Thursday, December 7, 2017

Phishers Are Upping Their Game. So Should You.

Not long ago, phishing attacks were fairly easy for the average Internet user to spot: Full of grammatical and spelling errors, and linking to phony bank or email logins at unencrypted (http:// vs. https://) Web pages. Increasingly, however, phishers are upping their game, polishing their copy and hosting scam pages over https:// connections — complete with the green lock icon in the browser address bar to make the fake sites appear more legitimate.

A brand new (and live) PayPal phishing page that uses SSL (https://) to appear more legitimate.

According to stats released this week by anti-phishing firm Phishlabs, nearly 25 percent of all phishing sites in the third quarter of this year were hosted on HTTPS domains — almost double the percentage seen in the previous quarter.

“A year ago, less than three percent of phish were hosted on websites using SSL certificates,” wrote Crane Hassold, the company’s threat intelligence manager. “Two years ago, this figure was less than one percent.”

A currently live Facebook phishing page that uses https.

As shown in the examples above (which KrebsOnSecurity found in just a few minutes of searching via phish site reporting service Phishtank.com), the most successful phishing sites tend to include not only their own SSL certificates but also a portion of the phished domain in the fake address.

Why are phishers more aggressively adopting HTTPS Web sites? Traditionally, many phishing pages are hosted on hacked, legitimate Web sites, in which case the attackers can leverage both the site’s good reputation and its SSL certificate.

Yet this, too, is changing, says Phishlabs’ Hassold.

“An analysis of Q3 HTTPS phishing attacks against PayPal and Apple, the two primary targets of these attacks, indicates that nearly three-quarters of HTTPS phishing sites targeting them were hosted on maliciously-registered domains rather than compromised websites, which is substantially higher than the overall global rate,” he wrote. “Based on data from 2016, slightly less than half of all phishing sites were hosted on domains registered by a threat actor.”

Hassold posits that more phishers are moving to HTTPS because it helps increase the likelihood that users will trust that the site is legitimate. After all, your average Internet user has been taught for years to simply “look for the lock icon” in the browser address bar as assurance that a site is safe.

Perhaps this once was useful advice, but if so its reliability has waned over the years. In November, Phishlabs conducted a poll to see how many people actually knew the meaning of the green padlock that is associated with HTTPS websites.

“More than 80% of the respondents believed the green lock indicated that a website was either legitimate and/or safe, neither of which is true,” he wrote.

What the green lock icon indicates is that the communication between your browser and the Web site in question is encrypted; it does little to ensure that you really are communicating with the site you believe you are visiting.

At a higher level, another reason phishers are more broadly adopting HTTPS is because more sites in general are using encryption: According to Let’s Encrypt, 65% of web pages loaded by Firefox in November used HTTPS, compared to 45% at the end of 2016.

Also, phishers no longer need to cough up a nominal fee each time they wish to obtain a new SSL certificate. Indeed, Let’s Encrypt now gives them away for free.

The major Web browser makers all work diligently to index and block known phishing sites, but you can’t count on the browser to save you:

So what can you do to make sure you’re not the next phishing victim?

Don’t take the bait: Most phishing attacks try to convince you that you need to act quickly to avoid some kind of loss, cost or pain, usually by clicking a link and “verifying” your account information, user name, password, etc. at a fake site. Emails that emphasize urgency should be always considered extremely suspect, and under no circumstances should you do anything suggested in the email.

Phishers count on spooking people into acting rashly because they know their scam sites have a finite lifetime; they may be shuttered at any moment. The best approach is to bookmark the sites that store your sensitive information; that way, if you receive an urgent communication that you’re unsure about, you can visit the site in question manually and log in that way. In general, it’s a bad idea to click on links in email.

Links Lie: You’re a sucker if you take links at face value. For example, this might look like a link to Bank of America, but I assure you it is not. To get an idea of where a link goes, hover over it with your mouse and then look in the bottom left corner of the browser window.

Yet, even this information often tells only part of the story, and some links can be trickier to decipher. For instance, many banks like to send links that include ridiculously long URLs which stretch far beyond the browser’s ability to show the entire thing when you hover over the link.

The most important part of a link is the “root” domain. To find that, look for the first slash (/) after the “http://” part, and then work backwards through the link until you reach the second dot; the part immediately to the right is the real domain to which that link will take you.

“From” Fields can be forged: Just because the message says in the “From:” field that it was sent by your bank doesn’t mean that it’s true. This information can be and frequently is forged.

