Class Action Targets Experian Over Account Security

A class action lawsuit has been filed against big-three consumer credit bureau Experian over reports that the company did little to prevent identity thieves from hijacking consumer accounts. The legal filing cites liberally from an investigation KrebsOnSecurity published in July, which found that identity thieves were able to assume control over existing Experian accounts simply by signing up for new accounts using the victim’s personal information and a different email address.

The lawsuit, filed July 28, 2022 in California Central District Court, argues that Experian’s documented practice of allowing the re-registration of existing Experian accounts without first verifying that the existing account holder authorized the changes violates the

In July’s Experian, You Have Some Explaining to Do, we heard from two different readers who had security freezes on their credit files with Experian and who also recently received notifications from Experian that the email address on their account had been changed. So had their passwords and account PIN and secret questions. Both had used password managers to pick and store complex, unique passwords for their accounts.

Both were able to recover access to their Experian account simply by recreating it — sharing their name, address, phone number, social security number, date of birth, and successfully gleaning or guessing the answers to four multiple choice questions that are almost entirely based on public records (or else information that is not terribly difficult to find).

Here’s the bit from that story that got excerpted in the class action lawsuit:

KrebsOnSecurity sought to replicate Turner and Rishi’s experience — to see if Experian would allow me to re-create my account using my personal information but a different email address. The experiment was done from a different computer and Internet address than the one that created the original account years ago.

After providing my Social Security Number (SSN), date of birth, and answering several multiple choice questions whose answers are derived almost entirely from public records, Experian promptly changed the email address associated with my credit file. It did so without first confirming that new email address could respond to messages, or that the previous email address approved the change.

Experian’s system then sent an automated message to the original email address on file, saying the account’s email address had been changed. The only recourse Experian offered in the alert was to sign in, or send an email to an Experian inbox that replies with the message, “this email address is no longer monitored.”

After that, Experian prompted me to select new secret questions and answers, as well as a new account PIN — effectively erasing the account’s previously chosen PIN and recovery questions. Once I’d changed the PIN and security questions, Experian’s site helpfully reminded me that I have a security freeze on file, and would I like to remove or temporarily lift the security freeze?

To be clear, Experian does have a business unit that sells one-time password services to businesses. While Experian’s system did ask for a mobile number when I signed up a second time, at no time did that number receive a notification from Experian. Also, I could see no option in my account to enable multi-factor authentication for all logins.

In response to my story, Experian suggested the reports from readers were isolated incidents, and that the company does all kinds of things it can’t talk about publicly to prevent bad people from abusing its systems.

“We believe these are isolated incidents of fraud using stolen consumer information,” Experian’s statement reads. “Specific to your question, once an Experian account is created, if someone attempts to create a second Experian account, our systems will notify the original email on file.”

“We go beyond reliance on personally identifiable information (PII) or a consumer’s ability to answer knowledge-based authentication questions to access our systems,” the statement continues. “We do not disclose additional processes for obvious security reasons; however, our data and analytical capabilities verify identity elements across multiple data sources and are not visible to the consumer. This is designed to create a more positive experience for our consumers and to provide additional layers of protection. We take consumer privacy and security seriously, and we continually review our security processes to guard against constant and evolving threats posed by fraudsters.”

That sounds great, but since that story ran I’ve heard from several more readers who were doing everything right and still had their Experian accounts hijacked, with little left to show for it except an email alert from Experian saying they had changed the address on file for the account.

I’d like to believe this class action lawsuit will change things, but I do not. Likely, the only thing that will come from this lawsuit — if it is not dismissed outright — is a fat payout for the plaintiffs’ attorneys and “free” credit monitoring for a few years compliments of Experian.

Credit bureaus do not view consumers as customers, who are instead the product that is being sold to third party companies. Often that data is sold based on the interests of the entity purchasing the data, wherein consumer records can be packaged into categories like “dog owner,” “expectant parent,” or “diabetes patient.”

A chat conversation between the plaintiff and Experian’s support staff shows he experienced the same account hijack as described by our readers, despite his use of a computer-generated, unique password for his Experian account.

Nevertheless, most lenders rely on the big-three consumer credit reporting bureaus, including Equifax, Experian and Trans Union — to determine everyone’s credit score, fluctuations in which can make or break one’s application for a loan or job.

On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal broke a story saying Equifax sent lenders incorrect credit scores for millions of consumers this spring.

Meanwhile, the credit bureaus keep enjoying record earnings. For its part, Equifax reported a record fourth quarter 2021 revenue of 1.3 billion. Much of that revenue came from its Workforce Solutions business, which sells information about consumer salary histories to a variety of customers.

The Biden administration reportedly wants to create a public entity within the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that would incorporate factors like rent and utility payments into lending decisions. Such a move would require congressional approval but CFPB officials are already discussing how it might be set up, Reuters reported.

“Credit reporting firms oppose the move, saying they are already working to provide fair and affordable credit to all consumers,” Reuters wrote. “A public credit bureau would be bad for consumers because it would expand the government’s power in an inappropriate way and its goals would shift with political winds, the Consumer Data Industry Association (CDIA), which represents private rating firms, said in a statement.”

A public credit bureau is likely to meet fierce resistance from the Congress’s most generous constituents — the banking industry — which detests rapid change and is heavily reliant on the credit bureaus.

And there is a preview of that fight going on right now over the bipartisan American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which The Hill described as one of the most lobbied bills in Congress. The idea behind the bill is that companies can’t collect any more information from you than they need to provide you with the service you’re seeking.

“The bipartisan bill, which represents a breakthrough for lawmakers after years of negotiations, would restrict the kind of data companies can collect from online users and the ways they can use that data,” The Hill reported Aug. 3. “Its provisions would impact companies in every consumer-centric industry — including retailers, e-commerce giants, telecoms, credit card companies and tech firms — that compile massive amounts of user data and rely on targeted ads to attract customers.”

According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group, the bill as drafted falls short in protecting consumers in several areas. For starters, it would override or preempt many kinds of state privacy laws. The EFF argues the bill also would block the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from enforcing federal privacy laws that now apply to cable and satellite TV, and that consumers should still be allowed to sue companies that violate their privacy.

A copy of the class action complaint against Experian is available here (PDF).

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273-Credential Exposure Removal

This week I offer our new Credential Exposure Removal Guide and tackle the latest news and updates.

Direct support for this podcast comes from our privacy services, online training, and new books for 2022: Extreme Privacy (4th Edition) and  Open Source Intelligence Techniques (9th Edition). More details can be found at IntelTechniques.com. Thank you for keeping this show ad-free and sponsor-free.

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Scammers Sent Uber to Take Elderly Lady to the Bank

Email scammers sent an Uber to the home of an 80-year-old woman who responded to a well-timed email scam, in a bid to make sure she went to the bank and wired money to the fraudsters.  In this case, the woman figured out she was being scammed before embarking for the bank, but her story is a chilling reminder of how far crooks will go these days to rip people off.

