Brian Pennington

A blog about Cyber Security & Compliance



RSA’s September 2013 Online Fraud Report featuring a review of “education in the cybercriminal world”

RSA‘s September 2013 Online Fraud Report discusses the improvement in cybercriminal skills and how education offered online with support of tutors, course work and counselling is increasing the threat to businesses and people alike.

RSA have seen an increase in ads by established criminals advertising courses they commonly carry out via Skype videoconferencing. To add value, “teachers” are offering interesting fraud courses, following those up with individual tutorials (Q&A sessions) after students join their so-called schools.

Fraud-as-a-Service (FaaS) strives to resemble legitimate business models, fraudster trade schools further offer ‘job placement’ for graduates through their many underground connections with other experienced criminals. Interestingly, some of the “teachers” go the extra mile and vouch for students who show “talent” so that they can join the underground communities they would otherwise not be able to access.

Some cybercrime professors even enforce a rigid absentee policy:

  • Students must give a 2 hour advanced notice if they cannot attend.
  • Students who fail to notify ahead of time are fined 50% of the fee, and rescheduled for the next class.
  • Students who fail to pay absentee fees will forfeit the entire deposited fee.

The following section presents some examples of cybercrime schooling curriculums exposed by RSA fraud analysts.

Beginners’ cybercrime classes

The first level is designed for beginners, teaching the basics of online financial fraud. The Cybercrime Course Curriculum:

  • The Business of Fraud – Credit cards, debit cards, drop accounts, how all it works, who are the clients, prices, risks
  • Legal Aspects – How to avoid being caught by the authorities. What can be used against you in a court of law? Building Your Business Where to find clients? How to build a top-notch fraud service
  • Transaction Security – How to avoid getting scammed and shady escrow services
  • Price per lecture 2,500 Rubles (about $75 USD)

Courses in card fraud

Criminals further offer the much in demand payment card fraud classes – one course per payment card type. Card Fraud Course Curriculum:

  • The Business – Drops, advertising, accomplices, chat rules and conventions
  • Legal Security – Dealing with law enforcement: who is accountable for the crime in organized groups, what can be collected as evidence
  • Building Your Business – Invaluable tips that will help develop your service to top level, and help acquire customers
  • Security of Transactions – Common patterns of rippers/ripping, how to identify scams, how to use escrow services
  • Price per lecture 2,500 Rubles (about $75 USD)
  • Price per course 2,500 Rubles (about $75 USD) Both courses 4,000 Rubles (about $120 USD)

Anonymity and security course

Stressing the importance of avoiding detection and maintaining anonymity, this course teaches a fraudster the art of avoiding detection, and how to erase digital “fingerprints”. The tutoring vendor offers practical lessons in configuring a computer for complex security and anonymity features. This course includes a theoretical and a practical section, with a duration estimated at four hours. Anonymity Course Curriculum:

  • Configuring and using Anonymity tools – Antivirus and firewall, Windows security(ports and ‘holes’), virtual keyboards, shutting off browser logging, eliminating history/traces on the PC, applications for permanent data removal, data encryption on the hard drive, Anonymizer applications, VPN – installation/configuration, using SOCKS – where to buy them, hiding one’s DNS server, dedicated servers, TOR browsers, safe email mailboxes, using disposable email, using a cryptic self-destruct flash drive, creating cryptic self-destruct notes, extra advanced topic – tools for remotely liquidating a hard drive
  • Botnets – Independent study (online document/site link provided)
  • Using Chat Channels – Using ICQ, Skype, Jabber, registering Jabber on a safe server, OTR/GPG encryption in a Jabber chat, passing a key and chatting on a secure channel via Jabber
  • Legal – Electronic evidence one might be leaving behind, and that can be used against fraudsters by law enforcement
  • Price per course – 3,300 Rubles (about $99 USD) $35 – additional charge for installing VPN

Mule Herding Course Curriculum:

