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.

Attacks/Breaches

2/14/2014
04:43 PM
50%
50%

Abusing Cloud Services For Cybercrime

At the upcoming RSA conference, researchers will discuss how a lack of anti-automation protections allow attackers to take advantage of free cloud services

Building a botnet typically involves infecting a PC. But at the upcoming RSA Conference, two researchers plan to show how to build one with free cloud services.

RSA Conference 2014
Click here for more articles about the RSA Conference.

Bishop Fox security researchers Oscar Salazar and Rob Ragan were able to automate the process of signing up for accounts on various cloud services, opening the door for abuse of legitimate cloud infrastructure in the name of cybercrime. It is not the first time that researchers have discussed the use of cloud platforms by attackers. Recent research (PDF) from Solutionary, for example, showed that cybercriminals are increasingly using legitimate hosting providers, such as Amazon and GoDaddy, to host malicious domains.

As cloud services have grown in popularity, so has the desire for attackers to use these services to power their attacks.

"If you look at it from a physical perspective, a criminal that uses their personal belongings in criminal acts risks confiscation of those belonging by law enforcement if caught," says Jeremy Scott, senior research analyst at Solutionary. "The same holds true in the cyberworld. Also the use of hosting services ... provides availability and redundancy that is harder to achieve on personal equipment running in your basement."

According to Ragan, he and Salazar noticed many platform-as-a-service or infrastructure-as-a-service providers offering free trials for customers. That got them thinking.

"We started getting this idea," Ragan says. "What if we could automate the process of signing up for free trials in bulk and circumvent any anti-automation that was in place?"

Many of the services -- roughly one-third of the ones they looked at -- required only email verification to create and register accounts, Ragan says. That is one of the biggest mistakes providers can make.

"It's really trivial to get a lot of email addresses and automate a process of automatically clicking confirmation links," Ragan says.

The goal of the project was to demonstrate how attackers could obtain as high a level of processing power, disk space, and network bandwidth as possible for free. In one case, they took advantage of a customer referral program offered to potential customers.

"Many cloud data storage providers offer special deals to get additional space if you refer a friend to sign up using a promo link," Ragan explains. "We automated the process of visiting that promo link and registering new accounts to create a single account that has 1 TB of storage space for free."

Some companies had other methods designed to prevent automated account creation, such as requiring credit cards, but those techniques were circumvented as well. "SMS verification can be subverted using freely available online services, such as http://www.receivesmsonline.net/, and they are actively being used for account activation if you look at the logs: http://www.receivesmsonline.net/receive-sms-online-vip-14156121873.html," he says. "Google Voice and Phone Burner are other services that provide freely available VoIP numbers that can send and receive SMS."

"Credit card verification can, in some cases, be subverted using prepaid Visa Credit cards as ... they do not even charge the account for the free trial," Ragan adds.

The situation can create myriad problems for organizations looking to block attacks, as it may be problematic to block certain services if they are critical to the business, Ragan says. In addition, it complicates attempts to gather evidence against an attacker if there is no evidence of the data they stole on their machine. In order to address this behavior, cloud providers need to improve their use of anti-automation techniques, he says.

While some of the services the researchers used have shut down their free trial programs, they are unlikely to end entirely due to businesses wanting to sign up as many users as possible, he adds.

The researchers' presentation is scheduled for Feb. 27.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Brian Prince is a freelance writer for a number of IT security-focused publications. Prior to becoming a freelance reporter, he worked at eWEEK for five years covering not only security, but also a variety of other subjects in the tech industry. Before that, he worked as a ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Mobile Banking Malware Up 50% in First Half of 2019
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  1/17/2020
Active Directory Needs an Update: Here's Why
Raz Rafaeli, CEO and Co-Founder at Secret Double Octopus,  1/16/2020
New Attack Campaigns Suggest Emotet Threat Is Far From Over
Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  1/16/2020
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
The Year in Security: 2019
This Tech Digest provides a wrap up and overview of the year's top cybersecurity news stories. It was a year of new twists on old threats, with fears of another WannaCry-type worm and of a possible botnet army of Wi-Fi routers. But 2019 also underscored the risk of firmware and trusted security tools harboring dangerous holes that cybercriminals and nation-state hackers could readily abuse. Read more.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
How Enterprises are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
Organizations have invested in a sweeping array of security technologies to address challenges associated with the growing number of cybersecurity attacks. However, the complexity involved in managing these technologies is emerging as a major problem. Read this report to find out what your peers biggest security challenges are and the technologies they are using to address them.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2020-5216
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
In Secure Headers (RubyGem secure_headers), a directive injection vulnerability is present in versions before 3.9.0, 5.2.0, and 6.3.0. If user-supplied input was passed into append/override_content_security_policy_directives, a newline could be injected leading to limited header injection. Upon seei...
CVE-2020-5217
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
In Secure Headers (RubyGem secure_headers), a directive injection vulnerability is present in versions before 3.8.0, 5.1.0, and 6.2.0. If user-supplied input was passed into append/override_content_security_policy_directives, a semicolon could be injected leading to directive injection. This could b...
CVE-2020-5223
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
In PrivateBin versions 1.2.0 before 1.2.2, and 1.3.0 before 1.3.2, a persistent XSS attack is possible. Under certain conditions, a user provided attachment file name can inject HTML leading to a persistent Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability. The vulnerability has been fixed in PrivateBin v1.3...
CVE-2019-20399
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-23
A timing vulnerability in the Scalar::check_overflow function in Parity libsecp256k1-rs before 0.3.1 potentially allows an attacker to leak information via a side-channel attack.
CVE-2020-7915
PUBLISHED: 2020-01-22
An issue was discovered on Eaton 5P 850 devices. The Ubicacion SAI field allows XSS attacks by an administrator.