Yee-hacked! Fired Texan sysadmin goes rogue, trashes boot business

Pays high price for 'elphaser' backdoor antics


A former IT administrator working at a cowboy boot manufacturer has pled guilty to hacking the servers and cloud accounts of his employer after they fired him and had him removed from the building.

Joe Vito Venzor, 41, had been employed by the Lucchese Boot Company in El Paso, Texas, but he was let go on September 1 last year. This didn't go well – the criminal complaint [PDF] states that he became "volatile" and that it took staff an hour to get him out of the building after his meeting with the IT director.

As a precaution, Venzor's access rights were revoked as he left the building. However an hour later an "elphaser" administrator account logged onto the company's network and shut down the corporate email server, followed by its application server, which ran – among other things – the main production line.

The attacker deleted files on the servers to block any attempts for a reboot, and then set to work on the firm's cloud accounts, shutting them down or changing the passwords. Very quickly the entire company's IT infrastructure came under attack.

Suspecting the obvious, the IT director investigated Venzor's work email account and found he had emailed a document to his private email address. The document was a list of network access codes and passwords for various IT subsystems, listed coincidentally in the exact order that the firm's accounts were in the process of being hacked.

Race against time

Using the list, the director got ahead of the attacker and began changing passwords himself to mitigate some of the damage and lock out illegitimate access after 45 minutes. This was only partially successful and, after three hours of trying to get the servers back online, the other manufacturing and admin staff were told to go home for the day.

The attacker's work was so effective that the application server was totally borked and the company ended up having to buy a new one and reinstall all the software on it. Outside IT staff had to be brought in to sort out the mess and the firm claims it lost $100,000 in new orders, on top of all the extra IT costs.

During the course of the cleanup, investigators found that Venzor had set up the elphaser account from his work computer, which no one else had access to. The account was designed to look like an innocuous service account, but had full admin privileges where none were needed.

He was arrested shortly after the attack by the FBI and charged with unauthorized intrusion upon protected computers. On Thursday he admitted his crimes and now faces up to 10 years in jail and a possible $250,000 fine, plus paying the costs of his old employer. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Cheers ransomware hits VMware ESXi systems
    Now we can say extortionware has jumped the shark

    Another ransomware strain is targeting VMware ESXi servers, which have been the focus of extortionists and other miscreants in recent months.

    ESXi, a bare-metal hypervisor used by a broad range of organizations throughout the world, has become the target of such ransomware families as LockBit, Hive, and RansomEXX. The ubiquitous use of the technology, and the size of some companies that use it has made it an efficient way for crooks to infect large numbers of virtualized systems and connected devices and equipment, according to researchers with Trend Micro.

    "ESXi is widely used in enterprise settings for server virtualization," Trend Micro noted in a write-up this week. "It is therefore a popular target for ransomware attacks … Compromising ESXi servers has been a scheme used by some notorious cybercriminal groups because it is a means to swiftly spread the ransomware to many devices."

    Continue reading
  • Twitter founder Dorsey beats hasty retweet from the board
    We'll see you around the Block

    Twitter has officially entered the post-Dorsey age: its founder and two-time CEO's board term expired Wednesday, marking the first time the social media company hasn't had him around in some capacity.

    Jack Dorsey announced his resignation as Twitter chief exec in November 2021, and passed the baton to Parag Agrawal while remaining on the board. Now that board term has ended, and Dorsey has stepped down as expected. Agrawal has taken Dorsey's board seat; Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor has assumed the role of Twitter's board chair. 

    In his resignation announcement, Dorsey – who co-founded and is CEO of Block (formerly Square) – said having founders leading the companies they created can be severely limiting for an organization and can serve as a single point of failure. "I believe it's critical a company can stand on its own, free of its founder's influence or direction," Dorsey said. He didn't respond to a request for further comment today. 

    Continue reading
  • Snowflake stock drops as some top customers cut usage
    You might say its valuation is melting away

    IPO darling Snowflake's share price took a beating in an already bearish market for tech stocks after filing weaker than expected financial guidance amid a slowdown in orders from some of its largest customers.

    For its first quarter of fiscal 2023, ended April 30, Snowflake's revenue grew 85 percent year-on-year to $422.4 million. The company made an operating loss of $188.8 million, albeit down from $205.6 million a year ago.

    Although surpassing revenue expectations, the cloud-based data warehousing business saw its valuation tumble 16 percent in extended trading on Wednesday. Its stock price dived from $133 apiece to $117 in after-hours trading, and today is cruising back at $127. That stumble arrived amid a general tech stock sell-off some observers said was overdue.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022