27
Jun 16

Scientology Seeks Captive Converts Via Google Maps, Drug Rehab Centers

Fake online reviews generated by unscrupulous marketers blanket the Internet these days. Although online review pollution isn’t exactly a hot-button consumer issue, there are plenty of cases in which phony reviews may endanger one’s life or well-being. This is the story about how searching for drug abuse treatment services online could cause concerned loved ones to send their addicted, vulnerable friends or family members straight into the arms of the Church of Scientology.

As explained in last year’s piece, Don’t Be Fooled by Fake Online Reviews Part II, there are countless real-world services that are primed for exploitation online by marketers engaged in false and misleading “search engine optimization” (SEO) techniques. These shady actors specialize in creating hundreds or thousands of phantom companies online, each with different generic-sounding business names, addresses and phone numbers. The phantom firms often cluster around fake listings created in Google Maps — complete with numerous five-star reviews, pictures, phone numbers and Web site links.

The problem is that calls to any of these phony companies are routed back to the same crooked SEO entity that created them. That marketer in turn sells the customer lead to one of several companies that have agreed in advance to buy such business leads. As a result, many consumers think they are dealing with one company when they call, yet end up being serviced by a completely unrelated firm that may not have to worry about maintaining a reputation for quality and fair customer service.

Experts say fake online reviews are most prevalent in labor-intensive services that do not require the customer to come into the company’s offices but instead come to the consumer. These services include but are not limited to locksmiths, windshield replacement services, garage door repair and replacement technicians, carpet cleaning and other services that consumers very often call for immediate service.

As it happens, the problem is widespread in the drug rehabilitation industry as well. That became apparent after I spent just a few hours with Bryan Seely, the guy who literally wrote the definitive book on fake Internet reviews.

Perhaps best known for a stunt in which he used fake Google Maps listings to intercept calls destined for the FBI and U.S. Secret Service, Seely knows a thing or two about this industry: Until 2011, he worked for an SEO firm that helped to develop and spread some of the same fake online reviews that he is now helping to clean up.

More recently, Seely has been tracking a network of hundreds of phony listings and reviews that lead inquiring customers to fewer than a half dozen drug rehab centers, including Narconon International — an organization that promotes the theories of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard regarding substance abuse treatment and addiction.

As described in Narconon’s Wikipedia entry, Narconon facilities are known not only for attempting to win over new converts, but also for treating all drug addictions with a rather bizarre cocktail consisting mainly of vitamins and long hours in extremely hot saunas. The Wiki entry documents multiple cases of accidental deaths at Narconon facilities, where some addicts reportedly died from overdoses of vitamins or neglect:

“Narconon has faced considerable controversy over the safety and effectiveness of its rehabilitation methods,” the Wiki entry reads. “Narconon teaches that drugs reside in body fat, and remain there indefinitely, and that to recover from drug abuse, addicts can remove the drugs from their fat through saunas and use of vitamins. Medical experts disagree with this basic understanding of physiology, saying that no significant amount of drugs are stored in fat, and that drugs can’t be ‘sweated out’ as Narconon claims.”

whatshappening

Source: Seely Security.

FOLLOW THE BOUNCING BALL

Seely said he learned that the drug rehab industry was overrun with SEO firms when he began researching rehab centers in Seattle for a family friend who was struggling with substance abuse and addiction issues. A simple search on Google for “drug rehab Seattle” turned up multiple local search results that looked promising.

One of the top three results was for a business calling itself “Drug Rehab Seattle,” and while it lists a toll-free phone number, it does not list a physical address (NB: this is not always the case with fake listings, which just as often claim the street address of another legitimate business). A click on the organization’s listing claims the Web site rehabs.com – a legitimate drug rehab search service. However, the owners of rehabs.com say this listing is unauthorized and unaffiliated with rehabs.com.