If you want to discover who (or what) sent a message, you’ll need to examine the email’s “headers,” important data included in all email.  The headers contain a lot of information that can be overwhelming for the untrained eye, so they are often hidden by your email client or service provider, each of which may have different methods for letting users view or enable headers.

Describing succinctly how to read email headers with an eye toward thwarting spammers would require a separate tutorial, so I will link to a decent one already written at About.com. Just know that taking the time to learn how to read headers is a useful skill that is well worth the effort.

Keep in mind that phishing can take many forms: Why steal one set of login credentials for a single brand when you can steal them all? Increasingly, attackers are opting for approaches that allow them to install a password-snarfing Trojan that steals all of the sensitive data on victim PCs.

So be careful about clicking links, and don’t open attachments in emails you weren’t expecting, even if they appear to come from someone you know. Send a note back to the sender to verify the contents and that they really meant to send it. This step can be a pain, but I’m a stickler for it; I’ve been known to lecture people who send me press releases and other items as unrequested attachments.

If you didn’t go looking for it, don’t install it: Password stealing malware doesn’t only come via email; quite often, it is distributed as a Facebook video that claims you need a special “codec” to view the embedded content. There are tons of variations of this scam. The point to remember is: If it wasn’t your idea to install something from the get-go, don’t do it.

Lay traps: When you’ve mastered the basics above, consider setting traps for phishers, scammers and unscrupulous marketers. Some email providers — most notably Gmail — make this especially easy.

When you sign up at a site that requires an email address, think of a word or phrase that represents that site for you, and then add that with a “+” sign just to the left of the “@” sign in your email address. For example, if I were signing up at example.com, I might give my email address as krebsonsecurity+example@gmail.com. Then, I simply go back to Gmail and create a folder called “Example,” along with a new filter that sends any email addressed to that variation of my address to the Example folder.

That way, if anyone other than the company I gave this custom address to starts spamming or phishing it, that may be a clue that example.com shared my address with others (or that it got hacked!). I should note two caveats here. First, although this functionality is part of the email standard, not all email providers will recognize address variations like these. Also, many commercial Web sites freak out if they see anything other than numerals or letters, and may not permit the inclusion of a “+” sign in the email address field.



from
https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/12/phishers-are-upping-their-game-so-should-you/

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Anti-Skimmer Detector for Skimmer Scammers

Crooks who make and deploy ATM skimmers are constantly engaged in a cat-and-mouse game with financial institutions, which deploy a variety of technological measures designed to defeat skimming devices. The latest innovation aimed at tipping the scales in favor of skimmer thieves is a small, battery powered device that provides crooks a digital readout indicating whether an ATM likely includes digital anti-skimming technology.

A well-known skimmer thief is marketing a product called “Smart Shield Detector” that claims to be able to detect a variety of electronic methods used by banks to foil ATM skimmers.

The device, which sells for $200, is called a “Smart Shield Detector,” and promises to detect “all kinds of noise shields, hidden shields, delayed shields and others!”

It appears to be a relatively simple machine that gives a digital numeric indicator of whether an ATM uses any of a variety of anti-skimming methods. One of the most common is known as “frequency jamming,” which uses electronic signals to scramble both the clock (timing) and the card data itself in a bid to confuse skimming devices.

“You will see current level within seconds!,” the seller enthuses in an online ad for the product, a snippet of which is shown above. “Available for sale after November 1st, market price 200usd. Preorders available at price 150usd/device. 2+ devices for your team – will give discounts.”

According to the individual selling the Smart Shield Detector, a readout of 15 or higher indicates the presence of some type of electronic shield or jamming technology — warning the skimmer thief to consider leaving that ATM alone and to find a less protected machine. In contrast, a score between 3-5 is meant to indicate “no shield,” i.e., that the ATM is ripe for compromise.

KrebsOnSecurity shared this video with Charlie Harrow, solutions manager for ATM maker NCR Corp. Harrow called the device “very interesting” but said NCR doesn’t try to hide which of is ATM include anti-skimming technologies — such as those that claim to be detectable by the Smart Shield Detector.

“We don’t hide the fact that our ATMs are protected against this type of external skimming attack,” Harrow said. “Our Anti-Skimming product uses a uniquely shaped bezel so you can tell just by looking at the ATM that it is protected (if you know what you are looking for).”

