Terbium Labs is an information security company, made of an elite grouping of security professionals, that specializes in helping businesses protect their critical data via monitoring and breach detection. That focus includes monitoring the “Dark Web” – the part of the internet not indexed by search engines like Google – where cyber thieves lurk, trade tactics, and sell the fruits of their ill-gotten gains.
Terbium recently downloaded tens of thousands of illicit guides currently available on the dark web about how to commit eCommerce fraud. The result is a report that not only exposes the tactics fraudsters use, but gives merchants insight into what they can do to protect themselves.
Merchant Fraud Journal sat down with Emily Wilson, VP of Research at Terbium Labs, to talk about the report. Our conversation covered how fraudsters choose merchants to target, what data merchants should be aware of, and more.
1. First, thank you for creating an invaluable resource for the community. Every merchant should absolutely download it. After reading through tens of thousands of these guides, what would you say is the most important thing merchants should be doing to protect themselves from eCommerce fraud?
Merchants (and others in the chain) need to step back and take in the true scale of the problem. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day transaction battle, and not appreciate the size of the force you’re fighting. There’s an entire criminal fraud economy thriving online in these dark web communities. Fraudulent transactions are not isolated incidents; they are the result of an established, intelligent, professionalized fraud community working off of billions of compromised credentials and payment accounts.
2. Keeping on that theme, the report mentions that vendors sometimes “mark” an organization as a target for fraud. What criteria do fraudsters use to make that designation? Short of going onto the dark web themselves, is there any way for merchants to find out if they are a target before it’s too late?
Fraudsters are in business to make money. The best way to make money is to go undetected in your fraud schemes and successfully cash out, which could either mean going after an organization with a less sophisticated security infrastructure, or going after an organization with high enough transaction volume that criminals could hope to blend in with legitimate users. Major retailers and big banks are particularly popular targets for large scale fraud schemes.
Data monitoring and detection should be the hallmark of any merchant’s full-spectrum security service – especially for those who are facing down increased regulations. How can a merchant know its information has been exposed if it is not proactively looking for that data externally? Merchants need to have a consistent, quantitative way to identify their existing data exposure, and to track that exposure over time. Historical context is key for determining increased risk.
At Terbium Labs, we help companies get ahead of the problem. Our data monitoring service is designed to detect sensitive corporate information, and identify listings for these types of guides so that merchants can take action.
3. Switching gears a bit to the data sources fraudsters use, the report makes a clear distinction between “personal” and “financial” data. Can you talk a little bit about what that distinction means, and how merchants should be using it to inform their fraud prevention strategies?
This is a great question – the line between person and financial data can be a bit blurry, especially since criminals have access to resources to turn personal data into financial data (e.g., using a stolen identity to open a new account or cash out on a line of credit), or to turn financial data into personal data (e.g., using the initial cardholder information as a jumping off point to commit broader identity theft).
For the purposes of the report, we identified financial data as any kind of payment information or account – a payment card, a payment processing account like Paypal or Venmo – and identified personal information as anything uniquely linked to an individual – an email address, a Social Security Number, or a password.
Recognizing the broad utility of compromised information can help merchants better understand the scale of the problem. Payment card information isn’t strictly financial information – the cardholder data can be as useful as the payment data.
4. The percentage of fraudsters targeting personal credit card data is shocking. Can you talk a little bit about why that is the case, and what merchants can look out for when reviewing orders for fraud?
Payment card information – credit cards in particular – is the most immediately valuable data to fraudsters. The end game of any fraud scheme is to profit. Payment cards provide an immediate cash out benefit, and credit cards carry fewer restrictions than debit cards. I’ll continue to drive home the importance of merchants getting a true sense of scale here – the dark web is home to scores of carding markets, selling tens of millions of stolen payment cards from around the world. Fraudsters will try to blend in with legitimate orders, and they have a lot of resources at their disposal to try, try, and try again.
5. Data theft is often thought of as a means to steal merchandise or services, but Account Takeover Fraud (ATO) — which targets a merchants cash flow directory — is on the rise. The need to protect corporate data is well known, but what did your research show are some of the most common ways fraudsters use to get at it? Is there any way for merchants to counter these tactics?
Basic security hygiene. I can hear the groans now, but hear me out – most attacks aren’t heroic efforts using flashy malware and sexy 0-days. Motivated and well-resourced groups exist, and we hear about their extensive campaigns. Those are the big players. In the meantime, the rest of the fraud community is working with what they have available – which is the information that comes from the large scale data compromise we hear about every day.
Email addresses are powerful, especially when a fraudster only has to plug them into a large scale phishing campaign and hope for the best. Constant password re-use means that once someone gains access to a single account, they actually have runway to access dozens of accounts – a compromised Twitter password can lead to an exposed bank account or retail account. Employees who use the same (or similar) passwords between corporate accounts and personal accounts only increase this risk.
For the everyday criminal, there’s no reason to go to heroics when you can make so much headway just going after the low-hanging fruit. All the more reason merchants need to have a clear sense of their employee and executive data exposure, and proactively track the appearance of clusters of customer data in the criminal underground. Even if it’s not your breach, it might still be your problem – merchants face the fallout from third party security issues more than most, because they bear the burden of the end-run transaction if their customer accounts get exposed.
6. The report mentions peak seasonal shopping periods as a time fraudsters like to try and “blend in with legitimate buyers”. Did you find a preference for any specific kind of attack to accomplish this that merchants can be on the lookout for?
It’s exactly that – criminals try to blend in with legitimate transactions by making what appear to be legitimate transactions. It’s a matter of hiding in plain sight. They turn to these peak shopping days, especially between Black Friday and the end of the year, because that window contains atypical transactions that make it difficult to identify fraudulent activity. The average consumer wouldn’t normally place five orders from the same store and ship them to three different addresses in the same afternoon during the rest of the year, but in the peak of the December shopping season that behavior becomes easier to explain. Fraudsters know that, and they use that to their advantage.
In the same way that fraudsters use industry information – like peak shopping days – to expand their fraud schemes, organizations can use fraud guides to bolster their security efforts. This report contains critical information to help merchants understand the tactics and techniques cyber criminals use to bypass controls and create scalable fraud operations, and provides context about how fraud guides fit into the broader underground fraud economy.
Terbium Labs helps organizations proactively identify sensitive information on the dark web, like the guides covered in this report. In the current state of security, defense is necessary, but it is no longer sufficient – proactive efforts to detect compromised information and corporate data are crucial in building a comprehensive security strategy.
To learn more about how Terbium Labs tracks data exposure on the dark web, visit https://terbiumlabs.com.
Emily Wilson, VP of Research
Emily Wilson is the VP of Research at Terbium Labs, a dark web intelligence company. Emily directs Terbium’s strategic research programs, where she focuses on the dark web, the criminal economy for personal information and payment data, and the increasing overlap between fraud and cyber-crime. Prior to her current role, Emily served as Director of Analysis at Terbium Labs, where she managed Terbium’s operational analysis team in identifying and investigating sensitive client data on the dark web. Emily is a Certified Fraud Examiner, a regular guest on industry shows like The Cyberwire Podcast, and frequently speaks at conferences, industry events, and trainings.