As documented in this Youtube video, Seely called the toll-free number in the Drug Rehab Seattle listing, and was transferred to a hotline that took down his name, number and insurance information and promised an immediate call back. Within minutes, Seely said, he received a call from a woman who said she represented a Seattle treatment center but was vague about the background of the organization itself. A little digging showed that the treatment center was run by Narconon. Continue reading →


24
Jun 16

How to Spot Ingenico Self-Checkout Skimmers

A KrebsOnSecurity story last month about credit card skimmers found in self-checkout lanes at some Walmart locations got picked up by quite a few publications. Since then I’ve heard from several readers who work at retailers that use hundreds of thousands of these Ingenico credit card terminals across their stores, and all wanted to know the same thing: How could they tell if their self-checkout lanes were compromised? This post provides a few pointers.

Happily, just days before my story point-of-sale vendor Ingenico produced a tutorial on how to spot a skimmer on self checkout lanes powered by Ingenico iSC250 card terminals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that this report was widely disseminated, because I’m still getting questions from readers at retailers that use these devices.

The red calipers in the image above show the size differences in various noticeable areas of the case overlay on the left compared to the actual ISC250 on the right. Source: Ingenico.

The red calipers in the image above show the size differences in various noticeable areas of the case overlay on the left compared to the actual iSC250 on the right. Source: Ingenico.

“In order for the overlay to fit atop the POS [point-of-sale] terminal, it must be longer and wider than the target device,” reads a May 16, 2016 security bulletin obtained by KrebsOnSecurity. “For this reason, the case overlay will appear noticeably larger than the actual POS terminal. This is the primary identifying characteristic of the skimming device. A skimmer overlay of the iSC250 is over 6 inches wide and 7 inches tall while the iSC250 itself is 5 9/16 inch wide and 6 1⁄2 inches tall.”

In addition, the skimming device that thieves can attach in the blink of an eye on top of the Ingenico self-checkout card reader blocks the backlight from coming through the fake PIN pad overlay.

The backlight can be best seen while shading the keypad from room lights. The image on the left is a powered-on legitimate ISC250 viewed with the keypad shaded. The backlight can be seen in comparison to a powered-off ISC250 in the right image. Source: Ingenico.

The backlight can be best seen while shading the keypad from room lights. The image on the left is a powered-on legitimate iSC250 viewed with the keypad shaded. The backlight can be seen in comparison to a powered-off iSC250 in the right image. Source: Ingenico.

Continue reading →


22
Jun 16

Rise of Darknet Stokes Fear of The Insider

With the proliferation of shadowy black markets on the so-called “darknet” — hidden crime bazaars that can only be accessed through special software that obscures one’s true location online — it has never been easier for disgruntled employees to harm their current or former employer. At least, this is the fear driving a growing stable of companies seeking technical solutions to detect would-be insiders.

Avivah Litan, a fraud analyst with Gartner Inc., says she’s been inundated recently with calls from organizations asking what they can do to counter the following scenario: A disaffected or disgruntled employee creates a persona on a darknet market and offers to sell his company’s intellectual property or access to his employer’s network.

A darknet forum discussion generated by a claimed insider at music retailer Guitar Center.

A darknet forum discussion generated by a claimed insider at music retailer Guitar Center.

Litan said a year ago she might have received one such inquiry a month; now Litan says she’s getting multiple calls a week, often from companies that are in a panic.

“I’m getting calls from lots of big companies, including manufacturers, banks, pharmaceutical firms and retailers,” she said. “A year ago, no one wanted to say whether they had or were seriously worried about insiders, but that’s changing.”

Insiders don't have to be smart or sophisticated to be dangerous.

Insiders don’t have to be smart or sophisticated to be dangerous, as this darknet forum discussion thread illustrates.

Some companies with tremendous investments in intellectual property — particularly pharmaceutical and healthcare firms — are working with law enforcement or paying security firms to monitor and track actors on the darknet that promise access to specific data or organizations, Litan said. Continue reading →


20
Jun 16

Citing Attack, GoToMyPC Resets All Passwords

GoToMyPC, a service that helps people access and control their computers remotely over the Internet, is forcing all users to change their passwords, citing a spike in attacks that target people who re-use passwords across multiple sites.

gtpcOwned by Santa Clara, Calif. based networking giant Citrix, GoToMyPC is a popular software-as-a-service product that lets users access and control their PC or Mac from anywhere in the world. On June 19, the company posted a status update and began notifying users that a system-wide password update was underway.

