Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: JobLink, $100 Million BEC Scam and Other Breaches

Third-party cybersecurity issues were once again front and center this past week as America’s JobLink, a web-based system that links jobs seekers with employers, was compromised by a malicious actor, leading to a series of data breach announcements from states that use the system.

2017-03-24_ITT.png“On February 20, 2017, a hacker created a job seeker account in an America’s JobLink (AJL) system,” the company wrote. “The hacker then exploited a misconfiguration in the application code to gain unauthorized access to certain information of other job seekers.”

Millions of individuals may have been affected by the vulnerability, which was introduced in an AJL system update in October 2016. When exploited, it allowed the malicious actor to view the names, Social Security numbers, and dates of birth of job seekers in the AJL systems of up to ten states: Alabama (600,000), Arizona, Arkansas (19,000), Delaware (200,000), Idaho (170,000), Illinois (1.4 million), Kansas, Maine (conflicting media reports on total number affected), Oklahoma (430,000), and Vermont (186,000).

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said at a Thursday press conference that the state was looking into the contract with ALJ, which has been in effect for about 16 years, and may potentially pursue legal recourse. At the same press conference Vermont Department of Labor Secretary Lindsay Kurrle noted potential AJL issues that may have compounded the breach, such as older Joblink accounts not being deleted.

Third-party cybersecurity issues continue to be one of the most pressing challenges facing organizations, as the numerous breaches in this roundup each week demonstrate. Despite the challenges, the digital footprints of organizations continue to grow: an issue that Adam Meyer, chief security strategist with SurfWatch Labs, and Kristi Horton, senior risk analyst with Gate 15 & Real Estate ISAC, will discuss on a Webinar tomorrow.

2017-03-24_ITTGroups

Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • WikiLeaks’ dump brings legal issues, more CIA documents:  Julian Assange criticized companies for not responding to WikiLeaks’ request that they comply with certain conditions in order to receive technical information on the leaked CIA exploits; however, multiple tech companies said the issue is caught up in their legal departments. WikiLeaks also continued to leak more CIA data by publishing documents that “explain the techniques used by CIA to gain ‘persistence’ on Apple Mac devices, including Macs and iPhones and demonstrate their use of EFI/UEFI and firmware malware.” The documents are mostly from the last decade, except for a couple that are dated 2012 and 2013.
  • Variety of issues lead to oversharing, data breaches: The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office is investigating reports that data sharing options in SystmOne may have exposed the medical records of up to 26 million patients. The system’s “enhanced data sharing” option, which doctors turned on so that medical records could be seen by local hospitals, also allowed those records to be accessed by thousands of other workers. Mobile phone company Three is investigating a technical issue that led to some customers who logged into their accounts seeing the personal data of other customers. Med Center Health in Kentucky announced a data breach due to a former employee accessing encrypted patient billing information by falsely implying it was needed for job-related reasons.
  • Bots lead to gift card fraud, stock manipulation: Nearly 1,000 customer websites were targeted by a bot named “GiftGhostBot” that automatically checks millions of gift card numbers to determine which card numbers exist and contain balances. Recent pump-and-dump spam messages from the Necurs botnet falsely claimed that InCapta was about to be bought out for $1.37 per share and that people could buy shares for less than 20 cents before the buyout would be announced.
  • Malware spread via Ask.com toolbar: For the second time in a one month period, malicious actors were able to compromise the Ask Partner Network (APN), creators of the Ask.com toolbar, in order to spread malware that was signed and distributed as though it were a legitimate Ask software update. The first attack was discovered in November 2016, and in December 2016 researchers discovered that the “sophisticated adversary” was continuing its earlier activity “to deliver targeted attacks using signed updates containing malicious content.”
  • Other notable cybercrime events: Hackers going by the name ‘Turkish Crime Family’ claim to have access to a large cache of iCloud and other Apple email accounts and say they will reset accounts and remotely wipe devices on April 7 unless Apple pays a ransom. The McDonald’s India app leaked the personal information of more than 2.2 million users, and data is still allegedly being leaked despite the company’s claims that it fixed the issue. Lane Community College health clinic is notifying approximately 2,500 patients that their personal information may have been compromised due to one of its computers being infected with malware. A gang of hackers-for-hire tried to steal Baidu’s driverless car technology. The FBI believes that North Korea is responsible for the February 2016 theft of $81 million from Bangladesh Bank, and U.S. prosecutors are building potential cases that may both formally accuse North Korea of directing the theft and charge alleged Chinese middlemen

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

2017-03-24_ITTNew

Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

2017-03-24_RiskScoresOne of the most profitable cybercriminal tactics is business email compromise scams, which has accounted for several billion dollars worth of actual and attempted losses over the past few years.

