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R.I.P. root9B, We Hardly Knew Ya!


root9B, a company that many in the security industry consider little more than a big-name startup aimed at cashing in on the stock market’s insatiable appetite for cybersecurity firms, surprised no one this week when it announced it was ceasing operations at the end of the year.

Founded in 2011, Colorado Springs, Colo. based root9B Technologies touted itself as an IT security training firm staffed by an impressive list of ex-military leaders with many years of cybersecurity experience at the Department of Defense and National Security Agency (NSA). As it began to attract more attention from investors, root9B’s focus shifted to helping organizations hunt for cyber intruders within their networks.

By 2015, root9B was announcing lucrative cybersecurity contracts with government agencies and the infusion of millions from investors. The company’s stock was ballooning in price, reaching an all-time high in mid-May 2015.

That was just days after root9B issued a headline-grabbing report about how its cyber intelligence had single-handedly derailed a planned Russian cyber attack on several U.S. financial institutions.

The report, released May 12, 2015, claimed root9B had uncovered plans by an infamous Russian hacking group to target several banks. The company said the thwarted operation was orchestrated by Fancy Bear/Sofacy, a so-called “advanced persistent threat” (APT) hacking group known for launching sophisticated phishing attacks aimed at infiltrating some of the world’s biggest corporations.  root9B released its Q1 2015 earnings two days later, reporting record revenues.

On May 20, 2015, KrebsOnSecurity published a rather visceral dissection of that root9B report: Security Firm Redefines APT; African Phishing Threat. The story highlighted the thinness of the report’s claims, pointing to multiple contradictory findings by other security firms which suggested the company had merely detected several new phishing domains being erected by a comparatively low-skilled African phishing gang that was well-known to investigators and U.S. banks.

In mid-June 2015, an anonymous researcher who’d apparently done a rather detailed investigation into root9B’s finances said the company was “a worthless reverse-merger created by insiders with [a] long history of penny-stock wipeouts, fraud allegations, and disaster.”

That report, published by the crowd-sourced financial market research site SeekingAlpha.com, sought to debunk claims by root9B that it possessed “proprietary” cybersecurity hardware and software, noting that the company mainly acts as a reseller of a training module produced by a third party.

root9B’s stock price never recovered from those reports, and began a slow but steady decline after mid-2015. In Dec. 2016, root9B Technologies announced a reverse split of its issued and outstanding common stock, saying it would be moving to the NASDAQ market with the trading symbol RTNB and a new name — root9B Holdings. On January 18, 2017, a reshuffled root9B rang the market opening bell at NASDAQ, and got a bounce when it said it’d been awarded a five-year training contract to support the U.S. Defense Department.

The company’s founders remained upbeat even into mid-2017. On June 6, 2017 it announced that Michael Hayden, the four-star general who until recently served as director of the U.S. National Security Agency, had joined the company’s board.

On June 23, 2017, root9B issued a press release reminding everyone that the company had remained #1 on the Cybersecurity 500 for the 6th consecutive quarter. The Cybersecurity 500, by the way, rates cybersecurity firms based on their “branding and marketing.”

Nobody ever accused root9B of bad marketing. But all the press releases in the world couldn’t hide the fact that the company had never turned a profit. It lost more than $18.3 million in 2016, more than doubling a $8.03 million loss in 2015.

Since August 2017, shares of the company’s stock have fallen more than 90 percent. On Sept. 28, 2017, all of root9B’s assets were acquired by venture investment firm Tracker Capital Management LLC, and then sold at auction.

On Nov. 13, root9B Holdings issued a press release saying NASDAQ was de-listing the firm on Nov. 15 and that it was ceasing operations at the end of this year. The statement seemed to emphasize there was nothing left for the firm’s creditors to pick over.

“With the absence of any operating assets remaining after the Foreclosure, the Company will cease any and all operations effective, December 31, 2017,” the (final?) root9B press release concludes.

The demise of root9B resonates loudly with that of Norse Corp., another flashy, imploded cybersecurity startup that banked heavily on attracting and touting top talent, while managing to produce very little that was useful to or actionable by anybody.

Companies like these are a reminder that your success or failure in business as in life is directly tied to what you produce — not what you promise or represent. There is no shortcut to knowledge, success or mastery, and this goes for infosec students as well as active practitioners of the craft. Focus on consistently producing quality, unique content and/or services that are of real value to others, and the rest will take care of itself.









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Adobe, Microsoft Patch Critical Cracks


It’s Nov. 14 — the second Tuesday of the month (a.k.a. “Patch Tuesday) — and Adobe and Microsoft have issued gobs of security updates for their software. Microsoft’s 11 patch bundles fix more than four-dozen security holes in various Windows versions and Office products — including at least four serious flaws that were publicly disclosed prior to today. Meanwhile, Adobe’s got security updates available for a slew of titles, including Flash Player, Photoshop, Reader and Shockwave.

Four of the vulnerabilities Microsoft fixed today have public exploits, but they do not appear to be used in any active malware campaigns, according to Gill Langston at security vendor Qualys. Perhaps the two most serious flaws likely to impact Windows end users involve vulnerabilities in Microsoft browsers Internet Explorer and Edge.

Qualys’ Langston reminds us that on last Patch Tuesday, Microsoft quietly released the fix for CVE-2017-13080, widely known as the KRACK vulnerability in WPA2 wireless protocol, but did not make it known until a week later, when the vulnerability was publicly disclosed. Check out the Qualys blog and this post from Ivanti for more on this month’s patches from Redmond. Otherwise, visit Windows Update sometime soon (click the Start/Windows button, then type Windows Update).

