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Before yesterdayKrebs on Security

Fake Emergency Search Warrants Draw Scrutiny from Capitol Hill

31 March 2022 at 22:54

On Tuesday, KrebsOnSecurity warned that hackers increasingly are using compromised government and police department email accounts to obtain sensitive customer data from mobile providers, ISPs and social media companies. Today, one of the U.S. Senate’s most tech-savvy lawmakers said he was troubled by the report and is now asking technology companies and federal agencies for information about the frequency of such schemes.

At issue are forged “emergency data requests,” (EDRs) sent through hacked police or government agency email accounts. Tech companies usually require a search warrant or subpoena before providing customer or user data, but any police jurisdiction can use an EDR to request immediate access to data without a warrant, provided the law enforcement entity attests that the request is related to an urgent matter of life and death.

As Tuesday’s story showed, hackers have figured out there is no quick and easy way for a company that receives one of these EDRs to know whether it is legitimate. After all, there are roughly 18,000 distinct police organizations in the United States alone, and many thousands of government and police agencies worldwide.

Criminal hackers exploiting that ambiguity are enjoying remarkable success rates gaining access to the data they’re after, and some are now selling EDRs as a service to other crooks online.

This week’s piece included confirmation from social media platform Discord about a fraudulent EDR they recently processed. On Wednesday, Bloomberg published a story confirming that both Apple and Meta/Facebook have recently complied with fake EDRs.

Today, KrebsOnSecurity heard from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who said he was moved to action after reading this week’s coverage.

“Recent news reports have revealed an enormous threat to Americans’ safety and national security,” Wyden said in a statement provided to KrebsOnSecurity. “I’m particularly troubled by the prospect that forged emergency orders may be coming from compromised foreign law enforcement agencies, and then used to target vulnerable individuals.”

“I’m requesting information from tech companies and multiple federal agencies to learn more about how emergency data requests are being abused by hackers,” Wyden’s statement continues. “No one wants tech companies to refuse legitimate emergency requests when someone’s safety is at stake, but the current system has clear weaknesses that need to be addressed. Fraudulent government requests are a significant concern, which is why I’ve already authored legislation to stamp out forged warrants and subpoenas.”

Tuesday’s story showed how fraudulently obtained EDRs were a tool used by members of LAPSUS$, the data extortion group that recently hacked Microsoft, NVIDIA, Okta and Samsung. And it tracked the activities of a teenage hacker from the United Kingdom who was reportedly arrested multiple times for sending fake EDRs.

That was in March 2021, but there are similar fake EDR services on offer today. One example can be found on Telegram, wherein a member who favors the handle “Bug” has for the past month been selling access to various police and government email accounts.

All of the access Bug is currently offering was allegedly stolen from non-U.S. police and government email accounts, including a police department in India; a government ministry of the United Arab Emirates; the Brazilian Secretariat of Education; and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education.

On Mar. 30, Bug posted a sales thread to the cybercrime forum Breached[.]co saying he could be hired to perform fake EDRs on targets at will, provided the account was recently active.

“I am doing LE Emergency Data Requests for snapchat, twitter, ig [Instagram] and many others,” Bug wrote. “Information we can get: emails, IPs, phone numbers, photos. Account must be active in the last week else we get rejected as shown below. Have gotten information only on Snapchat, Twitter and IG so far.”

An individual using the nickname “Bug” has been selling access to government and police email accounts for more than a month. Bug posted this sales thread on Wednesday.

KrebsOnSecurity sought comment from Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. This post will be updated in the event they respond.

The current scourge of fraudulent EDRs illustrates the dangers of relying solely on email to process legal requests for privileged subscriber data. In July 2021, Sen. Wyden and others introduced new legislation to combat the growing use of counterfeit court orders by scammers and criminals. The bill calls for funding for state and tribal courts to adopt widely available digital signature technology that meets standards developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Forged court orders, usually involving copy-and-pasted signatures of judges, have been used to authorize illegal wiretaps and fraudulently take down legitimate reviews and websites by those seeking to conceal negative information and past crimes,” the lawmakers said in a statement introducing their bill.

The Digital Authenticity for Court Orders Act would require federal, state and tribal courts to use a digital signature for orders authorizing surveillance, domain seizures and removal of online content.

The Original APT: Advanced Persistent Teenagers

6 April 2022 at 17:55

Many organizations are already struggling to combat cybersecurity threats from ransomware purveyors and state-sponsored hacking groups, both of which tend to take days or weeks to pivot from an opportunistic malware infection to a full blown data breach. But few organizations have a playbook for responding to the kinds of virtual “smash and grab” attacks we’ve seen recently from LAPSUS$, a juvenile data extortion group whose short-lived, low-tech and remarkably effective tactics have put some of the world’s biggest corporations on edge.

Since surfacing in late 2021, LAPSUS$ has gained access to the networks or contractors for some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Microsoft, NVIDIA, Okta and Samsung. LAPSUS$ typically threatens to release sensitive data unless paid a ransom, but with most victims the hackers ended up publishing any information they stole (mainly computer source code).

Microsoft blogged about its attack at the hands of LAPSUS$, and about the group targeting its customers. It found LAPSUS$ used a variety of old-fashioned techniques that seldom show up in any corporate breach post-mortems, such as:

-targeting employees at their personal email addresses and phone numbers;
-offering to pay $20,000 a week to employees who give up remote access credentials;
-social engineering help desk and customer support employees at targeted companies;
-bribing/tricking employees at mobile phone stores to hijack a target’s phone number;
-intruding on their victims’ crisis communications calls post-breach.

If these tactics sound like something you might sooner expect from spooky, state-sponsored “Advanced Persistent Threat” or APT groups, consider that the core LAPSUS$ members are thought to range in age from 15 to 21. Also, LAPSUS$ operates on a shoestring budget and is anything but stealthy: According to Microsoft, LAPSUS$ doesn’t seem to cover its tracks or hide its activity. In fact, the group often announces its hacks on social media.

ADVANCED PERSISTENT TEENAGERS

This unusual combination makes LAPSUS$ something of an aberration that is probably more aptly referred to as “Advanced Persistent Teenagers,” said one CXO at a large organization that recently had a run-in with LAPSUS$.

“There is a lot of speculation about how good they are, tactics et cetera, but I think it’s more than that,” said the CXO, who spoke about the incident on condition of anonymity. “They put together an approach that industry thought suboptimal and unlikely. So it’s their golden hour.”

LAPSUS$ seems to have conjured some worst-case scenarios in the minds of many security experts, who worry what will happen when more organized cybercriminal groups start adopting these techniques.

“LAPSUS$ has shown that with only $25,000, a group of teenagers could get into organizations with mature cybersecurity practices,” said Amit Yoran, CEO of security firm Tenable and a former federal cybersecurity czar, testifying last week before the House Homeland Security Committee. “With much deeper pockets, focus, and mission, targeting critical infrastructure. That should be a sobering, if not terrifying, call to action.”

My CXO source said LAPSUS$ succeeds because they simply refuse to give up, and just keep trying until someone lets them in.

“They would just keep jamming a few individuals to get [remote] access, read some onboarding documents, enroll a new 2FA [two-factor authentication method] and exfiltrate code or secrets, like a smash-and-grab,” the CXO said. “These guys were not leet, just damn persistent.”

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

The smash-and-grab attacks by LAPSUS$ obscure some of the group’s less public activities, which according to Microsoft include targeting individual user accounts at cryptocurrency exchanges to drain crypto holdings.

In some ways, the attacks from LAPSUS$ recall the July 2020 intrusion at Twitter, wherein the accounts for Apple, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Kanye West, Uber and others were made to tweet messages inviting the world to participate in a cryptocurrency scam that promised to double any amount sent to specific wallets. The flash scam netted the perpetrators more than $100,000 in the ensuing hours.

The group of teenagers who hacked Twitter hailed from a community that traded in hacked social media accounts. This community places a special premium on accounts with short “OG” usernames, and some of its most successful and notorious members were known to use all of the methods Microsoft attributed to LAPSUS$ in the service of hijacking prized OG accounts.

The Twitter hackers largely pulled it off by brute force, writes Wired on the July 15, 2020 hack.

“Someone was trying to phish employee credentials, and they were good at it,” Wired reported. “They were calling up consumer service and tech support personnel, instructing them to reset their passwords. Many employees passed the messages onto the security team and went back to business. But a few gullible ones—maybe four, maybe six, maybe eight—were more accommodating. They went to a dummy site controlled by the hackers and entered their credentials in a way that served up their usernames and passwords as well as multifactor authentication codes.”

Twitter revealed that a key tactic of the group was “phone spear phishing” (a.k.a. “voice phishing” a.k.a. “vishing”). This involved calling up Twitter staffers using false identities, and tricking them into giving up credentials for an internal company tool that let the hackers reset passwords and multi-factor authentication setups for targeted users.

In August 2020, KrebsOnSecurity warned that crooks were using voice phishing to target new hires at major companies, impersonating IT employees and asking them to update their VPN client or log in at a phishing website that mimicked their employer’s VPN login page.

Two days after that story ran, the FBI and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued their own warning on vishing, saying the attackers typically compiled dossiers on employees at specific companies by mass-scraping public profiles on social media platforms, recruiter and marketing tools, publicly available background check services, and open-source research. The joint FBI/CISA alert continued:

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

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

Like LAPSUS$, these vishers just kept up their social engineering attacks until they succeeded. As KrebsOnSecurity wrote about the vishers back in 2020:

“It matters little to the attackers if the first few social engineering attempts fail. Most targeted employees are working from home or can be reached on a mobile device. If at first the attackers don’t succeed, they simply try again with a different employee.”

“And with each passing attempt, the phishers can glean important details from employees about the target’s operations, such as company-specific lingo used to describe its various online assets, or its corporate hierarchy.”

“Thus, each unsuccessful attempt actually teaches the fraudsters how to refine their social engineering approach with the next mark within the targeted organization.”

SMASH & GRAB

The primary danger with smash-and-grab groups like LAPSUS$ is not just their persistence but their ability to extract the maximum amount of sensitive information from their victims using compromised user accounts that typically have a short lifespan. After all, in many attacks, the stolen credentials are useful only so long as the impersonated employee isn’t also trying to use them.

This dynamic puts tremendous pressure on cyber incident response teams, which suddenly are faced with insiders who are trying frantically to steal everything of perceived value within a short window of time. On top of that, LAPSUS$ has a habit of posting screenshots on social media touting its access to internal corporate tools. These images and claims quickly go viral and create a public relations nightmare for the victim organization.

Single sign-on provider Okta experienced this firsthand last month, when LAPSUS$ posted screenshots that appeared to show Okta’s Slack channels and another with a Cloudflare interface. Cloudflare responded by resetting its employees’ Okta credentials.

Okta quickly came under fire for posting only a brief statement that said the screenshots LAPSUS$ shared were connected to a January 2022 incident involving the compromise of “a third-party customer support engineer working for one of our subprocessors,” and that “the matter was investigated and contained by the subprocessor.”

This assurance apparently did not sit well with many Okta customers, especially after LAPSUS$ began posting statements that disputed some of Okta’s claims. On March 25, Okta issued an apology for its handling of the January breach at a third-party support provider, which ultimately affected hundreds of its customers.

My CXO source said the lesson from LAPSUS$ is that even short-lived intrusions can have a long-term negative impact on victim organizations — especially when victims are not immediately forthcoming about the details of a security incident that affects customers.

“It does force us to think about insider access differently,” the CXO told KrebsOnSecurity. “Nation states have typically wanted longer, more strategic access; ransomware groups want large lateral movement. LAPSUS$ doesn’t care, it’s more about, ‘What can these 2-3 accounts get me in the next 6 hours?’ We haven’t optimized to defend that.”

Any organizations wondering what they can do to harden their systems against attacks from groups like LAPSUS$ should consult Microsoft’s recent blog post on the group’s activities, tactics and tools. Microsoft’s guidance includes recommendations that can help prevent account takeovers or at least mitigate the impact from stolen employee credentials.

Actions Target Russian Govt. Botnet, Hydra Dark Market

7 April 2022 at 22:03

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says it has disrupted a giant botnet built and operated by a Russian government intelligence unit known for launching destructive cyberattacks against energy infrastructure in the United States and Ukraine. Separately, law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and Germany moved to decapitate “Hydra,” a billion-dollar Russian darknet drug bazaar that also helped to launder the profits of multiple Russian ransomware groups.

FBI officials said Wednesday they disrupted “Cyclops Blink,” a collection of compromised networking devices managed by hackers working with the Russian Federation’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU).

A statement from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) says the GRU’s hackers built Cyclops Blink by exploiting previously undocumented security weaknesses in firewalls and routers made by both ASUS and WatchGuard Technologies. The DOJ said it did not seek to disinfect compromised devices; instead, it obtained court orders to remove the Cyclops Blink malware from its “command and control” servers — the hidden machines that allowed the attackers to orchestrate the activities of the botnet.

The FBI and other agencies warned in March that the Cyclops Blink malware was built to replace a threat called “VPNFilter,” an earlier malware platform that targeted vulnerabilities in a number of consumer-grade wireless and wired routers. In May 2018, the FBI executed a similar strategy to dismantle VPNFilter, which had spread to more than a half-million consumer devices.

On April 1, ASUS released updates to fix the security vulnerability in a range of its Wi-Fi routers. Meanwhile, WatchGuard appears to have silently fixed its vulnerability in an update shipped almost a year ago, according to Dan Goodin at Ars Technica.