A reminder of that ongoing threat surfaced this past week when the Department of Justice announced the arrest of a Lithuanian man on charges that he had successfully duped two U.S.-based companies into wiring a total of over $100 million to bank accounts that he controlled.

The DOJ noted in its press release that the case “should serve as a wake-up call” to even the most sophisticated companies that they may be the target of advanced phishing attempts from malicious actors.

Evaldas Rimasauskas, the arrested Lithuanian man, allegedly registered and incorporated a company in Latvia with the same name as an Asian-based computer hardware manufacturer, and then opened and maintained various bank accounts using that copycat company name. He then is alleged to have sent fraudulent phishing emails to employees of companies that regularly conducted multimillion-dollar transactions with the hardware manufacturer, asking that those companies direct payments for legitimate goods and services to the bank accounts using the copycat name. The indictment also alleges that Rimasauskas submitted forged invoices, contracts, and letters that falsely appeared to have been executed and signed by executives and agents of the victim companies to banks in support of the large volume of funds that were fraudulently transmitted via wire transfer.

As the FBI and others have repeatedly warned, the lure of multi-million dollar payout leads to cybercriminals going to great lengths to successfully social engineer companies. This includes more time spent researching things such as the roles of employees and their language in written communications, as well as company authority figures, policies and procedures, and supply chains. This allows the social engineers to craft a message, or series of messages, that fits within the expected culture and communication patterns of an organization — increasing their chances of a large, fraudulent payday.

Webinar: IoT Devices Expanding Digital Footprints, Security Issues

We’ve seen a lot of discussion about the collective threat of the Internet-of-Things, ever since malicious actors proved in October 2016 that they could disrupt whole chunks of the Internet by stringing to together thousands of compromised smart devices and pointing them all at a single target.

The distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against DNS provider Dyn led to a number of popular websites being unavailable throughout the U.S. and elsewhere, including Twitter, Netflix, Reddit, CNN, The New York Times, and many more. There have been other IoT-powered DDoS attacks, both before and after the Dyn attack, but that incident served as a the tipping point in many ways. For years security researchers had been warning of the poor security around insecure Internet-connected devices — from baby monitors to televisions to thermostats to vehicles — and the Dyn attack was the culmination of so many small insecurities being leveraged by malicious actors in a big way.

As I’ve written before, the core pillars of cyber threats are capability, intent, and opportunity. The billions of IoT devices making their way into homes and businesses provide an ample amount of opportunity for attackers, and it was only a matter of time before they exploited that opportunity.

Register for SurfWatch Labs’ webinar:
IoT Devices Expanding Your Level or Presence (and Your Digitital Risk Footprint)
Tuesday, March 28  
1:00 – 2:00 PM (ET)

IoT devices have potentially become the largest digital footprint NOT under proper security management. In addition, many reports have projected the number of Internet-connected devices to double or even triple within the next four years. It’s a concern for businesses, particularly since the devices often lack even basic cybersecurity features, but the issues stemming from IoT devices are not new or unique.

The security community has seen similar developments over the past 15 years, as I noted in my recent Security Week column, including Virtual Machines becoming the go-to technology in the early 2000s and BYOD beginning to be adopted later in the decade. In both cases, the digital footprints of organizations expanded, and security strategies had to evolve to match those risks. A similar effort needs to be taken in the face of IoT threats.

Take a look at this chart our threat analysts put together highlighting some of the top trending targets associated with IoT cyber threats over the past year. SurfWatch Labs has collected data on everything from cameras, routers and wearable devices to numerous “Other” tags such as home security systems, printers, light bulbs, and more.

SurfWatch Labs has collected data on dozens of different types of IoT devices that can be exploited by malicious actors.

And there continues to be more developments on the IoT front. Over just the past few weeks we’ve seen:

  • CIA exploits tied to smart devices, such as WikiLeaks’ claim that Samsung TVs can be placed in a “fake-off” mode and used as a bug to spy on targets.
  • The discovery of Imeij, a new IoT malware that exploits a vulnerability in devices from AVTech, a surveillance technology company,
  • New reported breaches related to IoT devices, such as CloudPets line of Internet-connected toys, on the heels of a study that revealed 84% of companies have already experienced some sort of IoT breach.

This is a problem that is likely going to get worse in the near future as more of these types of threats move from the periphery of the cybercrime conversation into center stage.

For more information on this threat join Kristi Horton, Senior Risk Analyst with Gate 15 & Real Estate ISAC, and myself, Chief Security Strategist with SurfWatch Labs, for an upcoming discussion around IOT device risks, trends, and best practices for pulling these devices under better control.

