Category Archives: Spam

Anything related to Spam.

Ad-Aware

I’ve used Ad-Aware in the past, and had it installed on my machine.  Today it popped up and told me it was out of date.  So, at their suggestion, I updated to the free version, which is now, apparently, called Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+.  It provides for real-time scanning, Web browsing protection, download protection, email protection, and other functions.  Including “superfast” antivirus scanning.  I installed it.

And almost immediately removed it from the machine.

First off, my machine bogged down to an unusable state.  The keyboard and mouse froze frequently, and many programs (including Ad-Aware) were unresponsive for much of the time.  Web browsing became ludicrous.

There are some settings in the application.  For my purposes (as a malware researcher) they were inadequate.  There is an “ignore” list, but I was completely unable to get the program to “ignore” my malware zoo, even after repeated efforts.  (The interface for that function is also bizarrely complex.)  However, I’m kind of a non-typical user.  However, the other options would be of little use to anyone.  For the most part they were of the “on or off” level, and provide almost no granularity.  That makes them simple to use, but useless.

I’ve never used Ad-Aware much, but it’s disappointing to see yet another relatively decent tool “improved” into non-utility.

Howto: Phish HSBC credit card numbers

Like many other people, I try helping developing countries when I can. So to help boost GDP in Eastern Europe and Africa (or ‘redistribute the wealth’ if you will) here’s a quick tutorial that will help scammers get HSBC customers’ credit card numbers. All the steps below are done by the real HSBC, so you don’t even need to “fool” anyone.

An HSBC customer who has gone through this process before won’t be able to distinguish between you and the real HSBC. Customer that has not been through this process certainly won’t know better anyway. In fact, you can do it to HSBC employees and they won’t know.

All you need is a toll-free number for them to call (feel free to forward it to Nigeria). The nice thing about HSBC is that the process below is identical to how the real HSBC asks customers for information. In other words: HSBC is training their customers to follow this path. I propose a new term for HSBC’s method of breeding phish: spowning (spawn+p0wn).

Step 1:

Prepare an email that looks like:

Dear :

As a service to our customers and in an effort to protect their HSBC Premier  MasterCard  account, we are attempting to confirm recent charge activity or changes to the account.

Please contact the HSBC Premier Fraud Servicing Center to validate the activity at 1-888-206-5963 within the Continental United States. If you are calling from outside the United States, please call us collect at 716-841-7755.

If the activity is unauthorized, we will be able to close the account and reissue both a new account number and cards. Please use the Subject Reference Number below, when calling.

At HSBC, the security of our customer’s accounts has always been, and will continue to be a high priority. We appreciate your business and regret any inconvenience this may have caused you.

Sincerely,

Security & Fraud Risk HSBC USA

Alert ID Number :  10917558

Note:  Emails sent to this repository will go unmonitored.  Please do not reply to this email. —————————————– ************************************************************** This e-mail is confidential. It may also be legally privileged. If you are not the addressee you may not copy, forward, disclose or use any part of it. If you have received this message in error, please delete it and all copies from your system and notify the sender immediately by return e-mail. Internet communications cannot be guaranteed to be timely, secure, error or virus-free. The sender does not accept liability for any errors or omissions. ************************************************************** “SAVE PAPER – THINK BEFORE YOU PRINT!”

Step 2:

Replace the phone numbers with your own. The above are HSBC’s.

Don’t worry about the ‘alert ID’. Just make something up. Unlike other credit cards, the caller (me, in this case) can’t use the alert ID to confirm this is really HSBC.

Step 3:

Blast this email. You’re bound to reach plenty of HSBC card holders. The rest you don’t care about anyway.

Main perk: Before the customer gets to speak to a human they need to enter full credit card number and 4 digit SSN. So even the most lazy scammer can at least get those.

For the overachieving scammers, have a human answer and ask for  Card expiration and Full name on the card before agreeing to answer any other questions from the customer. This is all standard procedure at HSBC so customers shouldn’t be suspicious.

Oh, and if the customer who happens to be a security blogger tries to authenticate you back, tell them to hang up and call the number on the back of their card. That will shut them up.

At HSBC, the security of our customer’s accounts has always been, and will continue to be a high priority.

If it really was, you wouldn’t make me such an easy target for scammers. But thanks for playing.

