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✇ Krebs on Security

The Internet is Held Together With Spit & Baling Wire

By: BrianKrebs

A visualization of the Internet made using network routing data. Image: Barrett Lyon, opte.org.

Imagine being able to disconnect or redirect Internet traffic destined for some of the world’s biggest companies — just by spoofing an email. This is the nature of a threat vector recently removed by a Fortune 500 firm that operates one of the largest Internet backbones.

Based in Monroe, La., Lumen Technologies Inc. [NYSE: LUMN] (formerly CenturyLink) is one of more than two dozen entities that operate what’s known as an Internet Routing Registry (IRR). These IRRs maintain routing databases used by network operators to register their assigned network resources — i.e., the Internet addresses that have been allocated to their organization.

The data maintained by the IRRs help keep track of which organizations have the right to access what Internet address space in the global routing system. Collectively, the information voluntarily submitted to the IRRs forms a distributed database of Internet routing instructions that helps connect a vast array of individual networks.

There are about 70,000 distinct networks on the Internet today, ranging from huge broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to many thousands of enterprises that connect to the edge of the Internet for access. Each of these so-called “Autonomous Systems” (ASes) make their own decisions about how and with whom they will connect to the larger Internet.

Regardless of how they get online, each AS uses the same language to specify which Internet IP address ranges they control: It’s called the Border Gateway Protocol, or BGP. Using BGP, an AS tells its directly connected neighbor AS(es) the addresses that it can reach. That neighbor in turn passes the information on to its neighbors, and so on, until the information has propagated everywhere [1].

A key function of the BGP data maintained by IRRs is preventing rogue network operators from claiming another network’s addresses and hijacking their traffic. In essence, an organization can use IRRs to declare to the rest of the Internet, “These specific Internet address ranges are ours, should only originate from our network, and you should ignore any other networks trying to lay claim to these address ranges.”

In the early days of the Internet, when organizations wanted to update their records with an IRR, the changes usually involved some amount of human interaction — often someone manually editing the new coordinates into an Internet backbone router. But over the years the various IRRs made it easier to automate this process via email.

For a long time, any changes to an organization’s routing information with an IRR could be processed via email as long as one of the following authentication methods was successfully used:

-CRYPT-PW: A password is added to the text of an email to the IRR containing the record they wish to add, change or delete (the IRR then compares that password to a hash of the password);

-PGPKEY: The requestor signs the email containing the update with an encryption key the IRR recognizes;

-MAIL-FROM: The requestor sends the record changes in an email to the IRR, and the authentication is based solely on the “From:” header of the email.

Of these, MAIL-FROM has long been considered insecure, for the simple reason that it’s not difficult to spoof the return address of an email. And virtually all IRRs have disallowed its use since at least 2012, said Adam Korab, a network engineer and security researcher based in Houston.

All except Level 3 Communications, a major Internet backbone provider acquired by Lumen/CenturyLink.

“LEVEL 3 is the last IRR operator which allows the use of this method, although they have discouraged its use since at least 2012,” Korab told KrebsOnSecurity. “Other IRR operators have fully deprecated MAIL-FROM.”

Importantly, the name and email address of each Autonomous System’s official contact for making updates with the IRRs is public information.

Korab filed a vulnerability report with Lumen demonstrating how a simple spoofed email could be used to disrupt Internet service for banks, telecommunications firms and even government entities.

“If such an attack were successful, it would result in customer IP address blocks being filtered and dropped, making them unreachable from some or all of the global Internet,” Korab said, noting that he found more than 2,000 Lumen customers were potentially affected. “This would effectively cut off Internet access for the impacted IP address blocks.”

The recent outage that took Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp offline for the better part of a day was caused by an erroneous BGP update submitted by Facebook. That update took away the map telling the world’s computers how to find its various online properties.

Now consider the mayhem that would ensue if someone spoofed IRR updates to remove or alter routing entries for multiple e-commerce providers, banks and telecommunications companies at the same time.

“Depending on the scope of an attack, this could impact individual customers, geographic market areas, or potentially the [Lumen] backbone,” Korab continued. “This attack is trivial to exploit, and has a difficult recovery. Our conjecture is that any impacted Lumen or customer IP address blocks would be offline for 24-48 hours. In the worst-case scenario, this could extend much longer.”

Lumen told KrebsOnSecurity that it continued offering MAIL-FROM: authentication because many of its customers still relied on it due to legacy systems. Nevertheless, after receiving Korab’s report the company decided the wisest course of action was to disable MAIL-FROM: authentication altogether.

“We recently received notice of a known insecure configuration with our Route Registry,” reads a statement Lumen shared with KrebsOnSecurity. “We already had mitigating controls in place and to date we have not identified any additional issues. As part of our normal cybersecurity protocol, we carefully considered this notice and took steps to further mitigate any potential risks the vulnerability may have created for our customers or systems.”

Level3, now part of Lumen, has long urged customers to avoid using “Mail From” for authentication, but until very recently they still allowed it.

KC Claffy is the founder and director of the Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), and a resident research scientist of the San Diego Supercomputer Center at the University of California, San Diego. Claffy said there is scant public evidence of a threat actor using the weakness now fixed by Lumen to hijack Internet routes.

“People often don’t notice, and a malicious actor certainly works to achieve this,” Claffy said in an email to KrebsOnSecurity. “But also, if a victim does notice, they generally aren’t going to release details that they’ve been hijacked. This is why we need mandatory reporting of such breaches, as Dan Geer has been saying for years.”

But there are plenty of examples of cybercriminals hijacking IP address blocks after a domain name associated with an email address in an IRR record has expired. In those cases, the thieves simply register the expired domain and then send email from it to an IRR specifying any route changes.

While it’s nice that Lumen is no longer the weakest link in the IRR chain, the remaining authentication mechanisms aren’t great. Claffy said after years of debate over approaches to improving routing security, the operator community deployed an alternative known as the Resource Public Key Infrastructure (RPKI).

“The RPKI includes cryptographic attestation of records, including expiration dates, with each Regional Internet Registry (RIR) operating as a ‘root’ of trust,” wrote Claffy and two other UC San Diego researchers in a paper that is still undergoing peer review. “Similar to the IRR, operators can use the RPKI to discard routing messages that do not pass origin validation checks.”

However, the additional integrity RPKI brings also comes with a fair amount of added complexity and cost, the researchers found.

“Operational and legal implications of potential malfunctions have limited registration in and use of the RPKI,” the study observed (link added). “In response, some networks have redoubled their efforts to improve the accuracy of IRR registration data. These two technologies are now operating in parallel, along with the option of doing nothing at all to validate routes.”

[1]: I borrowed some descriptive text in the 5th and 6th paragraphs from a CAIDA/UCSD draft paper — IRR Hygiene in the RPKI Era (PDF).

Further reading:

Trust Zones: A Path to a More Secure Internet Infrastructure (PDF).

Reviewing a historical Internet vulnerability: Why isn’t BGP more secure and what can we do about it? (PDF)

✇ Krebs on Security

Arrest in ‘Ransom Your Employer’ Email Scheme

By: BrianKrebs

In August, KrebsOnSecurity warned that scammers were contacting people and asking them to unleash ransomware inside their employer’s network, in exchange for a percentage of any ransom amount paid by the victim company. This week, authorities in Nigeria arrested a suspect in connection with the scheme — a young man who said he was trying to save up money to help fund a new social network.

Image: Abnormal Security.

The brazen approach targeting disgruntled employees was first spotted by threat intelligence firm Abnormal Security, which described what happened after they adopted a fake persona and responded to the proposal in the screenshot above.

“According to this actor, he had originally intended to send his targets—all senior-level executives—phishing emails to compromise their accounts, but after that was unsuccessful, he pivoted to this ransomware pretext,” Abnormal’s Crane Hassold wrote.

Abnormal Security documented how it tied the email back to a Nigerian man who acknowledged he was trying to save up money to help fund a new social network he is building called Sociogram. In June 2021, the Nigerian government officially placed an indefinite ban on Twitter, restricting it from operating in Nigeria after the social media platform deleted tweets by the Nigerian president.

Reached via LinkedIn, Sociogram founder Oluwaseun Medayedupin asked to have his startup’s name removed from the story, although he did not respond to questions about whether there were any inaccuracies in Hassold’s report.

“Please don’t harm Sociogram’s reputation,” Medayedupin pleaded. “I beg you as a promising young man.”

After he deleted his LinkedIn profile, I received the following message through the “contact this domain holder” link at KrebsOnSecurity’s domain registrar [curiously, the date of that missive reads “Dec. 31, 1969.”]. Apparently, Mr. Krebson is a clout-chasing monger.

A love letter from the founder of the ill-fated Sociogram.

Mr. Krebson also heard from an investigator representing the Nigeria Finance CERT on behalf of the Central Bank Of Nigeria. While the Sociogram founder’s approach might seem amateurish to some, the financial community in Nigeria did not consider it a laughing matter.

On Friday, Nigerian police arrested Medayedupin. The investigator says formal charges will be levied against the defendant sometime this week.

KrebsOnSecurity spoke with a fraud investigator who is performing the forensic analysis of the devices seized from Medayedupin’s home. The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his physical safety.

The investigator — we’ll call him “George” — said the 23-year-old Medayedupin lives with his extended family in an extremely impoverished home, and that the young man told investigators he’d just graduated from college but turned to cybercrime at first with ambitions of merely scamming the scammers.

George’s team confirmed that Medayedupin had around USD $2,000 to his name, which he’d recently stolen from a group of Nigerian fraudsters who were scamming people for gift cards. Apparently, he admitted to creating a phishing website that tricked a member of this group into providing access to the money they’d made from their scams.

Medayedupin reportedly told investigators that for almost a week after he started emailing his ransom-your-employer scheme, nobody took him up on the offer. But after his name appeared in the news media, he received thousands of inquiries from people interested in his idea.

George described Medayedupin as smart, a quick learner, and fairly dedicated to his work.

“He seems like he could be a fantastic [employee] for a company,” George said. “But there is no employment here, so he chose to do this.”

What’s interesting about this case — and indeed likely why anyone thought this guy worthy of arrest — is that the Nigerian authorities were fairly swift to take action when a domestic cybercriminal raised the specter of causing financial losses for its own banks.

After all, the majority of the cybercrime that originates from Africa — think romance scams, Business Email Compromise (BEC) fraud, and unemployment/pandemic loan fraud — does not target Nigerian citizens, nor does it harm African banks. On the contrary: This activity pumps a great deal of Western money into Nigeria.

How much money are we talking about? The financial losses from these scams dwarf other fraud categories — such as identity theft or credit card fraud. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), consumers and businesses reported more than $4.2 billion in losses tied to cybercrime in 2020, and BEC fraud and romance scams alone accounted for nearly 60 percent of those losses.

Source: FBI/IC3 2020 Internet Crime Report.