SANDWORM AND TRITON

Security experts say both VPNFilter and Cyclops Blink are the work of a hacking group known as Sandworm or Voodoo Bear, the same Russian team blamed for disrupting Ukraine’s electricity in 2015.

Sandworm also has been implicated in the “Industroyer” malware attacks on Ukraine’s power grid in December 2016, as well as the 2016 global malware contagion “NotPetya,” which crippled companies worldwide using an exploit believed to have been developed by and then stolen from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

The action against Cyclops Blink came just weeks after the Justice Department unsealed indictments against four Russian men accused of launching cyberattacks on power utilities in the United States and abroad.

One of the indictments named three officers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) suspected of being members of Berserk Bear, a.k.a. Dragonfly 2.0, a.k.a. Havex, which has been blamed for targeting electrical utilities and other critical infrastructure worldwide and is widely believed to be working at the behest of the Russian government.

The other indictment named Russians affiliated with a skilled hacking group known as “Triton” or “Trisis,” which infected a Saudi oil refinery with destructive malware in 2017, and then attempted to do the same to U.S. energy facilities.

The Justice Department said that in Dragonfly’s first stage between 2012 and 2014, the defendants hacked into computer networks of industrial control systems (ICS) companies and software providers, and then hid malware inside legitimate software updates for such systems.

“After unsuspecting customers downloaded Havex-infected updates, the conspirators would use the malware to, among other things, create backdoors into infected systems and scan victims’ networks for additional ICS/SCADA devices,” the DOJ said. “Through these and other efforts, including spearphishing and “watering hole” attacks, the conspirators installed malware on more than 17,000 unique devices in the United States and abroad, including ICS/SCADA controllers used by power and energy companies.”

In Dragonfly’s second iteration between 2014 and 2017, the hacking group spear-phished more than 3,300 people at more than 500 U.S. and international companies and entities, including U.S. federal agencies like the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

“In some cases, the spearphishing attacks were successful, including in the compromise of the business network (i.e., involving computers not directly connected to ICS/SCADA equipment) of the Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corporation (Wolf Creek) in Burlington, Kansas, which operates a nuclear power plant,” the DOJ’s account continues. “Moreover, after establishing an illegal foothold in a particular network, the conspirators typically used that foothold to penetrate further into the network by obtaining access to other computers and networks at the victim entity.”

HYDRA

Federation Tower, Moscow. Image: Evgeniy Vasilev.

Also this week, German authorities seized the server infrastructure for the Hydra Market, a bustling underground market for illegal narcotics, stolen data and money laundering that’s been operating since 2015. The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) said Hydra had roughly 17 million customers, and over 19,000 vendors, with sales amounting to at least 1.23 billion euros in 2020 alone.

In a statement on the Hydra takedown, the U.S. Department of Treasury said blockchain researchers had determined that approximately 86 percent of the illicit Bitcoin received directly by Russian virtual currency exchanges in 2019 came from Hydra.

Treasury sanctioned a number of cryptocurrency wallets associated with Hydra and with a virtual currency exchange called “Garantex,” which the agency says processed more than $100 million in transactions associated with illicit actors and darknet markets. That amount included roughly $8 million in ransomware proceeds laundered through Hydra on behalf of multiple ransomware groups, including Ryuk and Conti.

“Today’s action against Hydra and Garantex builds upon recent sanctions against virtual currency exchanges SUEX and CHATEX, both of which, like Garantex, operated out of Federation Tower in Moscow, Russia,” the Treasury Department said.

Double-Your-Crypto Scams Share Crypto Scam Host

11 April 2022 at 15:26

Online scams that try to separate the unwary from their cryptocurrency are a dime a dozen, but a great many seemingly disparate crypto scam websites tend to rely on the same dodgy infrastructure providers to remain online in the face of massive fraud and abuse complaints from their erstwhile customers. Here’s a closer look at hundreds of phony crypto investment schemes that are all connected through a hosting provider which caters to people running crypto scams.

A security researcher recently shared with KrebsOnSecurity an email he received from someone who said they foolishly invested an entire bitcoin (currently worth ~USD $43,000) at a website called ark-x2[.]org, which promised to double any cryptocurrency investment made with the site.

The ark-x2[.]org site pretended to be a crypto giveaway website run by Cathie Wood, the founder and CEO of ARKinvest, an established Florida company that manages several exchange-traded investment funds. This is hardly the first time scammers have impersonated Wood or ARKinvest; a tweet from Wood in 2020 warned that the company would never use YouTube, Twitter, Instagram or any social media to solicit money.

At the crux of these scams are well-orchestrated video productions published on YouTube and Facebook that claim to be a “live event” featuring famous billionaires. In reality, these videos just rehash older footage while peppering viewers with prompts to sign up at a scam investment site — one they claim has been endorsed by the celebrities.

“I was watching a live video at YouTube where Elon Musk, Cathy Wood, and Jack Dorsey were talking about Crypto,” the victim told my security researcher friend. “An overlay on the video pointed to subscribing to the event at their website. I’ve been following Cathy Wood in her analysis on financial markets, so I was in a comfortable and trusted environment. The three of them are bitcoin maximalists in a sense, so it made perfect sense they were organizing a giveaway.”

“Without any doubt (other than whether the transfer would go through), I sent them 1 BTC (~$42,800), and they were supposed to return 2 BTC back,” the victim continued. “In hindsight, this was an obvious scam. But the live video and the ARK Invest website is what produced the trusted environment to me. I realized a few minutes later, when the live video looped. It wasn’t actually live, but a replay of a video from 6 months ago.”

Ark-x2[.]org is no longer online. But a look at the Internet address historically tied to this domain (186.2.171.79) shows the same address is used to host or park hundreds of other newly-minted crypto scam domains, including coinbase-x2[.]net (pictured below).

The crypto scam site coinbase-x2[.]net, which snares unwary investors with promises of free money.

Typical of crypto scam sites, Coinbase-x2 promises a chance to win 50,000 ETH (Ethereum virtual currency), plus a “welcome bonus” wherein they promise to double any crypto investment made with the platform. But everyone who falls for this greed trap soon discovers they won’t be getting anything in return, and that their “investment” is gone forever.

There isn’t a lot of information about who bought these crypto scam domains, as most of them were registered in the past month at registrars that automatically redact the site’s WHOIS ownership records.

However, several dozen of the domains are in the .us domain space, which is technically supposed to be reserved for entities physically based in the United States. Those Dot-us domains all contain the registrant name Sergei Orlovets from Moscow, the email address [email protected], and the phone number +7.9914500893. Unfortunately, each of these clues lead to a dead end, meaning they were likely picked and used solely for these scam sites.

A dig into the Domain Name Server (DNS) records for Coinbase-x2[.]net shows it is hosted at a service called Cryptohost[.]to. Cryptohost also controls several other address ranges, including 194.31.98.X, which is currently home to even more crypto scam websites, many targeting lesser-known cryptocurrencies like Polkadot.

An ad posted to the Russian-language hacking forum BHF last month touted Cryptohost as a “bulletproof hosting provider for all your projects,” i.e., it can be relied upon to ignore abuse complaints about its customers.

“Why choose us? We don’t keep your logs!,” someone claiming to represent Cryptohost wrote to denizens of BHF.

Cryptohost says its service is backstopped by DDoS-Guard, a Russian company that has featured here recently for providing services to the sanctioned terrorist group Hamas and to the conspiracy theory groups QAnon/8chan.

A scam site at Cryptohost targeting Polkadot cryptocurrency holders.

Cryptohost did not respond to requests for comment.

Signing up as a customer at Cryptohost presents a control panel that includes the IP address 188.127.235.21, which belongs to a hosting provider in Moscow called SmartApe. SmartApe says its main advantage is unlimited disk space, “which allows you to host an unlimited number of sites for little money.”

According to FinTelegram, a blog that bills itself as a crowdsourced financial intelligence service that covers investment scams, SmartApe is a “Russian-Israeli hosting company for cybercriminals.”

SmartApe CEO Mark Tepterev declined to comment on the allegations from FinTelegram, but said the company has thousands of clients, some of whom have their own clients.

Cryptohost’s customer panel, which points to an IP address at Russian hosting provider SmartApe.

“Also we host other hostings that have their own thousands of customers,” Tepterev said. “Of course, there are clients who use our services in their dubious interests. We immediately block such clients upon receipt of justified complaints.”

Much of the text used in these scam sites has been invoked verbatim in similar schemes dating back at least two years, and it’s likely that scam website templates are re-used so long as they continue to reel in new investors. Searching online for the phrase “During this unique event we will give you a chance to win” reveals many current and former sites tied to this scam.

While it may seem incredible that people will fall for stuff like this, such scams reliably generate decent profits. When Twitter got hacked in July 2020 and some of the most-followed celebrity accounts on Twitter started tweeting double-your-crypto offers, 383 people sent more than $100,000 in a few hours.

In Sept. 2021, the Bitcoin Foundation (bitcoin.org) was hacked, with the intruders placing a pop-up message on the site asking visitors to send money. The message said any sent funds would be doubled and returned, claiming that the Bitcoin Foundation had set up the program as a way of “giving back to the community.” The brief scam netted more than $17,000.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, nearly 7,000 people lost more than $80 million in crypto scams from October 2020 through March 2021 based on consumer fraud reports. That’s a significant jump from the year prior, when the FTC tracked just 570 cryptocurrency investment scam complaints totaling $7.5 million.

A recent report from blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis found that scammers stole approximately $14 billion worth of cryptocurrency in 2021 — nearly twice the $7.8 billion stolen by scammers in 2020, the report found.

In March, Australia’s competition watchdog filed a lawsuit against Facebook owner Meta Platforms, alleging the social media giant failed to prevent scammers using its platform to promote fake ads featuring well-known people. The complaint alleges the advertisements, which endorsed investment in cryptocurrency or money-making schemes, could have misled Facebook users into believing they were promoted by famous Australians.

In many ways, the crypto giveaway scam is a natural extension of perhaps the oldest cyber fraud in the book: Advanced-fee fraud. Most commonly associated with Nigerian Letter or “419” fraud and lottery/sweepstakes schemes, advanced fee scams promise a financial windfall if only the intended recipient will step up and claim what is rightfully theirs — and oh by the way just pay this small administrative fee and we’ll send the money.

What makes these double-your-crypto sites successful is not just ignorance and avarice, but the idea held by many novice investors that cryptocurrencies are somehow magical money-minting machines, or perhaps virtual slot machines that will eventually pay off if one simply deposits enough coinage.

RaidForums Gets Raided, Alleged Admin Arrested

12 April 2022 at 17:29

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said today it seized the website and user database for RaidForums, an extremely popular English-language cybercrime forum that sold access to more than 10 billion consumer records stolen in some of the world’s largest data breaches since 2015. The DOJ also charged the alleged administrator of RaidForums — 21-year-old Diogo Santos Coelho, of Portugal — with six criminal counts, including conspiracy, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft.

The “raid” in RaidForums is a nod to the community’s humble beginnings in 2015, when it was primarily an online venue for organizing and supporting various forms of electronic harassment. According to the DOJ, that early activity included ‘raiding‘ — posting or sending an overwhelming volume of contact to a victim’s online communications medium — and ‘swatting,’ the practice of making false reports to public safety agencies of situations that would necessitate a significant, and immediate armed law enforcement response.”

But over the years as trading in hacked databases became big business, RaidForums emerged as the go-to place for English-speaking hackers to peddle their wares. Perhaps the most bustling marketplace within RaidForums was its “Leaks Market,” which described itself as a place to buy, sell, and trade hacked databases and leaks.

The government alleges Coelho and his forum administrator identity “Omnipotent” profited from the illicit activity on the platform by charging “escalating prices for membership tiers that offered greater access and features, including a top-tier ‘God’ membership status.”

“RaidForums also sold ‘credits’ that provided members access to privileged areas of the website and enabled members to ‘unlock’ and download stolen financial information, means of identification, and data from compromised databases, among other items,” the DOJ said in a written statement. “Members could also earn credits through other means, such as by posting instructions on how to commit certain illegal acts.”

Prosecutors say Coelho also personally sold stolen data on the platform, and that Omnipotent directly facilitated illicit transactions by operating a fee-based “Official Middleman” service, a kind of escrow or insurance service that denizens of RaidForums were encouraged to use when transacting with other criminals.

Investigators described multiple instances wherein undercover federal agents or confidential informants used Omnipotent’s escrow service to purchase huge tranches of data from one of Coelho’s alternate user  identities — meaning Coelho not only sold data he’d personally hacked but also further profited by insisting the transactions were handled through his own middleman service.

Not all of those undercover buys went as planned. One incident described in an affidavit by prosecutors (PDF) appears related to the sale of tens of millions of consumer records stolen last year from T-Mobile, although the government refers to the victim only as a major telecommunications company and wireless network operator in the United States.

On Aug. 11, 2021, an individual using the moniker “SubVirt” posted on RaidForums an offer to sell Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other records on more than 120 million people in the United States (SubVirt would later edit the sales thread to say 30 million records). Just days later, T-Mobile would acknowledge a data breach affecting 40 million current, former or prospective customers who applied for credit with the company.

The government says the victim firm hired a third-party to purchase the database and prevent it from being sold to cybercriminals. That third-party ultimately paid approximately $200,000 worth of bitcoin to the seller, with the agreement that the data would be destroyed after sale. “However, it appears the co-conspirators continued to attempt to sell the databases after the third-party’s purchase,” the affidavit alleges.

