A threat actor named Emotet Trojan has been in the wild for more than 5 years, and now it is back after a 5 months break. It has spread globally, infecting new as well as old targets. It is re-launched with multiple Malspam Campaigns to distribute in all sectors. We…
John Bernard, the subject of a story here last week about a self-proclaimed millionaire investor who has bilked countless tech startups, appears to be a pseudonym for John Clifton Davies, a U.K. man who absconded from justice before being convicted on multiple counts of fraud in 2015. Prior to his conviction, Davies served 16 months in jail before being cleared of murdering his wife on their honeymoon in India.
The Private Office of John Bernard, which advertises itself as a capital investment firm based in Switzerland, has for years been listed on multiple investment sites as the home of a millionaire who made his fortunes in the dot-com boom 20 years ago and who has oodles of cash to invest in tech startups.
But as last week’s story noted, Bernard’s investment company is a bit like a bad slot machine that never pays out. KrebsOnSecurity interviewed multiple investment brokers who all told the same story: After promising to invest millions after one or two phone calls and with little or no pushback, Bernard would insist that companies pay tens of thousands of dollars worth of due diligence fees up front.
However, the due diligence company he insisted on using — another Swiss firm called Inside Knowledge — also was secretly owned by Bernard, who would invariably pull out of the deal after receiving the due diligence money.
Neither Mr. Bernard nor anyone from his various companies responded to multiple requests for comment over the past few weeks. What’s more, virtually all of the employee profiles tied to Bernard’s office have since last week removed those firms from their work experience as listed on their LinkedIn resumes — or else deleted their profiles altogether.
Sometime on Thursday John Bernard’s main website — the-private-office.ch — replaced the content on its homepage with a note saying it was closing up shop.
“We are pleased to announce that we are currently closing The Private Office fund as we have reached our intended investment level and that we now plan to focus on helping those companies we have invested into to grow and succeed,” the message reads.
As noted in last week’s story, the beauty of a scam like the one multiple investment brokers said was being run by Mr. Bernard is that companies bilked by small-time investment schemes rarely pursue legal action, mainly because the legal fees involved can quickly surpass the losses. What’s more, most victims will likely be too ashamed to come forward.
Also, John Bernard’s office typically did not reach out to investment brokers directly. Rather, he had his firm included on a list of angel investors focused on technology companies, so those seeking investments usually came to him.
Finally, multiple sources interviewed for this story said Bernard’s office offered a finders fee for any investment leads that brokers brought his way. While such commissions are not unusual, the amount promised — five percent of the total investment in a given firm that signed an agreement — is extremely generous. However, none of the investment brokers who spoke to KrebsOnSecurity were able to collect those fees, because Bernard’s office never actually consummated any of the deals they referred to him.
PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE EMPTY BOOKSHELVES
After last week’s story ran, KrebsOnSecurity heard from a number of other investment brokers who had near identical experiences with Bernard. Several said they at one point spoke with him via phone or Zoom conference calls, and that he had a distinctive British accent.
When questioned about why his staff was virtually all based in Ukraine when his companies were supposedly in Switzerland, Bernard replied that his wife was Ukrainian and that they were living there to be closer to her family.
One investment broker who recently got into a deal with Bernard shared a screen shot from a recent Zoom call with him. That screen shot shows Bernard bears a striking resemblance to one John Clifton Davies, a 59-year-old from Milton Keynes, a large town in Buckinghamshire, England about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of London.
In 2015, Mr. Davies was convicted of stealing more than GBP 750,000 from struggling companies looking to restructure their debt. For at least seven years, Davies ran multiple scam businesses that claimed to provide insolvency consulting to distressed companies, even though he was not licensed to do so.
“After gaining the firm’s trust, he took control of their assets and would later pocket the cash intended for creditors,” according to a U.K. news report from 2015. “After snatching the cash, Davies proceeded to spend the stolen money on a life of luxury, purchasing a new upmarket home fitted with a high-tech cinema system and new kitchen.”
Davies disappeared before he was convicted of fraud in 2015. Two years before that, Davies was released from prison after being held in custody for 16 months on suspicion of murdering his new bride in 2004 on their honeymoon in India.
Davies’ former wife Colette Davies, 39, died after falling 80 feet from a viewing point at a steep gorge in the Himachal Pradesh region of India. Mr. Davies was charged with murder and fraud after he attempted to collect GBP 132,000 in her life insurance payout, but British prosecutors ultimately conceded they did not have enough evidence to convict him.
THE SWISS AND UKRAINE CONNECTIONS
While the photos above are similar, there are other clues that suggest the two identities may be the same person. A review of business records tied to Davies’ phony insolvency consulting businesses between 2007 and 2013 provides some additional pointers.
John Clifton Davies’ former listing at the official U.K. business registrar Companies House show his company was registered at the address 26 Dean Forest Way, Broughton, Milton Keynes.
A search on that street address at 4iq.com turns up several interesting results, including a listing for senecaequities.com registered to a John Davies at the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Companies House official record for Seneca Equities puts it at John Davies’ old U.K. address at 26 Dean Forest Way and lists 46-year-old Iryna Davies as a director. “Iryna” is a uniquely Ukrainian spelling of the name Irene (the Russian equivalent is typically “Irina”).
