BuzzFeed is reporting on a scheme where fraudsters buy legitimate Android apps, track users’ behavior in order to mimic it in a way that evades bot detectors, and then uses bots to perpetuate an ad-fraud scheme.
After being provided with a list of the apps and websites connected to the scheme, Google investigated and found that dozens of the apps used its mobile advertising network. Its independent analysis confirmed the presence of a botnet driving traffic to websites and apps in the scheme. Google has removed more than 30 apps from the Play store, and terminated multiple publisher accounts with its ad networks. Google said that prior to being contacted by BuzzFeed News it had previously removed 10 apps in the scheme and blocked many of the websites. It continues to investigate, and published a blog post to detail its findings.
The company estimates this operation stole close to $10 million from advertisers who used Google’s ad network to place ads in the affected websites and apps. It said the vast majority of ads being placed in these apps and websites came via other major ad networks.
Lots of details in both the BuzzFeed and the Google links.
The Internet advertising industry is rife with fraud, at all levels. This is just one scheme among many.
Posted on October 25, 2018 at 6:49 AM •
Brian Krebs is reporting on some new and sophisticated phishing scams over the telephone.
I second his advice: “never give out any information about yourself in response to an unsolicited phone call.” Always call them back, and not using the number offered to you by the caller. Always.
EDITED TO ADD: In 2009, I wrote:
When I was growing up, children were commonly taught: “don’t talk to strangers.” Strangers might be bad, we were told, so it’s prudent to steer clear of them.
And yet most people are honest, kind, and generous, especially when someone asks them for help. If a small child is in trouble, the smartest thing he can do is find a nice-looking stranger and talk to him.
These two pieces of advice may seem to contradict each other, but they don’t. The difference is that in the second instance, the child is choosing which stranger to talk to. Given that the overwhelming majority of people will help, the child is likely to get help if he chooses a random stranger. But if a stranger comes up to a child and talks to him or her, it’s not a random choice. It’s more likely, although still unlikely, that the stranger is up to no good.
That advice is generalizable to this instance as well. The problem is that someone claiming to be from your bank asking for personal information. The problem is that they contacted you first.
Where else does this advice hold true?
Posted on October 2, 2018 at 3:09 PM •
Long and interesting story—now two decades old—of massive fraud perpetrated against the McDonald’s Monopoly sweepstakes. The central fraudster was the person in charge of securing the winning tickets.
Posted on August 6, 2018 at 5:57 AM •
There are some good lessons in this article on financial fraud:
That’s how we got it so wrong. We were looking for incidental breaches of technical regulations, not systematic crime. And the thing is, that’s normal. The nature of fraud is that it works outside your field of vision, subverting the normal checks and balances so that the world changes while the picture stays the same. People in financial markets have been missing the wood for the trees for as long as there have been markets.
Trust—particularly between complete strangers, with no interactions beside relatively anonymous market transactions—is the basis of the modern industrial economy. And the story of the development of the modern economy is in large part the story of the invention and improvement of technologies and institutions for managing that trust.
And as industrial society develops, it becomes easier to be a victim. In The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith described how prosperity derived from the division of labour—the 18 distinct operations that went into the manufacture of a pin, for example. While this was going on, the modern world also saw a growing division of trust. The more a society benefits from the division of labour in checking up on things, the further you can go into a con game before you realise that you’re in one.
Libor teaches us a valuable lesson about commercial fraud—that unlike other crimes, it has a problem of denial as well as one of detection. There are very few other criminal acts where the victim not only consents to the criminal act, but voluntarily transfers the money or valuable goods to the criminal. And the hierarchies, status distinctions and networks that make up a modern economy also create powerful psychological barriers against seeing fraud when it is happening. White-collar crime is partly defined by the kind of person who commits it: a person of high status in the community, the kind of person who is always given the benefit of the doubt.
Fraudsters don’t play on moral weaknesses, greed or fear; they play on weaknesses in the system of checks and balances—the audit processes that are meant to supplement an overall environment of trust. One point that comes up again and again when looking at famous and large-scale frauds is that, in many cases, everything could have been brought to a halt at a very early stage if anyone had taken care to confirm all the facts. But nobody does confirm all the facts. There are just too bloody many of them. Even after the financial rubble has settled and the arrests been made, this is a huge problem.
Posted on July 25, 2018 at 6:29 AM •
Tom Standage has a great story of the first cyberattack against a telegraph network.
The Blanc brothers traded government bonds at the exchange in the city of Bordeaux, where information about market movements took several days to arrive from Paris by mail coach. Accordingly, traders who could get the information more quickly could make money by anticipating these movements. Some tried using messengers and carrier pigeons, but the Blanc brothers found a way to use the telegraph line instead. They bribed the telegraph operator in the city of Tours to introduce deliberate errors into routine government messages being sent over the network.