Register: IoT Devices Expanding Your Level or Presence (and Your Digitital Risk Footprint)

Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: Third-Party Breaches and Apache Struts Issues

Twitter is the week’s top trending cybercrime target after malicious actors leveraged a third-party analytics service known as Twitter Counter to hijack a number of Twitter accounts and post inflammatory messages written in Turkish along with images of Nazi swastikas. Hundreds of accounts were compromised, the Associated Press reported.

2017-03-18_ITT.png

Forbes magazine, the Atlanta Police Department, Amnesty International, UNICEF USA, and Nike Spain were among the numerous Twitter accounts hijacked.

A Twitter spokesperson said it removed the permissions of the third-party app, which was the source of the problem. In a series of tweets on Wednesday, Tweet Counter responded to the issue: “We’re aware that our service was hacked and have started an investigation into the matter. We’ve already taken measures to contain such abuse. Assuming this abuse is indeed done using our system, we’ve blocked all ability to post tweets and changed our Twitter app key.”

Twitter hijackings are common, and we do not highlight them in this weekly report very often; however, the Tweet Counter compromise is worth noting due to the supply chain issues it represents. Organizations frequently use third-party services to help manage their numerous social media accounts, and that interconnectedness was one of the central themes of SurfWatch Labs’ annual threat intelligence report. “One of the most telling statistics in all of SurfWatch Labs’ evaluated cyber threat data is the rise of CyberFacts related to third parties,” the report stated. “It is clear that malicious actors are looking for any opportunity to exploit poor cybersecurity practices, and the supply chain provides an abundance of opportunity for cybercriminals to do so.”

Organizations should have a way to track, monitor, and address any issues pertaining to third-party tools and services so they can better manage the increased risk that stems from an interconnected world.

2017-03-18_ITTGroups

Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • New point-of-sale breaches: A breach at point-of-sale vendor 24×7 Hospitality Technology appears to be behind a series of fraudulent transactions tied to Select Restaurants Inc. locations, Brian Krebs reported. 24×7 issued a breach notification letter in January saying that a network intrusion through a remote access application allowed a third party to gain access to some of 24×7 customers’ systems and execute PoSeidon malware. Multiple Australian schools are warning parents that individuals are reporting fraudulent payment card transactions after Queensland School Photography’s online ordering system was compromised.
  • Yahoo breach leads to indictments: A grand jury has indicted four individuals, including two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), over their alleged roles in the hacking of at least 500 million Yahoo accounts. According to the Department of Justice, the FSB officer defendants, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, protected, directed, facilitated, and paid co-defendants Alexsey Belan and Karim Baratov to collect information through computer intrusions in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Breaches due to insecure databases and devices: Security researchers discovered hundreds of gigabytes of data from the Warren County Sheriff’s Department exposed due to an insecure network storage device, including a variety of sensitive documents and recordings. A Dun & Bradstree database containing the personal information of 33.7 million U.S. individuals has been exposed, likely due to an unsecured MongoDB database. Dun & Bradstree said that it owns the database, but stressed that the data was not stolen from its systems and that the information was approximately six months old. Thousands of sensitive U.S. Air Force documents were exposed due to an insecure backup drive belonging to an unnamed lieutenant colonel.
  • Ransomware infections continue to be announced: Summit Reinsurance is notifying individuals of a breach after discovering unauthorized access to a server as well as a ransomware infection. The city of Mountain Home, Arkansas, had to wipe the server of its water department and restore the data from a backup after a ransomware infection locked 90,000 files. Metropolitan Urology Group said a November 2016 ransomware infection exposed the health information of patients who received services between 2003 and 2010. Ransomware actors are shifting towards disrupting business services and demanding higher ransom payouts.
  • Other notable cybercrime events: A flaw in the old website of South African-based cinema chain Ster-Kinekor exposed the personal information of up to 6.7 million users. Three is notifying an additional 76,373 customers that their personal information was compromised in a November 2016 incident. Wishbone announced a data breach due to unknown individuals having “access to an API without authorization.” UK travel association ABTA announced that 43,000 individuals had their personal information compromised due to a vulnerability in the servers of a third-party hosting service. Arkansas is investigating whether malware stole the personal information of 19,000 individuals. Cincinnati Eye Institute,  Laundauer, and Virginia Commonwealth University Health System announced data breaches.

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

2017-03-18_ITTNew

Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

2017-03-18_RiskScoresEarlier this month, a patch was issued to address a high-impact vulnerability in Apache Struts Jakarta Multipart parser that allowed attackers to remotely execute malicious code. Shortly after the patch, an exploit appeared on a Chinese-language website,. Researchers then confirmed that attackers were “widely exploiting” the vulnerability. Since then, the issue has continued to affect numerous organizations through data breaches and service downtime.

For example, the Canada Revenue Agency was one of the week’s top trending cybercrime targets after the Canadian government took the website for filing federal tax returns offline due to the vulnerability, temporarily halting services such as electronic filing until security patches could be put in place.  

