A Little Sunshine All American Entertainment AngelList Apollo Arnie Data Breaches Exactis Facebook Kickass LinkedIn Ne'er-Do-Well News NightLion Security Salesforce Soundcard TDO Techcrunch Technology The Coming Storm The Dark Overlord twitter Vinny Troia wired.com Yelp

When Security Researchers Pose as Cybercrooks, Who Can Tell the Difference? — Krebs on Security

When Security Researchers Pose as Cybercrooks, Who Can Tell the Difference? — Krebs on Security

A ridiculous variety of corporations are exposing some or all of their proprietary and buyer knowledge by placing it in the cloud with none type of authentication wanted to learn, alter or destroy it. When cybercriminals are the first to find these missteps, often the end result is a requirement for cash in return for the stolen knowledge. However when these screw-ups are unearthed by safety professionals in search of to make a reputation for themselves, the ensuing publicity typically can depart the breached group wishing they’d as an alternative been quietly extorted by nameless crooks.

Final week, I used to be on a practice from New York to Washington, D.C. once I acquired a telephone name from Vinny Troia, a safety researcher who runs a startup in Missouri referred to as NightLion Security. Troia had found that All American Leisure, a speaker bureau which represents quite a few celebrities who additionally may be employed to do public talking, had uncovered hundreds of talking contracts by way of an unsecured Amazon cloud occasion.

The contracts laid out how a lot every speaker makes per occasion, particulars about their journey preparations, and any necessities or obligations said prematurely by each events to the contract. No secret entry or password was wanted to view the paperwork.

It was a juicy discover to make certain: I can now inform you how a lot Oprah makes per occasion (it’s rather a lot). Ditto for Gwyneth Paltrow, Olivia Newton John, Michael J. Fox and a number of others. However I’m not going to try this.

Firstly, it’s no one’s enterprise what they make. Extra to the level, All American is also my speaker bureau, and included in the cache of paperwork the firm uncovered in the cloud have been a few of my talking contracts. The truth is, when Troia referred to as about his discover, I used to be on my approach house from one such engagement.

I shortly knowledgeable my contact at All American and requested them to let me know the second they confirmed the knowledge was faraway from the Web. Whereas awaiting that affirmation, my pent-up frustration seeped right into a tweet that appeared to the touch a uncooked nerve amongst others in the safety business.

The identical day I alerted them, All American took down its bucket of unsecured speaker contract knowledge, and apologized profusely for the oversight (though I’ve but to listen to a great rationalization as to why this knowledge wanted to be saved in the cloud to start with).

This was hardly the first time Troia had alerted me about an enormous cache of necessary or delicate knowledge that corporations have left uncovered on-line. On Monday, TechCrunch broke the story a few “breach” at Apollo, a gross sales engagement startup boasting a database of greater than 200 million contact data. Calling it a breach appears a little bit of a stretch; it in all probability can be extra correct to explain the incident as a knowledge leak.

Identical to my speaker bureau, Apollo had merely put all this knowledge up on an Amazon server that anybody on the Web might entry with out offering a password. And Troia was once more the one who found out that the knowledge had been leaked by Apollo — the results of an intensive, months-long course of that took some extraordinarily fascinating twists and turns.

That journey — which I’ll endeavor to explain right here — provided some uncomfortable insights into how organizations often study knowledge leaks lately, and certainly whether or not they derive any lasting safety classes from the expertise in any respect. It additionally gave me a brand new appreciation for a way troublesome it may be for organizations that screw up this option to inform the distinction between a safety researcher and a nasty man.


I started listening to from Troia virtually every day starting in mid-2017. At the time, he was on one thing of a private mission to find the real-life id behind The Darkish Overlord (TDO), the pseudonym utilized by a person or group of criminals who’ve been extorting dozens of corporations — notably healthcare suppliers — after hacking into their techniques and stealing delicate knowledge.

The Darkish Overlord’s technique was roughly the similar in every assault. Achieve entry to delicate knowledge (typically by buying entry via crimeware-as-a-service choices), and ship an extended, rambling ransom notice to the sufferer group demanding tens of hundreds of dollars in Bitcoin for the protected return of stated knowledge.

Victims have been sometimes advised that in the event that they refused to pay, the stolen knowledge can be bought to cybercriminals lurking on Darkish Net boards. Worse but, TDO additionally promised to ensure the information media knew that sufferer organizations have been extra fascinated by preserving the breach personal than in securing the privateness of their clients or sufferers.

