Federal prosecutors this week charged a Seattle woman with stealing data from more than 100 million credit applications made with Capital One Financial Corp. Incredibly, much of this breached played out publicly over several months on social media and other open online platforms. What follows is a closer look at the accused, and what this incident may mean for consumers and businesses.
Paige “erratic” Thompson, in an undated photo posted to her Slack channel.
On July 29, FBI agents arrested Paige A. Thompson on suspicion of downloading nearly 30 GB of Capital One credit application data from a rented cloud data server. Capital One said the incident affected approximately 100 million people in the United States and six million in Canada.
That data included approximately 140,000 Social Security numbers and approximately 80,000 bank account numbers on U.S. consumers, and roughly 1 million Social Insurance Numbers (SINs) for Canadian credit card customers.
“Importantly, no credit card account numbers or log-in credentials were compromised and over 99 percent of Social Security numbers were not compromised,” Capital One said in a statement posted to its site.
“The largest category of information accessed was information on consumers and small businesses as of the time they applied for one of our credit card products from 2005 through early 2019,” the statement continues. “This information included personal information Capital One routinely collects at the time it receives credit card applications, including names, addresses, zip codes/postal codes, phone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and self-reported income.”
The FBI says Capital One learned about the theft from a tip sent via email on July 17, which alerted the company that some of its leaked data was being stored out in the open on the software development platform Github. That Github account was for a user named “Netcrave,” which includes the resume and name of one Paige A. Thompson.
The tip that alerted Capital One to its data breach.
The complaint doesn’t explicitly name the cloud hosting provider from which the Capital One credit data was taken, but it does say the accused’s resume states that she worked as a systems engineer at the provider between 2015 and 2016. That resume, available on Gitlab here, reveals Thompson’s most recent employer was Amazon Inc.
Further investigation revealed that Thompson used the nickname “erratic” on Twitter, where she spoke openly over several months about finding huge stores of data that was intended to be secured on various Amazon instances.
The Twitter user “erratic” posting about tools and processes used to access various Amazon cloud instances.
According to the FBI, Thompson also used a public Meetup group under the same alias, where she invited others to join a Slack channel named “Netcrave Communications.”
KrebsOnSecurity was able to join this open Slack channel Monday evening and review many months of postings apparently made by Erratic about her personal life, interests and online explorations. One of the more interesting posts by Erratic on the Slack channel is a June 27 comment listing various databases she found by hacking into improperly secured Amazon cloud instances.
That posting suggests Erratic may also have located tens of gigabytes of data belonging to other major corporations:
According to Erratic’s posts on Slack, the two items in the list above beginning with “ISRM-WAF” belong to Capital One.
Erratic also posted frequently to Slack about her struggles with gender identity, lack of employment, and persistent suicidal thoughts. In several conversations, Erratic makes references to running a botnet of sorts, although it is unclear how serious those claims were. Specifically, Erratic mentions one botnet involved in cryptojacking, which uses snippets of code installed on Web sites — often surreptitiously — designed to mine cryptocurrencies.
None of Erratic’s postings suggest Thompson sought to profit from selling the data taken from various Amazon cloud instances she was able to access. But it seems likely that at least some of that data could have been obtained by others who may have followed her activities on different social media platforms.
Ray Watson, a cybersecurity researcher at cloud security firm Masergy, said the Capital One incident contains the hallmarks of many other modern data data breaches.
“The attacker was a former employee of the web hosting company involved, which is what is often referred to as insider threats,” Watson said. “She allegedly used web application firewall credentials to obtain privilege escalation. Also the use of Tor and an offshore VPN for obfuscation are commonly seen in similar data breaches.”
“The good news, however, is that Capital One Incidence Response was able to move quickly once they were informed of a possible breach via their Responsible Disclosure program, which is something a lot of other companies struggle with,” he continued.
In Capital One’s statement about the breach, company chairman and CEO Richard D. Fairbank said the financial institution fixed the configuration vulnerability that led to the data theft and promptly began working with federal law enforcement.
“Based on our analysis to date, we believe it is unlikely that the information was used for fraud or disseminated by this individual,” Fairbank said. “While I am grateful that the perpetrator has been caught, I am deeply sorry for what has happened. I sincerely apologize for the understandable worry this incident must be causing those affected and I am committed to making it right.”
Capital One says it will notify affected individuals via a variety of channels, and make free credit monitoring and identity protection available to everyone affected.
Bloombergreports that in court on Monday, Thompson broke down and laid her head on the defense table during the hearing. She is charged with a single count of computer fraud and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Thompson will be held in custody until her bail hearing, which is set for August 1.