John Glowacki, a government security official, said during a press conference that there was “a specific and credible threat to certain government IT systems,” and Statistics Canada confirmed that hackers broke into a web server by exploiting the Apache Struts vulnerability. Glowacki also said it was his understanding that some other countries “are actually having greater problems with this specific vulnerability [than Canada].”

Those other instances have not been as widely reported; however, GMO Payment Gateway confirmed a data breach related to the vulnerability. The Japanese payment processing provider announced that an Apache Struts vulnerability led to the leak of payment card data and personal information from customers who used the Tokyo Metropolitan Government website and Japan Housing Finance Agency site. According to the breach notification, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government credit card payment site leaked the details of as many as 676,290 payment cards, and the Japan Housing Finance Agency payment site leaked the details of as many as 43,540 payment cards. The breach was discovered after an investigation was launched on March 9 due to alerts about the vulnerability. Less than six hours later, GMO discovered unauthorized access and stopped all systems running with Apache Struts 2.

Surfwatch Labs analysts warn that users with root privileges running on unpatched Apache Struts are at high risk of being fully compromised, and organizations are encouraged to patch Apache web servers as soon as possible.

“Unfortunately, fixing this critical flaw isn’t always as easy as applying a single update and rebooting,” Ars Technica’s Dan Goodin noted. “That’s because in many cases, Web apps must be rebuilt using a patched version of Apache Struts.”

Ransomware Disrupting Business Operations and Demanding Higher Payouts

Malicious actors are continually fine-tuning their tactics, and one of the best examples of this is the evolution of ransomware. Ransomware has largely been an opportunistic, rather than a targeted, form of cybercrime with the goal of infecting as many users as possible. That model has worked so effectively that extortion is now ubiquitous when it comes to cybercrime — so much so that even fake attacks are proving to be successful.

As I wrote earlier this month, the surge of extortion attacks impacting organizations has led to a number of fake extortion threats, including empty ransomware demands where actors contact organizations, lie about the organization’s data being encrypted, and ask for money to remove the non-existent threat. Cybercriminals like to follow the path of least resistance, and an attack doesn’t get much easier than simply pretending to have done something malicious.

However, attacks over the past year have proven that infecting organizations with ransomware can result in much higher payouts. The more disruptive the attack, the more money some organizations are willing to pay to make the problem go away. As a result, ransomware actors are shifting their targets towards more disruptive attacks, which we examine in our latest report, Ransomware Actors Shift Gears: New Wave of Ransomware Attacks Aims to Lock Business Services, Not Just Data.

A quick look at some of the ransomware mentioned in SurfWatch Labs new report.

It was just 13 months ago that Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center made national attention by paying $17,000 to decrypt its files after a ransomware attack. The incident was novel at the time, but those types of stories have since become commonplace.

For example:

  • On November 25, 2016, an HDDCryptor infection at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency led to the temporary shutdown of ticketing machines and free rides for many passengers, costing an estimated $50,000 in lost fares.
  • On January 19, 2017, a ransomware infection of the St. Louis Public Library computer system temporarily halted checkouts across all 17 locations and led to a several-day outage of the library’s reservable computers. 
  • On January 31, 2017, a ransomware infection in Licking County, Ohio, led to the IT department shutting down more than a thousand computers and left a variety of departments – including the 911 call center – unable to use computers and perform services as normal for several days.
  • In February 2017 at the RSA Conference,  researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology presented a proof-of-concept ransomware that targets the programmable logic controllers (PLCs) used in industrial control systems (ICS).

As the Georgia Institute of Technology researchers noted: “ICS networks usually have little valuable data, but instead place the highest value on downtime, equipment health, and safety to personnel. Therefore, ransomware authors can threaten all three to raise the value side of the tradeoff equation to make ICS ransomware profitable.”

In short, if actors understand what is most valuable to an organization and can find a way to effectively disrupt those goals, they can find success in yet-to-be targeted industries. It may require more legwork, but the higher potential payouts may make it worthwhile for some actors to engage in less widespread but potentially much more profitable attacks.

Government agencies, consumer services, educational institutions, healthcare organizations, and more have all had services disrupted by ransomware over the past six months.

In addition, just last week, researchers discovered a new ransomware family, dubbed “RanRan,” that doesn’t even ask for money. Instead, the ransomware attempts to force victims “to create a public sub-domain with a name that would appear to advocate and incite violence against a Middle Eastern political leader.” The malware is described by the researchers as “fairly rudimentary” and there are a number of mistakes in the encryption process, but it serves as an example of how malicious actors that are not financially motivated can nevertheless leverage ransomware to achieve their goals.

