LinkedIn Adds Verified Emails, Profile Creation Dates

Responding to a recent surge in AI-generated bot accounts, LinkedIn is rolling out new features that it hopes will help users make more informed decisions about with whom they choose to connect. Many LinkedIn profiles now display a creation date, and the company is expanding its domain validation offering, which allows users to publicly confirm that they can reply to emails at the domain of their stated current employer.

LinkedIn’s new “About This Profile” section — which is visible by clicking the “More” button at the top of a profile — includes the year the account was created, the last time the profile information was updated, and an indication of how and whether an account has been verified.

LinkedIn also said it is adding a warning to some LinkedIn messages that include high-risk content, or that try to entice the user into taking the conversation to another platform (like WeChat).

“We may warn you about messages that ask you to take the conversation to another platform because that can be a sign of a scam,” the company said in a blog post. “These warnings will also give you the choice to report the content without letting the sender know.”

In late September 2022, KrebsOnSecurity warned about the proliferation of fake LinkedIn profiles for Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) roles at some of the world’s largest corporations. A follow-up story on Oct. 5 showed how the phony profile problem has affected virtually all executive roles at corporations, and how these fake profiles are creating an identity crisis for the businesses networking site and the companies that rely on it to hire and screen prospective employees.

Reporting here last month also tracked a massive drop in profiles claiming to work at several major technology companies, as LinkedIn apparently took action against hundreds of thousands of inauthentic accounts that falsely claimed roles at these companies.

For example, on October 10, 2022, there were 576,562 LinkedIn accounts that listed their current employer as Apple Inc. The next day, half of those profiles no longer existed. At around the same time, the number of LinkedIn profiles claiming current roles at Amazon fell from roughly 1.25 million to 838,601 in just one day, a 33 percent drop.

For whatever reason, the majority of the phony LinkedIn profiles reviewed by this author were young women with profile photos that appear to have been generated by artificial intelligence (AI) tools.

“We’re seeing rapid advances in AI-based synthetic image generation technology and we’ve created a deep learning model to better catch profiles made with this technology,” LinkedIn’s Oscar Rodriguez wrote. “AI-based image generators can create an unlimited number of unique, high-quality profile photos that do not correspond to real people.”

It remains unclear who or what is behind the recent proliferation of fake executive profiles on LinkedIn, but likely they are from a combination of scams. Cybersecurity firm Mandiant (recently acquired by Googletold Bloomberg that hackers working for the North Korean government have been copying resumes and profiles from leading job listing platforms LinkedIn and Indeed, as part of an elaborate scheme to land jobs at cryptocurrency firms.

Identity thieves have been known to masquerade on LinkedIn as job recruiters, collecting personal and financial information from people who fall for employment scams.

Also, fake profiles also may be tied to so-called “pig butchering” scams, 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.

from Krebs on Security

283-Announcements, Updates, & News

This week I offer numerous announcements, updates, and news items related to privacy, security, & OSINT.

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 Thank you for keeping this show ad-free.

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Hacker Charged With Extorting Online Psychotherapy Service

A 25-year-old Finnish man has been charged with extorting a once popular and now-bankrupt online psychotherapy company and its patients. Finnish authorities rarely name suspects in an investigation, but they were willing to make an exception for Julius “Zeekill” Kivimaki, a notorious hacker who — at the tender age of 17 — had been convicted of more than 50,000 cybercrimes, including data breaches, payment fraud, operating botnets, and calling in bomb threats.

In late October 2022, Kivimaki was charged (and arrested in absentia, according to the Finns) with attempting to extort money from the Vastaamo Psychotherapy Center.  On October 21, 2020, Vastaamo became the target of blackmail when a tormentor identified as “ransom_man” demanded payment of 40 bitcoins (~450,000 euros at the time) in return for a promise not to publish highly sensitive therapy session notes Vastaamo had exposed online.

In a series of posts over the ensuing days on a Finnish-language dark net discussion board, ransom_man said Vastaamo appeared unwilling to negotiate a payment, and that he would start publishing 100 patient profiles every 24 hours “to provide further incentive for the company to continue communicating with us.”

“We’re not asking for much, approximately 450,000 euros which is less than 10 euros per patient and only a small fraction of the around 20 million yearly revenues of this company,” ransom_man wrote.

When Vastaamo declined to pay, ransom_man shifted to extorting individual patients. According to Finnish police, some 22,000 victims reported extortion attempts targeting them personally, targeted emails that threatened to publish their therapy notes online unless paid a 500 euro ransom.

The extortion message targeted Vastaamo patients.

