Several times a week my cell phone receives the telephonic equivalent of spam: A robocall. On each occasion the call seems to come from a local number, but when I answer there is that telltale pause followed by an automated voice pitching some product or service. So when I heard from a reader who chose to hang on the line and see where one of these robocalls led him, I decided to dig deeper. This is the story of that investigation. Hopefully, it will inspire readers to do their own digging and help bury this annoying and intrusive practice.
The reader — Cedric (he asked to keep his last name out of this story) had grown increasingly aggravated with the calls as well, until one day he opted to play along by telling a white lie to the automated voice response system that called him: Yes, he said, yes he definitely was interested in credit repair services.
“I lied about my name and played like I needed credit repair to buy a home,” Cedric said. “I eventually wound up speaking with a representative at creditfix.com.”
The number that called Cedric — 314-754-0123 — was not in service when Cedric tried it back, suggesting it had been spoofed to make it look like it was coming from his local area. However, pivoting off of creditfix.com opened up some useful avenues of investigation.
Creditfix is hosted on a server at the Internet address 220.127.116.11. According to records maintained by Farsight Security — a company that tracks which Internet addresses correspond to which domain names — that server hosts or recently hosted dozens of other Web sites (the full list is here).
Most of these domains appear tied to various credit repair services owned or run by a guy named Michael LaSalla and registered to a mail drop in Las Vegas. Looking closer at who owns the 18.104.22.168 address, we find it is registered to System Admin, LLC, a Florida company that lists LaSalla as a manager, according to a lookup at the Florida Secretary of State’s office.
An Internet search for the company’s address turns up a filing by System Admin LLC with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). That filing shows that the CEO of System Admin is Martin Toha, an entrepreneur probably best known for founding voip.com, a voice-over-IP (VOIP) service that allows customers to make telephone calls over the Internet.
Emails to the contact address at Creditfix.com elicited a response from a Sean in Creditfix’s compliance department. Sean told KrebsOnSecurity that mine was the second complaint his company had received about robocalls. Sean said he was convinced that his employer was scammed by a lead generation company that is using robocalls to quickly and illegally gin up referrals, which generate commissions for the lead generation firm.
Creditfix said the robocall leads it received appear to have been referred by Little Brook Media, a marketing firm in New York City. Little Brook Media did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Robocalls are permitted for political candidates, but beyond that if the recording is a sales message and you haven’t given your written permission to get calls from the company on the other end, the call is illegal. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), companies are using auto-dialers to send out thousands of phone calls every minute for an incredibly low cost.
“The companies that use this technology don’t bother to screen for numbers on the national Do Not Call Registry,” the FTC notes in an advisory on its site. “If a company doesn’t care about obeying the law, you can be sure they’re trying to scam you.”
Mr. Toha confirmed that Creditfix was one of his clients, but said none of his clients want leads from robocalls for that very reason. Toha said the problem is that many companies buy marketing leads but don’t always know where those leads come from or how they are procured.
“A lot of times clients don’t know the companies that the ad agency or marketing agency works with,” Toha said. “You submit yourself as a publisher to a network of publishers, and what they do is provide calls to marketers.”
Robby Birnbaum is a debt relief attorney in Florida and president of the National Association of Credit Services Organizations. Birnbaum said no company wants to buy leads from robocalls, and that marketers who fabricate leads this way are not in business for long.
But he said those that end up buying leads from robocall marketers are often smaller mom-and-pop debt relief shops, and that these companies soon find themselves being sued by what Birnbaum called “frequent filers,” lawyers who make a living suing companies for violating laws against robocalls.
“It’s been a problem in this industry for a while, but robocalls affect every single business that wants to reach consumers,” Birnbaum said. He noted that the best practice is for companies to require lead generators to append to each customer file information about how and from where the lead was generated.
“A lot of these lead companies will not provide that, and when my clients insist on it, those companies have plenty of other customers who will buy those leads,” Birnbaum said. “The phone companies can block many of these robocalls, but they don’t.”
That may be about to change. The FCC recently approved new rules that would let phone companies block robocallers from using numbers they aren’t supposed to be using.
“If a robocaller decides to spoof another phone number — making it appear that they’re calling from a different line to hide their identity — phone providers would be able to block them if they use a number that clearly can’t exist because it hasn’t been assigned or that an existing subscriber has asked not to have spoofed,” reads a story at The Verge.
