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Words Cannot

Week of March 8, 2001

As you read the following alert from the NIPC, ponder three things:

  1. What is going down 'over there' is good business - from the mafia's point of view. The mafia there is smart: They've hired on a bunch of programmers to exercise 'protection racketeering' against these sites.

  2. The sites in question exhibit boundless stupidity and unconscionable irresponsibility. The fixes have been there for eons; they are just not implemented. These mafia smartboys are exploiting something which shouldn't even exist if the sites in question just did their [-------] job.

  3. Your credit card information might be among the property already stolen.

Over the past several months, the National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) has been coordinating investigations into a series of organized hacker activities specifically targeting U.S. computer systems associated with e-commerce or e-banking. Despite previous advisories, many computer owners have not patched their systems, allowing these kinds of attacks to continue, and prompting this updated release of information.

More than 40 victims located in 20 states have been identified and notified in ongoing investigations in 14 Federal Bureau of Investigation Field Offices and 7 United States Secret Service Field Offices. These investigations have been closely coordinated with foreign law enforcement authorities, and the private sector. Specially trained prosecutors in the Computer and Telecommunication Coordinator program in U.S. Attorneys' Offices in a variety of districts have participated in the investigation, with the assistance of attorneys in the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section at the Department of Justice.

The investigations have disclosed several organized hacker groups from Eastern Europe, specifically Russia and the Ukraine, that have penetrated U.S. e-commerce computer systems by exploiting vulnerabilities in unpatched Microsoft Windows NT operating systems. These vulnerabilities were originally reported and addressed in Microsoft Security Bulletins MS98-004 (re-released in MS99-025), MS00-014, and MS00-008. As early as 1998, Microsoft discovered these vulnerabilities and developed and publicized patches to fix them. Computer users can download these patches from Microsoft for free.

Once the hackers gain access, they download proprietary information, customer databases, and credit card information. The hackers subsequently contact the victim company through facsimile, email, or telephone. After notifying the company of the intrusion and theft of information, the hackers make a veiled extortion threat by offering Internet security services to patch the system against other hackers. They tell the victim that without their services, they cannot guarantee that other hackers will not access the network and post the credit card information and details about the compromise on the Internet. If the victim company is not cooperative in making payments or hiring the group for their security services, the hackers' correspondence with the victim company has become more threatening. Investigators also believe that in some instances the credit card information is being sold to organized crime groups. There has been evidence that the stolen information is at risk whether or not the victim cooperates with the demands of the intruders. To date, more than one million credit card numbers have been stolen.

The NIPC has issued an updated Advisory 01-003 at www.nipc.gov regarding these vulnerabilities being exploited. The update includes specific file names that may indicate whether a system has been compromised. If these files are located on your computer system, the NIPC Watch in Washington D.C. should be contacted at (202) 323-3204/3205/3206. Incidents may also be reported online at www.nipc.gov/incident/cirr.htm. For detailed information on the vulnerabilities that are being exploited, please refer to the NIPC Advisory 00-60, and NIPC Advisory 01-003.

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