Organizations need to take action to protect themselves against ransomware actors that are trying to find more effective ways to disrupt business operations and demand even higher ransom payouts. For more information on these evolving ransomware attacks, download SurfWatch Labs’ free report: Ransomware Actors Shift Gears: New Wave of Ransomware Attacks Aims to Lock Business Services, Not Just Data.

Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: Massive Leaks Expose CIA Secrets and Alleged Spam Operation

The week’s top trending cybercrime story was WikiLeaks’ release of more than 8,000 documents related to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The dump, called “Vault 7,” contains information on the CIA’s hacking tools and methods and is “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency,” according to WikiLeaks.

2017-03-11_ITT.png“Recently, the CIA lost control of the majority of its hacking arsenal including malware, viruses, trojans, weaponized ‘zero day’ exploits, malware remote control systems and associated documentation,” WikiLeaks wrote in a press release. “This extraordinary collection, which amounts to more than several hundred million lines of code, gives its possessor the entire hacking capacity of the CIA. The archive appears to have been circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.”

The leak has led to widespread reports on the CIA’s hacking capabilities, including tools to compromise Windows, OS X, iOS, and Android devices; ways to circumvent popular antivirus programs; an exploit that uses a USB stick to turn smart TVs into bugging devices; and efforts to infect vehicle control systems. The U.S. is investigating the source of the leaks, which a CIA spokesperson described as deeply troubling and “designed to damage the intelligence community’s ability to protect America against terrorists and other adversaries.”

WikiLeaks said it carefully reviewed the published documents and has avoided “the distribution of ‘armed’ cyberweapons until a consensus emerges on the technical and political nature of the CIA’s program and how such ‘weapons’ should analyzed, disarmed and published.” On Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange held a press conference where he said WikiLeaks would give technology companies “exclusive access” to the details of the exploits so that they could patch any software flaws; however, Thomas Fox-Brewster of Forbes reported that as of Saturday morning companies such as Google and Microsoft had yet to receive those technical details from WikiLeaks.

2017-03-11_ITTGroups

Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • Verifone investigating data breach: Verifone, the largest maker of credit card terminals used in the U.S., is investigating a breach after being alerted in January by Visa and MasterCard that malicious actors appeared to have been inside of Verifone’s network since mid-2016, a source told KrebsOnSecurity. “According to the forensic information to-date, the cyber attempt was limited to controllers at approximately two dozen gas stations, and occurred over a short time frame,” Verifone wrote in a statement to Brian Krebs. “We believe that no other merchants were targeted and the integrity of our networks and merchants’ payment terminals remain secure and fully operational.”
  • TalkTalk responds to scam center report: Two days after the BBC reported on an industrial-scale Indian scam call center targeting TalkTalk customers, the UK-based Internet service provider temporarily banned TeamViewer and other similar remote control software programs over security issues related the scammers. Teamviewer said that it is “in extensive talks to find a comprehensive joint solution to better address this scamming issue.”
  • Tax information continues to be targeted: Daytona State College is notifying employees that their W-2 information may have been stolen after some employee W-2 statements were discovered being sold on cybercriminal markets. A glitch in Rhode Island’s Department of Human Services’ computer system resulted in more than 1,000 people receiving tax forms with the wrong information. Malicious actors are sharing concerns about government efforts to combat tax fraud, as well as tips on how those protections can be circumvented, on various dark web forums.
  • Organizations face extortion demands: Since the U.S. presidential election, at least a dozen progressive groups have faced extortion attacks where malicious actors search organizations’ emails for embarrassing details and then threaten to release that information if blackmail demands ranging from $30,000 to $150,000 are not paid. A Florida man was charged with intentionally damaging computers that hosted a San Diego software company’s website. The Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus computer system was shut down after a ransomware infection made the system inaccessible to caucus members and employees. Fake extortion demands and empty threats are on the rise as cybercriminals capitalize on the growing number of ransom-related attacks.

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

2017-03-11_ITTNew

Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

2017-03-11_RiskScoresNearly every week researchers discover new data breaches due to publicly exposed databases that require no authentication, and this past week insecure Rync backups exposed the entire operation of River City Media (RCM), providing a rare glimpse inside what security researcher Chris Vickery described as “a massive, illegal spam operation.”

The discovery led to a months-long investigation as MacKeeper Security Research Center, CSO Online, and Spamhaus came together to examine the data, which included everything from Hipchat logs to accounting details to infrastructure planning and more. Vickery said that there are enough spreadsheets, hard drive backups, and chat logs leaked to fill a book, and both CSO Online and MacKeeper have already teased future stories peeling back additional layers of the operation.

But perhaps the most alarming discovery — along with details of  abusive scripts and techniques that have been forwarded to Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others — is a database of nearly 1.4 billion email accounts combined with real names, user IP addresses, and often physical address. Those email lists are used by RCM, which masquerades as a legitimate marketing firm, to send up to a billion emails a day, much of which can be classified as spam, according to the researchers.