Adobe issued patches to fix at least 62 security vulnerabilities in its products, including several critical bugs in Adobe Flash Player and Reader/Acrobat.  The Flash Player update brings the browser plugin to v. 27.0.0.187 on Windows, Mac, Linux and Chrome OS.

Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer may need to apply the Flash 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 and/or restart the browser to get the latest Flash version). 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. Chrome will replace that three dot icon with an up-arrow inside of a circle when updates are waiting to be installed.

Standard disclaimer: Because Flash remains such a security risk, I continue to encourage readers to remove or hobble Flash Player unless and until it is needed for a specific site or purpose. More on that approach (as well as slightly less radical solutions ) can be found in A Month Without Adobe Flash Player. The short version is that you can probably get by without Flash installed and not miss it at all.

For readers still unwilling to cut the cord, there are half-measures that work almost as well. Fortunately, disabling Flash in Chrome is simple enough. Paste “chrome://settings/content” into a Chrome browser bar and then select “Flash” from the list of items. By default it should be set to “Ask first” before running Flash, although users also can disable Flash entirely here or whitelist and blacklist specific sites.

Another, perhaps less elegant, solution is to keep Flash installed in a browser that you don’t normally use, and then to only use that browser on sites that require it.









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How to Opt Out of Equifax Revealing Your Salary History

A KrebsOnSecurity series on how easy big-three credit bureau Equifax makes it to get detailed salary history data on tens of millions of Americans apparently inspired a deeper dive on the subject by Fast Company, which examined how this Equifax division has been one of the company’s best investments. In this post, I’ll show you how to opt out of yet another Equifax service that makes money at the expense of your privacy.

My original report showed how the salary history for tens of millions of employees at some of the world’s largest corporations was available to anyone armed with an employee’s Social Security number and date of birth — information that was stolen on 145.5 million Americans in the recent breach at Equifax.

Equifax took down their salary portal — a service from the company’s Workforce Solutions division known as The Work Number (formerly “TALX“) — just a few hours after my story went live on Oct. 8. The company explained that the site was being disabled for routine maintenance, but Equifax didn’t fully reopen the portal until Nov. 2, following the addition of unspecified “security improvements.”

Fast Company writer Joel Winston’s story examines how some 70,000 companies — including Amazon, AT&T, Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle, Twitter and Wal-Mart — actually pay Equifax to collect, organize, and re-sell their employees’ personal income information and work history.

“A typical employee at Facebook (which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp) may require verification of his employment through TALX when he leases an apartment, updates his immigration status, applies for a loan or public aid, or applies for a new job,” Winston writes. “If his new prospective employer is among the 70,000 approved entities in Equifax’s verifier network with a “permissible purpose,” that company can purchase his employment and income information for about $20.”

While this may sound like a nice and legitimate use of salary data, the point of my original report was that this salary data is also available to anyone who has the Social Security number and date of birth on virtually any person who once worked at a company that uses this Equifax service.

In May 2017, KrebsOnSecurity broke the story of how this same Equifax Workforce portal was abused for an entire year by identity thieves involved in tax refund fraud with the Internal Revenue Service. Fraudsters used SSN and DOB data to reset the 4-digit PINs given to customer employees as a password, and then steal W-2 tax data after successfully answering personal questions about those employees.

Curiously, Equifax claims they have no evidence that anyone was harmed as a result of the year-long pattern of tax fraud related to how easy it was to coax salary and payroll data out of its systems.

“We do not know of any specific fraud incidents linked with the Work Number,” Equifax spokeswoman Marisa Salcines told Fast Company.

This statement sounds suspiciously like what big-three credit bureau Experian told lawmakers in 2014 after they were hauled up to Capitol Hill to explain another breach that was scooped by KrebsOnSecurity: That a Vietnamese man who ran an identity theft service which catered to tax refund fraudsters had access for nine months to more than 200 million consumer records maintained by Experian.

Experian’s suits told lawmakers that no consumers were harmed even as the U.S. Secret Service was busy arresting customers of this identity theft service — nearly all of whom were involved in tax refund fraud and other forms of consumer ID theft.

Loyal readers here will know I have long urged consumers to opt out of letting the big credit bureaus resell your credit file to potential lenders (and, by proxy, to ID thieves), by placing a freeze on their credit files with the Equifax, Experian, Trans Union and Innovis.

In the wake of the Equifax breach, one thing I’ve heard from so many readers that was a big factor in their decision to finally freeze their credit was that the bureaus would no longer be able to profit by selling their credit files.

As it happens, it is possible to opt out of having your salary data sold through Equifax. According to Equifax, this involves placing a free “freeze” on your file with the Work Number. These instructions on how to do that come verbatim from Equifax:

To place a security freeze on your The Work Number employment report, send
your request via mail to:

TALX Corporation
ATTN: Employment Data Report Dept 19-10
11432 Lackland Road
St. Louis, Missouri 63146

Or, you may contact us on the web at http://ift.tt/Xsnuw3 or call 800-996-7566.

It’s not clear what may be the potential consequences of freezing your file with The Work Number. Fast Company explains the service and its giant database “helps streamline various processes for employers and other agencies, and it helps employees too, Equifax wrote in an emailed statement. The Work Number provides prospective landlords a way to verify an applicant’s income, for instance, or makes it cheaper for human resources departments to examine an applicant’s background.”