The telegraph’s encoding system included a “backspace” symbol that instructed the transcriber to ignore the previous character. The addition of a spurious character indicating the direction of the previous day’s market movement, followed by a backspace, meant the text of the message being sent was unaffected when it was written out for delivery at the end of the line. But this extra character could be seen by another accomplice: a former telegraph operator who observed the telegraph tower outside Bordeaux with a telescope, and then passed on the news to the Blancs. The scam was only uncovered in 1836, when the crooked operator in Tours fell ill and revealed all to a friend, who he hoped would take his place. The Blanc brothers were put on trial, though they could not be convicted because there was no law against misuse of data networks. But the Blancs’ pioneering misuse of the French network qualifies as the world’s first cyber-attack.
EDITED TO ADD (6/13): More details.
Posted on May 31, 2018 at 1:23 PM •
Fake kidnapping fraud:
“Most commonly we have unsolicited calls to potential victims in Australia, purporting to represent the people in authority in China and suggesting to intending victims here they have been involved in some sort of offence in China or elsewhere, for which they’re being held responsible,” Commander McLean said.
The scammers threaten the students with deportation from Australia or some kind of criminal punishment.
The victims are then coerced into providing their identification details or money to get out of the supposed trouble they’re in.
Commander McLean said there are also cases where the student is told they have to hide in a hotel room, provide compromising photos of themselves and cut off all contact.
This simulates a kidnapping.
“So having tricked the victims in Australia into providing the photographs, and money and documents and other things, they then present the information back to the unknowing families in China to suggest that their children who are abroad are in trouble,” Commander McLean said.
“So quite circular in a sense…very skilled, very cunning.”
Posted on May 29, 2018 at 9:31 AM •
Someone changed the address of UPS corporate headquarters to his own apartment in Chicago. The company discovered it three months later.
The problem, of course, is that in the US there isn’t any authentication of change-of-address submissions:
According to the Postal Service, nearly 37 million change-of-address requests known as PS Form 3575 were submitted in 2017. The form, which can be filled out in person or online, includes a warning below the signature line that “anyone submitting false or inaccurate information” could be subject to fines and imprisonment.
To cut down on possible fraud, post offices send a validation letter to both an old and new address when a change is filed. The letter includes a toll-free number to call to report anything suspicious.
Each year, only a tiny fraction of the requests are ever referred to postal inspectors for investigation. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Inspection Service could not provide a specific number to the Tribune, but officials have previously said that the number of change-of-address investigations in a given year totals 1,000 or fewer typically.
While fraud involving change-of-address forms has long been linked to identity thieves, the targets are usually unsuspecting individuals, not massive corporations.
Posted on May 18, 2018 at 6:20 AM •
New research: “Leaving on a jet plane: the trade in fraudulently obtained airline tickets:”
Abstract: Every day, hundreds of people fly on airline tickets that have been obtained fraudulently. This crime script analysis provides an overview of the trade in these tickets, drawing on interviews with industry and law enforcement, and an analysis of an online blackmarket. Tickets are purchased by complicit travellers or resellers from the online blackmarket. Victim travellers obtain tickets from fake travel agencies or malicious insiders. Compromised credit cards used to be the main method to purchase tickets illegitimately. However, as fraud detection systems improved, offenders displaced to other methods, including compromised loyalty point accounts, phishing, and compromised business accounts. In addition to complicit and victim travellers, fraudulently obtained tickets are used for transporting mules, and for trafficking and smuggling. This research details current prevention approaches, and identifies additional interventions, aimed at the act, the actor, and the marketplace.
Posted on May 11, 2018 at 6:24 AM •
This is a good article on the complicated story of hacker Marcus Hutchins.
Posted on March 16, 2018 at 6:12 AM •
It’s not a great solution, but it’s something:
The process of using postcards containing a specific code will be required for advertising that mentions a specific candidate running for a federal office, Katie Harbath, Facebook’s global director of policy programs, said. The requirement will not apply to issue-based political ads, she said.
“If you run an ad mentioning a candidate, we are going to mail you a postcard and you will have to use that code to prove you are in the United States,” Harbath said at a weekend conference of the National Association of Secretaries of State, where executives from Twitter Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google also spoke.
“It won’t solve everything,” Harbath said in a brief interview with Reuters following her remarks.
But sending codes through old-fashioned mail was the most effective method the tech company could come up with to prevent Russians and other bad actors from purchasing ads while posing as someone else, Harbath said.
It does mean a several-days delay between purchasing an ad and seeing it run.
Posted on February 20, 2018 at 6:34 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.