Interesting publication of a paper at the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy 2011 (California). The research (involving 15 authors) investigated purchasing spam products and amongst other things, focused on tracing the payments.
” .. The paper performs holistic analysis that quantifies the full set of resources employed to monetize spam email—including naming, hosting, payment and fulfillment—using extensive measurements of three months of diverse spam data, broad crawling of naming and hosting infrastructures, and over 100 purchases from spam-advertised sites. We relate these resources to the organizations who administer them and then use this data to characterize the relative prospects for defensive interventions at each link in the spam value chain. In particular, we provide the first strong evidence of payment bottlenecks in the spam value chain; 95% of spam-advertised pharmaceutical, replica and software products are monetized using merchant services from just a handful of banks ..
the so-called “spam value chain” involves; botnets, domain registration, name server provisioning, hosting services, and proxy services ..
spammers must also process orders, which requires “payment processing, merchant bank accounts, customer service, and fulfillment.” ..
95% of spam-advertised pharmaceutical, replica, and software products are monetized using merchant services from just a handful of banks ..
13 banks handling 95% of the 76 orders for which they received transaction information .. just three banks handled the majority of transactions: Azerigazbank in Azerbaijan, DnB NOR in Latvia (although the bank is headquartered in Norway), and St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank in the Caribbean ..
all software orders and 85% of pharmaceutical orders used the correct Visa “Merchant Category Code,” which identifies what’s been sold. “A key reason for this may be the substantial fines imposed by Visa on acquirers when miscoded merchant accounts are discovered ‘laundering’ high-risk goods,” ..
orders were fulfilled from 13 suppliers in four countries: the United States–Massachusetts, Utah, and Washington, all for herbal purchases, as well as West Virginia for pharmaceuticals–plus India, China, and New Zealand. Most pharmaceuticals came from India, while most herbal products came from the United States, likely due to weak regulations ..”
“3 Banks Service Majority Of Spam-Driven Sales”
Mathew J. Schwartz, InformationWeek 25 May 2011
http://www.informationweek.com/news/security/client/229625599 – last access 8 June 2011 – ( Full Article )
“Click Trajectories: End-to-End Analysis of the Spam Value Chain”
Kirill Levchenko et al., IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy 2011, Oakland, California, 24 May 2011
http://cseweb.ucsd.edu/~savage/papers/Oakland11.pdf – last access 8 June 2011 – ( Full Journal )
Snippets of recent article in the New Scientist..
“.. hide data on a hard drive without using encryption. Instead of using a cipher to scramble text, the method involves manipulating the location of data fragments.
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..possible to encode a 20-megabyte message on a 160-gigabyte portable hard drive. It hides data so well that its existence would be “unreasonably complex” to detect
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Encryption .. shows someone might have something to hide..
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steganography, hiding data in plain sight.. But these techniques are well known and easily detected, says Khan. So, with colleagues at the National University of Science and Technology in Islamabad, Pakistan, he has developed an alternative.
Their technique exploits the way hard drives store file data in numerous small chunks, called clusters. The operating system stores these clusters all over the disc, wherever there is free space between fragments of other files.
Khan and his colleagues have written software that ensures clusters of a file, rather than being positioned at the whim of the disc drive controller chip, as is usually the case, are positioned according to a code. All the person at the other end needs to know is which file’s cluster positions have been encoded.
The code depends on whether sequential clusters in a file are situated adjacent to each other on the hard disc or not. If they are adjacent, this corresponds to a binary 1 in the secret message. If sequential clusters are stored in different places on the disc, this encodes a binary 0 (Computers and Security, DOI: 10.1016/j.cose.2010.10.005). The recipient then uses the same software to tell them the file’s cluster positions, and hence the message. The researchers intend to make their software open source.
“An investigator can’t tell the cluster fragmentation pattern is intentional- it looks like what you’d get after addition and deletion of files over time,” says Khan. Tests show the technique works, as long as none of the files on the hard disc are modified before handover.
“The real strength of this technique is that even a completely full drive can still have secret data added to it – simply by rearranging the clusters,” adds Khan.
Others are impressed with the technique but see limitations.
“This type of steganography could be used by spies, police or informants – but the risk is that it requires direct contact to physically exchange the USB device containing the secret data,” says Wojciech Mazurcyk, a steganographer at Warsaw University of Technology in Poland. “So it lacks the flexibility of internet steganography. Once you embed the secret data on the disk it is not easy to modify it.”
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“It’s how security vulnerability disclosure works,” says Khan. “We have identified that this is possible. Now security agencies can devise techniques to detect it.” He adds that his team have had no issues with either US or Pakistani security agencies over their development of this secret medium – despite current political tensions between the two nations.
“The use of steganographic techniques like this is likely to increase,” says Fred Piper, director of information security at Royal Holloway, University of London. “Eavesdroppers can learn much from the fact that somebody is encrypting a message.”
“Covert hard drive fragmentation embeds a spy’s secrets”
Paul Marks, New Scientist.com, 21 April 2011
http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21028095.200-covert-hard-drive-fragmentation-embeds-a-spys-secrets.html – last access 29 April 2011 – ( Full Article )