If the influx of a few billion US dollars into the Nigerian economy each year from cybercrime seems somehow insignificant, consider that (according to George) the average police officer in the country makes the equivalent of less than USD $100 a month.

Ronnie Tokazowski is a threat researcher at Agari, a security firm that has closely tracked many of the groups behind BEC scams. Tokazowski maintains he has been one of the more vocal proponents of the idea that trying to fight these problems by arresting those involved is something of a Sisyphean task, and that it makes way more sense to focus on changing the economic realities in places like Nigeria.

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

“Education is definitely one piece, as raising awareness is hands down the best way to get ahead of this,” Tokazowski said, in a June 2021 interview. “But we also need to think about ways to create more business opportunities there so that people who are doing this to put food on the table have more legitimate opportunities. Unfortunately, thanks to the level of corruption of government officials, there are a lot of cultural reasons that fighting this type of crime at the source is going to be difficult.”

✇ Krebs on Security

The ‘Zelle Fraud’ Scam: How it Works, How to Fight Back

By: BrianKrebs

One of the more common ways cybercriminals cash out access to bank accounts involves draining the victim’s funds via Zelle, a “peer-to-peer” (P2P) payment service used by many financial institutions that allows customers to quickly send cash to friends and family. Naturally, a great deal of phishing schemes that precede these bank account takeovers begin with a spoofed text message from the target’s bank warning about a suspicious Zelle transfer. What follows is a deep dive into how this increasingly clever Zelle fraud scam typically works, and what victims can do about it.

Last week’s story warned that scammers are blasting out text messages about suspicious bank transfers as a pretext for immediately calling and scamming anyone who responds via text. Here’s what one of those scam messages looks like:

Anyone who responds “yes,” “no” or at all will very soon after receive a phone call from a scammer pretending to be from the financial institution’s fraud department. The caller’s number will be spoofed so that it appears to be coming from the victim’s bank.

To “verify the identity” of the customer, the fraudster asks for their online banking username, and then tells the customer to read back a passcode sent via text or email. In reality, the fraudster initiates a transaction — such as the “forgot password” feature on the financial institution’s site — which is what generates the authentication passcode delivered to the member.

Ken Otsuka is a senior risk consultant at CUNA Mutual Group, an insurance company that provides financial services to credit unions. Otsuka said a phone fraudster typically will say something like, “Before I get into the details, I need to verify that I’m speaking to the right person. What’s your username?”

“In the background, they’re using the username with the forgot password feature, and that’s going to generate one of these two-factor authentication passcodes,” Otsuka said. “Then the fraudster will say, ‘I’m going to send you the password and you’re going to read it back to me over the phone.'”

The fraudster then uses the code to complete the password reset process, and then changes the victim’s online banking password. The fraudster then uses Zelle to transfer the victim’s funds to others.

An important aspect of this scam is that the fraudsters never even need to know or phish the victim’s password. By sharing their username and reading back the one-time code sent to them via email, the victim is allowing the fraudster to reset their online banking password.

Otsuka said in far too many account takeover cases, the victim has never even heard of Zelle, nor did they realize they could move money that way.

“The thing is, many credit unions offer it by default as part of online banking,” Otsuka said. “Members don’t have to request to use Zelle. It’s just there, and with a lot of members targeted in these scams, although they’d legitimately enrolled in online banking, they’d never used Zelle before.” [Curious if your financial institution uses Zelle? Check out their partner list here].

Otsuka said credit unions offering other peer-to-peer banking products have also been targeted, but that fraudsters prefer to target Zelle due to the speed of the payments.

“The fraud losses can escalate quickly due to the sheer number of members that can be targeted on a single day over the course of consecutive days,” Otsuka said.

To combat this scam Zelle introduced out-of-band authentication with transaction details. This involves sending the member a text containing the details of a Zelle transfer – payee and dollar amount – that is initiated by the member. The member must authorize the transfer by replying to the text.

Unfortunately, Otsuka said, the scammers are defeating this layered security control as well.

“The fraudsters follow the same tactics except they may keep the members on the phone after getting their username and 2-step authentication passcode to login to the accounts,” he said. “The fraudster tells the member they will receive a text containing details of a Zelle transfer and the member must authorize the transaction under the guise that it is for reversing the fraudulent debit card transaction(s).”

In this scenario, the fraudster actually enters a Zelle transfer that triggers the following text to the member, which the member is asked to authorize: For example:

“Send $200 Zelle payment to Boris Badenov? Reply YES to send, NO to cancel. ABC Credit Union . STOP to end all messages.”

“My team has consulted with several credit unions that rolled Zelle out or are planning to introduce Zelle,” Otsuka said. “We found that several credit unions were hit with the scam the same month they rolled it out.”

The upshot of all this is that many financial institutions will claim they’re not required to reimburse the customer for financial losses related to these voice phishing schemes. Bob Sullivan, a veteran journalist who writes about fraud and consumer issues, says in many cases banks are giving customers incorrect and self-serving opinions after the thefts.

“Consumers — many who never ever realized they had a Zelle account – then call their banks, expecting they’ll be covered by credit-card-like protections, only to face disappointment and in some cases, financial ruin,” Sullivan wrote in a recent Substack post. “Consumers who suffer unauthorized transactions are entitled to Regulation E protection, and banks are required to refund the stolen money. This isn’t a controversial opinion, and it was recently affirmed by the CFPB here. If you are reading this story and fighting with your bank, start by providing that link to the financial institution.”

“If a criminal initiates a Zelle transfer — even if the criminal manipulates a victim into sharing login credentials — that fraud is covered by Regulation E, and banks should restore the stolen funds,” Sullivan said. “If a consumer initiates the transfer under false pretenses, the case for redress is more weak.”

Sullivan notes that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently announced it was conducting a probe into companies operating payments systems in the United States, with a special focus on platforms that offer fast, person-to-person payments.

“Consumers expect certain assurances when dealing with companies that move their money,” the CFPB said in its Oct. 21 notice. “They expect to be protected from fraud and payments made in error, for their data and privacy to be protected and not shared without their consent, to have responsive customer service, and to be treated equally under relevant law. The orders seek to understand the robustness with which payment platforms prioritize consumer protection under law.”

Anyone interested in letting the CFPB know about a fraud scam that abused a P2P payment platform like Zelle, Cashapp, or Venmo, for example, should send an email describing the incident to [email protected] Be sure to include Docket No. CFPB-2021-0017 in the subject line of the message.

In the meantime, remember the mantra: Hang up, Look Up, and Call Back. If you receive a call from someone warning about fraud, hang up. If you believe the call might be legitimate, look up the number of the organization supposedly calling you, and call them back.

✇ Krebs on Security

Tech CEO Pleads to Wire Fraud in IP Address Scheme

By: BrianKrebs

The CEO of a South Carolina technology firm has pleaded guilty to 20 counts of wire fraud in connection with an elaborate network of phony companies set up to obtain more than 735,000 Internet Protocol (IP) addresses from the nonprofit organization that leases the digital real estate to entities in North America.

In 2018, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which oversees IP addresses assigned to entities in the U.S., Canada, and parts of the Caribbean, notified Charleston, S.C. based Micfo LLC that it intended to revoke 735,000 addresses.

ARIN said they wanted the addresses back because the company and its owner — 38-year-old Amir Golestan — had obtained them under false pretenses. A global shortage of IPv4 addresses has massively driven up the price of these resources over the years: At the time of this dispute, a single IP address could fetch between $15 and $25 on the open market.

Micfo responded by suing ARIN to try to stop the IP address seizure. Ultimately, ARIN and Micfo settled the dispute in arbitration, with Micfo returning most of the addresses that it hadn’t already sold.

But the legal tussle caught the attention of South Carolina U.S. Attorney Sherri Lydon, who in May 2019 filed criminal wire fraud charges against Golestan, alleging he’d orchestrated a network of shell companies and fake identities to prevent ARIN from knowing the addresses were all going to the same buyer.

Each of those shell companies involved the production of notarized affidavits in the names of people who didn’t exist. As a result, Lydon was able to charge Golestan with 20 counts of wire fraud — one for each payment made by the phony companies that bought the IP addresses from ARIN.

Amir Golestan, CEO of Micfo.

On Nov. 16, just two days into his trial, Golestan changed his “not guilty” plea, agreeing to plead guilty to all 20 wire fraud charges. KrebsOnSecurity interviewed Golestan about his case at length last year, but he has not responded to requests for comment on his plea change.

By 2013, a number of Micfo’s customers had landed on the radar of Spamhaus, a group that many network operators rely upon to help block junk email. But shortly after Spamhaus began blocking Micfo’s IP address ranges, Micfo shifted gears and began reselling IP addresses mainly to companies marketing “virtual private networking” or VPN services that help customers hide their real IP addresses online.

In a 2020 interview, Golestan told KrebsOnSecurity that Micfo was at one point responsible for brokering roughly 40 percent of the IP addresses used by the world’s largest VPN providers. Throughout that conversation, Golestan maintained his innocence, even as he explained that the creation of the phony companies was necessary to prevent entities like Spamhaus from interfering with his business going forward.

Stephen Ryan, an attorney representing ARIN, said Golestan changed his plea after the court heard from a former Micfo employee and public notary who described being instructed by Golestan to knowingly certify false documents.

“Her testimony made him appear bullying and unsavory,” Ryan said. “Because it turned out he had also sued her to try to prevent her from disclosing the actions he’d directed.”

Golestan’s rather sparse plea agreement (first reported by The Wall Street Journal) does not specify any sort of leniency he might gain from prosecutors for agreeing to end the trial prematurely. But it’s worth noting that a conviction on a single act of wire fraud can result in fines and up to 20 years in prison.

The courtroom drama comes as ARIN’s counterpart in Africa is embroiled in a similar, albeit much larger dispute over millions of African IP addresses. In July 2021, the African Network Information Centre (AFRINIC) took back more than six million IP addresses from Cloud Innovation, a company incorporated in the African offshore entity haven of Seychelles (pronounced, quite aptly — “say shells”).

AFRINIC revoked the addresses — valued at around USD $120 million — after an internal review found that most of them were being used outside of Africa by various entities in China and Hong Kong. Like ARIN, AFRINIC’s policies require those who are leasing IP addresses to demonstrate that the addresses are being used by entities within their geographic region.

But just weeks later, Cloud Innovation convinced a judge in AFRINIC’s home country of Mauritius to freeze $50 million in AFRINIC bank accounts, arguing that AFRINIC had “acted in bad faith and upon frivolous grounds to tarnish the reputation of Cloud Innovation,” and that it was obligated to protect its customers from disruption of service.

That financial freeze has since been partially lifted, but the legal wrangling between AFRINIC and Cloud Innovation continues. The company’s CEO is also suing the CEO and board chair of AFRINIC in an $80 million defamation case.

Ron Guilmette is a security researcher who spent several years tracing how tens of millions of dollars worth of AFRINIC IP addresses were privately sold to address brokers by a former AFRINIC executive. Guilmette said Golestan’s guilty plea is a positive sign for AFRINIC, ARIN and the three other Regional Internet Registries (RIRs).

