or the rough equivalent of a password needed to access assets accessible from the specific Bitcoin address,” the DOJ explained, somewhat cryptically.

Multiple security experts quickly zeroed in on how investigators were able to retrieve the funds, which did not represent the total amount Colonial paid (~$4.4 million): The amount seized was roughly what a top DarkSide affiliate would have earned for scoring the initial malware infection that precipitated the ransomware incident.

Ukrainian Police Nab Six Tied to CLOP Ransomware

16 June 2021 at 14:42

Authorities in Ukraine this week charged six people alleged to be part of the CLOP ransomware group, a cybercriminal gang said to have extorted more than half a billion dollars from victims. Some of CLOP’s victims this year alone include Stanford University Medical School, the University of California, and University of Maryland.

A still shot from a video showing Ukrainian police seizing a Tesla, one of many high-end vehicles seized in this week’s raids on the Clop gang.

According to a statement and videos released today, the Ukrainian Cyber Police charged six defendants with various computer crimes linked to the CLOP gang, and conducted 21 searches throughout the Kyiv region.

First debuting in early 2019, CLOP is one of several ransomware groups that hack into organizations, launch ransomware that encrypts files and servers, and then demand an extortion payment in return for a digital key needed to unlock access.

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CLOP has been especially busy over the past six months exploiting four different zero-day vulnerabilities in File Transfer Appliance (FTA), a file sharing product made by California-based Accellion.

The CLOP gang seized on those flaws to deploy ransomware to a significant number of Accellion’s FTA customers, including U.S. grocery chain Krogers, the law firm Jones Day, security firm Qualys, and the Singaporean telecom giant Singtel.

Last year, CLOP adopted the practice of attempting to extract a second ransom demand from victims in exchange for a promise not to publish or sell any stolen data. Terabytes of documents and files stolen from victim organizations that have not paid a data ransom are now available for download from CLOP’s deep web site, including Stanford, UCLA and the University of Maryland.

CLOP’s victim shaming blog on the deep web.

It’s not clear how much this law enforcement operation by Ukrainian authorities will affect the overall operations of the CLOP group. Cybersecurity intelligence firm Intel 471 says the law enforcement raids in Ukraine were limited to the cash-out and money laundering side of CLOP’s business only.

“We do not believe that any core actors behind CLOP were apprehended, due to the fact that they are probably living in Russia,” Intel 471 concluded. “The overall impact to CLOP is expected to be minor although this law enforcement attention may result in the CLOP brand getting abandoned as we’ve recently seen with other ransomware groups like DarkSide and Babuk” [links added].

While CLOP as a moneymaking collective is fairly young organization, security experts say CLOP members hail from a group of Threat Actors (TA) known as “TA505,” which MITRE‘s ATT&CK database says is a financially motivated cybercrime group that has been active since at least 2014. “This group is known for frequently changing malware and driving global trends in criminal malware distribution,” MITRE assessed.

First American Financial Pays Farcical $500K Fine

18 June 2021 at 12:20

In May 2019, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that the website of mortgage settlement giant First American Financial Corp. [NYSE:FAF] was leaking more than 800 million documents — many containing sensitive financial data — related to real estate transactions dating back 16 years. This week, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission settled its investigation into the matter after the Fortune 500 company agreed to pay a paltry penalty of less than $500,000.

First American Financial Corp.

If you bought or sold a property in the last two decades or so, chances are decent that you also gave loads of personal and financial documents to First American. According to data from the American Land Title Association, First American is the second largest mortgage title and settlement company in the United States, handling nearly a quarter of all closings each year.

The SEC says First American derives nearly 92 percent of its revenue from its title insurance segment, earning $7.1 billion last year.

Title insurance protects homebuyers from the prospect of someone contesting their legitimacy as the new homeowner. According to SimpleShowing.com, there are actually two title insurance policies in each transaction — one for the buyer and one for the lender (the latter also needs protection as they’re providing the mortgage to purchase the home).

Title insurance is not mandated by law, but most lenders require it as part of any mortgage transaction. In other words, if you wish to take out a mortgage on a home you will not be able to do so without giving companies like First American gobs of documents about your income, assets and liabilities — including quite a bit of sensitive financial data.

Aside from its core business competency — checking to make sure the property at issue in any real estate transaction is unencumbered by any liens or other legal claims against it — First American basically has one job: Protect the privacy and security of all these documents.

A redacted screenshot of one of many millions of sensitive records exposed by First American’s Web site.

It’s easy to see why companies like First American might not view protecting this data as sacrosanct, as the entire industry’s incentive for safeguarding all those sensitive documents is somewhat misaligned.

That is to say, in the title insurance industry the parties to a real estate transaction aren’t customers, but rather they are are the product. The actual customers of the title insurance companies are principally the banks which back these mortgage transactions.

We see a similar dynamic with social media platforms, where the “user” is not the customer at all but the product whose data is being bought and sold by these platforms.

Roughly five months before KrebsOnSecurity notified First American that anyone with a web browser could view sensitive document in its “Eagle Pro” database online just by changing some characters at the end of a link, an internal security audit at First American flagged the exact same vulnerability.

But the company never acted to fix it until the news media came calling.

The SEC’s administrative proceeding (PDF) explains how things slipped through the cracks. Under First American’s documented vulnerability remediation policies, the data leak was classified as a security weakness with a “level 3” severity, which placed it in the “medium risk” category and required remediation within 45 days.

But rather than recording the vulnerability as a level 3 severity, due to a clerical error the vulnerability was erroneously entered as a level 2 or “low risk” severity in First American’s automated tracking system. Level 2 issues required remediation within 90 days. Even so, First American missed that mark.

The SEC said that under First American’s remediation policies, if the person responsible for fixing the problem is unable to do so based on the timeframes listed above, that employee must have their management contact the company’s information security department to discuss their remediation plan and proposed time estimate.

“If it is not technically possible to remediate the vulnerability, or if remediation is cost prohibitive, the [employee] and their management must contact Information Security to obtain a waiver or risk acceptance approval from the CISO,” the SEC explained. “The [employee] did not request a waiver or risk acceptance from the CISO.”