Harrow added that NCR doesn’t rely on secrecy of design to protect its ATMs.

“The bad guys are skilled, resourced and determined enough that sooner or later they will figure out exactly what we have done, so the ATM has to be safe against a knowledgeable attacker,” he said. “That said, a little secret sauce doesn’t hurt, and can often be very effective in stopping specific attack [methods] in the short term, but it can’t be relied on to provide any long term protection.”

The best method for protecting yourself against ATM skimmers doesn’t require any fancy gadgets or technology at all: It involves merely covering the PIN pad with your hand while you enter your PIN!

That’s because the vast majority of skimming attacks involve two components: A device that fits over or inside the card reader and steals data from the card’s magnetic stripe, and a tiny hidden camera aimed at the PIN pad. While thieves who have compromised an ATM you used can still replicate your ATM card, the real value rests in your PIN, without which the thieves cannot easily drain your checking or savings account of cash.

Also, be aware of your physical surroundings while using an ATM; you’re probably more apt to get mugged physically than virtually at a cash machine. Finally, try to stick to cash machines that are physically installed inside of banks, as these tend to be much more challenging for thieves to compromise than stand-alone machines like those commonly found at convenience stores.

KrebsOnSecurity would like to thank Alex Holden, founder of Milwaukee, Wisc. based Hold Security, for sharing the above video.

Are you fascinated by skimming devices? Then check out my series, All About Skimmers, which looks at all manner of skimming scams, from fake ATMs and cash claws to PIN pad overlays and gas pump skimmers.



from
https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/12/anti-skimmer-detector-for-skimmer-scammers/

Monday, December 4, 2017

Hacked Password Service Leakbase Goes Dark

Leakbase, a Web site that indexed and sold access to billions of usernames and passwords stolen in some of the world largest data breaches, has closed up shop. A source close to the matter says the service was taken down in a law enforcement sting that may be tied to the Dutch police raid of the Hansa dark web market earlier this year.

Leakbase[dot]pw began selling memberships in September 2016, advertising more than two billion usernames and passwords that were stolen in high-profile breaches at sites like linkedin.com, myspace.com and dropbox.com.

But roughly two weeks ago KrebsOnSecurity began hearing from Leakbase users who were having trouble reaching the normally responsive and helpful support staff responsible for assisting customers with purchases and site issues.

Sometime this weekend, Leakbase began redirecting visitors to haveibeenpwned.com, a legitimate breach alerting service run by security researcher Troy Hunt (Hunt’s site lets visitors check if their email address has shown up in any public database leaks, but it does not store corresponding account passwords).

Leakbase reportedly came under new ownership after its hack in April. According to a source with knowledge of the matter but who asked to remain anonymous, the new owners of Leakbase dabbled in dealing illicit drugs at Hansa, a dark web marketplace that was dismantled in July by authorities in The Netherlands.

The Dutch police had secretly seized Hansa and operated it for a time in order to gather more information about and ultimately arrest many of Hansa’s top drug sellers and buyers. 

According to my source, information the Dutch cops gleaned from their Hansa takeover led authorities to identify and apprehend one of the owners of Leakbase. This information could not be confirmed, and the Dutch police have not yet responded to requests for comment. 

A message posted Dec. 2 to Leakbase’s Twitter account states that the service was being discontinued, and the final message posted to that account seems to offer paying customers some hope of recovering any unused balances stored with the site.

“We understand many of you may have lost some time, so in an effort to offer compensation please email, refund@leakbase.pw Send your LeakBase username and how much time you had left,” the message reads. “We will have a high influx of emails so be patient, this could take a while.”

My source noted that these last two messages are interesting because they are unlike every other update posted to the Leakbase Twitter account. Prior to the shutdown message on Dec. 2, all updates to that account were done via Twitter’s Web client; but the last two were sent via Mobile Web (M2).

Ironically, Leakbase was itself hacked back in April 2017 after a former administrator was found to be re-using a password from an account at x4b[dot]net, a service that Leakbase relied upon at the time to protect itself from distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks intended to knock the site offline.

X4B[dot]net was hacked just days before the Leakbase intrusion, and soon after cleartext passwords and usernames from hundreds of Leakbase users were posted online by the hacker group calling itself the Money Team.

Many readers have questioned how it could be illegal to resell passwords that were leaked online in the wake of major data breaches. The argument here is generally that in most cases this information is already in the public domain and thus it can’t be a crime to index and resell it.

