Threat Intelligence

Email Bomb Threats Follow Sextortion Playbook

Yesterday's wave of email bomb threats appear to be an evolution of tactics by the same groups that earlier tried "sextortion" and personal threats, Talos researchers say.

On December 13, dozens of organizations across the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand received email messages demanding $20,000 in bitcoin in return for the location of bombs  that had allegedly been planted at their offices. While the threats caused some confusion and a fair amount of annoyance, no bombs were found anywhere the threat was received.

While there is now an international search for the perpetrator(s), researchers at Talos say that the actors behind the bomb threats seem to be the same groups behind the waves of "sextortion" and blackmail email messages that have been plaguing victims since early summer.

"What they're doing now is kind of refining their social engineering approach to try to come up with other situations where the victim might actually be convinced to send the bitcoins," says Jaeson Schultz, technical leader at Talos. He points out that some of the specific language in the email messages, the address range of the senders, and the bitcoin wallets provided as the destination of the ransom all point to the same group of actors behind the evolving attacks.

And the attacks are evolving ever more rapidly. By late yesterday afternoon, the bomb threats had ceased, to be replaced with personal threats; acid attacks were the weapon of choice in the later extortion attempts.

Those personal threats are a return to an older tactic, says Schultz. "We've seen examples of messages where, for example, the attackers were claiming that they were a hit man who was hired to chop off the victim's hands or something. They had a change of heart, and now they are willing to — for a price that's paid in bitcoin — call off the attack and provide information about who hired them," he explains, saying that these rather gruesome messages were more common in September but had slowed.

Schultz says that researchers have been monitoring the bitcoin wallets provided as a target for the ransom, and that it doesn't appear as though any of the victims had actually paid the ransom. Colin Bastable, CEO of Lucy Security doesn't think that collecting ransom was really part of the attackers' plans. "This isn’t about extortion, it is about causing disruption. It worked," he said in a statement provided to Dark Reading. He continued, "There was no feasible way to collect money – so whilst it was criminal, the cost was paid in mass disruption. I think it is a trial run to see how America responds in such cases."

Schultz agrees with Bastable's broad conclusion about the ransom. "I guess the only thing I can kind of deduce is that the criminals in this case are not necessarily worried about having bitcoins that are tainted through this malicious activity." And he doesn't think we've seen the last of these attacks.

"Evidently these folks are making enough money that it is worth their time to continue these these tactics and I think it speaks to the fact that social engineering is one of the more powerful attacks out there," Schultz says. "It's an attack on the users themselves who are oftentimes the weakest link in any sort of a secure system."

Related content:

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Crowdsourced vs. Traditional Pen Testing
Alex Haynes, Chief Information Security Officer, CDL,  3/19/2019
BEC Scammer Pleads Guilty
Dark Reading Staff 3/20/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
5 Emerging Cyber Threats to Watch for in 2019
Online attackers are constantly developing new, innovative ways to break into the enterprise. This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at five emerging attack trends and exploits your security team should look out for, along with helpful recommendations on how you can prevent your organization from falling victim.
Flash Poll
The State of Cyber Security Incident Response
The State of Cyber Security Incident Response
Organizations are responding to new threats with new processes for detecting and mitigating them. Here's a look at how the discipline of incident response is evolving.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2018-15583
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-25
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) vulnerability in point_list.php in GNUBOARD5 before 5.3.1.6 allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via the popup title parameter.
CVE-2017-7340
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-25
A Cross-Site Scripting vulnerability in Fortinet FortiPortal versions 4.0.0 and below allows an attacker to execute unauthorized code or commands via the applicationSearch parameter in the FortiView functionality.
CVE-2014-9187
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-25
Multiple heap-based buffer overflow vulnerabilities exist in Honeywell Experion PKS all versions prior to R400.6, all versions prior to R410.6, and all versions prior to R430.2 modules, which could lead to possible remote code execution or denial of service. Honeywell strongly encourages and recomme...
CVE-2014-9189
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-25
Multiple stack-based buffer overflow vulnerabilities were found in Honeywell Experion PKS all versions prior to R400.6, all versions prior to R410.6, and all versions prior to R430.2 modules that could lead to possible remote code execution, dynamic memory corruption, or denial of service. Honeywell...
CVE-2019-10044
PUBLISHED: 2019-03-25
Telegram Desktop before 1.5.12 on Windows, and the Telegram applications for Android, iOS, and Linux, is vulnerable to an IDN homograph attack when displaying messages containing URLs. This occurs because the application produces a clickable link even if (for example) Latin and Cyrillic characters e...