The FBI’s seizure of RaidForums was first reported by KrebsOnSecurity on Mar. 23, after a federal investigator confirmed rumors that the FBI had been secretly operating the RaidForums website for weeks.

Coelho landed on the radar of U.S. authorities in June 2018, when he tried to enter the United States at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. The government obtained a warrant to search the electronic devices Coelho had in his luggage and found text messages, files and emails showing he was the RaidForums administrator Omnipotent.

“In an attempt to retrieve his items, Coelho called the lead FBI case agent on or around August 2, 2018, and used the email address [email protected] to email the agent,” the government’s affidavit states. Investigators found this same address was used to register rf.ws and raid.lol, which Omnipotent announced on the forum would serve as alternative domain names for RaidForums in case the site’s primary domain was seized.

The DOJ said Coelho was arrested in the United Kingdom on January 31, at the United States’ request, and remains in custody pending the resolution of his extradition hearing. A statement from the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said the RaidForums takedown was the result of “Operation Tourniquet,” an investigation carried out by the NCA in cooperation with the United States, Europol and four other countries that resulted in “a number of linked arrests.”

A copy of the indictment against Coelho is available here (PDF).

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, April 2022 Edition

13 April 2022 at 15:01

Microsoft on Tuesday released updates to fix roughly 120 security vulnerabilities in its Windows operating systems and other software. Two of the flaws have been publicly detailed prior to this week, and one is already seeing active exploitation, according to a report from the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA).

Of particular concern this month is CVE-2022-24521, which is a “privilege escalation” vulnerability in the Windows common log file system driver. In its advisory, Microsoft said it received a report from the NSA that the flaw is under active attack.

“It’s not stated how widely the exploit is being used in the wild, but it’s likely still targeted at this point and not broadly available,” assessed Dustin Childs with Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative. “Go patch your systems before that situation changes.”

Nine of the updates pushed this week address problems Microsoft considers “critical,” meaning the flaws they fix could be abused by malware or malcontents to seize total, remote access to a Windows system without any help from the user.

Among the scariest critical bugs is CVE-2022-26809, a potentially “wormable” weakness in a core Windows component (RPC) that earned a CVSS score of 9.8 (10 being the worst). Microsoft said it believes exploitation of this flaw is more likely than not.

Other potentially wormable threats this month include CVE-2022-24491 and CVE-2022-24497, Windows Network File System (NFS) vulnerabilities that also clock in at 9.8 CVSS scores and are listed as “exploitation more likely by Microsoft.”

“These could be the kind of vulnerabilities which appeal to ransomware operators as they provide the potential to expose critical data,” said Kevin Breen, director of cyber threat research at Immersive Labs. “It is also important for security teams to note that NFS Role is not a default configuration for Windows devices.”

Speaking of wormable flaws, CVE-2022-24500 is a critical bug in the Windows Server Message Block (SMB).

“This is especially poignant as we approach the anniversary of WannaCry, which famously used the EternalBlue SMB vulnerability to propagate at great pace,” Breen added. “Microsoft advises blocking TCP port 445 at the perimeter firewall, which is strong advice regardless of this specific vulnerability. While this won’t stop exploitation from attackers inside the local network, it will prevent new attacks originating from the Internet.”

In addition, this month’s patch batch from Redmond brings updates for Exchange Server, Office, SharePoint Server, Windows Hyper-V, DNS Server, Skype for Business, .NET and Visual Studio, Windows App Store, and Windows Print Spooler components.

As it generally does on the second Tuesday of each month, Adobe released four patches addressing 70 vulnerabilities in Acrobat and Reader, Photoshop, After Effects, and Adobe Commerce. More information on those updates is available here.

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

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

Conti’s Ransomware Toll on the Healthcare Industry

18 April 2022 at 20:41

Conti — one of the most ruthless and successful Russian ransomware groups — publicly declared during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic that it would refrain from targeting healthcare providers. But new information confirms this pledge was always a lie, and that Conti has launched more than 200 attacks against hospitals and other healthcare facilities since first surfacing in 2018 under its earlier name, “Ryuk.”

On April 13, Microsoft said it executed a legal sneak attack against Zloader, a remote access trojan and malware platform that multiple ransomware groups have used to deploy their malware inside victim networks. More specifically, Microsoft obtained a court order that allowed it to seize 65 domain names that were used to maintain the Zloader botnet.

Microsoft’s civil lawsuit against Zloader names seven “John Does,” essentially seeking information to identify cybercriminals who used Zloader to conduct ransomware attacks. As the company’s complaint notes, some of these John Does were associated with lesser ransomware collectives such as Egregor and Netfilim.

But according to Microsoft and an advisory from the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), Zloader had a special relationship with Ryuk/Conti, acting as a preferred distribution platform for deploying Ryuk/Conti ransomware.

Several parties backed Microsoft in its legal efforts against Zloader by filing supporting declarations, including Errol Weiss, a former penetration tester for the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). Weiss now serves as the chief security officer of the Health Information Sharing & Analysis Center (H-ISAC), an industry group that shares information about cyberattacks against healthcare providers.

Weiss said ransomware attacks from Ryuk/Conti have impacted hundreds of healthcare facilities across the United States, including facilities located in 192 cities and 41 states and the District of Columbia.

“The attacks resulted in the temporary or permanent loss of IT systems that support many of the provider delivery functions in modern hospitals resulting in cancelled surgeries and delayed medical care,” Weiss said in a declaration (PDF) with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

“Hospitals reported revenue losses due to Ryuk infections of nearly $100 million from data I obtained through interviews with hospital staff, public statements, and media articles,” Weiss wrote. “The Ryuk attacks also caused an estimated $500 million in costs to respond to the attacks – costs that include ransomware payments, digital forensic services, security improvements and upgrading impacted systems plus other expenses.”

The figures cited by Weiss appear highly conservative. A single attack by Ryuk/Conti in May 2021 against Ireland’s Health Service Executive, which operates the country’s public health system, resulted in massive disruptions to healthcare in Ireland. In June 2021, the HSE’s director general said the recovery costs for that attack were likely to exceed USD $600 million.

Conti ravaged the healthcare sector throughout 2020, and leaked internal chats from the Conti ransomware group show the gang had access to more than 400 healthcare facilities in the U.S. alone by October 2020.

On Oct. 28, 2020, KrebsOnSecurity broke the news that FBI and DHS officials had seen reliable intelligence indicating the group planned to ransom many of these care facilities simultaneously. Hours after that October 2020 piece ran, I heard from a respected H-ISAC security professional who questioned whether it was worth getting the public so riled up. The story had been updated multiple times throughout the day, and there were at least five healthcare organizations hit with ransomware within the span of 24 hours.

“I guess it would help if I understood what the baseline is, like how many healthcare organizations get hit with ransomware on average in one week?” I asked the source.

“It’s more like one a day,” the source confided.

A report in February 2022 from Sophos found Conti orchestrated a cyberattack against a Canadian healthcare provider in late 2021. Security software firm Emsisoft found that at least 68 healthcare providers suffered ransomware attacks last year.

While Conti is just one of many ransomware groups threatening the healthcare industry, it seems likely that ransomware attacks on the healthcare sector are underreported. Perhaps this is because a large percentage of victims are paying a ransom demand to keep their data (and news of their breach) confidential. A survey published in February by email security provider Proofpoint found almost 60 percent of victims hit by ransomware paid their extortionists.

Or perhaps it’s because many crime groups have shifted focus away from deploying ransomware and toward stealing data and demanding payment not to publish the information. Conti shames victims who refuse to pay a ransom by posting their internal data on their darkweb blog.

Since the beginning of 2022, Conti has claimed responsibility for hacking a cancer testing lab, a medical prescription service online, a biomedical testing facility, a pharmaceutical company, and a spinal surgery center.

The Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society recently released its 2021 HIMSS Healthcare Cybersecurity Survey (PDF), which interviewed 167 healthcare cybersecurity professionals and found 67 percent had experienced a “significant security incident” in the past year.

The survey also found that just six percent or less of respondent’s information technology budgets were devoted to cybersecurity, although roughly 60 percent of respondents said their cybersecurity budgets would increase in 2022. Last year, just 79 percent of respondents said they’d fully implemented antivirus or other anti-malware systems; only 43 percent reported they’d fully implemented intrusion detection and prevention technologies.

The FBI says Conti typically gains access to victim networks through weaponized malicious email links, attachments, or stolen Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) credentials, and that it weaponizes Microsoft Office documents with embedded Powershell scripts — initially staging Cobalt Strike via the Office documents and then dropping Emotet onto the network — giving them the ability to deploy ransomware. The FBI said Conti has been observed inside victim networks between four days and three weeks on average before deploying Conti ransomware.

Leaked Chats Show LAPSUS$ Stole T-Mobile Source Code

22 April 2022 at 13:09

KrebsOnSecurity recently reviewed a copy of the private chat messages between members of the LAPSUS$ cybercrime group in the week leading up to the arrest of its most active members last month. The logs show LAPSUS$ breached T-Mobile multiple times in March, stealing source code for a range of company projects. T-Mobile says no customer or government information was stolen in the intrusion.

LAPSUS$ is known for stealing data and then demanding a ransom not to publish or sell it. But the leaked chats indicate this mercenary activity was of little interest to the tyrannical teenage leader of LAPSUS$, whose obsession with stealing and leaking proprietary computer source code from the world’s largest tech companies ultimately led to the group’s undoing.

From its inception in December 2021 until its implosion late last month, LAPSUS$ operated openly on its Telegram chat channel, which quickly grew to more than 40,000 followers after the group started using it to leak huge volumes of sensitive data stolen from victim corporations.

But LAPSUS$ also used private Telegram channels that were restricted to the core seven members of the group. KrebsOnSecurity recently received a week’s worth of these private conversations between LAPSUS$ members as they plotted their final attacks late last month.

The candid conversations show LAPSUS$ frequently obtained the initial access to targeted organizations by purchasing it from sites like Russian Market, which sell access to remotely compromised systems, as well as any credentials stored on those systems.

The logs indicate LAPSUS$ had exactly zero problems buying, stealing or sweet-talking their way into employee accounts at companies they wanted to hack. The bigger challenge for LAPSUS$ was the subject mentioned by “Lapsus Jobs” in the screenshot above: Device enrollment. In most cases, this involved social engineering employees at the targeted firm into adding one of their computers or mobiles to the list of devices allowed to authenticate with the company’s virtual private network (VPN).

The messages show LAPSUS$ members continuously targeted T-Mobile employees, whose access to internal company tools could give them everything they needed to conduct hassle-free “SIM swaps” — reassigning a target’s mobile phone number to a device they controlled. These unauthorized sim swaps allow an attacker to intercept a target’s text messages and phone calls, including any links sent via SMS for password resets, or one-time codes sent for multi-factor authentication.

The LAPSUS$ group had a laugh at this screenshot posted by their leader, White, which shows him reading a T-Mobile news alert about their hack into Samsung. White is viewing the page via a T-Mobile employee’s virtual machine.

In one chat, the LAPSUS$ leader — a 17-year-old from the U.K. who goes by the nicknames “White,” “WhiteDoxbin” and “Oklaqq” — is sharing his screen with another LAPSUS$ member who used the handles “Amtrak” and “Asyntax.”

The two were exploring T-Mobile’s internal systems, and Amtrak asked White to obscure the T-Mobile logo on his screen. In these chats, the user “Lapsus Jobs” is White. Amtrak explains this odd request by saying their parents are aware Amtrak was previously involved in SIM swapping.

“Parents know I simswap,” Amtrak said. “So, if they see [that] they think I’m hacking.”

The messages reveal that each time LAPSUS$ was cut off from a T-Mobile employee’s account — either because the employee tried to log in or change their password — they would just find or buy another set of T-Mobile VPN credentials. T-Mobile currently has approximately 75,000 employees worldwide.

On March 19, 2022, the logs and accompanying screenshots show LAPSUS$ had gained access to Atlas, a powerful internal T-Mobile tool for managing customer accounts.

LAPSUS$ leader White/Lapsus Jobs looking up the Department of Defense in T-Mobile’s internal Atlas system.

After gaining access to Atlas, White proceeded to look up T-Mobile accounts associated with the FBI and Department of Defense (see image above). Fortunately, those accounts were listed as requiring additional verification procedures before any changes could be processed.

Faced with increasingly vocal pleadings from other LAPSUS$ members not to burn their access to Atlas and other tools by trying to SIM swap government accounts, White unilaterally decided to terminate the VPN connection permitting access to T-Mobile’s network.

The other LAPSUS$ members desperately wanted to SIM swap some wealthy targets for money. Amtrak throws a fit, saying “I worked really hard for this!” White calls the Atlas access trash and then kills the VPN connection anyway, saying he wanted to focus on using their illicit T-Mobile access to steal source code.

A screenshot taken by LAPSUS$ inside T-Mobile’s source code repository at Bitbucket.

Perhaps to mollify his furious teammates, White changed the subject and told them he’d gained access to T-Mobile’s Slack and Bitbucket accounts. He said he’d figured out how to upload files to the virtual machine he had access to at T-Mobile.

Roughly 12 hours later, White posts a screenshot in their private chat showing his automated script had downloaded more than 30,000 source code repositories from T-Mobile.

White showing a screenshot of a script that he said downloaded all available T-Mobile source code.

