Earlier this month, news broke that authorities had seized the Dark Web marketplace AlphaBay, an online black market that peddled everything from heroin to stolen identity and credit card data. But it wasn’t until today, when the U.S. Justice Department held a press conference to detail the AlphaBay takedown that the other shoe dropped: Police in The Netherlands for the past month have been operating Hansa Market, a competing Dark Web bazaar that enjoyed a massive influx of new customers immediately after the AlphaBay takedown.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the AlphaBay closure “the largest takedown in world history,” targeting some 40,000 vendors who marketed a quarter-million listings for illegal drugs to more than 200,000 customers.
“By far, most of this activity was in illegal drugs, pouring fuel on the fire of a national drug epidemic,” Sessions said. “As of earlier this year, 122 vendors advertised Fentanyl. 238 advertised heroin. We know of several Americans who were killed by drugs on AlphaBay.”
Andrew McCabe, acting director of the FBI, said AlphaBay was roughly 10 times the size of the Silk Road, a similar dark market that was shuttered in a global law enforcement sting in October 2013.
As impressive as those stats may be, the real coup in this law enforcement operation became evident when Rob Wainwright, director of the European law enforcement organization Europol, detailed how the closure of AlphaBay caused a virtual stampede of former AlphaBay buyers and sellers taking their business to Hansa Market, which had been quietly and completely taken over by Dutch police one month earlier — on June 20.
“What this meant…was that we could identify and disrupt the regular criminal activity that was happening on Hansa Market but also sweep up all of those new users that were displaced from AlphaBay and looking for a new trading plot form for their criminal activities,” Wainwright told the media at today’s press conference, which seemed more interested in asking Attorney General Sessions about a recent verbal thrashing from President Trump.
“In fact, they flocked to Hansa in droves,” Wainwright continued. “We recorded an eight times increase in the number of human users on Hansa immediately following the takedown of AlphaBay. Since the undercover operation to take over Hansa market by the Dutch Police, usernames and passwords of thousands of buyers and sellers of illicit commodities have been identified and are the subject of follow-up investigations by Europol and our partner agencies.”
On July 5, the same day that AlphaBay went offline, authorities in Thailand arrested Alexandre Cazes — a 25-year-old Canadian citizen living in Thailand — on suspicion of being the creator and administrator of AlphaBay. He was charged with racketeering, conspiracy to distribute narcotics, conspiracy to commit identity theft and money laundering, among other alleged crimes.
Law enforcement authorities in the US and abroad also seized millions of dollars worth of Bitcoin and other assets allegedly belonging to Cazes, including four Lamborghini cars and three properties.
However, law enforcement officials never got a chance to extradite Cazes to the United States to face trial. Cazes, who allegedly went by the nicknames “Alpha02” and “Admin,” reportedly committed suicide while still in custody in Thailand.
Maybe some of you missed this amid all the breach news recently (I know I did), but Trump International Hotels Management LLC last week announced its third credit-card data breach in the past two years. I thought it might be useful to see these events plotted on a timeline, because it suggests that virtually anyone who used a credit card at a Trump property in the past two years likely has had their card data stolen and put on sale in the cybercrime underground as a result.
On May 2, 2017, KrebsOnSecurity broke the story that travel industry giant Sabre Corp. experienced a significant breach of its payment and customer data tied to bookings processed through a reservations system that serves more than 32,000 hotels and other lodging establishments. Last week, Trump International Hotels disclosed the SABRE breach impacted at least 13 Trump Hotel properties between August 2016 and March 2017. Trump Hotels said it was first notified of the breach on June 5.
According to Verizon‘s latest annual Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR), malware attacks on point-of-sale systems used at front desk and hotel restaurant systems “are absolutely rampant” in the hospitality sector. Accommodation was the top industry for point-of-sale intrusions in this year’s data, with 87% of breaches within that pattern.
Other hotel chains that disclosed this past week getting hit in the Sabre breach include 11 Hard Rock properties (another chain hit by multiple card breach incidents); Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts; and at least two dozen Loews Hotels in the United States and Canada.ANALYSIS/RANT
Given its abysmal record of failing to protect customer card data, you might think the hospitality industry would be anxious to assuage guests who may already be concerned that handing over their card at the hotel check-in desk also means consigning that card to cybercrooks (e.g. at underground carding shops like Trumps Dumps).
However, so far this year I’ve been hard-pressed to find any of the major hotel chains that accept more secure chip-based cards, which are designed to make card data stolen by point-of-sale malware and skimmers much more difficult to turn into counterfeit cards. I travel quite a bit — at least twice a month — and I have yet to experience a single U.S.-based hotel in the past year asking me to dip my chip-based card as opposed to swiping it.
True, chip cards alone aren’t going to solve the whole problem. Hotels and other merchants that implement the ability to process chip cards still need to ensure the data is encrypted at every step of the transaction (known as “point-to-point” or “end-to-end” encryption). Investing in technology like tokenization — which allows merchants to store a code that represents the customer’s card data instead of the card data itself — also can help companies become less of a target.
Maybe it wouldn’t be so irksome if those of us concerned about security or annoyed enough at getting our cards replaced three or four times a year due to fraud could stay at a major hotel chain in the United States and simply pay with cash. But alas, we’re talking about an industry that essentially requires customers to pay by credit card.
Well, at least I’ll continue to accrue reward points on my credit card that I can use toward future rounds of Russian roulette with the hotel’s credit card systems.
It’s bad enough that cities and states routinely levy huge taxes on lodging establishments (the idea being the tax is disproportionately paid by people who don’t vote or live in the area); now we have the industry-wide “carder tax” conveniently added to every stay.
What’s the carder tax you ask? It’s the sense of dread and the incredulous “really?” that wells up when one watches his chip card being swiped yet again at the check-out counter.
It’s the time wasted on the phone with your bank trying to sort out whether you really made all those fraudulent purchases, and then having to enter your new card number at all those sites and services where the old one was stored. It’s that awkward moment when the waiter says in front of your date or guests that your card has been declined.
If you’re brave enough to pay for everything with a debit card (bad idea), it may be the time you spend without access to cash while your bank sorts things out. It may be the aggravation of dealing with bounced checks as a result of the fraud.
I can recall a recent stay wherein right next to the credit card machine at the hotel’s front desk was a stack of various daily newspapers, one of which had a very visible headline warning of an ongoing credit card breach at the same hotel that was getting ready to swipe my card yet again (by the way, I’m still kicking myself for not snapping a selfie right then).
After I checked out of that particular hotel, I descended to the parking garage to retrieve a rental car. The garage displayed large signs everywhere warning customers that the property was not responsible for any damage or thefts that may be inflicted on vehicles parked there. I recall thinking at the time that this same hotel probably should have been required to display a similar sign over their credit card machines (actually, they all should).