“It’s good news for the rule of law,” Guilmette said. “It has implications for the AFRINIC case because it reaffirms the authority of all RIRs, including AFRINIC and ARIN.”

✇ Krebs on Security

Hoax Email Blast Abused Poor Coding in FBI Website

By: BrianKrebs

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed today that its fbi.gov domain name and Internet address were used to blast out thousands of fake emails about a cybercrime investigation. According to an interview with the person who claimed responsibility for the hoax, the spam messages were sent by abusing insecure code in an FBI online portal designed to share information with state and local law enforcement authorities.

The phony message sent late Thursday evening via the FBI’s email system. Image: Spamhaus.org

Late in the evening on Nov. 12 ET, tens of thousands of emails began flooding out from the FBI address [email protected], warning about fake cyberattacks. Around that time, KrebsOnSecurity received a message from the same email address.

“Hi its pompompurin,” read the missive. “Check headers of this email it’s actually coming from FBI server. I am contacting you today because we located a botnet being hosted on your forehead, please take immediate action thanks.”

A review of the email’s message headers indicated it had indeed been sent by the FBI, and from the agency’s own Internet address. The domain in the “from:” portion of the email I received — [email protected] — corresponds to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services division (CJIS).

According to the Department of Justice, “CJIS manages and operates several national crime information systems used by the public safety community for both criminal and civil purposes. CJIS systems are available to the criminal justice community, including law enforcement, jails, prosecutors, courts, as well as probation and pretrial services.”

In response to a request for comment, the FBI confirmed the unauthorized messages, but declined to offer further information.

“The FBI and CISA [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency] are aware of the incident this morning involving fake emails from an @ic.fbi.gov email account,” reads the FBI statement. “This is an ongoing situation and we are not able to provide any additional information at this time. The impacted hardware was taken offline quickly upon discovery of the issue. We continue to encourage the public to be cautious of unknown senders and urge you to report suspicious activity to www.ic3.gov or www.cisa.gov.”

In an interview with KrebsOnSecurity, Pompompurin said the hack was done to point out a glaring vulnerability in the FBI’s system.

“I could’ve 1000% used this to send more legit looking emails, trick companies into handing over data etc.,” Pompompurin said. “And this would’ve never been found by anyone who would responsibly disclose, due to the notice the feds have on their website.”

Pompompurin says the illicit access to the FBI’s email system began with an exploration of its Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP), which the bureau describes as “a gateway providing law enforcement agencies, intelligence groups, and criminal justice entities access to beneficial resources.”

The FBI’s Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP).

“These resources will strengthen case development for investigators, enhance information sharing between agencies, and be accessible in one centralized location!,” the FBI’s site enthuses.

Until sometime this morning, the LEEP portal allowed anyone to apply for an account. Helpfully, step-by-step instructions for registering a new account on the LEEP portal also are available from the DOJ’s website. [It should be noted that “Step 1” in those instructions is to visit the site in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, an outdated web browser that even Microsoft no longer encourages people to use for security reasons.]

Much of that process involves filling out forms with the applicant’s personal and contact information, and that of their organization. A critical step in that process says applicants will receive an email confirmation from [email protected] with a one-time passcode — ostensibly to validate that the applicant can receive email at the domain in question.

But according to Pompompurin, the FBI’s own website leaked that one-time passcode in the HTML code of the web page.

A screenshot shared by Pompompurin. Image: KrebOnSecurity.com

Pompompurin said they were able to send themselves an email from [email protected] by editing the request sent to their browser and changing the text in the message’s “Subject” field and “Text Content” fields.

A test email using the FBI’s communications system that Pompompurin said they sent to a disposable address.

“Basically, when you requested the confirmation code [it] was generated client-side, then sent to you via a POST Request,” Pompompurin said. “This post request includes the parameters for the email subject and body content.”

Pompompurin said a simple script replaced those parameters with his own message subject and body, and automated the sending of the hoax message to thousands of email addresses.

A screenshot shared by Pompompurin, who says it shows how he was able to abuse the FBI’s email system to send a hoax message.

“Needless to say, this is a horrible thing to be seeing on any website,” Pompompurin said. “I’ve seen it a few times before, but never on a government website, let alone one managed by the FBI.”

As we can see from the first screenshot at the top of this story, Pompompurin’s hoax message is an attempt to smear the name of Vinny Troia, the founder of the dark web intelligence companies NightLion and Shadowbyte.

“Members of the RaidForums hacking community have a long standing feud with Troia, and commonly deface websites and perform minor hacks where they blame it on the security researcher,” Ionut Illascu wrote for BleepingComputer. “Tweeting about this spam campaign, Vinny Troia hinted at someone known as ‘pompompurin,’ as the likely author of the attack. Troia says the individual has been associated in the past with incidents aimed at damaging the security researcher’s reputation.”

Troia’s work as a security researcher was the subject of a 2018 article here titled, “When Security Researchers Pose as Cybercrooks, Who Can Tell the Difference?” No doubt this hoax was another effort at blurring that distinction.

Update, Nov. 14, 11:31 a.m. ET: The FBI has issued an updated statement:

“The FBI is aware of a software misconfiguration that temporarily allowed an actor to leverage the Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP) to send fake emails. LEEP is FBI IT infrastructure used to communicate with our state and local law enforcement partners. While the illegitimate email originated from an FBI operated server, that server was dedicated to pushing notifications for LEEP and was not part of the FBI’s corporate email service. No actor was able to access or compromise any data or PII on FBI’s network. Once we learned of the incident we quickly remediated the software vulnerability, warned partners to disregard the fake emails, and confirmed the integrity of our networks.”

✇ Krebs on Security

SMS About Bank Fraud as a Pretext for Voice Phishing

By: BrianKrebs

Most of us have probably heard the term “smishing” — which is a portmanteau for traditional phishing scams sent through SMS text messages. Smishing messages usually include a link to a site that spoofs a popular bank and tries to siphon personal information. But increasingly, phishers are turning to a hybrid form of smishing — blasting out linkless text messages about suspicious bank transfers as a pretext for immediately calling and scamming anyone who responds via text.

KrebsOnSecurity recently heard from a reader who said his daughter received an SMS that said it was from her bank, and inquired whether she’d authorized a $5,000 payment from her account. The message said she should reply “Yes” or “No,” or 1 to decline future fraud alerts.

Since this seemed like a reasonable and simple request — and she indeed had an account at the bank in question — she responded, “NO.”

Seconds later, her mobile phone rang.

“When she replied ‘no,’ someone called immediately, and the caller ID said ‘JP Morgan Chase’,” reader Kris Stevens told KrebsOnSecurity. “The person on the phone said they were from the fraud department and they needed to help her secure her account but needed information from her to make sure they were talking to the account owner and not the scammer.”

Thankfully, Stevens said his daughter had honored the gold rule regarding incoming phone calls about fraud: When In Doubt, Hang up, Look up, and Call Back.

“She knows the drill so she hung up and called Chase, who confirmed they had not called her,” he said. “What was different about this was it was all very smooth. No foreign accents, the pairing of the call with the text message, and the fact that she does have a Chase account.”

The remarkable aspect of these phone-based phishing scams is typically the attackers never even try to log in to the victim’s bank account. The entirety of the scam takes place over the phone.

We don’t know what the fraudsters behind this clever hybrid SMS/voice phishing scam intended to do with the information they might have coaxed from Stevens’ daughter. But in previous stories and reporting on voice phishing schemes, the fraudsters used the phished information to set up new financial accounts in the victim’s name, which they then used to receive and forward large wire transfers of stolen funds.

Even many security-conscious people tend to focus on protecting their online selves, while perhaps discounting the threat from less technically sophisticated phone-based scams. In 2020 I told the story of “Mitch” — the tech-savvy Silicon Valley executive who got voice phished after he thought he’d turned the tables on the scammers.

Unlike Stevens’ daughter, Mitch didn’t hang up with the suspected scammers. Rather, he put them on hold. Then Mitch called his bank on the other line and asked if their customer support people were in fact engaged in a separate conversation with him over the phone.

The bank replied that they were indeed speaking to the same customer on a different line at that very moment. Feeling better, Mitch got back on the line with the scammers. What Mitch couldn’t have known at that point was that a member of the fraudster’s team simultaneously was impersonating him on the phone with the bank’s customer service people.

So don’t be Mitch. Don’t try to outsmart the crooks. Just remember this anti-fraud mantra, and maybe repeat it a few times in front of your friends and family: When in doubt, hang up, look up, and call back. If you believe the call might be legitimate, look up the number of the organization supposedly calling you, and call them back.

And I suppose the same time-honored advice about not replying to spam email goes doubly for unsolicited text messages: When in doubt, it’s best not to respond.

✇ Krebs on Security

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, November 2021 Edition

By: BrianKrebs

Microsoft Corp. today released updates to quash at least 55 security bugs in its Windows operating systems and other software. Two of the patches address vulnerabilities that are already being used in active attacks online, and four of the flaws were disclosed publicly before today — potentially giving adversaries a head start in figuring out how to exploit them.

Among the zero-day bugs is CVE-2021-42292, a “security feature bypass” problem with Microsoft Excel versions 2013-2021 that could allow attackers to install malicious code just by convincing someone to open a booby-trapped Excel file (Microsoft says Mac versions of Office are also affected, but several places are reporting that Office for Mac security updates aren’t available yet).

Microsoft’s revised, more sparse security advisories don’t offer much detail on what exactly is being bypassed in Excel with this flaw. But Dustin Childs over at Trend Micro’s Zero Day Initiative says the vulnerability is likely due to loading code that should be limited by a user prompt — such as a warning about external content or scripts — but for whatever reason that prompt does not appear, thus bypassing the security feature.

The other critical flaw patched today that’s already being exploited in the wild is CVE-2021-42321, yet another zero-day in Microsoft Exchange Server. You may recall that earlier this year a majority of the world’s organizations running Microsoft Exchange Servers were hit with four zero-day attacks that let thieves install backdoors and siphon email.

As Exchange zero-days go, CVE-2021-42321 appears somewhat mild by comparison. Unlike the four zero-days involved in the mass compromise of Exchange Server systems earlier this year, CVE-2021-42321 requires the attacker to be already authenticated to the target’s system. Microsoft has published a blog post/FAQ about the Exchange zero-day here.

Two of the vulnerabilities that were disclosed prior to today’s patches are CVE-2021-38631 and CVE-2021-41371. Both involve weaknesses in Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP, Windows’ built-in remote administration tool) running on Windows 7 through Windows 11 systems, and on Windows Server 2008-2019 systems. The flaws let an attacker view the RDP password for the vulnerable system.

“Given the interest that cybercriminals — especially ransomware initial access brokers — have in RDP, it is likely that it will be exploited at some point,” said Allan Liska, senior security architect at Recorded Future.