  • Theory section (2-3 hrs.) – Fundamentals – opening a mule-recruitment service, legal and practical security measures, finding accomplices and partners
  • Practical section (3-5 hrs.) – Receive a prepared transaction to handle, and earn 10% on this initial transaction (if one succeeds). If the student fails, a second transaction will be offered, at a cost of 1,500 Rubles ($45 USD) and no percentage earned.
  • Upon successful completion of the test, fraudsters receive official confirmation by public notice from the lecturer in the community. This part is only open to students who have completed the theory section, and have set up the anonymity and security tools and have the additional tools required for the transaction

One-on-one tutorials and consultations

With a money-back guarantee promised to students, one crime school offers personal one-on-one tutorials and problem solving sessions via Skype. Special tutorial topics:

  • Banking and Credit Cards – “Black and white” credit, fake documents, banking algorithms and security measures (Russian Federation only)
  • Debit Cards – The finer details of working with debit cards and setting up a service (Russian Federation only)
  • Registering and using Shell Corporations – Legal issues and practical problems in using Shell Corporations for fraud (Russian Federation only)
  • Legal Liability Issues – Your legal rights, practical advice on interaction with law enforcement agencies, counselling services even while under investigation (Russian Federation only)
  • Setting up Anonymity – Practical help in setting up anonymity, and answers to questions from the course (any country)
  • Price 2,000 Rubles (about $60) per hour

The school of carding

Approaching the subject that is highest in demand in the underground, vendors have opened schools for carding – teaching the different ways to use payment cards in fraud scenarios. One vendor offers classes on a daily basis, at two levels of expertise, and indicates that he gives his personal attention to each student. The vendor also assures his students that his resources (compromised data) are fresh, personally tested by him, and never before made available on any ‘public’ lists.

School of Carding – Basic Curriculum:

  • Current Working BINs – Credit card BIN numbers that have been verified as successful in carding scenarios.
  • Websites for Clothing, Electronics, etc. – Which merchants make the best targets for carding?
  • Tips and Tricks – Extra insights from personal experience.
  • Price $25 USD

School of Carding – Advanced Curriculum

  • BINs and Banks – Recommended BIN numbers that give best results in carding
  • Tested sites – A list of tested e-commerce sites recommended for carding clothing, electronic goods, and more.

Phishing Attacks per Month

RSA identified 33,861 phishing attacks launched worldwide in August, marking a 25% decrease in attack volume from July. Based on this figure, it is estimated phishing resulted in an estimated $266 million in losses to global organizations in August.

US Bank Types Attacked

U.S. nationwide banks remained the most targeted with two out of three phishing attacks targeted at that sector in August while U.S. regional banks saw an 8% increase in phishing attacks.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The U.S. remained the most targeted country in August with 50% of the total phishing volume, followed by the UK, Germany and India which collectively accounted for approximately 30% of phishing volume.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

In August, 26% of phishing attacks were targeted at brands in the U.S., followed by the UK, Australia and India.

Top Hosting Countries

Four out of every ten phishing attacks were hosted in the U.S. in August. Canada, the Netherlands and the UK collectively hosted 25% of phishing attacks.

Previous 3 RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries


RSA’s August Online Fraud Report 2012 including a summary of Fraud as a Service (FaaS)

In their August Online Fraud Report RSA reports on the activity of online fraudsters, a summary is below.

A five-year retrospect on Fraud as a Service (FaaS) reveals that the types of services sold today have changed very little; the more noticeable changes came in the shape of scalability, service relevancy, higher availability, better deals, customer support and buyer guarantees.

Underground criminals buy and sell goods and services around the clock. The fact that these markets operate online eliminates borders and physical distance, allowing people from different parts of the world to wheel-and-deal and to partner-up in the orchestration of fraud cash-out cycles without ever meeting or speaking on the phone.

What do they sell?

