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North Korea Linked APT: US Sanctions Crypto Mixer Tornado Cash


The U.S Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned the crypto mixer service Tornado Cash. It was used by North Korean hackers linked to Lazarus APT Group. 

What is Crypto Mixers?

The mixers are crucial elements for threat actors that use it for money laundering, the mixer was used in laundering the funds stolen from victims. 

As per OFAC, cybercriminals used Tornado Cash to launder more than $7 Billion worth of virtual currency, which was created in 2019. The Lazarus APT group laundered more than $455 million money and stole in the biggest ever virtual currency heist to date. 

About the attack

It was also used in laundering over $96 million of malicious actors' funds received from the 24th June 2022 Harmony Bridge Heist and around $7.8 million from Nomad crypto heist recently. The sanction has been taken in accordance with Executive Order (E.O) 13694. 

"Today, Treasury is sanctioning Tornado Cash, a virtual currency mixer that launders the proceeds of cybercrimes, including those committed against victims in the United States,” said Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson. “Despite public assurances otherwise, Tornado Cash has repeatedly failed to impose effective controls designed to stop it from laundering funds for malicious cyber actors on a regular basis and without basic measures to address its risks.”

The Sanctions

In May, the US department of treasury sanctioned another cryptocurrency mixer, Blender.io, it was used by Lazarus APT, a hacking group linked to North Korea. It was used for laundering money from Axie Infinity's Ronin Bridge. The treasury has for the first time sanctioned a virtual currency mixer. 

"Virtual currency mixers that assist criminals are a threat to U.S. national security. Treasury will continue to investigate the use of mixers for illicit purposes and use its authorities to respond to illicit financing risks in the virtual currency ecosystem.” concludes the announcement published by the U.S. Treasury Department. “Criminals have increased their use of anonymity-enhancing technologies, including mixers, to help hide the movement or origin of funds.”



Massive China-Linked Disinformation Campaign Taps PR Firm for Help

 

Security experts have discovered another Chinese information operation that is attempting to improve the country's image overseas by utilising a large number of fake news sites and social media assets. 

The content, which is available in 11 languages, tries to win hearts and minds over to Beijing's way of thinking by undermining criticism of the Xinjiang genocide and the deterioration of democracy in Hong Kong. 

According to Mandiant, among the Communist Party opponents targeted in the campaign are Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui and German anthropologist Adrian Zenz, who is known for his study on Uyghur oppression. The campaign's most striking feature is that it appears to leverage infrastructure owned by local public relations business Shanghai Haixun Technology, a company that promotes "positive thinking." 

According to Mandiant in a blog post, the word "positive energy" is particularly loaded in China since it is frequently used by the Xi Jinping government to refer to communications that reflect Beijing positively. As a result, Mandiant dubbed the information operations effort "HaiEnergy." 

“While we do not currently have sufficient evidence to determine the extent to which Haixun is involved in, or even aware of HaiEnergy, our analysis indicates that the campaign has at least leveraged services and infrastructure belonging to Haixun to host and distribute content,” the firm explained. 

“In total, we identified 72 websites (59 domains and 14 subdomains) hosted by Haixun, which were used to target audiences in North America, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.” 

The campaign has solely relied on Haixun's internet infrastructure to post information and host websites. In reality, those sites share significant commonalities, indicating a coordinated strategy, including: 
  • Nearly all the English language sites are built with a Chinese-language HTML template
  • Several of the sites that include a domain and subdomain are disguised to appear as different, independent sites
  • Many of the sites link directly to other sites in the network
  • The same articles are often published across multiple sites
If Haixun is actively involved in this effort, it would be a continuation of a pattern in which threat actors utilise "info ops for hire" organisations to perform their dirty work, according to Mandiant. The one advantage is that it does not appear to have paid off on this occasion.

“We note that despite the capabilities and global reach advertised by Haixun, there is at least some evidence to suggest HaiEnergy failed to generate substantial engagement,” the report concluded.

“Most notably, despite a significantly large number of followers, the political posts promoted by inauthentic accounts we attribute to this campaign failed to gain much traction outside of the campaign itself.”

LockBit Ransomware Gang Targets Italian Tax Agency

 

Over the weekend, the Lockbit ransomware gang disclosed they have infiltrated Italy’s Revenue Agency (L’Agenzia delle Entrate) and stolen 78 GB of files, including documents, scans, financial reports, and contracts. 

The Italian Revenue Agency manages the financial code of Italy and collects taxes and revenue. The agency also offers multiple online services for Italian and non-Italian taxpayers. 

The ransomware gang gave the agency about six days to pay the ransomware to avoid leaking stolen data. The group then extended the deadline to August 1 and announced it now had 100 GB of data. They also posted several screenshots of the stolen data on their dark web data leak website. 

“The Revenue Agency, operational since 1 January 2001, was born from the reorganization of the Financial Administration following the Legislative Decree No. 300 of 1999. It has its own statute and specific regulations governing administration and accounting. The bodies of the Agency are made up of the Director, the Management Committee, the Board of Auditors.” reads the text posted on the leak site. “From 1 December 2012 the Revenue Agency incorporated the Territory Agency (article 23-quater of Legislative Decree 95/2012).” 