On Oct. 23, 2020, ransom_man uploaded to the dark web a large compressed file that included all of the stolen Vastaamo patient records. But investigators found the file also contained an entire copy of ransom_man’s home folder, a likely mistake that exposed a number of clues that they say point to Kivimaki.

Ransom_man quickly deleted the large file (accompanied by a “whoops” notation), but not before it had been downloaded a number of times. The entire archive has since been made into a searchable website on the Dark Web.

Among those who grabbed a copy of the database was Atti Kurritu, a former criminal investigator at the Helsinki Police Department. In 2013, Kurritu worked on investigation involving Kivimaki’s use of the Zbot botnet, among other activities Kivimaki engaged in as a member of the hacker group Hack the Planet.

“It was a huge opsec [operational security] fail, because they had a lot of stuff in there — including the user’s private SSH folder, and a lot of known hosts that we could take a very good look at,” Kurritu told KrebsOnSecurity, declining to discuss specifics of the evidence investigators seized. “There were also other projects and databases.”

Kurritu said he and others who worked on the investigation into Kivimaki’s previous cybercrimes couldn’t shake the suspicion that the infamous cybercriminal was also behind the Vastaamo extortion.

“I couldn’t find anything that would link that data directly to one individual, but there were enough indicators in there that put the name in my head and I couldn’t shake it,” Kurritu said. “I told the police this back in 2020, and when they named him as the prime suspect I was not surprised.”

A handful of individually extorted victims paid a ransom, but when news broke that the entire Vastaamo database had been leaked online, the extortion threats no longer held their sting. However, someone would soon set up a site on the dark web where anyone could search this sensitive data.

Kivimaki stopped using his middle name Julius in favor of his given first name Aleksanteri when he moved abroad several years ago. A Twitter account by that name was verified by Kivimaki’s attorney as his, and through that account he denied being involved in the Vastaamo extortion.

“I believe [the Finnish authorities] brought this to the public in order to influence the decision-making of my old case from my teenage years, which was just processed in the Court of Appeal, both cases are investigated by the same persons,” Kivimaki tweeted on Oct. 28.

Kivimaki is appealing a 2020 district court decision sentencing him to “one year of conditional imprisonment for two counts of fraud committed as a young person, and one of gross fraud, interference with telecommunications as a young person, aggravated data breach as a young person and incitement to fraud as a young person,” according to the Finnish tabloid Ilta-Sanomat.

“Now in the Court of Appeal, the prosecutor is demanding a harsher punishment for the man, i.e. unconditional imprisonment,” reads the Ilta-Sanomat story. “The prosecutor notes in his complaint that the young man has been committing cybercrimes from Espoo since he was 15 years old, and the actions have had to be painstakingly investigated through international legal aid.”

As described in this Wired story last year, Vastaamo filled an urgent demand for psychological counseling, and it won accolades from Finnish health authorities and others for its services.

“Vastaamo was a private company, but it seemed to operate in the same spirit of tech-enabled ease and accessibility: You booked a therapist with a few clicks, wait times were tolerable, and Finland’s Social Insurance Institution reimbursed a big chunk of the session fee (provided you had a diagnosed mental disorder),” William Ralston wrote for Wired. “The company was run by Ville Tapio, a 39-year-old coder and entrepreneur with sharp eyebrows, slicked-back brown hair, and a heavy jawline. He’d cofounded the company with his parents. They pitched ­Vastaamo as a humble family-run enterprise committed to improving the mental health of all Finns.”

But for all the good it brought, the healthcare records management system that Ville Tapio built from scratch reportedly relied on little more than a MySQL database that was left dangerously exposed to the web for 16 months, guarded by nothing more than an administrator account with a blank password.

The Finnish daily Iltalehti said Tapio was relieved of his duties as CEO of Vastaamo in October 2020, and that in September, prosecutors brought charges against Tapio for a data protection offense in connection with Vastaamo’s information leak.

“According to Vastaamo, the data breach in Vastaamo’s customer databases took place in November 2018,” Iltalehti reported last month. “According to Vastaamo, Tapio concealed information about the data breach for more than a year and a half.”

from Krebs on Security

Accused ‘Raccoon’ Malware Developer Fled Ukraine After Russian Invasion

A 26-year-old Ukrainian man is awaiting extradition from The Netherlands to the United States on charges that he acted as a core developer for Raccoon, a popular “malware-as-a-service” offering that helped paying customers steal passwords and financial data from millions of cybercrime victims. KrebsOnSecurity has learned that the defendant was busted in March 2022, after fleeing mandatory military service in Ukraine in the weeks following the Russian invasion.