On Thursday RCM issued a press release addressing the “numerous false and defamatory” statements made by the researchers and news outlets. The company said that the researchers did not find RCM’s “confidential and proprietary information through an unprotected rsync backup” and that if the researchers had contacted them prior to publication “they would have realized that a number of the statements in their articles were false and easily disprovable.” However, the press release did not provide an alternative explanation for how the researchers accessed the data, and Vickery said the company was not alerted since “it was decided that we should approach law enforcement and the affected companies (like Microsoft and Yahoo) before making any attempts at contacting the spammers directly.”

“What was legal and illegal isn’t for me to decide,” said Vickery. “But there are plenty of logs where they discuss illegal scripts and research into basically attacking mail servers and tricking the mail servers into doing things that would be against the law.”

Expect additional information to be reported in the coming weeks as the researchers and reporters comb through all of the data that was exposed.

IRS and Cybercriminals Battle Over Billion Dollar Tax Fraud Industry

While new initiatives by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) are making it harder for cybercriminals to successfully file fraudulent tax returns, those measures have not slowed down the theft of employee W-2 information this year.

The SurfWatch Labs analyst team has observed groups of malicious actors sharing concerns about government efforts to combat fraud, as well as tips on how those protections can be circumvented, in several discussion threads on popular dark web markets. Several of those actors suggested teaming up with other seasoned cybercriminals in order to share tactics and improve their success rates in the face of the new measures. “We’re gonna have to join forces if we are going to beat the odds this year,” wrote one actor on a now-deleted tax fraud discussion thread. Another actor in a separate thread echoed those sentiments: “The process has become much more difficult over the past couple of years, but [it’s] still doable to some extent. Not like in the good ‘ole days though.”

Another actor expressed concern over new verification codes to be included on 50 million W-2 forms during the 2017 tax season — up from two million forms using the codes last year. “My guess is if this is successful, then within 2 years it will be on every W2,” the actor wrote.

An actor in a tax fraud discussion thread speculating that the verification codes used on some W-2 forms may become more widespread in the future.

The IRS has partnered with certain Payroll Service Providers this tax season to provide a 16-digit code designed to help verify the accuracy of millions of W-2s. However, as the IRS noted in its announcement, the verification rollout is only a test and “omitted and incorrect W-2 Verification Codes will not delay the processing” of returns filed this year. Other more tangible efforts to combat tax fraud include the IRS holding any refunds claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Additional Child Tax Credit until February 15 to provide more time to verify the accuracy of returns, and the requirement of an individual’s date of birth and previous-year’s adjusted gross income when using tax software for the first time. Some states also ask for additional identification information, such as driver’s license numbers, in order to file their returns.

Additional anti-fraud efforts have come largely because of the large volume of fraudulent tax returns filed each year. Over the first nine months of 2015, the IRS confirmed that 1.2 million fraudulent tax returns made it into the agency’s tax return processing systems. Attempts to combat the massive amount of fraud resulted in 787,000 fraudulent returns over the same period in 2016 — a nearly 50 percent drop. It’s too early to say how 2017 will fare in terms of the number of fraudulent returns and the total cost to the IRS. What is clear is that cybercriminals are continuing to target tax-related information such as W-2s despite those changes — and they’re having great success.

As I’ve noted in other articles, cybercriminals follow the path of of least resistance and most profit. While cybercriminals face more resistance than in the past, their motivation, opportunity and capability are clearly still there.

Tax-related cybercrime is cyclical, and cyber threat intelligence around the subject peaks around this time every year. However, this past February was the most active month in terms of the volume of data SurfWatch Labs has collected around tax fraud since May 2015, and that spike in 2015 was due to a large amount of threat intelligence data surrounding the theft of taxpayer information from the IRS’ “Get Transcript” service.

The amount of SurfWatch Labs’ tax-related cyber threat intelligence data peaked in February (data through March 6, 2017).

Much of the recent data directly relates to phishing incidents that have resulted in the theft of employee W-2 information. As we wrote in a blog early last month, malicious actors are using the same simple but effective phishing tactics that led to last year’s wave of successful W-2 thefts. This week we saw the number of organizations that have publicly confirmed breaches due to W-2 phishing surpass 100 for the year, and that number does not even include the numerous organizations that had W-2 information stolen through other means, such as data breaches or incidents at tax preparation firms or payroll providers.

That stolen W-2 information is then used to file fraudulent tax returns, commit other forms of identity theft, or sold on various dark web markets for around $10 each. That can translate into a decent profit for a cybercriminal actor who can successfully dupe a handful of payroll or human resource employees into handing over hundreds — or thousands — of W-2 forms at a time.

