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Cybercriminals Diversify Cash Out Strategies

Apparently the federal government and private sector companies aren’t the only ones struggling for quality talent these days.

Apparently the federal government and private sector companies aren’t the only ones struggling for quality talent these days. Network security firm Fortinet reports that it is seeing a spike in diversified and targeted recruitment campaigns for “money mules,” the individuals at the edge of cybercrime organizations responsible for electronically receiving and passing on the stolen cash.

Fortinet, in its December 2010 Threat Landscape report, identified a trend in how cyber criminal organizations are more effectively diversifying the distribution of their gains.

Cybercrime Money Mule Recruitment

“This month we saw a wide variety of money mule recruitment campaigns that — for the first time — targeted specific countries in an orchestrated manner,” said Derek Manky, project manager, cyber security and threat research at Fortinet. “The campaigns, which were seeded in a number of Asian and European countries, solicited local individuals who already have or had established relationships in the banking industry or were looking for work as ‘online sales administrators.'”

To make these “localized” campaigns even more effective, they incorporated regional-sounding domain names, such as, and Fortinet said its team discovered that all three domains were registered to the same Russian contact, and all contact addresses for worldwide recruitment used Google mail hosting. By using localized campaigns, criminals can obtain mule accounts internationally — each one falling under different banks and governing laws. Thus, if one is taken offline (due to increased enforcement activity), the others will remain online and business will be as usual.

Idan Aharoni, manager of the FraudAction Intelligence team at RSA, and SecurityWeek contributor says it’s impossible to talk about the world of fraud without mentioning mules. “When it comes to infrastructure, mules are just as important – if not more important – than having a botnet or a phishing attack set up,” Aharoni writes. “Being such a pivotal part of the fraud process, it’s no surprise that fraudsters go to great lengths to recruit and control mules. If in the past mule recruitment was done mostly in the real world – where potential mule candidates were preyed on due to poverty in most cases – today, fraudsters employ much more sophisticated methods for mule recruitment. Not only do these methods void the need for the fraudster to be physically present in the country, but they also increase the bandwidth of the mule recruitment. In cases where these methods were problematic to implement, the recruiters improved the existing methods and added a new layer of sophistication.”

In addition to the trend in targeted money mule recruitment strategies, Fortinet also highlighted other new and reemerging threats in December.

Buzus Trojan in E-Card Reemerges

December saw the reemergence of the Buzus Trojan, this time being distributed through mass emails posed as e-cards just in time for the holiday season. Once a compromised attachment is opened, the now infected system sends out similar e-cards to everyone it finds in the system’s email address book in an effort to “seed,” growing the botnet. Fortinet’s FortiGuard team discovered the main payload of Buzus was none other than the nefarious Hiloti botnet.

“Hiloti is particularly innovative, as it uses DNS as a communication channel to watermark its report information to its servers,” Manky continued. “This is done to evade detection, since it appears like normal, legitimate DNS traffic. Hiloti, which is distributed through many different botnets, is a preferred piece of malware among cyber criminals today because it incorporates a ‘pay-per-install’ affiliate program wherein established botnet distributors receive a payment each time Hiloti is injected into a new machine. This type of incentive program allows Hiloti originators to grow their infection base quicker than attempting to grow it organically.”

Adobe, Microsoft, Apple Zero-Day Vulnerabilities

In December, FortiGuard labs also disclosed three arbitrary code execution vulnerabilities in Microsoft and Apple products. FGA-2010-65 describes an MS Windows Kernel vulnerability that may allow execution in privileged (Ring0) context. FGA-2010-64 is yet another DLL loading vulnerability that affects multiple products within the Windows 7 operating system. And FGA-2010-62 outlines an integer overflow vulnerability in Apple QuickTime, which can lead to potential infection by simply viewing a specially-crafted QuickTime movie file.

New and old vulnerabilities will continue to be exploited, so it’s important to keep all application patches up to date. Additionally, a valid intrusion prevention system (IPS) can help mitigate attacks against both known vulnerabilities and zero-days. With the use of communication through common protocols, application control is becoming more important to identify malicious activity on the application level.

Fortinet’s December threat report was compiled from threat statistics and trends for December 2010 based on data collected from the company’s FortiGate network security appliances and intelligence systems in located around the world.

The full December Threat Landscape report, which includes the top threat rankings in several categories, is available here.

Written By

For more than 10 years, Mike Lennon has been closely monitoring the threat landscape and analyzing trends in the National Security and enterprise cybersecurity space. In his role at SecurityWeek, he oversees the editorial direction of the publication and is the Director of several leading security industry conferences around the world.

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