However, Sogei, an IT firm owned by the Ministry of Economy and Finance, tasked with the investigation of the alleged hack, said that there is no evidence that the tax agency has suffered a data breach. 

“Sogei spa informs that from the first analyzes carried out, no cyber attacks have occurred or data has been stolen from the financial administration's technological platforms and infrastructures. From the technical checks carried out, Sogei, therefore, excludes that a computer attack on the Revenue Agency website may have occurred,” the company stated in a lengthy statement. 

At the end of June, the Lockbit ransomware gang announced the launch of Lockbit 3.0, a new ransomware-as-a-service offering and a bug bounty program. The group said it will offer rewards ranging between $1,000 and $1 million to security researchers and ethical or unethical hackers for information regarding vulnerabilities in their website, the ransomware encryption process, the Tox messaging app, and bugs exploiting their Tor infrastructure. 

Additionally, the Lockbit 3.0 version is employing a new extortion methodology that allows threat hackers to buy data stolen from the victims during the attacks. This means that someone could buy data from Italian taxpayers and leverage them for a wide range of financial frauds.

Former CIA Employee Joshua Schulte Convicted Over Massive Data Leak

 

A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) software engineer CIA charged with carrying out the most significant theft of classified data in the agency's history was convicted on all counts in federal court Wednesday. 

Joshua Schulte 33, was convicted by jurors in a Manhattan federal court on eight espionage charges and one obstruction charge over the so-called Vault 7 leak. He worked for the CIA's elite hacking unit and created cyber tools that could grab data undetected from computers. After quitting his job, Schulte sent the tools to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks. 

Vault 7 consisted of nearly 9,000 pages and shed light on a host of hacking methodologies employed by the agency. This included hacking of Apple and Android smartphones in overseas spying operations, and a bid to turn internet-linked televisions into listening devices. 

Schulte had access to "some of the country's most valuable intelligence-gathering cyber tools used to battle terrorist organizations and other malign influences around the globe," US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams stated. 

"When Schulte began to harbor resentment toward the CIA, he covertly collected those tools and provided them to WikiLeaks, making some of our most critical intelligence tools known to the public and our adversaries.” 

He also allegedly lied to CIA and FBI investigators to conceal his tracks and was arrested in August 2017 on child pornography charges. He was indicted on the charges related to the data breach months later. 

"Schulte was aware that the collateral damage of his retribution could pose an extraordinary threat to this nation if made public, rendering them essentially useless, having a devastating effect on our intelligence community by providing critical intelligence to those who wish to do us harm," Williams added. “Today, Schulte has been convicted for one of the most brazen and damaging acts of espionage in American history." 

During the closing arguments to jurors, Schulte, who chose to defend himself at a New York City retrial, accused the CIA and FBI of making him a scapegoat for the WikiLeaks release. Schulte claimed he was made a scapegoat even though “hundreds of people had access to (the information). … Hundreds of people could have stolen it”, AP news agency reported.

Dutch University Receives Bitcoin Ransom Paid in 2019

 

The southern Maastricht University in Netherland that fell victim to a major ransomware assault has partly received back its stolen money, a local news organization reported on Saturday. 

The Dutch University suffered a large cyberattack in 2019 that locked them, and their students, out of valuable data until they agreed to pay a €200,000 ($208,000) ransom in Bitcoin which hackers demanded to decrypt the data.

"The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail," the daily De Volkskrant told. 

"After a week the university decide to accede to the criminal gang's demand," the paper said. This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses.” 

As part of an investigation into the cyberattack, local police traced part of the ransom paid to an account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine. In 2020, the authorities seized the perpetrator's account, which contained a number of different cryptocurrencies including part of the ransom money paid by Maastricht University. 

Earlier this week, the authorities were able to return the ransom back to the university. But the value of the Bitcoin held in the Ukrainian account has increased from its then-value of €40,000 to €500,000.

"When, now after more than two years, it was finally possible to get that money to the Netherlands, the value had increased from 40,000 euros to half-a-million euros," the paper further read. Maastricht University will now get the 500,000 euros ($521,000) back. 

"This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students," Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers stated. 

The administrators of Maastricht University should count themselves lucky as they were able to retrieve their stolen money. Last year, the University of California paid $1.14 million to NetWalker attackers after they encrypted data within its School of Medicine’s servers, and the University of Utah paid hackers $457,000 to prevent them from releasing data stolen during an attack on its network. 

In 2021, ransomware attackers targeted 58 U.S. education organizations and school districts, including 830 individual schools, according to the report published by Emsisoft threat analyst Brett Callow. Emsisoft estimates that in 2020, 84 incidents disrupted learning at 1,681 individual schools, colleges, and universities.

A New YTStealer Malware Targets YouTube Content Creator

Google Threat Analysis Group (TAG) has recently uncovered a new information-stealing malware, named 'YTStealer' that is targeting YouTube content creators by stealing their authentication cookies. Malicious actors sold breached data as a service on the dark web using fake installers that also drop RedLine Stealer and Vidar. 