In response to questions from KrebsOnSecurity, T-Mobile issued the following statement:

“Several weeks ago, our monitoring tools detected a bad actor using stolen credentials to access internal systems that house operational tools software. The systems accessed contained no customer or government information or other similarly sensitive information, and we have no evidence that the intruder was able to obtain anything of value. Our systems and processes worked as designed, the intrusion was rapidly shut down and closed off, and the compromised credentials used were rendered obsolete.”

CONSIDER THE SOURCE

It is not clear why LAPSUS$ was so fixated on stealing source code. Perhaps LAPSUS$ thought they could find in the source clues about security weaknesses that could be used to further hack these companies and their customers. Maybe the group already had buyers lined up for specific source code that they were then hired to procure. Or maybe it was all one big Capture the Flag competition, with source code being the flag. The leaked chats don’t exactly explain this fixation.

But it seems likely that the group routinely tried to steal and then delete any source code it could find on victim systems. That way, it could turn around and demand a payment to restore the deleted data.

In one conversation in late March, a LAPSUS$ member posts screenshots and other data indicating they’d gained remote administrative access to a multi-billion dollar company. But White is seemingly unimpressed, dismissing the illicit access as not worth the group’s time because there was no source code to be had.

LAPSUS$ first surfaced in December 2021, when it hacked into Brazil’s Ministry of Health and deleted more than 50 terabytes of data stored on the ministry’s hacked servers. The deleted data included information related to the ministry’s efforts to track and fight the COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil, which has suffered a disproportionate 13 percent of the world’s COVID-19 fatalities. LAPSUS$’s next 15 victims were based either in Latin America or Portugal, according to cyber threat intelligence firm Flashpoint.

By February 2022, LAPSUS$ had pivoted to targeting high-tech firms based in the United States. On Feb. 26, LAPSUS$ broke into graphics and computing chip maker NVIDIA. The group said it stole more than a terabyte of NVIDIA data, including source code and employee credentials.

Dan Goodin at Ars Technica wrote about LAPSUS$’s unusual extortion demand against NVIDIA: The group pledged to publish the stolen code unless NVIDIA agreed to make the drivers for its video cards open-source. According to these chats, NVIDIA responded by connecting to the computer the attackers were using, and then encrypting the stolen data.

Like many high-tech firms whose value is closely tied to their intellectual property, NVIDIA relies on a number of technologies designed to prevent data leaks or theft. According to LAPSUS$, among those is a requirement that only devices which have been approved or issued by the company can be used to access its virtual private network (VPN).

These so-called Mobile Device Management (MDM) systems retrieve information about the underlying hardware and software powering the system requesting access, and then relay that information along with any login credentials.

In a typical MDM setup, a company will issue employees a laptop or smartphone that has been pre-programmed with a data profile, VPN and other software that allows the employer to track, monitor, troubleshoot or even wipe device data in the event of theft, loss, or a detected breach.

MDM tools also can be used to encrypt or retrieve data from connected systems, and this was purportedly the functionality NVIDIA used to claw back the information stolen by LAPSUS$.

“Access to NVIDIA employee VPN requires the PC to be enrolled in MDM,” LAPSUS$ wrote in a post on their public Telegram channel. “With this they were able to connect to a [virtual machine] that we use. Yes, they successfully encrypted the data. However, we have a backup and it’s safe from scum!!!”

NVIDIA declined to comment for this story.

On March 7, consumer electronics giant Samsung confirmed what LAPSUS$ had bragged on its Telegram channel: That the group had stolen and leaked nearly 200 GB of source code and other internal company data.

The chats reveal that LAPSUS$ stole a great deal more source code than they bragged about online. One of White’s curious fascinations was SASCAR, Brazil’s leading fleet management and freight security company. White had bought and talked his way into SASCAR’s systems, and had stolen many gigabytes worth of source code for the company’s fleet tracking software.

It was bad enough that LAPSUS$ had just relieved this company of valuable intellectual property: The chats show that for several days White taunted SASCAR employees who were responding to the then-unfolding breach, at first by defacing the company’s website with porn.

The messages show White maintained access to the company’s internal systems for at least 24 hours after that, even sitting in on the company’s incident response communications where the security team discussed how to evict their tormentors.

SASCAR is owned by tire industry giant Michelin, which did not respond to requests for comment.

ENROLLMENT

The leaked LAPSUS$ internal chats show the group spent a great deal of time trying to bypass multi-factor authentication for the credentials they’d stolen. By the time these leaked chat logs were recorded, LAPSUS$ had spent days relentlessly picking on another target that relied on MDM to restrict employee logins: Iqor, a customer support outsourcing company based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

LAPSUS$ apparently had no trouble using Russian Market to purchase access to Iqor employee systems. “I will buy login when on sale, Russians stock it every 3-4 days,” Amtrak wrote regarding Iqor credentials for sale in the bot shops.

The real trouble for LAPSUS$ came when the group tried to evade Iqor’s MDM systems by social engineering Iqor employees into removing multi-factor authentication on Iqor accounts they’d purchased previously. The chats show that time and again Iqor’s employees simply refused requests to modify multi-factor authentication settings on the targeted accounts, or make any changes unless the requests were coming from authorized devices.

One of several IQOR support engineers who told LAPSUS$ no over and over again.

After many days of trying, LAPSUS$ ultimately gave up on Iqor. On Mar. 22, LAPSUS$ announced it hacked Microsoft, and began leaking 37 gigabytes worth of Microsoft source code.

Like NVIDIA, Microsoft was able to stanch some of the bleeding, cutting off LAPSUS$’s illicit access while the group was in the process of downloading all of the available source code repositories alphabetically (the group publicized their access to Microsoft at the same time they were downloading the software giant’s source code). As a result, LAPSUS$ was only able to leak the source for Microsoft products at the beginning of the code repository, including Azure, Bing and Cortana.

BETRAYAL

LAPSUS$ leader White drew attention to himself prior to the creation of LAPSUS$ last year when he purchased a website called Doxbin, a long-running and highly toxic online community that is used to “dox” or post deeply personal information on people.

Based on the feedback posted by Doxbin members, White was not a particularly attentive administrator. Longtime members soon took to harassing him about various components of the site falling into disrepair. That pestering eventually prompted White to sell Doxbin back to its previous owner at a considerable loss. But before doing so, White leaked the Doxbin user database.

White’s leak triggered a swift counterpunch from Doxbin’s staff, which naturally responded by posting on White perhaps the most thorough dox the forum had ever produced — including videos filmed just outside his home where he lives with his parents in the United Kingdom.

The past and current owner of the Doxbin — an established cybercriminal who goes by the handle “KT” — is the same person who leaked these private LAPSUS$ Telegram chat logs to KrebsOnSecurity.

In early April, multiple news outlets reported that U.K. police had arrested seven people aged 15-21 in connection with the LAPSUS$ investigation. But it seems clear from reading these leaked Telegram chats that individual members of LAPSUS$ were detained and questioned at different times over the course of several months.

In his chats with other LAPSUS$ members during the last week in March, White maintained that he was arrested 1-2 months prior in connection with an intrusion against a victim referred to only by the initials “BT.” White also appeared unconcerned when Amtrak admits that the City of London police found LAPSUS$ Telegram chat conversations on his mobile phone.

Perhaps to demonstrate his indifference (or maybe just to screw with Amtrak), White responds by leaking Amtrak’s real name and phone number to the group’s public Telegram channel. In an ALL CAPS invective of disbelief at the sudden betrayal, Amtrak relates how various people started calling their home and threatening their parents as a result, and how White effectively outed them to law enforcement and the rest of the world as a LAPSUS$ member.

The vast majority of noteworthy activity documented in these private chats takes place between White and Amtrak, but it doesn’t seem that White counted Amtrak or any of his fellow LAPSUS$ members as friends or confidants. On the contrary, White generally behaved horribly toward everyone in the group, and he particularly seemed to enjoy abusing Amtrak (who somehow always came back for more).

Mox,” one of the LAPSUS$ members who shows up throughout these leaked chats, helped the group in their unsuccessful attempts to enroll their mobile devices with an airline in the Middle East to which they had purchased access. Audio recordings leaked from the group’s private Telegram channel include a call wherein Mox can be heard speaking fluently in Arabic and impersonating an airline employee.

At one point, Mox’s first name briefly shows up in a video he made and shared with the group, and Mox mentions that he lives in the United States. White then begins trying to find and leak Mox’s real-life identity.

When Mox declares he’s so scared he wants to delete his iCloud account, White suggests he can get Mox’s real name, precise location and other information by making a fraudulent “emergency data request” (EDR) to Apple, in which they use a hacked police department email account to request emergency access to subscriber information under the claim that the request can’t wait for a warrant because someone’s life is on the line.

White was no stranger to fake EDRs. White was a founding member of a cybercriminal group called “Recursion Team,” which existed between 2020 and 2021. This group mostly specialized in SIM swapping targets of interest and participating in “swatting” attacks, wherein fake bomb threats, hostage situations and other violent scenarios are phoned in to police as part of a scheme to trick them into visiting potentially deadly force on a target’s address.

The roster of the now-defunct “Infinity Recursion” hacking team, from which some members of LAPSUS$ hail.

The Recursion Team was founded by a then 14-year-old from the United Kingdom who used the handle “Everlynn.” On April 5, 2021, Everlynn posted a new sales thread to the cybercrime forum cracked[.]to titled, “Warrant/subpoena service (get law enforcement data from any service).” The price: $100 to $250 per request.

Everlynn advertising a warrant/subpoena service based on fake EDRs.

Bringing this full circle, it appears Amtrak/Asyntax is the same person as Everlynn. As part of the Recursion Team, White used the alias “Peter.” Several LAPSUS$ members quizzed White and Amtrak about whether authorities asked about Recursion Team during questioning. In several discussion threads, White’s “Lapsus Jobs” alias on Telegram answers “yes?” or “I’m here” when another member addresses him by Peter.

White dismissed his public doxing of both Amtrak and Mox as their fault for being sloppy with operational security, or by claiming that everyone already knew their real identities. Incredibly, just a few minutes after doxing Amtrak, White nonchalantly asks them for help in stealing source code from yet another victim firm — as if nothing had just happened between them. Amtrak seems soothed by this invitation, and agrees to help.

On Mar. 30, software consultancy giant Globant was forced to acknowledge a hack after LAPSUS$ published 70 gigabytes of data stolen from the company, including customers’ source code. While the Globant hack has been widely reported for weeks, the cause of the breach remained hidden in these chat logs: A stolen five-year-old access token for Globant’s network that still worked.

LAPSUS$ members marvel at a 5-year-old stolen authentication cookie still working when they use it against Globant to steal source code.

Globant lists a number of high-profile customers on its website, including the U.K. Metropolitan Police, software house Autodesk and gaming giant Electronic Arts. In March, KrebsOnSecurity showed how White was connected to the theft of 780 GB worth of source code from Electronic Arts last summer.

In that attack, the intruders reportedly gained access to EA’s data after purchasing authentication cookies for an EA Slack channel from the dark web marketplace “Genesis,” which offers more or less the same wares as the Russian Market.

One remarkable aspect of LAPSUS$ was that its members apparently decided not to personally download or store any data they stole from companies they hacked. They were all so paranoid of police raiding their homes that they assiduously kept everything “in the cloud.” That way, when investigators searched their devices, they would find no traces of the stolen information.

But this strategy ultimately backfired: Shortly before the private LAPSUS$ chat was terminated, the group learned it had just lost access to the Amazon AWS server it was using to store months of source code booty and other stolen data.

“RIP FBI seized my server,” Amtrak wrote. “So much illegal shit. It’s filled with illegal shit.”

White shrugs it off with the dismissive comment, “U can’t do anything about ur server seized.” Then Amtrak replies that they never made a backup of the server.

“FFS, THAT AWS HAD TMO SRC [T-Mobile source] code!” White yelled back.

The two then make a mad scramble to hack back into T-Mobile and re-download the stolen source code. But that effort ultimately failed after T-Mobile’s systems revoked the access token they were using to raid the company’s source code stash.

“How they noticed?” Amtrak asked White.

“Gitlab auto-revoked, likely,” White replied. “Cloning 30k repos four times in 24 hours isn’t very normal.”

Ah, the irony of a criminal hacking group that specializes in stealing and deleting data having their stolen data deleted.

It’s remarkable how often LAPSUS$ was able to pay a few dollars to buy access to some hacked machine at a company they wanted to break into, and then successfully parlay that into the theft of source code and other sensitive information.

What’s even more remarkable is that anyone can access dark web bot shops like Russian Market and Genesis, which means larger companies probably should be paying someone to regularly scrape these criminal bot services, even buying back their own employee credentials to take those vulnerable systems off the market. Because that’s probably the simplest and cheapest incident response money can buy.

The Genesis bot shop.

Fighting Fake EDRs With ‘Credit Ratings’ for Police

27 April 2022 at 14:27

When KrebsOnSecurity recently explored how cybercriminals were using hacked email accounts at police departments worldwide to obtain warrantless Emergency Data Requests (EDRs) from social media firms and technology providers, many security experts called it a fundamentally unfixable problem. But don’t tell that to Matt Donahue, a former FBI agent who recently quit the agency to launch a startup that aims to help tech companies do a better job screening out phony law enforcement data requests — in part by assigning trustworthiness or “credit ratings” to law enforcement authorities worldwide.

A sample Kodex dashboard. Image: Kodex.us.