“The privacy and protection of our guests’ information is a matter we take very seriously.” This is from boilerplate text found in both the Trump Hotels and Loews Hotel statements. It sounds nice. Too bad it’s all hogwash. Once again, the timeline above speaks far more about the hospitality industry’s attitudes on credit card security than any platitudes offered in these all-too-common breach notifications.
Banks: Card Breach at Trump Hotel Properties
Trump Hotel Collection Confirms Card Breach
Sources: Trump Hotels Breached Again
Trump Hotels Settles Over Data Breach: To Pay $50,000 for 70,000 Stolen Cards
Breach at Sabre Corp.’s Hospitality Unit
Axis Communications — a maker of high-end security cameras whose devices can be found in many high-security areas — recently patched a dangerous coding flaw in virtually all of its products that an attacker could use to remotely seize control over or crash the devices.
The problem wasn’t specific to Axis, which seems to have reacted far more quickly than competitors to quash the bug. Rather, the vulnerability resides in open-source, third-party computer code that has been used in countless products and technologies (including a great many security cameras), meaning it may be some time before most vulnerable vendors ship out a fix — and even longer before users install it.
At issue is a flaw in a bundle of reusable code (often called a “code library“) known as gSOAP, a widely-used toolkit that software or device makers can use so that their creations can talk to the Internet (or “parse XML” for my geek readers). By some estimates, there are hundreds — if not thousands — of security camera types and other so-called “Internet of Things”(IoT) devices that rely upon the vulnerable gSOAP code.
By exploiting the bug, an attacker could force the a vulnerable device to run malicious code, block the owner from viewing any video footage, or crash the system. Basically, lots of stuff you don’t want your pricey security camera system to be doing.
Genivia chief executive Robert Van Engelen said his company has already reached out to all of its customers about the issue. He said a majority of customers use the gSOAP software to develop products, but that mostly these are client-side applications or non-server applications that are not affected by this software crash issue.
“It’s a crash, not an exploit as far as we know,” Van Engelen said. “I estimate that over 85% of the applications are unlikely to be affected by this crash issue.”
Still, there are almost certainly dozens of other companies that use the vulnerable gSOAP code library and haven’t (or won’t) issue updates to fix this flaw, says Stephen Ridley, chief technology officer and founder of Senrio — the security company that discovered and reported the bug. What’s more, because the vulnerable code is embedded within device firmware (the built-in software that powers hardware), there is no easy way for end users to tell if the firmware is affected without word one way or the other from the device maker.
“It is likely that tens of millions of products — software products and connected devices — are affected by this,” Ridley said.
“Genivia claims to have more than 1 million downloads of gSOAP (most likely developers), and IBM, Microsoft, Adobe and Xerox as customers,” the Senrio report reads. “On Sourceforge, gSOAP was downloaded more than 1,000 times in one week, and 30,000 times in 2017. Once gSOAP is downloaded and added to a company’s repository, it’s likely used many times for different product lines.”
Anyone familiar with the stories published on this blog over the past year knows that most IoT devices — security cameras in particular — do not have a stellar history of shipping in a default-secure state (heck, many of these devices are running versions of Linux that date back more than a decade). Left connected to the Internet in an insecure state, these devices can quickly be infected with IoT threats like Mirai, which enslave them for use in high-impact denial-of-service attacks designed to knock people and Web sites offline.
When I heard about this bug I pinged the folks over at IPVM, a trade publication that tracks the video surveillance industry. IPVM Business Analyst Brian Karas said the type of flaw (known as a buffer overflow) in this case doesn’t expose the vulnerable systems to IoT worms like Mirai, which can spread to devices that are running under factory-default usernames and passwords.
IPVM polled almost a dozen top security camera makers, and said only two (including Axis) responded that they used the vulnerable gSOAP library in their products. Another four — including security camera industry giant Hikvision — said they hadn’t yet determined whether any of their products were potentially vulnerable.
“You probably wouldn’t be able to make a universal, Mirai-style exploit for this flaw because it lacks the elements of simplicity and reproduceability,” Karas said, noting that the exploit requires that an attacker be able to upload at least a 2 GB file to the Web interface for a vulnerable device.
“In my experience, I don’t think it’s that common for embedded systems to accept a 2-gigabyte file upload,” Karas said. “Every device is going to respond slightly differently, and it would probably take a lot of time to research each device and put together some kind of universal attack tool. Yes, people should be aware of this and patch if they can, but this is nowhere near as bad as [the threat from] Mirai.”
Karas said similar to most other cyber security vulnerabilities in network devices, restricting network access to the unit will greatly reduce the chance of exploit.
“Cameras utilizing a VMS (video management system) or recorder for remote access, instead of being directly connected to the internet, are essentially immune from remote attack (though it is possible for the VMS itself to have vulnerabilities),” IPVM wrote in an analysis of the gSOAP bug. In addition, changing the factory default settings (e.g., picking decent administrator passwords) and updating the firmware on the devices to the latest version may go a long way toward sidestepping any vulnerabilities.
Last month KrebsOnSecurity published research into a large distributed network of apparently compromised systems being used to relay huge blasts of junk email promoting “online dating” programs — affiliate-driven schemes traditionally overrun with automated accounts posing as women. New research suggests that another bot-promoting botnet of more than 80,000 automated female Twitter accounts has been pimping the same dating scheme and ginning up millions of clicks from Twitter users in the process.
Not long after I published Inside a Porn-Pimping Spam Botnet, I heard from researchers at ZeroFOX, a security firm that helps companies block attacks coming through social media.
Zack Allen, manager of threat operations at ZeroFOX, said he had a look at some of the spammy, adult-themed domains being promoted by the botnet in my research and found they were all being promoted through a botnet of bogus Twitter accounts.
Those phony Twitter accounts all featured images of attractive or scantily-clad women, and all were being promoted via suggestive tweets, Allen said.
Anyone who replied was ultimately referred to subscription-based online dating sites run by Deniro Marketing, a company based in California. This was the same company that was found to be the beneficiary of spam from the porn botnet I’d written about in June. Deniro did not respond to requests for comment.
“We’ve been tracking this thing since February 2017, and we concluded that the social botnet controllers are probably not part of Deniro Marketing, but most likely are affiliates,” Allen said.
ZeroFOX found more than 86,262 Twitter accounts were responsible for more than 8.6 million posts on Twitter promoting porn-based sites, many of them promoting domains in a swath of Internet address space owned by Deniro Marketing (ASN19984).
Allen said 97.4% of bot display names had the pattern “Firstname Surname” with the first letters of each name capitalized, and each name separated by a single whitespace character that corresponded to common female names.
The accounts advertise adult content by routinely injecting links from their twitter profiles to a popular hashtag, or by @-mentioning a popular user or influencer on Twitter. Those profile links are shortened with Google’s goo.gl link shortening service, which then redirects to a free hosting domain in the dot-tk (.tk) domain space (.tk is the country code for Tokelau — a group of atolls in the South Pacific).