For phishing – scam pages, complex phishing kits and custom kit plugins, spamming services, email databases, junk traffic, SEO poisoning, email cracking tools, spam software, and SMS spoofers, to name a few. After the attacker gathers the spoils, fraudsters can opt to buy the already-harvested databases of phishing attacks or purchase unitary ‘logins’ in an online shop selling compromised data.

For botmasters –  Trojan-related facilitators exploit kits, malware spam, botnets, Trojan kits, HTML injections, customized malicious code, encryption services, bulletproof hosting, pay-per-installs/affiliate infection schemes, plugins, set-up and tech support.

Hardly ever does one fraudster take on the complete fraud cycle; rather, fraudsters opt to partner with more experienced criminals or offer up their own expertise (such as performing in-store pick up of goods obtained with stolen credit card data). Much like real-world crime, each actor ‘gets his hands dirty’ to different extents. Bottom line – the fraudulent transaction is turned into cash in different ways and the profits are shared among those involved.

Those who don’t have any trustworthy connections in the world of fraud find and use transfer and cash-out services. Money mule, cash-out services and Item-drop mules have become ever so popular, that some vendors have already automated them for those who attempt the bulk of transactions each day bot herders and ‘carders’.

Almost all busy criminals today connect with a mule repository operator and have their fraudulent transactions go through the vendor’s mules, receiving a cut of each successful transaction as per a mutual agreement. Some cases of mule-repositories are part of the fraud cycle of one gang.

Recent underground fraud services:-

Hire a “Man-in-the-Middle”

One of the more interesting recent FaaS offers was found in an underground forum, posted by a Russian-speaking member offering his infrastructure for very temporary hire, alongside his own services as a man-in-the-middle facilitator. The botmaster had a few perks for customers who wish to attempt Trojan attacks without having to set up anything whatsoever:

  • Rent the infrastructure – gain access to infected bots
  • Pay to target and harvest – send over a trigger and a Trojan injection and those will be pushed to existing infected bots on the botnet (through a Trojan configuration file update)
  • Pay to attack – the botmaster will facilitate fraudulent transaction attempts using his Trojan’s remote administration access to bots

Buy a Botnet

The vendor behind this offer was also working in collaboration with other cybercriminals, each offering a related service a bot herder would need for the set up and operation of a botnet.

Automated Customer Support

In the recent past, Trojan developers only offered support via live chat using instant messaging services (Jabber, ICQ). A developer could only support a limited number of chats until the burden of supporting his customers became too great and support deteriorated or stopped altogether.

Trojan developers did understand the substantial need for customer/technical support and took pains to find new ways to preserve their customer base. To get an idea about just how ‘real’ customer support has become, take a quick look at this SpyEye vendor’s page. Notice the headers on the page; much like legitimate software companies – they direct users to an FAQ page, an “About SpyEye” section, and provide a detailed web form that can be sent directly to the vendor’s alleged support team, automating the process.

Many of today’s fraud service vendors put strong emphasis on supporting their buyers, offering guarantees and assistance, from the exchange of faulty or invalid cards and access credentials, all the way to providing set-up, tutorials, and tech support to those who have to operate on going online fraud operations (botnets, CC shops, exploits etc.).

One cannot mention excellent cybercrime customer support today without “Citadel” coming to mind. The team developing the Citadel Trojan has long established itself as the new go-to crimeware vendor, well on their way to inheriting the Zeus Trojan market share they built upon. The most unique feature this team offers to botmasters using Citadel is a clever CRM model that supports, tickets, listens and advises members on how to set up and operate their Trojans. The CRM is not optional! All botmasters must join it and pay a fixed monthly fee for their membership.

RSA’s conclusion

A better cybercrime marketplace, much like organized crime in the physical world, increasingly affects the world’s economy by the sheer amounts of money it taxes it every year. The worst part about this dark economy is its faceless, covert nature and thus the hardship in quantifying and understanding the extent of its damage.