So, someone within First American accepted the risk, but that person neglected to ensure the higher-ups within the company also were comfortable with that risk. It’s difficult not to hum a tune whenever the phrase “accepted the risk” comes up if you’ve ever seen this excellent infosec industry parody.

The SEC took aim at First American because a few days after our May 24, 2019 story ran, the company issued an 8-K filing with the agency stating First American had no prior indication of any vulnerability.

“That statement demonstrated that First American’s senior management was not properly informed of the prior report of a vulnerability and a failure to remediate the problem,” wrote Michael Volkov, a 30-year federal prosecutor who now runs The Volkov Law Group in Washington, D.C.

Reporting for Reuters Regulatory Intelligence, Richard Satran says the SEC charged First American with violating Rule 13a-15(a) of the Exchange Act.

“The rule broadly requires firms involved in securities issuance to have a compliance process in place to assure material information follows securities laws,” Satran wrote. “The SEC avoided getting into the specific details of the breach and instead focused on the way its disclosure was handled.”

Mark Rasch, also former federal prosecutor in Washington, said the SEC is signaling with this action that it intends to take on more cases in which companies flub security governance in some big way.

“It’s a win for the SEC, and for First America, but it’s hardly justice,” Rasch said. “It’s a paltry fine, and it involves no admission of guilt by First American.”

Rasch said First American’s first problem was labeling the weakness as a medium risk.

“This is lots of sensitive data you’re exposing to anyone with a web browser,” Rasch said. “That’s a high-risk vulnerability. It also means you probably don’t know whether or not anyone has accessed that data. There’s no way to tell unless you can go back through all your logs all those years.”

The SEC said the 800 million+ records had been publicly available on First American’s website since 2013. In August 2019, the company said a third-party investigation into the exposure identified just 32 consumers whose non-public personal information likely was accessed without authorization.

When KrebsOnSecurity asked how long it maintained access logs or how far back in time that review went, First American declined to be more specific, saying only that its logs covered a period that was typical for a company of its size and nature.

However, documents from New York financial regulators show First American was unable to determine whether records were accessed prior to Jun 2018 (one year prior to fixing the weakness).

The records exposed by First American would have been a virtual gold mine for phishers and scammers involved in Business Email Compromise (BEC) scams, which often impersonate real estate agents, closing agencies, title and escrow firms in a bid to trick property buyers into wiring funds to fraudsters. According to the FBI, BEC scams are the most costly form of cybercrime today.

First American is not out of the regulatory woods yet from this enormous data leak. In July 2020, the New York State Department of Financial Services announced the company was the target of their first ever cybersecurity enforcement action in connection with the incident, charges that could bring steep financial penalties. That inquiry is ongoing.

The DFS considers each instance of exposed personal information a separate violation, and the company faces penalties of up to $1,000 per violation. According to the SEC, First American’s EaglePro database contained tens of millions of document images that included non-public personal information.

How Cyber Safe is Your Drinking Water Supply?

21 June 2021 at 18:36

Amid multiple recent reports of hackers breaking into and tampering with drinking water treatment systems comes a new industry survey with some sobering findings: A majority of the 52,000 separate drinking water systems in the United States still haven’t inventoried some or any of their information technology systems — a basic first step in protecting networks from cyberattacks.

The Water Sector Coordinating Council surveyed roughly 600 employees of water and wastewater treatment facilities nationwide, and found 37.9 percent of utilities have identified all IT-networked assets, with an additional 21.7 percent working toward that goal.

The Council found when it comes to IT systems tied to “operational technology” (OT) — systems responsible for monitoring and controlling the industrial operation of these utilities and their safety features — just 30.5 percent had identified all OT-networked assets, with an additional 22.5 percent working to do so.

“Identifying IT and OT assets is a critical first step in improving cybersecurity,” the report concluded. “An organization cannot protect what it cannot see.”

It’s also hard to see threats you’re not looking for: 67.9 percent of water systems reported no IT security incidents in the last 12 months, a somewhat unlikely scenario.

Michael Arceneaux, managing director of the WaterISAC — an industry group that tries to facilitate information sharing and the adoption of best practices among utilities in the water sector — said the survey shows much room for improvement and a need for support and resources.

“Threats are increasing, and the sector, EPA, CISA and USDA need to collaborate to help utilities prevent and recover from compromises,” Arceneaux said on Twitter.

While documenting each device that needs protection is a necessary first step, a number of recent cyberattacks on water treatment systems have been blamed on a failure to properly secure water treatment employee accounts that can be used for remote access.

In April, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against a 22-year-old from Kansas who’s accused of hacking into a public water system in 2019. The defendant in that case is a former employee of the water district he allegedly hacked.

In February, we learned that someone hacked into the water treatment plan in Oldsmar, Fla. and briefly increased the amount of sodium hydroxide (a.k.a. lye used to control acidity in the water) to 100 times the normal level. That incident stemmed from stolen or leaked employee credentials for TeamViewer, a popular program that lets users remotely control their computers.

In January, a hacker tried to poison a water treatment plant that served parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, reports Kevin Collier for NBCNews. The hacker in that case also had the username and password for a former employee’s TeamViewer account.

Image: WaterISAC.

Andrew Hildick-Smith is a consultant who served more than 15 years managing remote access systems for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority. He said the percentage of companies that reported already having inventoried all of their IT systems is roughly equal to the number of larger water utilities (greater than 50,000 population) that recently had to certify to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that they are compliant with the Water Infrastructure Act of 2018.

The water act gives utilities serving between 3,300 and 50,000 residents until the end of this month to complete a cybersecurity risk and resiliency assessment.

But Hildick-Smith said the vast majority of the nation’s water utilities — tens of thousands of them — serve fewer than 3,300 residents, and those utilities currently do not have to report to the EPA about their cybersecurity practices (or the lack thereof).