Nearly three dozen journalists at a broad range of major publications have been targeted by a far-right group that maintains a Deep Web database listing the personal information of people who threaten their views. This group specializes in encouraging others to harass those targeted by their ire, and has claimed responsibility for dozens of bomb threats and “swatting” incidents, where police are tricked into visiting potentially deadly force on the target’s address.
At issue is a site called the “Doxbin,” which hosts the names, addresses, phone number and often known IP addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other sensitive information on hundreds of people — and in some cases the personal information of the target’s friends and family.
A significant number of the 400+ entries on the Doxbin are for journalists (32 at last count, including Yours Truly), although the curators of Doxbin have targeted everyone from federal judges to executives at major corporations. In January 2019, the group behind Doxbin claimed responsibility for doxing and swatting a top Facebook executive.
At least two of the journalists listed on the Doxbin have been swatted in the past six months, including Pulitzer prize winning columnist Leonard G. Pitts Jr.
In some cases, as in the entries for reporters from CNN, Politico, ProPublica and Vox, no reason is mentioned for their inclusion. But in many others, the explanation seems connected to stories the journalist has published dealing with race or the anti-fascist (antifa) movement.
“Anti-white race/politics writer,” reads the note next to Pitts’ entry in the Doxbin.
Many of those listed on the site soon find themselves on the receiving end of extended threats and harassment. Carey Holzman, a computer technician who runs a Youtube channel on repairing and modding computers, was swatted in January, at about the same time his personal information showed up on the Doxbin.
More recently, his tormentors started calling his mobile phone at all hours of the night, threatening to hire a hit man to kill him. They even promised to have drugs ordered off the Dark Web and sent to his home, as part of a plan to get him arrested for drug possession.
“They said they were going to send me three grams of cocaine,” Holzman told KrebsOnSecurity.
Sure enough, earlier this month a small vial of white powder arrived via the U.S. Postal Service. Holzman said he didn’t open the vial, but instead handed it over to the local police for testing.
On the bright side, Holzman said, he is now on a first-name basis with some of the local police, which isn’t a bad idea for anyone who is being threatened with swatting attacks.
“When I told one officer who came out to my house that they threatened to send me drugs, he said ‘Okay, well just let me know when the cocaine arrives,'” Holzman recalled. “It was pretty funny because the other responding officer approached us and only caught the last thing his partner said, and suddenly looked at the other officer with deadly seriousness.”
The Doxbin is tied to an open IRC chat channel in which the core members discuss alt-right and racist tropes, doxing and swatting people, and posting videos or audio news recordings of their attacks.
The individual who appears to maintain the Doxbin is a fixture of this IRC channel, and he’s stated that he also was responsible for maintaining SiegeCulture, a white supremacist Web site that glorifies the writings of neo-Nazi James Mason.
Mason’s various written works call on followers to start a violent race war in the United States. Those works have become the de facto bible for the Atomwaffen Division, an extremist group whose members are suspected of having committed multiple murders in the U.S. since 2017.
Courtney Radsch, advocacy director at the nonprofit Committee to Protect Journalists, said lists that single out journalists for harassment unfortunately are not uncommon.
“We saw in the Ukraine, for example, there were lists of journalists compiled that led to harassment and threats against reporters there,” Radsch said. “We saw it in Malta where there were reports that the prime minister was part of a secret Facebook group used to coordinate harassment campaigns against a journalist who was later murdered. And we’ve seen the American government — the Customs and Border Protection — compiling lists of reporters and activists who’ve been singled out for questioning.”
“It does seem that some of these campaigns by extremist groups are being coordinated in secret chat groups or dark web forums, where they can talk about the messaging before they bring it out into the public sphere,” she said.
In some ways, the Doxbin represents a far more extreme version of Exposed[.]su, a site erected briefly in 2013 by a gang of online hoodlums that doxed and swatted celebrities and public figures. The core members of that group were later arrested and charged with various crimes — including numerous swatting attacks.
Swatting attacks can quickly turn deadly. In March 2019, 26-year-old serial swatter Tyler Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in prison for making a phony emergency call to police in late 2017 that led to the shooting death of an innocent Kansas resident.
My hope is that law enforcement officials can shut down this Doxbin gang before someone else gets killed.
For at least the past decade, a computer crook variously known as “Yalishanda,” “Downlow” and “Stas_vl” has run one of the most popular “bulletproof” Web hosting services catering to a vast array of phishing sites, cybercrime forums and malware download servers. What follows are a series of clues that point to the likely real-life identity of a Russian man who appears responsible for enabling a ridiculous amount of cybercriminal activity on the Internet today.