Travis Hardaway is a former music teacher turned app developer from Towson, Md. Hardaway said his mother last month replied to an email she received regarding an appliance installation from BestBuy/GeekSquad. Hardaway said the timing of the scam email couldn’t have been worse: His mom’s dishwasher had just died, and she’d paid to have a new one delivered and installed.

“I think that’s where she got confused, because she thought the email was about her dishwasher installation,” Hardaway told KrebsOnSecurity.

Hardaway said his mom initiated a call to the phone number listed in the phony BestBuy email, and that the scammers told her she owed $160 for the installation, which seemed right at the time. Then the scammers asked her to install remote administration software on her computer so that they could control the machine from afar and assist her in making the payment.

After she logged into her bank and savings accounts with scammers watching her screen, the fraudster on the phone claimed that instead of pulling $160 out of her account, they accidentally transferred $160,000 to her account. They said they they needed her help to make sure the money was “returned.”

“They took control of her screen and said they had accidentally transferred $160,000 into her account,” Hardaway said. “The person on the phone told her he was going to lose his job over this transfer error, that he didn’t know what to do. So they sent her some information about where to wire the money, and asked her to go to the bank. But she told them, ‘I don’t drive,’ and they told her, “No problem, we’re sending an Uber to come help you to the bank.’”

Hardaway said he was out of town when all this happened, and that thankfully his mom eventually grew exasperated and gave up trying to help the scammers.

“They told her they were sending an Uber to pick her up and that it was on its way,” Hardaway said. “I don’t know if the Uber ever got there. But my mom went over to the neighbor’s house and they saw it for what it was — a scam.”

Hardaway said he has since wiped her computer, reinstalled the operating system and changed her passwords. But he says the incident has left his mom rattled.

“She’s really second-guessing herself now,” Hardaway said. “She’s not computer-savvy, and just moved down here from Boston during COVID to be near us, but she’s living by herself and feeling isolated and vulnerable, and stuff like this doesn’t help.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), seniors are often targeted because they tend to be trusting and polite. More importantly, they also usually have financial savings, own a home, and have good credit—all of which make them attractive to scammers.

“Additionally, seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed of having been scammed,” the FBI warned in May. “They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs. And when an elderly victim does report a crime, they may be unable to supply detailed information to investigators.”

In 2021, more than 92,000 victims over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). The FBI says that represents a 74 percent increase in losses over losses reported in 2020.

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No SOCKS, No Shoes, No Malware Proxy Services!

With the recent demise of several popular “proxy” services that let cybercriminals route their malicious traffic through hacked PCs, there is now something of a supply chain crisis gripping the underbelly of the Internet. Compounding the problem, several remaining malware-based proxy services have chosen to block new registrations to avoid swamping their networks with a sudden influx of customers.

Last week, a seven-year-old proxy service called 911[.]re abruptly announced it was permanently closing after a cybersecurity breach allowed unknown intruders to trash its servers and delete customer data and backups. 911 was already akin to critical infrastructure for many in the cybercriminal community after its top two competitors — VIP72 and LuxSocks — closed or were shut down by authorities over the past 10 months.

The underground cybercrime forums are now awash in pleas from people who are desperately seeking a new supplier of abundant, cheap, and reliably clean proxies to restart their businesses. The consensus seems to be that those days are now over, and while there are many smaller proxy services remaining, few of them on their own are capable of absorbing anywhere near the current demand.

“Everybody is looking for an alternative, bro,” wrote a BlackHatForums user on Aug. 1 in response to one of many “911 alternative” discussion threads. “No one knows an equivalent alternative to 911[.]re. Their service in terms of value and accessibility compared to other proxy providers was unmatched. Hopefully someone comes with a great alternative to 911[.]re.”

NEW SOCKS, SAME OLD SHOES

Among the more frequently recommended alternatives to 911 is SocksEscort[.]com, a malware-based proxy network that has been in existence since at least 2010. Here’s what part of their current homepage looks like:

The SocksEscort home page says its services are perfect for people involved in automated online activity that often results in IP addresses getting blocked or banned, such as Craigslist and dating scams, search engine results manipulation, and online surveys.

But faced with a deluge of new signups in the wake of 911’s implosion, SocksEscort was among the remaining veteran proxy services that opted to close its doors to new registrants, replacing its registration page with the message:

“Due to unusual high demand, and heavy load on our servers, we had to block all new registrations. We won’t be able to support our proxies otherwise, and close SocksEscort as a result. We will resume registrations right after demand drops. Thank you for understanding, and sorry for the inconvenience.”

According to Spur.us, a startup that tracks proxy services, SocksEscort is a malware-based proxy offering, which means the machines doing the proxying of traffic for SocksEscort customers have been infected with malicious software that turns them into a traffic relay.

Spur says SocksEscort’s proxy service relies on compromised Microsoft Windows computers, and is currently leasing access to more than 14,000 hacked computers worldwide. That is a far cry from the proxy inventory advertised by 911, which stood at more than 200,000 IP addresses for rent just a few days ago.

Image: Spur.us

SocksEscort is what’s known as a “SOCKS Proxy” service. The SOCKS (or SOCKS5) protocol allows Internet users to channel their Web traffic through a proxy server, which then passes the information on to the intended destination. From a website’s perspective, the traffic of the proxy network customer appears to originate from a rented/malware-infected PC tied to a residential ISP customer, not from the proxy service customer.

These services can be used in a legitimate manner for several business purposes — such as price comparisons or sales intelligence — but they are massively abused for hiding cybercrime activity because they make it difficult to trace malicious traffic to its original source.

The disruption at 911[.]re came days after KrebsOnSecurity published an in-depth look at the long-running proxy service, which showed that 911 had a history of incentivizing the installation of its proxy software without user notice or consent, and that it actually ran some of these “pay-per-install” schemes on its own to guarantee a steady supply of freshly-hacked PCs.

That story also showed once again that the people who are building and leasing these botnets are surprisingly easy to identify in real life, particularly given that they operate malware-based anonymity services that enable a great deal of cybercrime activity.

Such was the case again with SocksEscort. Hilariously, the common link that exposed the real-life identities of the people running this SOCKS service was that they all worked for the same online shoe store.

ANGRY CODERS

SocksEscort[.]com was originally registered to the email address “michdomain@gmail.com,” which according to DomainTools.com was used to register a handful of related domains, including its previous incarnation — super-socks[.]biz. Cached versions of the site show that in 2010 the software which powers the network was produced with a copyright of “Escort Software.”

Super-socks[.]biz came online around the same time as another domain registered to that “michdomain” email: ip-score[.]com, which soon became shorthand on several cybercrime forums for a service that could tell visitors whether their Internet address  — or more precisely, the proxy they were using —  was flagged by any security software or services as compromised or malicious.