From there the system is smart enough to redirect users back to Twitter if they appear to be part of any automated attempt to crawl the links (e.g. by using site download and mirroring tools like cURL), the researchers found. They said this was likely a precaution on the part of the spammers to avoid detection by automated scanners looking for bot activity on Twitter. Requests from visitors who look like real users responding to tweets are redirected to the porn spam sites.
Because the links promoted by those spammy Twitter accounts all abused short link services from Twitter and Google, the researchers were able to see that this entire botnet has generated more than 30 million unique clicks from February to June 2017.
[SIDE NOTE: Anyone seeking more context about what’s being promoted here can check out the Web site datinggold[dot]com [Caution: Not-Safe-for-Work], which suggests it’s an affiliate program that rewards marketers who drive new signups to its array of “online dating” offerings — mostly “cheating,” “hookup” and “affair-themed” sites like “AdsforSex,” “Affair Hookups,” and “LocalCheaters.” Note that this program is only interested in male signups.]
Allen said the Twitter botnet relies heavily on accounts that have been “aged” for a period of time as another method to evade anti-spam techniques used by Twitter, which may treat tweets from new accounts with more prejudice than those from established accounts. ZeroFOX said about 20 percent of the Twitter accounts identified as part of the botnet were aged at least one year before sending their first tweet, and that the botnet overall demonstrates that these affiliate programs have remained lucrative by evolving to harness social media.
“The final redirect sites encourage the user to sign up for subscription pornography, webcam sites, or fake dating,” ZeroFOX wrote in a report being issued this week. “These types of sites, although legal, are known to be scams.”
Perhaps the most well-known example of the subscription-based dating/cheating service that turned out to be mostly phony was AshleyMadison. After AshleyMadison’s user databases were plundered and published online, the company admitted that its service used at least 70,000 female chatbots that were programmed to message new users and try to entice them into replying — which required a paid account.
“Many of the sites’ policies claim that the site owners operate most of the profiles,” ZeroFOX charged. “They also have overbearing policies that can use personally information of their customers to send to other affiliate programs, yielding more spam to the victim. Much like the infamous ‘partnerka’ networks from the Russian Business Network, money is paid out via clicks and signups on affiliate programs” [links added].
Although the Twitter botnet discovered by ZeroFOX has since been dismantled, it not hard to see how this same approach could be very effective at spreading malware. Keep your wits about you while using or cruising social media sites, and be wary of any posts or profiles that match the descriptions and behavior of the bot accounts described here.
For more on this research, see ZeroFOX’s blog post Inside a Massive Siren Social Network Spam Botnet.
A greater number of ATM skimming incidents now involve so-called “insert skimmers,” wafer-thin fraud devices made to fit snugly and invisibly inside a cash machine’s card acceptance slot. New evidence suggests that at least some of these insert skimmers — which record card data and store it on a tiny embedded flash drive — are equipped with technology allowing them to transmit stolen card data wirelessly via infrared, the same communications technology that powers a TV remote control.
Last month the Oklahoma City metropolitan area experienced rash of ATM attacks involving insert skimmers. The local KFOR news channel on June 28, 2017 ran a story stating that at least four banks in the area were hit with insert skimmers.
The story quoted a local police detective saying “the skimmer contains an antenna which transmits your card information to a tiny camera hidden somewhere outside the ATM.”
Financial industry sources tell KrebsOnSecurity that preliminary analysis of the insert skimmers used in the attacks suggests they were configured to transmit stolen card data wirelessly to the hidden camera using infrared, a short-range communications technology most commonly found in television remote controls.
Here’s a look at one of the insert skimmers that Oklahoma authorities recently seized from a compromised ATM:
In such an attack, the hidden camera has a dual function: To record time-stamped videos of ATM users entering their PINs; and to receive card data recorded and transmitted by the insert skimmer. In this scenario, the fraudster could leave the insert skimmer embedded in the ATM’s card acceptance slot, and merely swap out the hidden camera whenever its internal battery is expected to be depleted.
Of course, the insert skimmer also operates on an embedded battery, but according to my sources the skimmer in question was designed to turn on only when someone uses the cash machine, thereby preserving the battery.
Thieves involved in skimming attacks have hidden spy cameras in some pretty ingenious places, such as a brochure rack to the side of the cash machine or a safety mirror affixed above the cash machine (some ATMs legitimately place these mirrors so that customers will be alerted if someone is standing behind them at the machine).
More often than not, however, hidden cameras are placed behind tiny pinholes cut into false fascias that thieves install directly above or beside the PIN pad. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of a hidden camera used in the recent Oklahoma City insert skimming attacks.
Here’s a closer look at the insert skimmer found in Oklahoma:
A source at a financial institution in Oklahoma shared the following images of the individuals who are suspected of installing these insert skimming devices.
As this skimming attack illustrates, most skimmers rely on a hidden camera to record the victim’s PIN, so it’s a good idea to cover the pin pad with your hand, purse or wallet while you enter it.
Yes, there are skimming devices that rely on non-video methods to obtain the PIN (such as PIN pad overlays), but these devices are comparatively rare and quite a bit more expensive for fraudsters to build and/or buy.
So cover the PIN pad. It also protects you against some ne’er-do-well behind you at the ATM “shoulder surfing” you to learn your PIN (which would likely be followed by a whack on the head).
It’s an elegant and simple solution to a growing problem. But you’d be amazed at how many people fail to take this basic, hassle-free precaution.
If you’re as fascinated as I am with all these skimming devices, check out my series All About Skimmers.
It’s Patch Tuesday, again. That is, if you run Microsoft Windows or Adobe products. Microsoft issued a dozen patch bundles to fix at least 54 security flaws in Windows and associated software. Separately, Adobe’s got a new version of its Flash Player available that addresses at least three vulnerabilities.
The updates from Microsoft concern many of the usual program groups that seem to need monthly security fixes, including Windows, Internet Explorer, Edge, Office, .NET Framework and Exchange.
According to security firm Qualys, the Windows update that is most urgent for enterprises tackles a critical bug in the Windows Search Service that could be exploited remotely via the SMB file-sharing service built into both Windows workstations and servers.
Qualys says the issue affects Windows Server 2016, 2012, 2008 R2, 2008 as well as desktop systems like Windows 10, 7 and 8.1.
“While this vulnerability can leverage SMB as an attack vector, this is not a vulnerability in SMB itself, and is not related to the recent SMB vulnerabilities leveraged by EternalBlue, WannaCry, and Petya.” Qualys notes, referring to the recent rash of ransomware attacks which leveraged similar vulnerabilities.