In reality, the obvious ringleader of TDO reached out to KrebsOnSecurity in Might 2016 with a exceptional supply. Utilizing the nickname “Arnie,” the public voice of TDO stated he was providing unique entry to information about their newest extortion targets.

Snippets from an extended e-mail dialog in Might 2016 with a hacker who launched himself as Adam however would later share his nickname as “Arnie” and disclose that he was a member of The Darkish Overlord. On this dialog, he’s providing to promote entry to scoops about knowledge breaches that he brought on.

Arnie claimed he was an administrator or key member on a number of prime Darkish Net boards, and offered a handful of convincing clues to again up his declare. He informed me he had real-time entry to dozens of healthcare organizations they’d hacked into, and that every one which refused to provide in to TDO’s extortion calls for might flip right into a juicy scoop for KrebsOnSecurity.

Arnie stated he was coming to me first with the supply, however that he was planning to strategy different journalists and information retailers if I declined. I balked after discovering that Arnie wasn’t providing this entry totally free: He needed 10 bitcoin in change for exclusivity (at the time, his asking worth was roughly equal to USD $5,000).

Maybe different information retailers are accustomed to paying for scoops, however that isn’t one thing I might ever contemplate. And in any case the entire factor was beginning to odor like a shakedown or rip-off. I declined the supply. It’s potential different information retailers or journalists didn’t; I can’t speculate on this matter additional, aside from to say readers can draw their very own conclusions based mostly on the timeline and the public report.


Quick-forward to September 2017, and Troia was contacting me virtually every day to share tidbits of analysis into e mail addresses, telephone numbers and different bits of knowledge apparently tied to TDO’s communications with victims and their numerous identities on Darkish Net boards.

His analysis was exhaustive and infrequently spectacular, and for some time I caught the TDO bug and have become engaged in a concurrent effort to study the identities of the TDO members. For higher or worse, the outcomes of that analysis should wait for an additional story and one other time.

At one level, Troia advised me he’d gained acceptance on the Darkish Net discussion board Kickass, utilizing the hacker nickname “Soundcard“. He stated he believed a presence on all of the boards TDO was lively on was needed for determining as soon as and for all who was behind this brazen and really busy extortion group.

Here’s a display shot Troia shared with me of Soundcard’s posting there, which involved a July 2018 discussion board dialogue thread a few knowledge leak of 340 million data from Florida-based advertising agency Exactis. As detailed by Wired.com in June 2018, Troia had found this big cache of knowledge unprotected and sitting vast open on a cloud server, and finally traced it again to Exactis.

Vinny Troia, a.okay.a. “Soundcard” on the Darkish Net discussion board Kickass.

After a number of weeks of evaluating notes about TDO with Troia, I discovered that he was telling random those that we have been “working together,” and that he was throwing my identify round to varied safety business sources and buddies as a method of getting access to new sources of knowledge.

I respectfully advised Troia that this was not okay — that I by no means informed individuals about our personal conversations (or certainly that we spoke in any respect) — and I requested him to cease doing that. He apologized, stated he didn’t perceive he’d overstepped sure boundaries, and that it will by no means occur once more.

However it might. A number of occasions. Right here’s one time that basically stood out for me. Earlier this summer time, Troia despatched me a hyperlink to a database of really staggering measurement — almost 10 terabytes of knowledge — that somebody had left open to anybody by way of a cloud occasion. Once more, no authentication or password was wanted to entry the info.

At first look, it seemed to be LinkedIn profile knowledge. Working off that assumption, I started a tough goal search of the database for particular LinkedIn profiles of necessary individuals. I first used the Net to find the public LinkedIn profile pages for almost all of the CEOs of the world’s prime 20 largest corporations, after which searched these profile names in the database that Troia had found.

All of a sudden, I had the cellphone numbers, addresses, e-mail addresses and different contact knowledge for a few of the strongest individuals in the world. Instantly, I reached out to contacts at LinkedIn and Microsoft (which purchased LinkedIn in 2016) and organized a name to debate the findings.

LinkedIn’s safety workforce informed me the knowledge I used to be taking a look at was in reality an amalgamation of data scraped from LinkedIn and dozens of public sources, and being bought by the similar agency that was doing the scraping and profile collating. LinkedIn declined to call that firm, and it has not but responded to follow-up questions on whether or not the firm it was referring to was Apollo.