A vendor from AlphaBay says they have “tons” of stolen W-2 tax forms for sale for only $10 each.

But as we noted above, W-2 forms are now only part of the information needed to successfully dupe the IRS. Many returns will also need information such as the individual’s date of birth and previous year’s adjusted gross income. That information can be harder to come by, and how to best obtain that information is one of the key discussion points on the cybercriminal forums observed by our analysts.

“How do I get to know the AGI [Adjusted Gross Income]?” one actor asked the group in a discussion thread on a dark web forum. Another actor, who claims to have gone solo this year after previously being part of a group engaged in tax fraud, said information such as AGI generally requires other forms of data collection or social engineering. “You’ll have a tricky time getting it,” the actor warned. Later, the actor advised that AGI can often be found in an individual’s car note or home loan documentation.

An actor responding to previous posts about finding AGI figures, as well as the value of targeting 1120S corporate tax forms.

In a separate thread, the same actor wrote a long post that is part inspirational pep talk to wannabe fraudsters frustrated by the recent changes, part FAQ on how to best perform tax fraud. We won’t share the full details of that post here (including details such as which financial institutions and methods work best for receiving fraudulent tax return payments), as this post is meant to help illuminate the thought process of cybercriminals, not to serve as a walkthrough on how to successfully commit tax fraud. Nevertheless, the section on how to find an individual’s AGI is worth noting due to the lengths the actor claims to go — and may now need to go — in order to pull off a successful season of tax fraud.

The actor explained, “For everyone I targeted, I started researching them 6 months ago” by looking through public data for things like birth announcements (to “add that baby child credit”) or for minor offenses such as driving under the influence (to find people who have jobs “in the good bracket” that are also more likely to be “one of the last minute tax filers”).

“Lots of social engineering goes into this as well,” the actor wrote. “I have even been so bold to call some, pretending to solicit them into ‘free tax assistance’ [to] find out when they plan on filing.”

An actor offering advice on how to scout targets for tax fraud.

That extra legwork is why listings on dark web markets that include information such as AGI tend to sell at much higher prices than those without. For example, the listing below, which “contains all info needed for filing [a] tax refund,” was priced at $50, five times the price of a listing selling only stolen W-2 information.

A listing on the Hansa Market selling W-2 information along with the victim’s date of birth and the previous year’s adjusted gross income.

These discussions indicate that efforts made by the IRS, financial institutions, and others have made the practice of filing fraudulent tax returns more difficult for cybercriminal actors. Despite those efforts, a number of tax-related breaches continue to occur and a great deal of effort continues to be made by malicious actors to successfully bypass those protections and steal a slice of that lucrative tax pie.

As one actor reminded everyone: “Tax fraud is a billion dollar entity. Take your cut along with the others. Don’t be dissuaded.”

Weekly Cyber Risk Roundup: Cloudflare Aftermath and Online Stores Breached

The Cloudflare software bug that resulted in the potential leaking of sensitive data remained as the top trending cybercrime event of the past week as researchers continued to investigate and quantify the effects of the incident. In a March 1 blog post, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince described the “Cloudbleed” impact as “potentially massive” and said the bug “had the potential to be much worse” than the initial analysis suggested.

2017-03-03_ITT.png

Cloudflare summarized its findings as of March 1:

  1. Their logs showed no evidence that the bug was maliciously exploited before it was patched.
  2. The vast majority of Cloudflare customers had no data leaked.
  3. A review of tens of thousands of pages of leaked data from search engine caches revealed a large number of instances of leaked internal Cloudflare headers and customer cookies, but no instances of passwords, credit card numbers, or health records.
  4. The review is ongoing.

The bug was first discovered by researcher Tavis Ormandy on February 17. Ormandy wrote that the data leakage may date back to September 22, 2016, and that he was able to find “full HTTPS requests, client IP addresses, full responses, cookies, passwords, keys, data, everything.”

Price said that “the nightmare scenario” would be if a hacker had been aware of the Cloudflare bug and had been able to quietly mine data before the company was notified by Google’s Project Zero team and a patch was issued. “For the last twelve days we’ve been reviewing our logs to see if there’s any evidence to indicate that a hacker was exploiting the bug before it was patched,” Price wrote. “We’ve found nothing so far to indicate that was the case.”