KrebsOnSecurity began this research after reading a new academic paper on the challenges involved in dismantling or disrupting bulletproof hosting services, which are so called because they can be depended upon to ignore abuse complaints and subpoenas from law enforcement organizations. We’ll get to that paper in a moment, but for now I mention it because it prompted me to check and see if one of the more infamous bulletproof hosters from a decade ago was still in operation.
Sure enough, I found that Yalishanda was actively advertising on cybercrime forums, and that his infrastructure was being used to host hundreds of dodgy sites. Those include a large number of cybercrime forums and stolen credit card shops, ransomware download sites, Magecart-related infrastructure, and a metric boatload of phishing Web sites mimicking dozens of retailers, banks and various government Web site portals.
I first encountered Yalishanda back in 2010, after writing about “Fizot,” the nickname used by another miscreant who helped customers anonymize their cybercrime traffic by routing it through a global network of Microsoft Windows computers infected with a powerful malware strain called TDSS.
After that Fizot story got picked up internationally, KrebsOnSecurity heard from a source who suggested that Yalishanda and Fizot shared some of the same infrastructure.
In particular, the source pointed to a domain that was live at the time called mo0be-world[.]com, which was registered in 2010 to an Aleksandr Volosovyk at the email address email@example.com. Now, normally cybercriminals are not in the habit of using their real names in domain name registration records, particularly domains that are to be used for illegal or nefarious purposes. But for whatever reason, that is exactly what Mr. Volosovyk appears to have done.
WHO IS YALISHANDA?
The one or two domain names registered to Aleksandr Volosovyk and that mail.ru address state that he resides in Vladivostok, which is a major Pacific port city in Russia that is close to the borders with China and North Korea. The nickname Yalishanda means “Alexander” in Mandarin (亚历山大).
Here’s a snippet from one of Yalishanda’s advertisements to a cybercrime forum in 2011, when he was running a bulletproof service under the domain real-hosting[.]biz:
-Based in Asia and Europe.
-It is allowed to host: ordinary sites, doorway pages, satellites, codecs, adware, tds, warez, pharma, spyware, exploits, zeus, IRC, etc.
-Passive SPAM is allowed (you can spam sites that are hosted by us).
-Web spam is allowed (Hrumer, A-Poster ….)
-Forbidden: Any outgoing Email spam, DP, porn, phishing (exclude phishing email, social networks)
There is a server with instant activation under botnets (zeus) and so on. The prices will pleasantly please you! The price depends on the specific content!!!!
Yalishanda would re-brand and market his pricey bulletproof hosting services under a variety of nicknames and cybercrime forums over the years, including one particularly long-lived abuse-friendly project aptly named abushost[.]ru.
In a talk given at the Black Hat security conference in 2017, researchers from cyber intelligence firm Intel 471 labeled Yalishanda as one the “top tier” bulletproof hosting providers worldwide, noting that in just one 90-day period in 2017 his infrastructure was seen hosting sites tied to some of the most advanced malware contagions at the time, including the Dridex and Zeus banking trojans, as well as a slew of ransomware operations.
“Any of the actors that can afford his services are somewhat more sophisticated than say the bottom feeders that make up the majority of the actors in the underground,” said Jason Passwaters, Intel 471’s chief operating officer. “Bulletproof hosting is probably the biggest enabling service that you find in the underground. If there’s any one group operation or actor that touches more cybercriminals, it’s the bulletproof hosters.”
Passwaters told Black Hat attendees that Intel471 wasn’t convinced Alex was Yalishanda’s real name. I circled back with Intel 471 this week to ask about their ongoing research into this individual, and they confided that they knew at the time Yalishanda was in fact Alexander Volosovyk, but simply didn’t want to state his real name in a public setting.
KrebsOnSecurity uncovered strong evidence to support a similar conclusion. In 2010, this author received a massive data dump from a source that had hacked into or otherwise absconded with more than four years of email records from ChronoPay — at the time a major Russian online payment provider whose CEO and co-founders were the chief subjects of my 2014 book, Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime.
Querying those records on Yalishanda’s primary email address — firstname.lastname@example.org — reveal that this individual in 2010 sought payment processing services from ChronoPay for a business he was running which sold counterfeit designer watches.
As part of his application for service, the person using that email address forwarded six documents to ChronoPay managers, including business incorporation and banking records for companies he owned in China, as well as a full scan of his Russian passport.
That passport, pictured below, indicates that Yalishanda’s real name is Alexander Alexandrovich Volosovik. The document shows he was born in Ukraine and is approximately 36 years old.
