One of the big news items in telecom security this past week was the arrest in Manila of 4 men accused of defrauding AT&T of almost $2 million USD and then using those funds to finance a terrorist organization. The Philippine National Police issued a statement (annoyingly you have to scroll down to the “November 24, 2011″ entry) that explained the terrorist link:
Sosa said that Kwan and the other hackers in Manila were being used by the Zamir’s terrorists group to hack the trunk-line (PBX) of different telecommunication companies including the AT&T. Revenues derived from the hacking activities of the Filipino-based hackers were diverted to the account of the terrorists, who paid the Filipino hackers on a commission basis via local banks.
The joint operation between the Philippine Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) and the US FBI is per the statement a result of a long-standing effort within the FBI to combat this kind of fraud.
It’s not clear yet exactly how the fraud was perpetrated and whether or not there was any “VoIP” involved. Ars Technica, in a lengthy piece, “How Filipino phreakers turned PBX systems into cash machines for terrorists, indicates that the attackers used traditional attacks against PBXs to compromise voicemail systems that allow outbound calling (DISA) and then passed that list of compromised PBXs along to others who sold this access as a way to cheaply call into premium rate services (similar to 900-numbers in the US).
There’s also a note in the Ars Technica article that the attackers used good old default passwords to get into many of these PBXs. Assuming the prosecutions move forward we will hopefully learn more as the cases go to trial.
Regardless of the precise mechanism, it’s a great reminder that people need to check the traditional security mechanisms of their PBX systems, and REMOVE/CHANGE default passwords!
If you are interested in discussing this case, it will be the topic of today’s (Dec 2, 2011) Voip Users Conference (VUC) call at 12 noon US Eastern. All are welcome to join – or to listen to the conversation later once the recording is posted.