 

Social authentication and solar storms

Well, I thought it was ironic that the biggest solar storm in years is hitting the earth tonight … while CanSecWest is on …

So far today we have had talks on security (and vulnerabilities) during the boot process, a talk on pen testing (and the presenter seemed to be alternately talking about how to choose a pen tester, and how to do pen testing), and social authentication.

The social authentication talk was by Alex Rice from Facebook.  He noted that, even though Facebook only challenges a small fraction of a percent of logins, given the user base that means more then a million every day.  When a login is challenged, a standard response has been the good old “security questions”: mother’s maiden name, birthdate, and other pieces of information that might not be too hard for someone intent on breaking into your account to find out.

Alex went through the limitations of security questions, and then moved to other possibilities.  Security questions comes under the heading of “things you know,” so they looked at “things you have.”  For example, you have to have an email address, so there is the possibility of a challenge sent to your email.  (Google, of course, figures that everyone in the world has a cell phone that can receive text messages.)

Recently, Facebook has started to use the photos that people post on their pages, particularly those that have been tagged.  Basically, if your login gets challenged, you will be shown a series of pictures, and you should be able to identify who is, or is not, in the picture, out of your list of friends.  This is the subject of a blog post noting that it isn’t perfect.

There are additional problems.  As the post notes, the situation is less than ideal if you have a huge number of “friends.”  (As Bruce Schneier’s new book notes, if you have more than 150 friends, you probably aren’t friends with many of them.)  Even if you do know your “friends,” there is nothing to say that any given picture of them will be recognizable.  In fact, since the system relies on tagging, there are going to be pictures of weird objects that people have deliberately tagged as themselves, in joking fashion.

Therefore, this system is definitely not perfect, as the questions at the end pointed out.  Unfortunately, Alex had passed, rather quickly, over an important point.  The intent of the system, in Facebook’s opinion, was to reduce the amount of account spam sent via accounts that had been compromised.  In that regard, the system probably works very well.  False logins get challenged.  Some of the challenges are false positives.  The photo system is a means of allowing a portion (a fairly large portion, probably) of users to recover their accounts quickly.  For the remaining accounts, there are other means to recover the account, even though these are more time-consuming for both Facebook and the user.  This system does reduce the total amount of time spent by both users (in the aggregate, even if individual users may feel hard done by) and Facebook.

The malware problem looks better after the first cup of coffee

Since most of my income comes from a company on the West Coast, I’m used to people assuming that I should be working according to their time zone (PST) rather than my own (GMT). But apparently we’re all wrong.
According to Trustwave’s Global Security Report:

“The number of executables and viruses sent in the early morning hours increased, eventually hitting a maximum between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Eastern Standard Time before tapering off throughout the rest of the day. The spike is likely an attempt to catch people as they check emails at the beginning of the day.”

Did I miss something? Has everyone but me moved to the East Coast? I’m not even sure it matters when you receive a malicious executable, unless you don’t get around to opening it until after your security software has been updated to detect it. However, the report also tells us that:

“The time from compromise to detection in most environments is about six months…”

So if evading AV software is really the point, this seems to suggest that all those people who’ve moved to the East Coast are coping even less effectively with their email than I am.

Hold on, though. Maybe this tells something about the blackhat’s time zone, rather than the victim’s? The report doesn’t seem to tell us anything about the geographical origin of the emails that Trustwave has tracked, but it does tells us that apart from the 32.5% of attacks in general that are of unknown origin, the largest percentage (29.6%) come from the Russian Federation. Russia actually covers no less than nine time zones (until a couple of years ago, it was eleven), but perhaps we can assume for the sake of argument that a high percentage of those attackers are in time zones between CET and Moscow Standard (now UTC+4), which applies to most of European Russia. (That assumption allows us to include Romania and the Ukraine.) Perhaps, after a hard morning administering botnets, Eastern European gangsters are best able to find time to fire off a few malicious emails between the afternoon samovar break and early evening cocktails. Convinced? No, me neither.

Actually, there are some interesting statistics in the report. If they’re reliable, some assumptions that we make about geographical distribution, for example, might bear re-examination. But I’d really have to suggest that journalists in search of something new to say about malware examine some of the report’s interpretations with a little more salt and scepticism. I suppose I should be grateful that no-one has noticed yet that according to the report, twice as many attacks originate in the Netherlands as do in China. Just think of the sub-editorial puns that could inspire…

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
Small Blue-Green World/AVIEN
ESET Senior Research Fellow