“Unfortunately, the GoToMYPC service has been targeted by a very sophisticated password attack,” reads the notice posted to status.gotomypc.com. “To protect you, the security team recommended that we reset all customer passwords immediately. Effective immediately, you will be required to reset your GoToMYPC password before you can login again. To reset your password please use your regular GoToMYPC login link.”

John Bennett, product line director at Citrix, said once the company learned about the attack it took immediate action. But contrary to previous published reports, there is no indication Citrix or its platforms have been compromised, he said.

“Citrix can confirm the recent incident was a password re-use attack, where attackers used usernames and passwords leaked from other websites to access the accounts of GoToMyPC users,” Bennett wrote in an emailed statement. “At this time, the response includes a mandatory password reset for all GoToMyPC users. Citrix encourages customers to visit the  GoToMyPC status page to learn about enabling two-step verification, and to use strong passwords in order to keep accounts as safe as possible. ”

Citrix’s GoTo division also operates GoToAssist, which is geared toward technical support specialists, and GoToMeeting, a product marketed at businesses. The company said it has no indication that user accounts at other GoTo services were compromised, but assuming that’s true it’s likely because the attackers haven’t gotten around to trying yet.

It’s a fair bet that whoever perpetrated this attack had help from huge email and password lists recently leaked online from older breaches at LinkedIn, MySpace and Tumblr to name a few. Re-using passwords at multiple sites is a bad idea to begin with, but re-using your GoToMyPC remote administrator password at other sites seems like an exceptionally lousy idea.


17
Jun 16

Adobe Update Plugs Flash Player Zero-Day

Adobe on Thursday issued a critical update for its ubiquitous Flash Player software that fixes three dozen security holes in the widely-used browser plugin, including at least one vulnerability that is already being exploited for use in targeted attacks.

brokenflash-aThe latest update brings Flash to v. 22.0.0.192 for Windows and Mac users alike. If you have Flash installed, you should update, hobble or remove Flash as soon as possible.

The smartest option is probably to ditch the program once and for all and significantly increase the security of your system in the process. I’ve got more on that approach (as well as slightly less radical solutions ) in A Month Without Adobe Flash Player.

If you choose to update, please do it today. The most recent versions of Flash should be available from this Flash distribution page or the Flash home page. Windows users who browse the Web with anything other than Internet Explorer may need to apply this patch twice, once with IE and again using the alternative browser (Firefox, Opera, e.g.). Chrome and IE should auto-install the latest Flash version on browser restart (I had to manually check for updates in Chrome an restart the browser to get the latest Flash version). Continue reading →


16
Jun 16

FBI Raids Spammer Outed by KrebsOnSecurity

Michael A. Persaud, a California man profiled in a Nov. 2014 KrebsOnSecurity story about a junk email artist currently flagged by anti-spam activists as one of the world’s Top 10 Worst Spammers, was reportedly raided by the FBI in connection with a federal spam investigation.

atballAccording to a June 9 story at ABC News, on April 27, 2016 the FBI raided the San Diego home of Persaud, who reportedly has been under federal investigation since at least 2013. The story noted that on June 6, 2016, the FBI asked for and was granted a warrant to search Persaud’s iCloud account, which investigators believe contained “evidence of illegal spamming’ and wire fraud to further [Persaud’s] spamming activities.”

Persaud doesn’t appear to have been charged with a crime in connection with this investigation. He maintains his email marketing business is legitimate and complies with the CAN-SPAM Act, the main anti-spam law in the United States which prohibits the sending of spam that spoofs that sender’s address or does not give recipients an easy way to opt out of receiving future such emails from that sender.