However, many legal experts see things differently. In February 2017, I wrote about clues that tied back to a real-life identity for one of the alleged administrators of Leakedsource, a very similar service (it’s worth noting that the subject of that story also was found out because he re-used the same credentials across multiple sites).

In the Leakedsource story, I interviewed Orin Kerr, director of the Cybersecurity Law Initiative at The George Washington University. Kerr told me that owners of services like Leakbase and Leakedsource could face criminal charges if prosecutors could show these services intended for the passwords that are for sale on the site to be used in the furtherance of a crime.

Kerr said trafficking in passwords is clearly a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

Specifically, Section A6 of the CFAA, which makes it a crime to “knowingly and with intent to defraud traffic in any password or similar information through which a computer may be accessed without authorization, if…such trafficking affects interstate or foreign commerce.”

“CFAA quite clearly punishes password trafficking,” Kerr said. “The statute says the [accused] must be trafficking in passwords knowingly and with intent to defraud, or trying to further unauthorized access.”



from
https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/12/hacked-password-service-leakbase-goes-dark/

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Former NSA Employee Pleads Guilty to Taking Classified Data

A former employee for the National Security Agency pleaded guilty on Friday to taking classified data to his home computer in Maryland. According to published reports, U.S. intelligence officials believe the data was then stolen from his computer by hackers working for the Russian government.

Nghia Hoang Pho, 67, of Ellicott City, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to “willful retention of national defense information.” The U.S. Justice Department says that beginning in April 2006 Pho was employed as a developer for the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) unit, which develops specialized hacking tools to gather intelligence data from foreign targets and information systems.

According to Pho’s plea agreement, between 2010 and March 2015 he removed and retained highly sensitive classified “documents and writings that contained national defense information, including information classified as Top Secret.”

Pho is the third NSA worker to be charged in the past two years with mishandling classified data. His plea is the latest — and perhaps final — chapter in the NSA’s hunt for those responsible for leaking NSA hacking tools that have been published online over the past year by a shadowy group calling itself The Shadow Brokers.

Neither the government’s press release about the plea nor the complaint against Pho mention what happened to the classified documents after he took them home. But a report in The New York Times cites government officials speaking on condition of anonymity saying that Pho had installed on his home computer antivirus software made by a Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab, and that Russian hackers are believed to have exploited the software to steal the classified documents.

On October 5, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that Russian government hackers had lifted the hacking tools from an unnamed NSA contractor who’d taken them and examined them on his home computer, which happened to have Kaspersky Antivirus installed.

On October 10, The Times reported that Israeli intelligence officers looked on in real time as Russian government hackers used Kaspersky’s antivirus network as a kind of improvised search tool to scour computers around the world for the code names of American intelligence programs.

For its part, Kaspersky has said its software detected the NSA hacking tools on a customer’s computer and sent the files to the company’s anti-malware network for analysis. In a lengthy investigation report published last month, Kaspersky said it found no evidence that the files left its network, and that the company deleted the files from its system after learning what they were.

Kaspersky also noted that the computer from which the files were taken was most likely already compromised by “unknown threat actors.” It based that conclusion on evidence indicating the user of that system installed a backdoored Microsoft Office 2013 license activation tool, and that in order to run the tool the user must have disabled his antivirus protection.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a binding directive in September ordering all federal agencies to cease using Kaspersky software by Dec. 12.

Pho faces up to 10 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 6, 2018.

A note to readers: This author published a story earlier in the week that examined information in the metadata of Microsoft Office documents stolen from the NSA by The Shadow Brokers and leaked online. That story identified several individuals whose names were in the metadata from those documents. After the guilty plea entered this week and described above, KrebsOnSecurity has unpublished that earlier story.



from
https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/12/former-nsa-employee-pleads-guilty-to-taking-classified-data/

Friday, December 1, 2017

Carding Kingpin Sentenced Again. Yahoo Hacker Pleads Guilty

Roman Seleznev, a Russian man who is already serving a record 27-year sentence in the United States for cybercrime charges, was handed a 14-year sentence this week by a federal judge in Atlanta for his role in a credit card and identity theft conspiracy that prosecutors say netted more than $50 million. Separately, a Canadian national has pleaded guilty to charges of helping to steal more than a billion user account credentials from Yahoo.