Ukrainian national Mark Sokolovsky, seen here in a Porsche Cayenne on Mar. 18 fleeing mandatory military service in Ukraine. This image was taken by Polish border authorities as Sokolovsky’s vehicle entered Germany. Image:

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas unsealed an indictment last week that named Mark Sokolvsky as the core developer for the Raccoon Infostealer business, which was marketed on several Russian-language cybercrime forums beginning in 2019.

Raccoon was essentially a Web-based control panel, where — for $200 a month — customers could get the latest version of the Raccoon Infostealer malware, and interact with infected systems in real time. Security experts say the passwords and other data stolen by Raccoon malware were often resold to groups engaged in deploying ransomware.

Working with investigators in Italy and The Netherlands, U.S. authorities seized a copy of the server used by Raccoon to help customers manage their botnets. According to the U.S. Justice Department, FBI agents have identified more than 50 million unique credentials and forms of identification (email addresses, bank accounts, cryptocurrency addresses, credit card numbers, etc.) stolen with the help of Raccoon.

The Raccoon v. 1 web panel, where customers could search by infected IP, and stolen cookies, wallets, domains and passwords.

The unsealed indictment (PDF) doesn’t delve much into how investigators tied Sokolovsky to Raccoon, but two sources close to the investigation shared more information about that process on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case publicly.

According to those sources, U.S. authorities zeroed in on an operational security mistake that the Raccoon developer made early on in his posts to the crime forums, connecting a Gmail account for a cybercrime forum identity used by the Raccoon developer (“Photix”) to an Apple iCloud account belonging to Sokolovsky. For example, the indictment includes a photo that investigators subpoenaed from Sokolovsky’s iCloud account that shows him posing with several stacks of bundled cash.

A selfie pulled from Mark Sokolovsky’s iCloud account. Image: USDOJ.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in late February 2022, Sokolovsky was living in Kharkiv, a city in northeast Ukraine that would soon come under heavy artillery bombardment from Russian forces. Authorities monitoring Sokolovsky’s iCloud account had spent weeks watching him shuttle between Kharkiv and the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, but on Mar. 18, 2022, his phone suddenly showed up in Poland.

Investigators learned from Polish border guards that Sokolovsky had fled Ukraine in a Porsche Cayenne along with a young blond woman, leaving his mother and other family behind. The image at the top of this post was shared with U.S. investigators by Polish border security officials, and it shows Sokolovsky leaving Poland for Germany on Mar. 18.

At the time, all able-bodied men of military age were required to report for service to help repel the Russian invasion, and it would have been illegal for Sokolovsky to leave Ukraine without permission. But both sources said investigators believe Sokolovsky bribed border guards to let them pass.

Authorities soon tracked Sokolvsky’s phone through Germany and eventually to The Netherlands, with his female companion helpfully documenting every step of the trip on her Instagram account. Here is a picture she posted of the two embracing upon their arrival in Amsterdam’s Dam Square:

Authorities in The Netherlands arrested Sokolovsky on Mar. 20, and quickly seized control over the Raccoon Infostealer infrastructure. Meanwhile, on March 25 the accounts that had previously advertised the Raccoon Stealer malware on cybercrime forums announced the service was closing down. The parting message to customers said nothing of an arrest, and instead insinuated that the core members in charge of the malware-as-a-service project had perished in the Russian invasion.

“Unfortunately, due to the ‘special operation,’ we will have to close our Raccoon Stealer project,” the team announced Mar. 25. “Our team members who were responsible for critical components of the product are no longer with us. Thank you for this experience and time, for every day, unfortunately everything, sooner or later, the end of the WORLD comes to everyone.”

Sokolovsky’s extradition to the United States has been granted, but he is appealing that decision. He faces one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of aggravated identity theft.

Sources tell KrebsOnSecurity that Sokolovsky has been consulting with Houston, Tx.-based attorney F. Andino Reynal, the same lawyer who represented Alex Jones in the recent defamation lawsuit against Jones and his conspiracy theory website Infowars. Reynal was responsible for what Jones himself referred to as the “Perry Mason” moment of the trial, wherein the plaintiff’s lawyer revealed that Reynal had inadvertently given them an entire digital copy of Jones’s cell phone. Mr. Reynal did not respond to requests for comment.

If convicted, Sokolovsky faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud and money laundering offenses, five years for the conspiracy to commit computer fraud charge, and a mandatory consecutive two-year term for the aggravated identity theft offense.

The Justice Department has set up a website — — that allows visitors to check whether their email address shows up in the data collected by the Raccoon Stealer service.

from Krebs on Security

282-Major OSINT Updates

This week I offer numerous new OSINT strategies and their corresponding IntelTechniques tool usage, plus the latest news and updates.