The affidavit that investigators with the FBI used to get a warrant for Persaud’s iCloud account is sealed, but a copy of it was obtained by KrebsOnSecurity. It shows that during the April 2016 FBI search of his home, Persaud told agents that he currently conducts internet marketing from his residence by sending a million emails in under 15 minutes from various domains and Internet addresses.

The affidavit indicates the FBI was very interested in the email address michaelp77x@gmail.com. In my 2014 piece Still Spamming After All These Years, I called attention to this address as the one tied to Persaud’s Facebook account — and to 5,000 or so domains he was advertising in spam. The story was about how the junk email Persaud acknowledged sending was being relayed through broad swaths of Internet address space that had been hijacked from hosting firms and other companies.

persaud-fbFBI Special Agent Timothy J. Wilkins wrote that investigators also subpoenaed and got access to that michaelp77x@gmail.com account, and found emails between Persaud and at least four affiliate programs that hire spammers to send junk email campaigns.

A spam affiliate program is a type of business or online retailer — such as an Internet pharmacy — that pays a third party (known as affiliates or spammers) a percentage of any sales that they generate for the program (for a much deeper dive on how affiliate programs work, check out Spam Nation). Continue reading →


14
Jun 16

Microsoft Patches Dozens of Security Holes

Microsoft today released updates to address more than three dozen security holes in Windows and related software. Meanwhile, Adobe — which normally releases fixes for its ubiquitous Flash Player alongside Microsoft’s monthly Patch Tuesday cycle — said it’s putting off today’s expected Flash patch until the end of this week so it can address an unpatched Flash vulnerability that already is being exploited in active attacks.

brokenwindowsYes, that’s right it’s once again Patch Tuesday, better known to mere mortals as the second Tuesday of each month. Microsoft isn’t kidding around this particular Tuesday — pushing out 16 patch bundles to address at least 44 security flaws across Windows and related software.

The usual suspects earn “critical” ratings: Internet Explorer (IE), Edge (the new, improved IE), and Microsoft Office. Critical is Microsoft’s term for a flaw that allows the attacker to remotely take control over the victim’s machine without help from the victim, save for perhaps getting him to visit a booby-trapped Web site or load a poisoned ad in IE or Edge.

Windows home users aren’t the only ones who get to have all the fun: There’s plenty enough in today’s Microsoft patch batch to sow dread in any Windows system administrator, including patches that fix serious security holes in Windows SMB Server, Microsoft’s DNS Server, and Exchange Server.

I’ll put up a note later this week whenever Adobe releases the Flash update. For now, Kaspersky has more on the Flash vulnerability and its apparent use in active espionage attacks. As ever, if you experience any issues after applying any of today’s updates, please drop a note about it in the comments below.

Other resources: Takes from the SANS Internet Storm CenterQualys and Shavlik.


13
Jun 16

ATM Insert Skimmers In Action

KrebsOnSecurity has featured several recent posts on “insert skimmers,” ATM skimming devices made to fit snugly and invisibly inside a cash machine’s card acceptance slot. I’m revisiting the subject again because I’ve recently acquired how-to videos produced by two different insert skimmer peddlers, and these silent movies show a great deal more than words can tell about how insert skimmers do their dirty work.

Last month I wrote about an alert from ATM giant NCR Corp., which said it was seeing an increase in cash machines compromised by what it called “deep insert” skimmers. These skimmers can hook into little nooks inside the mechanized card acceptance slot, which is a generally quite a bit wider than the width of an ATM card.

“The first ones were quite fat and were the same width of the card,” said Charlie Harrow, solutions manager for global security at NCR. “The newer ones are much thinner and sit right there where the magnetic stripe reader is.”