The passport for Alexander Volosovyk, a.k.a. “Yalishandra,” a major operator of bulletproof hosting services.
According to Intel 471, Yalishanda lived in Beijing prior to establishing a residence in Vladivostok (that passport above was issued by the Russian embassy in Beijing). The company says he moved to St. Petersburg, Russia approximately 18 months ago.
His current bulletproof hosting service is called Media Land LLC. This finding is supported by documents maintained by Rusprofile.ru, which states that an Alexander Volosovik is indeed the director of a St. Petersburg company by the same name.
Bulletproof hosting administrators operating from within Russia probably are not going to get taken down or arrested, provided they remain within that country (or perhaps within the confines of the former republics of the Soviet Union, known as the Commonwealth of Independent States).
That’s doubly so for bulletproof operators who are careful to follow the letter of the law in those regions — i.e., setting up official companies that are required to report semi-regularly on various aspects of their business, as Mr. Volosovik clearly has done.
The press release from the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office doesn’t name the individuals arrested, but The Associated Pressreports that one of them was Mikhail Rytikov, a man U.S. authorities say was a well-known bulletproof hoster who operated under the nickname “AbdAllah.”
Servers allegedly tied to AbdAllah’s bulletproof hosting network. Image: Gp.gov.ua.
According to the Justice Department, Drinkman and his co-defendants were responsible for hacks and digital intrusions against NASDAQ, 7-Eleven, Carrefour, JCP, Hannaford, Heartland, Wet Seal, Commidea, Dexia, JetBlue, Dow Jones, Euronet, Visa Jordan, Global Payment, Diners Singapore and Ingenicard.
Whether AbdAllah ever really faces justice for his alleged crimes remains to be seen. Ukraine does not extradite citizens, as the U.S. authorities have requested in this case. And we have seen time and again how major cybercriminals get raided and detained by local and federal authorities there, only to quickly re-emerge and resume operations shortly thereafter, while the prosecution against them goes nowhere.
Some examples of this include several Ukrainian men arrested in 2010 and accused of running an international crime and money laundering syndicate that used a custom version of the Zeus trojan to siphon tens of millions of dollars from hacked small businesses in the U.S. and Europe. To my knowledge, none of the Ukrainian men that formed the core of that operation were ever prosecuted, reportedly because they were connected to influential figures in the Ukrainian government and law enforcement.
Intel 471’s Passwater said something similar happened in December 2016, when authorities in the U.S., U.K. and Europe dismantled Avalanche, a distributed, cloud-hosting network that was rented out as a bulletproof hosting enterprise for countless malware and phishing attacks.
Prior to that takedown, Passwater said, somehow an individual connected to Avalanche who went by the nickname “Sosweet” got a tip about an impending raid.
“Sosweet was raided in December right before Avalanche was taken down, [and] we know that he was tipped off because of corruption [because] 24 hours later the guy was back in service and has all his stuff back up,” Passwater said.
The same also appears to be true for several Ukrainian men arrested in 2011 on suspicion of building and disseminating Conficker, a malware strain that infected millions of computers worldwide and prompted an unprecedented global response from the security industry.
So if a majority of bulletproof hosting businesses operate primarily out of countries where the rule of law is not strong and/or where corruption is endemic, is there any hope for disrupting these dodgy businesses?
Here we come full circle to the academic report mentioned briefly at the top of this story: The answer seems to be — like most things related to cybercrime — “maybe,” provided the focus is on attempting to interfere with their ability to profit from such activities.
That paper, titled Platforms in Everything: Analyzing Ground-Truth Data on the Anatomy and Economics of Bulletproof Hosting, was authored by researchers at New York University, Delft University of Technology, King Saud University and the Dutch National High-Tech Crimes Unit. Unfortunately, it has not yet been released publicly, and KrebsOnSecurity does not have permission yet to publish it.
The study examined the day-to-day operations of MaxiDed, a bulletproof hosting operation based in The Netherlands that was dismantled last summer after authorities seized its servers. The paper’s core findings suggest that because profit margins for bulletproof hosting (BPH) operations are generally very thin, even tiny disruptions can quickly push these businesses into the red.
“We demonstrate the BPH landscape to have further shifted from agile resellers towards marketplace platforms with an oversupply of resources originating from hundreds of legitimate upstream hosting providers,” the researchers wrote. “We find the BPH provider to have few choke points in the supply chain amenable to intervention, though proﬁt margins are very slim, so even a marginal increase in operating costs might already have repercussions that render the business unsustainable.”