IP-score offered a revenue sharing program for websites that chose to embed its IP-scoring code, and the copyright on that userbar program was “Angry Coders.”

A review of the Internet addresses historically used by Super-socks[.]biz and SocksEscort[.]com reveals that these domains at various times over the years shared an Internet address with a small of other domains, including angrycoders[.]net, iskusnyh[.]pro, and kc-shoes[.]ru.

Cached copies of angrycoders[.]net from the Wayback Machine don’t reveal much about this particular group of irate programmers, but a search on the domain brings up several now-dormant listings for an Angry Coders based in Omsk, a large city in the Siberian region of Russia. The domain was registered in 2010 to an Oleg Iskushnykh from Omsk, who used the email address iboss32@ro.ru.

According to Constella Intelligence [currently an advertiser on KrebsOnSecurity], Oleg used the same password from his iboss32@ro.ru account for a slew of other “iboss” themed email addresses, one of which is tied to a LinkedIn profile for an Oleg Iskhusnyh, who describes himself as a senior web developer living in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

Curiously, Iskusnyh’s Github profile shows he has contributed code to a number of online payment-related technologies and services, including Ingenico ePayments, Swedbank WooCommerce, Mondido Payments, and Reepay.

DON’T JUDGE A MAN UNTIL YOU’VE WALKED A MILE IN HIS SOCKS

The various “iboss” email accounts appear to have been shared by multiple parties. A search in Constella’s database of breached entities on “iboss32@gmail.com” reveals someone using the name Oleg Iskusnyh registered an online profile using a phone number in Bronx, New York. Pivoting on that phone number — 17187154415 — reveals a profile exposed in the breach at sales intelligence firm Apollo with the first name “Dmitry” who used the email address chepurko87@gmail.com.

That email is connected to a LinkedIn profile for a Dmitry Chepurko in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan. Chepurko’s resume says he’s a full stack developer, who most recently worked in the Omsk offices of a German shoe company called KC Shoes (the aforementioned kc-shoes.ru]. Chepurko’s resume says before that he worked on his own for a decade using the freelancing platform Upwork.

The Upwork profile listed in Chepurko’s LinkedIn C.V. is no longer active. But that same now-defunct Upwork account link is still listed as the profile of a “Dmitry C.” in an UpWork profile page for the Angry Coders team in Omsk, Russia.

The UpWork profile page for the Angry Coders programming team from Omsk, RU.

Who is the “Alexander S.” listed above under the “Agency members” heading in the Upwork profile for Angry Coders? Historical DNS records from Farsight Security show angrycoders.net formerly included the subdomain “smollalex.angrycoders[.]net”.

A simple Internet search on “kc-shoes” reveals a Github account for a user from Omsk with the first name Alexander and the account name “Smollalex.” Alexander’s Github account indicates he has contributed code to the kc-shoes website as well.

Constella’s service shows that “Smollalex” was a favorite handle chosen by an Alexandr Smolyaninov from Omsk. The Smollalex Github account associates this individual with a company in Omsk that sells parts for oil and gas pipelines.

That shoes are apparently the common link among the Angry Coders responsible for SocksEscort is doubly amusing because — at least according to the posts on some cybercrime forums — one big reason people turn to these proxy services is for “shoe botting” or “sneaker bots,” which refers to the use of automated bot programs and services that aid in the rapid acquisition of limited-release, highly-sought-after designer athletic shoes that can then be resold at huge markups on secondary markets.

It’s not clear if the Angry Coders team members remain affiliated with SocksEscort; none of them responded to requests for comment. There were certain connections made clear throughout the research mentioned above that the Angry Coders outsourced much of the promotion and support of their proxy service to programmers based in India and Indonesia, where apparently a large chunk of its customers currently reside.

Further reading:

July 29, 2022: 911 Proxy Service Implodes After Disclosing Breach

July 28, 2022: Breach Exposes Users of Microleaves Proxy Service

July 18, 2022: A Deep Dive Into the Residential Proxy Service ‘911’

June 28, 2022: The Link Between AWM Proxy & the Glupteba Botnet

June 22, 2022: Meet the Administrators of the RSOCKS Proxy Botnet

Sept. 1, 2021: 15-Year-Old Malware Proxy Network VIP72 Goes Dark

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911 Proxy Service Implodes After Disclosing Breach

The 911 service as it existed until July 28, 2022.

911[.]re, a proxy service that since 2015 has sold access to hundreds of thousands of Microsoft Windows computers daily, announced this week that it is shutting down in the wake of a data breach that destroyed key components of its business operations. The abrupt closure comes ten days after KrebsOnSecurity published an in-depth look at 911 and its connections to shady pay-per-install affiliate programs that secretly bundled 911’s proxy software with other titles, including “free” utilities and pirated software.

911[.]re is was one of the original “residential proxy” networks, which allow someone to rent a residential IP address to use as a relay for his/her Internet communications, providing anonymity and the advantage of being perceived as a residential user surfing the web.

Residential proxy services are often marketed to people seeking the ability to evade country-specific blocking by the major movie and media streaming providers. But some of them — like 911 — build their networks in part by offering “free VPN” or “free proxy” services that are powered by software which turns the user’s PC into a traffic relay for other users. In this scenario, users indeed get to use a free VPN service, but they are often unaware that doing so will turn their computer into a proxy that lets others use their Internet address to transact online.

From a website’s perspective, the IP traffic of a residential proxy network user appears to originate from the rented residential IP address, not from the proxy service customer. These services can be used in a legitimate manner for several business purposes — such as price comparisons or sales intelligence — but they are massively abused for hiding cybercrime activity because they can make it difficult to trace malicious traffic to its original source.

As noted in KrebsOnSecurity’s July 19 story on 911, the proxy service operated multiple pay-per-install schemes that paid affiliates to surreptitiously bundle the proxy software with other software, continuously generating a steady stream of new proxies for the service.

A cached copy of flashupdate[.]net circa 2016, which shows it was the homepage of a pay-per-install affiliate program that incentivized the silent installation of 911’s proxy software.

Within hours of that story, 911 posted a notice at the top of its site, saying, “We are reviewing our network and adding a series of security measures to prevent misuse of our services. Proxy balance top-up and new user registration are closed. We are reviewing every existing user, to ensure their usage is legit and [in] compliance with our Terms of Service.”

At this announcement, all hell broke loose on various cybercrime forums, where many longtime 911 customers reported they were unable to use the service. Others affected by the outage said it seemed 911 was trying to implement some sort of “know your customer” rules — that maybe 911 was just trying to weed out those customers using the service for high volumes of cybercriminal activity.

Then on July 28, the 911 website began redirecting to a notice saying, “We regret to inform you that we permanently shut down 911 and all its services on July 28th.”

