Scammers scrape RAM for bank card data

Malware sidesteps encryption


Forget keyloggers and packet sniffers. In the wake of industry rules requiring credit card data to be encrypted, malware that siphons clear-text information from computer memory is all the rage among scammers, security researchers say.

So-called RAM scrapers scour the random access memory of POS, or point-of-sale, terminals, where PINs and other credit card data must be stored in the clear so it can be processed. When valuable information passes through, it is uploaded to servers controlled by credit card thieves.

While RAM scrapers have been around for a few years, they are a "fairly new" threat, according to a report released Wednesday that outlines the 15 most common attacks encountered by security experts at Verizon Business. They come in the wake of Payment Card Industry rules that require credit card data to be encrypted as it passes from merchants to the processing houses.

"They are definitely a response to some of the external trends that have been going on in the cybercrime environment," says Wade Baker, research and intelligence principal for Verizon Business. "Within a year, we've seen quite a few of them in the wild."

Verizon employees recently found the malware on the POS server of an unnamed resort and casino that had an unusually high number of customers who had suffered credit card fraud. The malware was sophisticated enough to log only payment card data rather than dumping the entire contents of memory. That was crucial to ensuring the malware didn't create server slowdowns that would tip off administrators.

The RAM scraper dumped the data onto the server's hard drive. The perpetrators visited at regular intervals through a backdoor on the machine to collect the booty.

RAM scrapers played a role in four percent of the 592 breaches Verizon Business investigated over a four year period starting in 2004. By contrast, keyloggers and spyware (which comprise a single category) and backdoors factored into 19 percent and 18 percent of the cases respectively.

Jason Milletary, a researcher with SecureWorks' Counter Threat Unit, said he's also seen an uptick in RAM scrapers over the past few years.

"Typically, these are specialized malware used in more targeted attacks," he says. "Often times, they are customized to to work with specific vendors' point-of-sale systems, so they understand how the data is formatted and stored."

As such, they are rarely detected by anti-virus programs, he and Verizon's Baker say. Tell-tale signs they've been installed include the presence of strange rdump files and perl scripts on a hard drive, sudden changes in free disk space and the monitoring of registries and system processes.

The Verizon report is available here. ®


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022