The cybercriminals behind the GandCrab ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) offering recently announced they were closing up shop and retiring after having allegedly earned more than $2 billion in extortion payments from victims. But a growing body of evidence suggests the GandCrab team have instead quietly regrouped behind a more exclusive and advanced ransomware program known variously as “REvil,” “Sodin,” and “Sodinokibi.”
“We are getting a well-deserved retirement,” the GandCrab administrator(s) wrote in their farewell message on May 31. “We are a living proof that you can do evil and get off scot-free.”
However, it now appears the GandCrab team had already begun preparations to re-brand under a far more private ransomware-as-a-service offering months before their official “retirement.”
In late April, researchers at Cisco Talosspotted a new ransomware strain dubbed Sodinokibi that was used to deploy GandCrab, which encrypts files on infected systems unless and until the victim pays the demanded sum. A month later, GandCrab would announce its closure.
A payment page for a victim of REvil, a.k.a. Sodin and Sodinokibi.
Meanwhile, in the first half of May an individual using the nickname “Unknown” began making deposits totaling more than USD $130,000 worth of virtual currencies on two top cybercrime forums. The down payments were meant to demonstrate the actor meant business in his offer to hire just a handful of affiliates to drive a new, as-yet unnamed ransomware-as-a-service offering.
“We are not going to hire as many people as possible,” Unknown told forum members in announcing the new RaaS program. “Five affiliates more can join the program and then we’ll go under the radar. Each affiliate is guaranteed USD 10,000. Your cut is 60 percent at the beginning and 70 percent after the first three payments are made. Five affiliates are guaranteed [USD] 50,000 in total. We have been working for several years, specifically five years in this field. We are interested in professionals.”
Asked by forum members to name the ransomware service, Unknown said it had been mentioned in media reports but that he wouldn’t be disclosing technical details of the program or its name for the time being.
Unknown said it was forbidden to install the new ransomware strain on any computers in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which includes Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
The prohibition against spreading malware in CIS countries has long been a staple of various pay-per-install affiliate programs that are operated by crooks residing in those nations. The idea here is not to attract attention from local law enforcement responding to victim complaints (and/or perhaps to stay off the radar of tax authorities and extortionists in their hometowns).
But Kaspersky Lab discovered that Sodinokobi/REvil also includes one other nation on its list of countries that affiliates should avoid infecting: Syria. Interestingly, latter versions of GandCrab took the same unusual step.
What’s the significance of the Syria connection? In October 2018, a Syrian man tweeted that he had lost access to all pictures of his deceased children after his computer got infected with GandCrab.
“They want 600 dollars to give me back my children, that’s what they’ve done, they’ve taken my boys away from me for a some filthy money,” the victim wrote. “How can I pay them 600 dollars if I barely have enough money to put food on the table for me and my wife?”
That heartfelt appeal apparently struck a chord with the developer(s) of GandCrab, who soon after released a decryption key that let all GandCrab victims in Syria unlock their files for free.
But this rare display of mercy probably cost the GandCrab administrators and its affiliates a pretty penny. That’s because a week after GandCrab released decryption keys for all victims in Syria, the No More Ransom project released a free GandCrab decryption tool developed by Romanian police in collaboration with law enforcement offices from a number of countries and security firm Bitdefender.
The GandCrab operators later told affiliates that the release of the decryption keys for Syrian victims allowed the entropy used by the random number generator for the ransomware’s master key to be calculated. Approximately 24 hours after NoMoreRansom released its free tool, the GandCrab team shipped an update that rendered it unable to decrypt files.
There are also similarities between the ways that both GandCrab and REvil generate URLs that are used as part of the infection process, according a recent report from Dutch security firm Tesorion.
“Even though the code bases differ significantly, the lists of strings that are used to generate the URLs are very similar (although not identical), and there are some striking similarities in how this specific part of the code works, e.g., in the somewhat far-fetched way that the random length of the filename is repeatedly recalculated,” Tesorion observed.
My guess is the GandCrab team has not retired, and has simply regrouped and re-branded due to the significant amount of attention from security researchers and law enforcement investigators. It seems highly unlikely that such a successful group of cybercriminals would just walk away from such an insanely profitable enterprise.
The crooks behind an affiliate program that paid cybercriminals to install the destructive and wildly successful GandCrab ransomware strain announced on May 31, 2019 they were terminating the program after allegedly having earned more than $2 billion in extortion payouts from victims. What follows is a deep dive into who may be responsible for recruiting new members to help spread the contagion.
Like most ransomware strains, the GandCrab ransomware-as-a-service offering held files on infected systems hostage unless and until victims agreed to pay the demanded sum. But GandCrab far eclipsed the success of competing ransomware affiliate programs largely because its authors worked assiduously to update the malware so that it could evade antivirus and other security defenses.
