Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Threat Intelligence

Email Bomb Threats Follow Sextortion Playbook

Yesterday's wave of email bomb threats appear to be an evolution of tactics by the same groups that earlier tried "sextortion" and personal threats, Talos researchers say.

On December 13, dozens of organizations across the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand received email messages demanding $20,000 in bitcoin in return for the location of bombs  that had allegedly been planted at their offices. While the threats caused some confusion and a fair amount of annoyance, no bombs were found anywhere the threat was received.

While there is now an international search for the perpetrator(s), researchers at Talos say that the actors behind the bomb threats seem to be the same groups behind the waves of "sextortion" and blackmail email messages that have been plaguing victims since early summer.

"What they're doing now is kind of refining their social engineering approach to try to come up with other situations where the victim might actually be convinced to send the bitcoins," says Jaeson Schultz, technical leader at Talos. He points out that some of the specific language in the email messages, the address range of the senders, and the bitcoin wallets provided as the destination of the ransom all point to the same group of actors behind the evolving attacks.

And the attacks are evolving ever more rapidly. By late yesterday afternoon, the bomb threats had ceased, to be replaced with personal threats; acid attacks were the weapon of choice in the later extortion attempts.

Those personal threats are a return to an older tactic, says Schultz. "We've seen examples of messages where, for example, the attackers were claiming that they were a hit man who was hired to chop off the victim's hands or something. They had a change of heart, and now they are willing to — for a price that's paid in bitcoin — call off the attack and provide information about who hired them," he explains, saying that these rather gruesome messages were more common in September but had slowed.

Schultz says that researchers have been monitoring the bitcoin wallets provided as a target for the ransom, and that it doesn't appear as though any of the victims had actually paid the ransom. Colin Bastable, CEO of Lucy Security doesn't think that collecting ransom was really part of the attackers' plans. "This isn’t about extortion, it is about causing disruption. It worked," he said in a statement provided to Dark Reading. He continued, "There was no feasible way to collect money – so whilst it was criminal, the cost was paid in mass disruption. I think it is a trial run to see how America responds in such cases."

Schultz agrees with Bastable's broad conclusion about the ransom. "I guess the only thing I can kind of deduce is that the criminals in this case are not necessarily worried about having bitcoins that are tainted through this malicious activity." And he doesn't think we've seen the last of these attacks.

"Evidently these folks are making enough money that it is worth their time to continue these these tactics and I think it speaks to the fact that social engineering is one of the more powerful attacks out there," Schultz says. "It's an attack on the users themselves who are oftentimes the weakest link in any sort of a secure system."

Related content:

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
7 Truths About BEC Scams
Ericka Chickowski, Contributing Writer,  6/13/2019
DNS Firewalls Could Prevent Billions in Losses to Cybercrime
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  6/13/2019
Can Your Patching Strategy Keep Up with the Demands of Open Source?
Tim Mackey, Principal Security Strategist, CyRC, at Synopsys,  6/18/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon
Current Issue
Building and Managing an IT Security Operations Program
As cyber threats grow, many organizations are building security operations centers (SOCs) to improve their defenses. In this Tech Digest you will learn tips on how to get the most out of a SOC in your organization - and what to do if you can't afford to build one.
Flash Poll
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
The State of IT Operations and Cybersecurity Operations
Your enterprise's cyber risk may depend upon the relationship between the IT team and the security team. Heres some insight on what's working and what isn't in the data center.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-3896
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-19
A double-free can happen in idr_remove_all() in lib/idr.c in the Linux kernel 2.6 branch. An unprivileged local attacker can use this flaw for a privilege escalation or for a system crash and a denial of service (DoS).
CVE-2019-3954
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-19
Stack-based buffer overflow in Advantech WebAccess/SCADA 8.4.0 allows a remote, unauthenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code by sending a crafted IOCTL 81024 RPC call.
CVE-2019-10085
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-19
In Apache Allura prior to 1.11.0, a vulnerability exists for stored XSS on the user dropdown selector when creating or editing tickets. The XSS executes when a user engages with that dropdown on that page.
CVE-2019-11038
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-19
When using gdImageCreateFromXbm() function of gd extension in versions 7.1.x below 7.1.30, 7.2.x below 7.2.19 and 7.3.x below 7.3.6, it is possible to supply data that will cause the function to use the value of uninitialized variable. This may lead to disclosing contents of the stack that has been ...
CVE-2019-11039
PUBLISHED: 2019-06-19
Function iconv_mime_decode_headers() in versions 7.1.x below 7.1.30, 7.2.x below 7.2.19 and 7.3.x below 7.3.6 may perform out-of-buffer read due to integer overflow when parsing MIME headers. This may lead to information disclosure or crash.