RealTime IT News

Researcher Claims 200K Web Sites at Risk

UPDATED: Online thieves have obtained administrative login credentials for more than 200,000 Web sites and modified the code of some of these sites to attack users who visit them, a security researcher claims. Among the sites impacted is the U.S. Postal Service, though the USPS disputes the claim.

In addition, Ian Amit, director of security research at security vendor Aladdin Knowledge Systems, told InternetNews.com that the hackers consolidated all this stolen information onto one server and are offering login credentials and other information for criminals to exploit on demand.

The server with the stolen administrative information from Web sites "caters to at least three different criminal groups, two out of Europe and the other out of the U.S.," Amit said. "They're offering crime as a service, from the SaaS model."

The server holding the information apparently belongs to a customer of Neosploit, a hacker tool cybercriminals use to attack browsers and Web software.

Amit claims that more than 80,000 of the 200,000 sites that were compromised have been modified to take visitors to another site where they are at risk from malware and even SQL injection attacks. "To have that many stolen and compromised credentials on one server is unheard of," he added.

One of the sites hacked belongs to the a href="http://www.usps.com/>U.S. Postal Service (USPS), Amit said, adding that "more sensitive sites were also hit," but he wouldn't name them. He thinks the cybercriminals do not know which sites they have cracked because "everything's automated, from their hacking into a Web site to the process of modifying site code to bear malicious code."

New approaches for new times

The USPS denies Amit's claims. "We have found no evidence of a compromise of USPS.com and the postal service has turned the allegations over to the appropriate law enforcement authorities including the postal inspection service," USPS spokesperson Michael Woods told InternetNews.com.

Because cybercriminals are adopting new business models and technologies so rapidly, they have to be combated with new methods. "They are definitely ahead of the curve, technologically, and they're advancing threats faster than we can build up defenses," Amit said.

"We're trying to break that vicious cycle of trying to detect and break the latest and greatest techniques, and move into trying to understand the thinking of the criminals instead," Amit added. "That way we can build a solution that's adaptable and flexible enough to deal not only with problems now, but also with problems one year, two years into the future."

Hunting down and prosecuting the cybercriminals will not be easy. The last three years have taught us that cybercriminals live in other parts of the world where there are different rules of engagement, Dave Marcus, security research and communications for McAfee Avert Laboratories, told InternetNews.com.

"This is a global problem," Marcus added. Also, "we have to communicate better because the bad guys communicate very well, and we have to communicate faster," he said.

In the future, vendors, internet service providers (ISPs) and law enforcement will work more closely with each other and with victims. McAfee will unveil a "major announcement" at its Focus 2008 user conference, to be held in Las Vegas later this month, and "a cornerstone of this is cybercrime is a global problem," Marcus said.

It would be good for companies to cooperate the way criminal networks do.

"We've seen criminals adopt modern business models faster than regular corporations," Amit said.

Shilo Raube, a spokesperson for Carnegie-Mellon SEI CERT told InternetNews.com: "It is our policy not to comment on specific incidents or specific companies. We only comment on generic best practices."

Updates prior version to include a comment from Carnegie-Mellon CERT, the security organization Amit said he contacted about the security issues he raised.