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A computer researcher haggled with a Russian ransomware criminal

hackers

If you accidentally install Troldash (via spam email) on your computer, it will encrypt your hard drive and lock up your files. Troldash will display an email address to contact the criminal, who will offer to sell you the key to decrypt your hard drive. Natalia Kolesova, a researcher at the security firm Checkpoint, intentionally installed Troldash on a test machine and engaged in an email exchange with the scammer to see if he or she would negotiate the 250 euro ransom.

Posing as a victim named Olga, the researcher contacted the scam artist, and received a reply with instructions to pay 250 euros to get the files back.

Suspecting the reply was automated, Ms Kolesova pressed for a more human response, asking more details about how to transfer the money, and pleading with the hacker to not make them pay.

Responding in Russian, the scammer offered to accept 12,000 roubles, a discount of around 15%. After Ms Kolesova pleaded further, the email response read: "The best I can do is bargain."

Eventually the unknown man or woman was talked into accepting 7,000 roubles - 50% less than the first demand.

"Perhaps if I had continued bargaining, I could have gotten an even bigger discount," Ms Kolesova concluded.

Image: Shutterstock

Self-sustaining botnet made out of hacked home routers


Telcos send routers with default passwords to their customers, who never change them, and once they're compromised, they automatically scan neighboring IP space for more vulnerable routers from the same ISP.

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Ransomware decryptor


If you or someone you love has been hijacked by Coinvault ransomware -- malware that encrypts your data and won't decrypt it unless you transfer Bitcoin to criminals -- Kaspersky may be able to help you (via Hacker News)

Arkansas cops send malware to whistleblowers' lawyers

An Arkansas lawyer representing ex-cops who blew the whistle on corruption in the Fort Smith Police Department says that when he gave the police brass a blank hard-drive for discovery documents, they returned it laden with sneaky malware, including a password-sniffing keylogger and a backdoor that would let the police department spy on their legal opponents.

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Three steps to save ourselves from firmware attacks


Following on the news that the (likely NSA-affiliated) Equation Group has developed a suite of firmware attacks that target the software embedded in your hard-drive and other subcomponents, it's time to expand the practice of information security to the realm of embedded software.

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Spies can't make cyberspace secure AND vulnerable to their own attacks


In his Sunday Observer column, John Naughton makes an important point that's hammered home by the escape of the NSA/GCHQ Regin cyberweapon into the wild: spies who make war on the Internet can't be trusted with its security.

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E-cigs and malware: real threat or Yellow Peril 2.0?


After a redditor claimed to have gotten a computer virus from factory-installed malware on an e-cig charger, the Guardian reported out the story and concluded that it's possible.

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FBI secretly seeking legal power to hack any computer, anywhere


The Bureau is seeking a rule-change from the Administrative Office of the US Courts that would give it the power to distribute malware, hack, and trick any computer, anywhere in the world, in the course of investigations; it's the biggest expansion of FBI spying power in its history and they're hoping to grab it without an act of Congress or any public scrutiny or debate.

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Malware authors use Gmail drafts as dead-drops to talk to bots

Once you've successfully infected your victim's computer with malware, you want to be able to send it orders -- so you spawn an invisible Internet Explorer window, login to an anonymous Gmail account, and check in the Drafts folder for secret orders.

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Malware needs to know if it's in the Matrix


Once a security researcher discovers a new strain of malicious software -- running a virtual machine on a test-bench -- and adds its signature to anti-virus and network monitor blacklists, it's game over. So today's malware devotes enormous energy to figuring out if it's running on a real computer, or inside one of its enemies' virtual worlds.

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Animation explains the dangers of Computercop, the malware that US police agencies distribute to the public

Dave from EFF writes, "Here's a funny, easy-to-understand animation explaining why ComputerCOP parental monitoring software is actually dangerous to kids. More than 245 local law enforcement agencies have purchased this software in bulk and handed it out to families for free."

Using an imaginary kid named Timmy, who gets "pantsed" by ComputerCOP, the animation by Fusion also ties ComputerCOP to the unnecessary equipment locals cops have obtained, like mine-resistant trucks. Fusion's cartoon is based on an EFF investigation published on Wednesday.

Who needs the NSA? Anyone could spy on your kids thanks to ComputerCop

(Thanks, Dave!)

Mobile malware infections race through Hong Kong's Umbrella Revolution


The protesters are dependent on mobile apps to coordinate their huge, seemingly unstoppable uprising, and someone -- maybe the Politburo, maybe a contractor -- has released virulent Ios and Android malware into their cohort, and the pathogens are blazing through their electronic ecosystem.

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Hundreds of US police forces have distributed malware as "Internet safety software"

Law enforcement agencies have been buying and distributing Computercop, advising citizens that the software is the "first step" for protecting their kids; one sheriff bought copies for every family in the county.

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Researchers publish secret details of cops' phone-surveillance malware


Kaspersky Labs (Russia) and Citizen Lab (University of Toronto) have independently published details of phone-hacking tools sold to police departments worldwide by the Italian firm Hacking Team (here's Kaspersky's report and Citizen Lab's). The tools can be used to attack Android, Ios, Windows Mobile and Blackberry devices, with the most sophisticated attacks reserved for Android and Ios.

The spyware can covertly record sound, images and keystrokes, capture screenshots, and access the phones' storage and GPS. The tools are designed to detect attempts to search for them and to delete themselves without a trace if they sense that they are under attack.

Hacking Team insists that its tools are only sold to "democratic" police forces, but Citizen Lab's report suggests that the tool was used by the Saudi government to target dissidents.

The means of infection is device-specific. If police have physical access, it's simple. Android devices can be attacked by infecting a PC with a virus that installs the police malware when the device is connected to it. This attack also works on jailbroken Iphones.

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100 creeps busted in massive voyeurware sweep


More than 100 people around the world have been arrested in a coordinated sweep of RATers (people who deploy "remote access trojans" that let them spy on people through their computers cameras and mics, as well as capturing their keystrokes and files). The accused are said to have used the Blackshades trojan, which sold for $40 from bshades.eu, mostly for sexual exploitation of victims (though some were also accused of committing financial fraud).

A US District Court in Manhattan handed down indictments for Alex Yücel and Brendan Johnston, who are said to have operated bshades.eu. Yücel, a Swedish national, was arrested in Moldova and is awaiting extradition to the USA. Johnstone is alleged to have been employed by Yücel to market and support Blackshades.

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Forged certificates common in HTTPS sessions

In Analyzing Forged SSL Certificates in the Wild [PDF] a paper authored by researchers at CMU and Facebook, we learn that "a small but significant percentage" of HTTPS connections are made using forged certificates generated by adware and malware. Disturbingly, some of this malware may be working by attacking anti-virus software and stealing its keys, and the authors also speculate that anti-virus authors may be giving their keys out to governments in order to allow police to carry out man-in-the-middle attacks.

The researchers used a technique to detect forged-cert connections that has post-Heartbleed applications, since it would allow sites to discover whether their visitors are being man-in-the-middled through keys stolen before Heartbleed was widely known. This all points to a larger problem with HTTPS, which has been under increased scrutiny since Heartbleed, but whose defects were well understood within the security community for a long time. I co-wrote this editorial for Nature with Ben Laurie in 2012 describing a system called "Certificate Transparency" that makes it easier to audit and remediate problems with SSL certificates, which Google is now adding to Chrome.

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xkcd explains how the Heartbleed bug works

Here's a larger version. And here is a literal explanation.