Donahue is co-founder of Kodex, a company formed in February 2021 that builds security portals designed to help tech companies “manage information requests from government agencies who contact them, and to securely transfer data & collaborate against abuses on their platform.”

The 30-year-old Donahue said he left the FBI in April 2020 to start Kodex because it was clear that social media and technology companies needed help validating the increasingly large number of law enforcement requests domestically and internationally.

“So much of this is such an antiquated, manual process,” Donahue said of his perspective gained at the FBI. “In a lot of cases we’re still sending faxes when more secure and expedient technologies exist.”

Donahue said when he brought the subject up with his superiors at the FBI, they would kind of shrug it off, as if to say, “This is how it’s done and there’s no changing it.”

“My bosses told me I was committing career suicide doing this, but I genuinely believe fixing this process will do more for national security than a 20-year career at the FBI,” he said. “This is such a bigger problem than people give it credit for, and that’s why I left the bureau to start this company.”

One of the stated goals of Kodex is to build a scoring or reputation system for law enforcement personnel who make these data requests. After all, there are tens of thousands of police jurisdictions around the world — including roughly 18,000 in the United States alone — and all it takes for hackers to abuse the EDR process is illicit access to a single police email account.

Kodex is trying to tackle the problem of fake EDRs by working directly with the data providers to pool information about police or government officials submitting these requests, and hopefully making it easier for all customers to spot an unauthorized EDR.

Kodex’s first big client was cryptocurrency giant Coinbase, which confirmed their partnership but otherwise declined to comment for this story. Twilio confirmed it uses Kodex’s technology for law enforcement requests destined for any of its business units, but likewise declined to comment further.

Within their own separate Kodex portals, Twilio can’t see requests submitted to Coinbase, or vice versa. But each can see if a law enforcement entity or individual tied to one of their own requests has ever submitted a request to a different Kodex client, and then drill down further into other data about the submitter, such as Internet address(es) used, and the age of the requestor’s email address.

Donahue said in Kodex’s system, each law enforcement entity is assigned a credit rating, wherein officials who have a long history of sending valid legal requests will have a higher rating than someone sending an EDR for the first time.

“In those cases, we warn the customer with a flash on the request when it pops up that we’re allowing this to come through because the email was verified [as being sent from a valid police or government domain name], but we’re trying to verify the emergency situation for you, and we will change that rating once we get new information about the emergency,” Donahue said.

“This way, even if one customer gets a fake request, we’re able to prevent it from happening to someone else,” he continued. “In a lot of cases with fake EDRs, you can see the same email [address] being used to message different companies for data. And that’s the problem: So many companies are operating in their own silos and are not able to share information about what they’re seeing, which is why we’re seeing scammers exploit this good faith process of EDRs.”

NEEDLES IN THE HAYSTACK

As social media and technology platforms have grown over the years, so have the volumes of requests from law enforcement agencies worldwide for user data. For example, in its latest transparency report mobile giant Verizon reported receiving 114,000 data requests of all types from U.S. law enforcement entities in the second half of 2021.

Verizon said approximately 35,000 of those requests (~30 percent) were EDRs, and that it provided data in roughly 91 percent of those cases. The company doesn’t disclose how many EDRs came from foreign law enforcement entities during that same time period. Verizon currently asks law enforcement officials to send these requests via fax.

Validating legal requests by domain name may be fine for data demands that include documents like subpoenas and search warrants, which can be validated with the courts. But not so for EDRs, which largely bypass any official review and do not require the requestor to submit any court-approved documents.

Police and government authorities can legitimately request EDRs to learn the whereabouts or identities of people who have posted online about plans to harm themselves or others, or in other exigent circumstances such as a child abduction or abuse, or a potential terrorist attack.

But as KrebsOnSecurity reported in March, it is now clear that crooks have figured out there is no quick and easy way for a company that receives one of these EDRs to know whether it is legitimate. Using illicit access to hacked police email accounts, the attackers will send a fake EDR along with an attestation that innocent people will likely suffer greatly or die unless the requested data is provided immediately.

In this scenario, the receiving company finds itself caught between two unsavory outcomes: Failing to immediately comply with an EDR — and potentially having someone’s blood on their hands — or possibly leaking a customer record to the wrong person. That might explain why the compliance rate for EDRs is usually quite high — often upwards of 90 percent.

Fake EDRs have become such a reliable method in the cybercrime underground for obtaining information about account holders that several cybercriminals have started offering services that will submit these fraudulent EDRs on behalf of paying clients to a number of top social media and technology firms.

A fake EDR service advertised on a hacker forum in 2021.

An individual who’s part of the community of crooks that are abusing fake EDR told KrebsOnSecurity the schemes often involve hacking into police department emails by first compromising the agency’s website. From there, they can drop a backdoor “shell” on the server to secure permanent access, and then create new email accounts within the hacked organization.

In other cases, hackers will try to guess the passwords of police department email systems. In these attacks, the hackers will identify email addresses associated with law enforcement personnel, and then attempt to authenticate using passwords those individuals have used at other websites that have been breached previously.

EDR OVERLOAD?

Donahue said depending on the industry, EDRs make up between 5 percent and 30 percent of the total volume of requests. In contrast, he said, EDRs amount to less than three percent of the requests sent through Kodex portals used by customers.

KrebsOnSecurity sought to verify those numbers by compiling EDR statistics based on annual or semi-annual transparency reports from some of the largest technology and social media firms. While there are no available figures on the number of fake EDRs each provider is receiving each year, those phony requests can easily hide amid an increasingly heavy torrent of legitimate demands.

Meta/Facebook says roughly 11 percent of all law enforcement data requests — 21,700 of them — were EDRs in the first half of 2021. Almost 80 percent of the time the company produced at least some data in response. Facebook has long used its own online portal where law enforcement officials must first register before submitting requests.

Government data requests, including EDRs, received by Facebook over the years. Image: Meta Transparency Report.

Apple said it received 1,162 emergency requests for data in the last reporting period it made public — July – December 2020. Apple’s compliance with EDRs was 93 percent worldwide in 2020. Apple’s website says it accepts EDRs via email, after applicants have filled out a supplied PDF form. [As a lifelong Apple user and customer, I was floored to learn that the richest company in the world — which for several years has banked heavily on privacy and security promises to customers — still relies on email for such sensitive requests].

Twitter says it received 1,860 EDRs in the first half of 2021, or roughly 15 percent of the global information requests sent to Twitter. Twitter accepts EDRs via an interactive form on the company’s website. Twitter reports that EDRs decreased by 25% during this reporting period, while the aggregate number of accounts specified in these requests decreased by 15%. The United States submitted the highest volume of global emergency requests (36%), followed by Japan (19%), and India (12%).

Discord reported receiving 378 requests for emergency data disclosure in the first half of 2021. Discord accepts EDRs via a specified email address.

For the six months ending in December 2021, Snapchat said it received 2,085 EDRs from authorities in the United States (with a 59 percent compliance rate), and another 1,448 from international police (64 percent granted). Snapchat has a form for submitting EDRs on its website.

TikTok‘s resources on government data requests currently lead to a “Page not found” error, but a company spokesperson said TikTok received 715 EDRs in the first half of 2021. That’s up from 409 EDRs in the previous six months. Tiktok handles EDRs via a form on its website.

The current transparency reports for both Google and Microsoft do not break out EDRs by category. Microsoft says that in the second half of 2021 it received more than 25,000 government requests, and that it complied at least partly with those requests more than 90 percent of the time.

Microsoft runs its own portal that law enforcement officials must register at to submit legal requests, but that portal doesn’t accept requests for other Microsoft properties, such as LinkedIn or Github.

Google said it received more than 113,000 government requests for user data in the last half of 2020, and that about 76 percent of the requests resulted in the disclosure of some user information. Google doesn’t publish EDR numbers, and it did not respond to requests for those figures. Google also runs its own portal for accepting law enforcement data requests.

Verizon reports (PDF) receiving more than 35,000 EDRs from just U.S. law enforcement in the second half of 2021, out of a total of 114,000 law enforcement requests (Verizon doesn’t disclose how many EDRs came from foreign law enforcement entities). Verizon said it complied with approximately 91 percent of requests. The company accepts law enforcement requests via snail mail or fax.

Image: Verizon.com.

AT&T says (PDF) it received nearly 19,000 EDRs in the second half of 2021; it provided some data roughly 95 percent of the time. AT&T requires EDRs to be faxed.

The most recent transparency report published by T-Mobile says the company received more than 164,000 “emergency/911” requests in 2020 — but it does not specifically call out EDRs. Like its old school telco brethren, T-Mobile requires EDRs to be faxed. T-Mobile did not respond to requests for more information.

Data from T-Mobile’s most recent transparency report in 2020. Image: T-Mobile.

You Can Now Ask Google to Remove Your Phone Number, Email or Address from Search Results

29 April 2022 at 19:25

Google said this week it is expanding the types of data people can ask to have removed from search results, to include personal contact information like your phone number, email address or physical address. The move comes just months after Google rolled out a new policy enabling people under the age of 18 (or a parent/guardian) to request removal of their images from Google search results.

Google has for years accepted requests to remove certain sensitive data such as bank account or credit card numbers from search results. In a blog post on Wednesday, Google’s Michelle Chang wrote that the company’s expanded policy now allows for the removal of additional information that may pose a risk for identity theft, such as confidential log-in credentials, email addresses and phone numbers when it appears in Search results.

“When we receive removal requests, we will evaluate all content on the web page to ensure that we’re not limiting the availability of other information that is broadly useful, for instance in news articles,” Chang wrote. “We’ll also evaluate if the content appears as part of the public record on the sites of government or official sources. In such cases, we won’t make removals.”

While Google’s removal of a search result from its index will do nothing to remove the offending content from the site that is hosting it, getting a link decoupled from Google search results is going to make the content at that link far less visible. According to recent estimates, Google enjoys somewhere near 90 percent market share in search engine usage.

KrebsOnSecurity decided to test this expanded policy with what would appear to be a no-brainer request: I asked Google to remove search result for BriansClub, one of the largest (if not THE largest) cybercrime stores for selling stolen payment card data.

BriansClub has long abused my name and likeness to pimp its wares on the hacking forums. Its homepage includes a copy of my credit report, Social Security card, phone bill, and a fake but otherwise official looking government ID card.

The login page for perhaps the most bustling cybercrime store for stolen payment card data.

Briansclub updated its homepage with this information in 2019, after it got massively hacked and a copy of its customer database was shared with this author. The leaked data — which included 26 million credit and debit card records taken from hacked online and brick-and-mortar retailers — was ultimately shared with dozens of financial institutions.

TechCrunch writes that the policy expansion comes six months after Google started allowing people under 18 or their parents request to delete their photos from search results. To do so, users need to specify that they want Google to remove “Imagery of an individual currently under the age of 18” and provide some personal information, the image URLs and search queries that would surface the results. Google also lets you submit requests to remove non-consensual explicit or intimate personal images from Google, along with involuntary fake pornography, TechCrunch notes.

This post will be updated in the event Google responds one way or the other, but that may take a while: Google’s automated response said: “Due to the preventative measures being taken for our support specialists in light of COVID-19, it may take longer than usual to respond to your support request. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause, and we’ll send you a reply as soon as we can.”

Update: 10:30 p.m. ET: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that people needed to show explicit or implicit threats regarding requests to remove information like one’s phone number, address or email address from a search result. A spokesperson for Google said “there is no requirement that we find the content to be harmful or shared in a malicious way.”

Russia to Rent Tech-Savvy Prisoners to Corporate IT?

2 May 2022 at 21:29

Image: Proxima Studios, via Shutterstock.

Faced with a brain drain of smart people fleeing the country following its invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Federation is floating a new strategy to address a worsening shortage of qualified information technology experts: Forcing tech-savvy people within the nation’s prison population to perform low-cost IT work for domestic companies.

Multiple Russian news outlets published stories on April 27 saying the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service had announced a plan to recruit IT specialists from Russian prisons to work remotely for domestic commercial companies.

Russians sentenced to forced labor will serve out their time at one of many correctional centers across dozens of Russian regions, usually at the center that is closest to their hometown. Alexander Khabarov, deputy head of Russia’s penitentiary service, said his agency had received proposals from businessmen in different regions to involve IT specialists serving sentences in correctional centers to work remotely for commercial companies.

Khabarov told Russian media outlets that under the proposal people with IT skills at these facilities would labor only in IT-related roles, but would not be limited to working with companies in their own region.

“We are approached with this initiative in a number of territories, in a number of subjects by entrepreneurs who work in this area,” Khabarov told Russian state media organization TASS. “We are only at the initial stage. If this is in demand, and this is most likely in demand, we think that we will not force specialists in this field to work in some other industries.”

According to Russian media site Lenta.ru, since March 21 nearly 95,000 vacancies in IT have remained unfilled in Russia. Lenta says the number unfilled job slots actually shrank 25 percent from the previous month, officially because “many Russian companies are currently reviewing their plans and budgets, and some projects have been postponed.” The story fails to even mention the recent economic sanctions that are currently affecting many Russian companies thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February.

The Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC) estimated recently that between 70,000 and 100,000 people will leave Russia as part of the second wave of emigration of IT specialists from Russia. “The study also notes that the number of IT people who want to leave Russia is growing. Experts consider the USA, Germany, Georgia, Cyprus and Canada to be the most attractive countries for moving,” Lenta reported of the RAEC survey.