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Battle with Bots Prompts Mass Purge of Amazon, Apple Employee Accounts on LinkedIn

On October 10, 2022, there were 576,562 LinkedIn accounts that listed their current employer as Apple Inc. The next day, half of those profiles no longer existed. A similarly dramatic drop in the number of LinkedIn profiles claiming employment at Amazon comes as LinkedIn is struggling to combat a significant uptick in the creation of fake employee accounts that pair AI-generated profile photos with text lifted from legitimate users.

Jay Pinho is a developer who is working on a product that tracks company data, including hiring. Pinho has been using LinkedIn to monitor daily employee headcounts at several dozen large organizations, and last week he noticed that two of them had far fewer people claiming to work for them than they did just 24 hours previously.

Pinho’s screenshot below shows the daily count of employees as displayed on Amazon’s LinkedIn homepage. Pinho said his scraper shows that the number of LinkedIn profiles claiming current roles at Amazon fell from roughly 1.25 million to 838,601 in just one day, a 33 percent drop:

The number of LinkedIn profiles claiming current positions at Amazon fell 33 percent overnight. Image:

As stated above, the number of LinkedIn profiles that claimed to work at Apple fell by approximately 50 percent on Oct. 10, according to Pinho’s analysis:


Neither Amazon or Apple responded to requests for comment. LinkedIn declined to answer questions about the account purges, saying only that the company is constantly working to keep the platform free of fake accounts. In June, LinkedIn acknowledged it was seeing a rise in fraudulent activity happening on the platform.

KrebsOnSecurity hired Menlo Park, Calif.-based SignalHire to check Pinho’s numbers. SignalHire keeps track of active and former profiles on LinkedIn, and during the Oct 9-11 timeframe SignalHire said it saw somewhat smaller but still unprecedented drops in active profiles tied to Amazon and Apple.

“The drop in the percentage of 7-10 percent [of all profiles], as it happened [during] this time, is not something that happened before,” SignalHire’s Anastacia Brown told KrebsOnSecurity.

Brown said the normal daily variation in profile numbers for these companies is plus or minus one percent.

“That’s definitely the first huge drop that happened throughout the time we’ve collected the profiles,” she said.

In late September 2022, KrebsOnSecurity warned about the proliferation of fake LinkedIn profiles for Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) roles at some of the world’s largest corporations. A follow-up story on Oct. 5 showed how the phony profile problem has affected virtually all executive roles at corporations, and how these fake profiles are creating an identity crisis for the businesses networking site and the companies that rely on it to hire and screen prospective employees.

A day after that second story ran, KrebsOnSecurity heard from a recruiter who noticed the number of LinkedIn profiles that claimed virtually any role in network security had dropped seven percent overnight. LinkedIn declined to comment about that earlier account purge, saying only that, “We’re constantly working at taking down fake accounts.”

A “swarm” of LinkedIn AI-generated bot accounts flagged by a LinkedIn group administrator recently.

It’s unclear whether LinkedIn is responsible for this latest account purge, or if individually affected companies are starting to take action on their own. The timing, however, argues for the former, as the account purges for Apple and Amazon employees tracked by Pinho appeared to happen within the same 24 hour period. Continue reading “Battle with Bots Prompts Mass Purge of Amazon, Apple Employee Accounts on LinkedIn”

How Card Skimming Disproportionally Affects Those Most In Need

When people banking in the United States lose money because their payment card got skimmed at an ATM, gas pump or grocery store checkout terminal, they may face hassles or delays in recovering any lost funds, but they are almost always made whole by their financial institution. Yet, one class of Americans — those receiving food assistance benefits via state-issued prepaid debit cards — are particularly exposed to losses from skimming scams, and usually have little recourse to do anything about it.

California’s EBT card does not currently include a chip. That silver square is a hologram.

Over the past several months, authorities in multiple U.S. states have reported rapid increases in skimming losses tied to people who receive assistance via Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), which allows a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participant to pay for food using SNAP benefits.

When a participant uses a SNAP payment card at an authorized retail store, their SNAP EBT account is debited to reimburse the store for food that was purchased. EBT is used in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam.

EBT cards work just like regular debit cards, in that they can be used along with a personal identification number (PIN) to pay for goods at participating stores, and to withdraw cash from an ATM.

However, EBT cards differ from debit cards issued to most Americans in two important ways. First, most states do not equip EBT cards with smart chip technology, which can make payment cards much more difficult and expensive for skimming thieves to clone.