The FCC estimates that there are more than 2.4 billion robocalls made every month, or roughly seven calls per person per month. The FTC received nearly 3.5 million robocall complaints in fiscal year 2016, an increase of 60 from the year prior.
The newest trend in robocalls is the “ringless voicemail,” in which the marketing pitch lands directly in your voicemail inbox without ringing the phone. The FCC also is considering new rules to prohibit ringless voicemails.
Readers may be able to avoid some marketing calls by registering their mobile number with the Do Not Call registry, but the list appears to do little to deter robocallers. If and when you do receive robocalls, consider reporting them to the FTC.
Some wireless providers now offer additional services and features to help block automated calls. For example, AT&T offers wireless customers its free Call Protect app, which screens incoming calls and flags those that are likely spam calls. See the FCC’s robocall resource page for links to resources at your mobile provider.
Online extortion, tech support scams and phishing attacks that spoof the boss were among the most costly cyber scams reported by consumers and businesses last year, according to new figures from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
The IC3 report released Thursday correctly identifies some of the most prevalent and insidious forms of cybercrimes today, but the total financial losses tied to each crime type also underscore how infrequently victims actually report such crimes to law enforcement.
For example, the IC3 said it received 17,146 extortion-related complaints, with an adjusted financial loss totaling just over $15 million. In that category, the report identified 2,673 complaints identified as ransomware — malicious software that scrambles a victim’s most important files and holds them hostage unless and until the victim pays a ransom (usually in a virtual currency like Bitcoin).
According to the IC3, the losses associated with those ransomware complaints totaled slightly more than $2.4 million. Writing for BleepingComputer.com — a tech support forum I’ve long recommended that helps countless ransomware victims — Catalin Cimpanu observes that the FBI’s ransomware numbers “are ridiculously small compared to what happens in the real world, where ransomware is one of today’s most prevalent cyber-threats.”
“The only explanation is that people are paying ransoms, restoring from backups, or reinstalling PCs without filing a complaint with authorities,” Cimpanu writes.
It’s difficult to know how what percentage of ransomware victims paid the ransom or were able to restore from backups, but one thing is for sure: Relatively few victims are reporting cyber fraud to federal investigators.
The report notes that only an estimated 15 percent of the nation’s fraud victims report their crimes to law enforcement. For 2016, 298,728 complaints were received, with a total victim loss of $1.33 billion.
If that 15 percent estimate is close to accurate, that means the real cost of cyber fraud for Americans last year was probably closer to $9 billion, and the losses from ransomware attacks upwards of $16 million.
The IC3 reports that last year it received slightly more than 12,000 complaints about CEO fraud attacks — e-mail scams in which the attacker spoofs the boss and tricks an employee at the organization into wiring funds to the fraudster. The fraud-fighting agency said losses from CEO fraud (also known as the “business email compromise” or BEC scam) totaled more than $360 million.
Applying that same 15 percent rule, that brings the likely actual losses from CEO fraud schemes to around $2.4 billion last year.
Some 10,850 businesses and consumers reported being targeted by tech support scams last year, with the total reported loss at around $7.8 million. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the IC3 report observed that victims in older age groups reported the highest losses.
Many other, more established types of Internet crimes — such as romance scams and advanced fee fraud — earned top rankings in the report. Check out the full report here (PDF). The FBI urges all victims of computer crimes to report the incidents at IC3.gov. The IC3 unit is part of the FBI’s Cyber Operations Section, and it uses the reports to compile and refer cases for investigation and prosecution.
Conventional wisdom says one reason so many hackers seem to hail from Russia and parts of the former Soviet Union is that these countries have traditionally placed a much greater emphasis than educational institutions in the West on teaching information technology in middle and high schools, and yet they lack a Silicon Valley-like pipeline to help talented IT experts channel their skills into high-paying jobs. This post explores the first part of that assumption by examining a breadth of open-source data.
The supply side of that conventional wisdom seems to be supported by an analysis of educational data from both the U.S. and Russia, which indicates there are several stark and important differences between how American students are taught and tested on IT subjects versus their counterparts in Eastern Europe.
Compared to the United States there are quite a few more high school students in Russia who choose to specialize in information technology subjects. One way to measure this is to look at the number of high school students in the two countries who opt to take the advanced placement exam for computer science.
According to an analysis (PDF) by The College Board, in the ten years between 2005 and 2016 a total of 270,000 high school students in the United States opted to take the national exam in computer science (the “Computer Science Advanced Placement” exam).