Seleznev, 33, was given the 14-year sentence in connection with two prosecutions that were consolidated in Georgia: The 2008 heist against Atlanta-based credit card processor RBS Worldpay; and a case out of Nevada where he was charged as a leading merchant of stolen credit cards at carder[dot]su, at one time perhaps the most bustling fraud forum where members openly marketed a variety of cybercrime-oriented services.

Roman Seleznev, pictured with bundles of cash. Image: US DOJ.

Seleznev’s conviction comes more than a year after he was convicted in a Seattle court on 38 counts of cybercrime charges, including wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. The Seattle conviction earned Seleznev a 27-year prison sentence — the most jail time ever given to an individual convicted of cybercrime charges in the United States.

This latest sentence will be served concurrently — meaning it will not add any time to his 27-year sentence. But it’s worth noting because Seleznev is appealing the Seattle verdict. In the event he prevails in Seattle and gets that conviction overturned, he will still serve out his 14-year sentence in the Georgia case because he pleaded guilty to those charges and waived his right to an appeal.

Prosecutors say Seleznev, known in the underworld by his hacker nicknames “nCux” and “Bulba,” enjoyed an extravagant lifestyle prior to his arrest, driving expensive sports cars and dropping tens of thousands of dollars at lavish island vacation spots. The son of an influential Russian politician, Seleznev made international headlines in 2014 after he was captured while vacationing in The Maldives, a popular destination for Russians and one that many Russian cybercriminals previously considered to be out of reach for western law enforcement agencies.

However, U.S. authorities were able to negotiate a secret deal with the Maldivian government to apprehend Seleznev. Following his capture, Seleznev was whisked away to Guam for more than a month before being transported to Washington state to stand trial for computer hacking charges.

The U.S. Justice Department says the laptop found with him when he was arrested contained more than 1.7 million stolen credit card numbers, and that evidence presented at trial showed that Seleznev earned tens of millions of dollars defrauding more than 3,400 financial institutions.

Investigators also reportedly found a smoking gun: a password cheat sheet that linked Seleznev to a decade’s worth of criminal hacking. For more on Seleznev’s arrest and prosecution, see The Backstory Behind Carder Kingpin Roman Seleznev’s Record 27-Year Sentence, and Feds Charge Carding Kingpin in Retail Hacks.

In an unrelated case, federal prosecutors in California announced a guilty plea from Karim Baratov, one of four men indicted in March 2017 for hacking into Yahoo beginning in 2014. Yahoo initially said the intrusion exposed the usernames, passwords and account data for roughly 500 million Yahoo users, but in December 2016 Yahoo said the actual number of victims was closer to one billion (read: all of its users). 

Baratov, 22, is a Canadian and Kazakh national who lived in Canada (he’s now being held in California). He was charged with being hired by two Russian FSB officer defendants in this case — Dmitry Dokuchaev, 33, and Igor Sushchin, 43 — to hack into the email accounts of thousands of individuals. According to prosecutors, Baratov’s role in the charged conspiracy was to hack webmail accounts of individuals of interest to the FSB and send those accounts’ passwords to Dokuchaev in exchange for money.

Karim Baratov, a.k.a. “Karim Taloverov,” as pictured in 2014 on his own site, mr-karim.com.

Baratov operated several business that he advertised openly online that could be hired to hack into email accounts at the world’s largest email providers, including Google, Yahoo and Yandex. As part of his plea agreement, Baratov not only admitted to agreeing and attempting to hack at least 80 webmail accounts on behalf of one of his FSB co-conspirators, but also to hacking more than 11,000 webmail accounts in total from in or around 2010 until his arrest by Canadian authorities.

Shortly after Baratov’s arrest and indictment, KrebsOnSecurity examined many of the email hacking services he operated and that were quite clearly tied to his name. One such business advertised the ability to steal email account passwords without actually changing the victim’s password. According to prosecutors, Baratov’s service relied on “spear phishing” emails that targeted individuals with custom content and enticed recipients to click a booby-trapped link.

For example, one popular email hacking business registered to Baratov was xssmail[dot]com, which for several years advertised the ability to break into email accounts of virtually all of the major Webmail providers. XSS is short for “cross-site-scripting.” XSS attacks rely on vulnerabilities in Web sites that don’t properly parse data submitted by visitors in things like search forms or anyplace one might enter data on a Web site.

Archive.org’s cache of xssmail.com

In the context of phishing links, the user clicks the link and is actually taken to the domain he or she thinks she is visiting (e.g., yahoo.com) but the vulnerability allows the attacker to inject malicious code into the page that the victim is visiting.

