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Ten Years Later, New Clues within the Goal Breach – Krebs on Safety

On Dec. 18, 2013, KrebsOnSecurity broke the information that U.S. retail large Goal was battling a wide-ranging pc intrusion that compromised greater than 40 million buyer cost playing cards over the earlier month. The malware used within the Goal breach included the textual content string “Rescator,” which additionally was the deal with chosen by the cybercriminal who was promoting the entire playing cards stolen from Goal clients. Ten years later, KrebsOnSecurity has uncovered new clues concerning the real-life identification of Rescator.

Rescator, promoting a brand new batch of playing cards stolen in a 2014 breach at P.F. Chang’s.

Shortly after breaking the Goal story, KrebsOnSecurity reported that Rescator gave the impression to be a hacker from Ukraine. Efforts to verify my reporting with that particular person ended after they declined to reply questions, and after I declined to simply accept a bribe of $10,000 to not run my story.

That reporting was primarily based on clues from an early Russian cybercrime discussion board by which a hacker named Rescator — utilizing the identical profile picture that Rescator was identified to make use of on different boards — claimed to have initially been generally known as “Helkern,” the nickname chosen by the administrator of a cybercrime discussion board referred to as Darklife.

KrebsOnSecurity started revisiting the analysis into Rescator’s real-life identification in 2018, after the U.S. Division of Justice unsealed an indictment that named a special Ukrainian man as Helkern.

It could be useful to first recap why Rescator is considered so intently tied to the Goal breach. For starters, the textual content string “Rescator” was present in a few of the malware used within the Goal breach. Investigators would later decide that a variant of the malware used within the Goal breach was utilized in 2014 to steal 56 million cost playing cards from House Depot clients. And as soon as once more, playing cards stolen within the House Depot breach had been offered solely at Rescator’s outlets.

On Nov. 25, 2013, two days earlier than Goal stated the breach formally started, Rescator may very well be seen in immediate messages hiring one other discussion board member to confirm 400,000 cost playing cards that Rescator claimed had been freshly stolen.

By the primary week of December 2013, Rescator’s on-line retailer — rescator[.]la — was promoting greater than six million cost card data stolen from Goal clients. Previous to the Goal breach, Rescator had principally offered a lot smaller batches of stolen card and identification knowledge, and the web site allowed cybercriminals to automate the sending of fraudulent wire transfers to cash mules primarily based in Lviv, Ukraine.

Lastly, there’s some honor amongst thieves, and within the market for stolen cost card knowledge it’s thought-about poor kind to promote a batch of playing cards as “yours” in case you are merely reselling playing cards offered to you by a third-party card vendor or thief. When severe stolen cost card store distributors want to talk {that a} batch of playing cards is uniquely their handiwork or that of their quick crew, they discuss with it as “our base.” And Rescator was fairly clear in his commercials that these hundreds of thousands of playing cards had been obtained firsthand.


The brand new clues about Rescator’s identification got here into focus once I revisited the reporting round an April 2013 story right here that recognized the writer of the OSX Flashback Trojan, an early Mac malware pressure that shortly unfold to greater than 650,000 Mac computer systems worldwide in 2012.

That story concerning the Flashback writer was attainable as a result of a supply had obtained a Internet browser authentication cookie for a founding member of a Russian cybercrime discussion board referred to as BlackSEO. Anybody in possession of that cookie might then browse the invite-only BlackSEO discussion board and browse the consumer’s non-public messages with out having to log in. VIP member “Mavook” tells discussion board admin Ika in a personal message that he’s the Flashback writer.

The official proprietor of that BlackSEO consumer cookie glided by the nickname Ika, and Ika’s non-public messages on the discussion board confirmed he was shut pals with the Flashback writer. On the time, Ika additionally was the administrator of Pustota[.]pw — a closely-guarded Russian discussion board that counted amongst its members a few of the world’s most profitable and established spammers and malware writers.

For a few years, Ika held a key place at considered one of Russia’s largest Web service suppliers, and his (principally glowing) popularity as a dependable supplier of internet hosting to the Russian cybercrime neighborhood gave him an encyclopedic information about almost each main participant in that scene on the time.

The story on the Flashback writer featured redacted screenshots that had been taken from Ika’s BlackSEO account (see picture above). The day after that story ran, Ika posted a farewell handle to his mates, expressing shock and bewilderment over the obvious compromise of his BlackSEO account.

