Category Archives: Internet crime

Ransomware update

A typical ransomware alert screen. Not something you ever want to see on your computer.

The scourge of ransomware shows no signs of slowing down. A single careless click on a link in an email is all that’s necessary for one of the many varieties of ransomware to install itself and quietly start encrypting data files on your computer, and on any others it can reach. Warning screens like the one above announce the dreadful news: your files are now effectively garbage. Pay the ransom or you’ll never see those files (intact) again.

Reports of ransomware hitting schools and hospitals are depressingly common. There’s evidence that attacks on sensitive targets like hospitals are intentional. Ransomware is now being installed by trojan malware that previously only stole your banking information. Newer televisions and other ‘smart’ devices that are connected to the Internet are being hit with ransomware that limits their functionality. Phony ICANN blacklist removal email is being used to trick people into installing ransomware.

If you’re wondering just how deep this ugliness goes, consider this: at least one strain of ransomware offers to decrypt your files for free if you pass the malware along to at least two other computers.

Assuming you’ve managed to avoid this nightmare, you’re either using strong anti-malware software, or you’ve trained yourself not to indiscriminately click links on the web and in email (hopefully both). Otherwise, you’re probably just lucky. So far, my only encounter with ransomware was a partial infestation of a client PC; the malware was prevented from doing any real damage by antivirus software (Trend Micro’s Worry-Free Business Security for anyone wondering).

Okay, so what’s the good news? Companies like No More Ransom offer services that can (sometimes) reverse the damage caused by ransomware. Of course, the success of this kind of service depends on the type of ransomware; some strains are easier to work around than others. But at least there’s hope for those ransomed files.

Brian Krebs investigation reveals author of Mirai worm

The Mirai worm has compromised thousands of IoT devices that were subsequently used in several recent, massive DDoS attacks, including one against the web site of Brian Krebs, well-known security researcher and blogger.

In an appropriately-lengthy post, Krebs describes the process by which he tracked down the identity of the author of the Mirai worm. It’s a fascinating read.

Krebs has published the results of similar investigations in the past, which is why he’s become a target for DDoS attacks, Swatting, and other despicable acts. It remains to be seen whether he will be the target of any new attacks in the wake of his Mirai investigation.

I applaud Krebs’ persistence and dedication in the face of these attacks. Here’s hoping he keeps fighting the good fight, for the benefit of Internet users everywhere.

BEWARE this nasty, effective, GMail-based phishing attack

By now you should be aware that indiscriminately clicking on anything in an email can be dangerous. Even if you know the sender, and the email looks totally mundane, you’re taking a risk any time you do it.

Recently, a particular kind of phishing email is showing up in inboxes everywhere. These emails look completely ordinary at first glance, and they contain what appears to be an attachment.

When you click the ‘attachment’ to open it, your browser is directed to a phony Google login screen. This in itself may not raise any alarms, since Google — in an effort to improve security — often throws extra login screens at us.

Unfortunately, if you fill in your Google username/email and password, that information goes straight to the perpetrators. Almost immediately after that, your password will be changed and you will have lost control of your Google account. If you’re like most people, you use your Google account for numerous Google sites and services, including Google Drive, Analytics, AdWords, and so on. The potential for damage is extreme.

The goods news is that you can avoid being victimized by this attack by doing something you should already be doing: before you click anything in an email, hover your mouse over the link or ‘attachment’. Most useful web browsers and email applications will show you some information about the item, either in a popup or in the status area at the bottom of the app. What you see should provide all the clues you need. If it’s an attachment, it should show you the file name. If it’s a URL, it should show you an ordinary web address that starts with ‘http://’ or ‘https://’.

Hovering over the fake attachment in these phishing emails shows what looks sort of  like a URL, but starts with ‘data:text/html’. No valid URL will ever look like that.

This blogger wasn’t careful. He clicked the ‘attachment’, then entered his Google username and password on the fake login page. Luckily for him, the ‘login’ failed, which alerted him to the situation. He immediately changed his Google password, and appears to have dodged that bullet.

The Wordfence blog has additional details.

DDoS attacks on Dyn caused outages and slowdowns

If you use Twitter, reddit, Amazon, Tumblr, Spotify or Netflix, you may have noticed that they were slower than usual for parts of yesterday. That’s because the affected sites and services use Dyn, a DNS service provider, and Dyn was hit by two huge DDoS attacks yesterday.

The attacks lasted for a few hours, and while they certainly affected a lot of people, they were no more than an inconvenience for most. Still, the surge in the number and size of these attacks is troubling.

Analysis of the attacks shows that they were made possible by the Mirai botnet, which uses a huge network of poorly-secured (and now compromised) DVRs and security cameras. Those are the same tools used in the recent and OVH DDoS attacks. The source code for Mirai was released to the public recently, which means just about anyone could have caused the Dyn attacks.

Brian Krebs has more.