Stronger crime economies are a burden on the legitimate economy in hard costs but do not stop there. This large scale clandestine operation also affects crime statistics and touches real-life aspects of law enforcement and the legal system. Due to cybercrime’s global, scattered nature, fighting it often requires internationally coordinated investigations and arrests, further taxing the resources of each nation touched by digital crimes.

Phishing Attacks per Month

Phishing attacks in July increased 14% from June, marking yet another high of 59,406 attacks in a single month. In examining an overall spike in attacks, the bulk of last month’s increase can be attributed to highly targeted phishing campaigns launched against a series of financial institutions in Europe.

Number of Brands Attacked

In July, a total of 242 brands were targeted with phishing attacks, marking a 7% drop from June. As compared to July 2011, last month’s list of phishing targets demonstrates a 25% year-over-year drop in the number of targeted brands.

US Bank Types Attacked

There was very little change in how the U.S. banking sector was targeted by phishing in July. Nationwide banks still continue to be targeted by about three out of every four phishing attacks. This reflects the tendency of cybercriminals to attack larger financial institutions.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

For the fifth consecutive month, the UK was targeted by the highest volume of phishing attacks, followed by the U.S. and Canada. The UK endured 70% of worldwide attacks, its highest portion ever.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

Although the UK was targeted by 70% of phishing volume in July, the U.S. continues to be the country with the greatest number of targeted brands. Brands in the U.K., Brazil, India, and Australia collectively were targeted by 27% of attacks in July.

Top Hosting Countries

The U.S. hosted 79% of worldwide phishing attacks last month, its highest portion to date according to the RSA Anti-Fraud Command Center. Canada, the UK and Germany accounted for hosting an additional 10% of attacks.

Previous RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA July 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA June 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA April 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA March 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA February 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary here.
  • The RSA January 2012 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA December 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA November 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA October 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA September 2011 Online Fraud Report Summary is here.


RSA’s February Online Fraud Report

In their February Online Fraud Report RSA shed light on one of the latest Fraud-as-a-Service (FaaS) offerings to be purveyed in the criminal underground, a new release of the “Darkness”, aka “Optima,” DDoS bot crimeware; a commercially available toolkit that not only allows fraudsters to launch DDoS attacks at a target of their choice, but which has also been enhanced with several Trojan-like functionalities.

The ‘Darkness’ DDoS bot is used to perpetrate DDoS attacks by flooding targeted websites with junk traffic originating from unwitting users’ systems. The first version of Darkness saw light in March 2009, and according to the Russian-based fraudster who posted the ad and claims to manage the Darkness “project,” the latest release contains several improvements such as enhanced flooding capabilities, an improved password grabber module, and a new module that installs SOCKS5 on victims’ systems. The vendor behind the ad claims to have been “verified” within Russian-speaking forums, and offers interested parties links to reviews of his product.

Darkness was originally coded to be the DDoS weapon of choice, but since then, several new modules have been authored for the bot, bestowing it with Trojan-like functionalities. And much like Trojan authors, Darkness’ coders have established a few security mechanisms to hinder their product’s operations from being shut down. Demonstrating the invisible hand of the market forces that govern the underground supply chain, this latest criminal offering is being rolled out in the fraudster community following a year that has been replete with numerous hacktivist DDoS attacks.

The business of selling the Darkness bot

The Darkness bot is sold as a compiled binary, for which the customer can define three Command & Control (C&C) server domains  in order to ensure operational continuity in the event of a server takedown (by LE, ISPs, CERTs, etc.).

Darkness is sold as a FaaS offering with a customer receiving a complete, fully operational administration panel on the C&C domains of his choice.

While a “Minimum” package containing the DDoS bot binary is sold for $330, a “Brilliant” package offered for $850 includes unlimited free updates, a full set of modules and unlimited ‘free’ recompiles (“rebuilds”). Further demonstrating the FaaS business model, additional services and bot features are sold separately:

  • The Darkness bot’s source code (version 10) – $3,500-$5,000
  • Individual rebuilds – $35
  • Bot updates – $85
  • Socks5 module – $250
  • Key logger module – $55
  • Password grabber – $50
  • Hosts file editor – $35

After paying for the bot’s setup, all a fraudster would have to do is infect victims’ systems using an exploit kit of his choosing. As soon as a system is infected, it appears on the customer’s web panel, with such details as country, IP address, OS, and user privileges (admin vs. user account). According to the ad, “Excellent bilingual support (Ru, Eng)” is provided.