According to 911, the service was hacked in early July, and it was discovered that someone manipulated the balances of a large number of user accounts. 911 said the intruders abused an application programming interface (API) that handles the topping up of accounts when users make financial deposits with the service.

“Not sure how did the hacker get in,” the 911 message reads. “Therefore, we urgently shut down the recharge system, new user registration, and an investigation started.”

The parting message from 911 to its users, posted to the homepage July 28, 2022.

However the intruders got in, 911 said, they managed to also overwrite critical 911[.]re servers, data and backups of that data.

“On July 28th, a large number of users reported that they could not log in the system,” the statement continues. “We found that the data on the server was maliciously damaged by the hacker, resulting in the loss of data and backups. Its [sic] confirmed that the recharge system was also hacked the same way. We were forced to make this difficult decision due to the loss of important data that made the service unrecoverable.”

Operated largely out of China, 911 was an enormously popular service across many cybercrime forums, and it became something akin to critical infrastructure for this community after two of 911’s longtime competitors — malware-based proxy services VIP72 and LuxSocksclosed their doors in the past year.

Now, many on the crime forums who relied on 911 for their operations are wondering aloud whether there are any alternatives that match the scale and utility that 911 offered. The consensus seems to be a resounding “no.”

I’m guessing we may soon learn more about the security incidents that caused 911 to implode. And perhaps other proxy services will spring up to meet what appears to be a burgeoning demand for such services at the moment, with comparatively little supply.

In the meantime, 911’s absence may coincide with a measurable (if only short-lived) reprieve in unwanted traffic to top Internet destinations, including banks, retailers and cryptocurrency platforms, as many former customers of the proxy service scramble to make alternative arrangements.

Riley Kilmer, co-founder of the proxy-tracking service Spur.us, said 911’s network will be difficult to replicate in the short run.

“My speculation is [911’s remaining competitors] are going to get a major boost in the short term, but a new player will eventually come along,” Kilmer said. “None of those are good replacements for LuxSocks or 911. However, they will all allow anyone to use them. For fraud rates, the attempts will continue but through these replacement services which should be easier to monitor and stop. 911 had some very clean IP addresses.”

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272-Processor Attacks Explained

This week Paul Asadoorian joins me to explain vulnerabilities within our computer processors with potential solutions.

Direct support for this podcast comes from our privacy services, online training, and new books for 2022: Extreme Privacy (4th Edition) and  Open Source Intelligence Techniques (9th Edition). More details can be found at IntelTechniques.com. Thank you for keeping this show ad-free and sponsor-free.

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Breach Exposes Users of Microleaves Proxy Service

Microleaves, a ten-year-old proxy service that lets customers route their web traffic through millions of Microsoft Windows computers, recently fixed a vulnerability in their website that exposed their entire user database. Microleaves claims its proxy software is installed with user consent, but data exposed in the breach shows the service has a lengthy history of being supplied with new proxies by affiliates incentivized to distribute the software any which way they can — such as by secretly bundling it with other titles.

The Microleaves proxy service, which is in the process of being rebranded to Shifter[.[io.

Launched in 2013, Microleaves is a service that allows customers to route their Internet traffic through PCs in virtually any country or city around the globe. Microleaves works by changing each customer’s Internet Protocol (IP) address every five to ten minutes.

The service, which accepts PayPal, Bitcoin and all major credit cards, is aimed primarily at enterprises engaged in repetitive, automated activity that often results in an IP address being temporarily blocked — such as data scraping, or mass-creating new accounts at some service online.

In response to a report about the data exposure from KrebsOnSecurity, Microleaves said it was grateful for being notified about a “very serious issue regarding our customer information.”

Abhishek Gupta is the PR and marketing manager for Microleaves, which he said in the process of being rebranded to “Shifter.io.” Gupta said the report qualified as a “medium” severity security issue in Shifter’s brand new bug bounty program (the site makes no mention of a bug bounty), which he said offers up to $2,000 for reporting data exposure issues like the one they just fixed. KrebsOnSecurity declined the offer and requested that Shifter donate the amount to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a digital rights group.

From its inception nearly a decade ago, Microleaves has claimed to lease between 20-30 million IPs via its service at any time. Riley Kilmer, co-founder of the proxy-tracking service Spur.us, said that 20-30 million number might be accurate for Shifter if measured across a six-month time frame. Currently, Spur is tracking roughly a quarter-million proxies associated with Microleaves/Shifter each day, with a high rate of churn in IPs.

Early on, this rather large volume of IP addresses led many to speculate that Microleaves was just a botnet which was being resold as a commercial proxy service.

Proxy traffic related to top Microleaves users, as exposed by the website’s API.

The very first discussion thread started by the new user Microleaves on the forum BlackHatWorld in 2013 sought forum members who could help test and grow the proxy network. At the time, the Microleaves user said their proxy network had 150,000 IPs globally, and was growing quickly.

One of BlackHatWorld’s moderators asked the administrator of the forum to review the Microleaves post.

“User states has 150k proxies,” the forum skeptic wrote. “No seller on BHW has 150k working daily proxies none of us do. Which hints at a possible BOTNET. That’s the only way you will get 150k.”

Microleaves has long been classified by antivirus companies as adware or as a “potentially unwanted program” (PUP), the euphemism that antivirus companies use to describe executable files that get installed with ambiguous consent at best, and are often part of a bundle of software tied to some “free” download. Security vendor Kaspersky flags the Microleaves family of software as a trojan horse program that commandeers the user’s Internet connection as a proxy without notifying the user.

“While working, these Trojans pose as Microsoft Windows Update,” Kaspersky wrote.

In a February 2014 post to BlackHatWorld, Microleaves announced that its sister service — reverseproxies[.]com — was now offering an “Auto CAPTCHA Solving Service,” which automates the solving of those squiggly and sometimes frustrating puzzles that many websites use to distinguish bots from real visitors. The CAPTCHA service was offered as an add-on to the Microleaves proxy service, and ranged in price from $20 for a 2-day trial to $320 for solving up to 80 captchas simultaneously.

“We break normal Recaptcha with 60-90% success rate, recaptcha with blobs 30% success, and 500+ other captcha,” Microleaves wrote. “As you know all success rate on recaptcha depends very much on good proxies that are fresh and not spammed!”

WHO IS ACIDUT?

The exposed Microleaves user database shows that the first user created on the service — username “admin” — used the email address alex.iulian@aol.com. A search on that email address in Constella Intelligence, a service that tracks breached data, reveals it was used to create an account at the link shortening service bit.ly under the name Alexandru Florea, and the username “Acidut.” [Full disclosure: Constella is currently an advertiser on this website].

According to the cyber intelligence company Intel 471, a user named Acidut with the email address iulyan87_4u@gmail.com had an active presence on almost a dozen shadowy money-making and cybercrime forums from 2010 to 2017, including BlackHatWorld, Carder[.]pro, Hackforums, OpenSC, and CPAElites.