A search on John Clifton Davies and Iryna turned up this 2013 story from The Daily Mirror which says Iryna is John C. Davies’ fourth wife, and that the two were married in 2010.
A review of the Swiss company registrar for The Inside Knowledge GmbH shows an Ihor Hubskyi was named as president of the company. This name is phonetically the same as Igor Gubskyi, a Ukrainian man who was listed in the U.K.’s Companies House records as one of five officers for Seneca Equities along with Iryna Davies.
KrebsOnSecurity sought comment from both the U.K. police district that prosecuted Davies’ case and the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA). Neither wished to comment on the findings. “We can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation or subjects of interest,” a spokesperson for the NCA said.
Welcome to our weekly roundup, where we share what you need to know about the cybersecurity news and events that happened over the past few days. This week, learn about how threat actors are bundling Windscribe VPN installers with backdoors. Also, read about a new strain of Android malware that comes with a wide array of features allowing it to steal credentials from 226 applications.
This article discusses findings covered in a recent blog from Trend Micro where company researchers warn that Windows users looking to install a VPN app are in danger of downloading one that’s been bundled with a backdoor. The trojanized package in this specific case is the Windows installer for Windscribe VPN and contains the Bladabindi backdoor.
The Unix-programming community commonly uses shell scripts as a simple way to execute multiple Linux commands within a single file. Many users do this as part of a regular operational workload manipulating files, executing programs and printing text. However, as a shell interpreter is available in every Unix machine, it is also an interesting and dynamic tool abused by malicious actors.
Hackers are actively exploiting the Zerologon vulnerability in real-world attacks, Microsoft’s security intelligence team said on Thursday morning. The attacks were expected to happen, according to security industry experts. Multiple versions of weaponized proof-of-concept exploit code have been published online in freely downloadable form since details about the Zerologon vulnerability were revealed on September 14 by Dutch security firm Secura BV.
Security work is stressful under the best of circumstances, but remote work presents its own challenges. In this article, learn how savvy security leaders can best support their teams today — wherever they’re working. Trend Micro’s senior director of HR for the Americas, Bob Kedrosky, weighs in on how Trend Micro is supporting its remote workers.
To gain a more nuanced understanding of the security issues present in facial recognition devices, Trend Micro analyzed the security of four different models: ZKTeco FaceDepot-7B, Hikvision DS-K1T606MF, Telpo TPS980 and Megvii Koala. Trend Micro’s case studies show how these devices can be misused by malicious attackers.
Security researchers have discovered and analyzed a new strain of Android malware that comes with a wide array of features allowing it to steal credentials from 226 applications. Named Alien, this new trojan has been active since the start of the year and has been offered as a Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS) offering on underground hacking forums.
Tyler Technologies, a Texas-based provider of software and services for the U.S. government, started informing customers this week of a security incident that is believed to have involved a piece of ransomware. Tyler’s website is currently unavailable and in emails sent out to customers the company said its internal phone and IT systems were accessed without authorization by an “unknown third party.”
On September 16, 2020, the United States Justice Department announced that it was charging five Chinese citizens with hacking crimes committed against over 100 institutions in the United States and abroad. The global hacking campaign went after a diverse range of targets, from video game companies and telecommunications enterprises to universities and non-profit organizations. The five individuals were reportedly connected to the hacking group known as APT41.
Phishers are using a bogus GDPR compliance reminder to trick recipients – employees of businesses across several industry verticals – into handing over their email login credentials. In this evolving campaign, the attackers targeted mostly email addresses they could glean from company websites and, to a lesser extent, emails of people who are high in the organization’s hierarchy.
Recent spam campaigns leading to the URSA/Mispadu banking trojan have been uncovered, as reported by malware analyst Pedro Tavares in a Twitter post and by Seguranca Informatica in a blog post. Mispadu malware steals credentials from users’ systems. This attack targets systems with Spanish and Portuguese as system languages.
In this blog series, Trend Micro analyzes the impacts of the serious vulnerabilities detected in the protocol gateways that are essential when shifting to smart factories and discusses the security countermeasures that security administrators in those factories must take. In the final part of this series, Trend Micro describes a stealth attack method that abuses a vulnerability as well as informs readers of a vital point of security measures required for the future ICS environment.
Check Point researchers disclosed details about a critical vulnerability in Instagram’s Android app that could have allowed remote attackers to take control over a targeted device just by sending victims a specially crafted image. The flaw lets attackers perform actions on behalf of the user within the Instagram app, including spying on victim’s private messages and deleting or posting photos from their accounts, as well as execute arbitrary code on the device.
Ryuk has recently been one of the most noteworthy ransomware families and is perhaps the best representation of the new paradigm in ransomware attacks where malicious actors go for quality over sheer quantity. In 2019, the Trend Micro Managed XDR and Incident Response teams investigated an incident concerning a Trend Micro customer that was infected with the Ryuk ransomware.
What are your thoughts on the Android Instagram app bug that could allow remote access to user’s phones? Share your thoughts in the comments below or follow me on Twitter to continue the conversation: @JonLClay.