Compare that to the numbers from Russia: A 2014 study (PDF) on computer science (called “Informatics” in Russia) by the Perm State National Research University found that roughly 60,000 Russian students register each year to take their nation’s equivalent to the AP exam — known as the “Unified National Examination.” Extrapolating that annual 60,000 number over ten years suggests that more than twice as many people in Russia — 600,000 — have taken the computer science exam at the high school level over the past decade.
In “A National Talent Strategy,” an in-depth analysis from Microsoft Corp. on the outlook for information technology careers, the authors warn that despite its critical and growing importance computer science is taught in only a small minority of U.S. schools. The Microsoft study notes that although there currently are just over 42,000 high schools in the United States, only 2,100 of them were certified to teach the AP computer science course in 2011.
A HEAD START
If more people in Russia than in America decide to take the computer science exam in secondary school, it may be because Russian students are required to study the subject beginning at a much younger age. Russia’s Federal Educational Standards (FES) mandate that informatics be compulsory in middle school, with any school free to choose to include it in their high school curriculum at a basic or advanced level.
“In elementary school, elements of Informatics are taught within the core subjects ‘Mathematics’ and ‘Technology,” the Perm University research paper notes. “Furthermore, each elementary school has the right to make [the] subject “Informatics” part of its curriculum.”
The core components of the FES informatics curriculum for Russian middle schools are the following:
1. Theoretical foundations
2. Principles of computer’s functioning
3. Information technologies
4. Network technologies
6. Languages and methods of programming
8. Informatics and Society
There also are stark differences in how computer science/informatics is taught in the two countries, as well as the level of mastery that exam-takers are expected to demonstrate in their respective exams.
Again, drawing from the Perm study on the objectives in Russia’s informatics exam, here’s a rundown of what that exam seeks to test:
Block 1: “Mathematical foundations of Informatics”,
Block 2: “Algorithmization and programming”, and
Block 3: “Information and computer technology.”
The testing materials consist of three parts.
Part 1 is a multiple-choice test with four given options, and it covers all the blocks. Relatively little time is set aside to complete this part.
Part 2 contains a set of tasks of basic, intermediate and advanced levels of complexity. These require brief answers such as a number or a sequence of characteristics.
Part 3 contains a set of tasks of an even higher level of complexity than advanced. These tasks usually involve writing a detailed answer in free form.
According to the Perm study, “in 2012, part 1 contained 13 tasks; Part 2, 15 tasks; and Part 3, 4 tasks. The examination covers the key topics from the Informatics school syllabus. The tasks with detailed answers are the most labor intensive. These include tasks on the analysis of algorithms, drawing up computer programs, among other types. The answers are checked by the experts of regional examination boards based on standard assessment criteria.”
In the U.S., the content of the AP computer science exam is spelled out in this College Board document (PDF).
US Test Content Areas:
Computational Thinking Practices (P)
P1: Connecting Computing
P2: Creating Computational Artifacts
P4: Analyzing Problems and Artifacts
The Concept Outline:
Big Idea 1: Creativity
Big idea 2: Abstraction
Big Idea 3: Data and Information
Big Idea 4: Algorithms
Big idea 5: Programming
Big idea 6: The Internet
Big idea 7: Global Impact
ADMIRING THE PROBLEM
How do these two tests compare? Alan Paller, director of research for the SANS Institute — an information security education and training organization — says topics 2, 3, 4 and 6 in the Russian informatics curriculum above are the “basics” on which cybersecurity skills can be built, and they are present beginning in middle school for all Russian students.
“Very few middle schools teach this in the United States,” Paller said. “We don’t teach these topics in general and we definitely don’t test them. The Russians do and they’ve been doing this for the past 30 years. Which country will produce the most skilled cybersecurity people?”
Paller said the Russian curriculum virtually ensures kids have far more hands-on experience with computer programming and problem solving. For example, in the American AP test no programming language is specified and the learning objectives are:
“How are programs developed to help people and organizations?”
“How are programs used for creative expression?”
“How do computer programs implement algorithms?”
“How does abstraction make the development of computer programs possible?”
“How do people develop and test computer programs?”
“Which mathematical and logical concepts are fundamental to programming?”