Here’s Equifax explaining why consumers might want to leave their files alone:

“Without the Work Number, a lender, property manager or pre-employment screener will call an employer and explain why they need to check on an employee or former employee’s employment or income. That individual has no control over who picks up the phone, whether the right information is actually given out, or if his or her privacy will be respected.”

Neither does the consumer have any control over to whom Equifax gives this data. I for one am taking my chances and freezing my salary data at Equifax. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Before you opt out, you may wish to see which lenders, credit agencies and other entities may have received or attempted to pull your Work Number salary history.

To request a free Employment Data Report, you’ll need to fill out a form at the Work Number website, or make a request by mail, or through a toll-free phone number (1-866-222-5880).

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Hack of Attack-for-Hire Service vDOS Snares New Mexico Man

A New Mexico man is facing federal hacking charges for allegedly using the now defunct attack-for-hire service vDOS to launch damaging digital assaults aimed at knocking his former employer’s Web site offline. Prosecutors were able to bring the case in part because vDOS got massively hacked last year, and its customer database of payments and targets leaked to this author and to the FBI.

Prosecutors in Minnesota have charged John Kelsey Gammell, 46, with using vDOS and other online attack services to hurl a year’s worth of attack traffic at the Web sites associated with Washburn Computer Group, a Minnesota-based company where Gammell used to work.

vDOS as it existed on Sept. 8, 2016.

vDOS existed for nearly four years, and was known as one of the most powerful and effective pay-to-play tools for launching distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. The vDOS owners used a variety of methods to power their service, including at least one massive botnet consisting of tens of thousands of hacking Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such compromised Internet routers and security cameras. vDOS also was used in numerous DDoS attacks against this site.

Investigators allege that although Gammell used various methods to hide his identity, email addresses traced back to him were found in the hacked user and target databases from vDOS.

More importantly, prosecutors say, someone began taunting Washburn via Yahoo and Gmail messages while the attacks were underway, asking how everything was going at the company and whether the IT department needed any help.

“Also attached to this second email was an image of a mouse laughing,” the Justice Department indictment (PDF) alleges. “Grand jury subpoenas for subscriber information were subsequently served on Google…and Yahoo. Analysis of the results showed information connecting both accounts to an individual named John Gammell. Both email addresses were created using the cell phone number 612-205-8609.”

The complaint notes that the government subpoenaed AT&T for subscriber information and traced that back to Gammell as well, but phone number also is currently listed as the recovery number for a Facebook account tied to John K. Gammell.

That Facebook account features numerous references to the hacker collective known as Anonymous. This is notable because according to the government Gammell used two different accounts at vDOS: One named “AnonCunnilingus” and another called “anonrooster.” The email addresses this user supplied when signing up at vDOS (jkgammell@gmail.com and jkgammell@icloud.com) include other addresses quite clearly tied to multiple accounts for John K. Gammell.

John K. Gammell’s Facebook account.

Below is a snippet from a customer service ticket that the AnonCunnilingus account filed in Aug. 2015

“Dear Colleagues, this is Mr. Cunnilingus. You underestimate your capabilities. Contrary to your statement of “Notice!” It appears from our review that you are trying to stress test a DDoS protected host, vDOS stresser is not capable of taking DDoS protected hosts down which means you will not be able to drop this hosting using vDOS stresser…As they do not have my consent to use my internet, after their site being down for two days, they changed their IP and used rackspace DDoS mitigation and must now be removed from cyberspace. Verified by downbyeveryone. We will do much business. Thank you for your outstanding product 🙂 We Are Anonymous USA.”

Gammell has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He has not responded to requests for comment. The indictment states that Gammell allegedly attacked at least a half-dozen other companies over a year-long period between mid-2015 and July 2016, including several banks and two other companies at which he either previously worked or with whom he’d interviewed for a job.

In late July 2016, an anonymous security researcher reached out to KrebsOnSecurity to share a copy of the vDOS databases. The databases showed that vDOS made more than $600,000 in just two of the four years it was in operation, helping to launch more than 150,000 DDoS attacks.

Since then, two alleged co-owners of vDOS — two 19-year-old Israeli men —  have been arrested and charged with operating an attack-for-hire service. Aside from Gammell’s case, I am not aware of any other public cases involving the prosecution of people who allegedly used vDOS to conduct attacks.

But that will hopefully change soon, as there are countless clues about the identities of other high-volume vDOS users and their targets. Identifying the perpetrators in those cases should not be difficult because at some point vDOS stopped allowing users to log in to the service using a VPN, meaning many users likely logged into vDOS using an Internet address that can be traced back to them either via a home Internet or wireless account.

According to a review of the vDOS database, both accounts allegedly tied to Gammell were banned by vDOS administrators — either because he shared his vDOS username and password with another person, or because he logged on to the accounts with a VPN. Here’s a copy of a notice vDOS sent to AnonCunnilingus on July 28, 2015:

“Dear AnonCunnilingus , We have recently reviewed your account activity, and determined that you are in violation of vDos’s Terms of Service, It appears from our review that you have shared your account (or accessed vDos stresser from several locations and platforms) which is against our Terms of Services. Please refer to the following logs and terms:\n- AnonCunnilingus logged in using the following IPs: 64.145.76.110 (US), 85.10.210.199 (XX) date: 06-08-2015 18:05\n\n- 8) You are not allowed to access vDos stresser using a VPN/VPS/Proxy/RDP/Server Tunnelling and such.\n- 3) You may not share your account, if you will, your account will be closed without a warning or a refund!”

