Young people across the world are showing themselves to be savvy and competent behind a computer screen. Many of them are facing jail time for showing the vulnerabilities in the U.S.’s computer systems.
Hieu Minh Ngo, a Vietnamese national, has been sentenced to 13 years in prison for hacking into U.S. businesses’ computers, stealing personally identifiable information (PII), and selling the information to other cybercriminals. He is charged with illegally accessing the PII of about 200 million US citizens. He was arrested in February 2013 upon entering the U.S. when he was tricked into going to Guam under the guise of receiving more consumer data by an undercover US Secret Service agent.
Ngo faced 24 years in federal prison but his sentence was lessened thanks to his cooperation with investigators in helping to arrest at least a dozen of his U.S.-based customers, including an Ohio man who U.S. Marshals pursued through multiple states after he was convicted of filing phony tax refund requests with the IRS.
Ngo, 25, will serve 13 years in prison for hacking into U.S. business computers and stealing the information of approximately 200 million US citizens to sell to other people as so-called ‘fullz’, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Donald Feith of the District of New Hampshire and Director Joseph P. Clancy of the U.S. Secret Service announced.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul J. Barbadoro of the District of New Hampshire sentenced Ngo, who pleaded guilty to the federal charges in the District of New Hampshire and District of New Jersey court rooms. His sentence includes wire fraud, identity fraud, access device fraud and, as well, four counts of computer fraud and abuse. The IRS confirmed 13,673 U.S. citizens had their information sold on Ngo’s websites, with $65 million in fraudulent individual income tax returns filed thanks to his services.
“From his home in Vietnam, Ngo used Internet marketplaces to sell millions of stolen identities of U.S. citizens to more than a thousand cyber criminals scattered throughout the world,” according to Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Criminals buy and sell stolen identity information because they see it as a low-risk, high-reward proposition. Identifying and prosecuting cyber-criminals like Ngo is one of the ways we’re working to change that cost-benefit analysis.”
“This case demonstrates that identity theft is a worldwide threat that has the potential to touch every one of us,” claims Acting U.S. Attorney Feith. “I want to acknowledge the excellent work of the United States Secret Service in identifying and capturing Mr. Ngo. This case proves that the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Hampshire will work with law enforcement to investigate and prosecute identity thieves, even if they are halfway around the world.”
“The sentencing of this transnational cyber-criminal illustrates another example of Secret Service success in the disruption and dismantling of global criminal networks,” celebrates Director Clancy.
This investigation and the resulting prosecution and sentencing should serve as a warning to criminals that we will relentlessly investigate, detect, and defend the Nation’s financial infrastructure. This sentencing joins a long list of successes in combating financial crimes over our 150 year history.
Ngo is charged with operating online marketplaces from his home in Vietnam, including “superget.info” and “findget.me,” as a means of selling packages of stolen PII, called fullz, which often encompassed a person’s name, date of birth, social security number, bank account number and bank routing number. Among Ngo’s services were stolen payment card data, all-encompassing of a victim’s payment card number, expiration date, CVV number, name, address and phone number, which, as Ngo told prosecutors, was obtained by hacking a New Jersey-based business.
On superget.info, which began operating in 2010, users could search for individuals by name, city, and state, Ngo also allowed users to query online databases for stolen information of individuals. Ngo grossed $2 million dollars.
The arrest comes but one month after the U.S. Office of Personnel Management made public that it had been hacked and the sensitive information of 22.1 million people had been compromised, including federal employees and contractors and their families.
Experian subsidiary Court Ventures was hacked by Ngo when he posed as a private investigator in the United States and paid for customer data searches with cash wire transfers from a bank in Singapore. In December 2013, an executive from Experian said in Congress that the company was unaware of any damage done by Ngo.
Each bit of information on the websites cost approximately less than a dollar. “Our Databases are updated EVERY DAY,” Ngo once celebrated. “About 99% nearly 100% US people could be found, more than any sites on the internet now.”
Images from Shutterstock.
The Pirate Bay is Hijacking PCs to Stealth-Mine Cryptocurrency
For the second time in as many months, The Pirate Bay has been caught mining cryptocurrency on your computer without consent. The torrent platform was actually test-driving cryptocurrency mining in your browser – no doubt a lucrative revenue stream.
The Pirates Are At It Again
The news was later confirmed by Bleeping Computer, which reported that,”The Pirate Bay, the internet’s largest torrent portal, is back at running a cryptocurrency miner after it previously ran a short test in mid-September.”
Estimates indicate that the scheme has earned the pirates a total of $43,000 over a three-week period.
Users had no way to opt their computers out of being test-driven by the torrent network. Back in September, The Pirate Bay got away by telling people it was just a test. The site’s owners cannot use the same excuse this time around.
CoinHive advises websites to let their visitors know their browser is being used to mine cryptocurrency.
“We’re a bit saddened to see that some of our customers integrate CoinHive into their pages without disclosing to their users what’s going on, let alone asking for their permission,” the company said.