Liska notes this month’s patch batch also brings us CVE-2021-38666, which is a Remote Code Execution vulnerability in the Windows RDP Client.

“This is a serious vulnerability, labeled critical by Microsoft,” Liska added. “In its Exploitability Assessment section Microsoft has labelled this vulnerability ‘Exploitation More Likely.’ This vulnerability affects Windows 7 – 11 and Windows Server 2008 – 2019 and should be a high priority for patching.”

For most Windows home users, applying security updates is not a big deal. By default, Windows checks for available updates and is fairly persistent in asking you to install them and reboot, etc. It’s a good idea to get in the habit of patching on a monthly basis, ideally within a few days of patches being released.

But please do not neglect to backup your important files — before patching if possible. Windows 10 has some built-in tools to help you do that, either on a per-file/folder basis or by making a complete and bootable copy of your hard drive all at once. There are also a number of excellent third-party products that make it easy to duplicate your entire hard drive on a regular basis, so that a recent, working image of the system is always available for restore.

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

If you experience any glitches or problems installing patches this month, please consider leaving a comment about it below; there’s a better-than-even  chance other readers have experienced the same and may offer useful tips or suggestions.

Further reading:

SANS Internet Storm Center has a rundown on each of the 55 patches released today, indexed by exploitability and severity, with links to each advisory.

✇ Krebs on Security

REvil Ransom Arrest, $6M Seizure, and $10M Reward

By: BrianKrebs

The U.S. Department of Justice today announced the arrest of Ukrainian man accused of deploying ransomware on behalf of the REvil ransomware gang, a Russian-speaking cybercriminal collective that has extorted hundreds of millions from victim organizations. The DOJ also said it had seized $6.1 million in cryptocurrency sent to another REvil affiliate, and that the U.S. Department of State is now offering up to $10 million for the name or location any key REvil leaders, and up to $5 million for information on REvil affiliates.

If it sounds unlikely that a normal Internet user could make millions of dollars unmasking the identities of REvil gang members, take heart and consider that the two men indicted as part this law enforcement action do not appear to have done much to separate their cybercriminal identities from their real-life selves.

Exhibit #1: Yaroslav Vasinskyi, the 22-year-old Ukrainian national accused of being REvil Affiliate #22. Vasinskyi was arrested Oct. 8 in Poland, which maintains an extradition treaty with the United States. Prosecutors say Vasinskyi was involved in a number of REvil ransomware attacks, including the July 2021 attack against Kaseya, a Miami-based company whose products help system administrators manage large networks remotely.

Yaroslav Vasinksyi’s Vkontakte profile reads “If they tell you nasty things about me, believe every word.”

According to his indictment (PDF), Vasinskyi used a variety of hacker handles, including “Profcomserv” — the nickname behind an online service that floods phone numbers with junk calls for a fee. Prosecutors say Vasinskyi also used the monikers  “Yarik45,” and “Yaroslav2468.”

These last two nicknames correspond to accounts on several top cybercrime forums way back in 2013, where a user named “Yaroslav2468” registered using the email address [email protected].

That email address was used to register an account at Vkontakte (the Russian version of Facebook/Meta) under the profile name of “Yaroslav ‘sell the blood of css’ Vasinskyi.” Vasinskyi’s Vkontakte profile says his current city as of Oct. 3 was Lublin, Poland. Perhaps tauntingly, Vasinskyi’s profile page also lists the FBI’s 1-800 tip line as his contact phone number. He’s now in custody in Poland, awaiting extradition to the United States.

Exhibit #2: Yevgeniy Igorevich Polyanin, the 28-year-old Russian national who is alleged to be REvil Affiliate #23. The DOJ said it seized $6.1 million in funds traceable to alleged ransom payments received by Polyanin, and that the defendant had been involved in REvil ransomware attacks on multiple U.S. victim organizations.

The FBI’s wanted poster for Polyanin.

Polyanin’s indictment (PDF) says he also favored numerous hacker handles, including LK4D4, Damnating, Damn2life, Noolleds, and Antunpitre. Some of these nicknames go back more than a decade on Russian cybercrime forums, many of which have been hacked and relieved of their user databases over the years.

Among those was carder[.]su, and that forum’s database says a user by the name “Damnating” registered with the forum in 2008 using the email address [email protected]. Sure enough, there is a Vkontakte profile tied to that email address under the name “Yevgeniy ‘damn’ Polyanin” from Barnaul, a city in the southern Siberian region of Russia.

The apparent lack of any real operational security by either of the accused here is so common that it is hardly remarkable. As exhibited by countless investigations in my Breadcrumbs story series, I have found that if a cybercriminal is active on multiple forums over more than 10 years, it is extremely likely that person has made multiple mistakes that make it relatively easy to connect his forum persona to his real-life identity.

As I explained earlier this year in The Wages of Password Re-use: Your Money or Your Life, it’s possible in many cases to make that connection thanks to two factors. The biggest is password re-use by cybercriminals (yes, crooks are lazy, too). The other is that cybercriminal forums, services, etc. get hacked just about as much as everyone else on the Internet, and when they do their user databases can reveal some very valuable secrets and connections.

In conjunction with today’s REvil action, the U.S. Department of State said it was offering a reward of up to $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of any individual holding a key leadership position in the REvil ransomware group. The department said it was also offering a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction in any country of any individual conspiring to participate in or attempting to participate in a REvil ransomware incident.

I really like this bounty offer and I hope we see more just like it for other ransomware groups. Because as we can see from the prosecutions of both Polyanin and Vasinskyi, a lot of these guys simply aren’t too hard to find. Let the games begin.

✇ Krebs on Security

‘Tis the Season for the Wayward Package Phish

By: BrianKrebs

The holiday shopping season always means big business for phishers, who tend to find increased success this time of year with a lure about a wayward package that needs redelivery. Here’s a look at a fairly elaborate SMS-based phishing scam that spoofs FedEx in a bid to extract personal and financial information from unwary recipients.

One of dozens of FedEx-themed phishing sites currently being advertised via SMS spam.

Louis Morton, a security professional based in Fort Worth, Texas, forwarded an SMS phishing or “smishing” message sent to his wife’s mobile device that indicated a package couldn’t be delivered.

“It is a nearly perfect attack vector at this time of year,” Morton said. “A link was included, implying that the recipient could reschedule delivery.”

Attempting to visit the domain in the phishing link — o001cfedeex[.]com — from a desktop web browser redirects the visitor to a harmless page with ads for car insurance quotes. But by loading it in a mobile device (or by mimicking one using developer tools), we can see the intended landing page pictured in the screenshot to the right — returns-fedex[.]com.

Blocking non-mobile users from visiting the domain can help minimize scrutiny of the site from non-potential victims, such as security researchers, and thus potentially keep the scam site online longer.

Clicking “Schedule new delivery” brings up a page that requests your name, address, phone number and date of birth. Those who click “Next Step” after providing that information are asked to add a payment card to cover the $2.20 “redelivery fee.”

After clicking “Pay Now,” the visitor is prompted to verify their identity by providing their Social Security number, driver’s license number, email address and email password. Scrolling down on the page revealed more than a half dozen working links to real fedex.com resources online, including the company’s security and privacy policies.

While every fiber of my being hopes that most people would freak out at this page and go away, scams like these would hardly exist if they didn’t work at least some of the time.

After clicking “Verify,” anyone anxious enough over a wayward package to provide all that information is redirected to the real FedEx at Fedex.com.

It appears that sometime in the past 12 hours, the domain that gets loaded when one clicks the link in the SMS phishing message — returns-fedex[.]com — stopped resolving. But I doubt we’ve seen the last of these phishers.

The true Internet address of the link included in the FedEx SMS phishing campaign is hidden behind content distribution network Cloudflare, but a review of its domain name system (DNS) records shows it resolves to 23.92.29[.]42. There are currently more than three dozen other newly-registered FedEx phishing domains tied to that address, all with a similar naming convention, e.g., f001bfedeex[.]com, g001bfedeex[.]com, and so on.

Now is a great time to remind family and friends about the best advice to sidestep phishing scams: Avoid clicking on links or attachments that arrive unbidden in emails, text messages and other mediums. Most phishing scams invoke a temporal element that warns of negative consequences should you fail to respond or act quickly.

If you’re unsure whether the message is legitimate, take a deep breath and visit the site or service in question manually — ideally, using a browser bookmark so as to avoid potential typosquatting sites.

✇ Krebs on Security

The ‘Groove’ Ransomware Gang Was a Hoax

By: BrianKrebs

A number of publications in September warned about the emergence of “Groove,” a new ransomware group that called on competing extortion gangs to unite in attacking U.S. government interests online. It now appears that Groove was all a big hoax designed to toy with security firms and journalists.

“An appeal to business brothers!” reads the Oct. 22 post from Groove calling for attacks on the United States government sector.

Groove was first announced Aug. 22 on RAMP, a new and fairly exclusive Russian-language darknet cybercrime forum.

“GROOVE is first and foremost an aggressive financially motivated criminal organization dealing in industrial espionage for about two years,” wrote RAMP’s administrator “Orange” in a post asking forum members to compete in a contest for designing a website for the new group. “Let’s make it clear that we don’t do anything without a reason, so at the end of the day, it’s us who will benefit most from this contest.”

According to a report published by McAfee, Orange launched RAMP to appeal to ransomware-related threat actors who were were ousted from major cybercrime forums for being too toxic, or to cybercriminals who complained of being short-changed or stiffed altogether by different ransomware affiliate programs.

The report said RAMP was the product of a dispute between members of the Babuk ransomware gang, and that its members likely had connections to another ransomware group called BlackMatter.

“[McAfee] believes, with high confidence, that the Groove gang is a former affiliate or subgroup of the Babuk gang, who are willing to collaborate with other parties, as long as there is financial gain for them,” the report said. “Thus, an affiliation with the BlackMatter gang is likely.”

In the first week of September, Groove posted on its darknet blog nearly 500,000 login credentials for customers of Fortinet VPN products, usernames and passwords that could be used to remotely connect to vulnerable systems. Fortinet said the credentials were collected from systems that hadn’t yet implemented a patch issued in May 2019.

Some security experts said the post of the Fortinet VPN usernames and passwords was aimed at drawing new affiliates to Groove. But it seems more likely the credentials were posted to garner the attention of security researchers and journalists.

Sometime in the last week, Groove’s darknet blog disappeared. In a post on the Russian cybercrime forum XSS, an established cybercrook using the handle “Boriselcin” explained that Groove was little more than a pet project to screw with the media and security industry.

“For those who don’t understand what’s going on: I set up a fake Groove Gang and named myself a gang,” Boriselcin wrote. The rest of the post reads:

“They ate it up, I dumped 500k old Fortinet [access credentials] that no one needed and they ate it up. I say that I am going to target the U.S. government sector and they eat it up. Few journalists realized that this was all a show, a fake, and a scam! And my respect goes out to those who figured it out. I don’t even know what to do now with this blog with a ton of traffic. Maybe sell it? Now I just need to start writing [the article], but I can’t start writing it without checking everything.”