What’s most likely limiting prosecutors from pursuing more vDOS users is a lack of DDoS victims coming forward. In an advisory issued last month, the FBI urged DDoS victims to report the attacks.

The FBI requests DDoS victims contact their local FBI field office and/or file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), regardless of dollar loss or timing of incident. Field office contacts can be identified at http://ift.tt/1rpFkAJ. IC3 complaints should be filed at www.ic3.govwith the following details (if applicable):

  • Traffic protocol used by the DDoS (DNS, NTP, SYN flood, etc)
    • Attempt to preserve netflow and/or packet capture of the attack
  • Any extortion/threats pertaining to the DDoS attack
    • Save any such correspondence in its original, unforwarded format
  • Victim information
  • Overall losses associated with the DDoS attack
  • If a ransom associated with the attack was paid, provide transaction details, the subject’s email address, and/or crypto currency wallet address
  • Victim impact statement (e.g., impacted services/operations)
  • IP addresses used in the DDoS attack

Related reading:

How Not to DDoS Your Former Employer

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DDoS-for-Hire Service Launches Mobile App

In May 2013 KrebsOnSecurity wrote about Ragebooter, a service that paying customers can use to launch powerful distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks capable of knocking individuals and Web sites offline. The owner of Ragebooter subsequently was convicted in 2016 of possessing child pornography, but his business somehow lived on while he was in prison. Now just weeks after Poland made probation, a mobile version of the attack-for-hire service has gone up for sale on the Google Play store.

In the story Ragebooter: ‘Legit’ DDoS Service, or Fed Backdoor, I profiled then 19-year-old Justin D. Poland from Memphis — who admitted to installing code on his Ragebooter service that allowed FBI investigators to snoop on his customers.

Last February, Poland was convicted of one felony count of possession of child pornography, after investigators reportedly found 2,600 child pornography images on one of his computers. Before his trial was over, Poland skipped town but his bondsman later located him at his mother’s house. He was sentenced to two years in jail.

Poland did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but on his Facebook account Poland said the images belonged to his former roommate — David Starliper — who’d allegedly used Poland’s computer. Starliper also was convicted of possessing child pornography and sentenced to two years in prison.

In September 2017, Poland began posting on his Facebook account that he had made parole and was getting ready to be released from prison. On Oct. 6, the first version of the Android edition of Ragebooter was put on sale at Google’s Play Store.

The mobile version of Ragebooter.

Poland’s Facebook page says he is the owner of ragebooter[dot]com, ragebooter[dot]net, and another site called vmdeploy[net]. The advertisement for Ragebooter’s new mobile app on Google Play says the developer’s email address is contact@rageservices[dot]net. The registration details for rageservices[dot]net are hidden, but the Web site lists some useful contact details.

One of them is a phone number registered in Memphis — 901-219-3644 — that is tied to a Facebook account for an Alex Slovak in Memphis. The other domain Poland mentions on his Facebook page — vmdeploy[dot]net — was registered to an Alex Czech from Memphis. It seems likely that Alex has been running Ragebooter while Poland was in prison. Mr. Slovak/Czech did not respond to requests for comment, but it is clear from his Facebook page that he is friends with Poland’s family.

Rageservices[dot]net advertises itself as a store for custom programming and Web site development. Its content is identical to a site called QuantumServices. A small purchase through the rageservices[dot]net site for a simple program generated a response from Quantum Services and an email from quantumservicesweb@gmail.com. The person responding at that email address declined to give his or her name, but said they were not Justin Poland.

Figures posted to the home page of ragebooter[dot]net claim the service has been used to conduct more than 310,000 DDoS attacks. Memberships are sold in packages ranging from $3 per day to $300 a year for an “enterprise” plan. Ragebooter[dot]net includes a notice at the top of the site indicating that rageservices[dot]net is indeed affiliated with Ragebooter.

If Poland still is running Ragebooter, he may well be violating the terms of his parole. According to the FBI, the use of DDoS-for-hire services like Ragebooter is illegal.

In October the FBI released an advisory warning that the use of booter services — also called “stressers” — is punishable under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and may result in arrest and criminal prosecution.

“Booter and stresser services are a form of DDoS-for-hire— advertised in forum communications and available on Dark Web marketplaces— offering malicious actors the ability to anonymously attack any Internet-connected target. These services are obtained through a monetary transaction, usually in the form of online payment services and virtual currency. Criminal actors running booter and stresser services sell access to DDoS botnets, a network of malware-infected computers exploited to make a victim server or network resource unavailable by overloading the device with massive amounts of fake or illegitimate traffic.”

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Simple Banking Security Tip: Verbal Passwords


There was a time when I was content to let my bank authenticate me over the phone by asking for some personal identifiers (SSN/DOB) that are broadly for sale in the cybercrime underground. At some point, however, I decided this wasn’t acceptable for institutions that held significant chunks of our money, and I began taking our business away from those that wouldn’t let me add a simple verbal passphrase that needed to be uttered before any account details could be discussed over the phone.

Most financial institutions will let customers add verbal passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs) that are separate from any other PIN or online banking password you might use, although few will advertise this.

Even so, many institutions don’t properly train their customer support staff (or have high turnover in that department). This can allow clever and insistent crooks to coax customer service reps into validating the call with just the SSN and/or date of birth, or requiring the correct answers to so-called knowledge-based authentication (KBA) questions.