Other critical fixes of note in this month’s release from Microsoft include at least three vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s built-in browser — Edge or Internet Explorer depending on your version of Windows. There are at least three serious flaws in these browsers that were publicly detailed prior to today’s release, suggesting that malicious hackers may have had some advance notice on figuring out how to exploit these weaknesses.
As it is accustomed to doing on Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday, Adobe released a new version of its Flash Player browser plugin that addresses a trio of flaws in that program.
The latest update brings Flash to v. 220.127.116.11 for Windows, Mac and Linux users alike. If you have Flash installed, you should update, hobble or remove Flash as soon as possible. To see which version of Flash your browser may have installed, check out this page.
The smartest option is probably to ditch the program once and for all and significantly increase the security of your system in the process. An extremely powerful and buggy program that binds itself to the browser, Flash is a favorite target of attackers and malware. For some ideas about how to hobble or do without Flash (as well as slightly less radical solutions) check out A Month Without Adobe Flash Player.
If you choose to keep Flash, please update it today. The most recent versions of Flash should be available from the Flash home page. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer may need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (Firefox, Opera, e.g.).
Chrome and IE should auto-install the latest Flash version on browser restart (users may need to manually check for updates in and/or restart the browser to get the latest Flash version). A green arrow in the upper right corner of my Chrome installation today gave me the prompt I needed to update my version to the latest.
Chrome users may need to restart the browser to install or automatically download the latest version. When in doubt, click the vertical three dot icon to the right of the URL bar, select “Help,” then “About Chrome”: If there is an update available, Chrome should install it then.
As always, if you experience any issues downloading or installing any of these updates, please leave a note about it in the comments below.
Avanti Markets, a company whose self-service payment kiosks sit beside shelves of snacks and drinks in thousands of corporate breakrooms across America, has suffered of breach of its internal networks in which hackers were able to push malicious software out to those payment devices, the company has acknowledged. The breach may have jeopardized customer credit card accounts as well as biometric data, Avanti warned.
According to Tukwila, Wash.-based Avanti’s marketing literature, some 1.6 million customers use the company’s break room self-checkout devices — which allow customers to pay for drinks, snacks and other food items with a credit card, fingerprint scan or cash.
Sometime in the last few hours, Avanti published a “notice of data breach” on its Web site.
“On July 4, 2017, we discovered a sophisticated malware attack which affected kiosks at some Avanti Markets. Based on our investigation thus far, and although we have not yet confirmed the root cause of the intrusion, it appears the attackers utilized the malware to gain unauthorized access to customer personal information from some kiosks. Because not all of our kiosks are configured or used the same way, personal information on some kiosks may have been adversely affected, while other kiosks may not have been affected.”
Avanti said it appears the malware was designed to gather certain payment card information including the cardholder’s first and last name, credit/debit card number and expiration date.
Breaches at point-of-sale vendors have become almost regular occurrences over the past few years, but this breach is especially notable as it may also have jeopardized customer biometric data. That’s because the newer Avanti kiosk systems allow users to pay using a scan of their fingerprint.
“In addition, users of the Market Card option may have had their names and email addresses compromised, as well as their biometric information if they used the kiosk’s biometric verification functionality,” the company warned.
On Thursday, KrebsOnSecurity learned from a source at a law firm that the food vending machine in its employee lunchroom was no longer able to accept credit cards. The source said his firm’s information technology personnel told him the credit card functionality had been temporarily disabled because of a breach at Avanti.
Another source told this author that Avanti’s corporate network had been breached, and that Avanti had made the decision to turn off all self-checkouts for now — although the source said customers could still use cash at the machines.
“I was told that about half of the self-checkouts do not have P2Pe,” the source said, on condition of anonymity. P2Pe is short for “point-to-point encryption,” and it’s a technological solution that encrypts sensitive data such as credit card information at every point in the card transaction. In theory, P2Pe should to be able to protect card data even if there is malicious software resident on the device or network in question.
Avanti said in its notice that it had shut down payment processing at some locations, and that the company was working with its operators to purge infected systems of any malware from the attack and to take steps to “substantially minimize the risk of a data compromise in the future.”THE MALWARE
On Friday evening, security firm Risk Analytics published a blog post that detailed an experience from a customer who shared a remarkably similar experience to the one referenced by the anonymous law firm source above.
Risk Analytics’s Noah Dunker wrote that the company’s technology on July 4 flagged suspicious behavior by a break room vending kiosk. Further inspection of the device and communications traffic emanating from it revealed it was infected with a family of point-of-sale malware known as PoSeidon (a.k.a. “FindPOS”) that siphons credit card data from point-of-sale devices.
“In our analysis of the incident, it seems most likely that the larger vendor was compromised, and some or all of the kiosks maintained by local vendors were impacted,” Dunker wrote. “We’ve been able to identify at least two smaller vendors with local operations that have been impacted in two different cities though we are not naming any impacted vendors yet, as we’ve been unable to contact them directly.”
KrebsOnSecurity reached out to Risk Analytics to see if the vendor of the snack machine used by the victim organization he wrote about also was Avanti. Dunker confirmed that the kiosk vendor that was the subject of his post was indeed Avanti.
Dunker noted that much like point-of-sale devices at many restaurant chains, these snack machines usually are installed and managed by third-party technology companies, adding another layer of complexity to the challenge of securing these devices from hackers.
Dunker said Risk Analytics first noticed something wasn’t right with its client’s break room snack machine after it began sending data out of the client’s network using an SSL encryption certificate that has long been associated with cybercrime activity — including ransomware activity dating back to 2015.
“This is a textbook example of an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) threat: A network-connected device, controlled and maintained by a third party, which cannot be easily patched, audited, or controlled by your own IT staff,” Dunker wrote.ANALYSIS
Credit card machines and point-of-sale devices are favorite targets of malicious hackers, mainly because the data stolen from those systems is very easy to monetize. However, the point-of-sale industry has a fairly atrocious record of building insecure products and trying to tack on security only after the products have already gone to market. Given this history, it’s remarkable that some of these same vendors are now encouraging customers to entrust them with biometric data.
Credit cards can be re-issued, but biometric identifiers are for life. Companies that choose to embed biometric capabilities in their products should be held to a far higher security standard than those used to protect card data.
For starters, any device that requests, stores or transmits biometric data should at a minimum ensure that the data remains strongly encrypted both at rest and in transit. Judging by Avanti’s warning that some customer biometric data may have been compromised in this breach, it seems this may not have been the case for at least a subset of their products.
I would like see some industry acknowledgement of this before we start to see more stand-alone payment applications entice users to supply biometric data, but I share Dunker’s fear that we may soon see biometric components added to a whole host of Internet-connected (IoT) devices that simply were not designed with security in mind.
Also, breaches like this illustrate why it’s critically important for organizations to segment their internal networks, and to keep payment systems completely isolated from the rest of the network. However, neither of the victim organizations referenced above appear to have taken this important precaution.
