How Cybercriminals Target Cryptocurrency
Written by Sherrod DeGrippo, Vice President for Threat Research and Detection at Proofpoint
As cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) become more mainstream, and capture headlines for their volatility, there is a greater likelihood of more individuals falling victim to fraud attempting to exploit people for digital currencies. The rise and proliferation of cryptocurrency have also provided attackers with a new method of financial extraction. It’s commonly believed that cryptocurrency provides more anonymity via less governmental and organizational oversight and visibility coupled with the inherent fungibility, thus making it an appealing financial resource for threat actors. The financially motivated attacks targeting cryptocurrency have largely coalesced under pre-existing attack patterns observed in the phishing landscape prior to the rise of blockchain based currency.
Proofpoint researchers observe multiple objectives demonstrated by cybercriminal threat actors relating to digital tokens and finance such as traditional fraud leveraging business email compromise (BEC) to target individuals, and activity targeting decentralized finance (DeFi) organizations that facilitate cryptocurrency storage and transactions for possible follow-on activity. Both of these threat types contributed to a reported $14 billion in cryptocurrency losses in 2021. In fact, Business Email Compromise topped the list of types of attacks CISOs in UAE expect to face in the coming months with 35% of CISO’s being concerned of potential BEC attacks.
While most attacks require a basic understanding of how cryptocurrency transfers and wallets function, they do not require sophisticated tooling to find success. Common techniques observed when targeting cryptocurrency over email include credential harvesting, the use of basic malware stealers that target cryptocurrency credentials and cryptocurrency transfer solicitation like BEC. These techniques are viable methods of capturing sensitive values which facilitate the transfer and spending of cryptocurrency.
There are multiple DeFi applications and platforms – such as cryptocurrency exchanges – that people can use to manage their cryptocurrency. These platforms often require usernames and passwords, which are potential targets for financially motivated threat actors.
Despite public keys being “safe” to share, researchers are seeing actors solicit the transfer of cryptocurrency funds via BEC type emails that include threat actor-controlled public keys and cryptocurrency addresses. These email campaigns rely on social engineering to secure the transfer of funds from targeted victims.
Credential Harvesting and Cryptocurrency
In 2022 Proofpoint has observed regular attempts to compromise user’s cryptocurrency wallets using credential harvesting. This method often relies on the delivery of a URL within an email body or formatted object which redirects to a credential harvesting landing page. Notably these landing pages have begun to solicit values utilized in the transfer and conversion of cryptocurrencies.
Crypto Phishing Kits
Credential harvesting landing pages are often built with phish kits that can be used to create multiple landing pages and used in multiple campaigns. Phish kits give threat actors the ability to deploy an effective phishing page regardless of their skill level. They are pre-packaged sets of files that contain all the code, graphics, and configuration files to be deployed to make a credential capture web page. These are designed to be easy to deploy as well as reusable. They are usually sold as a zip file and ready to be unzipped and deployed without a lot of “behind the scenes” knowledge or technical skill.
It is no wonder that CISOs around the world consider phishing as one of the most prevalent and challenging cybersecurity threats. A 2021 Proofpoint study found that almost a third of CISOs in the UAE believed they were at risk of suffering a phishing attack. Proofpoint researchers have observed multiple examples of phishing threat actors create and deploy phishing kits to harvest both login credentials to cryptocurrency related sites and cryptocurrency wallet credentials or passphrases.
Business Email Compromise – But For Crypto
A popular form of financial crime vectored through phishing is business email compromise (“BEC”). In 2022 Proofpoint regularly observes cryptocurrency transfer within the context of BEC attempts. Primarily these requests are observed in the context of employee targeting, using impersonation as a deception, and often leveraging advanced fee fraud, extortion, payroll redirect, or invoicing as themes.
The initial BEC email often contains the safe for public consumption values, including public keys and cryptocurrency addresses. By impersonating an entity known to the user and listing an actor-controlled public key or address, actors are attempting to deceive users into transferring funds from their account willingly based on social-engineering content. This is like the way actors use routing and bank account numbers during BEC phishing campaigns.
Financially motivated threat actor activity attempting to steal or extort cryptocurrency is not new. However, cryptocurrencies, digital tokens, and “Web3” concepts are becoming more widely known and accepted in society. Where once “crypto” was a concept that thrived in certain parts of the internet, it is now a mainstream idea, with cryptocurrency apps and services advertised by professional athletes and celebrities, and major events sponsored by cryptocurrency and block chain companies.