As noted in several stories here previously, identity thieves can reliably work around KBA because it involves answering  questions about things like previous loans, addresses and co-residents — information that can often be gleaned from online services or social media.

A few years ago, I began testing financial institutions that held our personal assets. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most of them were happy to add a PIN or pass phrase to the account. But many of the customer service personnel at those institutions failed in their responses when I called in and said I didn’t remember the phrase and was there any other way they could verify that I was me?

Ultimately, I ended up moving our investments to an institution that consistently adhered to my requirements. Namely, that failing to provide the pass phrase required an in-person visit to a bank branch to continue the transaction, at which time ID would be requested. Their customer service folks consistently asked the right questions, and weren’t interested in being much helpful otherwise (I’m not going to name the institution for obvious reasons).

Not sure whether your financial institution supports verbal passwords? Ask them. If they agree to set one up for you, take a moment or two over the next few days to call in and see if you can get the customer service folks at that institution to talk about your account without hearing that password.

While a great many people are willing to trade security for more convenience, it’s nice when those of us who are paranoid can opt-in for more security. A great, recent example of this is Google‘s optional “advanced protection” feature, which makes it much harder for password thieves to hack into your Gmail, Drive or other Google properties — even if the attackers already know your password.

“The opt-in, ultra-secure mode is intended for truly high-risk users, including those who face the threat of state-sponsored, highly resourced cyberespionage,” writes Andy Greenberg for Wired. “Think politicians and officials, high net-worth individuals, activists, dissidents, and journalists.”

Greenberg continues:

“As such, it’s a strict and unforgiving system, designed to reinforce every possible weak link that hackers could use to hijack your account. Logging in from a desktop will require a special USB key, while accessing your data from a mobile device will similarly require a Bluetooth dongle. All non-Google services and apps will be exiled from reaching into your Gmail or Google Drive. Google’s malware scanners will use a more intensive process to quarantine and analyze incoming documents. And if you forget your password, or lose your hardware login keys, you’ll have to jump through more hoops than ever to regain access, the better to foil any intruders who would abuse that process to circumvent all of Google’s other safeguards.”

Gartner fraud analyst Avivah Litan says she has long relied on verbal passwords for her most important accounts.

“I think a verbal password is a good step and definitely adds more security than does KBA built on top of heavily compromised credit bureau and life history data,” Litan said. Plus it’s free and convenient.  It’s of course not perfect and consumers should try to use verbal passwords that are unique for them and which they don’t use for online passwords —  in case the latter have been compromised by hackers.”

Verbal passwords should not be confused with voice biometrics, a technology some financial institutions are now adopting that can help authenticate customers while profiling and blocking fraudsters who repeatedly call in to customer service representatives. Even if your institution offers voice biometrics, adding a verbal password/passphrase is still a good idea.

Julie Conroy, research director at market research firm Aite Group, said financial institutions are still very concerned about putting up too many hurdles for good customers, so many are treading lightly on verbal passwords.

“Many FIs are moving in the direction of not just asking for the password, but also behind the scenes they are performing analysis of the call characteristics as well as the consumer’s voice print,” Conroy said.

Have you asked your financial institution(s) to add a unique verbal password/passphrase for your most important accounts? If so, sound off about your experience in the comments below.









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2nd Breach at Verticalscope Impacts 25M


For the second time in as many years, hackers have compromised Verticalscope.com, a Canadian company that manages hundreds of popular Web discussion forums totaling more than 45 million user accounts. Evidence of the breach was discovered just before someone began using that illicit access as a commercial for a new paid search service that indexes consumer information exposed in corporate data breaches.

Toronto-based Verticalscope runs a network of sites that cater to automotive, pets, sports and technology markets. Verticalscope acknowledged in June 2016 that a hacking incident led to the siphoning of 45 million user accounts. Now, it appears the company may have been hit again, this time in a breach involving at least 25 million user accounts.

On Thursday, KrebsOnSecurity was contacted by Alex Holden, a security researcher and founder of Hold Security. Holden saw evidence of hackers selling access to Verticalscope.com and to a host of other sites operated by the company.

Holden said at first he suspected someone was merely trying to resell data stolen in the 2016 breach. But that was before he contacted one of the hackers selling the data and was given screen shots indicating that Verticalscope.com and several other properties were in fact compromised with a backdoor known as a “Web shell.”

A backdoor “Web shell” discovered on Verticalscope.com this week.

With a Web shell installed on a site, anyone can remotely administer the site, upload and delete content at will, or dump entire databases of information — such as usernames, passwords, email addresses and Internet addresses associated with each account.

Holden said the intruders obfuscated certain details in the screenshots that gave away exactly where the Web shells were hidden on Verticalscope.com, but that they forgot to blur out a few critical details — allowing him to locate at least two backdoors on Veriticalscope’s Web site. He also was able to do the same with a second screen shot the hackers shared which showed a similar backdoor shell on Toyotanation.com, one of Verticalscope’s most-visited forums.

Reached for comment about the claims, Verticalscope said the company had detected an intrusion on six of its Web sites, including Toyotanation.com.

“The intrusion granted access to each individual website files,” reads a statement shared Verticalscope. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have removed the file manager, expired all passwords on the 6 websites in question, added the malicious file pattern and attack vector to our detection tools, and taken additional steps to lock down access.”