In a prolonged publish on April 4, 2013 titled “I DON’T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING,” Ika instructed Pustota discussion board members he was so spooked by latest occasions that he was closing the discussion board and quitting the cybercrime enterprise solely. Ika recounted how the Flashback story had come the identical week that rival cybercriminals tried to “dox” him (their dox named the incorrect particular person, however included a few of Ika’s extra guarded identities).

“It’s no secret that karma farted in my route,” Ika stated in the beginning of his publish. Unbeknownst to Ika on the time, his Pustota discussion board additionally had been utterly hacked that week, and a replica of its database shared with this writer.

A Google translated model of the farewell publish from Ika, the administrator of Pustota, a Russian language cybercrime discussion board targeted on botnets and spam. Click on to enlarge.

Ika stated the 2 people who tried to dox him did so on an much more guarded Russian language discussion board — DirectConnection[.]ws, maybe probably the most unique Russian cybercrime neighborhood ever created. New candidates of this discussion board needed to pay a non-refundable deposit, and obtain vouches by three established cybercriminals already on the discussion board. Even when one managed to steal (or guess) a consumer’s DirectConnection password, the login web page couldn’t be reached except the customer additionally possessed a particular browser certificates that the discussion board administrator gave solely to authorized members.

In no unsure phrases, Ika declared that Rescator glided by the nickname MikeMike on DirectConnection:

“I didn’t wish to carry any of this to actual life. Particularly since I knew the patron of the clowns – particularly Pavel Vrublevsky. Sure, I do state with confidence that the person with the nickname Rescator a.ok.a. MikeMike together with his accomplice Pipol have been Pavel Vrublevsky’s puppets for a very long time.”

Pavel Vrublevsky is a convicted cybercriminal who grew to become well-known because the CEO of the Russian e-payments firm ChronoPay, which specialised in facilitating on-line funds for a wide range of “high-risk” companies, together with playing, pirated Mp3 recordsdata, rogue antivirus software program and “male enhancement” tablets.

As detailed in my 2014 e-book Spam Nation, Vrublevsky not-so-secretly ran a pharmacy affiliate spam program referred to as Rx-Promotion, which paid spammers and virus writers to blast out tens of billions of junk emails promoting generic Viagra and managed prescription drugs like ache aid drugs. A lot of my reporting on Vrublevsky’s cybercrime empire got here from a number of years value of inner ChronoPay emails and paperwork that had been leaked on-line in 2010 and 2011.

Pavel Vrublevsky’s former Fb profile picture.


In 2014, KrebsOnSecurity discovered from a trusted supply near the Goal breach investigation that the consumer MikeMike on DirectConnection — the identical account that Ika stated belonged to Rescator — used the e-mail handle “”

On the time, KrebsOnSecurity couldn’t join that e mail handle to something or anybody. Nevertheless, a latest search on on the breach monitoring service Constella Intelligence returns only one consequence: An account created in November 2010 on the web site searchengines[.]ru beneath the deal with  “r-fac1.”

A search on “r-fac1” at cyber intelligence agency Intel 471 revealed that this consumer’s introductory publish on searchengines[.]ru marketed musictransferonline[.]com, an associates program that paid individuals to drive visitors to websites that offered pirated music recordsdata for pennies apiece.

Based on leaked ChronoPay emails from 2010, this area was registered and paid for by ChronoPay. These missives additionally present that in August 2010 Vrublevsky licensed a cost of ~$1,200 for a multi-user license of an Intranet service referred to as MegaPlan.

ChronoPay used the MegaPlan service to assist handle the sprawling initiatives that Vrublevsky referred to internally as their “black” cost processing operations, together with pirated tablets, porn, Mp3s, and pretend antivirus merchandise. ChronoPay staff used their MegaPlan accounts to trace cost disputes, order volumes, and promoting partnerships for these high-risk packages.

Borrowing a web page from the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Canine, the workers adopted nicknames like “Mr. Kink,” “Mr. Heppner,” and “Ms. Nati.” Nevertheless, in a traditional failure of operational safety, many of those staff had their MegaPlan account messages robotically forwarded to their actual ChronoPay e mail accounts.

A display screen shot of the org chart from ChronoPay’s MegaPlan Intranet system.

