Gutting a Phish

In the news lately there have been countless examples of phishing attacks becoming more sophisticated, but it’s important to remember that entire “industry” is a bell curve: the most dedicated attackers are upping their game, but advancements in tooling and automation are also letting many less sophisticated players get started even more easily. Put another way, spamming and phishing are coexisting happily as both massive multinational business organizations and smaller cottage-industry efforts.

One such enterprising but misguided individual made the mistake of sending a typically blatant phishing email to one of our Neohapsis mailing lists, and someone forwarded it along to me for a laugh.

Initial Phish Email

The phishing email, as it appeared in a mailbox

As silly and evident as this is, one thing I’m constantly astounded by is how the proportion of people who will click never quite drops to zero. Our work on social engineering assessments bears out this real world example: with a large enough sample set, you’ll always hook at least one. In fact, a paper out of Microsoft Research suggests that, for scammers, this sort of painfully blatant opening is actually an intentional tool: it acts as a filter that only the most gullible will pass.

Given the weak effort put into the email, I was curious to see if the scam got any better if someone actually clicked through. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised.

Phish Site

The phishing site: a combination of legitimate Apple code and images and a form added by the attacker

The site is dressed up as a reasonable approximation of an official Apple site. In fact, a look at the source shows that there are two things going on here: some HTML/CSS set dressing and template code that is copied directly from the legitimate Apple site, and the phishing form itself which is a reusable template form created by one of the phishers.

Naturally, I was curious where data went once the form was submitted. I filled in some bogus data and submitted it (the phishing form helpfully pointed out any missing data; there is certainly an audacity in being asked to check the format of the credit card number that’s about to be stolen). The data POST went back to another page on the same server, then quickly forwarded me on to the legitimate iTunes site.

Submit and Forward Burp -For Blog

This is another standard technique: if a “login” appears to work because the victim was already logged in, the victim will often simply proceed with what they were doing without questioning why the login was prompted in the first place. During social engineering exercises at Neohapsis, we have seen participants repeatedly log into a cloned attack site, with mounting frustration, as they wonder why the legitimate site isn’t showing them the bait they logged in for.

Back to this phishing site: my application security tester spider senses were tingling, so I felt that I had to see what our phisher was doing with the data being submitted. To find out, I replayed the submit request with various types of invalid data, strings that should cause errors depending on how the data was being parsed or stored. Not a single test string produced any errors or different behavior. This could be an indication that any parsing and processing is being done carefully and correctly, but the far more likely case is that they’re simply doing no processing and dumping it all straight out as plain text.

Interesting… if harvested data is just being simply dumped to disk, where exactly is it going? Burp indicates that the data is being POSTed to a harvester script at Snd/Snd.php. I wonder what else is in that directory?

directory listing

Under the hood of the phishing site, the loot stash is clearly visible

That results.txt file looks mighty promising… and it is.


The format of the result.txt file

These are the raw results dumped from victims by the harvester script (Snd.php). The top entry is dummy data that I submitted, and when I checked it, the file was entirely filled with the various dummy submissions I had done before. It’s pretty clear from the results that I was the first person to actually click through and submit data to the phish site; actually pretty fortunate, because if a victim did enter legitimate information, the attacker would have to sort it out from a few hundred bogus submissions. Any day that we can make life harder for the the bad guys is a good day.

So, the data collection is dead simple, but I’d still like to know a bit more about the scam and the phishers if possible. There’s not a lot to go on, but the tag at the top of each entry seems unique. It’s the sort of thing we’re used to seeing when hackers deface a website and leave a tag to publicize the work:

------------+| $ o H a B  Dz and a m i r TN |+------------

Googling some variations turned up Google cache of a forum post that’s definitely related to the phishing site above; it’s either the same guy, or someone else using the same tool.