This can include fake login prompts that send any data the victim submits directly to the attacker. Alternatively, it could allow the attacker to steal “cookies,” text files that many sites place on visitors’ computers to validate whether they have visited the site previously, as well as if they have authenticated to the site already.

Baratov pleaded guilty to nine counts, including one count of aggravated identity theft and eight violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 20, 2018. The aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory two-year sentence; each of the other counts is punishable by up to 10 years in jail and fines of $250,000, although any sentence he receives will likely be heavily tempered by U.S. federal sentencing guidelines.

Meanwhile, Baratov’s co-defendant Dokuchaev is embroiled in his own legal worries in Russia, charges that could carry a death sentence. He and his former boss Sergei Mikhailov — once deputy chief of the FSB’s Center for Information Security — were arrested in December 2016 by Russian authorities and charged with treason. Also charged with treason in connection with that case was Ruslan Stoyanov, a senior employee at Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab.

There are many competing theories for the reasons behind their treason charges, some of which are explored in this Washington Post story. I have my own theory, detailed in my January 2017 piece, A Shakeup in Russia’s Top Cybercrime Unit.



from
https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/12/carding-kingpin-sentenced-again-yahoo-hacker-pleads-guilty/

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

MacOS High Sierra Users: Change Root Password Now

A newly-discovered flaw in macOS High Sierra — Apple’s latest iteration of its operating system — allows anyone with local (and, apparently in some cases, remote) access to the machine to log in as the all-powerful “root” user without supplying a password. Fortunately, there is a simple fix for this until Apple patches this inexplicable bug: Change the root account’s password now.

For better or worse, this glaring vulnerability was first disclosed today on Twitter by Turkish software developer Lemi Orhan Ergin, who unleashed his findings onto the Internet with a tweet to @AppleSupport:

“Dear @AppleSupport, we noticed a *HUGE* security issue at MacOS High Sierra. Anyone can login as “root” with empty password after clicking on login button several times. Are you aware of it @Apple?”

High Sierra users should be able to replicate the exploit by accessing System Preferences, then Users & Groups, and then click the lock to make changes. Type “root” with no password, and simply try that several times until the system relents and lets you in.

How does one change the root password? It’s simple enough. Open up a Terminal (in the Spotlight search box just type “terminal”) and type “sudo passwd root”.

Many people responding to that tweet said they were relieved to learn that this extremely serious oversight by Apple does not appear to be exploitable remotely. However, sources who have tested the bug say it can be exploited remotely if a High Sierra user a) has not changed the root password yet and b) has enabled “screen sharing” on their Mac.

Likewise, multiple sources have now confirmed that disabling the root account does not fix the problem because the exploit actually causes the account to be re-enabled.

There may be other ways that this vulnerability can be exploited: I’ll update this post as more information becomes available. But for now, if you’re using macOS High Sierra, take a moment to change the root password now, please.



from
https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/11/macos-high-sierra-users-change-root-password-now/

Monday, November 27, 2017

Who Was the NSA Contractor Arrested for Leaking the ‘Shadow Brokers’ Hacking Tools?

In August 2016, a mysterious entity calling itself “The Shadow Brokers” began releasing the first of several troves of classified documents and hacking tools purportedly stolen from “The Equation Group,” a highly advanced threat actor that is suspected of having ties to the U.S. National Security Agency. According to media reports, at least some of the information was stolen from the computer of an unidentified software developer and NSA contractor who was arrested in 2015 after taking the hacking tools home. In this post, we’ll examine clues left behind in the leaked Equation Group documents that may point to the identity of the mysterious software developer.

The headquarters of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Md.

The existence of the Equation Group was first posited in Feb. 2015 by researchers at Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab, which described it as one of the most sophisticated cyber attack teams in the world.

According to Kaspersky, the Equation Group has more than 60 members and has been operating since at least 2001. Most of the Equation Group’s targets have been in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Syria, and Mali.

Although Kaspersky was the first to report on the existence of the Equation Group, it also has been implicated in the group’s compromise. Earlier this year, both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials saying Russian hackers were able to obtain the advanced Equation Group hacking tools after identifying the files through a contractor’s use of Kaspersky Antivirus on his personal computer. For its part, Kaspersky has denied any involvement in the theft.

The Times reports that the NSA has active investigations into at least three former employees or contractors, including two who had worked for a specialized hacking division of NSA known as Tailored Access Operations, or TAO.