Interestingly, to avoid liability issues, the writer of the ad disclaims any use of the Darkness bot for purposes other than IT testing.

DDoS functionality

The Darkness bot offers four types of DDoS attacks:

  1. HTTP: An attack method whereby bots flood a targeted website’s resources by sending it an overwhelming number of standard HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) requests.
  2. ICMP: An attack whereby bots send data packets over the ICMP protocol (Internet Control Message Protocol), and flood all the systems operating behind a network by targeting a range of IP addresses  instead of a single IP or domain. This method exploits network devices that have not been properly configured to thwart this kind of attack.
  3. SYN: An attack that initiates a great number of TCP connections, which can only be established when a three-way handshake between two systems (a client and server) has been completed. SYN attacks drain a targeted site’s resources by initiating numerous TCP connections, but never properly completing the three-way handshake. This results in the targeted site (server) needlessly ‘waiting’ for an acknowledgement (by the client) of the new TCP connection and its being rendered unavailable for legitimate traffic.
  4. UDP: Attacks deploying  the UDP protocol (User Datagram Protocol) rely on the fact that for every erroneous  UDP packet  sent to a given resource, an ICMP Destination Unreachable packet needs to be returned, serving as an “Error, Return to Sender” message. Flooding the targeted site with incoming UDP packets  results in a counter- flood of outgoing  ICMP Destination Unreachable packets, which ultimately render the site unavailable to legitimate users.

According to a Darkness ad reported in 2010, an average website can be brought down using only 30 infected systems (bots), while 1,000 would be required for large website. The writer of the Darkness ad further claims that a high-profile website like (Russian social network), which in November 2010 reported 100 million users, would require 15,000-20,000 bots.

Trojan-like modules

Modules added to the latest release of the Darkness bot (version 10), enhance the code with functionalities typical of Trojan codes, and are sold separately much like commercial Trojan add-ons:

  • Mini-Loader Function: The ad mentions that the bot has a “Mini-Loader function: it’s possible to load your  EXE files to the bots.” Thanks to this functionality, fraudsters looking to download a financial Trojan to an already-infected system can easily do so.
  • SOCKS5 Backconnect Module: SOCKS5 modules are often installed on victims’ systems by financial Trojans, enabling fraudsters to exploit users’ systems as proxies; a feature that allows fraudsters to ‘backconnect’ from a Command & Control server to a targeted website via the victim’s system. This module enables fraudsters to access a site while appearing to operate from the victim’s IP address.
  • Password Grabber Module: The password grabber offered by the bot’s vendor can grab passwords from 14 different applications, including various FTP sites, instant- messaging programs, and webmail programs, as well various online forms.
  • Hosts File Editor Module: This functionality enables botmasters to reroute victims to malicious websites by editing their hosts file, which is a local file that serves as the first point of reference when a user’s system searches for an internet resource, such as a domain or IP address. Brazilian Banker Trojans often edit victims’ hosts files to reroute them to phishing pages that mimic targeted banks’ websites.
  • Key logger Module: This module enables Darkness operators to log all the keystrokes entered online by their victims – a feature that is rarely used by today’s advanced Trojans, given their ability to intercept all HTTP and HTTPs communications (for example, the Zeus Trojan and its derivatives no longer keylog at all.)

Security countermeasures

Darkness’ coders have invested some effort in attempting to conceal their product’s operation. As mentioned above, each Darkness binary can be configured with up to three different C&C server domains, enabling backup of the bot’s resources in the event of a domain’s suspension or a server takedown. In addition, they claim that the bot can bypass Windows’ firewall, and that it employs “some trick to bypass DDoS Protections.” While the ad claims that Darkness’ processes and resources remain invisible to the user, a previous version of the bot has reportedly failed to disguise its processes.