The user Microleaves (later “Shifter.io”) advertised on BlackHatWorld the sale of 31 million residential IPs for use as proxies, in late 2013. The same account continues to sell subscriptions to Shifter.io.

In a 2011 post on Hackforums, Acidut said they were building a botnet using an “exploit kit,” a set of browser exploits made to be stitched into hacked websites and foist malware on visitors. Acidut claimed their exploit kit was generating 3,000 to 5,000 new bots each day. OpenSC was hacked at one point, and its private messages show Acidut purchased a license from Exmanoize, the handle used by the creator of the Eleonore Exploit Kit.

By November 2013, Acidut was advertising the sale of “26 million SOCKS residential proxies.” In a March 2016 post to CPAElites, Acidut said they had a worthwhile offer for people involved in pay-per-install or “PPI” schemes, which match criminal gangs who pay for malware installs with enterprising hackers looking to sell access to compromised PCs and websites.

Because pay-per-install affiliate schemes rarely impose restrictions on how the software can be installed, such programs can be appealing for cybercriminals who already control large collections of hacked machines and/or compromised websites. Indeed, Acidut went a step further, adding that their program could be quietly and invisibly nested inside of other programs.

“For those of you who are doing PPI I have a global offer that you can bundle to your installer,” Acidut wrote. “I am looking for many installs for an app that will generate website visits. The installer has a silence version which you can use inside your installer. I am looking to buy as many daily installs as possible worldwide, except China.”

Asked about the source of their proxies in 2014, the Microleaves user responded that it was “something related to a PPI network. I can’t say more and I won’t get into details.”

Acidut authored a similar message on the forum BlackHatWorld in 2013, where they encouraged users to contact them on Skype at the username “nevo.julian.” That same Skype contact address was listed prominently on the Microleaves homepage up until about a week ago when KrebsOnSecurity first reached out to the company.

ONLINE[.]IO (NOW MERCIFULLY OFFLINE)

There is a Facebook profile for an Alexandru Iulian Florea from Constanta, Romania, whose username on the social media network is Acidut. Prior to KrebsOnSecurity alerting Shifter of its data breach, the Acidut profile page associated Florea with the websites microleaves.com, shrooms.io, leftclick[.]io, and online[.]io. Mr. Florea did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and his Facebook page no longer mentions these domains.

Leftclick and online[.]io emerged as subsidiaries of Microleaves between 2017 and 2018. According to a help wanted ad posted in 2018 for a developer position at online[.]io, the company’s services were brazenly pitched to investors as “a cybersecurity and privacy tool kit, offering extensive protection using advanced adblocking, anti-tracking systems, malware protection, and revolutionary VPN access based on residential IPs.”

A teaser from Irish Tech News.

“Online[.]io is developing the first fully decentralized peer-to-peer networking technology and revolutionizing the browsing experience by making it faster, ad free, more reliable, secure and non-trackable, thus freeing the Internet from annoying ads, malware, and trackers,” reads the rest of that help wanted ad.

Microleaves CEO Alexandru Florea gave an “interview” to the website Irishtechnews.ie in 2018, in which he explained how Online[.]io (OIO) was going to upend the online advertising and security industries with its initial coin offering (ICO). The word interview is in air quotes because the following statements by Florea deserved some serious pushback by the interviewer.

“Online[.]io solution, developed using the Ethereum blockchain, aims at disrupting the digital advertising market valued at more than $1 trillion USD,” Alexandru enthused. “By staking OIO tokens and implementing our solution, the website operators will be able to access a new non-invasive revenue stream, which capitalizes on time spent by users online.”

“At the same time, internet users who stake OIO tokens will have the opportunity to monetize on the time spent online by themselves and their peers on the World Wide Web,” he continued. “The time spent by users online will lead to ICE tokens being mined, which in turn can be used in the dedicated merchant system or traded on exchanges and consequently changed to fiat.”

Translation: If you install our proxy bot/CAPTCHA-solver/ad software on your computer — or as an exploit kit on your website — we’ll make millions hijacking ads and you will be rewarded with heaps of soon-to-be-worthless shitcoin. Oh, and all your security woes will disappear, too.

It’s unclear how many Internet users and websites willingly agreed to get bombarded with Online[.]io’s annoying ads and search hijackers — and to have their PC turned into a proxy or CAPTCHA-solving zombie for others. But that is exactly what multiple security companies said happened when users encountered online[.]io, which operated using the Microsoft Windows process name of “online-guardian.exe.”

Incredibly, Crunchbase says Online[.]io raised $6 million in funding for an initial coin offering in 2018, based on the plainly ludicrous claims made above. Since then, however, online[.]io seems to have gone…offline, for good.

SUPER TECH VENTURES?

Until this week, Shifter.io’s website also exposed information about its customer base and most active users, as well as how much money each client has paid over the lifetime of their subscription. The data indicates Shifter has earned more than $11.7 million in direct payments, although it’s unclear how far back in time those payment records go, or how complete they are.

The bulk of Shifter customers who spent more than $100,000 at the proxy service appear to be digital advertising companies, including some located in the United States. None of the several Shifter customers approached by KrebsOnSecurity agreed to be interviewed.

Shifter’s Gupta said he’d been with the company for three years, since the new owner took over the company and made the rebrand to Shifter.

“The company has been on the market for a long time, but operated under a different brand called Microleaves, until new ownership and management took over the company started a reorganization process that is still on-going,” Gupta said. “We are fully transparent. Mostly [our customers] work in the data scraping niche, this is why we actually developed more products in this zone and made a big shift towards APIs and integrated solutions in the past year.”

Ah yes, the same APIs and integrated solutions that were found exposed to the Internet and leaking all of Shifter’s customer information.

Gupta said the original founder of Microleaves was a man from India, who later sold the business to Florea. According to Gupta, the Romanian entrepreneur had multiple issues in trying to run the company, and then sold it three years ago to the current owner — Super Tech Ventures, a private equity company based in Taiwan.

“Our CEO is Wang Wei, he has been with the company since 3 years ago,” Gupta said. “Mr. Florea left the company two years ago after ending this transition period.”

Google and other search engines seem to know nothing about a Super Tech Ventures based in Taiwan. Incredibly, Shifter’s own PR person claimed that he, too, was in the dark on this subject.

“I would love to help, but I really don’t know much about the mother company,” Gupta said, essentially walking back his “fully transparent” statement. “I know they are a branch of the bigger group of asian investment firms focused on private equity in multiple industries.”

Adware and proxy software are often bundled together with “free” software utilities online, or with popular software titles that have been pirated and quietly fused with installers tied to various PPI affiliate schemes.