“A large number of utilities — probably close to 40,000 of them — are small enough that they haven’t been asked to do anything,” he said. “But some of those utilities are kind of doing cybersecurity based on self motivation rather than any requirement.”

According to the water sector report, a great many of the nation’s water utilities are subject to economic disadvantages typical of rural and urban communities.

“Others do not have access to a cybersecurity workforce,” the report explains. “Operating in the background is that these utilities are struggling to maintain and replace infrastructure, maintain revenues while addressing issues of affordability, and comply with safe and clean water regulations.”

The report makes the case for federal funding of state and local systems to provide cybersecurity training, tools and services for those in charge of maintaining IT systems, noting that 38 percent of water systems allocate less than 1 percent of their annual budgets to cybersecurity.

As the recent hacking incidents above can attest, enabling some form of multi-factor authentication for remote access can blunt many of these attacks.

However, the sharing of remote access credentials among water sector employees may be a contributing factor in these recent incidents, since organizations that let multiple employees use the same account also are less likely to have any form of multi-factor enabled.

A copy of the report is available here (PDF).

Update, 6:25 p.m. ET: Clarified that the report was issued by the Water Sector Coordinating Council (not the WaterISAC).

How Cyber Sleuths Cracked an ATM Shimmer Gang

23 June 2021 at 12:49

In 2015, police departments worldwide started finding ATMs compromised with advanced new “shimming” devices made to steal data from chip card transactions. Authorities in the United States and abroad had seized many of these shimmers, but for years couldn’t decrypt the data on the devices. This is a story of ingenuity and happenstance, and how one former Secret Service agent helped crack a code that revealed the contours of a global organized crime ring.

Jeffrey Dant was a special agent at the U.S. Secret Service for 12 years until 2015. After that, Dant served as the global lead for the fraud fusion center at Citi, one of the largest financial institutions in the United States.

Not long after joining Citi, Dant heard from industry colleagues at a bank in Mexico who reported finding one of these shimming devices inside the card acceptance slot of a local ATM. As it happens, KrebsOnSecurity wrote about that particular shimmer back in August 2015.

This card ‘shimming’ device is made to read chip-enabled cards and can be inserted directly into the ATM’s card acceptance slot.

The shimmers were an innovation that caused concern on multiple levels. For starters, chip-based payment cards were supposed to be far more expensive and difficult for thieves to copy and clone. But these skimmers took advantage of weaknesses in the way many banks at the time implemented the new chip card standard.

Also, unlike traditional ATM skimmers that run on hidden cell phone batteries, the ATM shimmers found in Mexico did not require any external power source, and thus could remain in operation collecting card data until the device was removed.

When a chip card is inserted, a chip-capable ATM reads the data stored on the smart card by sending an electric current through the chip. Incredibly, these shimmers were able to siphon a small amount of that power (a few milliamps) to record any data transmitted by the card. When the ATM is no longer in use, the skimming device remains dormant, storing the stolen data in an encrypted format.

Dant and other investigators looking into the shimmers didn’t know at the time how the thieves who planted the devices went about gathering the stolen data. Traditional ATM skimmers are either retrieved manually, or they are programmed to transmit the stolen data wirelessly, such as via text message or Bluetooth.

But recall that these shimmers don’t have anywhere near the power needed to transmit data wirelessly, and the flexible shimmers themselves tend to rip apart when retrieved from the mouth of a compromised ATM. So how were the crooks collecting the loot?

“We didn’t know how they were getting the PINs at the time, either,” Dant recalled. “We found out later they were combining the skimmers with old school cameras hidden in fake overhead and side panels on the ATMs.”

Investigators wanted to look at the data stored on the shimmer, but it was encrypted. So they sent it to MasterCard’s forensics lab in the United Kingdom, and to the Secret Service.

“The Secret Service didn’t have any luck with it,” Dant said. “MasterCard in the U.K. was able to understand a little bit at a high level what it was doing, and they confirmed that it was powered by the chip. But the data dump from the shimmer was just encrypted gibberish.”

Organized crime gangs that specialize in deploying skimmers very often will encrypt stolen card data as a way to remove the possibility that any gang members might try to personally siphon and sell the card data in underground markets.

THE DOWNLOAD CARDS

Then in 2017, Dant got a lucky break: Investigators had found a shimming device inside an ATM in New York City, and that device appeared identical to the shimmers found in Mexico two years earlier.

“That was the first one that had showed up in the U.S. at that point,” Dant said.

The Citi team suspected that if they could work backwards from the card data that was known to have been recorded by the skimmers, they might be able to crack the encryption.

“We knew when the shimmer went into the ATM, thanks to closed-circuit television footage,” Dant said. “And we know when that shimmer was discovered. So between that time period of a couple of days, these are the cards that interacted with the skimmer, and so these card numbers are most likely on this device.”

Based off that hunch, MasterCard’s eggheads had success decoding the encrypted gibberish. But they already knew which payment cards had been compromised, so what did investigators stand to gain from breaking the encryption?

According to Dant, this is where things got interesting: They found that the same primary account number (unique 16 digits of the card) was present on the download card and on the shimmers from both New York City and Mexican ATMs.

Further research revealed that account number was tied to a payment card issued years prior by an Austrian bank to a customer who reported never receiving the card in the mail.

“So why is this Austrian bank card number on the download card and two different shimming devices in two different countries, years apart?” Dant said he wondered at the time.

He didn’t have to wait long for an answer. Soon enough, the NYPD brought a case against a group of Romanian men suspected of planting the same shimming devices in both the U.S. and Mexico. Search warrants served against the Romanian defendants turned up multiple copies of the shimmer they’d seized from the compromised ATMs.

“They found an entire ATM skimming lab that had different versions of that shimmer in untrimmed squares of sheet metal,” Dant said. “But what stood out the most was this unique device — the download card.”

The download card (right, in blue) opens an encrypted session with the shimmer, and then transmits the stolen card data to the attached white plastic device. Image: KrebsOnSecurity.com.