To illustrate this concept a bit further, it may well be that the criminal masterminds behind this attack could have made far more money had they used the remote access they apparently had to these Avanti devices to push ransomware out to Microsoft Windows computers residing on the same internal network as the payment kiosks.
B&B Theatres, a company that owns and operates the 7th-largest theater chain in America, says it is investigating a breach of its credit card systems. The acknowledgment comes just days after KrebsOnSecurity reached out to the company for comment on reports from financial industry sources who said they suspected the cinema chain has been leaking customer credit card data to cyber thieves for the past two years.
Headquartered in Gladstone, Missouri, B&B Theatres operates approximately 400 screens across 50 locations in seven states, including Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.
In a written statement forwarded by B&B spokesman Paul Farnsworth, the company said B&B Theatres was made aware of a potential breach by a local banking partner in one of its communities.
“Upon being notified we immediately engaged Trustwave, a third party security firm recommended to B&B by partners at major credit card brands, to work with our internal I.T. resources to contain the breach and mitigate any further potential penetration,” the statement reads. “While some malware was identified on B&B systems that dated back to 2015, the investigation completed by Trustwave did not conclude that customer data was at risk on all B&B systems for the entirety of the breach.”
The statement continued:
“Trustwave’s investigation has since shown the breach to be contained to the satisfaction of our processing partners as well as the major credit card brands. B&B Theatres values the security of our customer’s data and will continue to implement the latest available technologies to keep our networks & systems secure into the future.”
In June, sources at two separate U.S.-based financial institutions reached out to KrebsOnSecurity about alerts they’d received privately from the credit card associations regarding lists of card numbers that were thought to have been compromised in a recent breach.
The credit card companies generally do not tell financial institutions in these alerts which merchants got breached, leaving banks and credit unions to work backwards on their own from those lists of compromised cards back to a so-called “common point-of-purchase” (CPP).
In addition to lists of potentially compromised card numbers, the card associations usually include a “window of exposure” — their best estimate of how long the breach lasted. Two financial industry sources said initial reports from the credit card companies said the window of exposure at B&B Theatres was between Sept. 1, 2015 and April 7, 2017.
However, a more recent update to this advisory shared by my sources shows that the window of exposure is currently estimated between April 2015 and April 2017, meaning cyber thieves have likely been siphoning credit and debit card data from B&B Theatres customers for nearly two years undisturbed.
Malicious hackers can steal credit card data from organizations that accept cards by hacking into point-of-sale systems remotely and seeding those systems with malicious software that can copy account data stored on a card’s magnetic stripe. Thieves can then use that data to clone the cards and use the counterfeit cards to buy high-priced merchandise from electronics stores and big box retailers.
The statement from B&B Theatres made no mention of whether their credit card systems were set up to handle transactions from more secure chip-based credit and debit cards, which are far more difficult and expensive for thieves to counterfeit.
Under credit card association rules that went into effect in 2015, merchants that do not have the ability to process transactions from chip-based cards assume full liability for all fraudulent charges on purchases involving chip-enabled cards that were instead merely swiped through a regular mag-stripe reader at the point of purchase.
If there is a silver lining in this breach of a major silver screens operator, perhaps it is this: One source in the financial industry told this author that the breach at B&B persisted for so long that a decent percentage of the cards listed in the alerts his employer received from the credit card companies had been listed as compromised in other major breaches and so had already been canceled and re-issued.
In February 2017, authorities in the United Kingdom arrested a 29-year-old U.K. man on suspicion of knocking more than 900,000 Germans offline in an attack tied to Mirai, a malware strain that enslaves Internet of Things (IoT) devices like security cameras and Internet routers for use in large-scale cyberattacks. Investigators haven’t yet released the man’s name, but news reports suggest he may be better known by the hacker handle “Bestbuy.” This post will follow a trail of clues back to one likely real-life identity of Bestbuy.
At the end of November 2016, a modified version of Mirai began spreading across the networks of German ISP Deutsche Telekom. This version of the Mirai worm spread so quickly that the very act of scanning for new infectable hosts overwhelmed the devices doing the scanning, causing outages for more than 900,000 customers. The same botnet had previously been tied to attacks on U.K. broadband providers Post Office and Talk Talk.
Security firm Tripwire published a writeup on that failed Mirai attack, noting that the domain names tied to servers used to coordinate the activities of the botnet were registered variously to a “Peter Parker” and “Spider man,” and to a street address in Israel (27 Hofit St). We’ll come back to Spider Man in a moment.
According to multiple security firms, the Mirai botnet responsible for the Deutsche Telekom outage was controlled via servers at the Internet address 18.104.22.168. Farsight Security, a company that maps which domain names are tied to which Internet addresses over time, reports that this address has hosted just nine domains.
The only one of those domains that is not related to Mirai is dyndn-web[dot]com, which according to a 2015 report from BlueCoat (now Symantec) was a domain tied to the use and sale of a keystroke logging remote access trojan (RAT) called “GovRAT.” The trojan is documented to have been used in numerous cyber espionage campaigns against governments, financial institutions, defense contractors and more than 100 corporations.
Another report on GovRAT — this one from security firm InfoArmor — shows that the GovRAT malware was sold on Dark Web cybercrime forums by a hacker or hackers who went by the nicknames BestBuy and “Popopret” (some experts believe these were just two different identities managed by the same cybercriminal).
GovRAT has been for sale on various other malware and exploit-related sites since at least 2014. On oday[dot]today, for example, GovRAT was sold by a user who picked the nickname Spdr, and who used the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recall that the domains used to control the Mirai botnet that hit Deutsche Telekom all had some form of Spider Man in the domain registration records. Also, recall that the controller used to manage the GovRAT trojan and that Mirai botnet were both at one time hosted on the same server with just a handful of other (Mirai-related) domains.
According to a separate report (PDF) from InfoArmor, GovRAT also was sold alongside a service that allows anyone to digitally sign their malware using code-signing certificates stolen from legitimate companies. InfoArmor said the digital signature it found related to the service was issued to an open source developer Singh Aditya, using the email address email@example.com.
Interestingly, both of these email addresses — firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com — were connected to similarly-named user accounts at vDOS, for years the largest DDoS-for-hire service (that is, until KrebsOnSecurity last fall outed its proprietors as two 18-year-old Israeli men).
Last summer vDOS got massively hacked, and a copy of its user and payments databases was shared with this author and with U.S. federal law enforcement agencies. The leaked database shows that both of those email addresses are tied to accounts on vDOS named “bestbuy” (bestbuy and bestbuy2).
The leaked vDOS database also contained detailed records of the Internet addresses that vDOS customers used to log in to the attack-for-hire service. Those logs show that the bestbuy and bestbuy2 accounts logged in repeatedly from several different IP addresses in the United Kingdom and in Hong Kong.