"What sets YTStealer aside from other stealers sold on the dark web market is that it is solely focused on harvesting credentials for one single service instead of grabbing everything it can get ahold of," security researcher Joakim Kenndy said in a report shared by the blog post on Wednesday.

As per the research, the malware extracts YouTube authentication cookie information from the web browser's database files in the user's profile folder; then it opens a headless browser and connects to YouTube’s Studio page, which is used by content creators to control the content of the videos they produce.

Further, the malware steals all available personal data of users including the account name, number of subscribers, age, and whether channels are monetized. Following this, it encrypts all data samples with a unique key and sends both to a command and control server. 

The files' names which disguised as installers for legitimate tools or software:
  • OBS Studio, a piece of open-source streaming software 
  • Audio applications and plugins such as Antares Auto-Tune Pro, Valhalla DSP, FabFilter Total, and Xfer Serum 
  • Video editing software, including Adobe Premiere Pro, Filmora, and HitFilm Express 
  • Game modes and cheats for games such as Grand Theft Auto V, Roblox, Counter-Strike, and Call of Duty 
  • “Cracks” for legitimate software or services including Norton Security, Malwarebytes, Discord Nitro, Stepn, and Spotify Premium Driver tools such as “Driver Booster” and “Driver Easy
The researchers also discovered that the files used to install the malware on targeted devices loaded with other credential stealers, including RedLine and Vidar, Predator The Thief, Masad, Nexus stealer, Azorult, Vikro Stealer, Raccoon, Grand Stealer, and Kantal, along with open-source malware like Sorano and AdamantiumThief.

"NakedPages" Phishing Toolkit Advertised for Sale on Cybercrime and Telegram Platforms

 

CloudSEK researchers have unearthed a brand new sophisticated phishing toolkit dubbed "NakedPages” which is advertised for sale on multiple cybercrime platforms and Telegram channels. 

The toolkit, which was designed using NodeJS Framework operates JavaScript code and is fully automated having more than 50 phishing templates and site projects. 

“Naked Pages is the phishing tool any serious developer//spammer needs with more features than any other reverse proxy combined or PHP phishing framework combined,” reads an advertisement on a cybercrime forum.

Additionally, the advertisement mentions that there is a possibility of providing software licenses if the buyer pays $1000 upfront and contributes by sharing new thoughts for the open-source project on GitHub. The buyers can contact the hacker via a Google Forms page. 

According to CloudSEK researchers, the toolkit is manufactured to work on Linux and requests for read, write and execute permissions from the ‘user’ and also asks for learning and execute permissions from both ‘group’ and ‘others’ in order to function smoothly. 

Moreover, the toolkit is laced with fully-integrated and battle-based anti-bot features, capable of sporting security bugs of different types from over 120 nations.

“[NakedPages] would equip malicious actors with the details required to launch sophisticated ransomware attacks,” researchers explained.

CloudSEK has not identified the author behind the new phishing toolkit but believes there is a new player on GitHub and the cybercrime platform, with both accounts being less than a month old. “There have been no concrete samples shared by the threat actor. Repeated attempts for establishing contact were made by our source, but the threat actor hasn’t responded,” CloudSEK stated. 

The researchers also issued an advisory to the users who may be impacted by NakedPages to monitor for anomalies in accounts and systems that could be indicators of possible account breaches and execute multi-factor authentication (MFA) practices across all accounts. 

Last month, the Resecurity Hunter unit detected a new phishing campaign, dubbed Frappo, disseminated aggressively on the dark web and via Telegram channels. The phishing campaign allowed scammers to host and design high-quality phishing websites that mimicked popular online banking, e-commerce, and retail services in order to exfiltrate private data from their target customers. 

The phishing pages impersonated 20 financial institutions (FIs), online retailers, and popular services – including Amazon, Uber, Netflix, Bank of Montreal (BMO), Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), CIBC, TD Bank, Desjardins, Wells Fargo, Citizens, Citi and Bank of America.

U.S. Agencies Seize Domains Employed for Selling Credentials

 

Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI announced that they seized three domains selling compromised personal information and launching cyber assaults on victim networks. 

The specific domains seized were weleakinfo.to, ipstress.in, and ovh-booter.com — the first of which allowed its users to traffic compromised personal data and offered a searchable database containing illegally amassed information obtained from over 10,000 data breaches. The other two domains offered DDoS-for-hire services to their users. 

The domains were taken down as part of an international investigation, in which the National Police Corps of the Netherlands and the Federal Police of Belgium arrested the primary suspect, searched several locations, and seized the underlying infrastructure. 

The weleakinfo.to domain offered access to seven billion records containing private data such as names, phone numbers, usernames, email addresses, and passwords. 

The seizure of this domain comes roughly two years after the FBI and the US Department of Justice took control of the internet domain name weleakinfo.com, which offered identical services. 