Alas, it is no accident that all of the states reporting recent spikes in fraud tied to EBT accounts — including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia appear to currently issue chip-less cards to their EBT recipients.

The Massachusetts SNAP benefits card looks more like a library card than a payment card.  Oddly enough, both are reliant on the same fundamentally insecure technology: The magnetic stripe, which stores cardholder data in plain text that can be easily copied.

In September, authorities in California arrested three men thought to be part of a skimming crew that specifically targeted EBT cards and balances. The men allegedly installed deep insert skimmers, and stole PINs using tiny hidden cameras.

“The arrests were the result of a joint investigation by the Sheriff’s Office and Bank of America corporate security,” reads a September 2022 story from The Sacramento Bee. “The investigation focused on illegal skimming, particularly the high-volume cash-out sequence at ATMs near the start of each month when Electronic Benefits Transfer accounts are funded by California.”

Armed with a victim’s PIN along with stolen card data, thieves can clone the card onto anything with a magnetic stripe and use it at ATMs to withdraw cash, or as a payment instrument at any establishment that accepts EBT cards.

Skimming gear seized from three suspects arrested by Sacramento authorities in September. Image: Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office.

Although it may be shocking that California — one of America’s wealthiest states — still treats EBT recipients as second-class citizens by issuing them chip-less debit cards, California behaves like most other states in this regard.

More critical, however, is the second way SNAP cards differ from regular debit cards: Recipients of SNAP benefits have little to no hope of recovering their funds when their EBT cards are copied by card-skimming devices and used for fraud.

That’s because in the SNAP program, federal law bars the states from replacing SNAP benefits using federal funds. And while some of these EBT cards have Visa or MasterCard logos on them, it is not up to those companies to replace funds in the event of fraud.

Victims are encouraged to report the theft to both their state agency and the local police, but many victims say they rarely receive updates on their cases from police, and, if they hear from the state, it’s usually the agency telling them it found no evidence of fraud.

Maryland’s EBT card.

That’s according to Brenna Smith, a reporter at The Baltimore Banner who recently wrote about the case of a Maryland mother of three who lost nearly $3,000 in SNAP benefits thanks to a skimmer installed at a local 7-Eleven. Maryland [Department of Human Services] spokesperson Katherine Morris told the Banner there was evidence of “a nationwide EBT card cloning scheme.”

The woman profiled in Smith’s story contacted all of the retailers where her EBT card was used to buy thousands of dollars worth of baby formula. Two of those retailers agreed to share video surveillance footage of the people making the purchases at the exact timestamps specified in her EBT account history: The videos clearly showed it was the same fraudster making both purchases with a cloned copy of her EBT card.

Even after the police officer assigned to the victim’s case confirmed they found a skimmer installed at the 7-Eleven store she frequented, her claim — which was denied — is still languishing in appeals months later.

(Left) A video still showing a couple purchasing almost $1,200 in baby formula using SNAP benefits. (Right) A video still of a woman leaving from the CVS in Seat Pleasant. Image: The Baltimore Banner.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) recently published Five Ways State Agencies Can Support EBT Users at Risk of Skimming. CLASP says while it is true states can’t use federal funds to replace benefits unless the loss was due to a “system error,” states could use their own funds.

“Doing so will ensure families don’t have to go without food, gas money, or their rent for the month,” CLASP wrote.

That would help address the symptoms of card skimming, but not a root cause. Hardly anyone is suggesting the obvious, which is to equip EBT cards with the same security technology afforded to practically everyone else participating in the U.S. banking system.

There are several reasons most state-issued EBT cards do not include chips. For starters, nobody says they have to. Also, it’s a fair bit more expensive to produce chip cards versus plain old magnetic stripe cards, and many state assistance programs are chronically under-funded. Finally, there is no vocal (or at least well-heeled) constituency advocating for change.

from Krebs on Security

Anti-Money Laundering Service AMLBot Cleans House

AMLBot, a service that helps businesses avoid transacting with cryptocurrency wallets that have been sanctioned for cybercrime activity, said an investigation published by KrebsOnSecurity last year helped it shut down three dark web services that secretly resold its technology to help cybercrooks avoid detection by anti-money laundering systems.

Antinalysis, as it existed in 2021.

In August 2021, KrebsOnSecurity published “New Anti Anti-Money Laundering Services for Crooks,” which examined Antinalysis, a service marketed on cybercrime forums that purported to offer a glimpse of how one’s payment activity might be flagged by law enforcement agencies and private companies that track and trace cryptocurrency transactions.

