One click too fast

Security & Privacy

This is the seventh in a series of posts about Cyber Defense that happened to real people in real life, costing very real money.

“If I weren’t a lawyer, I probably wouldn’t have survived today”, Kate thought, as she opened a bottle of whiskey.

She had earned it. It was a hard day, a disaster. Well, not a total disaster.

When she had closed down her law firm and joined Mordor, Inc., she thought she would finally get a little peace of mind… She could not have been more wrong.

* * *
[The same day, 12 hours earlier]

As every morning, she got into her white BMW slightly late and drove to work through the city streets. Caught in the traffic jam, she had time to do the makeup and swipe through some photos on Tinder. “I can’t wait to add my skydiving picture and fill in my height,” she thought. “My profile is too polite and too boring. But that’s going to change…”

A few days ago she had ordered a new parachute. A gift for herself her 50th jump. It was red and went very well with her blonde hair.

Unfortunately, the Tinder crowd would have to wait for the parachute picture. As usual, the Post Office was still holding up the package.

She spent the first few hours at work doing what she always did. She checked some outstanding contracts, adding comments. Her golden rule: at least one note per page to justify her existence. Then she moved on to writing proposals. This was her favorite task. She could do it quickly, using templates she had dating all the back to law school. Copy-and-paste time.

She was finishing adding few words the last sentence of the document when she heard that happy sound indicating that a new e-mail had arrived.

FROM: advice@poczta-polska.pl
TO: kate.honest@mordor-inc.pl
SUBJECT: Poczta Polska S.A. Order update

Your package could not be delivered to the delivery address on October 27, 2015, because no one was at home. In order to obtain information regarding your shipment, click the link. You can pick up the shipment at the nearest Poczta Polska office by presenting the printed ADVICE NOTE:

Your ADVICE NOTE

WARNING! If the package is not picked up within 7 days, a storage fee will be charged. After another 7 days, the package will be sent to the warehouse in Koluszki and destroyed or auctioned under supervision of a committee.

Kind regards,
Poczta Polska.

“Damn. I should have picked the thing up,” she thought. But then she remembered that a few days back the company hired her an assistant. “Wonderful. Someone else will stand in line for me.”

She forwarded the message to her assistant, adding one sentence to appropriately prioritize the matter:

Yvonne, no one will hold it against you if you can’t pick it up today, but I hope you can go to the post office ASAP.

What was Yvonne to do?

She set aside the invoices she’d been assigned to pay online when the accountant called in sick and clicked the link to download Kate’s claim note. Because ASAP means ASAP.

On the page that appeared, she immediately saw a large “View details” button. She clicked again to download the file named awizo.pdf.

After saving the file on the disk, she opened it and printed the notice. She locked her computer screen just as IT had instructed her during her orientation.

What Yvonne didn’t know is she had downloaded an awizo.pdf.pif file.
PIF is a very interesting extension. Even if Windows has been configured to display file extensions, the PIF extension does not show up. The icon does not look like a PDF file, but icons are constantly changing.
So who knows?
It was too late. Her computer was infected. The antivirus did not react because… there was no antivirus. To cut costs, Mordor Inc. had not renewed the license. The company calculated that it will be cheaper to train the employees that “bad file formats that cannot be opened in any circumstances.”
Still PDF files were allowed…

It was almost lunchtime. To get to the post office as soon as possible, Yvonne couldn’t let the elevator open for each of the building’s 20 floors. She pressed both the “ground floor” and “close the door” buttons and held them down for three seconds. This trick enabled “fast travel mode.” It was often used by security staff to get to the selected floor without stopping. It worked only on elevators made by OTIS, like this one.

Before the elevator got to the ground floor, malware known as VBKlip was installed on Yvonne’s computer. It worked in a very simple way. If a bank account number appeared in the infected computer’s clipboard, e.g. copied from an invoice, VBKlip changed it into another one. This way the victims were oblivious to the fact that by using copy and paste they were helping online criminals rob them.

* * *

“Let me explain it again. We don’t have your package and we do not send emails to customers. This is Poczta Polska! Stamps and date-stamps are sacred! Any notice without a stamp is invalid. OK? Now, would you like to buy some Wite-Out or Exorcist Guide magazine? We have also candles”.

Yvonne, who had waited in the line for 30 minutes, was not happy. But there was nothing she could do. She got back to the office and finished paying the invoices. An hour later the lights in her office suddenly turned off.

* * *

“You had a very simple task. Pay the invoices. How tough is that?” In the dark, the CEO looked more threatening than ever. “Rent. That’s pretty important, in case you didn’t notice. You see, Mrs. Yvonne, it’s hard to work without power”.

“But…” Yvonne stared, but the CEO would not let her talk.

“You will now go down to the building’s manager office and convince the building manager that we didn’t mean to deceive him. And promise him that this time we were willing to pay on time. And do it quickly.”

“But I paid all the invoices… I have confirmations here.”

Yvonne logged into the bank’s website. But after entering the login and password, she saw a message: her computer was likely infected. The bank had cut off access for security reasons. “Hmmm,” she said. “One of the accounts she paid must have marked as ‘suspicious’ by the bank.”

IT came and quickly confirmed the infection. A quick phone call to the bank dispelled any doubts. The money had already gone and could not be recovered.

To make matters worse, in addition to VBKlip, another Trojan had been discovered that targeted credit card numbers. Yvonne had written the company’s credit card data in the text file so she could easily paste it into other sites. The Trojan had located the file, and the credit card number had been immediately put up for sale on the carder forum.

The credit limit (PLN 20,000) has been used up in just one hour to purchase electronics…

Yvonne was heartbroken. To cover all the losses, it would be PLN 75,000, out of her own pocket. With tears in her eyes, she began searching for similar cases of theft on the online. She wished she had found the article that warned against such attacks and explained how to safely perform money transfers earlier, before it was too late.

* * *
Kate felt partly responsible for Yvonne’s troubles. After all, she told Yvonne to print the fake mail claim.

So she decided to do what lawyers do.

After many phone calls to the bank, she obtained information about the accounts and banks the money went to. Another batch of calls ensured that the money was blocked on dummy accounts. It was a matter of time before it would be returned to Mordor’s account.

She did not have much trouble recovering the funds from the credit card, either. Kate decided to use an effective, though little-known chargeback procedure offered by banks in cooperation with payment organizations. She simply had to ask an agent to send the appropriate form, in which she would describe the circumstances of the event and indicate fraudulent transactions on the bank statement.

After several days, the money would be back in Mordor’s account — but all the whiskey would be gone.

 

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