A review of Boriselcin’s recent postings on XSS indicate he has been planning this scheme for several months. On Sept. 13, Boriselcin posted that “several topics are ripening,” and that he intended to publish an article about duping the media and security firms.

“Manipulation of large information security companies and the media through a ransom blog,” he wrote. “It’s so funny to read Twitter and the news these days 🙂 But the result is great so far. Triggering the directors of information security companies. We fuck the supply chain of the information security office.”

Image: @nokae8

Throughout its short existence, Groove listed only a handful of victims on its darknet victim shaming blog, leading some to conclude the group wasn’t much of a threat.

“I wouldn’t take this call too seriously,” tweeted The Record’s Catalin Cimpanu in response to tweets about Groove’s rallying cry to attack U.S. government interests. “Groove are low-tier actors with few skills.”

Normally, when a cybercriminal forum or enterprise turns out to be fake or a scam, we learn the whole thing was a sting operation by federal investigators from the United States and/or other countries. Perhaps the main reason we don’t see more scams like Boricelcin’s is because there’s not really any money in it.

But that’s not to say his cynical ploy fails to serve a larger purpose. Over the past few years, we’ve seen multiple ransomware gangs reinvent themselves and rebrand to evade prosecution or economic sanctions. From that vantage point, anything which sows confusion and diverts the media and security industry’s time and attention away from real threats is a net plus for the cybercriminal community.

Tom Hoffman, senior vice president of intelligence at Flashpoint, said mocking Western media outlets and reporters is a constant fixture of the conversation on top-tier cybercrime forums. ”

“It is clear the criminal actors read all the press releases and Twitter claims about them,” Hoffman said. “We know some of them just want to inflict pain on the West, so this type of trolling is likely to continue. With the high level of attention this one got, I would assume we will see some other copycats pretty soon.”

Cyber intelligence firm Intel471 said while it’s possible that a single actor concocted Groove as a way to troll security researchers and the media, they believe it’s more likely that the actor’s attempt to create their own ransomware group didn’t work out as they had planned.

“It’s also important to remember that the true identity and nature of any Ransomware-as-a-Service gang is not always clear and the membership makeup or affiliates of these gangs can be fluid,” Intel 471 wrote. “Despite that and based on our research from multiple sources, which includes but isn’t limited to observations of shared infrastructure and victimology, we believe “boriselcin” operated the Groove blog and the RAMP forum. This individual is a well-known member of the Russian-language cybercrime community with ties to a number of ransomware gangs and in August offered $1000 for someone to design a ransomware victim shaming blog for Groove. We are skeptical of the claims raised by the actor that Groove was an elaborate hoax from the beginning although we wouldn’t be surprised to see further claims by the actor claiming this in future.”

Update, 5:56 p.m. ET: Included perspective from Intel 471.

✇ Krebs on Security

‘Trojan Source’ Bug Threatens the Security of All Code

By: BrianKrebs

Virtually all compilers — programs that transform human-readable source code into computer-executable machine code — are vulnerable to an insidious attack in which an adversary can introduce targeted vulnerabilities into any software without being detected, new research released today warns. The vulnerability disclosure was coordinated with multiple organizations, some of whom are now releasing updates to address the security weakness.

Researchers with the University of Cambridge discovered a bug that affects most computer code compilers and many software development environments. At issue is a component of the digital text encoding standard Unicode, which allows computers to exchange information regardless of the language used. Unicode currently defines more than 143,000 characters across 154 different language scripts (in addition to many non-script character sets, such as emojis).

Specifically, the weakness involves Unicode’s bi-directional or “Bidi” algorithm, which handles displaying text that includes mixed scripts with different display orders, such as Arabic — which is read right to left — and English (left to right).

But computer systems need to have a deterministic way of resolving conflicting directionality in text. Enter the “Bidi override,” which can be used to make left-to-right text read right-to-left, and vice versa.

“In some scenarios, the default ordering set by the Bidi Algorithm may not be sufficient,” the Cambridge researchers wrote. “For these cases, Bidi override control characters enable switching the display ordering of groups of characters.”

Bidi overrides enable even single-script characters to be displayed in an order different from their logical encoding. As the researchers point out, this fact has previously been exploited to disguise the file extensions of malware disseminated via email.

Here’s the problem: Most programming languages let you put these Bidi overrides in comments and strings. This is bad because most programming languages allow comments within which all text — including control characters — is ignored by compilers and interpreters. Also, it’s bad because most programming languages allow string literals that may contain arbitrary characters, including control characters.

“So you can use them in source code that appears innocuous to a human reviewer [that] can actually do something nasty,” said Ross Anderson, a professor of computer security at Cambridge and co-author of the research. “That’s bad news for projects like Linux and Webkit that accept contributions from random people, subject them to manual review, then incorporate them into critical code. This vulnerability is, as far as I know, the first one to affect almost everything.”

The research paper, which dubbed the vulnerability “Trojan Source,” notes that while both comments and strings will have syntax-specific semantics indicating their start and end, these bounds are not respected by Bidi overrides. From the paper:

“Therefore, by placing Bidi override characters exclusively within comments and strings, we can smuggle them into source code in a manner that most compilers will accept. Our key insight is that we can reorder source code characters in such a way that the resulting display order also represents syntactically valid source code.”

“Bringing all this together, we arrive at a novel supply-chain attack on source code. By injecting Unicode Bidi override characters into comments and strings, an adversary can produce syntactically-valid source code in most modern languages for which the display order of characters presents logic that diverges from the real logic. In effect, we anagram program A into program B.”

Anderson said such an attack could be challenging for a human code reviewer to detect, as the rendered source code looks perfectly acceptable.

“If the change in logic is subtle enough to go undetected in subsequent testing, an adversary could introduce targeted vulnerabilities without being detected,” he said.

Equally concerning is that Bidi override characters persist through the copy-and-paste functions on most modern browsers, editors, and operating systems.

“Any developer who copies code from an untrusted source into a protected code base may inadvertently introduce an invisible vulnerability,” Anderson told KrebsOnSecurity. “Such code copying is a significant source of real-world security exploits.”

Image: XKCD.com/2347/

Matthew Green, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Information Security Institute, said the Cambridge research clearly shows that most compilers can be tricked with Unicode into processing code in a different way than a reader would expect it to be processed.

“Before reading this paper, the idea that Unicode could be exploited in some way wouldn’t have surprised me,” Green told KrebsOnSecurity. “What does surprise me is how many compilers will happily parse Unicode without any defenses, and how effective their right-to-left encoding technique is at sneaking code into codebases. That’s a really clever trick I didn’t even know was possible. Yikes.”

Green said the good news is that the researchers conducted a widespread vulnerability scan, but were unable to find evidence that anyone was exploiting this. Yet.

“The bad news is that there were no defenses to it, and now that people know about it they might start exploiting it,” Green said. “Hopefully compiler and code editor developers will patch this quickly! But since some people don’t update their development tools regularly there will be some risk for a while at least.”

Nicholas Weaver, a lecturer at the computer science department at University of California, Berkeley, said the Cambridge research presents “a very simple, elegant set of attacks that could make supply chain attacks much, much worse.”

“It is already hard for humans to tell ‘this is OK’ from ‘this is evil’ in source code,” Weaver said. “With this attack, you can use the shift in directionality to change how things render with comments and strings so that, for example ‘This is okay” is how it renders, but ‘This is’ okay is how it exists in the code. This fortunately has a very easy signature to scan for, so compilers can [detect] it if they encounter it in the future.”

The latter half of the Cambridge paper is a fascinating case study on the complexities of orchestrating vulnerability disclosure with so many affected programming languages and software firms. The researchers said they offered a 99-day embargo period following their initial disclosure to allow affected products to be repaired with software updates.

“We met a variety of responses ranging from patching commitments and bug bounties to quick dismissal and references to legal policies,” the researchers wrote. “Of the nineteen software suppliers with whom we engaged, seven used an outsourced platform for receiving vulnerability disclosures, six had dedicated web portals for vulnerability disclosures, four accepted disclosures via PGP-encrypted email, and two accepted disclosures only via non-PGP email. They all confirmed receipt of our disclosure, and ultimately nine of them committed to releasing a patch.”

Eleven of the recipients had bug bounty programs offering payment for vulnerability disclosures. But of these, only five paid bounties, with an average payment of $2,246 and a range of $4,475, the researchers reported.

Anderson said so far about half of the organizations maintaining the affected computer programming languages contacted have promised patches. Others are dragging their feet.

“We’ll monitor their deployment over the next few days,” Anderson said. “We also expect action from Github, Gitlab and Atlassian, so their tools should detect attacks on code in languages that still lack bidi character filtering.”

As for what needs to be done about Trojan Source, the researchers urge governments and firms that rely on critical software to identify their suppliers’ posture, exert pressure on them to implement adequate defenses, and ensure that any gaps are covered by controls elsewhere in their toolchain.

“The fact that the Trojan Source vulnerability affects almost all computer languages makes it a rare opportunity for a system-wide and ecologically valid cross-platform and cross-vendor comparison of responses,” the paper concludes. “As powerful supply-chain attacks can be launched easily using these techniques, it is essential for organizations that participate in a software supply chain to implement defenses.”

Weaver called the research “really good work at stopping something before it becomes a problem.”

“The coordinated disclosure lessons are an excellent study in what it takes to fix these problems,” he said. “The vulnerability is real but also highlights the even larger vulnerability of the shifting stand of dependencies and packages that our modern code relies on.”

Rust has released a security advisory for this security weakness, which is being tracked as CVE-2021-42574 and CVE-2021-42694. Additional security advisories from other affected languages will be added as updates here.

The Trojan Source research paper is available here (PDF).

✇ Krebs on Security

Zales.com Leaked Customer Data, Just Like Sister Firms Jared, Kay Jewelers Did in 2018

By: BrianKrebs

In December 2018, bling vendor Signet Jewelers fixed a weakness in their Kay Jewelers and Jared websites that exposed the order information for all of their online customers. This week, Signet subsidiary Zales.com updated its website to remediate a nearly identical customer data exposure.

Last week, KrebsOnSecurity heard from a reader who was browsing Zales.com and suddenly found they were looking at someone else’s order information on the website, including their name, billing address, shipping address, phone number, email address, items and total amount purchased, delivery date, tracking link, and the last four digits of the customer’s credit card number.

The reader noticed that the link for the order information she’d stumbled on included a lengthy numeric combination that — when altered — would produce yet another customer’s order information.

When the reader failed to get an immediate response from Signet, KrebsOnSecurity contacted the company. In a written response, Signet said, “A concern was brought to our attention by an IT professional. We addressed it swiftly, and upon review we found no misuse or negative impact to any systems or customer data.”