It’s not clear how many “IT specialists” are currently serving prison time in Russia, or precisely what that might mean in terms of an inmate’s IT skills and knowledge. According to the BBC, about half of the world’s prison population is held in the United States, Russia or China. The BBC says Russia currently houses nearly 875,000 inmates, or about 615 inmates for every 100,000 citizens. The United States has an even higher incarceration rate (737/100,000), but also a far larger total prison population of nearly 2.2 million.

Sergei Boyarsky, deputy chairman of the Russian Duma’s Committee on Information Policy, said the idea was worth pursuing if indeed there are a significant number of IT specialists who are already incarcerated in Russia.

“I know that we have a need in general for IT specialists, this is a growing market,” said Boyarsky, who was among the Russian leaders sanctioned by the United States Treasury on Marc. 24, 2022 in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Boyarsky is head of the St. Petersburg branch of United Russia, a strongly pro-Putin political party that holds more than 70 percent of the seats in the Russian State Duma.

“Since they still work there, it would probably be right to give people with a profession that allows them to work remotely not to lose their qualifications,” Boyarsky was quoted as saying of potentially qualified inmates. “At a minimum, this proposal is worth attention and discussion if there are a lot of such specialists.”

According to Russia’s penitentiary service, the average salary of those sentenced to forced labor is about 20,000 rubles per month, or approximately USD $281. Russian news outlet RBC reports that businesses started using prison labor after the possibility of creating correctional centers in organizations appeared in 2020. RBC notes that Russia now has 117 such centers across 76 Russian regions.

Your Phone May Soon Replace Many of Your Passwords

7 May 2022 at 13:31

Apple, Google and Microsoft announced this week they will soon support an approach to authentication that avoids passwords altogether, and instead requires users to merely unlock their smartphones to sign in to websites or online services. Experts say the changes should help defeat many types of phishing attacks and ease the overall password burden on Internet users, but caution that a true passwordless future may still be years away for most websites.

Image: Blog.google

The tech giants are part of an industry-led effort to replace passwords, which are easily forgotten, frequently stolen by malware and phishing schemes, or leaked and sold online in the wake of corporate data breaches.

Apple, Google and Microsoft are some of the more active contributors to a passwordless sign-in standard crafted by the FIDO (“Fast Identity Online”) Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), groups that have been working with hundreds of tech companies over the past decade to develop a new login standard that works the same way across multiple browsers and operating systems.

According to the FIDO Alliance, users will be able to sign in to websites through the same action that they take multiple times each day to unlock their devices — including a device PIN, or a biometric such as a fingerprint or face scan.

“This new approach protects against phishing and sign-in will be radically more secure when compared to passwords and legacy multi-factor technologies such as one-time passcodes sent over SMS,” the alliance wrote on May 5.

Sampath Srinivas, director of security authentication at Google and president of the FIDO Alliance, said that under the new system your phone will store a FIDO credential called a “passkey” which is used to unlock your online account.

“The passkey makes signing in far more secure, as it’s based on public key cryptography and is only shown to your online account when you unlock your phone,” Srinivas wrote. “To sign into a website on your computer, you’ll just need your phone nearby and you’ll simply be prompted to unlock it for access. Once you’ve done this, you won’t need your phone again and you can sign in by just unlocking your computer.”

As ZDNet notes, Apple, Google and Microsoft already support these passwordless standards (e.g. “Sign in with Google”), but users need to sign in at every website to use the passwordless functionality. Under this new system, users will be able to automatically access their passkey on many of their devices — without having to re-enroll every account — and use their mobile device to sign into an app or website on a nearby device.

Johannes Ullrich, dean of research for the SANS Technology Institute, called the announcement “by far the most promising effort to solve the authentication challenge.”

“The most important part of this standard is that it will not require users to buy a new device, but instead they may use devices they already own and know how to use as authenticators,” Ullrich said.

Steve Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University and an early internet researcher and pioneer, called the passwordless effort a “huge advance” in authentication, but said it will take a very long time for many websites to catch up.

Bellovin and others say one potentially tricky scenario in this new passwordless authentication scheme is what happens when someone loses their mobile device, or their phone breaks and they can’t recall their iCloud password.

“I worry about people who can’t afford an extra device, or can’t easily replace a broken or stolen device,” Bellovin said. “I worry about forgotten password recovery for cloud accounts.”

Google says that even if you lose your phone, “your passkeys will securely sync to your new phone from cloud backup, allowing you to pick up right where your old device left off.”

Apple and Microsoft likewise have cloud backup solutions that customers using those platforms could use to recover from a lost mobile device. But Bellovin said much depends on how securely such cloud systems are administered.

“How easy is it to add another device’s public key to an account, without authorization?” Bellovin wondered. “I think their protocols make it impossible, but others disagree.”

Nicholas Weaver, a lecturer at the computer science department at University of California, Berkeley, said websites still have to have some recovery mechanism for the “you lost your phone and your password” scenario, which he described as “a really hard problem to do securely and already one of the biggest weaknesses in our current system.”

“If you forget the password and lose your phone and can recover it, now this is a huge target for attackers,” Weaver said in an email. “If you forget the password and lose your phone and CAN’T, well, now you’ve lost your authorization token that is used for logging in. It is going to have to be the latter. Apple has the infrastructure in place to support it (iCloud keychain), but it is unclear if Google does.”

Even so, he said, the overall FIDO approach has been a great tool for improving both security and usability.

“It is a really, really good step forward, and I’m delighted to see this,” Weaver said. “Taking advantage of the phone’s strong authentication of the phone owner (if you have a decent passcode) is quite nice. And at least for the iPhone you can make this robust even to phone compromise, as it is the secure enclave that would handle this and the secure enclave doesn’t trust the host operating system.”

The tech giants said the new passwordless capabilities will be enabled across Apple, Google and Microsoft platforms “over the course of the coming year.” But experts said it will likely take several more years for smaller web destinations to adopt the technology and ditch passwords altogether.

Recent research shows far too many people still reuse or recycle passwords (modifying the same password slightly), which presents an account takeover risk when those credentials eventually get exposed in a data breach. A report in March from cybersecurity firm SpyCloud found 64 percent of users reuse passwords for multiple accounts, and that 70 percent of credentials compromised in previous breaches are still in use.

A March 2022 white paper on the FIDO approach is available here (PDF). A FAQ on it is here.

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, May 2022 Edition

11 May 2022 at 02:34

Microsoft today released updates to fix at least 74 separate security problems in its Windows operating systems and related software. This month’s patch batch includes fixes for seven “critical” flaws, as well as a zero-day vulnerability that affects all supported versions of Windows.

By all accounts, the most urgent bug Microsoft addressed this month is CVE-2022-26925, a weakness in a central component of Windows security (the “Local Security Authority” process within Windows). CVE-2022-26925 was publicly disclosed prior to today, and Microsoft says it is now actively being exploited in the wild. The flaw affects Windows 7 through 10 and Windows Server 2008 through 2022.

Greg Wiseman, product manager for Rapid7, said Microsoft has rated this vulnerability as important and assigned it a CVSS (danger) score of 8.1 (10 being the worst), although Microsoft notes that the CVSS score can be as high as 9.8 in certain situations.

“This allows attackers to perform a man-in-the-middle attack to force domain controllers to authenticate to the attacker using NTLM authentication,” Wiseman said. “This is very bad news when used in conjunction with an NTLM relay attack, potentially leading to remote code execution. This bug affects all supported versions of Windows, but Domain Controllers should be patched on a priority basis before updating other servers.”

Wiseman said the most recent time Microsoft patched a similar vulnerability — last August in CVE-2021-36942 — it was also being exploited in the wild under the name “PetitPotam.”

“CVE-2021-36942 was so bad it made CISA’s catalog of Known Exploited Vulnerabilities,” Wiseman said.

Seven of the flaws fixed today earned Microsoft’s most-dire “critical” label, which it assigns to vulnerabilities that can be exploited by malware or miscreants to remotely compromise a vulnerable Windows system without any help from the user.

Among those is CVE-2022-26937, which carries a CVSS score of 9.8, and affects services using the Windows Network File System (NFS). Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative notes that this bug could allow remote, unauthenticated attackers to execute code in the context of the Network File System (NFS) service on affected systems.

“NFS isn’t on by default, but it’s prevalent in environment where Windows systems are mixed with other OSes such as Linux or Unix,” ZDI’s Dustin Childs wrote. “If this describes your environment, you should definitely test and deploy this patch quickly.”

Once again, this month’s Patch Tuesday is sponsored by Windows Print Spooler, a core Windows service that keeps spooling out the security hits. May’s patches include four fixes for Print Spooler, including two information disclosure and two elevation of privilege flaws.

“All of the flaws are rated as important, and two of the three are considered more likely to be exploited,” said Satnam Narang, staff research engineer at Tenable. “Windows Print Spooler continues to remain a valuable target for attackers since PrintNightmare was disclosed nearly a year ago. Elevation of Privilege flaws in particular should be carefully prioritized, as we’ve seen ransomware groups like Conti favor them as part of its playbook.”

Other Windows components that received patches this month include .NET and Visual Studio, Microsoft Edge (Chromium-based), Microsoft Exchange Server, Office, Windows Hyper-V, Windows Authentication Methods, BitLocker, Remote Desktop Client, and Windows Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol.

Also today, Adobe issued five security bulletins to address at least 18 flaws in Adobe CloudFusion, Framemaker, InCopy, InDesign, and Adobe Character Animator. Adobe said it is not aware of any exploits in the wild for any of the issues addressed in today’s updates.

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

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

DEA Investigating Breach of Law Enforcement Data Portal

12 May 2022 at 11:00

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says it is investigating reports that hackers gained unauthorized access to an agency portal that taps into 16 different federal law enforcement databases. KrebsOnSecurity has learned the alleged compromise is tied to a cybercrime and online harassment community that routinely impersonates police and government officials to harvest personal information on their targets.

Unidentified hackers shared this screenshot of alleged access to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s intelligence sharing portal.

On May 8, KrebsOnSecurity received a tip that hackers obtained a username and password for an authorized user of esp.usdoj.gov, which is the Law Enforcement Inquiry and Alerts (LEIA) system managed by the DEA.

KrebsOnSecurity shared information about the allegedly hijacked account with the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Department of Justice, which houses both agencies. The DEA declined to comment on the validity of the claims, issuing only a brief statement in response.

“DEA takes cyber security and information of intrusions seriously and investigates all such reports to the fullest extent,” the agency said in a statement shared via email.

According to this page at the Justice Department website, LEIA “provides federated search capabilities for both EPIC and external database repositories,” including data classified as “law enforcement sensitive” and “mission sensitive” to the DEA.

A document published by the Obama administration in May 2016 (PDF) says the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) systems in Texas are available for use by federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement, as well as the Department of Defense and intelligence community.

EPIC and LEIA also have access to the DEA’s National Seizure System (NSS), which the DEA uses to identify property thought to have been purchased with the proceeds of criminal activity (think fancy cars, boats and homes seized from drug kingpins).

“The EPIC System Portal (ESP) enables vetted users to remotely and securely share intelligence, access the National Seizure System, conduct data analytics, and obtain information in support of criminal investigations or law enforcement operations,” the 2016 White House document reads. “Law Enforcement Inquiry and Alerts (LEIA) allows for a federated search of 16 Federal law enforcement databases.”

The screenshots shared with this author indicate the hackers could use EPIC to look up a variety of records, including those for motor vehicles, boats, firearms, aircraft, and even drones.

Claims about the purloined DEA access were shared with this author by “KT,” the current administrator of the Doxbin — a highly toxic online community that provides a forum for digging up personal information on people and posting it publicly.

As KrebsOnSecurity reported earlier this year, the previous owner of the Doxbin has been identified as the leader of LAPSUS$, a data extortion group that hacked into some of the world’s largest tech companies this year — including Microsoft, NVIDIA, Okta, Samsung and T-Mobile.

That reporting also showed how the core members of LAPSUS$ were involved in selling a service offering fraudulent Emergency Data Requests (EDRs), wherein the hackers use compromised police and government email accounts to file warrantless data requests with social media firms, mobile telephony providers and other technology firms, attesting that the information being requested can’t wait for a warrant because it relates to an urgent matter of life and death.

From the standpoint of individuals involved in filing these phony EDRs, access to databases and user accounts within the Department of Justice would be a major coup. But the data in EPIC would probably be far more valuable to organized crime rings or drug cartels, said Nicholas Weaver, a researcher for the International Computer Science Institute at University of California, Berkeley.

Weaver said it’s clear from the screenshots shared by the hackers that they could use their access not only to view sensitive information, but also submit false records to law enforcement and intelligence agency databases.

“I don’t think these [people] realize what they got, how much money the cartels would pay for access to this,” Weaver said. “Especially because as a cartel you don’t search for yourself you search for your enemies, so that even if it’s discovered there is no loss to you of putting things ONTO the DEA’s radar.”

The DEA’s EPIC portal login page.

ANALYSIS

The login page for esp.usdoj.gov (above) suggests that authorized users can access the site using a “Personal Identity Verification” or PIV card, which is a fairly strong form of authentication used government-wide to control access to federal facilities and information systems at each user’s appropriate security level.

However, the EPIC portal also appears to accept just a username and password, which would seem to radically diminish the security value of requiring users to present (or prove possession of) an authorized PIV card. Indeed, KT said the hacker who obtained this illicit access was able to log in using the stolen credentials alone, and that at no time did the portal prompt for a second authentication factor.