Thanks to documents leaked from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden we know that TAO is a cyber-warfare intelligence-gathering unit of NSA that has been active since at least 1998. According to those documents, TAO’s job is to identify, monitor, infiltrate and gather intelligence on computer systems being used by entities foreign to the United States.

The third person under investigation, The Times writes, is “a still publicly unidentified software developer secretly arrested after taking hacking tools home in 2015, only to have Russian hackers lift them from his home computer.”

JEEPFLEA & EASTNETS

So who are those two unnamed NSA employees and the contractor referenced in The Times’ reporting? The hacking tools leaked by The Shadow Brokers are now in the public domain and can be accessed through this Github repository. The toolset includes reams of documentation explaining how the cyber weapons work, as well as details about their use in highly classified intelligence operations abroad.

Several of those documents are Microsoft Powerpoint (.pptx) and PDF files. These files contain interesting metadata that includes the names of at least two people who appear to be connected to the NSA’s TAO operations.

Inside the unzipped folder there are three directories: “oddjob,” “swift,” and “windows.” Looking at the “swift” folder, we can see a Powerpoint file called “JFM_Status.pptx.”

JFM stands for Operation Jeepflea Market, which appears to have been a clandestine operation aimed at siphoning confidential financial data from EastNets — a middle eastern partner in SWIFT. Short for the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, SWIFT provides a network that enables financial institutions worldwide to send and receive data about financial transactions.

A slide from a Powerpoint presentation on the top secret Jeepflea Market operation, in which hackers allegedly tied to the National Security Agency compromised EastNets, a middle eastern partner of the global SWIFT financial network.

Each of the Jeepflea Powerpoint slides contain two overlapping seals; one for the NSA and another for an organization called the Central Security Service (CSS). According to Wikipedia, the CSS was formed in 1972 to integrate the NSA and the Service Cryptologic Elements (SCE) of the U.S. armed forces.

In Figure 10 of the Jeepflea Powerpoint document, we can see the seal of the Texas Cryptologic Center, a NSA/CSS entity that is based out of Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas.

The metadata contained in the Powerpoint document shows that the last person to modify it has the designation “NSA-FTS32 USA,” and that this leaked version is the 9th revision of the document. What does NSA-FTS32 mean? According to multiple sources on the internet it means Tailored Access Operations.

We can also see that the creator of the Jeepflea document is the same person who last modified it. The metadata says it was last modified on 8/12/2013 at 6:52:27 PM and created on 7/1/2013 at 6:44:46 PM.

The file JFMStatus.pptx contains metadata showing that the creator of the file is one Michael A. Pecoraro. Public record searches suggest Mr. Pecoraro is in his mid- to late 30s and is from San Antonio, Texas. Pecoraro’s name appears on multiple documents in The Shadow Brokers collection. Mr. Pecoraro could not be reached for comment.

The metadata in a Microsoft Powerpoint presentation on Operation Jeepflea shows that the document was created and last modified in 2013 by a Michael A. Pecoraro.

Another person who earned the NSA-FTS32 designation in the document metadata was Nathan S. Heidbreder. Public record searches suggest that Mr. Heidbreder is approximately 30 years old and has lived in San Antonio and at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas, among other locations in the state.

According to Goodfellow’s Wikipedia entry, the base’s main mission is cryptologic and intelligence training for the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps. Mr. Heidbreder likewise could not be reached for comment.

The metadata contained in one of the classified Jeepflea Market Microsoft Excel documents released in The Shadow Brokers trove states that a Nathan S. Heidbreder was the last person to edit the document.

Another file in the leaked Shadow Brokers trove related to this Jeepflea/EastNets operation is potentially far more revealing, mainly because it appears to have last been touched not by an NSA employee, but by an outside contractor.

That file, “Eastnets_UAE_BE_DEC2010.vsd,” is a Microsoft Visual Studio document created in Sept. 2013. The metadata inside of it says the last user to open the file was one Gennadiy Sidelnikov. Open records searches return several results for this name, including a young business analyst living in Moscow and a software developer based in Maryland.

As the NSA is based in Fort Meade, Md., this latter option seems far more likely. A brief Internet search turns up a 50-something database programmer named Gennadiy “Glen” Sidelnikov who works or worked for a company called Independent Software in Columbia, Md. (Columbia is just a few miles away from Ft. Meade).