The technical support logs from vDOS indicate that the reason the vDOS database shows two different accounts named “bestbuy” is the vDOS administrators banned the original “bestbuy” account after it was seen logged into the account from both the UK and Hong Kong. Bestbuy’s pleas to the vDOS administrators that he was not sharing the account and that the odd activity could be explained by his recent trip to Hong Kong did not move them to refund his money or reactivate his original account.
A number of clues in the data above suggest that the person responsible for both this Mirai botnet and GovRAT had ties to Israel. For one thing, the email address firstname.lastname@example.org was used to register at least three domain names, all of which are tied back to a large family in Israel. What’s more, in several dark web postings, Bestbuy can be seen asking if anyone has any “weed for sale in Israel,” noting that he doesn’t want to risk receiving drugs in the mail.
The domains tied to email@example.com led down a very deep rabbit hole that ultimately went nowhere useful for this investigation. But it appears the nickname “spdr01” and email firstname.lastname@example.org was used as early as 2008 by a core member of the Israeli hacking forum and IRC chat room Binaryvision.co.il.
Visiting the Binaryvision archives page for this user, we can see Spdr was a highly technical user who contributed several articles on cybersecurity vulnerabilities and on mobile network security (Google Chrome or Google Translate deftly translates these articles from Hebrew to English).
I got in touch with multiple current members of Binaryvision and asked if anyone still kept in contact with Spdr from the old days. One of the members said he thought Spdr held dual Israeli and U.K. citizenship, that he would be approximately 30 years old at the moment. Another said Spdr was engaged to be married recently. None of those who shared what they recalled about Spdr wished to be identified for this story.
But a bit of searching on those users’ social networking accounts showed they had a friend in common that fit the above description. The Facebook profile for one Daniel Kaye using the Facebook alias “DanielKaye.il” (.il is the top level country code domain for Israel) shows that Mr. Kaye is now 29 years old and is or was engaged to be married to a young woman named Catherine in the United Kingdom.
The background image on Kaye’s Facebook profile is a picture of Hong Kong, and Kaye’s last action on Facebook was apparently to review a sports and recreation facility in Hong Kong.
Using Domaintools.com [full disclosure: Domaintools is an advertiser on this blog], I ran a “reverse WHOIS” search on the name “Daniel Kaye,” and it came back with exactly 103 current and historic domain names with this name in their records. One of them in particular caught my eye: Cathyjewels[dot]com, which appears to be tied to a homemade jewelry store located in the U.K. that never got off the ground.
Cathyjewels[dot]com was registered in 2014 to a Daniel Kaye in Egham, U.K., using the email address email@example.com. I decided to run this email address through Socialnet, a plugin for the data analysis tool Maltego that scours dozens of social networking sites for user-defined terms. Socialnet reports that this email address is tied to an account at Gravatar — a service that lets users keep the same avatar at multiple Web sites. The name on that account? You guessed it: Spdr01.
Daniel Kaye did not return multiple requests for comment sent via Facebook and the various email addresses mentioned here.
In case anyone wants to follow up on this research, I highlighted the major links between the data points mentioned in this post in the following mind map (created with the excellent and indispensable MindNode Pro for Mac).
Regulators at the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are asking for public comment on the effectiveness of the CAN-SPAM Act, a 14-year-old federal law that seeks to crack down on unsolicited commercial email. Judging from an unscientific survey by this author, the FTC is bound to get an earful.
Signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2003, the “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act” was passed in response to a rapid increase in junk email marketing.
The law makes it a misdemeanor to spoof the information in the “from:” field of any marketing message, and prohibits the sending of sexually-oriented spam without labeling it “sexually explicit.” The law also requires spammers to offer recipients a way to opt-out of receiving further messages, and to process unsubscribe requests within 10 business days.
The “CAN” in CAN-SPAM was a play on the verb “to can,” as in “to put an end to,” or “to throw away,” but critics of the law often refer to it as the YOU-CAN-SPAM Act, charging that it essentially legalized spamming. That’s partly because the law does not require spammers to get permission before they send junk email. But also because the act prevents states from enacting stronger anti-spam protections, and it bars individuals from suing spammers except under laws not specific to email.
Those same critics often argue that the law is rarely enforced, although a search on the FTC’s site for CAN-SPAM press releases produces quite a few civil suits brought by the commission against marketers over the years. Nevertheless, any law affecting Internet commerce is bound to need a few tweaks over the years, and CAN-SPAM has been showing its age for some time now.
Ron Guilmette, an anti-spam activists whose work has been profiled extensively on this blog, didn’t sugar-coat it, calling CAN-SPAM “a travesty that was foisted upon the American people by a small handful of powerful companies, most notably AOL and Microsoft, and by their obedient lackeys in Congress.”
According to Guilmette, the Act was deliberately fashioned so as to nullify California’s more restrictive anti-spam law, and it made it impossible for individual victims of spam to sue spam senders. Rather, he said, that right was reserved only for the same big companies that lobbied heavily for the passage of the CAN-SPAM Act.
“The entire Act should be thrown out and replaced,” Guilmette said. “It hasn’t worked to control spam, and it has in fact only served to make the problem worse.”
In the fix-it-don’t-junk-it camp is Joe Jerome, policy counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit digital rights advocacy group. Jerome allowed that CAN-SPAM is far from perfect, but he said it has helped to set some ground rules.
“In her announcement on this effort, Acting Chairman Ohlhausen hinted that regulations can be excessive, outdated, or unnecessary,” Jerome said. “Nothing can be further from the case with respect to spam. CAN-SPAM was largely ineffective in stopping absolutely bad, malicious spammers, but it’s been incredibly important in creating a baseline for commercial email senders. Advertising transparency and easy opt-outs should not be viewed as a burden on companies, and I’d worry that weakening CAN-SPAM would set us back. If anything, we need stronger standards around opt-outs and quicker turn-around time, not less.”
Dan Balsam, an American lawyer who’s made a living suing spammers, has argued that CAN-SPAM is nowhere near as tough as it needs to be on junk emailers. Balsam argues that spammy marketers win as long as the federal law leaves enforcement up to state attorneys general, the FTC and Internet service providers.
“I would tell the FTC that it’s a travesty that Congress purports to usurp the states’ traditional authority to regulate advertising,” Balsam said via email. “I would tell the FTC that it’s ridiculous that the CAN-SPAM Act allows spam unless/until the person opts out, unlike e.g. Canada’s law. And I would tell the FTC that the CAN-SPAM Act isn’t working because there’s still obviously a spam problem.”
Cisco estimates that 65 percent of all email sent today is spam. That’s down only slightly from 2004 when CAN-SPAM took effect. At the time, Postini Inc. — an email filtering company later bought by Google — estimated that 70 percent of all email was spam.