"Today, the FBI and the Department stopped two distressingly common threats: websites trafficking in stolen personal information and sites which attack and disrupt legitimate internet businesses," stated Matthew M. Graves, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. “With the execution of the warrant, the seized domain names – weleakinfo.to and the related domains – are now in the federal government's custody, effectively suspending the website’s operation.” 

 "Cybercrime often crosses national borders. Using strong working relationships with our international law enforcement partners, we will address crimes like these that threaten privacy, security, and commerce around the globe." 

According to the DOJ, it remains unclear how long the weleakinfo.to the domain was in operation. Still, the website developed a reputation for selling names, email addresses, usernames, phone numbers, and passwords for online accounts to cybercriminals who would buy a subscription for a period of one day, one week, one month, three months, or a lifetime. 

Two years ago in January 2020, the FBI and the US DOJ announced the seizure of the WeLeakInfo.com domain, used in similar cybercrime activity. Just as WeLeakInfo.to, it also offered subscriptions, allowing customers to search 12 billion indexed records for specific information exposed in thousands of data breaches.

Cybercriminal Steals $13 Million In DEUS Finance Exploit

 

The decentralized derivatives protocol based on Fantom, DEUS Finance suffered a flash loan attack on Thursday, with the attacker making off with about $13.4 million. 

According to on-chain data, the anonymous hacker carried out the assault using a flash loan at around 2:40 AM UTC. Flash loan assaults involve attackers borrowing funds with a requirement that the borrowed sum be returned in the same transaction. These are made possible with smart contracts. While flash loans are meant for arbitrage trading and enhancing capital efficiency, attackers have abused them to manipulate DeFi price data feeds — known as oracles — and carry out attacks. 

The Deus hacker took a flash loan to manipulate the price oracle within one of its liquidity pools on Fantom, involving a token called DEI paired against the USDC stablecoin, security analysts at PeckShield explained in a post. The flash-loan assisted manipulation surged DEI's price and the inflated value was then used as collateral to borrow additional capital, within the same flash loan transaction.

This additional borrowed capital was sold for USDC stablecoin, after which the hacker repaid the flash loan — netting about $13.4 million. The perpetrator then transferred the exploited funds from Fantom to Ethereum, where they routed them via Tornado Cash, a mixing protocol used to obfuscate Ethereum transactions. This wasn't the first security incident for Deus Finance. 

Last month, the protocol lost $3 million to a flash loan exploit. The community was disappointed that the protocol had been hacked again in the same way. While the community waits for an official reaction, calls have been made to Circle to freeze the $USDC implicated in the incident. Flash loan attacks have become one of the most popular ways hackers target DeFi platforms. 

Earlier this month, hackers stole $11.2 million worth of Binance Coin from the DeFi platform Elephant Money. Cream Finance was hit with three different flash loan attacks in 2021, costing the DeFi platform $130 million in October, $37 million in February, and another $29 million in August. 

Last year, hackers stole at least $2.2 billion from DeFi protocols, Blockchain analysis firm Chainalysis said. Earlier this year in March, the Ronin Network announced that hackers stole more than $500 million worth of cryptocurrency, making it one of the largest attacks ever.

Attackers Exploit WonderHero NFT Gaming Platform

 

WonderHero, a mainstream multi-platform GameFi for iOS and Android devices has deactivated its services after attackers stole nearly $320,000 worth of Binance Coin (BNB). The WND token’s value plummeted by 50% after the information surfaced online. 

WonderHero is one of the many popular games where players earn cryptocurrency and NFT revenue via gameplay. The platform currently has around 11,000 active users. Last week, PeckShield, a top-tier cybersecurity firm notified WonderHero that their platform was breached. To mitigate further damage, the play-to-earn cryptocurrency platform quickly disabled the game and its website before telling users it was aware of the price drop in WonderHero’s coin. 

In an official statement, WonderHero confirmed that “there was an attack on our blockchain bridging system and the attackers managed to get the signature and minted 80 million WND (the in-game cryptocurrency).” 

The company explained that attackers targeted their “cross-chain bridging withdrawal.” A cross-chain bridge permits users to transfer tokens, assets, smart contract instructions, and data between blockchains. In recent months, the cross-chain bridge has become a ripe target for hackers, and exploits in it have led to millions of dollars in losses.

In its announcement, the company promised it would work to address the breach on their cross-chain bridge before auditing the entire system and creating a new smart contract, and “fairly” compensating all of its followers with new tokens based on the amount of WND they owned before the hack. 

“Users can be assured that their HON, WND, NFT, and accounts on Polygon are safe. WonderHero website, marketplace, game, and other services will be temporarily disabled as the team works on the rectification,” the company said. A snapshot of users’ assets on the BNB Chain prior to the attack will be taken. WonderHero is committed to not just making the game fun but also keeping the assets of our players safe and we will spare no effort in doing so. The team will conduct checks and leave no stones unturned.” 

The incident took place just weeks after another play-to-earn cryptocurrency game, Axie Infinity, was hit by an attack that saw attackers steal more than $600 million worth of crypto. In this case, Sky Mavis, the company behind the game was able to raise 150 million dollars to pay the victims of the hack.