Verticalscope said the other forums impacted included Jeepforum.com — the company’s second most-popular site with 9.3 million users; and watchuseek.com, a forum for wristwatch enthusiast which claims more than 12 million users.

Verticalscope admitted a breach in 2016 after their forum users’ data was outed in a blog post on Leakedsource.com, a now-defunct service that sold access to username and password details stolen in some of history’s largest data breaches.

An Internet search on one of the compromised Verticalscope domains leads to a series of now-deleted Pastebin posts suggesting that the individual(s) responsible for this hack may be trying to use it to advertise a legally dicey new online service called LuiDB.

Similar to Leakedsource, LuiDB allows registered users to search for account details associated with any data element compromised in a breach — such as login, password, email, first/last name and Internet address. The first search is free, but viewing results requires purchasing a subscription for between $5 and $400 in Bitcoin.

The various subscription packages sold by LuiDB, payable in Bitcoin.

People who re-use passwords across multiple Web sites tend to be those hardest-hit by these breaches, and by these dodgy password lookup services. It may not seem like a big deal if someone chooses to re-use the same password across a range of sites that don’t ask for or store your personal data, such as discussion forums. The problem is that this encourages poor password habits, and for many folks this eventually results in using that forum password at more important sites that do store sensitive data.

In practice, there’s no reason people should ever re-use the same password. Password managers can help users pick and remember unique, strong passwords for all sites that require a login; all the user needs to do is remember a single “master password” to unlock all the others. Old schoolers like Yours Truly tend to stick to local password managers like Keepass (or even PwdSafe), although many folks I admire in the security industry rely heavily on cloud-based password managers like LastPass and Dashlane.

While few online discussion forums offer two-factor or multi-factor authentication (requiring you to log in using a password and a one-time code, e.g.), a great many services do offer this very effective security measure. Check out twofactorauth.org to see if there are online services you use that could be furthered hardened by turning on two-factor authentication.









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Equifax Reopens Salary Lookup Service

Equifax has re-opened a Web site that lets anyone look up the salary history of a large portion of the American workforce using little more than a person’s Social Security number and their date of birth. The big-three credit bureau took the site down just hours after I wrote about it on Oct. 8, and began restoring the site eight days later saying it had added unspecified “security enhancements.”

The Work Number, Equifax’s salary and employment history portal.

At issue is a service provided by Equifax’s TALX division called The Work Number. The service is designed to provide automated employment and income verification for prospective employers, and tens of thousands of companies report employee salary data to it. The Work Number also allows anyone whose employer uses the service to provide proof of their income when purchasing a home or applying for a loan.

What’s needed to access your salary and employment history? Go here, and enter the employer name or employer code. After that, it asks for a “user ID.” This might sound like privileged information, but in most cases this is just the employees’s Social Security number (or a portion of it).

At the next step, the site asks visitors to “enter your PIN,” short for Personal Identification Number. However, in the vast majority of cases this appears to be little more than someone’s eight-digit date of birth. The formats differ by employer, but it’s usually either yyyy/mm/dd or mm/dd/yyyy, without the slashes.

Successful validation to the system produces two sets of data: An employee’s salary and employment history going back at least a decade, and a report listing all of the entities (ostensibly, the aforementioned “credentialed verifiers”) that have previously requested and viewed this information.

In a story in the financial industry publication National Mortgage News, Equifax said:  “As access to the employee portal is restored, individuals must be re-authenticated and establish a unique PIN. Therefore, the data exposed in the cyber incident will not be sufficient to access The Work Number.”

The publication said Equifax declined to answer questions about whether the timing of the portal maintenance or the decision to add new security features were in response to the original Oct. 8 report here, quoting an Equifax spokesman saying the company opted to move up and expand a planned service outage.

“At that time, we also decided to accelerate the implementation of select security enhancements to our platforms which extended the service outage timeframe,” the spokesman said.

I walked through the newer, allegedly more secure portal with a friend and source who worked at a major firm that used The Work Number at some point previously, and at first we couldn’t figure out how to enter his default PIN. A quick search for his employer’s name and “The Work Number” turned up a PDF with instructions stating that the PIN consisted of the last two digits of the employee’s birth year, and the fourth and fifth digit of their SSN.

Part of the new and improved security at The Work Number.

After passing that screen, the only “security enhancements” I saw that my source encountered was a prompt to enter his full name, date of birth, Social Security number, address, phone number and email, followed by the usual retinue of four multiple-guess “knowledge-based authentication” (KBA) questions. I’ve long been a critic of these KBA questions, because the answers usually are available using sites like Zillow and Spokeo, to say nothing of social networking profiles.

Fortunately, you can reduce the likelihood that an acquaintance, co-worker, stalker or anyone else can glean your salary history by claiming your own account, changing the PIN and selecting a half-dozen security questions and answers. As always, it’s best not to answer these questions truthfully, but to input answers that only you will know and that can’t be found using social networking sites or other public data sources.

I used to think that if you had a security freeze on your credit file at a credit bureau that the bureau would then be unable to ask these KBA questions. I’ve recently worked with several sources who had freezes on their files and yet were still asked these KBA questions. Those individuals may not have all been approved to continue whatever transaction was in progress after answering those questions, but in most cases it shocks folks who have freezes when they even get asked those KBA questions.

However, it seems that each of the cases I’ve seen in which the person had a freeze on their credit file, the applicant was asked only non-financial questions. In other words, they were given questions that one did not necessarily need access to one’s credit card or mortgage statements to answer successfully — such as the names of previous streets resided on or the names of lenders used in the past.