Those figures may be misleading because a great deal of spam today is simply malicious email. Nobody harbored any illusions that CAN-SPAM could do much to stop the millions of phishing scams, malware and booby-trapped links being blasted out each day by cyber criminals. This type of spam is normally relayed via hacked servers and computers without the knowledge of their legitimate owners. Also, while the world’s major ISPs have done a pretty good job blocking most pornography spam, it’s still being blasted out en masse from some of the same criminals who are pumping malware spam.
Making life more miserable and expensive for malware spammers and phishers has been major focus of my work, both here at KrebsOnSecurity and in my book, Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime. Stay tuned later this week for the results of a lengthy investigation into a spam gang that has stolen millions of Internet addresses to play their trade (a story, by the way, that features prominently the work of the above-quoted anti-spammer Ron Guilmette).
What do you think about the CAN-SPAM law? Sound off in the comments below, and consider leaving a copy of your thoughts at the FTC’s CAN-SPAM comments page.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of the automated teller machine — better known to most people as the ATM or cash machine. Thanks to the myriad methods thieves have devised to fleece unsuspecting cash machine users over the years, there are now more ways than ever to get ripped off at the ATM. Think you’re good at spotting the various scams? A newly released ATM fraud inspection guide may help you test your knowledge.
The first cash machine opened for business on June 27, 1967 at a Barclays bank branch in Enfield, north London, but ATM transactions back then didn’t remotely resemble the way ATMs work today.
The cash machines of 1967 relied not on plastic cards but instead on paper checks that the bank would send to customers in the mail. Customers would take those checks — which had little punched-card holes printed across the surface — and feed them into the ATM, which would then validate the checks and dispense a small amount of cash.
This week, Barclay’s turned the ATM at the same location into a gold color to mark its golden anniversary, dressing the machine with velvet ropes and a red carpet leading up to the machine’s PIN pad.
Chances are, the users of that gold ATM have little to worry about from skimmer scammers. But the rest of us practically need a skimming-specific dictionary to keep up with today’s increasingly ingenious thieves.
These days there are an estimated three million ATMs around the globe, and a seemingly endless stream of innovative criminal skimming devices has introduced us over the years to a range of terms specific to cash machine scams like wiretapping, eavesdropping, card-trapping, cash-trapping, false fascias, shimming, black box attacks, bladder bombs (pump skimmers), gas attacks, and deep insert skimmers.
Think you’ve got what it takes to spot the telltale signs of a skimmer? Then have a look at the ATM Fraud Inspection Guide (PDF) from cash machine giant NCR Corp., which briefly touches on the most common forms of ATM skimming and their telltale signs.
For example, below are a few snippets from that guide showing different cash trapping devices made to siphon bills being dispensed from the ATM.
As sophisticated as many modern ATM skimmers may be, most of them can still be foiled by ATM customers simply covering the PIN pad with their hands while entering their PIN (the rare exceptions here involve expensive, complex fraud devices called “PIN pad overlays”).
The proliferation of skimming devices can make a trip to any ATM seem like a stressful experience, but keep in mind that skimmers aren’t the only thing that can go wrong at an ATM. It’s a good idea to visit only ATMs that are in well-lit and public areas, and to be aware of your surroundings as you approach the cash machine. If you visit a cash machine that looks strange, tampered with, or out of place, then try to find another ATM.
You are far more likely to encounter ATM skimmers over the weekend when the bank is closed (skimmer thieves especially favor long holiday weekends when the banks are closed on Monday). Also, if you have the choice between a stand-alone, free-standing ATM and one that is installed at a fixed location (particularly a bank) opt for the fixed-location machine, which is typically more secure against physical tampering.
A new strain of ransomware dubbed “Petya” is worming its way around the world with alarming speed. The malware is spreading using a vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that the software giant patched in March 2017 — the same bug that was exploited by the recent and prolific WannaCry ransomware strain.
According to multiple news reports, Ukraine appears to be among the hardest hit by Petya. The country’s government, national bank and largest power companies all warned today that they were dealing with fallout from Petya infections.
Danish transport and energy firm Maersk said in a statement on its Web site that “We can confirm that Maersk IT systems are down across multiple sites and business units due to a cyber attack.” In addition, Russian energy giant Rosneft said on Twitter that it was facing a “powerful hacker attack.” However, neither company referenced ransomware or Petya.
Security firm Symantec confirmed that Petya uses the “Eternal Blue” exploit, a digital weapon that was believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency and in April 2017 leaked online by a hacker group calling itself the Shadow Brokers.
Microsoft released a patch for the Eternal Blue exploit in March (MS17-010), but many businesses put off installing the fix. Many of those that procrastinated were hit with the WannaCry ransomware attacks in May. U.S. intelligence agencies assess with medium confidence that WannaCry was the work of North Korean hackers.
Organizations and individuals who have not yet applied the Windows update for the Eternal Blue exploit should patch now. However, there are indications that Petya may have other tricks up its sleeve to spread inside of large networks.
Russian security firm Group-IB reports that Petya bundles a tool called “LSADump,” which can gather passwords and credential data from Windows computers and domain controllers on the network.
Petya seems to be primarily impacting organizations in Europe, however the malware is starting to show up in the United States. Legal Week reports that global law firm DLA Piper has experienced issues with its systems in the U.S. as a result of the outbreak.
Ransomware encrypts important documents and files on infected computers and then demands a ransom (usually in Bitcoin) for a digital key needed to unlock the files. With most ransomware strains, victims who do not have recent backups of their files are faced with a decision to either pay the ransom or kiss their files goodbye.
Ransomware attacks like Petya have become such a common pestilence that many companies are now reportedly stockpiling Bitcoin in case they need to quickly unlock files that are being held hostage by ransomware.
Security experts warn that Petya and other ransomware strains will continue to proliferate as long as companies delay patching and fail to develop a robust response plan for dealing with ransomware infestations.
According to ISACA, a nonprofit that advocates for professionals involved in information security, assurance, risk management and governance, 62 percent of organizations surveyed recently reported experiencing ransomware in 2016, but only 53 percent said they had a formal process in place to address it.
Several times a week my cell phone receives the telephonic equivalent of spam: A robocall. On each occasion the call seems to come from a local number, but when I answer there is that telltale pause followed by an automated voice pitching some product or service. So when I heard from a reader who chose to hang on the line and see where one of these robocalls led him, I decided to dig deeper. This is the story of that investigation. Hopefully, it will inspire readers to do their own digging and help bury this annoying and intrusive practice.
The reader — Cedric (he asked to keep his last name out of this story) had grown increasingly aggravated with the calls as well, until one day he opted to play along by telling a white lie to the automated voice response system that called him: Yes, he said, yes he definitely was interested in credit repair services.
“I lied about my name and played like I needed credit repair to buy a home,” Cedric said. “I eventually wound up speaking with a representative at creditfix.com.”