2017-03-03_ittgroups

Other trending cybercrime events from the week include:

  • Political hacks and fallout continue: The daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort had her iPhone data hacked and a database containing more than 280,000 text messages, many of which shed light on the family’s views of Russia-aligned Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych and President Donald Trump, have been leaked on a darknet website run by a hacktivist collective. The files appear to have been accessed through a backup of Andrea Manafort’s iPhone stored on a computer or iCloud account. Three Russians were recently charged with treason for allegedly passing secrets to U.S. firm Verisign and other unidentified American companies, which in turn shared them with U.S. intelligence agencies. The charges come after the U.S. has accused Russia of hacking, and Reuters reported the charges may be a signal that Russia “would now take action against forms of cooperation that it previously tolerated.”
  • More payment card breaches: Hospitality company Benchmark announced a payment card breach affecting six of its properties, including the hotel front desks of Doral Arrowwood, Eaglewood Resort & Spa, and the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort and the food and beverage locations of The Chattanoogan, Willows Lodge, and Turtle Bay Resort. Niagara-Wheatfield School District officials are warning individuals who purchased tickets to attend a school production of “The Lion King” that there have been several reports of credit card fraud tied to those purchases. The school sold the tickets using the ticket sales platform ShowTix4U; however, a spokesperson said there may have been other ways the credit card information could have become compromised. Touring and transportation company Roberts Hawaii is notifying customers of a payment card breach. Authorities are urging customer of Downeast Credit Union in Belfast to check their account for suspicious activity after the discovery of a skimming device in an ATM at the Down East Credit Union Belfast branch.
  • Unauthorized access due to employees and poor security: Vanderbilt University Medical Center is notifying 3,247 patients that their patient files were accessed between May 2015 and December 2016 by two staff members who worked as patient transporters. WVU Medicine University Healthcare is notifying 7,445 patients that their protected health information was compromised due to an employee accessing the data without authorization, and 113 of the patients are victims of identity theft. Chicago Public Schools students had their information potentially compromised due to a Google spreadsheet that did not require a login and included special education students’ personal information.
  • Other noteable cybercrime events: Spiral Toys sells an internet-connected teddy bear that allows kids and parents to exchange messages via audio recordings, and more than two million of those messages, as well as more than 800,000 email addresses and bcrypt-hashed passwords, have been potentially compromised due to being stored on a database that wasn’t behind a firewall or password-protected. Singapore’s Ministry of Defence said that a “targeted and carefully planned” attack resulted in a breach of its I-net system. An actor using the name “CrimeAgency” on Twitter claims to have hacked 126 vBulletin-based forums that were using outdated versions of the software. Luxury motorcoach company Hampton Jitney is advising customers to change their passwords after a security breach discovered on Wednesday compromised personal information stored by the company.

SurfWatch Labs collected data on many different companies tied to cybercrime over the past week. Some of those “newly seen” targets, meaning they either appeared in SurfWatch Labs’ data for the first time or else reappeared after being absent for several weeks, are shown in the chart below.

2017-03-03_ittnew

Cyber Risk Trends From the Past Week

2017-03-03_riskscoresSeveral companies have issued breach notification letters related to a malware incident at Aptos, Inc., which provides e-commerce solutions for a number of online stores. The breach at Aptos was discovered in November 2016, and notification by the various companies affected was delayed until recently at the request of law enforcement.

According to a notification from Mrs Prindables:

Mrs Prindables along with a wide range of major retailers, utilizes a third party company named Aptos to operate and maintain the technology for website and telephone orders. On February 6, 2017, Aptos informed us that unauthorized person(s) electronically accessed and placed malware on Aptos’ platform holding information for 40 online retailers, including Mrs Prindables, from approximately February 2016 and ended in December 2016. Aptos has told us that it discovered the breach in November 2016, but was asked by law enforcement investigating the incident to delay notification to allow the investigation to move forward.

Other companies to issue breach notification letters, as noted by databreaches.net, include: AlphaIndustries.com, AtlanticCigar.com, BlueMercury.com, Hue.com, MovieMars.com, Nutrex-Hawaii.com, PegasusLighting.com, PlowandHearth.com, Purdys.com, Runnings.com, Sport-Mart.com, Thiesens.com, VapourBeauty.com, WestMusic.com, and PercussionSource.com.

The breach announcement comes on the heels of a report that found “a steady rise” in online fraud attack rates throughout 2016. The shift in tactics toward card-not-present fraud was expected as increased security associated with the U.S. adoption of EMV technology made card-present fraud less profitable. Fraud does not go away; it only shifts. As SurfWatch Labs Adam Meyer has said, fraud is like a balloon: apply a little pressure to one area and malicious actors quickly expand into an area with less resistance.

However, card-present fraud is still impacting organizations. The past month saw a point-of-sale breach at InterContinental Hotels Group that affected the restaurants and bars of 12 properties and another breach that affected six Benchmark properties. In addition, malware was discovered on the payment systems of Arby’s corporate locations. Nevertheless, SurfWatch Labs cyber threat intelligence data, along with reports from other researchers, clearly shows a continued shift as cybercriminals move to find the sweet spot between difficulty and profit when it comes to payment card fraud — and that increasingly appears to be online.