What’s interesting is that these types of questions tend to be easier to answer than, say, ‘What was the amount of your most recent car loan payment?’ That suggests that ID thieves could find people with credit freezes an easier target of services like this one because they face far easier KBA questions after they provide all of the target’s static information (DOB, SSN, etc).

If that sounds ironic or sad, remember that we’re talking about a company whose breach more severely impacted consumers who paid Equifax whatever fees the company is allowed to charge under state laws to freeze the consumer’s credit file.

We all sort of assumed this was the case when Equifax initially disclosed on Sept. 7 that the breach resulted in the theft of SSNs and other data on 143+million people, as well as some 209,000 credit and debit card numbers. But in written notifications recently mailed to victims of the breach, Equifax made it crystal clear that their credit card data was stolen because they once used it at Equifax to request a credit freeze or copy of their credit report.

Part of the notice Equifax mailed this week to a U.S. breach victim.

Does your current or former employer share your salary data with Equifax? If so, were you able to access your salary history via The Work Number site? Sound off in the comments below about any “security enhancements” you encountered along the way.

If you’re still unsure what you should be doing in the wake of the breach at Equifax, see this Q&A.

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Fear the Reaper, or Reaper Madness?

Last week we looked at reports from China and Israel about a new “Internet of Things” malware strain called “Reaper” that researchers said infected more than a million organizations by targeting newfound security weaknesses in countless Internet routers, security cameras and digital video recorders (DVRs). Now some botnet experts are calling on people to stop the “Reaper Madness,” saying the actual number of IoT devices infected with Reaper right now is much smaller.

Arbor Networks said it believes the size of the Reaper botnet currently fluctuates between 10,000 and 20,000 bots total. Arbor notes that this can change any time.

Reaper was based in part on “Mirai,” IoT malware code designed to knock Web sites offline in high-powered data floods, and an IoT malware strain that powered most of the largest cyberattacks of the past year. So it’s worrisome to think someone may have just built an army of a million IoT drones that could be used in crippling, coordinated assaults capable of wiping most networks offline.

If criminals haven’t yet built a million-strong botnet using the current pool of vulnerable devices, they certainly have the capacity to do so.

“An additional 2 million hosts have been identified by the botnet scanners as potential Reaper nodes, but have not been subsumed into the botnet,” Arbor’s ASERT team wrote, explaining that the coders may have intentionally slowed the how quickly the malware can spread to keep it quiet and under the radar.

Arbor says Reaper is likely being built to serve as the machine powering a giant attack-for-hire service known as a “booter” or “stresser” service.

“Our current assessment of Reaper is that it is likely intended for use as a booter/stresser service primarily serving the intra-China DDoS-for-hire market,” Arbor wrote. “Reaper appears to be a product of the Chinese criminal underground; some of the general Reaper code is based on the Mirai IoT malware, but it is not an outright Mirai clone.”

On Thursday I asked Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point — the source of the one-million Reaper clones claim — about how they came up with the number of a million infected organizations.

Check Point said it knows of over 30,000 infected devices that scanned for additional vulnerable devices.

“We had a prism into these attacks from a data set that only contains a few hundreds of networks, out of which 60% were being scanned,” said Maya Horowitz, a group manager in the threat intelligence division of Check Point. “Thus we assume that the numbers globally are much higher, in at least 1 order of magnitude.”

Reaper borrows programming code from Mirai. But unlike Mirai, which infects systems after trying dozens of factory-default username and password combinations, Reaper targets nine security holes across a range of consumer and commercial products. About half of those vulnerabilities were discovered only in the past few months, and so a great many devices likely remain unpatched against Reaper.

Chinese cybersecurity firm Netlab 360, which published its own alert on Reaper shortly after Check Point’s advisory, issued a revised post on Oct. 25 stating that the largest gathering of Reaper systems it has seen by a single malware server is 28,000. Netlab’s original blog post has links to patches for the nine security flaws exploited by Reaper.

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Dell Lost Control of Key Customer Support Domain for a Month in 2017


A Web site set up by PC maker Dell Inc. to help customers recover from malicious software and other computer maladies may have been hijacked for a few weeks this summer by people who specialize in deploying said malware, KrebsOnSecurity has learned.

There is a program installed on virtually all Dell computers called “Dell Backup and Recovery Application.” It’s designed to help customers restore their data and computers to their pristine, factory default state should a problem occur with the device. That backup and recovery program periodically checks a rather catchy domain name — DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com — which until recently was central to PC maker Dell’s customer data backup, recovery and cloud storage solutions.

Sometime this summer, DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com was suddenly snatched away from a longtime Dell contractor for a month and exposed to some questionable content. More worryingly, there are signs the domain may have been pushing malware before Dell’s contractor regained control over it.

Image: Wikipedia

The purpose of DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com is inscribed in the hearts of countless PCs that Dell shipped customers over the past few years. The domain periodically gets checked by the “Dell Backup and Recovery application,” which “enables the user to backup and restore their data with just a few clicks.”

This program comes in two versions: Basic and Premium, explains “Jesse L,” a Dell customer liaison and a blogger on the company’s site.

“The Basic version comes pre-installed on all systems and allows the user to create the system recovery media and take a backup of the factory installed applications and drivers,”Jesse L writes. “It also helps the user to restore the computer to the factory image in case of an OS issue.”