The download card consisted of two pieces of plastic about the width of a debit card but a bit longer. The blue plastic part — made to be inserted into a card reader — features the same contacts as a chip card. The blue plastic was attached via a ribbon cable to a white plastic card with a green LED and other electronic components.

Sticking the blue download card into a chip reader revealed the same Austrian card number seen on the shimming devices. It then became very clear what was happening.

“The download card was hard coded with chip card data on it, so that it could open up an encrypted session with the shimmer,” which also had the same card data, Dant said.

The download card, up close. Image: KrebsOnSecurity.com.

Once inserted into the mouth of ATM card acceptance slot that’s already been retrofitted with one of these shimmers, the download card causes an encrypted data exchange between it and the shimmer. Once that two-way handshake is confirmed, the white device lights up a green LED when the data transfer is complete.

THE MASTER KEY

Dant said when the Romanian crew mass-produced their shimming devices, they did so using the same stolen Austrian bank card number. What this meant was that now the Secret Service and Citi had a master key to discover the same shimming devices installed in other ATMs.

That’s because every time the gang compromised a new ATM, that Austrian account number would traverse the global payment card networks — telling them exactly which ATM had just been hacked.

“We gave that number to the card networks, and they were able to see all the places that card had been used on their networks before,” Dant said. “We also set things up so we got alerts anytime that card number popped up, and we started getting tons of alerts and finding these shimmers all over the world.”

For all their sleuthing, Dant and his colleagues never really saw shimming take off in the United States, at least nowhere near as prevalently as in Mexico, he said.

The problem was that many banks in Mexico and other parts of Latin America had not properly implemented the chip card standard, which meant thieves could use shimmed chip card data to make the equivalent of old magnetic stripe-based card transactions.

By the time the Romanian gang’s shimmers started showing up in New York City, the vast majority of U.S. banks had already properly implemented chip card processing in such a way that the same phony chip card transactions which sailed through Mexican banks would simply fail every time they were tried against U.S. institutions.

“It never took off in the U.S., but this kind of activity went on like wildfire for years in Mexico,” Dant said.

The other reason shimming never emerged as a major threat for U.S. financial institutions is that many ATMs have been upgraded over the past decade so that their card acceptance slots are far slimmer, Dant observed.

“That download card is thicker than a lot of debit cards, so a number of institutions were quick to replace the older card slots with newer hardware that reduced the height of a card slot so that you could maybe get a shimmer and a debit card, but definitely not a shimmer and one of these download cards,” he said.

Shortly after ATM shimmers started showing up at banks in Mexico, KrebsOnSecurity spent four days in Mexico tracing the activities of a Romanian organized crime gang that had very recently started its own ATM company there called Intacash.

Sources told KrebsOnSecurity that the Romanian gang also was paying technicians from competing ATM providers to retrofit cash machines with Bluetooth-based skimmers that hooked directly up to the electronics on the inside. Hooked up to the ATM’s internal power, those skimmers could collect card data indefinitely, and the data could be collected wirelessly with a smart phone.

Follow-up reporting last year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) found Intacash and its associates compromised more than 100 ATMs across Mexico using skimmers that were able to remain in place undetected for years. The OCCRP, which dubbed the Romanian group “The Riviera Maya Gang,” estimates the crime syndicate used cloned card data and stolen PINs to steal more than $1.2 billion from bank accounts of tourists visiting the region.

Last month, Mexican authorities arrested Florian “The Shark” Tudor, Intacash’s boss and the reputed ringleader of the Romanian skimming syndicate. Authorities charged that Tudor’s group also specialized in human trafficking, which allowed them to send gang members to compromise ATMs across the border in the United States.

MyBook Users Urged to Unplug Devices from Internet

25 June 2021 at 20:23

Hard drive giant Western Digital is urging users of its MyBook Live brand of network storage drives to disconnect them from the Internet, warning that malicious hackers are remotely wiping the drives using a critical flaw that can be triggered by anyone who knows the Internet address of an affected device.

One of many similar complaints on Western Digital’s user forum.

Earlier this week, Bleeping Computer and Ars Technica pointed to a heated discussion thread on Western Digital’s user forum where many customers complained of finding their MyBook Live and MyBook Live Duo devices completely wiped of their data.

“Western Digital has determined that some My Book Live and My Book Live Duo devices are being compromised through exploitation of a remote command execution vulnerability,” the company said in a statement June 24. “In some cases, this compromise has led to a factory reset that appears to erase all data on the device. The My Book Live and My Book Live Duo devices received its final firmware update in 2015. We understand that our customers’ data is very important. We are actively investigating the issue and will provide an updated advisory when we have more information.”

Western Digital’s brief advisory includes a link to an entry in the National Vulnerability Database for CVE-2018-18472. The NVD writeup says Western Digital WD My Book Live and WD My Book Live Duo (all versions) have a root Remote Command Execution bug.

“It can be triggered by anyone who knows the IP address of the affected device, as exploited in the wild in June 2021 for factory reset commands,” NVD wrote.

Examine the CVE attached to this flaw and you’ll notice it was issued in 2018. The NVD’s advisory credits VPN reviewer Wizcase.com with reporting the bug to Western Digital three years ago, back in June 2018.

In some ways, it’s remarkable that it took this long for vulnerable MyBook devices to be attacked: The 2018 Wizcase writeup on the flaw includes proof-of-concept code that lets anyone run commands on the devices as the all-powerful “root” user.

Western Digital’s response at the time was that the affected devices were no longer supported and that customers should avoid connecting them to the Internet. That response also suggested this bug has been present in its devices for at least a decade.

“The vulnerability report CVE-2018-18472 affects My Book Live devices originally introduced to the market between 2010 and 2012,” reads a reply from Western Digital that Wizcase posted to its blog. “These products have been discontinued since 2014 and are no longer covered under our device software support lifecycle. We encourage users who wish to continue operating these legacy products to configure their firewall to prevent remote access to these devices, and to take measures to ensure that only trusted devices on the local network have access to the device.”

A local administration page for the MyBook Live Duo.