“Worried about dirty funds in your BTC address? Come check out Antinalysis, the new address risk analyzer,” read the service’s opening announcement. “This service is dedicated to individuals that have the need to possess complete privacy on the blockchain, offering a perspective from the opponent’s point of view in order for the user to comprehend the possibility of his/her funds getting flagged down under autocratic illegal charges.”

Antinalysis allows free lookups, but anyone wishing to conduct bulk look-ups has to pay at least USD $3, with a minimum $30 purchase. Other plans go for as high as $6,000 for 5,000 requests. Nick Bax, a security researcher who specializes in tracing cryptocurrency transactions, told KrebsOnSecurity at the time that Antinalysis was likely a clone of AMLBot because the two services generated near-identical results.

AMLBot shut down Antinalysis’s access just hours after last year’s story went live. However, Antinalysis[.]org remains online and accepting requests, as does the service’s Tor-based domain, and it is unclear how those services are sourcing their information.

AMLBot spokesperson Polina Smoliar said the company undertook a thorough review after that discovery, and in the process found two other services similar to Antinalysis that were reselling their application programming interface (API) access to cybercrooks.

Smoliar said that following the revelations about Antinalysis, AMLBot audited its entire client base, and implemented the ability to provide APIs only after a contract is signed and the client has been fully audited. AMLBot said it also instituted 24/7 monitoring of all client transactions.

“As a result of these actions, two more services with the name AML (the same as AMLBot has) were found to be involved in fraudulent schemes,” Smoliar said. “Information about the fraudsters was also sent to key market participants, and their transaction data was added to the tracking database to better combat money laundering.”

Experts say the founder of Antinalysis also runs a darknet market for narcotics.

The Antinalysis homepage and chatter on the cybercrime forums indicates the service was created by a group of coders known as the Incognito Team. Tom Robinson, co-founder of the blockchain intelligence firm Elliptic, said the creator of Antinalysis is also one of the developers of Incognito Market, a darknet marketplace specializing in the sale of narcotics.

“Incognito was launched in late 2020, and accepts payments in both Bitcoin and Monero, a cryptoasset offering heightened anonymity,” Robinson said. “The launch of Antinalysis likely reflects the difficulties faced by the market and its vendors in cashing out their Bitcoin proceeds.”

from Krebs on Security

Microsoft Patch Tuesday, October 2022 Edition

Microsoft today released updates to fix at least 85 security holes in its Windows operating systems and related software, including a new zero-day vulnerability in all supported versions of Windows that is being actively exploited. However, noticeably absent from this month’s Patch Tuesday are any updates to address a pair of zero-day flaws being exploited this past month in Microsoft Exchange Server.

The new zero-day flaw– CVE-2022-41033 — is an “elevation of privilege” bug in the Windows COM+ event service, which provides system notifications when users logon or logoff. Microsoft says the flaw is being actively exploited, and that it was reported by an anonymous individual.

“Despite its relatively low score in comparison to other vulnerabilities patched today, this one should be at the top of everyone’s list to quickly patch,” said Kevin Breen, director of cyber threat research at Immersive Labs. “This specific vulnerability is a local privilege escalation, which means that an attacker would already need to have code execution on a host to use this exploit. Privilege escalation vulnerabilities are a common occurrence in almost every security compromise. Attackers will seek to gain SYSTEM or domain-level access in order to disable security tools, grab credentials with tools like Mimkatz and move laterally across the network.

Indeed, Satnam Narang, senior staff research engineer at Tenable, notes that almost half of the security flaws Microsoft patched this week are elevation of privilege bugs.

Some privilege escalation bugs can be particularly scary. One example is CVE-2022-37968, which affects organizations running Kubernetes clusters on Azure and earned a CVSS score of 10.0 — the most severe score possible.

Microsoft says that to exploit this vulnerability an attacker would need to know the randomly generated DNS endpoint for an Azure Arc-enabled Kubernetes cluster. But that may not be such a tall order, says Breen, who notes that a number of free and commercial DNS discovery services now make it easy to find this information on potential targets.

Late last month, Microsoft acknowledged that attackers were exploiting two previously unknown vulnerabilities in Exchange Server. Paired together, the two flaws are known as “ProxyNotShell” and they can be chained to allow remote code execution on Exchange Server systems.

Microsoft said it was expediting work on official patches for the Exchange bugs, and it urged affected customers to enable certain settings to mitigate the threat from the attacks. However, those mitigation steps were soon shown to be ineffective, and Microsoft has been adjusting them on a daily basis nearly each since then.

The lack of Exchange patches leaves a lot of Microsoft customers exposed. Security firm Rapid7 said that as of early September 2022 the company observed more than 190,000 potentially vulnerable instances of Exchange Server exposed to the Internet.