But just as often, these intrusive programs will include some type of notice — even if installed as part of a software bundle — that many users simply do not read and click “Next” to get on with installing whatever software they’re seeking to use. In these cases, selecting the “basic” or “default” settings while installing usually hides any per-program installation prompts, and assumes you agree to all of the bundled programs being installed. It’s always best to opt for the “custom” installation mode, which can give you a better idea of what is actually being installed, and can let you control certain aspects of the installation.

Either way, it’s best to start with the assumption that if a software or service online is “free,” that there is likely some component involved that allows the provider of that service to monetize your activity. As KrebsOnSecurity noted at the conclusion of last week’s story on a China-based proxy service called 911, the rule of thumb for transacting online is that if you’re not the paying customer, then you and/or your devices are probably the product that’s being sold to others.

Further reading on proxy services:

July 18, 2022: A Deep Dive Into the Residential Proxy Service ‘911’
June 28, 2022: The Link Between AWM Proxy & the Glupteba Botnet
June 22, 2022: Meet the Administrators of the RSOCKS Proxy Botnet
Sept. 1, 2021: 15-Year-Old Malware Proxy Network VIP72 Goes Dark
Aug. 19, 2019: The Rise of “Bulletproof” Residential Networks

from Krebs on Security https://ift.tt/m7JTDlP

A Retrospective on the 2015 Ashley Madison Breach

It’s been seven years since the online cheating site AshleyMadison.com was hacked and highly sensitive data about its users posted online. The leak led to the public shaming and extortion of many Ashley Madison users, and to at least two suicides. To date, little is publicly known about the perpetrators or the true motivation for the attack. But a recent review of Ashley Madison mentions across Russian cybercrime forums and far-right underground websites in the months leading up to the hack revealed some previously unreported details that may deserve further scrutiny.

As first reported by KrebsOnSecurity on July 19, 2015, a group calling itself the “Impact Team” released data sampled from millions of users, as well as maps of internal company servers, employee network account information, company bank details and salary information.

The Impact Team said it decided to publish the information because ALM “profits on the pain of others,” and in response to alleged lies that Ashley Madison parent firm Avid Life Media allegedly told its customers about a service that allows members to completely erase their profile information for a $19 fee.

According to the hackers, although the “full delete” feature that Ashley Madison advertises promised “removal of site usage history and personally identifiable information from the site,” users’ purchase details — including real name and address — aren’t actually scrubbed.

“Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie,” the hacking group wrote. “Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”

A snippet of the message left behind by the Impact Team.

The Impact Team said ALM had one month to take Ashley Madison offline, along with a sister property called Established Men. The hackers promised that if a month passed and the company did not capitulate, it would release “all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

Exactly 30 days later, on Aug. 18, 2015, the Impact Team posted a “Time’s up!” message online, along with links to 60 gigabytes of Ashley Madison user data.

AN URGE TO DESTROY ALM

One aspect of the Ashley Madison breach that’s always bothered me is how the perpetrators largely cast themselves as defenders against crooked companies that break their privacy promises, and how this narrative was sustained at least until the Impact Team decided to leak all of the stolen user account data in August 2015.

Granted, ALM had a lot to answer for. For starters, after the breach it became clear that a great many of the female Ashley Madison profiles were either bots or created once and never used again. Experts combing through the leaked user data determined that fewer than one percent of the female profiles on Ashley Madison had been used on a regular basis, and the rest were used just once — on the day they were created. On top of that, researchers found 84 percent of the profiles were male.

But the Impact Team had to know that ALM would never comply with their demands to dismantle Ashley Madison and Established Men. In 2014, ALM reported revenues of $115 million. There was little chance the company was going to shut down some of its biggest money machines.

Hence, it appears the Impact Team’s goal all along was to create prodigious amounts of drama and tension by announcing the hack of a major cheating website, and then letting that drama play out over the next few months as millions of exposed Ashley Madison users freaked out and became the targets of extortion attacks and public shaming.

Robert Graham, CEO of Errata Security, penned a blog post in 2015 concluding that the moral outrage professed by the Impact Team was pure posturing.

“They appear to be motivated by the immorality of adultery, but in all probability, their motivation is that #1 it’s fun and #2 because they can,” Graham wrote.

Per Thorsheim, a security researcher in Norway, told Wired at the time that he believed the Impact Team was motivated by an urge to destroy ALM with as much aggression as they could muster.

“It’s not just for the fun and ‘because we can,’ nor is it just what I would call ‘moralistic fundamentalism,’” Thorsheim told Wired. “Given that the company had been moving toward an IPO right before the hack went public, the timing of the data leaks was likely no coincidence.”

NEO-NAZIS TARGET ASHLEY MADISON CEO

As the seventh anniversary of the Ashley Madison hack rolled around, KrebsOnSecurity went back and looked for any mentions of Ashley Madison or ALM on cybercrime forums in the months leading up to the Impact Team’s initial announcement of the breach on July 19, 2015. There wasn’t much, except a Russian guy offering to sell payment and contact information on 32 million AshleyMadison users, and a bunch of Nazis upset about a successful Jewish CEO promoting adultery.

Cyber intelligence firm Intel 471 recorded a series of posts by a user with the handle “Brutium” on the Russian-language cybercrime forum Antichat between 2014 and 2016. Brutium routinely advertised the sale of large, hacked databases, and on Jan. 24, 2015, this user posted a thread offering to sell data on 32 million Ashley Madison users:

“Data from July 2015
Total ~32 Million contacts:
full name; email; phone numbers; payment, etc.”

It’s unclear whether the postdated “July 2015” statement was a typo, or if Brutium updated that sales thread at some point. There is also no indication whether anyone purchased the information. Brutium’s profile has since been removed from the Antichat forum.

Flashpoint is a threat intelligence company in New York City that keeps tabs on hundreds of cybercrime forums, as well as extremist and hate websites. A search in Flashpoint for mentions of Ashley Madison or ALM prior to July 19, 2015 shows that in the six months leading up to the hack, Ashley Madison and its then-CEO Noel Biderman became a frequent subject of derision across multiple neo-Nazi websites.

On Jan. 14, 2015, a member of the neo-Nazi forum Stormfront posted a lively thread about Ashley Madison in the general discussion area titled, “Jewish owned dating website promoting adultery.”

On July 3, 2015, Andrew Anglin, the editor of the alt-right publication Daily Stormer, posted excerpts about Biderman from a story titled, “Jewish Hyper-Sexualization of Western Culture,” which referred to Biderman as the “Jewish King of Infidelity.”

On July 10, a mocking montage of Biderman photos with racist captions was posted to the extremist website Vanguard News Network, as part of a thread called “Jews normalize sexual perversion.”

“Biderman himself says he’s a happily married father of two and does not cheat,” reads the story posted by Anglin on the Daily Stormer. “In an interview with the ‘Current Affair’ program in Australia, he admitted that if he found out his own wife was accessing his cheater’s site, ‘I would be devastated.’”