In the 15-month span of the GandCrab affiliate enterprise beginning in January 2018, its curators shipped five major revisions to the code, each corresponding with sneaky new features and bug fixes aimed at thwarting the efforts of computer security firms to stymie the spread of the malware.
“In one year, people who worked with us have earned over US $2 billion,” read the farewell post by the eponymous GandCrab identity on the cybercrime forum Exploit[.]in, where the group recruited many of its distributors. “Our name became a generic term for ransomware in the underground. The average weekly income of the project was equal to US $2.5 million.”
The message continued:
“We ourselves have earned over US $150 million in one year. This money has been successfully cashed out and invested in various legal projects, both online and offline ones. It has been a pleasure to work with you. But, like we said, all things come to an end. We are getting a well-deserved retirement. We are a living proof that you can do evil and get off scot-free. We have proved that one can make a lifetime of money in one year. We have proved that you can become number one by general admission, not in your own conceit.”
Evil indeed, when one considers the damage inflicted on so many individuals and businesses hit by GandCrab — easily the most rapacious and predatory malware of 2018 and well into 2019.
The GandCrab identity on Exploit[.]in periodically posted updates about victim counts and ransom payouts. For example, in late July 2018, GandCrab crowed that a single affiliate of the ransomware rental service had infected 27,031 victims in the previous month alone, receiving about $125,000 in commissions.
The following month, GandCrab bragged that the program in July 2018 netted almost 425,000 victims and extorted more than one million dollars worth of cryptocurrencies, much of which went to affiliates who helped to spread the infections.
Russian security firm Kaspersky Lab estimated that by the time the program ceased operations, GandCrab accounted for up to half of the global ransomware market.
It remains unclear how many individuals were active in the core GandCrab malware development team. But KrebsOnSecurity located a number of clues that point to the real-life identity of a Russian man who appears to have been put in charge of recruiting new affiliates for the program.
In November 2018, a GandCrab affiliate posted a screenshot on the Exploit[.]in cybercrime forum of a private message between himself and a forum member known variously as “oneiilk2” and “oneillk2” that showed the latter was in charge of recruiting new members to the ransomware earnings program.
Oneiilk2 also was a successful GandCrab affiliate in his own right. In May 2018, he could be seen in multiple Exploit[.]in threads asking for urgent help obtaining access to hacked businesses in South Korea. These solicitations go on for several weeks that month — with Oneiilk2 saying he’s willing to pay top dollar for the requested resources. At the same time, Oneiilk2 can be seen on Exploit asking for help figuring out how to craft a convincing malware lure using the Korean alphabet.
When Oneiilk2 registered on Exploit in January 2015, he used the email address email@example.com. That email address and nickname had been used since 2009 to register multiple identities on more than a half dozen cybercrime forums.
In 2010, the hottabych_k2 address was used to register the domain name dedserver[.]ru, a site which marketed dedicated Web servers to individuals involved in various cybercrime projects. That domain registration record included the Russian phone number +7-951-7805896, which mail.ru’s password recovery function says is indeed the phone number used to register the hottabych_k2 email account.
At least four posts made in 2010 to the hosting review service makeserver.ru advertise Dedserver and include images watermarked with the nickname “oneillk2.”
Dedserver also heavily promoted a virtual private networking (VPN) service called vpn-service[.]us to help users obfuscate their true online locations. It’s unclear how closely connected these businesses were, although a cached copy of the Dedserver homepage at Archive.org from 2010 suggests the site’s owners claimed it as their own.
Vpn-service[.]us was registered to the email address firstname.lastname@example.org by an individual who used the nickname (and sometimes password) — “Metall2” — across multiple cybercrime forums.
Around the same time the GandCrab affiliate program was kicking into high gear, Oneiilk2 had emerged as one of the most trusted members of Exploit and several other forums. This was evident by measuring the total “reputation points” assigned to him, which are positive or negative feedback awarded by other members with whom the member has previously transacted.
In late 2018, Oneiilk2 was one of the top 20 highest-rated members among thousands of denizens on the Exploit forum, thanks in no small part to his association with the GandCrab enterprise.
Searching on Oneiilk2’s registration email address email@example.com via sites that track hacked or leaked databases turned up some curious results. Those records show this individual routinely re-used the same password across multiple accounts: 16061991.
For instance, that email address and password shows up in hacked password databases for an account “oneillk2” at zismo[.]biz, a Russian-language forum dedicated to news about various online money-making affiliate programs.
