Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tuning Spear Phishing Campaigns

I was recently asked to discuss tools and tactics of cyber-crime campaigns in relation to advanced spear phishing tactics. One of the interesting service industries that form the advanced criminal ecosystems is that of ProRing. The following Damballa post summarizes this particular industry...

Despite the advances in anti-spam technologies and mail filtering gateways, if you’re inbox is anything like mine, each morning there will be a bundle of emails offering a cut of some recently liberated or long forgotten monies, offers to work from home (all you need is a US bank account!), notifications of bank detail confirmation requests, or some obscure social engineering whatever. We’ve all seen them, and most of us recognize them for what they are – broad spectrum Internet scam campaigns launched by online crooks.

Again, if you’re anything like me, sometimes you’ll catch yourself laughing at the content of the spam emails. Too often the language is all mixed up, has misspellings, and was obviously written by someone to whom English is a second language).

For the victims, these messages are the start of their problems. For the attackers, the distribution of these messages is roughly a halfway point in their current fraud campaign. For some specialized criminal operators, the content of that email is the culmination of their efforts and contribution.

I was reminded recently by the following very funny (and obviously not serious) tweet that there hasn’t been much attention to the organized crime aspects of translation – in particular, the realm of cybercrime-as-a-service (CaaS).

Figure 1: Humorous tweet in Chinglish with misspellings

It should be no surprise that there are CaaS providers that offer boutique translation services to other Internet criminals.

For quite a few years now there have been folks working behind the scenes translating the content supplied by foreign criminals into the messages arriving in your inbox. I’m not talking about those pigeon-English things you receive and rapidly reject, but rather the ones you’re probably missing based upon a first-pass grammar and spell check. Translation services are rather lucrative for those involved. If you happen to be a fluent English speaker/writer and based in Russia, you can make a couple hundred dollars for each phishing email template you convert or social engineering message you construct. For some CaaS operators a percentage of any fraudulently gained funds may be part of the deal – tying the payment to their translation capability and the success of the attacker’s campaign.

Translating the written language is one thing, it is quite another if you have to speak it. As such, there are a number of CaaS operators that specialize in what could be best described as translation call centers. A common name for these kinds of criminal services are “ProRing” – basically “professional ringing” services, tuned to the requirements of criminals (not just online ones either!).

Supporting a small number of languages, ProRing services are often utilized by cyber-criminals in a variety of ways:

* Account change confirmation for stolen and hijacked accounts

* Money mule coordination and bank account management

* Package tracking and delivery

* Vishing message construction

* Spear phishing “helpdesk” impersonation

* Social engineering

Figure 2: ProRing service supporting multiple languages

The larger more established ProRing providers tend to support the most common languages encountered in Western countries (i.e. English, German, French and Spanish), although other languages may be included – depending upon staffing arrangements and access to external contractors (e.g. Dutch, Serbian, Hebrew, etc.). Several providers also offer male and female speakers.

Rates vary considerably between ProRing providers, but are generally in the realm of $10-$15 per call (made/received), and will increase in price if the speaker does not possess a foreign accent.

The phone numbers being used for the calls will often use callerID spoofing and/or local POP exchanges to hide the international nature of the call. However, it is important to note that many of these ProRing CaaS operators are themselves international and may not necessarily need to obscure their phone number.

Figure 3: ProRing CaaS provider with disclaimers

As with many CaaS providers, ProRing services often come complete with disclaimers and service-level agreements (SLA), which may require financial retainers for participation in longer-running attack campaigns.

So, the next time you’re inspecting your morning email or cycling through those voice-mail messages, you may want to remember that this rapidly evolving cyber-crime ecosystem has your number (literally). Professional ProRing service providers are out there making sure that the next attack is more successful than the last.

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