DDoS attacks and hacktivism

This latest criminal offering is being rolled out in the fraudster community following a year that has been replete with numerous hacktivist DDoS attacks initiated by various groups such as Anonymous, TeamPoison, AntiSec, LulzSec, and others. In 2011, high-profile victims of DDoS attacks waged by hacktivist groups included: Sony’s Playstation Network, the CIA’s website, the FBI, UK tabloid The Sun, the Spanish Police, and the government websites of Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey.

The latest set of DDoS attacks was launched last month by Anonymous (January 19, 2012), its victims comprising proponents of the controversial SOPA and PIPA bills, including the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), and the FBI.

The weapon of choice for some of these attacks was Low Orbit Ion Cannon (LOIC), a free open-source program that can also serve legitimate purposes, such as testing the durability of an Internet resource in the event of a DDoS attack.  To launch an orchestrated attack that leverages their power as a community, fraudsters installed the program on their system, willingly forming a large botnet that was controlled by a central Command & Control server. At a predefined time, the C&C server issued a command to the fraudsters’ systems to start flooding victim sites with junk traffic, resulting in their temporary ‘denial of service.’

Aligning itself with the invisible hand of demand, the “Darkness” bot satisfies fraudsters’ increasing motivation to unite against perceived foes, while also fulfilling a role of a user- friendly malware kit.

And “Darkness” is not the only Trojan kit from which fraudsters can launch DDoS attacks. In March 2011, the FraudAction Research Lab reported  on a DDoS plugin traced in a variant of the SpyEye Trojan. The DDoS plugin, however, is not sold as part of the SpyEye Trojan kit, but rather it was privately developed by an individual botmaster. Recent versions of the SpyEye builder are sold with a Software Development Kit (SDK) to facilitate the development of new modules by individual botmasters.

In light of a growing interest in the underground to launch DDoS attacks against financial institutions, data security companies, law enforcement agencies, and various government bodies, we are likely to see a growing number of DDoS-enabling modules and malware kits offered in the underground market in the near future.

Phishing Attacks per Month

The year 2012 has started off with a 42% increase in the number of phishing attacks launched, with 29,974 unique attacks identified by RSA in January. Last month also saw an increase in the total number of brands attacked and the number of attacks endured by individual brands.

Number of Brands Attacked

A total of 281 brands were targeted by phishing attacks in January, marking a 10% increase from the number of targets recorded in December 2011.

US Bank Types Attacked

Nationwide U.S. brands accounted for 68% of the brands targeted in the U.S. financial sector, marking a 14% decrease from December 2011. Also in January, the portion of targeted U.S. credit union brands increased 13% and U.S. regional bank brands increased 4%.

Top Countries by Attack Volume

The UK has remained the country targeted by the highest volume of phishing attacks for the fifth consecutive month with a 10% increase since last month. In total, the UK was targeted by 60% of the world’s phishing attacks in January. While the U.S. saw a 5% decrease in the volume of attacks, the volume targeting Canada increased by 2%. The countries that have consistently suffered the largest volume of phishing attacks over the past year have been the UK, U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands.

Top Countries by Attacked Brands

Combined, U.S. and UK brands accounted for 44% of January’s phishing attacks. Twenty-one (21) other countries absorbed a combined portion of 56% of the world’s attacks, with each country accounting for one to 4% of the world’s targeted brands.

Top Hosting Countries

In January, U.S.-based hosting entities exceeded their normal share of phishing attacks, hosting 82% of worldwide phishing attacks as compared to 50 – 70% of attacks in a typical month.

Previous RSA Online Fraud Report Summaries:

  • The RSA January Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA December Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA November Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA October Online Fraud Report Summary is here.
  • The RSA September Online Fraud Report Summary is here.


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