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.

Endpoint //

Privacy

12/4/2018
11:55 AM
Connect Directly
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

‘London Blue’ BEC Cybercrime Gang Unmasked

Security firm turned the tables on attackers targeting its chief financial officer in an email-borne financial scam.

BLACK HAT EUROPE 2018 - London - Call it karma or just poor OpSec, but a prolific global cybercrime organization recently blew its cover after inadvertently targeting executives at a security firm.

The infamous Nigerian/UK group behind a rash of business email compromise (BEC) scams found itself on the other side of its own social-engineering scam when it posed as Agari CEO Ravi Kahtod in an Aug. 7 email sent to Raymond Lim, chief financial officer at Agari, an email security company.

Agari today disclosed details of both its unmasking of the group – which it has dubbed "London Blue" – as well as its inner workings. Security researchers at Agari flipped the equation on the attackers in an email exchange by posing as Lim's assistant and drawing out enough details to drill down into the particulars of the group as well as the physical location of its operators in London.

"Our email filter caught [the BEC email]," says Crane Hassold, senior director of threat research at Agari and a former FBI investigator. Hassold's team was ultimately able to extract the information, coupled with its own intel-gathering, to identify the two top execs of the gang, who live in and operate out of London.

The most striking finding, Hassold says, was that the operation used at least two legitimate lead-generation services that gave them more filtered intel for targeting C-level execs around the world, rather than having to cast a wide-net phishing campaign.

The lead-generation tools let them filter possible victims by role, location, and company size, for example, he says. The group purchased subscriptions to the tools, he says, which saved them time and labor. Among one list of 306 target victims that London Blue acquired in November 2017 was Agari CFO Lim, as well as California-based CFOs from a top private university, an enterprise data storage vendor, a well-known guitar manufacturer, casinos, hotels, and some small and midsize businesses.

Overall, the group has targeted some 50,000 CFOs worldwide across 82 countries, but mostly in the US, Agari found.

Like many of today's BEC emails, the attackers didn't bother to spoof the real email domain of the target; instead, they merely displayed the name "Ravi Khatod" in the email header. And there's no malware required with BEC: It's mainly a social engineering exploit.

Their initial email read:

Ray, we need to make a transfer today. Let me know if you can process now and I will send info. Thanks Ravi Khatod.

That's when the cat-and-mouse operation began. Agari researchers, posing as Lim's assistant Alicia, responded:

Ravi, Raymond is out this week and I will help you with the transfer. Would you please provide me with the transfer details? Also just a reminder, as you may know, all payments go out on Wednesday, which is tomorrow. So if you need to make another transfer or payment, please inform me so that I could take care of them together before tomorrow's cut-off passes. Best Regards, Alicia

The email exchange went from there, with Agari gathering more money-mule account information.

Hassold says the group's makeup of 20 to 25 individuals includes some 17 money mules spread around the US and Western Europe, and likely some members in Nigeria. At least three of the money mules have criminal records (including two sex offenders).

One transaction spotted by Agari was a $20,000 cashier's check obtained by a money mule from a large US bank. While the transaction initially triggered a potential fraud alert at a local branch, the money mule social-engineered the bank's fraud prevention group into approving it.

BEC as a Business
London Blue's operation includes the lead generation, lead assignments/sales, the BEC emails and social engineering, and then the movement of the pilfered funds. "This is organized like a business," Hassold says. "These cybercrime gangs are not just loosely affiliated low-level scammers."

BEC is becoming one of the most popular – and successful – cybercrime attacks. According to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, BEC scams total some $12 billion in losses. Agari says a BEC scam typically nets four victims out of every 100 tries via email, and the average payment query is $35,000.

Agari has been working with law enforcement in the UK and US to identify the actors in London Blue, including the two top execs, who have not yet been apprehended. "If they get arrested, that will take this group down," Hassold says.

London blue is an "average" size BEC group, he says, among the 10 or more different Nigerian BEC groups Agari is tracking. 

How did Agari convince the attackers they were falling for the scam? “They may have had a red flag during our interactions, but their financial motivation was so strong that it overrides [their hesitation]," he says.

Related Content:

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio
 

Recommended Reading:

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
News
Former CISA Director Chris Krebs Discusses Risk Management & Threat Intel
Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  2/23/2021
Edge-DRsplash-10-edge-articles
Security + Fraud Protection: Your One-Two Punch Against Cyberattacks
Joshua Goldfarb, Director of Product Management at F5,  2/23/2021
News
Cybercrime Groups More Prolific, Focus on Healthcare in 2020
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  2/22/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win an Amazon Gift Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
Building the SOC of the Future
Building the SOC of the Future
Digital transformation, cloud-focused attacks, and a worldwide pandemic. The past year has changed the way business works and the way security teams operate. There is no going back.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2021-21273
PUBLISHED: 2021-02-26
Synapse is a Matrix reference homeserver written in python (pypi package matrix-synapse). Matrix is an ecosystem for open federated Instant Messaging and VoIP. In Synapse before version 1.25.0, requests to user provided domains were not restricted to external IP addresses when calculating the key va...
CVE-2021-21274
PUBLISHED: 2021-02-26
Synapse is a Matrix reference homeserver written in python (pypi package matrix-synapse). Matrix is an ecosystem for open federated Instant Messaging and VoIP. In Synapse before version 1.25.0, a malicious homeserver could redirect requests to their .well-known file to a large file. This can lead to...
CVE-2021-23345
PUBLISHED: 2021-02-26
All versions of package github.com/thecodingmachine/gotenberg are vulnerable to Server-side Request Forgery (SSRF) via the /convert/html endpoint when the src attribute of an HTML element refers to an internal system file, such as <iframe src='file:///etc/passwd'>.
CVE-2021-21297
PUBLISHED: 2021-02-26
Node-Red is a low-code programming for event-driven applications built using nodejs. Node-RED 1.2.7 and earlier contains a Prototype Pollution vulnerability in the admin API. A badly formed request can modify the prototype of the default JavaScript Object with the potential to affect the default beh...
CVE-2021-21298
PUBLISHED: 2021-02-26
Node-Red is a low-code programming for event-driven applications built using nodejs. Node-RED 1.2.7 and earlier has a vulnerability which allows arbitrary path traversal via the Projects API. If the Projects feature is enabled, a user with `projects.read` permission is able to access any file via th...