“Notice there is almost no need to learn to program — I think they have to write one program (in collaboration with other students),” Paller wrote in an email to KrebsOnSecurity. “It’s like they’re teaching kids to admire it without learning to do it. The main reason that cyber education fails is that much of the time the students come out of school with almost no usable skills.”
THE WAY FORWARD
On the bright side, there are signs that computer science is becoming a more popular focus for U.S. high school students. According to the latest AP Test report (PDF) from the College Board, almost 58,000 Americans took the AP exam in computer science last year — up from 49,000 in 2015.
However, computer science still is far less popular than most other AP test subjects in the United States. More than a half million students opted for the English AP exam in 2016; 405,000 took English literature; almost 283,000 took AP government, while some 159,000 students went for an AP test called “Human Geography.”
This is not particularly good news given the dearth of qualified cybersecurity professionals available to employers. ISACA, a non-profit information security advocacy group, estimates there will be a global shortage of two million cyber security professionals by 2019. A report from Frost & Sullivan and (ISC)2 prognosticates there will be more than 1.5 million cybersecurity jobs unfilled by 2020.
The IT recruitment problem is especially acute for companies in the United States. Unable to find enough qualified cybersecurity professionals to hire here in the U.S., companies increasingly are counting on hiring foreigners who have the skills they’re seeking. However, the Trump administration in April ordered a full review of the country’s high-skilled immigration visa program, a step that many believe could produce new rules to clamp down on companies that hire foreigners instead of Americans.
Some of Silicon Valley’s biggest players are urging policymakers to adopt a more forward-looking strategy to solving the skills gap crisis domestically. In its National Talent Strategy report (PDF), Microsoft said it spends 83 percent of its worldwide R&D budget in the United States.
“But companies across our industry cannot continue to focus R&D jobs in this country if we cannot fill them here,” reads the Microsoft report. “Unless the situation changes, there is a growing probability that unfilled jobs will migrate over time to countries that graduate larger numbers of individuals with the STEM backgrounds that the global economy so clearly needs.”
Microsoft is urging U.S. policymakers to adopt a nationwide program to strengthen K-12 STEM education by recruiting and training more teachers to teach it. The software giant also says states should be given more funding to broaden access to computer science in high school, and that computer science learning needs to start much earlier for U.S. students.
“In the short-term this represents an unrealized opportunity for American job growth,” Microsoft warned. “In the longer term this may spur the development of economic competition in a field that the United States pioneered.”
The Buckle Inc., a clothier that operates more than 450 stores in 44 U.S. states, disclosed Friday that its retail locations were hit by malicious software designed to steal customer credit card data. The disclosure came hours after KrebsOnSecurity contacted the company regarding reports from sources in the financial sector about a possible breach at the retailer.
On Friday morning, KrebsOnSecurity contacted The Buckle after receiving multiple tips from sources in the financial industry about a pattern of fraud on customer credit and debit cards which suggested a breach of point-of-sale systems at Buckle stores across the country.
Later Friday evening, The Buckle Inc. released a statement saying that point-of-sale malware was indeed found installed on cash registers at Buckle retail stores, and that the company believes the malware was stealing customer credit card data between Oct. 28, 2016 and April 14, 2017. The Buckle said purchases made on its online store were not affected.
As with the recent POS-malware based breach at Kmart, The Buckle said all of its stores are equipped with EMV-capable card terminals, meaning the point-of-sale machines can accommodate newer, more secure chip-based credit and debit cards. The malware copies account data stored on the card’s magnetic stripe. Armed with that information, thieves can clone the cards and use them to buy high-priced merchandise from electronics stores and big box retailers.
The trouble is that not all banks have issued chip-enabled cards, which are far more expensive and difficult for thieves to counterfeit. Customers who shopped at compromised Buckle stores using a chip-based card would not be in danger of having their cards cloned and used elsewhere, but the stolen card data could still be used for e-commerce fraud.
Visa said in March 2017 there were more than 421 million Visa chip cards in the country, representing 58 percent of Visa cards. According to Visa, counterfeit fraud has been declining month over month — down 58 percent at chip-enabled merchants in December 2016 when compared to the previous year.
The United States is the last of the G20 nations to make the shift to chip-based cards. Visa has said it typically took about three years after the liability shifts in other countries before 90% of payment card transactions were “chip-on-chip,” or generated by a chip card used at a chip-based terminal.