The number that called Cedric — 314-754-0123 — was not in service when Cedric tried it back, suggesting it had been spoofed to make it look like it was coming from his local area. However, pivoting off of creditfix.com opened up some useful avenues of investigation.
Creditfix is hosted on a server at the Internet address 22.214.171.124. According to records maintained by Farsight Security — a company that tracks which Internet addresses correspond to which domain names — that server hosts or recently hosted dozens of other Web sites (the full list is here).
Most of these domains appear tied to various credit repair services owned or run by a guy named Michael LaSalla and registered to a mail drop in Las Vegas. Looking closer at who owns the 126.96.36.199 address, we find it is registered to System Admin, LLC, a Florida company that lists LaSalla as a manager, according to a lookup at the Florida Secretary of State’s office.
An Internet search for the company’s address turns up a filing by System Admin LLC with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That filing shows that the CEO of System Admin is Martin Toha, an entrepreneur probably best known for founding voip.com, a voice-over-IP (VOIP) service that allows customers to make telephone calls over the Internet.
Emails to the contact address at Creditfix.com elicited a response from a Sean in Creditfix’s compliance department. Sean told KrebsOnSecurity that mine was the second complaint his company had received about robocalls. Sean said he was convinced that his employer was scammed by a lead generation company that is using robocalls to quickly and illegally gin up referrals, which generate commissions for the lead generation firm.
Creditfix said the robocall leads it received appear to have been referred by Little Brook Media, a marketing firm in New York City. Little Brook Media did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Robocalls are permitted for political candidates, but beyond that if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), companies are using auto-dialers to send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost.
“The companies that use this technology don’t bother to screen for numbers on the national Do Not Call Registry,” the FTC notes in an advisory on its site. “If a company doesn’t care about obeying the law, you can be sure they’re trying to scam you.”
Mr. Toha confirmed that Creditfix was one of his clients, but said none of his clients want leads from robocalls for that very reason. Toha said the problem is that many companies buy marketing leads but don’t always know where those leads come from or how they are procured.
“A lot of times clients don’t know the companies that the ad agency or marketing agency works with,” Toha said. “You submit yourself as a publisher to a network of publishers, and what they do is provide calls to marketers.”
Robby Birnbaum is a debt relief attorney in Florida and president of the National Association of Credit Services Organizations. Birnbaum said no company wants to buy leads from robocalls, and that marketers who fabricate leads this way are not in business for long.
But he said those that end up buying leads from robocall marketers are often smaller mom-and-pop debt relief shops, and that these companies soon find themselves being sued by what Birnbaum called “frequent filers,” lawyers who make a living suing companies for violating laws against robocalls.
“It’s been a problem in this industry for a while, but robocalls affect every single business that wants to reach consumers,” Birnbaum said. He noted that the best practice is for companies to require lead generators to append to each customer file information about how and from where the lead was generated.
“A lot of these lead companies will not provide that, and when my clients insist on it, those companies have plenty of other customers who will buy those leads,” Birnbaum said. “The phone companies can block many of these robocalls, but they don’t.”
That may be about to change. The FCC recently approved new rules that would let phone companies block robocallers from using numbers they aren’t supposed to be using.
“If a robocaller decides to spoof another phone number — making it appear that they’re calling from a different line to hide their identity — phone providers would be able to block them if they use a number that clearly can’t exist because it hasn’t been assigned or that an existing subscriber has asked not to have spoofed,” reads a story at The Verge.
The FCC estimates that there are more than 2.4 billion robocalls made every month, or roughly seven calls per person per month. The FTC received nearly 3.5 million robocall complaints in fiscal year 2016, an increase of 60 from the year prior.
The newest trend in robocalls is the “ringless voicemail,” in which the marketing pitch lands directly in your voicemail inbox without ringing the phone. The FCC also is considering new rules to prohibit ringless voicemails.
Readers may be able to avoid some marketing calls by registering their mobile number with the Do Not Call registry, but the list appears to do little to deter robocallers. If and when you do receive robocalls, consider reporting them to the FTC.
Some wireless providers now offer additional services and features to help block automated calls. For example, AT&T offers wireless customers its free Call Protect app, which screens incoming calls and flags those that are likely spam calls. See the FCC’s robocall resource page for links to resources at your mobile provider.
Online extortion, tech support scams and phishing attacks that spoof the boss were among the most costly cyber scams reported by consumers and businesses last year, according to new figures from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
The IC3 report released Thursday correctly identifies some of the most prevalent and insidious forms of cybercrimes today, but the total financial losses tied to each crime type also underscore how infrequently victims actually report such crimes to law enforcement.
For example, the IC3 said it received 17,146 extortion-related complaints, with an adjusted financial loss totaling just over $15 million. In that category, the report identified 2,673 complaints identified as ransomware — malicious software that scrambles a victim’s most important files and holds them hostage unless and until the victim pays a ransom (usually in a virtual currency like Bitcoin).
According to the IC3, the losses associated with those ransomware complaints totaled slightly more than $2.4 million. Writing for BleepingComputer.com — a tech support forum I’ve long recommended that helps countless ransomware victims — Catalin Cimpanu observes that the FBI’s ransomware numbers “are ridiculously small compared to what happens in the real world, where ransomware is one of today’s most prevalent cyber-threats.”
“The only explanation is that people are paying ransoms, restoring from backups, or reinstalling PCs without filing a complaint with authorities,” Cimpanu writes.
It’s difficult to know how what percentage of ransomware victims paid the ransom or were able to restore from backups, but one thing is for sure: Relatively few victims are reporting cyber fraud to federal investigators.
The report notes that only an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s fraud victims report their crimes to law enforcement. For 2016, 298,728 complaints were received, with a total victim loss of $1.33 billion.
If that 15 percent estimate is close to accurate, that means the real cost of cyber fraud for Americans last year was probably closer to $9 billion, and the losses from ransomware attacks upwards of $16 million.
The IC3 reports that last year it received slightly more than 12,000 complaints about CEO fraud attacks — e-mail scams in which the attacker spoofs the boss and tricks an employee at the organization into wiring funds to the fraudster. The fraud-fighting agency said losses from CEO fraud (also known as the “business email compromise” or BEC scam) totaled more than $360 million.
Applying that same 15 percent rule, that brings the likely actual losses from CEO fraud schemes to around $2.4 billion last year.
Some 10,850 businesses and consumers reported being targeted by tech support scams last year, with the total reported loss at around $7.8 million. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the IC3 report observed that victims in older age groups reported the highest losses.
Many other, more established types of Internet crimes — such as romance scams and advanced fee fraud — earned top rankings in the report. Check out the full report here (PDF). The FBI urges all victims of computer crimes to report the incidents at IC3.gov. The IC3 unit is part of the FBI’s Cyber Operations Section, and it uses the reports to compile and refer cases for investigation and prosecution.