News

Fake News at Work in Spam Kingpin’s Arrest?

Over the past several days, many Western news media outlets have predictably devoured thinly-sourced reporting from a Russian publication that the arrest last week of a Russian spam kingpin in Spain was related to hacking attacks linked to last year’s U.S. election. While there is scant evidence that the spammer’s arrest had anything to do with the election, the success of that narrative is a sterling example of how the Kremlin’s propaganda machine is adept at manufacturing fake news, undermining public trust in the media, and distracting attention away from the real story.

Alleged Spam King Pyotr Levashov Arrested

Authorities in Spain have arrested a Russian computer programmer thought to be one of the world’s most notorious spam kingpins.

Spanish police arrested Pyotr Levashov under an international warrant executed in the city of Barcelona, according to Reuters. Russian state-run television station RT (formerly Russia Today) reported that Levashov was arrested while vacationing in Spain with his family.

According to numerous stories here at KrebsOnSecurity, Levashov was better known as “Severa,” the hacker moniker used by a pivotal figure in many popular Russian-language cybercrime forums. Severa was the moderator for the spam subsection of multiple online communities, and in this role served as the virtual linchpin connecting virus writers with huge spam networks that Severa allegedly created and sold himself.

Dual-Use Software Criminal Case Not So Novel

“He built a piece of software. That tool was pirated and abused by hackers. Now the feds want him to pay for the computer crooks’ crimes.”

The above snippet is the subhead of a story published last month by the Daily Beast titled “FBI Arrests Hacker Who Hacked No One.” The subject of that piece — a 26-year-old American named Taylor Huddleston — faces felony hacking charges connected to two computer programs he authored and sold: An anti-piracy product called Net Seal, and a Remote Administration Tool (RAT) called NanoCore that he says was a benign program designed to help users remotely administer their computers.

The author of the Daily Beast story, former black hat hacker and Wired.com editor Kevin Poulsen, argues that Huddelston’s case “raises a novel question: When is a programmer criminally responsible for the actions of his users? Some experts say [the case] could have far reaching implications for developers, particularly those working on new technologies that criminals might adopt in unforeseeable ways.”

But a closer look at the government’s side of the story — as well as public postings left behind by the accused and his alleged accomplices — paints a more complex and nuanced picture that suggests this may not be the case to raise that legal question in a meaningful way.

Why I Always Tug on the ATM

Once you understand how easy and common it is for thieves to attach “skimming” devices to ATMs and other machines that accept debit and credit cards, it’s difficult not to closely inspect and even tug on the machines before using them. Several readers who are in the habit of doing just that recently shared images of skimmers they discovered after gently pulling on various parts of a cash machine they were about to use.

Post-FCC Privacy Rules, Should You VPN?

Many readers are understandably concerned about recent moves by the U.S. Congress that would roll back privacy rules barring broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) from sharing or selling customer browsing history, among other personal data. Some are concerned enough by this development that they’re looking at obfuscating all of their online browsing by paying for a subscription to a virtual private networking (VPN) service. This piece is intended to serve as a guidepost for those contemplating such a move.

Alleged vDOS Owners Poised to Stand Trial

Police in Israel are recommending that the state attorney’s office indict and prosecute two 18-year-olds suspected of operating vDOS, until recently the most popular attack service for knocking Web sites offline.

On Sept. 8, 2016, KrebsOnSecurity published a story about the hacking of vDOS, a service that attracted tens of thousands of paying customers and facilitated countless distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. That story named two young Israelis — Yarden Bidani and Itay Huri — as the likely owners and operators of vDOS, and within hours of its publication the two were arrested by Israeli police, placed on house arrest for 10 days, and forbidden from using the Internet for a month.

Phishing 101 at the School of Hard Knocks

A recent, massive spike in sophisticated and successful phishing attacks is prompting many universities to speed up timetables for deploying mandatory two-factor authentication (2FA) — requiring a one-time code in addition to a password — for access to student and faculty services online. This is the story of one university that accelerated plans to require 2FA after witnessing nearly twice as many phishing victims in the first two-and-half months of this year than it saw in all of 2015.