Wizcase said the flaw it found in MyBook devices also may be present in certain models of WD MyCloud network attached storage (NAS) devices, although Western Digital’s advisory makes no mention of its MyCloud line being affected.

The vulnerable MyBook devices are popular among home users and small businesses because they’re relatively feature-rich and inexpensive, and can be upgraded with additional storage quite easily. But these products also make it simple for users to access their files remotely over the Internet using a mobile app.

I’m guessing it is primarily users who’ve configured their MyBooks to be remotely accessible who are experiencing these unfortunate drive wipes. Regardless, it’s probably safest to observe Western Digital’s advice and disconnect any MyBooks you have from ethernet access.

If you’d still like to keep your MyBook connected to your local network (at least until you can find a suitable backup for your backups), please make double sure remote access is not enabled in your device settings (see screenshot above).

We Infiltrated a Counterfeit Check Ring! Now What?

30 June 2021 at 20:34

Imagine waking up each morning knowing the identities of thousands of people who are about to be mugged for thousands of dollars each. You know exactly when and where each of those muggings will take place, and you’ve shared this information in advance with the authorities each day for a year with no outward indication that they are doing anything about it. How frustrated would you be?

A counterfeit check image [redacted] that was intended for a person helping this fraud gang print and mail phony checks tied to a raft of email-based scams. One fraud-fighting group is intercepting hundreds to thousands of these per day.

Such is the curse of the fraud fighter known online by the handles “Brianna Ware” and “B. Ware” for short, a longtime member of a global group of volunteers who’ve infiltrated a cybercrime gang that disseminates counterfeit checks tied to a dizzying number of online scams.

For the past year, B. Ware has maintained contact with an insider from the criminal group that’s been sending daily lists of would-be victims who are to receive counterfeit checks printed using the real bank account information of legitimate companies.

“Some days we’re seeing thousands of counterfeit checks going out,” B. Ware said.

The scams used in connection with the fraudulent checks vary widely, from fake employment and “mystery shopper” schemes to those involving people who have been told they can get paid to cover their cars in advertisements (a.k.a. the “car wrap” scam).

A form letter mailed out with a counterfeit check urges the recipient to text a phone number after the check has been deposited.

Most of the counterfeit checks being disseminated by this fraud group are in amounts ranging from $2,500 to $5,000. The crimes that the checks enable are known variously as “advanced fee” scams, in that they involve tricking people into making payments in anticipation of receiving something of greater value in return.

But in each scheme the goal is the same: Convince the recipient to deposit the check and then wire a portion of the amount somewhere else. A few days after the check is deposited, it gets invariably canceled by the organization whose bank account information was on the check. And then person who deposited the phony check is on the hook for the entire amount.

“Like the car wrap scam, where they send you a check for $5,000, and you agree to keep $1,000 for your first payment and send the rest back to them in exchange for the car wrap materials,” B. Ware said. “Usually the check includes a letter that says they want you to text a specific phone number to let them know you received the check. When you do that, they’ll start sending you instructions on how and where to send the money.”

A typical confirmation letter that accompanies a counterfeit check for a car wrap scam.

Traditionally, these groups have asked recipients to transit money via wire transfer. But these days, B. Ware said, the same crooks are now asking people to forward the money via mobile applications like CashApp and Venmo.

B. Ware and other volunteer fraud fighters believe the fake checks gang is using people looped into phony employment schemes and wooed through online romance scams to print the counterfeit checks, and that other recruits are responsible for mailing them out each day.

“More often than not, the scammers creating the shipping labels will provide those to an unwitting accomplice, or the accomplice is told to log in to an account and print the labels,” B. Ware explained.

Often the counterfeit checks and labels forwarded by B. Ware’s informant come with notes attached indicating the type of scam with which they are associated.

“Sometimes they’re mystery shopper scams, and other times it’s overpayment for an item sold on Craigslist,” B. Ware said. “We don’t know how the scammers are getting the account and routing numbers for these checks, but they are drawn on real companies and always scan fine through a bank’s systems initially. The recipients can deposit them at any bank, but we try to get the checks to the banks when we can so they have a heads up.”

SHRINKING FROM THE FIREHOSE?

Roughly a year ago, B. Ware’s group started sharing its intelligence with fraud investigators at FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service — the primary delivery mechanisms for these counterfeit checks.

Both the USPS and FedEx have an interest in investigating because the fraudsters in this case are using stolen shipping labels paid for by companies who have no idea their FedEx or USPS accounts are being used for such purposes.

“In most cases, the name of the sender will be completely unrelated to what’s being sent,” B. Ware said. “For example, you’ll see a label for a letter to go out with a counterfeit check for a car wrap scam, and the sender on the shipping label will be something like XYZ Biological Resources.”

But B. Ware says a year later, there is little sign that anyone is interested in acting on the shared intelligence.

“It’s so much information that they really don’t want it anymore and they’re not doing anything about it,” B. Ware said of FedEx and the USPS. “It’s almost like they’re turning a blind eye. There are so many of these checks going out each day that instead of trying to drink from the firehouse, they’re just turning their heads.”

FedEx did not respond to requests for comment. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service responded with a statement saying it “does not comment publicly on its investigative procedures and operational protocols.”

ANY METHOD THAT WORKS

Ronnie Tokazowski is a threat researcher at Agari, a security firm that has closely tracked many of the groups behind these advanced fee schemes [KrebsOnSecurity interviewed Tokazowski in 2018 after he received a security industry award for his work in this area].

Tokazowski said it’s likely the group B. Ware has infiltrated is involved in a myriad other email fraud schemes, including so-called “business email compromise” (BEC) or “CEO scams,” in which the fraudsters impersonate executives at a company in the hopes of convincing someone at the firm to wire money for payment of a non-existent invoice. According to the FBI, BEC scams netted thieves nearly $2 billion in 2020 — far more than any other type of cybercrime.

In a report released in 2019 (PDF), Agari profiled a group it dubbed “Scattered Canary” that is operating principally out of West Africa and dabbles in a dizzying array of schemes, including BEC and romance scams, FEMA and SBA loans, unemployment insurance fraud, counterfeit checks and of course money laundering.