The leaked AshleyMadison data included more than three years’ worth of emails stolen from Biderman. The hackers told Motherboard in 2015 they had 300 GB worth of employee emails, but that they saw no need to dump the inboxes of other company employees.

Several media outlets pounced on salacious exchanges in Biderman’s emails as proof he had carried on multiple affairs. Biderman resigned as CEO on Aug. 28, 2015. The last message in the archive of Biderman’s stolen emails was dated July 7, 2015 — almost two weeks before the Impact Team would announce their hack.

Biderman told KrebsOnSecurity on July 19, 2015 that the company believed the hacker was some type of insider.

“We’re on the doorstep of [confirming] who we believe is the culprit, and unfortunately that may have triggered this mass publication,” Biderman said. “I’ve got their profile right in front of me, all their work credentials. It was definitely a person here that was not an employee but certainly had touched our technical services.”

Certain language in the Impact Team’s manifesto seemed to support this theory, such as the line: “For a company whose main promise is secrecy, it’s like you didn’t even try, like you thought you had never pissed anyone off.”

But despite ALM offering a belated $500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible, to this day no one has been charged in connection with the hack.

from Krebs on Security https://ift.tt/XBaIlg1

271-OSINT Tool Updates II

This week I provide another substantial list of updates to the new OSINT tools, explain all usage, and offer numerous housekeeping changes. Yes, it is another OSINT episode.

Direct support for this podcast comes from our privacy services, online training, and new books for 2022: Extreme Privacy (4th Edition) and  Open Source Intelligence Techniques (9th Edition). More details can be found at IntelTechniques.com. Thank you for keeping this show ad-free and sponsor-free.

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SHOW NOTES:

INTRO:

None

NEWS & UPDATES:

OSINT VM Updates
OSINT Offline Tools
OSINT Training Calendar
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OSINT TOOL UPDATES:

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Massive Losses Define Epidemic of ‘Pig Butchering’

U.S. state and federal investigators are being inundated with reports from people who’ve lost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in connection with a complex investment scam known as “pig butchering,” wherein people are lured by flirtatious strangers online into investing in cryptocurrency trading platforms that eventually seize any funds when victims try to cash out.

The term “pig butchering” refers to a time-tested, heavily scripted, and human-intensive process of using fake profiles on dating apps and social media to lure people into investing in elaborate scams. In a more visceral sense, pig butchering means fattening up a prey before the slaughter.

“The fraud is named for the way scammers feed their victims with promises of romance and riches before cutting them off and taking all their money,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned in April 2022. “It’s run by a fraud ring of cryptocurrency scammers who mine dating apps and other social media for victims and the scam is becoming alarmingly popular.”

As documented in a series of investigative reports published over the past year across Asia, the people creating these phony profiles are largely men and women from China and neighboring countries who have been kidnapped and trafficked to places like Cambodia, where they are forced to scam complete strangers over the Internet — day after day.

The most prevalent pig butchering scam today involves sophisticated cryptocurrency investment platforms, where investors invariably see fantastic returns on their deposits — until they try to withdraw the funds. At that point, investors are told they owe huge tax bills. But even those who pay the phony levies never see their money again.

The come-ons for these scams are prevalent on dating sites and apps, but they also frequently start with what appears to be a wayward SMS — such as an instant message about an Uber ride that never showed. Or a reminder from a complete stranger about a planned meetup for coffee. In many ways, the content of the message is irrelevant; the initial goal to simply to get the recipient curious enough to respond in some way.

Those who respond are asked to continue the conversation via WhatsApp, where an attractive, friendly profile of the opposite gender will work through a pre-set script that is tailored to their prey’s apparent socioeconomic situation. For example, a divorced, professional female who responds to these scams will be handled with one profile type and script, while other scripts are available to groom a widower, a young professional, or a single mom.

‘LIKE NOTHING I’VE SEEN BEFORE’

That’s according to Erin West, deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County in Northern California. West said her office has been fielding a large number of pig butchering inquiries from her state, but also from law enforcement entities around the country that are ill-equipped to investigate such fraud.

“The people forced to perpetrate these scams have a guide and a script, where if your victim is divorced say this, or a single mom say this,” West said. “The scale of this is so massive. It’s a major problem with no easy answers, but also with victim volumes I’ve never seen before. With victims who are really losing their minds and in some cases are suicidal.”

West is a key member of REACT, a task force set up to tackle especially complex forms of cyber theft involving virtual currencies. West said the initial complaints from pig butchering victims came early this year.

“I first thought they were one-off cases, and then I realized we were getting these daily,” West said. “A lot of them are being reported to local agencies that don’t know what to do with them, so the cases languish.”

West said pig butchering victims are often quite sophisticated and educated people.

“One woman was a university professor who lost her husband to COVID, got lonely and was chatting online, and eventually ended up giving away her retirement,” West recalled of a recent case. “There are just horrifying stories that run the gamut in terms of victims, from young women early in their careers, to senior citizens and even to people working in the financial services industry.”

In some cases reported to REACT, the victims said they spent days or weeks corresponding with the phony WhatsApp persona before the conversation shifted to investing.

“They’ll say ‘Hey, this is the food I’m eating tonight’ and the picture they share will show a pretty setting with a glass of wine, where they’re showcasing an enviable lifestyle but not really mentioning anything about how they achieved that,” West said. “And then later, maybe a few hours or days into the conversation, they’ll say, ‘You know I made some money recently investing in crypto,’ kind of sliding into the topic as if this wasn’t what they were doing the whole time.”

Curious investors are directed toward elaborate and official-looking online crypto platforms that appear to have thousands of active investors. Many of these platforms include extensive study materials and tutorials on cryptocurrency investing. New users are strongly encouraged to team up with more seasoned investors on the platform, and to make only small investments that they can afford to lose.

The now-defunct homepage of xtb-market[.]com, a scam cryptocurrency platform tied to a pig butchering scheme.

“They’re able to see some value increase, and maybe even be allowed to take out that value increase so that they feel comfortable about the situation,” West said. Some investors then need little encouragement to deposit additional funds, which usually generate increasingly higher “returns.”

West said many crypto trading platforms associated with pig butchering scams appear to have been designed much like a video game, where investor hype is built around upcoming “trading opportunities” that hint at even more fantastic earnings.

“There are bonus levels and VIP levels, and they’ll build hype and a sense of frenzy into the trading,” West said. “There are definitely some psychological mechanisms at work to encourage people to invest more.”

“What’s so devastating about many of the victims is they lose that sense of who they are,” she continued. “They thought they were a savvy, sophisticated person, someone who’s sort of immune to scams. I think the large scale of the trickery and psychological manipulation being used here can’t be understated. It’s like nothing I’ve seen before.”

A $5,000,000 LOSS

Courtney Nolan, a divorced mother of three daughters, says she lost more than $5 million to a pig butchering scam. Nolan lives in St. Louis and has a background in investment finance, but only started investing in cryptocurrencies in the past year.

