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Eight years later, the case against the Mariposa malware gang moves forward in the US

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Eight years after US law enforcement opened a first case in the operations of the Mariposa (Butterfly Bot, BFBOT) malware gang, officials are now moving forward with new charges and arrest warrants against four suspects.

The original case started way back in May 2011, when US officials first filed a complaint against three European hackers. The investigation into this group’s operations unearthed a cyber-crime empire and eventually led to the takedown of the infamous Darkode hacking forum, a famous meeting place for high-end hackers.

Last week, US officials unsealed new documents in this investigation, including charges against a fourth, US-based hacker.

The four suspects now are:

  • Matjaz Skorjanc, aka iserdo aka serdo, 32, of Maribor, Slovenia;
  • Florencio Carro Ruiz, aka NeTK aka Netkairo, 40, of Vizcaya, Spain;
  • Mentor Leniqi, aka Iceman, 35, of Gurisnica, Slovenia;
  • Thomas McCormick, aka fubar, 26, of Washington state, in the United States.

Mariposa malware

According to new court documents obtained by ZDNet, the four are charged with creating and running the Mariposa malware (referred to as the Butterfly Bot or BFBOT in court documents; “mariposa” meaning “butterfly” in Spanish).

More specifically, US officials say Skorjanc created the malware and then partnered with Ruiz and Leniqi to advertise it on Darkode, a hacking forum that Skorjanc helped created and manage.

US officials say the three put the malware up for sale on Darkode for a price of €350 starting in 2008. According to its ad, the malware could self-propagate to other computers once it infected a victim, could steal banking credentials, and could carry out DDOS attacks.

Skorjanc was the malware’s author, but Ruiz and Leniqi provided customer support and assistance.

McCormick was a Darkode user who bought and later resold the Mariposa bot as an affiliate. He also sold copies of the Zeus banking trojan, and also worked as a “sales manager” for another malware strain named ngrBot, created by two other unnamed suspects.

The four not only sold copies of the Mariposa bot, but they also actively infected victims and sold access to the infected hosts in “pay-per-install” schemes that let other cyber-criminals install additional malware on these systems, such as ransomware or banking trojans.

Mariposa and Darkode takedown

In the short span of only two years, Mariposa became one of the largest botnets in existence, infecting over one million computers.

The botnet grew too much to be ignored, and was more aggresive than most, because of its self-propagating features. Spanish police, working with the FBI, shut down the Mariposa botnet in 2010.

The takedown was coordinated with arrests, with Spanish authorities arresting Ruiz and two others co-conspirators, while Slovenian police arrested Skorjanc and his girlfriend.

Skorjanc received a four years and ten months prison sentence in December 2013 and was released from prison by Slovenian authorities last year.

However, work on investigating Mariposa operations also pointed authorities towards the place it was being sold on, the Darkode hacking forum.

Even to this day, the name Darkode maintains its reputation as being one of the web’s most notorious hacking forums. The forum had no more than 300 users, but they were all high-end hackers, such as the creator of the Dendroid malware, the creator of the GovRAT malware (also known as BestBuy or Popopret), the author of the SpyEYE malware, Lizard Squad members, and various spammer groups.

In the summer of 2015, the FBI, Europol, and police agencies all over the world shut down Skorjanc’s second creation — the Darkode forum — and made over 70 arrests.

Delayed charges

The reasons why US officials kept charges against Skorjanc, Ruiz, Leniqi, and McCormick sealed until 2019 are unclear. It may be that they wanted to wait for Skorjanc to serve his prison sentence in Slovenia.

It may also be that they wanted to incorporate the data from the Darkode seizure into their case, which appears they did. The new court documents are brimming with citations to private messages the four had exchanged on Darkode forum, not included in the original 2011 complaint.

While McCormick is already in US custody, being arrested since December 2018, Skorjanc, Leniqi, and Ruiz still remain at large.

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Phish Fight: Securing Enterprise Communications

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Yes, much of the world may have moved on from email to social media and culturally dubious TikTok dances, yet traditional electronic mail remains a foundation of business communication. And sadly, it remains a prime vector for malware, data leakage, and phishing attacks that can undermine enterprise protections. It doesn’t have to be that way.

In a just released report titled “GigaOm Radar for Phishing Prevention and Detection,” GigaOm Analyst Simon Gibson surveyed more than a dozen enterprise-focused email security solutions. He found a range of approaches to securing communications that often can be fitted together to provide critical, defense-in-depth protection against even determined attackers.

Figure 1. GigaOm Radar for Email Phishing Prevention and Detection

“When evaluating these vendors and their solutions, it is important to consider your own business and workflow,” Gibson writes in the report, stressing the need to deploy solutions that best address your organization’s business workflow and email traffic. “For some it may be preferable to settle on one comprehensive solution, while for others building a best-of-breed architecture from multiple vendors may be preferable.”