UKG Faces Payroll Violations Class Action Lawsuit in Multiple U.S. District Courts

 

Workforce management company Ultimate Kronos Group faces a proposed class action after its ubiquitous Kronos timekeeping system got whacked by ransomware last December. The aggrieved customers dragged the firm into court as scheduling and payroll were hindered at thousands of organizations including Tesla, PepsiCo, Whole Foods.

Due to the network outage, many major firms were unable to pay workers on time for all of their wages, including overtime wages, and shift differentials, as they rely on Kronos products for timekeeping and prompt pay policies. 

Employees at Tesla and PepsiCo filed a class-action lawsuit against UKG in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District Court of California seeking damages due to alleged negligence in data security procedures and practices. New York MTA employees filed a separate suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the MTA, alleging it failed to pay overtime wages due to the Kronos outage.

According to John Bambenek, principal threat hunter at security firm Netenrich, the response and recovery from the ransomware attack is UKG's responsibility, but failure to make payroll, a potential violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and any applicable state and local laws, is the fault of the employer. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires organizations to accurately track the hours worked by employees and pay workers accordingly. Failure to comply with these requirements could entitle workers to compensation of up to double their unpaid wages.

"The employers are responsible for making payroll. If they're using a third-party provider, and it doesn't get the job done, they're responsible for making payroll,” said John Bambenek. “That doesn't leave Kronos off the hook, however. Kronos offers service and couldn't provide it, so now the company may be liable to its customers, Bambenek said. Employers can sue UKG too.”

However, the key question is whether the contracts that UKG negotiated with its customers define who might be responsible in the wake of an incident like this. In many cases, commercial contracts between a provider and a customer contain an indemnification clause, which protects the provider from legal action or damage for certain events. 

"Every vendor, especially at the level of Kronos," is going to seek an indemnification clause that benefits them in their contracts, Matthew Warner, CTO, and co-founder at detection and response provider Blumira, told Cybersecurity Dive. "They're going to do as much as they can to make sure that if something goes wrong, and if there is any sort of interruption associated with it, they're indemnified for it."

Europol Dismantles Criminal Network Distributing Forged EU Travel Documents on Dark Web

 

The Spanish National Police and the French Border Police, in a joint operation coordinated by Europol, have busted an organized cybercrime gang involved in the procurement and distribution of forged travel and ID documents for migrant smugglers. 

During the raids, in which three house searches were carried out and a total of 17 people were arrested, police seized computers, smartphones, storage devices, counterfeit and genuine ID documents and photocopies of ID documents, labor certificates, administrative documents, payment cards, and cash. 

According to a press release published by European Union’s law enforcement agency, the organized cybercrime gang network distributed forged ID and travel documents in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. 

“The documents were used by other criminals involved in the smuggling of migrants to the US, the UK and Ireland and other criminal activities (such as property crimes, trafficking in human beings, drug trafficking),” the statement of Europol reads. The criminal network was directly involved in migrant smuggling activities and logistical arrangements in return for payments starting at €8000 ($9000) per person.” 

The members of the criminal gang, mainly originating from Eastern European countries, apparently also operated in Georgia and Lithuania. According to Europol, cybercriminals mainly used dark web channels to distribute forged documents, including residence permits, vehicle registration documents, driver’s licenses, and travel documents focusing on French, Romanian, Georgian, Lithuanian, and Polish IDs. 

Additionally, the suspects used instant messaging apps and postal services to send the documents to their intended recipients. Messaging apps, presumably encrypted ones, were used by the group to collaborate and exchange images of documents, vehicles, and money transfer slips. Europol analysts said they linked some of this information to other ongoing investigations. 

Last year witnessed a gradual shift in the methodology employed by migrant smugglers in the trafficking of human beings. Digital technology is playing a major role in the operations of migrant smugglers and they have expanded their use of social media platforms and mobile applications in order to offer their illegal services.  

Human traffickers have exploited the anonymity of the internet environment to target vulnerable individuals and then exploit them via both escort websites and even dating platforms. To counter this new threat, Europol signed a working agreement with the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) designed to formalize cooperation on this and other serious and organized crimes.

A U.S. Group Hacked Top Research Institutes in India, Russia and China

 

According to a new report from a Beijing-based cybersecurity firm, hackers associated with the United States National Security Agency (NSA) were discovered to have inserted "covert backdoors" that could have given them access to sensitive information in dozens of countries, including India, Russia, China, and Japan. According to the report, it is getting traction in China's media after the country was accused with cyber hacking by the US. 

China's cyber-attacks target sensitive data stored by US institutions. It has become a thorn on the side of bilateral relations between the US and China. On the other side, Indian organisations believe that China hacks into sensitive data from government agencies and institutions. 

The National Security Agency (NSA) is a United States Department of Defense national-level intelligence agency that reports to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). The NSA is in charge of worldwide information and data monitoring, gathering, and processing for foreign and domestic intelligence and counterintelligence purposes, specialised in a field known as signals intelligence (SIGINT). The NSA is also in charge of protecting the United States' communication networks and information systems. 