The good news is most ad-blockers and antivirus programs will block CoinHive, given its recent abuses. That means not all visitors of The Pirate Pay were being used as a conduit for mining Monero.
Monero Joins Global Crypto Rally
The value of Monero (XMR) shot up nearly 8% on Friday, and was last seen trading at $94.17. With more than 15.2 million XMR tokens in circulation, the total market cap for Monero is $1.4 billion, according to CoinMarketCap. That’s enough for ninth on the global cryptocurrency list.
Twelve cryptos have now crossed the $1 billion valuation mark. A handful of others have made their way north of $500 million.
Coders Safeguard Vulnerable Ethereum Wallets Following Security Breach
Ethereum suffered large-scale security breaches last week after anonymous hackers targeted vulnerable wallets in the network, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars. However, it didn’t take long for a volunteer group of coders to “rescue” the funds in 500 at-risk wallets before the same attackers could get to them too.
White Hat Group Takes Charge
The so-called White Hat Group showed initiative by “rescuing” the funds using the same techniques the thieves employed to compromise $32 million USD worth of ether from three multi-signature wallets. As of Monday, the White Hat Group of ethical hackers was in possession of $86 million worth of ether and an additional $122 million in tokens.
Tokens are digital assets that are sold during an Initial Coin Offering (ICO) fundraising event. They have proven to be extremely popular.
Tens of millions of dollars worth of ether and tokens have already been returned to their owners. The White Hat Group says it will issue full refunds by the end of July.
Blockchain-based trading platform Coindash was also breached last week, resulting in the loss of more than $7 million worth of ether.
Security Breaches Nothing New in Crypto World
For all its benefits, cryptocurrency has been vulnerable to several high-profile security breaches. Last summer, Hong Kong-based Bitfinex was the target of a major attack that resulted in the theft of around $70 million worth of bitcoins. In response, the exchange announced a controversial plans to “socialize” its losses among all users. Each Bitfinex trader was docked 36% as a result.
Bitcoin prices declined sharply following the attack, stopping what had been a blistering summer of gains.
Ethereum Enterprise Alliance
For anyone doubting the potential of the ether, take a look at the list of companies participating in the Enterprise Ethereum Alliance (EEA). The EEA is a forum that connects Fortune 500 companies, startups and academics with ethereum subject matter experts. The EEA is made up of multinational banks and some of the world’s biggest technology companies.
The forum has made cyber security a top priority, according to a May 22 press release. In the release, companies like Infosys, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Synechron and others expressed their intent to contribute to the future of ethereum’s security.
Hackers Only Need Seconds to Figure Out Card Details
Experts from Newcastle University in England has found that hackers only need six seconds to figure out the card number, expiry date, and security code for a Visa debit or credit card by simple guesswork, according to a report from The Telegraph.
According to figures from the Office of National Statistics, in the U.K. the number of bank account fraud cases reported up to June 2016, from the beginning of the year, amounted to over 2.3 million.
The researchers found that all that a hacker needs is a computer and an Internet connection. It is believed that hackers simply utilize what is known as a Distributed Guessing Attack enabling them to get around security features that help prevent online fraud.
By using the Distributed Guessing Attack, the system was unable to detect multiple attempts made by hackers.
Process of Elimination
As such, within a matter of seconds hackers were able to determine the correct information on a person’s card by a process of elimination.
Only recently Tesco bank account customers were subjected to hacking after criminals were able to gain access to their accounts. It is believed that these hackers may have used the Distributed Guessing Attack to siphon money from peoples’ accounts.
Payment Cards Remain Vulnerable
Unfortunately, even though Visa debit and credit cards remain popular and convenient forms of payment, they remain vulnerable as well.
And hackers know this, which is why reports of online card fraud are becoming more prevalent in today’s technologically-advanced world.
Visa states though:
The research does not take into account the multiple layers of fraud prevention that exist within the payments system, each of which must be met in order to make a transaction possible in the real world.
However, while this may be the case, it seems something is amiss if cybercriminals can simply determine a person’s card details in six seconds through guesswork.
Bitcoin to the Rescue?
The digital currency bitcoin, however, may provide an answer to this problem.
As a type of digital currency that is held and created electronically with no central bank governing it, bitcoin is considered the cash of the Internet.
Due to its popularity more people are turning to it instead of fiat currency.
It was recently reported that Sweden is considering the issuance of its own digital currency, ekrona, in an effort to address the significant decline of the use of cash in the country.
Whereas India has announced that digital currency will become the new normal in the country as it attempts to reduce the amount of cash transactions with the banning of its biggest banknotes, the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000.
While these are just a few instances of how bitcoin is revolutionizing how we see money, many are quickly catching on to how safe and effective bitcoin is as a form of payment in a world where hackers are gaining easy access to a person’s Visa debit and credit cards.
Featured image from Shutterstock.
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