Positive sufficient, a better inspection of the database revealed the presence of different public knowledge sources, together with startup website AngelList, Fb, Salesforce, Twitter, and Yelp, amongst others.

A number of different trusted sources I approached with samples of knowledge spliced from the almost 10 TB trove of knowledge Troia present in the cloud stated they believed LinkedIn’s rationalization, and that the knowledge appeared to have been scraped off the public Web from quite a lot of sources and mixed right into a single database.

I informed Troia it didn’t seem like the knowledge got here solely from LinkedIn, or a minimum of wasn’t stolen from them, and that each one indications steered it was a set of knowledge scraped from public profiles. He appeared unconvinced.

A number of days after my second name with LinkedIn’s safety group — round Aug. 15 — I used to be made conscious of a gross sales posting on the Kickass crime discussion board by somebody promoting what they claimed was “all of the LinkedIN user-base.” The advert, a blurry, partial screenshot of which may be seen under, was posted by the Kickass consumer Soundcard. The textual content of the gross sales thread was as follows:

Soundcard providing to promote what he claimed was all of LinkedIn’s consumer knowledge, on the Darkish Net discussion board Kickass.

“KA customers –

I current you with unique alternative to buy all (sure ALL) of the LinkedIN user-base for the low low worth of two BTC.

I discovered a database server with all LinkedIN customers. All of consumer’s private info is included on this database (together with personal e-mail and telephone quantity NOT listed on public profile). No passwords, sorry.

Measurement: 2.1TB.

consumer rely: 212 million

Why so giant for 212 million customers? See the pattern knowledge per document. There’s lot of selling and CRM knowledge as nicely. I promote unique knowledge solely. no editz.

Right here is index of server. The LinkedIN customers unfold throughout individuals and contacts indexes. Sale consists of each of these indexes.

Questions, feedback, buy? DM me, or message me – soundcard@exploit[.]im

The “sample data” included in the gross sales thread was from my data on this large database, though Soundcard stated he had sanitized sure knowledge parts from this snippet. He defined his reasoning for that in a brief Q&A from his gross sales thread:

Query 1: Why you sanitize Brian Krebs’ info in pattern?

Reply 1: As a result of nothing in life free. This solely to point out i’ve knowledge.

I quickly confronted Troia not just for providing to promote leaked knowledge on the Darkish Net, but in addition for as soon as once more throwing my identify round in his numerous actions — regardless of previous assurances that he wouldn’t. Additionally, his actions had boxed me right into a nook: Any plans I needed to credit score him in a narrative for ultimately serving to to find out the supply of the leaked knowledge (which we now know to be Apollo) turned extra difficult with out additionally explaining his Darkish Net alter ego as Soundcard, and I’m not in the behavior of omitting such essential particulars from tales.

Troia assured me that he by no means had any intention of promoting the knowledge, and that the entire factor had been a ruse to assist smoke out a few of the suspected TDO members.

For its half, LinkedIn’s safety group was not amused, and revealed a brief publish to its media web page denying that the firm had suffered a safety breach.

“We want our members to know that a recent claim of a LinkedIn data breach is not accurate,” the firm wrote. “Our investigation into this claim found that a third-party sales intelligence company that is not associated with LinkedIn was compromised and exposed a large set of data aggregated from a number of social networks, websites, and the company’s own customers. It also included a limited set of publicly available data about LinkedIn members, such as profile URL, industry and number of connections. This was not a breach of LinkedIn.”

It’s fairly a high-quality line to stroll when self-styled safety researchers mimic cyber criminals in the identify of creating issues safer. On the one hand, reaching out to corporations which might be inadvertently exposing delicate knowledge and getting them to safe it or pull it offline altogether is a worthwhile and sometimes thankless effort, and clearly many organizations nonetheless want a variety of assist on this regard.

On the different hand, most organizations that match this description merely lack the safety maturity to inform the distinction between somebody making an attempt to make the Web a safer place and somebody making an attempt to promote them a services or products.

Consequently, sufferer organizations are likely to react with deep suspicion and even hostility to respectable researchers and safety journalists who alert them a few knowledge breach or leak. And stunts like the ones described above are likely to have the impact of deepening that suspicion, and sowing worry, uncertainty and doubt about the safety business as an entire.

Tags: All American Leisure, AngelList, Apollo, Arnie, Exactis, Fb, Kickass, LinkedIn, NightLion Security, Salesforce, Soundcard, TDO, Techcrunch, The Darkish Overlord, twitter, Vinny Troia, wired.com, Yelp