Among the allegedly hijacked websites named in the report were those associated with one of India's leading microbial research labs, the Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTech) under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, as well as the Indian Academy of Sciences in Bengaluru. Websites associated with the Banaras Hindu University were also reported to have been hacked.

Pangu Lab, a Beijing-based cybersecurity firm, published a technical study outlining how it discovered the backdoors and linked them to "unique IDs in the operating manuals of the NSA" discovered in the 2013 leak of NSA documents by insiders. 

According to the Chinese firm, in 2013, CIA analyst Edward Snowden leaked very relevant NSA files. Because they reveal the NSA's unique IDs. The company discovered a key that unlocks a backdoor Bvp47. It is a hacking tool created in partnership with the National Security Agency by The Equation Group. It also led to the detection of a number of similar cyberattacks that used the same unique IDs as the NSA platform. 

According to the report, which outlined how the backdoor operated, this was a backdoor communication technology that has never been seen before, indicating an organisation with considerable technological capabilities behind it. “As an advanced attack tool, Bvp47 has allowed the world to see its complexity,” it said. “What is shocking is that after analysis, it has been realised that it may have existed for more than 10 years.”

Baltimore City was Duped Out of $376K

 

A new report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) reveals that a cyber-criminal posing as a vendor duped Baltimore city out of hundreds of thousands of dollars last year. In October 2021, the OIG initiated an investigation after obtaining information from Baltimore's Bureau of Accounting and Payroll Services (BAPS) about an alleged fraudulent Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT). The Mayor's Office of Children and Family Success (MOCFS) issued the Vendor with EFT payment funds.

BAPS and MOCFS were contacted by email on December 22, 2020 and January 7, 2021, from an email address linked with an employee of the Vendor firm, asking for a change to its EFT remittance details. On December 16, 2020, the email linked with the Vendor Employee sent BAPS a Vendor Payment & Electronic Funds Transfer Form. 

The OIG later determined that the Vendor Employee's email account had been hacked by a malicious actor who had set up rules within the Vendor Employee's email account as a result of a phishing assault. As a result, the malicious actor was able to correspond with City workers without the Vendor's awareness. 

On January 5, 2021, the fraudster contacted MOCFS and BAPS once more, this time requesting that the funds be transferred to a new account at a third financial institution. As verification, the fraudster sent a bank letter and a copy of a voided check with the same details as the third account. BAPS paid $376,213.10 into the third account on January 7, 2021, believing the fraudster's assertions. 

The OIG discovered that BAPS employees do not have access to a list of authorized signatories for vendors and must rely on the information given by representatives from City agencies. Furthermore, instead of independently validating information and requests, BAPS relied on MOCFS to assist the request and accepted an incoming phone call from someone pretending to be the Vendor's Chief Financial Officer. 

In his response to this report, Director of Finance Henry Raymond notified the OIG that new protocols had been implemented requiring Department of Finance (DOF) workers to independently verify bank changes with an executive-level employee. DOF has also devised processes to exclude City agencies from vendor accounting procedures.

Russian Man and his Wife Arrested in U.S. for Stealing Record $4.5 billion in Bitcoins

Russian citizen Ilya Lichtenstein and his wife Heather Morgan were arrested in the United States on Tuesday. The U.S. Justice Department in a statement called them the largest Internet fraudsters in history. 

The spouses are suspected of hacking the Hong Kong cryptocurrency exchange Bitfinex in 2016 and withdrawing 120,000 bitcoins from its accounts, which is $4.5 billion at current prices. Intelligence agencies managed to confiscate $3.6 billion worth of bitcoins stored in the Russian's e-wallets. 

On Tuesday night, after the arraignment in the Court of the Southern District of New York, Magistrate Judge Debra Freeman decided to release the suspects on bail of $8 million for two. However, the spouses were unable to leave federal prison as the judge's decision was put on hold by Washington. 

According to the prosecution, the couple should remain in custody because "they are sophisticated cybercriminals and money launderers, and there is a serious risk of their escape." Prosecutors admit that the couple may have passports in other names. 

In particular, agents found a file named Passport_ideas on Liechtenstein's computer. And a plastic container with disposable phones was found under the bed in the apartment of the defendants. Under American law, Ilya Lichtenstein and Heather Morgan face up to 25 years in prison. 

A few years ago, 34-year-old Ilya Lichtenstein unsuccessfully tried to create a technology startup and become an investor. He came to the United States from Russia at the age of six, when his family was granted asylum for religious reasons. 

His wife, Heather Morgan, called herself an economist, a journalist, and a "Crocodile of Wall Street", was a freelance writer for Forbes magazine and even performed as a rapper under the name Razzltkhan. According to the New York Times, giant billboards with her image decorated Times Square. 

According to the investigation conducted by the FBI and the US Internal Revenue Service, Lichtenstein and Morgan hacked the Bitfinex protection system and made about 2 thousand illegal transactions, transferring funds from the accounts of the exchange's clients to their electronic wallet. 

In subsequent years, the suspects managed to launder about 25 thousand bitcoins through third-party exchanges and online services on the darknet. A new hearing on Lichtenstein and his wife's bail application will be held in Washington on February 11.