Update 2016Oct24: Dyn has released a statement about the attack on their systems, in which they clarify the timeline, and confirm that the Mirai botnet was involved. Meanwhile, security expert Bruce Schneier doesn’t believe that the recent attacks were perpetrated by a state actor such as China. He also doesn’t think they were related to the probing attacks he reported earlier. But he is concerned that the attacks will continue to grow in size and frequency, because nobody involved is motivated to fix the problem.

Chinese device maker Hangzhou Xiongmai has issued a recall for several of its webcam models that were used in the attacks. However, they are only one company out of hundreds (maybe thousands?) of companies producing poorly-secured IoT devices.

Update 2016Oct25: According to Brian Krebs, Xiongmai has also made vague legal threats against anyone issuing ‘false statements’ about the company. This is presumably part of a PR effort to improve the company’s image in the wake of the attacks, but it’s hard to see how this will help anyone. The company’s main objections apparently relate to statements by Brian Krebs and others about users’ ability to change passwords. Testing has shown that back-door, unchangeable passwords exist on some of the affected devices.

Infosec highlights – October 5, 2016

Cryptocurrency-mining malware known as Mal/Miner-C is targeting specific Seagate Central Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices. The malware locates the devices when they’re exposed to the Internet and installs a special file in a public folder. Unwary users try to open the file, which installs the malware on their Windows computer. Once installed, the malware uses available resources to mine the Monero cryptocurrency. There are about 7000 of these devices globally.

It’s standard practice to tell users to lock their computers when they walk away from their desks. A locked computer presents an obstacle to anyone with physical access who’s interested in poking around or stealing data. But in reality, once someone has physical access to a computer, there are ways to gain full access, even when that computer is locked. Now there’s a new technique that simplifies this task. A specially set up thumb drive is inserted in the target computer (Mac or PC), and 20 seconds later, the intruder has valid login credentials in their hands.

Two Factor Authentication (2FA or MFA) is an increasingly-common way to bolster your security when using Internet-based services and web sites. It adds a second step to the login process, which usually involves entering a special code. Many sites and services that offer 2FA send codes to your registered cell phone via SMS text messages. Unfortunately, that specific method (codes via SMS) can be co-opted by attackers who already have your password (which is increasingly likely with all the recent breaches). If you’re using SMS text for 2FA, you should look into more secure methods. Google Authenticator generates temporary, time-limited codes using an app on your smartphone. Duo Security has an app that receives special ‘push’ messages from the site you’re trying to access, and all you have to do is click a button on your cell phone to get in.

Bruce Schneier wants everyone to stop blaming the user for security problems and create systems that are more inherently secure. As things are today, the user gets most of the blame when something goes wrong. Clearly, using weak passwords, re-using passwords, and generally being vulnerable to phishing and other manipulation point to the user as the weak link. But Schneier thinks pointing at the user isn’t helpful, especially when that link is unlikely to ever change. Instead, he wants to limit the involvement of the user; to create fewer security pitfalls. He points to current efforts along those lines, including automatic security updates, and virtualization. Which are both great ideas, as long as us techie folks have a way to bypass those things.

Confirmed: record-breaking DDoS attacks using IoT devices

Another week, another huge DDoS attack, this time against French web hosting provider OVH.

Analysis by security experts has now confirmed that these attacks used a huge network of compromised devices, mostly security cameras and Digital Video Recorders (DVRs). These devices are typically vulnerable out of the box, and unless they are configured properly, they remain vulnerable. Most of the devices in question run a version of BusyBox Linux.

Brian Krebs posted a list of manufacturers that produce hardware known to be affected, based on his research. But his list is only a starting point, and much more work is needed.

Adding to this nightmare is the news that the source code for Mirai, the botnet used for the recent, massive attacks, has been released to the public. We can (and should) expect more attacks in the coming weeks and months.

What can be done to stop this? The best solution would be to complete the work of identifying vulnerable hardware (make and model), and contact the owners of all affected devices with instructions for securing those devices. In practical terms, the first part is relatively straightforward work. The second part is problematic. Who is responsible if a device is being co-opted in DDoS attacks? The user? The service provider? The manufacturer? Many owners of these devices have no idea they are being used like this.

Eventually, the current crop of IoT devices being used in these attacks will be secured. But more new ‘smart’ devices are being manufactured and connected to the Internet every day. Until manufacturers stop shipping unsecure-by-default devices, we’re going to keep seeing these huge attacks.

Brian Krebs site dumped by Akamai due to massive DDoS attack

In what can only be viewed as a victory for the attackers, content delivery provider Akamai has dropped Brian Krebs’ web site in the midst of a record-breaking DDoS attack against the site.

Krebs and his site have been the target of DDoS, SWATting, and other attacks in the past, in response to his reporting on various illegal activities – and the people behind them. But this most recent attack, which began on Tuesday, is the largest in history.

Akamai provides services that limit the effectiveness of DDoS attacks. According to Krebs, Akamai was providing their services for at no charge. He doesn’t fault Akamai for dropping his site, but their doing so raises some interesting possibilities.