AppleFullz Forum post

A post in a carder forum, offering to sell data in the same format as generated by the phishing site above

A criminal using the name AppleFullz is selling complete information dumps of login details and credit card numbers plus CVV numbers (called “fulls” in carder forums) captured in the exact format that the Apple phish used, and even provides a sample of his wares (Insult to injury for the victim: not only was his information stolen, but it’s being given away as the credit card fraud equivalent of the taster trays at the grocery store). This carder is asking for $10 for one person’s information, but is willing to give bulk discounts: $30 for 5 accounts (This is actually a discount over the sorts of prices normally seen on carder forums; Krebs recently reported that Target cards were selling for $20-$100 per card. I read this as an implicit acknowledgement by our seller that this data is much “dirtier” and that the seller is expecting buyers to mine it for legitimate data). The tools being used here are a combination of some pre-existing scraps of  PHP code widely used in other spam and scam campaigns (the section labeled “|INFO|VBV|”), and a separate section added specifically to target Apple ID’s.

Of particular interest is that the carder provided a Bitcoin address. For criminals, Bitcoin has the advantage of anonymity but the disadvantage that transactions are public. This means that we can actually look up how much money has flowed into that particular Bitcoin address.


Ill-gotten gains: the Bitcoin blockchain records transfers into the account used for selling stolen Apple Id’s and credit card numbers.

From November 17, when the forum posting went up, until December 4th, when I investigated this phishing attempt, he has received Bitcoin transfers totaling 0.81815987 BTC, which is around $744.53 (based on the BTC value on 12/4). According to his price sheet, that translates to a sale of between 74 and 124 records: not bad for a month of terribly unsophisticated phishing.

Within a few hours of investigating the initial phishing site, it had been removed. The actual server where the phish site was hosted was a legitimate domain that had been compromised; perhaps the phisher noticed the volume of bogus traffic and decided that the jig was up for that particular phish, or the system administrator got tipped off by the unusual traffic and investigated. Either way the phish site is offline, so that’s another small victory.

Easiest Way into a Company

One web page and one email is all you need to gain access to a major corporation’s internal network. Catchy I know, but this is not an exaggeration of what an attacker can do to gain access on their internal network. In culmination with exploiting a few systems on the internal network, they can have free reign. Securing your network infrastructure begins with your employees. I don’t think you will be able to extract any new techniques or any new concepts from this post; however, this should shed some light and acknowledge the importance of safe end user practices as well as securing internal networks and resources.

Much of the governance and regulatory focus is securing your external networks, but what if they get in? We have seen a rise in external vulnerability scans and a decrease in internal/external penetration tests. Did we forget security awareness, defense in depth, network architecture or even the most basic administrative practices? Not surprisingly, it seems corporations are searching for that check mark on their audit and not concerned with actual security.

So what, right?

Even the most security-aware corporations’ are still falling victim to social engineering exercises. Valuable resources which an attacker can use are found in the most trivial places such as social networking sites. Anyone can acquire an adequate employee list in minutes with all the social networking sites such as Linkedin, Facebook, Myspace, etc. From the vast amount of information that can be collected from social networking sites, message boards, and online-groups you can realistically create an organization chart (which helps addressing employees and providing focus for your phishing attack).


Currently, much of the workforce has logged into a VPN or OWA once in their lifetimes. Corporations are offering many services remotely to keep their workers adequately connected. These basic infrastructure items seem the most prone and widespread systems for an attacker to prey on. The first step an attacker makes is basic recon and choosing their targets. Often employees in administrative or sales roles are selected because they tend to login to resources remotely. Next, an attacker will search for an external facing login prompt to clone it to a dummy system with a basic logging to record IP and user credentials. After that, well crafted emails directing unsuspecting users to the dummy login…Done. Simple as that, login credentials obtained within minutes.

How do we protect from here:

There are three fronts that could dramatically improve the outcome of these scenarios. First off, end user training and policies geared towards making employees more aware of possible attacks and best practices. I am not talking about handing a policy to the employee and having them read it either. Second, internal penetrations tests still are viable and will cover a number of areas that will protect from employee attacks as well as minimizing potential sophisticated attacks. This may include additional tasks of hardening of hosts, segregation of networks/assets, and adjusting the appropriate policies. Third, static passwords on critical systems externally facing should be changed to a more secure method such as token authentication. The truth is there is no magic bullet to prevent phishing or social attacks, we will always be combating the human tendency to trust.