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11/13/2018
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Getting to Know Magecart: An Inside Look at 7 Groups

A new report spills the details on Magecart, the criminal groups driving it, and ongoing attacks targeting low- and high-profile victims.



If you're in cybersecurity, you've likely heard of Magecart, the threat operation that's quickly gaining notoriety as it ramps up financial data theft across the Internet.

Magecart is an umbrella term for at least seven cybercriminal groups that have been installing digital credit card skims onto e-commerce websites for years. Over the past few months, the operation has gone from relatively unknown to nationally recognized as its victims have expanded from consumers to global brands including British Airways, Ticketmaster, and Newegg.

Researchers from RiskIQ and Flashpoint teamed up to build a timeline of Magecart's evolution and detail the threat groups and commercial infrastructure driving its growth. Their report, "Inside Magecart: Profiling the Groups Behind the Pivotal Credit Card Breaches and the Criminal Underworld that Harbors Them," covers past and ongoing Magecart attacks.

RiskIQ threat researcher Yonathan Klijnsma says they've been keeping an eye on Magecart since 2015, when the threat grew out of a single group's activities and began putting skimmers on vendor websites. Magecart flew under the radar, infiltrating more than 800 e-commerce sites with card skimmers, until it breached Ticketmaster UK with a supply chain attack in July 2018. Shortly after, it was linked to the British Airways hack that affected 380,000 customers.

These attacks on large companies put Magecart in global headlines and could have broader implications among the criminal community as they "lower barriers of entry and raise excitement for other criminal groups," explains Vitali Kremez, director of research at Flashpoint. He calls these high-profile breaches "pivotal" and "fuel for the underground economy."

The researchers have tracked each criminal group that makes up Magecart. While groups in this report are well-defined, many more groups and individuals add to the web-skimming threat.

An Introduction to Magecart's Groups
Group 1 was first spotted in 2015 and so far has more than 2,500 victims. It cast a wide net with its skimmer, likely using automated tools to compromise websites and upload skimmer code. The original skimmer was made up of JavaScript embedded into e-commerce pages. When someone entered payment card data into a form, the skimmer copied it and sent it to a drop server.

In late 2016, Group 1 began to mimic the activities of Magecart Group 2; now, researchers have combined them into a single entity. Their victims include several thousand stores, the National Republican Senate Committee, and Everlast.

Group 3 has been on researchers' radar since 2016 and has compromised more than 800 victims. Like some of the other groups, it aims for high attack volume and to snag as many cards as possible. However, it steers clear of high-end web retailers.

Group 3's skimmer takes a different approach: Instead of checking the URL to see if the skimmer is running on a checkout page, attackers instead check if any forms on the page hold payment data. If they do, the skimmer steals that information. Its goal is to ensure it has the names and addresses of customers and exfiltrate all of it.

Group 4 is an advanced group that "is extremely careful" with skimmer placement, researchers report. It's focused on high volumes of compromise with the goal of getting as many cards as possible without specifically targeting anyone. Group 4 tries to blend in with normal Web traffic and registers domains by copying ad providers, victim's domains, and analytics providers.

(Image: Makistock - stock.adobe.com)

(Image: Makistock stock.adobe.com)

"It's a different approach to setting up the infrastructure, setting up the skimming," says Klijnsma of Group 4. Researchers believe this group stems from another criminal operation involved with malware distribution and hijacking online banking with web injects.

Group 5, which was implicated in the Ticketmaster breach, primarily targets third-party suppliers to maximize its reach. It was first seen in 2016 and so far has 12+ victims. The web supply chain is unique, researchers say, because any service that provides ads, content, analytics, or other functionality can be targeted — which makes it appealing to Group 5. With one compromise, the group can hit thousands of sites without targeting individual merchants.

"Something not a lot of companies are realizing is there's a supply chain to websites," Klijnsma points out. "Whenever you have a third party executing script on your website, that's a risk."

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Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial ... View Full Bio

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