Attackers Gained Access to the Systems of the National Games of China

 

China has recently had its own national sporting event: the National Games of China began on September 15, 2021, in the Chinese city of Shaanxi. This is a comparable event to the Olympics, however, it only features athletes from China. The National Games of the People's Republic of China, also known as the All-China Games, are China's biggest national sporting event. It is typically held every four years. 

David Álvarez, an Avast security researcher, discovered a malware sample with a peculiar file extension in early September and started to examine where it came from. Following that, he discovered a report submitted to VirusTotal by the National Games IT team on an attack against a server associated with the Games.

The data suggests that the attackers acquired initial code execution on September 3, 2021, about 10:00AM local time, and deployed their first reverse shell executing scripts called runscript.lua. Researchers believe this occurred as a result of an arbitrary file-read vulnerability targeting either route .lua which, according to the API (Application User Interface) extracted from various JavaScript files, is a LUA script containing a lot of functionality ranging from login authentication to file manipulation or index.lua in combination with index.lua?a=upload API that was not used by anyone else in the rest of the network log. It's also worth noticing that runscript.lua was not included in the report or among the files uploaded by the attacker. 

After gaining initial access, the attackers uploaded numerous other reverse shells, such as conf.lua, miss1.php, or admin2.php, to gain a more permanent foothold in the network in the event that one of the shells was found. Because these reverse shells receive commands via POST requests, the data is not contained in the logs attached to the report, which simply show the URL path. Furthermore, the logs in the report do not contain enough information about network traffic for researchers to understand how and when the attackers obtained their initial web shell. 

The method used by the attackers to hack the 14th National Games of China is not novel. They got access to the system by taking advantage of a flaw in the webserver. This highlights the importance of updating software, correctly configuring it, and being aware of potential new vulnerabilities in apps by employing vulnerability scanners.

The most essential security countermeasure for defenders is to maintain the infrastructure patched up to date (especially for the internet-facing infrastructure). The primary priority for both internal and internet-facing infrastructure should be prevention. According to the researchers, in order to fight against this type of attack, more layers of protection must be deployed so that users can identify and respond immediately when a successful breach occurs.

BlackCat Ransomware Gang Employing Novel Techniques to Target Organizations

 

Last year in December, malware researchers from Recorded Future and MalwareHunterTeam unearthed ALPHV (aka BlackCat), the first professional ransomware strain that was designed in the Rust programming language. In this post, we will explore some of the methodologies employed by ransomware developers to target organizations.

According to an analysis published last month by Varonis, BlackCat was observed recruiting operators from multiple ransomware organizations, offering to allow affiliates to leverage the ransomware and keep 80-90% of the ransom payment.

“The group’s leak site, active since early December 2021, has named over twenty victim organizations as of late January 2022, though the total number of victims, including those that have paid a ransom to avoid exposure, is likely greater,” Varonis’s Jason Hill explained. 

The attackers leveraging BlackCat, often referred to as the "BlackCat gang,” employ multiple tactics that are becoming increasingly commonplace in the ransomware space. Notably, they use several extortion techniques in some cases, including the siphoning of victim data before ransomware deployment, threats to release data if the ransom is not paid, and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

According to cybersecurity researchers at Recorded Future, the ALPHV/BlackCat developer was previously involved with the REvil ransomware gang. Last month, the Russian government disclosed that at the United States’ request it arrested 14 individuals in Russia linked to the REvil ransomware gang.

Still, REvil rolls on despite these actions, according to Paul Roberts at ReversingLabs. “The recent arrests have NOT led to a noticeable change in detections of REvil malicious files,” Roberts wrote. “In fact, detections of files and other software modules associated with the REvil ransomware increased modestly in the week following the arrests by Russia’s FSB intelligence service.” 

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has a standing $10 million reward for information leading to the identification or location of any individuals holding key leadership positions in REvil. 

As of December 2021, BlackCat has the seventh-largest number of victims listed on their leak site among ransomware groups tracked by Unit 42 researchers. While Conti (ranked second) has been around in various guises for almost two years, it is surrounded at the top of the chart by emerging families.

DeepDotWeb Operator Sentenced to Eight Years for Role in $8.4 million Kickback Scheme

 

An Israeli national was sentenced to 97 months in prison in connection with operating the DeepDotWeb (DDW), a website that connected internet users with darknet marketplaces.

From 2013, Prihar (37) and co-defendant Michael Phan (34), started operating DeepDotWeb and provided a platform for Dark Web news and links to marketplaces, redirecting visitors to their .onion addresses -- websites that are not available via standard search engines in the clear web.

The conviction of Tal Prihar, 37, was announced last week by the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Cindy K. Chung for the Western District of Pennsylvania for money laundering and was ordered to forfeit $8,414,173, ASUS laptop, iPhone, and accounts at various cryptocurrency exchanges such as Kraken, Binance and OKCoin. 

Prihar had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering in March 2021, almost two years after his arrest and the site's seizure, while Phan remains in Israel and is currently undergoing extradition proceedings.