When ChronoPay’s inner emails had been leaked in 2010, the username and password for its MegaPlan subscription had been nonetheless working and legitimate. An inner consumer listing for that subscription included the private (non-ChronoPay) e mail handle tied to every worker Megaplan nickname. That listing itemizing stated the e-mail handle was assigned to the top of the Media/Mp3 division for ChronoPay, pictured on the prime left of the organizational chart above as “Babushka Vani and Koli.”

[Author’s note: I initially overlooked the presence of the email address in my notes because it did not show up in text searches of my saved emails, files or messages. I rediscovered it recently when a text search for on my Mac found the address in a screenshot of the ChronoPay MegaPlan interface.]

The nickname two rungs down from “Babushka” within the ChronoPay org chart is “Lev Tolstoy,” which the MegaPlan service confirmed was picked by somebody who used the e-mail handle v.zhabukin@freefrog-co-ru.

ChronoPay’s emails present that this Freefrog e mail handle belongs to a Vasily Borisovich Zhabykin from Moscow. The Russian enterprise monitoring web site rusprofile[.]ru stories that Zhabykin is or was the supervisor or proprietor of three Russian organizations, together with one referred to as JSC Sizzling Spot.

[Author’s note: The word “babushka” means “grandma” in Russian, and it could be that this nickname is a nod to the ChronoPay CEO’s wife, Vera. The leaked ChronoPay emails show that Vera Vrublevsky managed a group of hackers working with their media division, and was at least nominally in charge of MP3 projects for ChronoPay. Indeed, in messages exposed by the leaked ChronoPay email cache, Zhabykin stated that he was “directly subordinate” to Mrs. Vrublevsky].


JSC Sizzling Spot is attention-grabbing as a result of its co-founder is one other ChronoPay worker: 37-year-old Mikhail “Mike” Shefel. A Fb profile for Mr. Shefel says he’s or was vice chairman of cost programs at ChronoPay. Nevertheless, the final replace on that profile is from 2018, when Shefel seems to have legally modified his final identify. reveals that Sizzling Spot’s web site — myhotspot[.]ru — offered a wide range of consulting companies, together with IT safety assessments, code and system audits, and e mail advertising. The earliest recorded archive of the Sizzling Spot web site listed three purchasers on its homepage, together with ChronoPay and Freefrog.

ChronoPay inner emails present that Freefrog was considered one of its funding initiatives that facilitated the sale of pirated Mp3 recordsdata. Rusprofile[.]ru stories that Freefrog’s official firm identify — JSC Freefrog — is included by a thinly-documented entity primarily based within the Seychelles referred to as Impex Consulting Ltd., and it’s unclear who its true house owners are.

Nevertheless, a search at on the cellphone quantity listed on the homepage of myhotspot[.]ru (74957809554) reveals that quantity is related to eight domains.

Six of these domains are some variation of FreeFrog. One other area registered to that cellphone quantity is bothunter[.]me, which included a copyright credit score to “Sizzling Spot 2011.” On the annual Russian Web Week IT conference in Moscow in 2012, Mr. Shefel gave a brief presentation about bothunter, which he described as a service he designed to establish inauthentic (bot) accounts on Russian social media networks.

Curiously, considered one of r-fac1’s first posts to Searchengines[.]ru a yr earlier noticed this consumer requesting assist from different members who had entry to giant numbers of hacked social media accounts. R-fac1 instructed discussion board members that he was solely trying to make use of these accounts to publish innocent hyperlinks and feedback to the followers of the hacked profiles, and his publish recommended he was testing one thing.

“Good afternoon,” r-fac1 wrote on Dec. 20, 2010. “I’m in search of individuals with their very own not-recently-registered accounts on boards, (apart from search) Social networks, Twitter, blogs, their web sites. Duties, relying in your accounts, publish textual content and a hyperlink, typically only a hyperlink. Most frequently the subject is chatter, rest, dialogue. Posting my hyperlinks in your profiles, in your partitions. A separate provide for individuals with a big set of contacts in immediate messengers to attempt to use viral advertising.”

Neither Mr. Shefel nor Mr. Zhabykin responded to requests for remark.


Mr. Zhabykin quickly moved on to larger ventures, co-founding a cryptocurrency change primarily based in Moscow’s monetary heart referred to as Suex. In September 2021, Suex earned the excellence of changing into the primary crypto agency to be sanctioned by the U.S. Division of the Treasury, which successfully blocked Suex from the worldwide monetary system. The Treasury alleged Suex helped to course of hundreds of thousands in felony transactions, together with the proceeds of quite a few ransomware assaults.