Their statement continues:

“As a business principle we make consumer information protection the highest priority, and proactively initiate independent and industry-leading security testing. As a result, we exceed industry benchmarks on data protection maturity. We always appreciate it when consumers reach out to us with feedback, and have committed to further our efforts on data protection maturity.”

When Signet fixed similar weaknesses with its Jared and Kay websites back in 2018, the reader who found and reported that data exposure said his mind quickly turned to the various ways crooks might exploit access to customer order information.

“My first thought was they could track a package of jewelry to someone’s door and swipe it off their doorstep,” said Brandon Sheehy, a Dallas-based Web developer. “My second thought was that someone could call Jared’s customers and pretend to be Jared, reading the last four digits of the customer’s card and saying there’d been a problem with the order, and if they could get a different card for the customer they could run it right away and get the order out quickly. That would be a pretty convincing scam. Or just targeted phishing attacks.”

In the grand scheme of many other, far more horrible things going on in information security right now, this Zales customer data exposure is small potatoes. And this type of data exposure is unbelievably common today: KrebsOnSecurity could probably run one story each day for several months just based on examples I’ve seen at dozens of other places online.

But I do think one key reason we continue to see companies make these easily avoidable mistakes with their customer data is that there are hardly ever any real consequences for organizations that fail to take more care. Meanwhile, their customers’ data is free to be hoovered up by anyone or anything that cares to look for it.

“Being a Web developer, the only thing I can chalk this up to is complete incompetence, and being very lazy and indifferent to your customers’ data,” Sheehy said. “This isn’t novel stuff, it’s basic Web site security.”

✇ Krebs on Security

FBI Raids Chinese Point-of-Sale Giant PAX Technology

By: BrianKrebs

U.S. federal investigators today raided the Florida offices of PAX Technology, a Chinese provider of point-of-sale devices used by millions of businesses and retailers globally. KrebsOnSecurity has learned the raid is tied to reports that PAX’s systems may have been involved in cyberattacks on U.S. and E.U. organizations.

FBI agents entering PAX Technology offices in Jacksonville today. Source: WOKV.com.

Headquartered in Shenzhen, China, PAX Technology Inc. has more than 60 million point-of-sale terminals in use throughout 120 countries. Earlier today, Jacksonville, Fla. based WOKV.com reported that agents with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had raided a local PAX Technology warehouse.

In an official statement, investigators told WOKV only that they were executing a court-authorized search at the warehouse as a part of a federal investigation, and that the inquiry included the Department of Customs and Border Protection and the Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS). The FBI has not responded to requests for comment.

Several days ago, KrebsOnSecurity heard from a trusted source that the FBI began investigating PAX after a major U.S. payment processor started asking questions about unusual network packets originating from the company’s payment terminals.

According to that source, the payment processor found that the PAX terminals were being used both as a malware “dropper” — a repository for malicious files — and as “command-and-control” locations for staging attacks and collecting information.

“FBI and MI5 are conducting an intensive investigation into PAX,” the source said. “A major US payment processor began asking questions about network packets originating from PAX terminals and were not given any good answers.”

KrebsOnSecurity reached out to PAX Technology’s CEO on Sunday. The company has not yet responded to requests for comment.

The source said two major financial providers — one in the United States and one in the United Kingdom — had already begun pulling PAX terminals from their payment infrastructure, a claim that was verified by two different sources.

“My sources say that there is tech proof of the way that the terminals were used in attack ops,” the source said. “The packet sizes don’t match the payment data they should be sending, nor does it correlate with telemetry these devices might display if they were updating their software. PAX is now claiming that the investigation is racially and politically motivated.”

The source was unable to share specific details about the strange network activity that prompted the FBI’s investigation. But it should be noted that point-of-sale terminals and the technology that supports them are perennial targets of cybercriminals.

It is not uncommon for payment terminals to be compromised remotely by malicious software and made to collect and transmit stolen information. Indeed, some of history’s largest cyberheists involved point-of-sale malware, including the 2008 breach at Heartland Payment Systems that exposed 100 million payment cards, and the 2013-2014 string of breaches at Target, Home Depot and elsewhere that led to the theft of roughly another 100 million cards.

Even if it were publicly proven today that the company’s technology was in fact a security risk, my guess is few retailers would be quick to do much about it in the short run. The investigation into PAX Technology comes at a dicey time for retailers, many of whom are gearing up for the busy holiday shopping season. What’s more, global computer chip shortages are causing lengthy delays in procuring new electronics.

Update, Oct. 27, 3:08 p.m. ET: Bloomberg reports that FIS Worldpay has removed PAX’s terminals from their infrastructure over security concerns.

FIS Worldpay told Bloomberg the company confirmed that it no longer deploys PAX point-of-sale devices “because it did not receive satisfactory answers from PAX regarding its POS devices connecting to websites not listed in their supplied documentation.”

“While we have no evidence that data running through PAX POS devices has been compromised, we have been working directly with clients to replace those devices with other options at no cost to them and with as little disruption to their business as possible,” Bloomberg reported. “The spokesperson said fewer than 5% of Worldpay clients currently use PAX point-of-sale devices. FIS’s shares were down 6.6% Wednesday afternoon in New York.”

Update, Oct. 27, 7:57 p.m. ET: PAX issued the following statement:

On Tuesday, October 26, 2021, PAX Technology, Inc. in the United States was subject to an unexpected visit from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other government agencies relating to an apparent investigation.

PAX Technology is not aware of any illegal conduct by it or its employees and is in the process of engaging counsel to assist in learning more about the events that led to the investigation.

Separately, we are aware of media reports regarding the security of PAX Technology’s devices and services. PAX Technology takes security very seriously. As always, PAX Technology is actively monitoring its environment for possible threats. We remain committed to providing secure and quality software systems and solutions.

We intend to keep our team and customers apprised of the situation.

In the meantime, it is business as usual at our locations and operations are continuing as normal. The PAX Jacksonville office and warehouse are both open at this time.

Update, Oct. 31, 8:39 p.m.: PAX has issued a Q&A to customers which maintains that concerns over the alleged unexplained traffic from PAX terminals are related to “the optional geolocation feature available on PAX terminals,” and “the use of dynamic IP addresses, commonly used for geolocation.”

“To make geolocation an available feature, PAX SmartPOS terminals utilize a third party geolocation service provider, just as your smartphone does,” the Q&A explains. “These services require devices to communicate geolocation information to third party IP addresses, some of which may be outside the country were the devices are operational.”

✇ Krebs on Security

Conti Ransom Gang Starts Selling Access to Victims

By: BrianKrebs

The Conti ransomware affiliate program appears to have altered its business plan recently. Organizations infected with Conti’s malware who refuse to negotiate a ransom payment are added to Conti’s victim shaming blog, where confidential files stolen from victims may be published or sold. But sometime over the past 48 hours, the cybercriminal syndicate updated its victim shaming blog to indicate that it is now selling access to many of the organizations it has hacked.

A redacted screenshot of the Conti News victim shaming blog.

“We are looking for a buyer to access the network of this organization and sell data from their network,” reads the confusingly worded message inserted into multiple recent victim listings on Conti’s shaming blog.

It’s unclear what prompted the changes, or what Conti hopes to gain from the move. It’s also not obvious why they would advertise having hacked into companies if they plan on selling that access to extract sensitive data going forward. Conti did not respond to requests for comment.

“I wonder if they are about to close down their operation and want to sell data or access from an in-progress breach before they do,” said Fabian Wosar, chief technology officer at computer security firm Emsisoft. “But it’s somewhat stupid to do it that way as you will alert the companies that they have a breach going on.”

The unexplained shift comes as policymakers in the United States and Europe are moving forward on efforts to disrupt some of the top ransomware gangs. Reuters recently reported that the U.S. government was behind an ongoing hacking operation that penetrated the computer systems of REvil, a ransomware affiliate group that experts say is about as aggressive and ruthless as Conti in dealing with victims. What’s more, REvil was among the first ransomware groups to start selling its victims’ data.

REvil’s darknet victim shaming site remains offline. In response, a representative for the Conti gang posted a long screed on Oct. 22 to a Russian language hacking forum denouncing the attack on REvil as the “unilateral, extraterritorial, and bandit-mugging behavior of the United States in world affairs.”

“Is there a law, even an American one, even a local one in any county of any of the 50 states, that legitimize such indiscriminate offensive action?” reads the Conti diatribe. “Is server hacking suddenly legal in the United States or in any of the US jurisdictions? Suppose there is such an outrageous law that allows you to hack servers in a foreign country. How legal is this from the point of view of the country whose servers were attacked? Infrastructure is not flying there in space or floating in neutral waters. It is a part of someone’s sovereignty.”

Conti’s apparent new direction may be little more than another ploy to bring victim companies to the negotiating table, as in “pay up or someone will pay for your data or long-term misery if you don’t.”

Or maybe something just got lost in the translation from Russian (Conti’s blog is published in English). But by shifting from the deployment of ransomware malware toward the sale of stolen data and network access, Conti could be aligning its operations with many competing ransomware affiliate programs that have recently focused on extorting companies in exchange for a promise not to publish or sell stolen data.

However, as Digital Shadows points out in a recent ransomware roundup, many ransomware groups are finding it difficult to manage data-leak sites, or hosting stolen data on the dark web for download.

After all, when it takes weeks to download one victim’s data via Tor — if indeed the download succeeds at all — the threat of leaking sensitive data as a negotiation tactic loses some of its menace. It’s also a crappy user experience. This has resulted in some ransomware groups exposing data using public file-sharing websites, which are faster and more reliable but can be taken down through legal means quite quickly.

Data leak sites also can offer investigators a potential way to infiltrate ransomware gangs, as evidenced by the recent reported compromise of the REvil gang by U.S. authorities.

“On 17 Oct 2021, a representative of the REvil ransomware gang took it to a Russian-speaking criminal forum to reveal that their data-leak sites had been ‘hijacked’,” Digital Shadows’ Ivan Righi wrote. “The REvil member explained that an unknown individual accessed the hidden services of REvil’s website’s landing page and blog using the same key owned by the developers. The user believed that the ransomware gang’s servers had been compromised and the individual responsible for the compromise was ‘looking for’ him.”

A recent report by Mandiant revealed that FIN12 — the group believed to be responsible for both Conti and the Ryuk ransomware operation — has managed to conduct ransomware attacks in less than 3 days, compared to more than 12 days for attacks involving data exfiltration.

Seen through those figures, perhaps Conti is merely seeking to outsource more of the data exfiltration side of the business (for a fee, of course) so that it can focus on the less time-intensive but equally profitable racket of deploying ransomware.

“As Q4 comes near, it will be interesting to see if issues relating to managing data leak sites will discourage new ransomware groups [from pursuing] the path of data-leak sites, or what creative solutions they will create to work around these issues,” Righi concluded. “The Ryuk ransomware group has proven itself to remain effective and a top player in the ransomware threat landscape without the need for a data-leak site. In fact, Ryuk has thrived by not needing a data leak site and data exfiltration.”