Nolan’s case may be especially bad because she was already interested in crypto investing when the scammer reached out. At the time, Bitcoin was trading at or near all-time highs of nearly $68,000 per coin.

Nolan said her nightmare began in late 2021 with a Twitter direct message from someone who was following many of the same cryptocurrency influencers she followed. Her fellow crypto enthusiast then suggested they continue their discussion on WhatsApp. After much back and forth about his trading strategies, her new friend agreed to mentor her on how to make reliable profits using the crypto trading platform xtb.com.

“I had dabbled in leveraged trading before, but his mentor program gave me over 100 pages of study materials and agreed to walk me through their investment strategies over the course of a year,” Nolan told KrebsOnSecurity.

Nolan’s mentor had her create an account website xtb-market[.]com, which was made to be confusingly similar to XTB’s official platform. The site promoted several different investment packages, including a “starter plan” that involves a $5,250 up-front investment and promises more than 15 percent return across four separate trading bursts.

Platinum plans on xtb-market promised a whopping 45 percent ROI, with a minimum investment of $265,000. The site also offered a generous seven percent commission for referrals, which encouraged new investors to recruit others.

The now-defunct xtb-market[.]com.

While chatting via WhatsApp, Nolan and her mentor would trade side by side in xtb-market, initially with small investments ranging from $500 to $5,000. When those generated hefty returns, Nolan made bigger deposits. On several occasions she was able to withdraw amounts ranging from $10,000 to $30,000.

But after investing more than $4.5 million of her own money over nearly four months, Nolan found her account was suddenly frozen. She was then issued a tax statement saying she owed nearly $500,000 in taxes before she could reactivate her account or access her funds.

Nolan said it seems obvious in hindsight that she should never have paid the tax bill. Because xtb-market and her mentor cut all communications with her after that, and the entire website disappeared just a few weeks later.

Justin Maile, an investigation partner manager at Chainalysis, told Vice News that the tax portion of the pig butchering scam relies on the “sunk costs fallacy,” when people are reluctant to abandon a failing strategy or course of action because they have already invested heavily in it.

“Once the victim starts getting skeptical or tries to withdraw their funds, they are often told that they have to pay tax on the gains before funds can be unlocked,” Maile told Vice News. “The scammers will try to get any last payments out of the victims by exploiting the sunk cost fallacy and dangling huge profits in front of them.”

Vice recently published an in-depth report on pig butchering’s link to organized crime gangs in Asia that lure young job seekers with the promise of customer service jobs in call centers. Instead, those who show up at the appointed place and time are taken on long car rides and/or forced hikes across the borders into Cambodia, where they are pressed into indentured servitude.

Vice found many of the people forced to work in pig-butchering scams are being held in Chinese-owned casinos operating in Cambodia. Many of those casinos were newly built when the Covid pandemic hit. As the new casinos and hotels sat empty, organized crime groups saw an opportunity to use these facilities to generate huge income streams, and many foreign travelers stranded in neighboring countries were eventually trafficked to these scam centers.

Vice reports:

“While figures on the number of people in scam centers in Cambodia is unknown, best estimates pieced together from various sources point to the tens of thousands across scam centers in Sihanoukville, Phnom Penh, and sites in border regions Poipet and Bavet. In April, Thailand’s assistant national police commissioner said 800 Thai citizens had been rescued from scam centers in Cambodia in recent months, with a further 1,000 citizens still trapped across the country. One Vietnamese worker estimated 300 of his compatriots were held on just one floor in a tall office block hosting scam operations.”

“…within Victory Paradise Resort alone there were 7,000 people, the majority from mainland China, but also Indonesians, Singaporeans and Filipinos. According to the Khmer Times, one 10-building complex of high-rises in Sihanoukville, known as The China Project, holds between 8,000 to 10,000 people participating in various scams—a workforce that would generate profits around the $1 billion mark each year at $300 per worker per day.”

THE KILLING FLOOR

REACTs’ West said while there are a large number of pig butchering victims reporting their victimization to the FBI, very few are receiving anything more than instructions about filing a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which keeps track of cybercrime losses and victims.

“There’s a huge gap in victims that are seeing any kind of service at all, where they’re reporting to the FBI but not being able to talk to anyone,” she said. “They’re filling out the IC3 form and never hearing back. It sort of feels like the federal government is ignoring this, so people are going to local agencies, which are sending these victims our way.”

For many younger victims of pig butchering, even losses of a few thousand dollars can be financially devastating. KrebsOnSecurity recently heard from two different readers who said they were in their 20s and lost more than $40,000 each when the investment platforms they were trading on vanished with their money.

The FBI can often bundle numerous IC3 complaints involving the same assailants and victims into a single case for federal prosecutors to pursue the guilty, and/or try to recapture what was stolen. In general, however, victims of crypto crimes rarely see that money again, or if they do it can take many years.

“The next piece is what can we actually do with these cases,” West said. “We used to frame success as getting bad people behind bars, but these cases leave us as law enforcement with not a lot of opportunity there.”

West said the good news is U.S. authorities are seeing some success in freezing cryptocurrency wallets suspected of being tied to large-scale cybercriminal operations. Indeed, Nolan told KrebsOnSecurity that her losses were substantial enough to warrant an official investigation by the FBI, which she says has since taken steps to freeze at least some of the assets tied to xtb-market[.]com.

Likewise, West said she was recently able to freeze cryptocurrency funds stolen from some pig butchering victims, and now REACT is focusing on helping state and local authorities learn how to do the same.

“It’s important to be able to mobilize quickly and know how to freeze and seize crypto and get it back to its rightful owner,” West said. “We definitely have made seizures in cases involving pig butchering, but we haven’t gotten that back to the rightful owners yet.”

In April, the FBI warned Internet users to be on guard against pig butchering scams, which it said attracts victims with “promises of romance and riches” before duping them out of their money. The IC3 said it received more than 4,300 complaints related to crypto-romance scams, resulting in losses of more than $429 million.

Here are some common elements of a pig butchering scam:

Dating apps: Pig-butchering attempts are common on dating apps, but they can begin with almost any type of communication, including SMS text messages.
WhatsApp: In virtually all documented cases of pig butchering, the target is moved fairly quickly into chatting with the scammer via WhatsApp.
No video: The scammers will come up with all kinds of excuses not to do a video call. But they will always refuse.
Investment chit-chat: Your contact (eventually) claims to have inside knowledge about the cryptocurrency market and can help you make money.

The FBI’s tips on avoiding crypto scams:

-Never send money, trade, or invest based on the advice of someone you have only met online.
-Don’t talk about your current financial status to unknown and untrusted people.
-Don’t provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
-If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that—unbelievable.
-Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast.

from Krebs on Security https://ift.tt/nlqmxE2