The most likely explanation is that Akamai could no longer justify providing their services to Krebs for free; dealing with such a large attack would have involved a lot of time and effort. Akamai may have offered to keep supporting, but at their normal price. Those prices are typically only paid by large corporate clients, and Krebs probably just can’t afford them.

As a result of all this, is offline, and likely to stay that way until the attackers lose interest. Once the attacks subside, I’m sure the site will return.

Although Krebs doesn’t blame Akamai for dropping him, it’s hard to see how Akamai can come out of this without their reputation being harmed. There will always be questions about exactly what happened. Was Akamai actually overwhelmed? I’m sure Akamai’s competitors will be looking at picking Krebs up as a client.

And finally, this is a clear win for the attackers. They now know that they can take down even high profile web sites, although perhaps not those owned by companies with very deep pockets.

Ars Technica has more, including speculation that the attacks involved hacked ‘Internet of Things’ devices.

Updates 2016Sep25: is back up, thanks to Project Shield, a free program run by Google to help protect journalists from online censorship. It will be interesting to see how well this service protects Krebs’ web site from inevitable, future attacks. And how will Akamai spin this?

Meanwhile, Krebs also thinks that poorly-secured ‘Internet of Things’ devices made the record-breaking size of this attack possible. And despite the site only being down for a few days, he feels that this kind of attack is a new form of censorship, referring to the effect as ‘The Democratization of Censorship‘.

Someone out there is testing the Internet’s breaking point

Security analyst Bruce Schneier reports on the recent increase in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against critical Internet infrastructure. He’s unable to go into details about exactly which companies and resources are involved, but the attacks are real. Someone is engaged in a series of DDoS probes that are clearly meant to test the Internet’s ability to cope with extreme stress.

Most DDoS attacks are perpetrated by angry hackers against web sites they don’t like, or simply to demonstrate their skills. Underground DDoS attack services are available for those not possessing the requisite skills. But the attacks Schneier is talking about stand out: they’re much more calculated and methodical than usual.

Assuming that Schneier is correct, and someone is gathering information about the Internet’s potential breaking point, one can only wonder what they have in mind. If the perpetrators are – as Schneier suggests – a state actor like China, the possibilities are the stuff of nightmares.

Recent Infosec highlights

It sometimes feels like news in the world of information security (infosec) is a never-ending tsunami. With the almost-daily reports of breaches, malware, phishing, vulnerabilities, exploits, zero-days, ransomware, and the Internet of Things (IoT), it can be difficult to identify stories that are likely to be of interest to typical computer users.

Stories about infosec issues that are primarily academic may be interesting, but they’re unlikely to affect most users. Sometimes the impact of a security issue is exaggerated. Occasionally the threat is later found to be nonexistent or the result of faulty reporting.

In the past, I collected infosec stories and wrote about the most interesting and relevant ones in a single month-end roundup. This helped to manage the load, but it introduced an arbitrary and unrealistic schedule.

Starting today, I will occasionally post a few selected infosec stories in a single ‘highlights’ article. Without further ado…

Don’t be a victim of your own curiosity

Researchers in Germany discovered that most people click phishing links in emails, even when they don’t know the sender, and even when they know they shouldn’t do it. Why? Curiosity, apparently. It doesn’t just kill cats any more.

Promising new anti-phishing technology

On a related note, there’s a new reason to be optimistic in the fight against phishing. A proof-of-concept, prototype DNS greylisting service called ‘Foghorn’ would prevent access to unknown domains for 24 hours, or until the domain is identified as legitimate and whitelisted. Hopefully Foghorn will prove effective, and become available for regular users in the near future.

Scope of 2012 breaches of and Dropbox finally revealed

Popular Internet radio service suffered a breach way back in 2012, but the details were not revealed until very recently. According to a report from LeakedSource, as many as 43 million user passwords were leaked, and the passwords were stored using very weak security. If you had a account in 2012, you were probably instructed to change your password. If you didn’t do it then, you should do it now.

Massively popular file sharing service DropBox was also breached in 2012, but again, the complete details of the breach are only coming to light now: passwords for as many as 60 million Dropbox user accounts were stolen. The validity of this information has been verified by SANS and Troy Hunt.

The usual advice applies:

  • If you have accounts for these services, change your passwords now, if you haven’t already.
  • Avoid using the same password for more than one service or site.
  • Use complex passwords.
  • Use password management software so you don’t have to remember all those unique passwords.

Potentially massive breach of Oracle POS software

The details are still not clear, but there is strong evidence of a breach of Oracle’s MICROS Point Of Sale (POS) software.

This software is used by many popular companies, and could affect as many as 200,000 food and beverage outlets, 100,000 retail sites, and 30,000 hotels. The primary danger to customers of these companies is theft of credit card information.

Affected companies include Starbucks, Sonic, IHOP, Hard Rock Cafe, and Burger King.

Update 2016Aug21: Brian Krebs’ ongoing analysis reveals that the breach may be much larger than originally thought, possibly even affecting Oracle’s corporate network. Oracle remains largely silent on the issue, which is prompting a lot of backlash from MICROS users.