✇ Krebs on Security

Missouri Governor Vows to Prosecute St. Louis Post-Dispatch for Reporting Security Vulnerability

By: BrianKrebs

On Wednesday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story about how its staff discovered and reported a security vulnerability in a Missouri state education website that exposed the Social Security numbers of 100,000 elementary and secondary teachers. In a press conference this morning, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) said fixing the flaw could cost the state $50 million, and vowed his administration would seek to prosecute and investigate the “hackers” and anyone who aided the publication in its “attempt to embarrass the state and sell headlines for their news outlet.”

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R), vowing to prosecute the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for reporting a security vulnerability that exposed teacher SSNs.

The Post-Dispatch says it discovered the vulnerability in a web application that allowed the public to search teacher certifications and credentials, and that more than 100,000 SSNs were available. The Missouri state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) reportedly removed the affected pages from its website Tuesday after being notified of the problem by the publication (before the story on the flaw was published).

The newspaper said it found that teachers’ Social Security numbers were contained in the HTML source code of the pages involved. In other words, the information was available to anyone with a web browser who happened to also examine the site’s public code using Developer Tools or simply right-clicking on the page and viewing the source code.

The Post-Dispatch reported that it wasn’t immediately clear how long the Social Security numbers and other sensitive information had been vulnerable on the DESE website, nor was it known if anyone had exploited the flaw.

But in a press conference Thursday morning, Gov. Parson said he would seek to prosecute and investigate the reporter and the region’s largest newspaper for “unlawfully” accessing teacher data.

“This administration is standing up against any and all perpetrators who attempt to steal personal information and harm Missourians,” Parson said. “It is unlawful to access encoded data and systems in order to examine other peoples’ personal information. We are coordinating state resources to respond and utilize all legal methods available. My administration has notified the Cole County prosecutor of this matter, the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s Digital Forensics Unit will also be conducting an investigation of all of those involved. This incident alone may cost Missouri taxpayers as much as $50 million.”

While threatening to prosecute the reporters to the fullest extent of the law, Parson sought to downplay the severity of the security weakness, saying the reporter only unmasked three Social Security numbers, and that “there was no option to decode Social Security numbers for all educators in the system all at once.”

“The state is committed to bringing to justice anyone who hacked our systems or anyone who aided them to do so,” Parson continued. “A hacker is someone who gains unauthorized access to information or content. This individual did not have permission to do what they did. They had no authorization to convert or decode, so this was clearly a hack.”

Parson said the person who reported the weakness was “acting against a state agency to compromise teachers’ personal information in an attempt to embarrass the state and sell headlines for their news outlet.”

“We will not let this crime against Missouri teachers go unpunished, and refuse to let them be a pawn in the news outlet’s political vendetta,” Parson said. “Not only are we going to hold this individual accountable, but we will also be holding accountable all those who aided this individual and the media corporation that employs them.”

In a statement shared with KrebsOnSecurity, an attorney for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said the reporter did the responsible thing by reporting his findings to the DESE so that the state could act to prevent disclosure and misuse.

“A hacker is someone who subverts computer security with malicious or criminal intent,” the attorney Joe Martineau said. “Here, there was no breach of any firewall or security and certainly no malicious intent. For DESE to deflect its failures by referring to this as ‘hacking’ is unfounded. Thankfully, these failures were discovered.”

Aaron Mackey is a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit digital rights group based in San Francisco. Mackey called the governor’s response “vindictive, retaliatory, and incredibly short-sighted.”

Mackey noted that Post-Dispatch did everything right, even holding its story until the state had fixed the vulnerability. He said the governor also is attacking the media — which serves a crucial role in helping give voice (and often anonymity) to security researchers who might otherwise remain silent under the threat of potential criminal prosecution for reporting their findings directly to the vulnerable organization.

“It’s dangerous and wrong to go after someone who behaved ethically and responsibly in the disclosure sense, but also in the journalistic sense,” he said. “The public had a right to know about their government’s own negligence in building secure systems and addressing well-known vulnerabilities.”

Mackey said Gov. Parson’s response to this incident also is unfortunate because it will almost certainly give pause to anyone who might otherwise find and report security vulnerabilities in state websites that unnecessarily expose sensitive information or access. Which also means such weaknesses are more likely to be eventually found and exploited by actual criminals.

“To characterize this as a hack is just wrong on the technical side, when it was the state agency’s own system pulling that SSN data and making it publicly available on their site,” Mackey said. “And then to react in this way where you don’t say ‘thank you’ but actually turn on the reporter and researchers and go after them…it’s just weird.”

✇ Krebs on Security

How Coinbase Phishers Steal One-Time Passwords

By: BrianKrebs

A recent phishing campaign targeting Coinbase users shows thieves are getting smarter about phishing one-time passwords (OTPs) needed to complete the login process. It also shows that phishers are attempting to sign up for new Coinbase accounts by the millions as part of an effort to identify email addresses that are already associated with active accounts.

A Google-translated version of the now-defunct Coinbase phishing site, coinbase.com.password-reset[.]com

Coinbase is the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency exchange, with roughly 68 million users from over 100 countries. The now-defunct phishing domain at issue — coinbase.com.password-reset[.]com — was targeting Italian Coinbase users (the site’s default language was Italian). And it was fairly successful, according to Alex Holden, founder of Milwaukee-based cybersecurity firm Hold Security.

Holden’s team managed to peer inside some poorly hidden file directories associated with that phishing site, including its administration page. That panel, pictured in the redacted screenshot below, indicated the phishing attacks netted at least 870 sets of credentials before the site was taken offline.

The Coinbase phishing panel.

Holden said each time a new victim submitted credentials at the Coinbase phishing site, the administrative panel would make a loud “ding” — presumably to alert whoever was at the keyboard on the other end of this phishing scam that they had a live one on the hook.

In each case, the phishers manually would push a button that caused the phishing site to ask visitors for more information, such as the one-time password from their mobile app.

“These guys have real-time capabilities of soliciting any input from the victim they need to get into their Coinbase account,” Holden said.

Pressing the “Send Info” button prompted visitors to supply additional personal information, including their name, date of birth, and street address. Armed with the target’s mobile number, they could also click “Send verification SMS” with a text message prompting them to text back a one-time code.

SIFTING COINBASE FOR ACTIVE USERS

Holden said the phishing group appears to have identified Italian Coinbase users by attempting to sign up new accounts under the email addresses of more than 2.5 million Italians. His team also managed to recover the username and password data that victims submitted to the site, and virtually all of the submitted email addresses ended in “.it”.

But the phishers in this case likely weren’t interested in registering any accounts. Rather, the bad guys understood that any attempts to sign up using an email address tied to an existing Coinbase account would fail. After doing that several million times, the phishers would then take the email addresses that failed new account signups and target them with Coinbase-themed phishing emails.

Holden’s data shows this phishing gang conducted hundreds of thousands of halfhearted account signup attempts daily. For example, on Oct. 10 the scammers checked more than 216,000 email addresses against Coinbase’s systems. The following day, they attempted to register 174,000 new Coinbase accounts.

In an emailed statement shared with KrebsOnSecurity, Coinbase said it takes “extensive security measures to ensure our platform and customer accounts remain as safe as possible.” Here’s the rest of their statement:

“Like all major online platforms, Coinbase sees attempted automated attacks performed on a regular basis. Coinbase is able to automatically neutralize the overwhelming majority of these attacks, using a mixture of in-house machine learning models and partnerships with industry-leading bot detection and abuse prevention vendors. We continuously tune these models to block new techniques as we discover them. Coinbase’s Threat Intelligence and Trust & Safety teams also work to monitor new automated abuse techniques, develop and apply mitigations, and aggressively pursue takedowns against malicious infrastructure. We recognize that attackers (and attack techniques) will continue to evolve, which is why we take a multi-layered approach to combating automated abuse.”

Last month, Coinbase disclosed that malicious hackers stole cryptocurrency from 6,000 customers after using a vulnerability to bypass the company’s SMS multi-factor authentication security feature.

“To conduct the attack, Coinbase says the attackers needed to know the customer’s email address, password, and phone number associated with their Coinbase account and have access to the victim’s email account,” Bleeping Computer’s Lawrence Abrams wrote. “While it is unknown how the threat actors gained access to this information, Coinbase believes it was through phishing campaigns targeting Coinbase customers to steal account credentials, which have become common.”

This phishing scheme is another example of how crooks are coming up with increasingly ingenious methods for circumventing popular multi-factor authentication options, such as one-time passwords. Last month, KrebsOnSecurity highlighted research into several new services based on Telegram-based bots that make it relatively easy for crooks to phish OTPs from targets using automated phone calls and text messages.These OTP phishing services all assume the customer already has the target’s login credentials through some means — such as through a phishing site like the one examined in this story.

Savvy readers here no doubt already know this, but to find the true domain referenced in a link, look to the right of “http(s)://” until you encounter the first slash (/). The domain directly to the left of that first slash is the true destination; anything that precedes the second dot to the left of that first slash is a subdomain and should be ignored for the purposes of determining the true domain name.

In the phishing domain at issue here — coinbase.com.password-reset[.]com — password-reset[.]com is the destination domain, and the “coinbase.com” is just an arbitrary subdomain of password-reset[.]com. However, when viewed in a mobile device, many visitors to such a domain may only see the subdomain portion of the URL in their mobile browser’s address bar.

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

Also, never provide any information in response to an unsolicited phone call. It doesn’t matter who claims to be calling: If you didn’t initiate the contact, hang up. Don’t put them on hold while you call your bank; the scammers can get around that, too. Just hang up. Then you can call your bank or wherever else you need.

By the way, when was the last time you reviewed your multi-factor settings and options at the various websites entrusted with your most precious personal and financial information? It might be worth paying a visit to 2fa.directory (formerly twofactorauth[.]org) for a checkup.

✇ Krebs on Security

Patch Tuesday, October 2021 Edition

By: BrianKrebs

Microsoft today issued updates to plug more than 70 security holes in its Windows operating systems and other software, including one vulnerability that is already being exploited. This month’s Patch Tuesday also includes security fixes for the newly released Windows 11 operating system. Separately, Apple has released updates for iOS and iPadOS to address a flaw that is being actively attacked.

Firstly, Apple has released iOS 15.0.2 and iPadOS 15.0.2 to fix a zero-day vulnerability (CVE-2021-30883) that is being leveraged in active attacks targeting iPhone and iPad users. Lawrence Abrams of Bleeping Computer writes that the flaw could be used to steal data or install malware, and that soon after Apple patched the bug security researcher Saar Amar published a technical writeup and proof-of-concept exploit derived from reverse engineering Apple’s patch.

Abrams said the list of impacted Apple devices is quite extensive, affecting older and newer models. If you own an iPad or iPhone — or any other Apple device — please make sure it’s up to date with the latest security patches.