Image: Agari.

Tokazowski said he doesn’t know if the group B. Ware is watching has any affiliation with Scattered Canary. But he said his experience with Scattered Canary shows these groups tend to make money via any and all methods that reliably produce results.

“One of the things that came out of the Scattered Canary report was that the actors we saw doing BEC scams were the same actors doing the car wrap and various Craigslist scams involving fake checks,” he said. “The people doing this type of crime will have tutorials on how to run the scam, how to wire money out for unemployment fraud, how to target people on Craigslist, and so on. It’s very different from the way a Russian hacking group might go after one industry vertical or piece of software or focus on one or two types of fraud. They will follow any method they can that works.”

Tokazowski said he’s taken his share of flack from people on social media who say his focus on West African nations as the primary source of these advanced fee and BEC scams is somehow racist [KrebsOnSecurity experienced a similar response to the 2013 stories, Spy Service Exposes Nigerian ‘Yahoo Boys’, and ‘Yahoo Boys’ Have 419 Facebook Friends].

But Tokazowski maintains he has been one of the more vocal proponents of the idea that trying to fight these problems by arresting those involved is something of a Sisyphean task, and that it makes way more sense to focus on changing the economic realities in places like Nigeria, which has been a hotbed of advanced fee activity for decades.

Nigeria has the world’s second-highest unemployment rate — rising from 27.1 percent in 2019 to 33 percent in 2020, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The nation also is among the world’s most corrupt, according to 2020 findings from Transparency International.

“Education is definitely one piece, as raising awareness is hands down the best way to get ahead of this,” Tokazowski said. “But we also need to think about ways to create more business opportunities there so that people who are doing this to put food on the table have more legitimate opportunities. Unfortunately, thanks to the level of corruption of government officials, there are a lot of cultural reasons that fighting this type of crime at the source is going to be difficult.”

Intuit to Share Payroll Data from 1.4M Small Businesses With Equifax

1 July 2021 at 18:56

Financial services giant Intuit this week informed 1.4 million small businesses using its QuickBooks Online Payroll and Intuit Online Payroll products that their payroll information will be shared with big-three consumer credit bureau Equifax starting later this year unless customers opt out by the end of this month.

Intuit says the change is tied to an “exciting” and “free” new service that will let millions of small business employees get easy access to employment and income verification services when they wish to apply for a loan or line of credit.

“In early fall 2021, your QuickBooks Online Payroll subscription will include an automated income and employment verification service powered by The Work Number from Equifax,” reads the Intuit email, which includes a link to the new Terms of Service. “Your employees may need to verify their income and employment info when applying for things like loans, credit, or public aid. Before, you likely had to manually provide this info to lenders, creditors or government agencies. These verifications will be automated by The Work Number, which helps employees get faster approvals and saves you time.”

An Intuit spokesperson clarified that the new service is not available through QuickBooks Online or to QuickBooks Online users as a whole. Intuit’s FAQ on the changes is here.

Equifax’s 2017 megabreach that exposed the personal and financial details of 145.5 million Americans may have shocked the public, but it did little to stop more than a million employers from continuing to sell Equifax their employee payroll data, Bloomberg found in late 2017.

“The workforce-solutions unit is now among Equifax’s fastest-growing businesses, contributing more than a fifth of the firm’s $3.1 billion of revenue last year,” wrote Jennifer Surane. “Using payroll data from government agencies and thousands of employers — including a vast majority of Fortune 500 companies — Equifax has cultivated a database of 300 million current and historic employment records, according to regulatory filings.”

QuickBooks Online user Anthony Citrano posted on Twitter about receiving the notice, noting that the upcoming changes had yet to receive any attention in the financial or larger media space.

“The way I read the terms, Equifax gets to proactively collect all payroll data just in case they need to share it later — similar to how they already handle credit reporting,” said Citrano, who is founder and CEO of Acquicent, a company that issues non-fungible tokens (NFTs). “And that feels like a disaster waiting to happen, especially given Equifax’s history.”

In selling payroll data to Equifax, Intuit will be joining some of the world’s largest payroll providers. For example, ADP — the largest payroll software provider in the United States — has long shared payroll data with Equifax.

But Citrano said this move by Intuit will incorporate a large number of fairly small businesses.

“ADP participates in some way already, but QuickBooks Online jumping on the bandwagon means a lot of employees of small to mid-sized businesses are going to be affected,” he said.

Why might small businesses want to think twice before entrusting Equifax with their payroll data? The answer is the company doesn’t have a great track record of protecting that information.

In the days following the 2017 breach at Equifax, KrebsOnSecurity pointed out that The Work Number made it a little too easy for anyone to learn your salary history. At the time, all you needed to view someone’s entire work and salary history was their Social Security number and date of birth. It didn’t help that for roughly half the U.S. population, both pieces of information were known to be in the possession of criminals behind the breach.

Equifax responded by taking down its Work Number website until it was able to include additional authentication requirements, saying anyone could opt out of Equifax revealing their salary history.

Equifax’s security improvements included the addition of four multiple-guess questions whose answers were based on publicly-available data. But these requirements were easily bypassed, as evidenced by a previous breach at Equifax’s employment division.

The Work Number is a user-paid verification of employment database created by TALX Corp., a data broker acquired by Equifax in 2007. Four months before the epic 2017 breach became public, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that fraudsters who specialize in tax refund fraud had been successfully guessing the answers to those secret questions to reset TALX account PINs, which then let them view past W-2 tax forms for employees at many Fortune 500 companies.

Intuit says affected customers that do not want this new service included must update their preferences and opt-out by July 31, 2021. Otherwise, they will be automatically will be opted in. According to Intuit, customers can opt out by following these steps:

1. Sign in to QuickBooks Online Payroll.

2. Go to Payroll Settings.

3. In the Shared data section, select the pencil and uncheck the box.

4. Select Save.

Another 0-Day Looms for Many Western Digital Users

2 July 2021 at 16:05

Some of Western Digital’s MyCloud-based data storage devices. Image: WD.