“I don’t perceive how I acquired blended up on this,” Zhabykin instructed The New York Instances in 2021. Zhabykin stated Suex, which is registered within the Czech Republic, was principally a failure and had carried out solely a half dozen or so transactions since 2019.

The Russian enterprise monitoring service Rusprofile says Zhabykin is also the proprietor of an organization primarily based in the UK referred to as RideWithLocal; the corporate’s web site says it makes a speciality of arranging excursions for excessive sports activities, together with snowboarding, snowboarding, browsing and parasailing. Pictures from the RideWithLocal Fb web page present helicopters dropping snowboarders and skiers atop some pretty steep mountains.

A screenshot from the Fb web page of RideWithLocal.

Constella Intelligence discovered a cached copy of a now-deleted LinkedIn profile for Mr. Zhabykin, who described himself as a “sporttech/fintech specialist and mentor.”

“I create services and products worldwide, specializing in innovation and international challenges,” his LinkedIn profile stated. “I’ve began my profession in 2002 and since then I labored in Moscow, totally different areas of Russia, together with Siberia and in Finland, Brazil, United Kingdom, Sri Lanka. Over the past 15 years I contributed to many wonderful merchandise within the following industries: sports activities, ecology, sport tech, fin tech, digital funds, massive knowledge, telecommunications, pulp and paper business, wooden processing and journey. My specialities are Product growth, Mentorship, Technique and Enterprise growth.”

Rusprofile stories that Mikhail Borisovich Shefel is related to at the least eight present or now-defunct corporations in Russia, together with Dengi IM (Cash IM), Web Capital, Web Lawyer, Web 2, Zao Sizzling Spot, and (my private favourite) an entity included in 2021 referred to as “All of the Cash within the World.”

Constella Intelligence discovered a number of official paperwork for Mr. Shefel that got here from hacked Russian cellphone, vehicle and residence data. They point out Mr. Shefel is the registrant of a black Porsche Cayenne (Plate:X537SR197) and a Mercedes (Plate:P003PX90). These automobile data present Mr. Shefel was born on Could 28, 1986.

Rusprofile reveals that in some unspecified time in the future close to the tip of 2018, Shefel modified his final identify to Lenin. DomainTools stories that in 2018, Mr. Shefel’s firm Web 2 LLC registered the area identify Lenin[.]me. This now-defunct service offered bodily USSR-era Ruble notes that bear the picture of Vladimir Lenin, the founding father of the Soviet Union.

In the meantime, Pavel Vrublevsky stays imprisoned in Russia, awaiting trial on fraud expenses levied in opposition to the cost firm CEO in March 2022. Authorities allege Vrublevsky operated a number of fraudulent SMS-based cost schemes. In addition they accused Vrublevsky of facilitating cash laundering for Hydra, the most important Russian darknet market. Hydra trafficked in unlawful medicine and monetary companies, together with cryptocurrency tumbling for cash laundering, change companies between cryptocurrency and Russian rubles, and the sale of falsified paperwork and hacking companies.

In 2013, Vrublevsky was sentenced to 2.5 years in a Russian penal colony for convincing considered one of his prime spammers and botmasters to launch a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) assault in opposition to a ChronoPay competitor that shut down the ticketing system for the state-owned Aeroflot airline.

Following his launch, Vrublevsky started engaged on a brand new digital funds platform primarily based in Hong Kong referred to as HPay Ltd (a.ok.a. Hong Kong Processing Company). HPay seems to have had a large number of purchasers that had been operating schemes which bamboozled individuals with pretend lotteries and prize contests.

KrebsOnSecurity sought touch upon this analysis from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Secret Service, each of which have been concerned within the Goal breach investigation over time. The FBI declined to remark. The Secret Service declined to verify or dispute any of the findings, however stated it’s nonetheless thinking about listening to from anybody who might need extra data.

“The U.S. Secret Service doesn’t touch upon any open investigation and gained’t verify or deny the accuracy in any reporting associated to a felony method,” the company stated in a written assertion. “Nevertheless, When you’ve got any data referring to the themes referenced on this article, please contact the U.S. Secret Service at The Secret Service pays a reward for data resulting in the arrest of cybercriminals.”




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