Three of the weaknesses Microsoft addressed today tackle vulnerabilities rated “critical,” meaning that malware or miscreants could exploit them to gain complete, remote control over vulnerable systems — with little or no help from targets.

One of the critical bugs concerns Microsoft Word, and two others are remote code execution flaws in Windows Hyper-V, the virtualization component built into Windows. CVE-2021-38672 affects Windows 11 and Windows Server 2022; CVE-2021-40461 impacts both Windows 11 and Windows 10 systems, as well as Server versions.

But as usual, some of the more concerning security weaknesses addressed this month earned Microsoft’s slightly less dire “important” designation, which applies to a vulnerability “whose exploitation could result in compromise of the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of user data, or of the integrity or availability of processing resources.”

The flaw that’s under active assault — CVE-2021-40449 — is an important “elevation of privilege” vulnerability, meaning it can be leveraged in combination with another vulnerability to let attackers run code of their choice as administrator on a vulnerable system.

CVE-2021-36970 is an important spoofing vulnerability in Microsoft’s Windows Print Spooler. The flaw was discovered by the same researchers credited with the discovery of one of two vulnerabilities that became known as PrintNightmare — the widespread exploitation of a critical Print Spooler flaw that forced Microsoft to issue an emergency security update back in July. Microsoft assesses CVE-2021-36970 as “exploitation more likely.”

“While no details have been shared publicly about the flaw, this is definitely one to watch for, as we saw a constant stream of Print Spooler-related vulnerabilities patched over the summer while ransomware groups began incorporating PrintNightmare into their affiliate playbook,” said Satnam Narang, staff research engineer at Tenable. “We strongly encourage organizations to apply these patches as soon as possible.”

CVE-2021-26427 is another important bug in Microsoft Exchange Server, which has been under siege lately from attackers. In March, threat actors pounced on four separate zero-day flaws in Exchange that allowed them to siphon email from and install backdoors at hundreds of thousands of organizations.

This month’s Exchange bug earned a CVSS score of 9.0 (10 is the most dangerous). Kevin Breen of Immersive Labs points out that Microsoft has marked this flaw as less likely to be exploited, probably because an attacker would already need access to your network before using the vulnerability.

“Email servers will always be prime targets, simply due to the amount of data contained in emails and the range of possible ways attackers could use them for malicious purposes. While it’s not right at the top of my list of priorities to patch, it’s certainly one to be wary of.”

Also today, Adobe issued security updates for a range of products, including Adobe Reader and Acrobat, Adobe Commerce, and Adobe Connect.

For a complete rundown of all patches released today and indexed by severity, check out the always-useful Patch Tuesday roundup from the SANS Internet Storm Center, and the Patch Tuesday data put together by Morphus Labs. 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 frequently has the lowdown on any patches that are causing problems for Windows users.

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

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

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

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

✇ Krebs on Security

What Happened to Facebook, Instagram, & WhatsApp?

By: BrianKrebs

Facebook and its sister properties Instagram and WhatsApp are suffering from ongoing, global outages. We don’t yet know why this happened, but the how is clear: Earlier this morning, something inside Facebook caused the company to revoke key digital records that tell computers and other Internet-enabled devices how to find these destinations online.

Kentik’s view of the Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp outage.

Doug Madory is director of internet analysis at Kentik, a San Francisco-based network monitoring company. Madory said at approximately 11:39 a.m. ET today (15:39 UTC), someone at Facebook caused an update to be made to the company’s Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) records. BGP is a mechanism by which Internet service providers of the world share information about which providers are responsible for routing Internet traffic to which specific groups of Internet addresses.

In simpler terms, sometime this morning Facebook took away the map telling the world’s computers how to find its various online properties. As a result, when one types Facebook.com into a web browser, the browser has no idea where to find Facebook.com, and so returns an error page.

In addition to stranding billions of users, the Facebook outage also has stranded its employees from communicating with one another using their internal Facebook tools. That’s because Facebook’s email and tools are all managed in house and via the same domains that are now stranded.

“Not only are Facebook’s services and apps down for the public, its internal tools and communications platforms, including Workplace, are out as well,” New York Times tech reporter Ryan Mac tweeted. “No one can do any work. Several people I’ve talked to said this is the equivalent of a ‘snow day’ at the company.”

The outages come just hours after CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a much-anticipated interview with Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower who recently leaked a number of internal Facebook investigations showing the company knew its products were causing mass harm, and that it prioritized profits over taking bolder steps to curtail abuse on its platform — including disinformation and hate speech.

We don’t know how or why the outages persist at Facebook and its other properties, but the changes had to have come from inside the company, as Facebook manages those records internally. Whether the changes were made maliciously or by accident is anyone’s guess at this point.

Madory said it could be that someone at Facebook just screwed up.

“In the past year or so, we’ve seen a lot of these big outages where they had some sort of update to their global network configuration that went awry,” Madory said. “We obviously can’t rule out someone hacking them, but they also could have done this to themselves.”

Update, 4:37 p.m. ET: Sheera Frenkel with The New York Times tweeted that Facebook employees told her they were having trouble accessing Facebook buildings because their employee badges no longer worked. That could be one reason this outage has persisted so long: Facebook engineers may be having trouble physically accessing the computer servers needed to upload new BGP records to the global Internet.

Update, 6:16 p.m. ET: A trusted source who spoke with a person on the recovery effort at Facebook was told the outage was caused by a routine BGP update gone wrong. The source explained that the errant update blocked Facebook employees — the majority of whom are working remotely — from reverting the changes. Meanwhile, those with physical access to Facebook’s buildings couldn’t access Facebook’s internal tools because those were all tied to the company’s stranded domains.

Update, 7:46 p.m. ET: Facebook says its domains are slowly coming back online for most users. In a tweet, the company thanked users for their patience, but it still hasn’t offered any explanation for the outage.

Update, 8:05 p.m. ET: This fascinating thread on Hacker News delves into some of the not-so-obvious side effects of today’s outages: Many organizations saw network disruptions and slowness thanks to billions of devices constantly asking for the current coordinates of Facebook.com, Instagram.com and WhatsApp.com. Bill Woodcock, executive director of the Packet Clearing House, said his organization saw a 40 percent increase globally in wayward DNS traffic throughout the outage.

Update, 8:32 p.m. ET: Cloudflare has published a detailed and somewhat technical writeup on the BGP changes that caused today’s outage. Still no word from Facebook on what happened.

Update, 11:32 p.m. ET: Facebook published a blog post saying the outage was the result of a faulty configuration change:

“Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication,” Facebook’s Santosh Janardhan wrote. “This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”

“We want to make clear at this time we believe the root cause of this outage was a faulty configuration change,” Janardhan continued. “We also have no evidence that user data was compromised as a result of this downtime.”

Several different domain registration companies today listed the domain Facebook.com as up for sale. This happened thanks to automated systems that look for registered domains which appear to be expired, abandoned or recently vacated. There was never any reason to believe Facebook.com would actually be sold as a result, but it’s fun to consider how many billions of dollars it could fetch on the open market.

This is a developing story and will likely be updated throughout the day.

✇ Krebs on Security

FCC Proposal Targets SIM Swapping, Port-Out Fraud

By: BrianKrebs

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is asking for feedback on new proposed rules to crack down on SIM swapping and number port-out fraud, increasingly prevalent scams in which identity thieves hijack a target’s mobile phone number and use that to wrest control over the victim’s online identity.

In a long-overdue notice issued Sept. 30, the FCC said it plans to move quickly on requiring the mobile companies to adopt more secure methods of authenticating customers before redirecting their phone number to a new device or carrier.

“We have received numerous complaints from consumers who have suffered significant distress, inconvenience, and financial harm as a result of SIM swapping and port-out fraud,” the FCC wrote. “Because of the serious harms associated with SIM swap fraud, we believe that a speedy implementation is appropriate.”

The FCC said the proposal was in response to a flood of complaints to the agency and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about fraudulent SIM swapping and number port-out fraud. SIM swapping happens when the fraudsters trick or bribe an employee at a mobile phone store into transferring control of a target’s phone number to a device they control.

From there, the attackers can reset the password for almost any online account tied to that mobile number, because most online services still allow people to reset their passwords simply by clicking a link sent via SMS to the phone number on file.

Scammers commit number port-out fraud by posing as the target and requesting that their number be transferred to a different mobile provider (and to a device the attackers control).

The FCC said the carriers have traditionally sought to address both forms of phone number fraud by requiring static data about the customer that is no longer secret and has been exposed in a variety of places already — such as date of birth and Social Security number. By way of example, the commission pointed to the recent breach at T-Mobile that exposed this data on 40 million current, past and prospective customers.

What’s more, victims of SIM swapping and number port-out fraud are often the last to know about their victimization. The FCC said it plans to prohibit wireless carriers from allowing a SIM swap unless the carrier uses a secure method of authenticating its customer. Specifically, the commission proposes that carriers be required to verify a “pre-established password” with customers before making any changes to their accounts.

According to the FCC, several examples of pre-established passwords include:

-a one-time passcode sent via text message to the account phone number or a pre-registered backup number
-a one-time passcode sent via email to the email address associated with the account
-a passcode sent using a voice call to the account phone number or pre-registered back-up telephone number.

The commission said it was also considering updating its rules to require wireless carriers to develop procedures for responding to failed authentication attempts and to notify customers immediately of any requests for SIM changes.

Additionally, the FCC said it may impose additional customer service, training, and transparency requirements for the carriers, noting that too many customer service personnel at the wireless carriers lack training on how to assist customers who’ve had their phone numbers stolen.

The FCC said some of the consumer complaints it has received “describe wireless carrier customer service representatives and store employees who do not know how to address instances of fraudulent SIM swaps or port-outs, resulting in customers spending many hours on the phone and at retail stores trying to get resolution. Other consumers complain that their wireless carriers have refused to provide them with documentation related to the fraudulent SIM swaps, making it difficult for them to pursue claims with their financial institutions or law enforcement.”

“Several consumer complaints filed with the Commission allege that the wireless carrier’s store employees are involved in the fraud, or that carriers completed SIM swaps despite the customer having previously set a PIN or password on the account,” the commission continued.

Allison Nixon, an expert on SIM swapping attacks chief research officer with New York City-based cyber intelligence firm Unit221B, said any new authentication requirements will have to balance the legitimate use cases for customers requesting a new SIM card when their device is lost or stolen. A SIM card is the small, removable smart card that associates a mobile device to its carrier and phone number.

“Ultimately, any sort of static defense is only going to work in the short term,” Nixon said. “The use of SMS as a 2nd factor in itself is a static defense. And the criminals adapted and made the problem actually worse than the original problem it was designed to solve. The long term solution is that the system needs to be responsive to novel fraud schemes and adapt to it faster than the speed of legislation.”

Eager to weigh in on the FCC’s proposal? They want to hear from you. The electronic comment filing system is here, and the docket number for this proceeding is WC Docket No. 21-341.

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