But threat actors are way ahead of general adoption of cryptocurrency, with existing infrastructure and ecosystems long established for stealing and using it. And as mainstream awareness and interest increases, it is more likely people will trust or engage with threat actors trying to steal cryptocurrency because they better understand how DeFi operates or are interested in being a part of “the next big thing”.
Users should be aware of common social engineering and exploitation mechanisms used by threat actors aiming to steal cryptocurrencies.
A Total of 13 Organizations in 9 Countries Fall Victim to “Dark Pink”
Group-IB has today published a new update into the APT (advanced persistent threat) group codenamed Dark Pink, revealing that a total of 13 organizations in 9 countries have now fallen victim to this malicious actor. Dark Pink’s operations were detailed in depth by Group-IB’s Threat Intelligence unit in a January 2023 blog post, and at this time, researchers linked the group to attacks on 7 organizations in the Asia-Pacific region and 1 in Europe. Group-IB experts have since discovered 5 new Dark Pink victims, and the geographic scope of the group’s operations is wider than previously thought, as organizations in Brunei, Thailand, and Belgium were all hit by Dark Pink attacks.
Continued analysis has revealed that this group is still active, as Dark Pink attacked a government ministry in Brunei this past January and a government agency in Indonesia as recently as April 2023. Additionally, Group-IB researchers were able to attribute three other attacks from 2022 to this particular APT group. The initial access vector for Dark Pink attacks continues to be spear-phishing emails, and Group-IB researchers noted in their January 2023 blog that the group utilized an almost-entirely custom toolkit to exfiltrate files and messenger data from infected devices and networks.
Since then, Group-IB experts can reveal that Dark Pink APT has updated many of these custom tools, changing their functionalities in order to allow the group to slip undetected past defense mechanisms of cybersecurity systems. For example, the group’s custom KamiKakaBot module, designed to read and execute commands from the threat actors via Telegram, is still stored on the filesystem of infected devices, but it is now divided into two distinct parts — one that controls the device and the other that steals sensitive data. Dark Pink also continues to use an MSBuild utility to launch KamiKakaBot in the infection chain.
Group-IB’s Threat Intelligence unit has discovered Dark Pink’s new account on GitHub, which was created as soon as the first information about the APT group was published in the public domain this past January. The threat actors can issue commands to infected machines to download files from this GitHub account, and Group-IB researchers found 12 commits to the new account performed between January 9 and April 11, 2023.
Recent attacks have also seen the group exfiltrate stolen data over a HTTP protocol using Webhook service, and they have also leveraged functionalities of an MS Excel add-in to ensure the persistence of TelePowerBot (a simpler version of KamiKakaBot written in PowerShell). In line with Group-IB’s zero-tolerance policy to cybercrime, all confirmed and potential victims of Dark Pink attacks were issued with proactive warnings.
“Dark Pink APT shows no sign of slowing down,” Andrey Polovinkin, Malware Analyst at Group-IB, said. “APT groups are renowned for their responsiveness and ability to adapt their custom tools to continually avoid detection, and Dark Pink is no exception. The profile of the affected targets underscores the significant danger that Dark Pink poses for both public- and private-sector actors. Group-IB will continue to analyze all Dark Pink activity and ensure that confirmed and potential victims are informed.”
Acronis Launches Endpoint Detection and Response
Acronis has announced the general availability of Acronis Advanced Security + Endpoint Detection & Response (EDR) for Acronis Cyber Protect Cloud. With new capabilities such as AI-based attack analysis, Acronis EDR reduces complexity and simplifies workflows for a more streamlined operation, making it easier than ever for MSPs and the businesses they serve to deploy comprehensive security and data protection. With more organizations turning to MSPs for their backup and security needs, and with a greater need for simplicity and efficiency, Acronis EDR aims to expand the adoption of advanced security capabilities, helping organizations of all sizes better protect themselves.
“With the proliferation of endpoints and increasing frequency of cyber threats, EDR has become a mission-critical tool in incident response and the fight for data protection. But solutions that are difficult to deploy and maintain are an obstacle,” said Research Vice President of Security and Trust Michael Suby at IDC. “The best solutions deliver the advanced security of EDR and meet the needs of the IT professionals who use it. That means easy deployments and rapid detection, response, and recovery with AI and automation on board.”
Acronis EDR offers the broadest number of out-of-the-box recovery options that take advantage of the integration with Acronis Cyber Protect’ backup and recovery, endpoint management, and endpoint security capabilities. Designed for Managed Service Providers (MSPs), it allows them to quickly and easily analyze and prioritize security incidents, minimize downtime, and maintain business continuity while keeping their clients safe and protected.