For linking users with the illegal darknet marketplaces, Prihar received a total of 8,155 bitcoins from his affiliate marketing deals with marketplace operators. To conceal the sources of these payments, Prihar converted them to fiat currency and laundered it through other Bitcoin and bank accounts he controlled in the name of shell companies. 

"To conceal the nature and source of these illegal kickback payments, Prihar transferred the payments from his DDW bitcoin wallet to other bitcoin accounts and to bank accounts he controlled in the names of shell companies." explains the DoJ announcement. 

The investigation into DDW involved the FBI's Pittsburgh Field Office, French authorities, Europol, the IRS, German law enforcement, the Israeli National Police, and the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA), among other organizations. 

Additionally, the DoJ also announced the sentencing of an associate of the Dark Overlord hacking group for his role in possessing and selling more than 1,700 stolen identities, including social security numbers, on the dark web marketplace AlphaBay. 

Slava Dmitriev, a 29-year-old Canadian citizen who was arrested in Greece in September 2020 and extradited to the U.S. in January 2021, was sentenced to a jail term of three years after he pleaded guilty in August 2021 to fraud charges.

ESET: Criminals will be Able to Steal Personal Data Using Smartwatches

 

ESET analysts reported that cybercriminals can use smartwatches to steal personal data and warned Russians about the main dangers associated with this gadget. 

"According to our estimates, the market for smartwatches and fitness trackers will grow by 12.5 percent annually and will exceed $118 billion by 2028. Such indicators cannot but attract scammers. Therefore, it is worth understanding in advance the security and privacy risks associated with this," the ESET study says. 

The threat of data interception is due to the fact that many smartwatches and fitness trackers are synchronized with the owners' smartphones, including some applications such as e-mail or messengers. Thus, attackers can hijack both devices, which threatens, in particular, the loss of passwords. ESET further warns that the stolen personal data can then be sold on the darknet. 

Another serious risk for a cybercriminal's victim is tracking the GeoPosition of the device. Such data allows hackers to draw up a detailed diagram of the user's movements in order to attack his home or car. "The safety of children's smartwatches, which can be monitored by outsiders, is even more worrying," ESET states. Speaking about the specific vulnerabilities of smart fitness trackers, cyber specialists pay attention to Bluetooth technology, in which "numerous vulnerabilities have been discovered over the years," weak software of gadgets and paired smartphone applications that may contain coding errors. 

According to ESET analysts, risks can be reduced via the use of two-factor authentication, the use of a strong password to lock the screen, as well as a ban on external connections to smartwatches will also prevent threat. 


Data can be leaked both via the Internet and via Bluetooth a critical Bluetooth vulnerabilities allow executing arbitrary malicious code on the device and gaining full control over the device's system, as well as carrying out a man-in-the-middle attack (MiTM), which leads to the unauthorized interception of user data.

Ransomware Groups are Enlisting Breached Individuals to Persuade Firms to Pay Up

 

According to recent reports, attackers are utilising stolen data to contact individuals who have been compromised in the attack (through social media, email, or phone). These direct contact strategies are being used by ransomware gangs as additional leverage to get victims to pay up. They call employees or customers whose data was compromised in the attack and urge them to persuade the victim to pay up, threatening them with the release of their personal information if they do not. 

NBC News featured a story on a parent whose child attended a school run by a district that was the target of a ransomware attack. The attackers emailed the parent, asking him to put pressure on the district to pay up, or else all of the exfiltrated materials, including information on him and his son, will be posted on the dark web. 

According to the person interviewed by NBC, the district did not notify parents or many staff members that they had been the victims of an attack, at least not before the assailants established contact with them. The attackers exploit whatever contact information they can obtain, such as employee directories or customer databases, to identify individuals to pressure. 

Allen ISD was the victim of a cyberattack in September 2021 and was afterward the target of attempted extortion by the perpetrators. Allen ISD, located roughly 30 miles north of Dallas, Texas, educates nearly 22,000 K-12 students. Following consultation with external cybersecurity experts, school administrators decided to refuse to pay the hackers' demands, even telling local media that there was no indication that data had been exfiltrated. Despite the fact that the ransomware gang claimed to have collected personal information from district children, families, and staff and sought to extort millions of dollars from Allen ISD. 

Another strategy used by ransomware attackers is to contact employees at a firm during the reconnaissance stages of an assault to see if they can bypass the infiltration stages by exploiting an insider threat. Insider threats are one of a few non-digital threats that have plagued businesses of all sizes to date. 

Insider threats represent a quarter of the eight main cybersecurity risks that significantly affect the corporate and public sectors, according to the Osterman Research white paper White Hat, Black Hat, and the Emergence of the Gray Hat: The True Costs of Cybercrime. 

According to a new survey conducted by identity protection firm Hitachi ID Systems, 65% of surveyed IT and security executives or their staff had been contacted to aid in ransomware cyberattacks. This marks a 17% increase over a similar survey conducted a year ago. The attackers used email and social media to contact employees in the majority of cases, while phone calls accounted for 27% of their approach efforts, a direct and brazen method of communication.