In a field of competent solutions, Gibson found that Forcepoint, purchased recently by Raytheon, stood apart thanks to the layered protections provided by its Advanced Classification Engine. Area 1 and Zimperium, meanwhile, are both leaders that exhibit significant momentum, with Area 1 boosted by its recent solution partnership with Virtru, and Zimperium excelling in its deep commitment to mobile message security.

A mobile focus is timely, Gibson says in a video interview for GigaOm. He says companies are “tuning the spigot on” and enabling unprecedented access and reliance on mobile devices, which is creating an urgent need to get ahead of threats.

Gibson’s conclusion in the report? He singles out three things: Defense in depth, awareness of existing patterns and infrastructure, and a healthy respect for the “human factor” that can make security so hard to lock down.

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When Is a DevSecOps Vendor Not a DevSecOps Vendor?

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DevOps’ general aim is to enable a more efficient process for producing software and technology solutions and bringing stakeholders together to speed up delivery. But we know from experience that this inherently creative, outcome-driven approach often forgets about one thing until too late in the process—security. Too often, security is brought into the timeline just before deployment, risking last minute headaches and major delays. The security team is pushed into being the Greek chorus of the process, “ruining everyone’s fun” by demanding changes and slowing things down.

But as we know, in the complex, multi-cloud and containerized environment we find ourselves in, security is becoming more important and challenging than ever. And the costs of security failure are not only measured in slower deployment, but in compliance breaches and reputational damage.

The term “DevSecOps” has been coined to characterize how security needs to be at the heart of the DevOps process. This is in part principle and part tools. As a principle, DevSecOps fits with the concept of “shifting left,” that is, ensuring that security is treated as early as possible in the development process. So far, so simple.

From a tooling perspective, however, things get more complicated, not least because the market has seen a number of platforms marketing themselves as DevSecOps. As we have been writing our Key Criteria report on the subject, we have learned that not all DevSecOps vendors are necessarily DevSecOps vendors. Specifically, we have learned to distinguish capabilities that directly enable the goals of DevSecOps from a process perspective, from those designed to support DevSecOps practices. We could define them as: “Those that do, and those that help.”

This is how to tell the two types of vendor apart and how to use them.

Vendors Enabling DevSecOps: “Tools That Do”

A number of tools work to facilitate the DevSecOps process -– let’s bite the bullet and call them DevSecOps tools. They help teams set out each stage of software development, bringing siloed teams together behind a unified vision that allows fast, high-quality development, with security considerations at its core. DevSecOps tools work across the development process, for example:

  • Create: Help to set and implement policy
  • Develop: Apply guidance to the process and aid its implementation
  • Test: Facilitate and guide security testing procedures
  • Deploy: Provide reports to assure confidence to deploy the application

The key element that sets these tool sets apart is the ability to automate and reduce friction within the development process. They will prompt action, stop a team from moving from one stage to another if the process has not adequately addressed security concerns, and guide the roadmap for the development from start to finish.

Supporting DevSecOps: “Tools That Help”

In this category we place those tools which aid the execution, and monitoring, of good DevSecOps principles. Security scanning and application/infrastructure hardening tools are a key element of these processes: Software composition analysis (SCA) forms a part of the development stage, static/dynamic application security testing (SAST/DAST) is integral to the test stage and runtime app protection (RASP) is a key to the Deploy stage.

Tools like this are a vital part of the security layer of security tooling, especially just before deployment – and they often come with APIs so they can be plugged into the CI/CD process. However, while these capabilities are very important to DevSecOps, they can be seen in more of a supporting role, rather than being DevSecOps tools per se.

DevSecOps-washing is not a good idea for the enterprise

While one might argue that security should never have been shifted right, DevSecOps exists to ensure that security best practices take place across the development lifecycle. A corollary exists to the idea of “tools that help,” namely that organizations implementing these tools are not “doing DevSecOps,” any more than vendors providing these tools are DevSecOps vendors.

The only way to “do” DevSecOps is to fully embrace security at a process management and governance level: This means assessing risk, defining policy, setting review gates, and disallowing progress for insecure deliverables. Organizations that embrace DevSecOps can get help from what we are calling DevSecOps tools, as well as from scanning and hardening tools that help support its goals.

At the end of the day, all security and governance boils down to risk: If you buy a scanning tool so you can check a box that says “DevSecOps,” you are potentially adding to your risk posture, rather than mitigating it. So, get your DevSecOps strategy fixed first, then consider how you can add automation, visibility, and control using “tools that do,” as well as benefit from “tools that help.”

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High Performance Application Security Testing

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This free 1-hour webinar from GigaOm Research. It is hosted by an expert in Application and API testing, and GigaOm analyst, Jake Dolezal. His presentation will focus on the results of high performance testing we completed against two security mechanisms: ModSecurity on NGINX and NGINX App Protect. Additionally, we tested the AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) as a fully managed security offering.

While performance is important, it is only one criterion for a Web Application Firewall selection. The results of the report are revealing about these platforms. The methodology will be shown with clarity and transparency on how you might replicate these tests to mimic your own workloads and requirements.

Register now to join GigaOm and sponsor NGINX for this free expert webinar.

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