“While Microsoft confirmed the zero-days and issued guidance faster than they have in the past, there are still no patches nearly two weeks out from initial disclosure,” said Caitlin Condon, senior manager of vulnerability research at Rapid7. “Despite high hopes that today’s Patch Tuesday release would contain fixes for the vulnerabilities, Exchange Server is conspicuously missing from the initial list of October 2022 security updates. Microsoft’s recommended rule for blocking known attack patterns has been bypassed multiple times, emphasizing the necessity of a true fix.”

Adobe also released security updates to fix 29 vulnerabilities across a variety of products, including Acrobat and Reader, ColdFusion, Commerce and Magento. Adobe said it is not aware of active attacks against any of these flaws.

For a closer look at the patches released by Microsoft today and indexed by severity and other metrics, check out the always-useful Patch Tuesday roundup from the SANS Internet Storm Center. And it’s not a bad idea to hold off updating for a few days until Microsoft works out any kinks in the updates: usually has the lowdown on any patches that may be causing problems for Windows users.

As always, please consider backing up your system or at least your important documents and data before applying system updates. And if you run into any problems with these updates, please drop a note about it here in the comments.

from Krebs on Security

Report: Big U.S. Banks Are Stiffing Account Takeover Victims

When U.S. consumers have their online bank accounts hijacked and plundered by hackers, U.S. financial institutions are legally obligated to reverse any unauthorized transactions as long as the victim reports the fraud in a timely manner. But new data released this week suggests that for some of the nation’s largest banks, reimbursing account takeover victims has become more the exception than the rule.

The findings came in a report released by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who in April 2022 opened an investigation into fraud tied to Zelle, the “peer-to-peer” digital payment service used by many financial institutions that allows customers to quickly send cash to friends and family.

Zelle is run by Early Warning Services LLC (EWS), a private financial services company which is jointly owned by Bank of America, Capital One, JPMorgan Chase, PNC Bank, Truist, U.S. Bank, and Wells Fargo. Zelle is enabled by default for customers at over 1,000 different financial institutions, even if a great many customers still don’t know it’s there.

Sen. Warren said several of the EWS owner banks — including Capital One, JPMorgan and Wells Fargo — failed to provide all of the requested data. But Warren did get the requested information from PNC, Truist and U.S. Bank.

“Overall, the three banks that provided complete data sets reported 35,848 cases of scams, involving over $25.9 million of payments in 2021 and the first half of 2022,” the report summarized. “In the vast majority of these cases, the banks did not repay the customers that reported being scammed. Overall these three banks reported repaying customers in only 3,473 cases (representing nearly 10% of scam claims) and repaid only $2.9 million.”

Importantly, the report distinguishes between cases that involve straight up bank account takeovers and unauthorized transfers (fraud), and those losses that stem from “fraudulently induced payments,” where the victim is tricked into authorizing the transfer of funds to scammers (scams).

A common example of the latter is the Zelle Fraud Scam, which uses an ever-shifting set of come-ons to trick people into transferring money to fraudsters. The Zelle Fraud Scam often employs text messages and phone calls spoofed to look like they came from your bank, and the scam usually relates to fooling the customer into thinking they’re sending money to themselves when they’re really sending it to the crooks.

Here’s the rub: When a customer issues a payment order to their bank, the bank is obligated to honor that order so long as it passes a two-stage test. The first question asks, Did the request actually come from an authorized owner or signer on the account? In the case of Zelle scams, the answer is yes.

Trace Fooshee, a strategic advisor in the anti money laundering practice at Aite-Novarica, said the second stage requires banks to give the customer’s transfer order a kind of “sniff test” using “commercially reasonable” fraud controls that generally are not designed to detect patterns involving social engineering.

Fooshee said the legal phrase “commercially reasonable” is the primary reason why no bank has much — if anything — in the way of controlling for scam detection.

“In order for them to deploy something that would detect a good chunk of fraud on something so hard to detect they would generate egregiously high rates of false positives which would also make consumers (and, then, regulators) very unhappy,” Fooshee said. “This would tank the business case for the service as a whole rendering it something that the bank can claim to NOT be commercially reasonable.”

Sen. Warren’s report makes clear that banks generally do not pay consumers back if they are fraudulently induced into making Zelle payments.

“In simple terms, Zelle indicated that it would provide redress for users in cases of unauthorized transfers in which a user’s account is accessed by a bad actor and used to transfer a payment,” the report continued. “However, EWS’ response also indicated that neither Zelle nor its parent bank owners would reimburse users fraudulently induced by a bad actor into making a payment on the platform.”