It’s not clear why there are still sensitive government databases being protected by nothing more than a username and password, but I’m willing to bet big money that this DEA portal is not only offender here. The DEA portal esp.usdoj.gov is listed on Page 87 of a Justice Department “data inventory,” which catalogs all of the data repositories that correspond to DOJ agencies.

There are 3,330 results. Granted, only some of those results are login portals, but that’s just within the Department of Justice.

If we assume for the moment that state-sponsored foreign hacking groups can gain access to sensitive government intelligence in the same way as teenage hacker groups like LAPSUS$, then it is long past time for the U.S. federal government to perform a top-to-bottom review of authentication requirements tied to any government portals that traffic in sensitive or privileged information.

I’ll say it because it needs to be said: The United States government is in urgent need of leadership on cybersecurity at the executive branch level — preferably someone who has the authority and political will to eventually disconnect any federal government agency data portals that fail to enforce strong, multi-factor authentication.

I realize this may be far more complex than it sounds, particularly when it comes to authenticating law enforcement personnel who access these systems without the benefit of a PIV card or government-issued device (state and local authorities, for example). It’s not going to be as simple as just turning on multi-factor authentication for every user, thanks in part to a broad diversity of technologies being used across the law enforcement landscape.

But when hackers can plunder 16 law enforcement databases, arbitrarily send out law enforcement alerts for specific people or vehicles, or potentially disrupt ongoing law enforcement operations — all because someone stole, found or bought a username and password — it’s time for drastic measures.

When Your Smart ID Card Reader Comes With Malware

18 May 2022 at 01:07

Millions of U.S. government employees and contractors have been issued a secure smart ID card that enables physical access to buildings and controlled spaces, and provides access to government computer networks and systems at the cardholder’s appropriate security level. But many government employees aren’t issued an approved card reader device that lets them use these cards at home or remotely, and so turn to low-cost readers they find online. What could go wrong? Here’s one example.

A sample Common Access Card (CAC). Image: Cac.mil.

KrebsOnSecurity recently heard from a reader — we’ll call him “Mark” because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the press — who works in IT for a major government defense contractor and was issued a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) government smart card designed for civilian employees. Not having a smart card reader at home and lacking any obvious guidance from his co-workers on how to get one, Mark opted to purchase a $15 reader from Amazon that said it was made to handle U.S. government smart cards.

The USB-based device Mark settled on is the first result that currently comes up one when searches on Amazon.com for “PIV card reader.” The card reader Mark bought was sold by a company called Saicoo, whose sponsored Amazon listing advertises a “DOD Military USB Common Access Card (CAC) Reader” and has more than 11,700 mostly positive ratings.

The Common Access Card (CAC) is the standard identification for active duty uniformed service personnel, selected reserve, DoD civilian employees, and eligible contractor personnel. It is the principal card used to enable physical access to buildings and controlled spaces, and provides access to DoD computer networks and systems.

Mark said when he received the reader and plugged it into his Windows 10 PC, the operating system complained that the device’s hardware drivers weren’t functioning properly. Windows suggested consulting the vendor’s website for newer drivers.

The Saicoo smart card reader that Mark purchased. Image: Amazon.com

So Mark went to the website mentioned on Saicoo’s packaging and found a ZIP file containing drivers for Linux, Mac OS and Windows:

Image: Saicoo

Out of an abundance of caution, Mark submitted Saicoo’s drivers file to Virustotal.com, which simultaneously scans any shared files with more than five dozen antivirus and security products. Virustotal reported that some 43 different security tools detected the Saicoo drivers as malicious. The consensus seems to be that the ZIP file currently harbors a malware threat known as Ramnit, a fairly common but dangerous trojan horse that spreads by appending itself to other files.

Image: Virustotal.com

Ramnit is a well-known and older threat — first surfacing more than a decade ago — but it has evolved over the years and is still employed in more sophisticated data exfiltration attacks. Amazon said in a written statement that it was investigating the reports.

“Seems like a potentially significant national security risk, considering that many end users might have elevated clearance levels who are using PIV cards for secure access,” Mark said.

Mark said he contacted Saicoo about their website serving up malware, and received a response saying the company’s newest hardware did not require any additional drivers. He said Saicoo did not address his concern that the driver package on its website was bundled with malware.

In response to KrebsOnSecurity’s request for comment, Saicoo sent a somewhat less reassuring reply.

“From the details you offered, issue may probably caused by your computer security defense system as it seems not recognized our rarely used driver & detected it as malicious or a virus,” Saicoo’s support team wrote in an email.

“Actually, it’s not carrying any virus as you can trust us, if you have our reader on hand, please just ignore it and continue the installation steps,” the message continued. “When driver installed, this message will vanish out of sight. Don’t worry.”

Saicoo’s response to KrebsOnSecurity.

The trouble with Saicoo’s apparently infected drivers may be little more than a case of a technology company having their site hacked and responding poorly. Will Dormann, a vulnerability analyst at CERT/CC, wrote on Twitter that the executable files (.exe) in the Saicoo drivers ZIP file were not altered by the Ramnit malware — only the included HTML files.

Dormann said it’s bad enough that searching for device drivers online is one of the riskiest activities one can undertake online.

“Doing a web search for drivers is a VERY dangerous (in terms of legit/malicious hit ratio) search to perform, based on results of any time I’ve tried to do it,” Dormann added. “Combine that with the apparent due diligence of the vendor outlined here, and well, it ain’t a pretty picture.”

But by all accounts, the potential attack surface here is enormous, as many federal employees clearly will purchase these readers from a myriad of online vendors when the need arises. Saicoo’s product listings, for example, are replete with comments from customers who self-state that they work at a federal agency (and several who reported problems installing drivers).

A thread about Mark’s experience on Twitter generated a strong response from some of my followers, many of whom apparently work for the U.S. government in some capacity and have government-issued CAC or PIV cards.

Two things emerged clearly from that conversation. The first was general confusion about whether the U.S. government has any sort of list of approved vendors. It does. The General Services Administration (GSA), the agency which handles procurement for federal civilian agencies, maintains a list of approved card reader vendors at idmanagement.gov (Saicoo is not on that list). [Thanks to @MetaBiometrics and @shugenja for the link!]

The other theme that ran through the Twitter discussion was the reality that many people find buying off-the-shelf readers more expedient than going through the GSA’s official procurement process, whether it’s because they were never issued one or the reader they were using simply no longer worked or was lost and they needed another one quickly.

“Almost every officer and NCO [non-commissioned officer] I know in the Reserve Component has a CAC reader they bought because they had to get to their DOD email at home and they’ve never been issued a laptop or a CAC reader,” said David Dixon, an Army veteran and author who lives in Northern Virginia. “When your boss tells you to check your email at home and you’re in the National Guard and you live 2 hours from the nearest [non-classified military network installation], what do you think is going to happen?”

Interestingly, anyone asking on Twitter about how to navigate purchasing the right smart card reader and getting it all to work properly is invariably steered toward militarycac.com. The website is maintained by Michael Danberry, a decorated and retired Army veteran who launched the site in 2008 (its text and link-heavy design very much takes one back to that era of the Internet and webpages in general). His site has even been officially recommended by the Army (PDF). Mark shared emails showing Saicoo itself recommends militarycac.com.

Image: Militarycac.com.

“The Army Reserve started using CAC logon in May 2006,” Danberry wrote on his “About” page. “I [once again] became the ‘Go to guy’ for my Army Reserve Center and Minnesota. I thought Why stop there? I could use my website and knowledge of CAC and share it with you.”

Danberry did not respond to requests for an interview — no doubt because he’s busy doing tech support for the federal government. The friendly message on Danberry’s voicemail instructs support-needing callers to leave detailed information about the issue they’re having with CAC/PIV card readers.

Dixon said Danberry has “done more to keep the Army running and connected than all the G6s [Army Chief Information Officers] put together.”

In many ways, Mr. Danberry is the equivalent of that little known software developer whose tiny open-sourced code project ends up becoming widely adopted and eventually folded into the fabric of the Internet.  I wonder if he ever imagined 15 years ago that his website would one day become “critical infrastructure” for Uncle Sam?

Senators Urge FTC to Probe ID.me Over Selfie Data

18 May 2022 at 16:55

Some of more tech-savvy Democrats in the U.S. Senate are asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate identity-proofing company ID.me for “deceptive statements” the company and its founder allegedly made over how they handle facial recognition data collected on behalf of the Internal Revenue Service, which until recently required anyone seeking a new IRS account online to provide a live video selfie to ID.me.

In a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan, the Senators charge that ID.me’s CEO Blake Hall has offered conflicting statements about how his company uses the facial scan data it collects on behalf of the federal government and many states that use the ID proofing technology to screen applicants for unemployment insurance.

The lawmakers say that in public statements and blog posts, ID.me has frequently emphasized the difference between two types of facial recognition: One-to-one, and one-to-many. In the one-to-one approach, a live video selfie is compared to the image on a driver’s license, for example. One-to-many facial recognition involves comparing a face against a database of other faces to find any potential matches.

Americans have particular reason to be concerned about the difference between these two types of facial recognition, says the letter to the FTC, signed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):

“While one-to-one recognition involves a one-time comparison of two images in order to confirm an applicant’s identity, the use of one-to-many recognition means that millions of innocent people will have their photographs endlessly queried as part of a digital ‘line up.’ Not only does this violate individuals’ privacy, but the inevitable false matches associated with one-to-many recognition can result in applicants being wrongly denied desperately-needed services for weeks or even months as they try to get their case reviewed.”

“This risk is especially acute for people of color: NIST’s Facial Recognition Vendor Test found that many facial recognition algorithms have rates of false matches that are as much as 100 times higher for individuals from countries in West Africa, East Africa and East Asia than for individuals from Eastern European countries. This means Black and Asian Americans could be disproportionately likely to be denied benefits due to a false match in a one-to-many facial recognition system.”

The lawmakers say that throughout the latter half of 2021, ID.me published statements and blog posts stating it did not use one-to-many facial recognition and that the approach was “problematic” and “tied to surveillance operations.” But several days after a Jan. 16, 2022 post here about the IRS’s new facial ID requirement went viral and prompted a public backlash, Hall acknowledged in a LinkedIn posting that ID.me does use one-to-many facial recognition.

“Within days, the company edited the numerous blog posts and white papers on its website that previously stated the company did not use one-to-many to reflect the truth,” the letter alleges. “According to media reports, the company’s decision to correct its prior misleading statements came after mounting internal pressure from its employees.”

Cyberscoop’s Tonya Riley published excerpts from internal ID.me employee Slack messages wherein some expressed dread and unease with the company’s equivocation on its use of one-to-many facial recognition.

In February, the IRS announced it would no longer require facial scans or other biometric data from taxpayers seeking to create an account at the agency’s website. The agency also pledged that any biometric data shared with ID.me would be permanently deleted.

But the IRS still requires new account applicants to sign up with either ID.me or Login.gov, a single sign-on solution already used to access 200 websites run by 28 federal agencies. It also still offers the option of providing a live selfie for verification purposes, although the IRS says this data will be deleted automatically.

Asked to respond to concerns raised in the letter from Senate lawmakers, ID.me instead touted its successes in stopping fraud.

“Five state workforce agencies have publicly credited ID.me with helping to prevent $238 billion dollars in fraud,” the statement reads. “Conditions were so bad during the pandemic that the deputy assistant director of the FBI called the fraud ‘an economic attack on the United States.’ ID.me played a critical role in stopping that attack in more than 20 states where the service was rapidly adopted for its equally important ability to increase equity and verify individuals left behind by traditional options. We look forward to cooperating with all relevant government bodies to clear up any misunderstandings.”

As Cyberscoop reported on Apr. 14, the House Oversight and Reform Committee last month began an investigation into ID.me’s practices, with committee chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) saying the committee’s questions to the company would help shape policy on how the government wields facial recognition technology.

A copy of the letter the senators sent to the FTC is here (PDF).

Costa Rica May Be Pawn in Conti Ransomware Group’s Bid to Rebrand, Evade Sanctions

31 May 2022 at 19:57

Costa Rica’s national health service was hacked sometime earlier this morning by a Russian ransomware group known as Hive. The intrusion comes just weeks after Costa Rican President Rodrigo Chaves declared a state of emergency in response to a data ransom attack from a different Russian ransomware gang — Conti. Ransomware experts say there is good reason to believe the same cybercriminals are behind both attacks, and that Hive has been helping Conti rebrand and evade international sanctions targeting extortion payouts to cybercriminals operating in Russia.

The Costa Rican publication CRprensa.com reports that affected systems at the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) were taken offline on the morning of May 31, but that the extent of the breach was still unclear. The CCSS is responsible for Costa Rica’s public health sector, and worker and employer contributions are mandated by law.

A hand-written sign posted outside a public health center in Costa Rica today explained that all systems are down until further notice (thanks to @Xyb3rb3nd3r for sharing this photo).

A hand-written notice posted outside a public health clinic today in Costa Rica warned of system outages due to a cyberattack on the nation’s healthcare systems. The message reads: “Dear Users: We would like to inform you that due a problem related to the information systems of the institution, we are unable to expend any medicine prescriptions today until further notice. Thank you for your understanding- The pharmacy.”