Dell customer liaison Jesse L. talks about how the program in question is by default installed on all Dell PCs.

In other words: If DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com were to fall into the wrong hands it could be used to foist malicious software on Dell users seeking solace and refuge from just such nonsense!

It’s not yet clear how or why DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com got away from SoftThinks.com —  an Austin, Tex.-based software backup and imaging solutions provider that originally registered the domain back in mid-2013 and has controlled it for most of the time since. But someone at SoftThinks apparently forgot to renew the domain in mid-June 2017.

SoftThinks lists Dell among some of its “great partners” (see screenshot below). It hasn’t responded to requests for comment. Some of its other partners include Best Buy and Radio Shack.

Some of SoftThinks’ partners. Source: SoftThinks.com

From early June to early July 2017, DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com was the property of Dmitrii Vassilev of  TeamInternet.com,” a company listed in Germany that specializes in selling what appears to be typosquatting traffic. Team Internet also appears to be tied to a domain monetization business called ParkingCrew.

If you’re not sure what typosquatting is, think of what sometimes happens when you’re typing out a URL in the browser’s address field and you fat-finger a single character and suddenly get redirected to the kind of content that makes you look around quickly to see if anyone saw you looking at it. For more on Team Internet, see this enlightening Aug. 2017 post from Chris Baker at internet infrastructure firm Dyn. 

It could be that Team Internet did nothing untoward with the domain name, and that it just resold it or leased it to someone who did. But approximately two weeks after Dell’s contractor lost control over the domain, the server it was hosted on started showing up in malware alerts.

That’s according to Celedonio Albarran, assistant vice president of IT infrastructure and security at Equity Residential, a real estate investment trust that invests in apartments.

Albarran said Equity is responsible for thousands of computers, and that several of those machines in late June tried to reach out to DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com but were prevented from doing so because the Internet address tied to the domain was new and because that address had been flagged by two security firms as pushing malicious software.

On that particular day, anyone visiting DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com simultaneously would have been heading to the Internet address 54-72-9-51 (I’ve replaced the dots with dashes for safety reasons). Albarran said the first alert came on June 28 from a security tool from Rapid7 that flagged a malware detection on that Internet address.

Another anti-malware product Equity Residential uses is Carbon Black, which on June 28 detected a reason why a Dell computer within the company shouldn’t be able to visit dellbackupandrecoverycloudstorage.com. According to Albarran, that second alert was generated by Abuse.ch, a Swiss infrastructure security company and active anti-abuse advocate.

This Carbon Black log shows dellbackupandrecoverycloudstorage.com reaching out to a nasty Internet address on June 28, 2017.

The domain’s host appears to have been flagged by Abuse.ch’s Ransomware Tracker, which is a running list of Internet addresses and domains that have a history of foisting ransomware — a threat that encrypts your files with tough-to-crack encryption, and then makes you pay for a key to unlock the files.

Albarran told KrebsOnSecurity that his company was never able to find any evidence that computers on its networks that were beaconing home to DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com had any malware installed as a result of the traffic. But he said his systems were blocked from visiting the domains on June 28, 2017, and that his employer immediately notified Dell of the problem.

“A few weeks after that they confirmed they fixed the issue,” Albarran said. “They just acknowledged the issue and said it was fixed, but they didn’t offer any comment besides that.”

AlienVault‘s Open Threat Exchange says the Internet address that was assigned to DellBackupandRecoveryCloudStorage.com in late June is an Amazon server which is “actively malicious” (even today), categorizing it as an address known for spamming.

Reached for comment about the domain snafu, Dell spokesperson Ellen Murphy shared the following statement:

“A domain as part of the cloud backup feature for the Dell Backup and Recovery (DBAR) application, http://ift.tt/2zB9eJc, expired on June 1, 2017 and was subsequently purchased by a third party. The domain reference in the DBAR application was not updated, so DBAR continued to reach out to the domain after it expired. Dell was alerted of this error and it was addressed. Dell discontinued the Dell Backup and Recovery application in 2016.”

I have asked Dell for more information about this incident, such as whether the company knows if any customers were harmed as a result of this rather serious oversight. I’ll update this story in the event that I hear back from Dell.

This is not the first time the failure to register a domain name caused a security concern for a company that should be very concerned about security. Earlier this month, experts noticed that the Web sites for credit bureaus Trans Union and Equifax were both redirecting browsers to popup ads that tried to disguise adware and spyware as an update for Adobe Flash Player.

The spyware episodes at Equifax’s and Trans Union’s Web sites were made possible because both companies outsourced e-commerce and digital marketing to Fireclick, a now-defunct digital marketing product run by Digital River. Fireclick in turn invoked a domain called Netflame.cc. But according to an Oct. 13 story in The Wall Street Journal, Netflame’s registration “was released in October 2016, three months after Digital River ended support for Fireclick as part of an ‘ongoing domain cleanup.’”

The problem with the Dell customer support domain name comes as Dell customers continue to complain of being called by scammers pretending to be Dell tech support specialists. In many cases, the callers will try to make their scams sound more convincing by reading off the unique Dell “service tag” code printed on each Dell customer’s PC or laptop.

How can scammers have all this data if Dell’s service and support system isn’t compromised, many Dell customers have asked? And still ask: I’ve had three readers quiz me about these Dell service tag scams in the past week alone. Dell continues to be silent on what may be going on with the service tag scams, and has urged Dell customers targeted by such scams to report them to the company.









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