“Other EDR tools can be over-complicated and force MSPs into expensive, time-consuming processes to implement and understand. Acronis EDR delivers a robust EDR solution that is easy to deploy and use while following industry-established standards like the NIST cybersecurity framework and mapping to the MITRE ATT&CK framework,” said Candid Wüest, VP of Research at Acronis. “By rapidly understanding attack analysis and impact, Acronis EDR users can quickly evaluate a potential threat, gain insight into how an attacker gained access, what damage was caused, and how the attack might spread.”
Acronis EDR delivers:
- Optimized Incident Analysis to quickly and easily analyze and prioritize security incidents and potential attacks without relying on costly security expertise or time-consuming processes.
- Integrated Security with Backup & Recovery, for comprehensive protection critical to minimizing downtime and maintaining business continuity in the event of an attack.
- A Complete Cyber Protection Solution in a single agent — simple for MSPs to deploy, manage, and scale — that eliminates the cost, complexity, and security gaps inherent in multiple-point solutions.
“As a cybersecurity expert, I have witnessed firsthand the evolution of EDR and how it has revolutionized the way we approach security,” said Eric O’Neill, former FBI counterintelligence operative. “EDR allows security personnel to efficiently investigate, remediate, and recover from potential incidents while also reducing the attack surface and threat actor dwell time. The latest advances in EDR technology allow for rapid analysis of attack changes, shortened time to respond to incidents, and better business continuity for all organizations.”
Fake ChatGPT Apps Scam Users Out of Thousands of Dollars, Says Sophos
Sophos has announced that it had uncovered multiple apps masquerading as legitimate, ChatGPT-based chatbots to overcharge users and bring in thousands of dollars a month. As detailed in Sophos X-Ops’ latest report, “’FleeceGPT’ Mobile Apps Target AI-Curious to Rake in Cash,” these apps have popped up in both the Google Play and Apple App Store, and, because the free versions have near-zero functionality and constant ads, they coerce unsuspecting users into signing up for a subscription that can cost hundreds of dollars a year.
“Scammers have and always will use the latest trends or technology to line their pockets. ChatGPT is no exception. With interest in AI and chatbots arguably at an all-time high, users are turning to the Apple App and Google Play Stores to download anything that resembles ChatGPT. These types of scam apps—what Sophos has dubbed ‘fleeceware’—often bombard users with ads until they sign up for a subscription. They’re banking on the fact that users won’t pay attention to the cost or simply forget that they have this subscription. They’re specifically designed so that they may not get much use after the free trial ends, so users delete the app without realizing they’re still on the hook for a monthly or weekly payment,” said Sean Gallagher, principal threat researcher, Sophos.
In total, Sophos X-Ops investigated five of these ChatGPT fleeceware apps, all of which claimed to be based on ChatGPT’s algorithm. In some cases, as with the app “Chat GBT,” the developers played off the ChatGPT name to improve their app’s ranking in the Google Play or App Store. While OpenAI offers the basic functionality of ChatGPT to users for free online, these apps were charging anything from $10 a month to $70.00 a year. The iOS version of “Chat GBT,” called Ask AI Assistant, charges $6 a week—or $312 a year—after the three-day free trial; it netted the developers $10,000 in March alone. Another fleeceware-like app, called Genie, which encourages users to sign up for a $7 weekly or $70 annual subscription, brought in $1 million over the past month.
The key characteristics of so-called fleeceware apps, first discovered by Sophos in 2019, are overcharging users for functionality that is already free elsewhere, as well as using social engineering and coercive tactics to convince users to sign up for a recurring subscription payment. Usually, the apps offer a free trial but with so many ads and restrictions, they’re barely useable until a subscription is paid. These apps are often poorly written and implemented, meaning app function is often less than ideal even after users switch to the paid version. They also inflate their ratings in the app stores through fake reviews and persistent requests of users to rate the app before it’s even been used or the free trial ends.
“Fleeceware apps are specifically designed to stay on the edge of what’s allowed by Google and Apple in terms of service, and they don’t flout the security or privacy rules, so they are hardly ever rejected by these stores during the review. While Google and Apple have implemented new guidelines to curb fleeceware since we reported on such apps in 2019, developers are finding ways around these policies, such as severely limiting app usage and functionality unless users pay up. While some of the ChatGPT fleeceware apps included in this report have already been taken down, more continue to pop up—and it’s likely more will appear. The best protection is education. Users need to be aware that these apps exist and always be sure to read the fine print whenever hitting ‘subscribe.’ Users can also report apps to Apple and Google if they think the developers are using unethical means to profit,” said Gallagher.