Virtually every other country that has made the jump to chip-based cards saw fraud trends shifting from card-present to card-not-present (online, phone) fraud as it became more difficult for thieves to counterfeit physical credit cards. Data collected by consumer credit bureau Experian suggests that e-commerce fraud increased 33 percent last year over 2015.
For several months I’ve been poking at a decent-sized spam botnet that appears to be used mainly for promoting adult dating sites. Having hit a wall in my research, I decided it might be good to publish what I’ve unearthed so far to see if this dovetails with any other research out there.
In late October 2016, an anonymous source shared with KrebsOnSecurity.com a list of nearly 100 URLs that — when loaded into a Firefox browser — each displayed what appeared to be a crude but otherwise effective text-based panel designed to report in real time how many “bots” were reporting in for duty.
Here’s a set of archived screenshots of those counters illustrating how these various botnet controllers keep a running tab of how many “activebots” — hacked servers set up to relay spam — are sitting idly by and waiting for instructions.
At the time, it was unclear to me how this apparent botnet was being used, and since then the total number of bots reporting in each day has shrunk considerably. During the week the above-linked screen shots were taken, this botnet had more than 1.2 million zombie machines or servers reporting each day (that screen shot archive includes roughly half of the panels found). These days, the total number of servers reporting in to this spam network fluctuates between 50,000 and 100,000.
Thanks to a tip from an anti-spam activist who asked not to be named, I was able to see that the botnet appears to be busy promoting a seemingly endless network of adult dating Web sites connected to just two companies: CyberErotica, and Deniro Marketing LLC (a.k.a. AmateurMatch).
As affiliate marketing programs go, CyberErotica stretches way back — perhaps to the beginning. According to TechCrunch, CyberErotica is said to have launched the first online affiliate marketing firm in 1994.
In 2001, CyberErotica’s parent firm Voice Media settled a lawsuit with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, which alleged that the adult affiliate program was misrepresenting its service as free while it dinged subscribers for monthly charges and made it difficult for them to cancel.
In 2010, Deniro Marketing found itself the subject of a class-action lawsuit that alleged the company employed spammers to promote an online dating service that was overrun with automated, fake profiles of young women. Those allegations ended in an undisclosed settlement after the judge in the case tossed out the spamming claim because the statute of limitations on those charges had expired.
What’s unusual (and somewhat lame) about this botnet is that — through a variety of botnet reporting panels that are still displaying data — we can get live, real-time updates about the size and status of this crime machine. No authentication or credentials needed. So much for operational security!
The “mind map” pictured below contains enough information for nearly anyone to duplicate this research, and includes the full Web address of the botnet reporting panels that are currently online and responding with live updates. I was unable to load these panels in a Google Chrome browser (perhaps the XML data on the page is missing some key components), but they loaded fine in Mozilla Firefox.
But a note of caution: I’d strongly encourage anyone interested in following my research to take care before visiting these panels, preferably doing so from a disposable “virtual” machine that runs something other than Microsoft Windows.
That’s because spammers are usually involved in the distribution of malicious software, and spammers who maintain vast networks of apparently compromised systems are almost always involved in creating or at least commissioning the creation of said malware. Worse, porn spammers are some of the lowest of the low, so it’s only prudent to behave as if any and all of their online assets are actively hostile or malicious.
FOLLOW THE HONEY
So how did KrebsOnSecurity tie the spam that was sent to promote these two adult dating schemes to the network of spam botnet panels that I mentioned at the outset of this post? I should say it helped immensely that one anti-spam source maintains a comprehensive, historic collection of spam samples, and that this source shared more than a half dozen related spam samples. Here’s one of them.
All of those spams had similar information included in their “headers” — the metadata that accompanies all email messages.
Received: from minitanth.info-88.top (037008194168.suwalki.vectranet.pl [22.214.171.124])
Received: from exundancyc.megabulkmessage225.com (109241011223.slupsk.vectranet.pl [126.96.36.199])
Received: from disfrockinga.message-49.top (unknown [188.8.131.52])
Received: from offenders.megabulkmessage223.com (088156021226.olsztyn.vectranet.pl [184.108.40.206])
Received: from snaileaterl.inboxmsg-228.top (109241018033.lask.vectranet.pl [220.127.116.11])
Received: from soapberryl.inboxmsg-242.top (037008209142.suwalki.vectranet.pl [18.104.22.168])
Received: from dicrostonyxc.inboxmsg-230.top (088156042129.olsztyn.vectranet.pl [22.214.171.124])
To learn more about what information you can glean from email headers, see this post. But for now, here’s a crash course for our purposes. The so-called “fully qualified domain names” or FQDNs in the list above can be found just to the right of the open parentheses in each line.