In a post made on Zismo in 2017, Oneiilk2 states that he lives in a small town with a population of around 400,000, and is engaged in the manufacture of furniture.
Further digging revealed that the firstname.lastname@example.org address had also been used to register at least two accounts on the social networking site Vkontakte, the Russian-language equivalent of Facebook.
One of those accounts was registered to a “Igor Kashkov” from Magnitogorsk, Russia, a metal-rich industrial town in southern Russia of around 410,000 residents which is home to the largest iron and steel works in the country.
The Kashkov account used the password “hottabychk2,” the phone number 890808981338, and at one point provided the alternative email address “email@example.com.” However, this appears to have been simply an abandoned account, or at least there are only a couple of sparse updates to the profile.
The more interesting Vkontakte account tied to the firstname.lastname@example.org address belongs to a profile under the name “Igor Prokopenko,” who says he also lives in Magnitogorsk. The Igor Prokopenko profile says he has studied and is interested in various types of metallurgy.
There is also a Skype voice-over-IP account tied to an “Igor” from Magnitogorsk whose listed birthday is June 16, 1991. In addition, there is a fairly active Youtube account dating back to 2015 — youtube.com/user/Oneillk2 — that belongs to an Igor Prokopenko from Magnitogorsk.
That Youtube account includes mostly short videos of Mr. Prokopenko angling for fish in a local river and diagnosing problems with his Lada Kalina — a Russian-made automobile line that is quite common across Russia. An account created in January 2018 using the Oneillk2 nickname on a forum for Lada enthusiasts says its owner is 28 years old and lives in Magnitogorsk.
Sources with the ability to check Russian citizenship records identified an Igor Vladimirovich Prokopenko from Magnitogorsk who was born on June 16, 1991. Recall that “16061991” was the password used by countless online accounts tied to both email@example.com and the Oneiilk2/Oneillk2 identities.
To bring all of the above research full circle, Vkontakte’s password reset page shows that the Igor Prokopenko profile is tied to the mobile phone number +7-951-7805896, which is the same number used to set up the email account firstname.lastname@example.org almost 10 years ago.
Mr. Prokopenko did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
It is entirely possible that whoever is responsible for operating the GandCrab affiliate program developed an elaborate, years-long disinformation campaign to lead future would-be researchers to an innocent party.
At the same time, it is not uncommon for many Russian malefactors to do little to hide their true identities — at least early on in their careers — perhaps in part because they perceive that there is little likelihood that someone will bother connecting the dots later on, or because maybe they don’t fear arrest and/or prosecution while they reside in Russia. Anyone doubtful about this dynamic would do well to consult the Breadcrumbs series on this blog, which used similar methods as described above to unmask dozens of other major malware purveyors.
It should be noted that the GandCrab affiliate program took measures to prevent the installation of its ransomware on computers residing in Russia or in any of the countries that were previously part of the Soviet Union — referred to as the Commonwealth of Independent States and including Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. This is a typical precaution taken by cybercriminals running malware operations from one of those countries, as they try to avoid making trouble in their own backyards that might attract attention from local law enforcement.
KrebsOnSecurity would like to thank domaintools.com (an advertiser on this site), as well as cyber intelligence firms Intel471, Hold Security and 4IQ for their assistance in researching this post.
Update, July 9, 2:53 p.m. ET: Mr. Prokopenko responded to my requests for comment, although he declined to answer any of the questions I put to him about the above findings. His response was simply, “Hey. You’re wrong. I’m not doing this.” Silly me.
Earlier this month, Googledisclosed that a supply chain attack by one of its vendors resulted in malicious software being pre-installed on millions of new budget Android devices. Google didn’t exactly name those responsible, but said it believes the offending vendor uses the nicknames “Yehuo” or “Blazefire.” What follows is a deep dive into the identity of that Chinese vendor, which appears to have a long and storied history of pushing the envelope on mobile malware.
“Yehuo” (野火) is Mandarin for “wildfire,” so one might be forgiven for concluding that Google was perhaps using another dictionary than most Mandarin speakers. But Google was probably just being coy: The vendor in question appears to have used both “blazefire” and “wildfire” in two of many corporate names adopted for the same entity.
An online search for the term “yehuo” reveals an account on the Chinese Software Developer Network which uses that same nickname and references the domain blazefire[.]com. More searching points to a Yehuo user on gamerbbs[.]cn who advertises a mobile game called “Xiaojun Junji,” and says the game is available at blazefire[.]com.
Research on blazefire[.]com via Domaintools.com shows the domain was assigned in 2015 to a company called “Shanghai Blazefire Network Technology Co. Ltd.” just a short time after it was registered by someone using the email address “email@example.com“.
