Hacker Economics 2: The Conspiracy of Apathy

Second in a series. Why banks and law enforcement thus far have failed to stymie the onslaught of malware and identity theft.

March: Containment

SecureWorks researcher Don Jackson was focused on his technical analysis of form-grabbing software, but he continued correspondence with the source who gave him access to 76service.com. After several email exchanges with Jackson, the source decided that he could trust him enough to share what he knew about the people behind 76service. This is part of what he shared.

Special Report: The Hacking Economy

Hacker Economics 1: Malware as a Service

Hacker Economics 2: The Conspiracy of Apathy

Hacker Economics 3: The Next Wave of Malware

Key Malware Terms

A Trojan's First Second

Death by iFrame

Inside a Hacker's Site: Screenshots

He told Jackson that the operation was run by just two people, known as 76 and Exoric. 76 was in Russia. Exoric seemed to be based out Mexico.

76 was a member of the HangUp Team who broke off to launch this service. He probably bought the Haxdoor form-grabbing code grafted onto Gozi from his old crew. He might have traded for it. He also probably had a relationship with the RBN form his HangUp Team days. The lack of manpower beyond the two of them might also explain some of the mistakes 76service made, such as the direct connection to RBN servers and the site configuration that allowed Jackson to view other people’s projects. It appears 76 recruited Exoric for his server-side knowledge, whereas 76 was coding the actual Trojan.

Jackson was sharing all of this with a field agent from the local FBI office, who sent it up to agents in DC, who in turn coordinated with Russian authorities on an investigation, according to Jackson. (The FBI has refused to comment specifically on the case). Meanwhile Jackson contacted Infraguard which in turn shared his findings with financial institutions. Jackson wrote an exhaustive technical report, one of the most detailed ever created, that covered both how Gozi worked and how the service did, too. After he published it, and his PR team spread the word, the press pounced: “Gozi Trojan leads to Russian Data Hoard.”

Gozi had been known to be in the wild for at least three months. But Jackson also believed that the “Winter Edition” of 76service was by no means the first edition. He suspected that 76service had been operating undetected for perhaps as long as 9 months.

But by mid-March, the good guys seemed to be getting ahead of it. Anti-virus and anti-spyware vendors were adding Gozi signatures to their products to detect the bot. 76service servers had been sent on the run as the FBI and ISPs detected and blocked the IP addresses that Gozi connected to, forcing 76 and Exoric to move the site around constantly. Around March 12, the loose coalition of FBI, researchers, ISPs and others finally seemed to get the 76service shut down.

This spurred a fire sale of whatever data had been left unsold at 76service. Jackson says that after March 12, some banks saw hundreds of accounts opened each day that were traced back to Gozi-grabbed data. Some of those account holders managed to make several cash transfers up to $49,000. “They’re playing with limits on fraud,” says Jackson. That is, they know the banks won’t flag 5 transfers under 50 grand, but will flag one $250,000 transfer. Jackson says many of these transfers were wired to, of all places, Belgium, though he didn’t know if anyonehad been caught picking up the cash there. Some other accounts were detected and blocked from activity before transfers were made. Jackson says the United States Secret Service was briefed. (The USSS declined to comment). Gozi and 76service finally seemed to be contained.

But it hardly mattered. By this time, another form-grabbing Trojan had been discovered: Torpig.

Next: Distributed pain for banks and consumers; concentrated gain for hackers.

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