Countless Western Digital customers saw their MyBook Live network storage drives remotely wiped in the past month thanks to a bug in a product line the company stopped supporting in 2015, as well as a previously unknown zero-day flaw. But there is a similarly serious zero-day flaw present in a much broader range of newer Western Digital MyCloud network storage devices that will remain unfixed for many customers who can’t or won’t upgrade to the latest operating system.

At issue is a remote code execution flaw residing in all Western Digital network attached storage (NAS) devices running MyCloud OS 3, an operating system the company only recently stopped supporting.

Researchers Radek Domanski and Pedro Ribeiro originally planned to present their findings at the Pwn2Own hacking competition in Tokyo last year. But just days before the event Western Digital released MyCloud OS 5, which eliminated the bug they found. That update effectively nullified their chances at competing in Pwn2Own, which requires exploits to work against the latest firmware or software supported by the targeted device.

Nevertheless, in February 2021, the duo published this detailed YouTube video, which documents how they discovered a chain of weaknesses that allows an attacker to remotely update a vulnerable device’s firmware with a malicious backdoor — using a low-privileged user account that has a blank password.

The researchers said Western Digital never responded to their reports. In a statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity, Western Digital said it received their report after Pwn2Own Tokyo 2020, but that at the time the vulnerability they reported had already been fixed by the release of My Cloud OS 5.

“The communication that came our way confirmed the research team involved planned to release details of the vulnerability and asked us to contact them with any questions,” Western Digital said. “We didn’t have any questions so we didn’t respond. Since then, we have updated our process and respond to every report in order to avoid any miscommunication like this again. We take reports from the security research community very seriously and conduct investigations as soon as we receive them.”

Western Digital ignored questions about whether the flaw found by Domanski and Ribeiro was ever addressed in OS 3. A statement published on its support site March 12, 2021 says the company will no longer provide further security updates to the MyCloud OS 3 firmware.

“We strongly encourage moving to the My Cloud OS5 firmware,” the statement reads. “If your device is not eligible for upgrade to My Cloud OS 5, we recommend that you upgrade to one of our other My Cloud offerings that support My Cloud OS 5. More information can be found here.” A list of MyCloud devices that can support OS 5 is here.

But according to Domanski, OS 5 is a complete rewrite of Western Digital’s core operating system, and as a result some of the more popular features and functionality built into OS3 are missing.

“It broke a lot of functionality,” Domanski said of OS 5. “So some users might not decide to migrate to OS 5.”

In recognition of this, the researchers have developed and released their own patch that fixes the vulnerabilities they found in OS 3 (the patch needs to be reapplied each time the device is rebooted). Western Digital said it is aware of third parties offering security patches for My Cloud OS 3.

“We have not evaluated any such patches and we are unable to provide any support for such patches,” the company stated.

A snippet from the video showing the researchers uploading their malicious firmware via a remote zero-day flaw in MyCloud OS 3.

Domanski said MyCloud users on OS 3 can virtually eliminate the threat from this attack by simply ensuring that the devices are not set up to be reachable remotely over the Internet. MyCloud devices make it super easy for customers to access their data remotely, but doing so also exposes them to attacks like last month’s that led to the mass-wipe of MyBook Live devices.

“Luckily for many users they don’t expose the interface to the Internet,” he said. “But looking at the number of posts on Western Digital’s support page related to OS3, I can assume the userbase is still considerable. It almost feels like Western Digital without any notice jumped to OS5, leaving all the users without support.”

Dan Goodin at Ars Technica has a fascinating deep dive on the other zero-day flaw that led to the mass attack last month on MyBook Live devices that Western Digital stopped supporting in 2015. In response to Goodin’s report, Western Digital acknowledged that the flaw was enabled by a Western Digital developer who removed code that required a valid user password before allowing factory resets to proceed.

Facing a backlash of angry customers, Western Digital also pledged to provide data recovery services to affected customers starting this month. “MyBook Live customers will also be eligible for a trade-in program so they can upgrade to MyCloud devices,” Goodin wrote. “A spokeswoman said the data recovery service will be free of charge.”

If attackers get around to exploiting this OS 3 bug, Western Digital might soon be paying for data recovery services and trade-ins for a whole lot more customers.

Microsoft Issues Emergency Patch for Windows Flaw

7 July 2021 at 14:34

Microsoft on Tuesday issued an emergency software update to quash a security bug that’s been dubbed “PrintNightmare,” a critical vulnerability in all supported versions of Windows that is actively being exploited. The fix comes a week ahead of Microsoft’s normal monthly Patch Tuesday release, and follows the publishing of exploit code showing would-be attackers how to leverage the flaw to break into Windows computers.

At issue is CVE-2021-34527, which involves a flaw in the Windows Print Spooler service that could be exploited by attackers to run code of their choice on a target’s system. Microsoft says it has already detected active exploitation of the vulnerability.

Satnam Narang, staff research engineer at Tenable, said Microsoft’s patch warrants urgent attention because of the vulnerability’s ubiquity across organizations and the prospect that attackers could exploit this flaw in order to take over a Windows domain controller.

“We expect it will only be a matter of time before it is more broadly incorporated into attacker toolkits,” Narang said. “PrintNightmare will remain a valuable exploit for cybercriminals as long as there are unpatched systems out there, and as we know, unpatched vulnerabilities have a long shelf life for attackers.”

In a blog post, Microsoft’s Security Response Center said it was delayed in developing fixes for the vulnerability in Windows Server 2016, Windows 10 version 1607, and Windows Server 2012. The fix also apparently includes a new feature that allows Windows administrators to implement stronger restrictions on the installation of printer software.

“Prior to installing the July 6, 2021, and newer Windows Updates containing protections for CVE-2021-34527, the printer operators’ security group could install both signed and unsigned printer drivers on a printer server,” reads Microsoft’s support advisory. “After installing such updates, delegated admin groups like printer operators can only install signed printer drivers. Administrator credentials will be required to install unsigned printer drivers on a printer server going forward.”