When this information is present in the headers (and not simply listed as “unknown”) it is the fully-verified, real name of the machine that sent the message (at least as far as the domain name system is concerned). The dotted address to the right in brackets on each line is the numeric Internet address of the actual machine that sent the message.
The information to the left of the open parentheses is called the “HELO/EHLO string,” and an email server administrator can set this information to display whatever he wants: It could be set to bush[dot]whitehouse[dot]gov. Happily, in this case the spammer seems to have been consistent in the naming convention used to identify the sending domains and subdomains.
Back in October 2016 (when these spam messages were sent) the FQDN “minitanth.info-88[dot]top” resolved to a specific IP address: 126.96.36.199. Using passive DNS tools from Farsight Security — which keeps a historic record of which domain names map to which IP addresses — I was able to find that the spammer who set up the domain info-88[dot]top had associated the domain with hundreds of third-level subdomains (e.g. minithanth.info-88[dot]top, achoretsq.info-88[dot]top, etc.).
It was also clear that this spammer controlled a great many top-level domain names, and that he had countless third-level subdomains assigned to every domain name. This type of spamming is known as “snowshoe” spamming.
Like a snowshoe spreads the load of a traveler across a wide area of snow, snowshoe spamming is a technique used by spammers to spread spam output across many IPs and domains, in order to dilute reputation metrics and evade filters,” writes anti-spam group Spamhaus in its useful spam glossary.
So, armed with all of that information, it took just one or two short steps to locate the IP addresses of the corresponding botnet reporting panels. Quite simply, one does DNS lookups to find the names of the name servers that were providing DNS service for each of this spammer’s second-level domains.
Once one has all of the name server names, one simply does yet more DNS lookups — one for each of the name server names — in order to get the corresponding IP address for each one.
With that list of IP addresses in hand, a trusted source volunteered to perform a series of scans on the addresses using “Nmap,” a powerful and free tool that can map out any individual virtual doorways or “ports” that are open on targeted systems. In this case, an Nmap scan against that list of IPs showed they were all listening for incoming connections on Port 10001.
From there, I took the IP address list and plugged each address individually into the URL field of a browser window in Mozilla Firefox, and then added “:10001” to the end of the address. After that, each address happily loaded a Web page displaying the number of bots connecting to each IP address at any given time.
Here’s the output of one controller that’s currently getting pinged by more than 12,000 systems configured to relay porn spam (the relevant part is the first bit on the second line below — “current activebots=”). Currently, the entire botnet (counting the active bots from all working bot panels) seems to hover around 80,000 systems.
At the time, the spam being relayed through these systems was advertising sites that tried to get visitors to sign up for online chat and dating sites apparently affiliated with Deniro Marketing and CyberErotica.
Seeking more information, I began searching the Web for information about CyberErotica’s affiliate offerings and I found that the affiliate program’s marketing division is run by a guy who uses the email address email@example.com.
A Google search quickly reveals that firstname.lastname@example.org also advertises he can be reached using the ICQ instant messenger address of 55687349. I checked icq.com’s member lookup page, and found the name attached to ICQ# 55687349 is “Scott Philips.”
Mr. Philips didn’t return messages seeking comment. But I couldn’t help wonder about the similarity between that name and a convicted Australian porn spammer named Scott Phillips (NB: two “l’s in Phillips).
In 2010, Scott Gregory Phillips was fined AUD $2 million for running a business that employed people to create fake profiles on dating websites in a bid to obtain the mobile phone numbers of dating website users. Phillips’ operation then sent SMS texts such as “get laid, text your number to…”, and then charged $5 on the mobile accounts of people who replied.
Phillips’ Facebook page and Quora profile would have us believe he has turned his life around and is now making a living through day trading. Reached via email, Phillips said he is a loyal reader who long ago quit the spam business.
“I haven’t been in the spam business since 2002 or so,” Phillips said. “I did some SMS spam in 2005, got about 18 million bucks worth of fines for it, and went straight.”
Phillips says he builds “automated commodity trading systems” now, and that virtually all modern spam is botnet-based.
“As far as I know the spam industry is 100% botnet these days, and not a viable proposition for adult sites,” he told KrebsOnSecurity.