Still, the data suggest banks did repay at least some of the funds stolen from scam victims about 10 percent of the time. Fooshee said he’s surprised that number is so high.

“That banks are paying victims of authorized payment fraud scams anything at all is noteworthy,” he said. “That’s money that they’re paying for out of pocket almost entirely for goodwill. You could argue that repaying all victims is a sound strategy especially in the climate we’re in but to say that it should be what all banks do remains an opinion until Congress changes the law.”


However, when it comes to reimbursing victims of fraud and account takeovers, the report suggests banks are stiffing their customers whenever they can get away with it. “Overall, the four banks that provided complete data sets indicated that they reimbursed only 47% of the dollar amount of fraud claims they received,” the report notes.

How did the banks behave individually? From the report:

-In 2021 and the first six months of 2022, PNC Bank indicated that its customers reported 10,683 cases of unauthorized payments totaling over $10.6 million, of which only 1,495 cases totaling $1.46 were refunded to consumers. PNC Bank left 86% of its customers that reported cases of fraud without recourse for fraudulent activity that occurred on Zelle.

-Over this same time period, U.S. Bank customers reported a total of 28,642 cases of unauthorized transactions totaling over $16.2 million, while only refunding 8,242 cases totaling less than $4.7 million.

-In the period between January 2021 and September 2022, Bank of America customers reported 81,797 cases of unauthorized transactions, totaling $125 million. Bank of America refunded only $56.1 million in fraud claims – less than 45% of the overall dollar value of claims made in that time.

Truist indicated that the bank had a much better record of reimbursing defrauded customers over this same time period. During 2021 and the first half of 2022, Truist customers filed 24,752 unauthorized transaction claims amounting to $24.4 million. Truist reimbursed 20,349 of those claims, totaling $20.8 million – 82% of Truist claims were reimbursed over this period. Overall, however, the four banks that provided complete data sets indicated that they reimbursed only 47% of the dollar amount of fraud claims they received.

Fooshee said there has long been a great deal of inconsistency in how banks reimburse unauthorized fraud claims — even after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CPFB) came out with guidance on what qualifies as an unauthorized fraud claim.

“Many banks reported that they were still not living up to those standards,” he said. “As a result, I imagine that the CFPB will come down hard on those with fines and we’ll see a correction.”

Fooshee said many banks have recently adjusted their reimbursement policies to bring them more into line with the CFPB’s guidance from last year.

“So this is heading in the right direction but not with sufficient vigor and speed to satisfy critics,” he said.

Seth Ruden is a payments fraud expert who serves as director of global advisory for digital identity company BioCatch. Ruden said Zelle has recently made “significant changes to its fraud program oversight because of consumer influence.”

“It is clear to me that despite sensational headlines, progress has been made to improve outcomes,” Ruden said. “Presently, losses in the network on a volume-adjusted basis are lower than those typical of credit cards.”

But he said any failure to reimburse victims of fraud and account takeovers only adds to pressure on Congress to do more to help victims of those scammed into authorizing Zelle payments.

“The bottom line is that regulations have not kept up with the speed of payment technology in the United States, and we’re not alone,” Ruden said. “For the first time in the UK, authorized payment scam losses have outpaced credit card losses and a regulatory response is now on the table. Banks have the choice right now to take action and increase controls or await regulators to impose a new regulatory environment.”

Sen. Warren’s report is available here (PDF).

There are, of course, some versions of the Zelle fraud scam that may be confusing financial institutions as to what constitutes “authorized” payment instructions. For example, the variant I wrote about earlier this year began with a text message that spoofed the target’s bank and warned of a pending suspicious transfer.

Those who responded at all received a call from a number spoofed to make it look like the victim’s bank calling, and were asked to validate their identities by reading back a one-time password sent via SMS. In reality, the thieves had simply asked the bank’s website to reset the victim’s password, and that one-time code sent via text by the bank’s site was the only thing the crooks needed to reset the target’s password and drain the account using Zelle.

None of the above discussion involves the risks affecting businesses that bank online. Businesses in the United States do not enjoy the same fraud liability protection afforded to consumers, and if a banking trojan or clever phishing site results in a business account getting drained, most banks will not reimburse that loss.

This is why I have always and will continue to urge small business owners to conduct their online banking affairs only from a dedicated, access restricted and security-hardened device — and preferably a non-Windows machine.

For consumers, the same old advice remains the best: Watch your bank statements like a hawk, and immediately report and contest any charges that appear fraudulent or unauthorized.

from Krebs on Security