The Shanghai Blazefire Network is part of a group of similarly-named Chinese entities in the “mobile phone pre-installation business and in marketing for advertisers’ products to install services through mobile phone installed software.”
“At present, pre-installed partners cover the entire mobile phone industry chain, including mobile phone chip manufacturers, mobile phone design companies, mobile phone brand manufacturers, mobile phone agents, mobile terminal stores and major e-commerce platforms,” reads a descriptive blurb about the company.
A historic records search at Domaintools on that firstname.lastname@example.org address says it was used to register 24 Internet domain names, including at least seven that have been conclusively tied to the spread of powerful Android mobile malware.
Two of those domains registered to email@example.com — elsyzsmc[.]com and rurimeter[.]com — were implicated in propagating the Triada malware. Triada is the very same malicious software Google said was found pre-installed on many of its devices and being used to install spam apps that display ads.
In July 2017, Russian antivirus vendor Dr.Webpublished research showing that Triada had been installed by default on at least four low-cost Android models. In 2018, Dr.Web expanded its research when it discovered the Triada malware installed on 40 different models of Android devices.
A records search at Domaintools for “Shanghai Blazefire Network Technology Co” returns 11 domains, including blazefire[.]net, which is registered to a firstname.lastname@example.org. For the remainder of this post, we’ll focus on the bolded domain names below:
Following the breadcrumbs from some of the above domains we can see that “Blazefire” is a sprawling entity with multiple business units and names. For example, 2333youxi[.]com is the domain name for Shanghai Qianyou Network Technology Co., Ltd., a firm that says it is “dedicated to the development and operation of Internet mobile games.”
Like the domain blazefire[.]com, 2333youxi[.]com also was initially registered to email@example.com and soon changed to Shanghai Blazefire as the owner.
The offices of Shanghai Quianyou Network — at Room 344, 6th Floor, Building 10, No. 196, Ouyang Rd, Shanghai, China — are just down the hall from Shanghai Wildfire Network Technology Co., Ltd., reportedly at Room 35, 6th Floor, Building 10, No. 196, Ouyang Rd, Shanghai.
The domain tongjue[.]net is the Web site for Shanghai Bronze Network Technology Co., Ltd., which appears to be either another name for or a sister company to Shanghai Tongjue Network Technology Co., Ltd. According to its marketing literature, Shanghai Tongjue is situated one door down from the above-mentioned Shanghai Quianyou Network — at Room 36, 6th Floor, Building 10, No. 196, Ouyang Road.
“It has developed into a large domestic wireless Internet network application,” reads a help wanted ad published by Tongjue in 2016. “The company is mainly engaged in mobile phone pre-installation business.”
That particular help wanted ad was for a “client software development” role at Tongjue. The ad said the ideal candidate for the position would have experience with “Windows Trojan, Virus or Game Plug-ins.” Among the responsibilities for this position were:
-Crack the restrictions imposed by the manufacturer on the mobile phone.
-Research and master the android [operating] system
-Reverse the root software to study the root of the android mobile phone
-Research the anti-brushing and provide anti-reverse brushing scheme
WHO IS BLAZEFIRE/YEHUO?
Many of the domains mentioned above have somewhere in their registration history the name “Hsu Heng” and the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Based on an analysis via cyber intelligence firm 4iq.com of passwords and email addresses exposed in multiple data breaches in years past, the head of Blazefire goes by the nickname “Hagen” or “Haagen” and uses the email “email@example.com“.
Searching on the phrase “chuda” in Mandarin turns up a 2016 story at the Chinese gaming industry news site Youxiguancha.com that features numerous photos of Blazefire employees and their offices. That story also refers to the co-founder and CEO of Blazefire variously as “Chuda” and “Chu da”.
“Wildfire CEO Chuda is a tear-resistant boss with both sports (Barcelona hardcore fans) and literary genre (playing a good guitar),” the story gushes. “With the performance of leading the wildfire team and the wildfire product line in 2015, Chu has won the top ten new CEO awards from the first Black Rock Award of the Hardcore Alliance.”
Interestingly, the registrant name “Chu Da” shows up in the historical domain name records for longmen[.]com, perhaps Shanghai Wildfire’s oldest and most successful mobile game ever. That record, from April 2015, lists Chu Da’s email address as firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CEO of Wildfire/Blazefire, referred to only as “Chuda” or “Hagen.”
It’s not clear if Chuda is all or part of the CEO’s real name, or just a nickname; the vice president of the company lists their name simply as “Hua Wei,” which could be a real name or a pseudonymous nod to the embattled Chinese telecom giant by the same name.