Well, it’s certainly a viable proposition for some spammer. The most frustrating aspect of this research is that — in spite of the virtually non-existent operational security employed by whoever built this particular crime machine, I still have no real data on how the botnet is being built, what type of malicious software may be involved, or who’s responsible.
If anyone has additional research or information on this botnet, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or get in touch with me directly.
Microsoft today released security updates to fix almost a hundred flaws in its various Windows operating systems and related software. One bug is so serious that Microsoft is issuing patches for it on Windows XP and other operating systems the company no longer officially supports. Separately, Adobe has pushed critical updates for its Flash and Shockwave players, two programs most users would probably be better off without.
According to security firm Qualys, 27 of the 94 security holes Microsoft patches with today’s release can be exploited remotely by malware or miscreants to seize complete control over vulnerable systems with little or no interaction on the part of the user.
Microsoft this month is fixing another serious flaw (CVE-2017-8543) present in most versions of Windows that resides in the feature of the operating system which handles file and printer sharing (also known as “Server Message Block” or the SMB service).
SMB vulnerabilities can be extremely dangerous if left unpatched on a local (internal) corporate network. That’s because a single piece of malware that exploits this SMB flaw within a network could be used to replicate itself to all vulnerable systems very quickly.
It is this very “wormlike” capability — a flaw in Microsoft’s SMB service — that was harnessed for spreading by WannaCry, the global ransomware contagion last month that held files for ransom at countless organizations and shut down at least 16 hospitals in the United Kingdom.
According to Microsoft, this newer SMB flaw is already being exploited in the wild. The vulnerability affects Windows Server 2016, 2012, 2008 as well as desktop systems like Windows 10, 7 and 8.1.
The SMB flaw — like the one that WannaCry leveraged — also affects older, unsupported versions of Windows such as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. And, as with that SMB flaw, Microsoft has made the unusual decision to make fixes for this newer SMB bug available for those older versions. Users running XP or Server 2003 can get the update for this flaw here.
“Our decision today to release these security updates for platforms not in extended support should not be viewed as a departure from our standard servicing policies,” wrote Eric Doerr, general manager of Microsoft’s Security Response Center.
“Based on an assessment of the current threat landscape by our security engineers, we made the decision to make updates available more broadly,” Doerr wrote. “As always, we recommend customers upgrade to the latest platforms. “The best protection is to be on a modern, up-to-date system that incorporates the latest defense-in-depth innovations. Older systems, even if fully up-to-date, lack the latest security features and advancements.”
The default browsers on Windows — Internet Explorer or Edge — get their usual slew of updates this month for many of these critical, remotely exploitable bugs. Qualys says organizations using Microsoft Outlook should pay special attention to a newly patched bug in the popular mail program because attackers can send malicious email and take complete control over the recipient’s Windows machine when users merely view a specially crafted email in Outlook.
For starters, hardly any sites require this plugin to view content. More importantly, Adobe has a history of patching Shockwave’s built-in version of Flash several versions behind the stand-alone Flash plugin version. As a result Shockwave has been a high security risk to have installed for many years now. For more on this trend, see Why You Should Ditch Adobe Shockwave.
Same goes for Adobe Flash Player, which probably most users can get by with these days just enabling it in the rare instance that it’s required. I recommend for users who have an affirmative need for Flash to leave it disabled until that need arises. Otherwise, get rid of it.
Adobe patches dangerous new Flash flaws all the time, and Flash bugs are still the most frequently exploited by exploit kits — malware booby traps that get stitched into the fabric of hacked and malicious Web sites so that visiting browsers running vulnerable versions of Flash get automatically seeded with malware.
For some ideas about how to hobble or do without Flash (as well as slightly less radical solutions) check out A Month Without Adobe Flash Player.
If you choose to keep Flash, please update it today to version 188.8.131.52. The most recent versions of Flash should be available from the Flash home page. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer may need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (Firefox, Opera, e.g.).
Chrome and IE should auto-install the latest Flash version on browser restart (users may need to manually check for updates in and/or restart the browser to get the latest Flash version). Chrome users may need to restart the browser to install or automatically download the latest version. When in doubt, click the vertical three dot icon to the right of the URL bar, select “Help,” then “About Chrome”: If there is an update available, Chrome should install it then.
As always, if you experience any issues downloading or installing any of these updates, please leave a note about it in the comments below.