Operating the insert skimmer pictured in the video below requires two special tools that are sold with it: One to set the skimmer in place inside the ATM’s card acceptance slot, and another to retrieve it. NCR told me its technicians had never actually found any tools crooks use to install and retrieve the insert skimmers, but the following sales video produced by an insert skimmer vendor clearly shows a different tool is used for each job:

 

Same goes for a different video produced by yet another vendor of insert skimming devices:

 


10
Jun 16

IRS Re-Enables ‘Get Transcript’ Feature

The Internal Revenue Service has re-enabled a service on its Web site that allows taxpayers to get a copy of their previous year’s tax transcript. The renewed effort to beef up taxpayer authentication methods at irs.gov comes more than a year after the agency disabled the transcript service because tax refund fraudsters were using it to steal sensitive data on consumers.

irsbldgDuring the height of tax-filing season in 2015, KrebsOnSecurity warned that identity thieves involved in tax refund fraud with the IRS were using irs.gov’s “Get Transcript” feature to glean salary and personal information they didn’t already have on targeted taxpayers. In May 2015, the IRS suspended the Get Transcript feature, citing its abuse by fraudsters and noting that some 100,000 taxpayers may have been victimized as a result.

In August 2015, the agency revised those estimates up to 330,000, but in February 2016, the IRS again more than doubled its estimate, saying the actual number of victims was probably closer to 724,000.

So exactly how does the new-and-improved Get Transcript feature validate that taxpayers who are requesting information aren’t cybercriminal imposters? According to the IRS’s Get Transcript FAQ, the visitor needs to supply a Social Security number (SSN) and have the following:

  • immediate access to your email account to receive a confirmation code;
  • name, birthdate, mailing address, and filing status from your most recent tax return;
  • an account number from either a credit card, auto loan, mortgage, home equity loan or home equity line of credit;
  • a mobile phone number with your name on the account.

“If you previously registered to use IRS Get Transcript Online, Identity Protection PIN, Online Payment Agreement, or ePostcard online services, log in with the same username and password you chose before,” the IRS said. “You’ll need to provide a financial account number and mobile phone number if you haven’t already done so.”

The agency said it will then verify your financial account number and mobile phone number with big-three credit bureau Equifax. Readers who have taken my advice and placed a security freeze on their credit files will need to request a temporary thaw in that freeze with Equifax before attempting to verify their identity with the IRS. Continue reading →


09
Jun 16

There’s the Beef: Wendy’s Breach Numbers About to Get Much Meatier

When news broke last month that the credit card breach at fast food chain Wendy’s impacted fewer than 300 out of the company’s 5,800 locations, the response from many readers was, “Where’s the Breach?” Today, Wendy’s said the number of stores impacted by the breach is “significantly higher” and that the intrusion may not yet be contained.

wendyskyOn January 27, 2016, this publication was the first to report that Wendy’s was investigating a card breach. In mid-May, the company announced in its first quarter financial statement that the fraud impacted just five percent of stores.

But since that announcement last month, a number of sources in the fraud and banking community have complained to this author that there was no way the Wendy’s breach only affected five percent of stores — given the volume of fraud that the banks have traced back to Wendy’s customers.

What’s more, some of those same sources said they were certain the breach was still ongoing well after Wendy’s made the five percent claim in May. In my March 02 piece Credit Unions Feeling Pinch in Wendy’s Breach, I quoted B. Dan Berger, CEO of the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, saying the he’d heard from three credit union CEOs who said the fraud they’ve experienced so far from the Wendy’s breach has eclipsed what they were hit with in the wake of the Home Depot and Target breaches.

Today, Wendy’s acknowledged in a statement that the breach is now expected to be “considerably higher than the 300 restaurants already implicated.” Company spokesman Bob Bertini declined to be more specific about the number of stores involved, citing an ongoing investigation. Bertini also declined to say whether the company is confident that the breach has been contained.

“Wherever we are finding it we’ve taken action,” he said. “But we can’t rule out that there aren’t others.”

Bertini said part of the problem was that the breach happened in two waves. He said the outside forensics investigators that were assigned to the case by the credit card associations initially found 300 locations that had malware on the point-of-sale devices, but that the company’s own investigators later discovered a different strain of the malware at some locations. Bertini declined to provide additional details about either of the malware strains found in the intrusions.

“In recent days, our investigator has identified this additional strain or mutation of the original malware,” he said. “It just so happens that this new strain targets a different point of sale system than the original one, and we just within the last few days discovered this.” Continue reading →