Esteban Jimenez, founder of the Costa Rican cybersecurity consultancy ATTI Cyber, told KrebsOnSecurity the CCSS suffered a cyber attack that compromised the Unique Digital Medical File (EDUS) and the National Prescriptions System for the public pharmacies, and as a result medical centers have turned to paper forms and manual contingencies.

“Many smaller health centers located in rural areas have been forced to close due to not having the required equipment or communication with their respective central health areas and the National Retirement Fund (IVM) was completely blocked,” Jimenez said. “Taking into account that salaries of around fifty thousand employees and deposits for retired citizens were due today, so now the payments are in danger.”

Jimenez said the head of the CCSS has addressed the local media, confirming that the Hive ransomware was deployed on at least 30 out of 1,500 government servers, and that any estimation of time to recovery remains unknown. He added that many printers within the government agency this morning began churning out copies of the Hive ransom note.

Printers at the Costa Rican government health ministry went crazy this morning after the Hive ransomware group attacked. Image: Esteban Jimenez.

“HIVE has not yet released their ransom fee but attacks are expected to follow, other organizations are trying to get a hold on the emergency declaration to obtain additional funds to purchase new pieces of infrastructure, improve their backup structure amongst others,” Jimenez said.

A copy of the ransom note left behind by the intruders and subsequently uploaded to Virustotal.com indicates the CCSS intrusion was the work of Hive, which typically demands payment for a digital key needed to unlock files and servers compromised by the group’s ransomware.

A HIVE ransomware chat page for a specific victim (redacted).

On May 8, President Chaves used his first day in office to declare a national state of emergency after the Conti ransomware group threatened to publish gigabytes of sensitive data stolen from Costa Rica’s Ministry of Finance and other government agencies. Conti initially demanded $10 million, and later doubled the amount when Costa Rica refused to pay. On May 20, Conti leaked more than 670 gigabytes of data taken from Costa Rican government servers.

As CyberScoop reported on May 17, Chaves told local media he believed that collaborators within Costa Rica were helping Conti extort the government. Chaves offered no information to support this claim, but the timeline of Conti’s descent on Costa Rica is worth examining.

Most of Conti’s public communications about the Costa Rica attack have very clearly assigned credit for the intrusion to an individual or group calling itself “unc1756.” In March 2022, a new user by the same name registered on the Russian language crime forum Exploit.

A message Conti posted to its dark web blog on May 20.

On the evening of April 18, Costa Rica’s Ministry of Finance disclosed the Conti intrusion via Twitter. Earlier that same day, the user unc1756 posted a help wanted ad on Exploit saying they were looking to buy access to “special networks” in Costa Rica.

“By special networks I mean something like Haciendas,” unc1756 wrote on Exploit. Costa Rica’s Ministry of Finance is known in Spanish as the “Ministerio Hacienda de Costa Rica.” Unc1756 said they would pay $USD 500 or more for such access, and would work only with Russian-speaking people.

THE NAME GAME DISTRACTION

Experts say there are clues to suggest Conti and Hive are working together in their attacks on Costa Rica, and that the intrusions are tied to a rebranding effort by Conti. Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February, Conti declared its full support, aligning itself directly with Russia and against anyone who would stand against the motherland.

Conti’s threatening message this week regarding international interference in Ukraine.

Conti quickly deleted the declaration from its website, but the damage had already been done, and any favor or esteem that Conti had earned among the Ukrainian cybercriminal underground effectively evaporated overnight.

Shortly thereafter, a Ukrainian security expert leaked many months worth of internal chat records between Conti personnel as they plotted and executed attacks against hundreds of victim organizations. Those candid messages exposed what it’s like to work for Conti, how they undermined the security of their targets, as well as how the group’s leaders strategized for the upper hand in ransom negotiations.

But Conti’s declaration of solidarity with the Kremlin also made it increasingly ineffective as an instrument of financial extortion. According to cyber intelligence firm ADVIntel, Conti’s alliance with the Russian state soon left it largely unable to receive ransom payments because victim companies are being advised that paying a Conti ransom demand could mean violating U.S. economic sanctions on Russia.

“Conti as a brand became associated with the Russian state — a state that is currently undergoing extreme sanctions,” ADVIntel wrote in a lengthy analysis (PDF). “In the eyes of the state, each ransom payment going to Conti may have potentially gone to an individual under sanction, turning simple data extortion into a violation of OFAC regulation and sanction policies against Russia.”

Conti is by far the most aggressive and profitable ransomware group in operation today. Image: Chainalysis

ADVIntel says it first learned of Conti’s intrusion into Costa Rican government systems on April 14, and that it has seen internal Conti communications indicating that getting paid in the Costa Rica attack was not the goal.

Rather, ADVIntel argues, Conti was simply using it as a way to appear publicly that it was still operating as the world’s most lucrative ransomware collective, when in reality the core Conti leadership was busy dismantling the crime group and folding themselves and top affiliates into other ransomware groups that are already on friendly terms with Conti.

“The only goal Conti had wanted to meet with this final attack was to use the platform as a tool of publicity, performing their own death and subsequent rebirth in the most plausible way it could have been conceived,” ADVIntel concluded.

ADVIntel says Conti’s leaders and core affiliates are dispersing to several Conti-loyal crime collectives that use either ransomware lockers or strictly engage in data theft for ransom, including AlphV/BlackCat, AvosLocker, BlackByte, HelloKitty, Hive, and Karakurt.

Still, Hive appears to be perhaps the biggest beneficiary of any attrition from Conti: Twice over the past week, both Conti and Hive claimed responsibility for hacking the same companies. When the discrepancy was called out on Twitter, Hive updated its website to claim it was not affiliated with Conti.

Conti and Hive’s Costa Rican exploits mark the latest in a string of recent cyberattacks against government targets across Latin America. Around the same time it hacked Costa Rica in April, Conti announced it had hacked Peru’s National Directorate of Intelligence, threatening to publish sensitive stolen data if the government did not pay a ransom.

But Conti and Hive are not alone in targeting Latin American victims of late. According to data gathered from the victim shaming blogs maintained by multiple ransomware groups, over the past 90 days ransom actors have hacked and sought to extort 15 government agencies in Brazil, nine in Argentina, six in Colombia, four in Ecuador and three in Chile.

A recent report (PDF) by the Inter-American Development Bank suggests many Latin American countries lack the technical expertise or cybercrime laws to deal with today’s threats and threat actors.

“This study shows that the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) region is not sufficiently prepared to handle cyberattacks,” the IADB document explains. “Only 7 of the 32 countries studied have a critical infrastructure protection plan, while 20 have established cybersecurity incident response teams, often called CERTs or CSIRTs. This limits their ability to identify and respond to attacks.”

What Counts as “Good Faith Security Research?”

3 June 2022 at 19:33

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently revised its policy on charging violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), a 1986 law that remains the primary statute by which federal prosecutors pursue cybercrime cases. The new guidelines state that prosecutors should avoid charging security researchers who operate in “good faith” when finding and reporting vulnerabilities. But legal experts continue to advise researchers to proceed with caution, noting the new guidelines can’t be used as a defense in court, nor are they any kind of shield against civil prosecution.

In a statement about the changes, Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco said the DOJ “has never been interested in prosecuting good-faith computer security research as a crime,” and that the new guidelines “promote cybersecurity by providing clarity for good-faith security researchers who root out vulnerabilities for the common good.”

What constitutes “good faith security research?” The DOJ’s new policy (PDF) borrows language from a Library of Congress rulemaking (PDF) on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), a similarly controversial law that criminalizes production and dissemination of technologies or services designed to circumvent measures that control access to copyrighted works. According to the government, good faith security research means:

“…accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability, where such activity is carried out in a manner designed to avoid any harm to individuals or the public, and where the information derived from the activity is used primarily to promote the security or safety of the class of devices, machines, or online services to which the accessed computer belongs, or those who use such devices, machines, or online services.”

“Security research not conducted in good faith — for example, for the purpose of discovering security holes in devices, machines, or services in order to extort the owners of such devices, machines, or services — might be called ‘research,’ but is not in good faith.”

The new DOJ policy comes in response to a Supreme Court ruling last year in Van Buren v. United States (PDF), a case involving a former police sergeant in Florida who was convicted of CFAA violations after a friend paid him to use police resources to look up information on a private citizen.

But in an opinion authored by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the Supreme Court held that the CFAA does not apply to a person who obtains electronic information that they are otherwise authorized to access and then misuses that information.

Orin Kerr, a law professor at University of California, Berkeley, said the DOJ’s updated policy was expected given the Supreme Court ruling in the Van Buren case. Kerr noted that while the new policy says one measure of “good faith” involves researchers taking steps to prevent harm to third parties, what exactly those steps might constitute is another matter.

“The DOJ is making clear they’re not going to prosecute good faith security researchers, but be really careful before you rely on that,” Kerr said. “First, because you could still get sued [civilly, by the party to whom the vulnerability is being reported], but also the line as to what is legitimate security research and what isn’t is still murky.”

Kerr said the new policy also gives CFAA defendants no additional cause for action.

“A lawyer for the defendant can make the pitch that something is good faith security research, but it’s not enforceable,” Kerr said. “Meaning, if the DOJ does bring a CFAA charge, the defendant can’t move to dismiss it on the grounds that it’s good faith security research.”

Kerr added that he can’t think of a CFAA case where this policy would have made a substantive difference.

“I don’t think the DOJ is giving up much, but there’s a lot of hacking that could be covered under good faith security research that they’re saying they won’t prosecute, and it will be interesting to see what happens there,” he said.

The new policy also clarifies other types of potential CFAA violations that are not to be charged. Most of these include violations of a technology provider’s terms of service, and here the DOJ says “violating an access restriction contained in a term of service are not themselves sufficient to warrant federal criminal charges.” Some examples include:

-Embellishing an online dating profile contrary to the terms of service of the dating website;
-Creating fictional accounts on hiring, housing, or rental websites;
-Using a pseudonym on a social networking site that prohibits them;
-Checking sports scores or paying bills at work.

ANALYSIS

Kerr’s warning about the dangers that security researchers face from civil prosecution is well-founded. KrebsOnSecurity regularly hears from security researchers seeking advice on how to handle reporting a security vulnerability or data exposure. In most of these cases, the researcher isn’t worried that the government is going to come after them: It’s that they’re going to get sued by the company responsible for the security vulnerability or data leak.

Often these conversations center around the researcher’s desire to weigh the rewards of gaining recognition for their discoveries with the risk of being targeted with costly civil lawsuits. And almost just as often, the source of the researcher’s unease is that they recognize they might have taken their discovery just a tad too far.

Here’s a common example: A researcher finds a vulnerability in a website that allows them to individually retrieve every customer record in a database. But instead of simply polling a few records that could be used as a proof-of-concept and shared with the vulnerable website, the researcher decides to download every single file on the server.

Not infrequently, there is also concern because at some point the researcher suspected that their automated activities might have actually caused stability or uptime issues with certain services they were testing. Here, the researcher is usually concerned about approaching the vulnerable website or vendor because they worry their activities may already have been identified internally as some sort of external cyberattack.

What do I take away from these conversations? Some of the most trusted and feared security researchers in the industry today gained that esteem not by constantly taking things to extremes and skirting the law, but rather by publicly exercising restraint in the use of their powers and knowledge — and by being effective at communicating their findings in a way that maximizes the help and minimizes the potential harm.

If you believe you’ve discovered a security vulnerability or data exposure, try to consider first how you might defend your actions to the vulnerable website or vendor before embarking on any automated or semi-automated activity that the organization might reasonably misconstrue as a cyberattack. In other words, try as best you can to minimize the potential harm to the vulnerable site or vendor in question, and don’t go further than you need to prove your point.

KrebsOnSecurity in New Netflix Series on Cybercrime

7 June 2022 at 14:58

Netflix has a new documentary series airing next week — “Web of Make Believe: Death, Lies & the Internet” — in which Yours Truly apparently has a decent amount of screen time. The debut episode explores the far-too-common harassment tactic of “swatting” — wherein fake bomb threats or hostage situations are phoned in to police as part of a scheme to trick them into visiting potentially deadly force on a target’s address.

Image: Netflix.com

The producers of the Netflix show said footage from an interview I sat for in early 2020 on swatting and other threats should appear in the first episode. They didn’t specify what additional topics the series would scrutinize, but Netflix’s teaser for the show suggests it concerns cybercrimes that result in deadly, real-world kinetic attacks.

“Conspiracy. Fraud. Violence. Murder,” reads the Netflix short description for the series. “What starts out virtual can get real all too quickly — and when the web is worldwide, so are the consequences.”

Our family has been victimized by multiple swatting attacks over the past decade. Our first swatting, in March 2013, resulted in Fairfax County, Va. police surrounding our home and forcing me into handcuffs at gunpoint. For an excruciating two minutes, I had multiple police officers pointing rifles, shotguns and pistols directly at me.

More recently, our family was subjected to swatting attacks by a neo-Nazi group that targeted journalists, judges and corporate executives. We’ve been fortunate that none of our swatting events ended in physical harm, and that our assailants have all faced justice.

But these dangerous hoaxes can quickly turn deadly: In March 2019, 26-year-old serial swatter Tyler Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison for making a phony emergency call to police in late 2017 that resulted in the shooting death of an innocent Kansas resident.

In 2021, an 18-year-old Tennessee man who helped set in motion a fraudulent distress call to police that led to the death of a 60-year-old grandfather in was sentenced to five years in prison.

The first season of the new documentary series will be available on Netflix starting June 15. See you on TV!

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