Windows 10 users can check for the patch by opening Windows Update. Chances are, it will show what’s pictured in the screenshot below — that KB5004945 is available for download and install. A reboot will be required after installation.

Friendly reminder: It’s always a good idea to backup your data before applying security updates. Windows 10 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.

Microsoft’s out-of-band update may not completely fix the PrinterNightmare vulnerability. Security researcher Benjamin Delpy posted on Twitter that the exploit still works on a fully patched Windows server if the server also has Point & Print enabled — a Windows feature that automatically downloads and installs available printer drivers.

Delpy said it’s common for organizations to enable Point & Print using group policies because it allows users to install printer updates without getting approval first from IT.

This post will be updated if Windows users start reporting any issues in applying the patch.

Kaseya Left Customer Portal Vulnerable to 2015 Flaw in its Own Software

8 July 2021 at 15:22

Last week cybercriminals deployed ransomware to 1,500 organizations, including many that provide IT security and technical support to other companies. The attackers exploited a vulnerability in software from Kaseya, a Miami-based company whose products help system administrators manage large networks remotely. Now it appears Kaseya’s customer service portal was left vulnerable until last week to a data-leaking security flaw that was first identified in the same software six years ago.

On July 3, the REvil ransomware affiliate program began using a zero-day security hole (CVE-2021-30116) to deploy ransomware to hundreds of IT management companies running Kaseya’s remote management software — known as the Kaseya Virtual System Administrator (VSA).

According to this entry for CVE-2021-30116, the security flaw that powers that Kaseya VSA zero-day was assigned a vulnerability number on April 2, 2021, indicating Kaseya had roughly three months to address the bug before it was exploited in the wild.

Also on July 3, security incident response firm Mandiant notified Kaseya that their billing and customer support site —portal.kaseya.net — was vulnerable to CVE-2015-2862, a “directory traversal” vulnerability in Kaseya VSA that allows remote users to read any files on the server using nothing more than a Web browser.

As its name suggests, CVE-2015-2862 was issued in July 2015. Six years later, Kaseya’s customer portal was still exposed to the data-leaking weakness.

The Kaseya customer support and billing portal. Image: Archive.org.

Mandiant notified Kaseya after hearing about it from Alex Holden, founder and chief technology officer of Milwaukee-based cyber intelligence firm Hold Security. Holden said the 2015 vulnerability was present on Kaseya’s customer portal until Saturday afternoon, allowing him to download the site’s “web.config” file, a server component that often contains sensitive information such as usernames and passwords and the locations of key databases.

“It’s not like they forgot to patch something that Microsoft fixed years ago,” Holden said. “It’s a patch for their own software. And it’s not zero-day. It’s from 2015!”

The official description of CVE-2015-2862 says a would-be attacker would need to be already authenticated to the server for the exploit to work. But Holden said that was not the case with the vulnerability on the Kaseya portal that he reported via Mandiant.

“This is worse because the CVE calls for an authenticated user,” Holden said. “This was not.”

Michael Sanders, executive vice president of account management at Kaseya, confirmed that the customer portal was taken offline in response to a vulnerability report. Sanders said the portal had been retired in 2018 in favor of a more modern customer support and ticketing system, yet somehow the old site was still left available online.

“It was deprecated but left up,” Sanders said.

In a written statement shared with KrebsOnSecurity, Kaseya said that in 2015 CERT reported two vulnerabilities in its VSA product.

“We worked with CERT on responsible disclosure and released patches for VSA versions V7, R8, R9 and R9 along with the public disclosure (CVEs) and notifications to our customers. Portal.kaseya.net was not considered by our team to be part of the VSA shipping product and was not part of the VSA product patch in 2015. It has no access to customer endpoints and has been shut down – and will no longer be enabled or used by Kaseya.”

“At this time, there is no evidence this portal was involved in the VSA product security incident,” the statement continued. “We are continuing to do forensic analysis on the system and investigating what data is actually there.”

The REvil ransomware group said affected organizations could negotiate independently with them for a decryption key, or someone could pay $70 million worth of virtual currency to buy a key that works to decrypt all systems compromised in this attack.

But Sanders said every ransomware expert Kaseya consulted so far has advised against negotiating for one ransom to unlock all victims.

“The problem is that they don’t have our data, they have our customers’ data,” Sanders said. “We’ve been counseled not to do that by every ransomware negotiating company we’ve dealt with. They said with the amount of individual machines hacked and ransomwared, it would be very difficult for all of these systems to be remediated at once.”

In a video posted to Youtube on July 6, Kaseya CEO Fred Voccola said the ransomware attack had “limited impact, with only approximately 50 of the more than 35,000 Kaseya customers being breached.”

“While each and every customer impacted is one too many, the impact of this highly sophisticated attack has proven to be, thankfully, greatly overstated,” Voccola said.

The zero-day vulnerability that led to Kaseya customers (and customers of those customers) getting ransomed was discovered and reported to Kaseya by Wietse Boonstra, a researcher with the Dutch Institute for Vulnerability Disclosure (DIVD).

In a July 4 blog post, DIVD’s Victor Gevers wrote that Kaseya was “very cooperative,” and “asked the right questions.”

“Also, partial patches were shared with us to validate their effectiveness,” Gevers wrote. “During the entire process, Kaseya has shown that they were willing to put in the maximum effort and initiative into this case both to get this issue fixed and their customers patched. They showed a genuine commitment to do the right thing. Unfortunately, we were beaten by REvil in the final sprint, as they could exploit the vulnerabilities before customers could even patch.”

Still, Kaseya has yet to issue an official patch for the flaw Boonstra reported in April. Kaseya told customers on July 7 that it was working “through the night” to push out an update.

Gevers said the Kaseya vulnerability was discovered as part of a larger DIVD effort to look for serious flaws in a wide array of remote network management tools.

“We are focusing on these types of products because we spotted a trend where more and more of the products that are used to keep networks safe and secure are showing structural weaknesses,” he wrote.

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