Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

ABTV //

Phishing

11/1/2018
08:15 AM
Scott Ferguson
Scott Ferguson
News Analysis-Security Now
50%
50%

New 'Sextortion' Schemes Fueled by Stolen Passwords & Credentials

Cybercriminals are using a cache of old, stolen credentials and passwords to fuel a new spate of 'sextortion' campaigns aimed at embarrassing individual users, according to data compiled by Barracuda Networks.

Cybercriminals are using a stash of old, stolen credentials and passwords to fuel a new wave of so-called "sextortion" campaigns that are targeting individuals with embarrassing information and asking for payment in Bitcoin to keep quiet.

Barracuda Networks took notice of this uptick in sextortion schemes starting in July. Researchers looked at 1,000 examples of this threat over a few days and found about 24,000 emails since the beginning of September that used the same set of sender addresses.

In its October 31 report, Barracuda noted that many of these emails came from customers who voluntarily reported these extortion emails, meaning that its likely these attacks are much larger than the samples researchers looked at.

However, Barracuda researchers found that the cybercriminals behind these schemes do not actually possess any compromising or embarrassing materials about the people they are targeting. Indeed, the bad actors don't even seem to have the malware that they claim are part of the threat.

(Source: iStock)
(Source: iStock)

Instead, cybercrooks are using old, stolen passwords that are part of the AntiPublic Combo List, a cache of some 500 million stolen credentials from various data breaches that has been available since at least 2016. The scam starts with the threat actors contacting an individual, showing them old passwords and claiming that a Remote Access Trojan (RAT) has been installed on their machine.

The cybercriminals claim, with little evidence, that they possess videos and other data that show the victim frequenting various pornographic websites. The bad actors threaten to release that information to the person's contact lists unless payment is made in cryptocurrency, typically Bitcoin.

Since the cybercrooks behind the scheme don't have the RATs and other sophisticated malware that they claim to have, Barracuda researchers determined that these sextortion schemes are no more that sophisticated forms of phishing attacks, trying to trick the victim into panicking and sending money.

Poor grammar and spelling used in the emails are also telltale signs that the scam is not a sophisticated cyberattack.

"I wouldn't really refer to this as a 'coordinated attack.' It seems like a group that's usually engaged in spam/phishing found a new approach, but it's not particularly sophisticated despite being creative," Jonathan Tanner, a senior security researcher at Barracuda, wrote in an email to Security Now. "As for 'why now,' someone probably just came up with the idea one day, since the data being used is two-years-old (thus it's not a reaction to some new data being released)."

How successful these sextortion schemes are remains to be seen.

Of the 1,000 Bitcoin wallets associated with the cybercriminals that Barracuda looked at, researchers only found four transfers made. However, since the bad actors can collect between $1,000 and $7,000 with each attack and little upfront investment, it's easy to see why this a lucrative scheme.

In addition to English, researchers observed these emails being written in German and Spanish. The scheme has been detected in several countries, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Spain, Guatemala, Hungary, Ireland, Iceland, Japan, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, the UK and the US.

In many cases, the Barracuda team noticed that these extortion messages were sent to business email addresses, but Tanner noted that the goal is to scare and isolate one individual instead of targeting a whole company.

"Other than the volume of spam being received by enterprises with the campaign, this is certainly a user problem," Tanner added. "Given it's (fake) blackmail, the intention is to isolate the user from reaching out and scare them into paying the fee for not 'being embarrassed.' There is nothing to specifically target the enterprise even when sent through their mail system."

In addition to being on the outlook for these types of phishing emails, Barracuda is recommending that anyone who is still using old passwords and credentials to update those to new ones.

"I suspect this attack will be ongoing until the financial returns diminish and/or the group either comes up with a new scam or pivots back to an old one," Tanner wrote. "Regardless, there are still people who fall for traditional 419 scams so it's likely this sort of scam is here to stay, at least to some extent (perhaps changing the blackmail premise or utilizing a new set of breach data that has yet to be obtained or released)."

Related posts:

— Scott Ferguson is the managing editor of Light Reading and the editor of Security Now. Follow him on Twitter @sferguson_LR.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Oldest First  |  Newest First  |  Threaded View
Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
I Smell a RAT! New Cybersecurity Threats for the Crypto Industry
David Trepp, Partner, IT Assurance with accounting and advisory firm BPM LLP,  7/9/2021
News
Attacks on Kaseya Servers Led to Ransomware in Less Than 2 Hours
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  7/7/2021
Commentary
It's in the Game (but It Shouldn't Be)
Tal Memran, Cybersecurity Expert, CYE,  7/9/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Concerns over supply chain vulnerabilities and attack visibility drove some significant changes in enterprise cybersecurity strategies over the past year. Dark Reading's 2021 Strategic Security Survey showed that many organizations are staying the course regarding the use of a mix of attack prevention and threat detection technologies and practices for dealing with cyber threats.
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-41163
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-20
Discourse is an open source platform for community discussion. In affected versions maliciously crafted requests could lead to remote code execution. This resulted from a lack of validation in subscribe_url values. This issue is patched in the latest stable, beta and tests-passed versions of Discour...
CVE-2021-42299
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-20
Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Security Feature Bypass Vulnerability
CVE-2021-42771
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-20
Babel.Locale in Babel before 2.9.1 allows attackers to load arbitrary locale .dat files (containing serialized Python objects) via directory traversal, leading to code execution.
CVE-2021-42764
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-20
The Proof-of-Stake (PoS) Ethereum consensus protocol through 2021-10-19 allows an adversary to cause a denial of service (delayed consensus decisions), and also increase the profits of individual validators, via short-range reorganizations of the underlying consensus chain.
CVE-2021-42765
PUBLISHED: 2021-10-20
The Proof-of-Stake (PoS) Ethereum consensus protocol through 2021-10-19 allows an adversary to leverage network delay to cause a denial of service (indefinite stalling of consensus decisions).