The metadata contained within Eastnets_UAE_BE_Dec2010.vsd says Gennadiy Sidelnikov is the last author of the document. Click to enlarge.

What is Independent Software? Their Web site states that Independent Software is “a professional services company providing Information Technology products and services to mission-oriented Federal Civilian Agencies and the DoD. The company has focused on support to the Intelligence Community (IC) in Maryland, Florida, and North Carolina, as well as select commercial client markets outside of the IC.”

Indeed, this job advertisement from August 2017 for a junior software engineer at Independent Software says a qualified applicant will need a TOP SECRET clearance and should be able to pass a polygraph test.

WHO IS GLEN SIDELNIKOV?

The two NSA employees are something of a known commodity, but the third individual — Mr. Sidelnikov — is more mysterious. Sidelnikov did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Independent Software also did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

Sidelnikov’s LinkedIn page (PDF) says he began working for Independent Software in 2015, and that he speaks both English and Russian. In 1982, Sidelnikov earned his masters in information security from Kishinev University, a school located in Moldova — an Eastern European country that at the time was part of the Soviet Union.

Sildelnikov says he also earned a Bachelor of Science degree in “mathematical cybernetics” from the same university in 1981. Under “interests,” Mr. Sidelnikov lists on his LinkedIn profile Independent Software, Microsoft, and The National Security Agency.

Both The Times and The Journal have reported that the contractor suspected of leaking the classified documents was running Kaspersky Antivirus on his computer. It stands to reason that as a Russian native, Mr. Sildelnikov might be predisposed to using a Russian antivirus product.

Mr. Sidelnikov calls himself a senior consultant, but the many skills he self-described on his LinkedIn profile suggest that perhaps a better title for him would be “database administrator” or “database architect.”

A Google search for his name turns up numerous forums dedicated to discussions about administering databases. On the Web forum sqlservercentral.com, for example, a user named Glen Sidelnikov is listed as a “hall of fame” member for providing thousands of answers to questions that other users posted on the forum.

KrebsOnSecurity was first made aware of the metadata in the Shadow Brokers leak by Mike PoorRob Curtinseufert, and Larry Pesce. All three are security experts with InGuardians, a Washington, D.C.-based penetration testing firm that gets paid to break into companies and test their cybersecurity defenses.

Poor, who serves as president and managing partner of InGuardians, said he and his co-workers initially almost overlooked Sidelnikov’s name in the metadata. But he said the more they looked into Sidelnikov the less sense it made that his name was included in the Shadow Brokers metadata at all.

“He’s a database programmer, and they typically don’t have access to operational data like this,” Poor said. “Even if he did have access to an operational production database, it would be highly suspect if he accessed classified operation documents.”

Poor said that as the data owner, the NSA likely would be reviewing file access of all classified documents and systems, and it would definitely have come up as a big red flag if a software developer accessed and opened classified files during some routine maintenance or other occasion.

“He’s the only one in there that is not Agency/TAO, and I think that poses important questions,” Poor said. “Such as why did a DB programmer for a software company have access to operational classified documents? If he is or isn’t a source or a tie to Shadow Brokers, it at least begets the question of why he accessed classified operational documents.”

Curtinseufert said it may be that Sidelnikov’s skills came in handy in the Jeepflea operations, which appear to have involved compromising large financial databases, and querying those for very specific transactions.

For example, Jeepflea apparently involved surreptitiously injecting database queries into the SWIFT Alliance servers, which are responsible for handling the messaging tied to SWIFT financial transactions.

“It looks like the SWIFT data the NSA was collecting relied heavily on databases, and they were apparently also using some exploits to gather data,” Curtinseufert said. “The SWIFT databases are all records of financial transactions, and in Jeepflea they were able to query those SWIFT databases and see who’s moving money where. They were looking to pull SWIFT data on who was moving money around the Middle East. They did this with EastNets, and they tried to do it down in Venezuela. And it looks like through EastNets they were able to hack individual banks.”

The NSA did not respond to requests for comment.

InGuardians president Poor said we may never know for sure who was responsible for the Shadow Brokers leak, an incident that has been called “one of the worst security debacles ever to befall American intelligence.”  But one thing seems certain.

“I think it’s time that we state what we all know,” Poor said. “The Equation Group is Tailored Access Operations. It is the NSA.”



from
https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/11/who-was-the-nsa-contractor-arrested-for-leaking-the-shadow-brokers-hacking-tools/