Security Unlocked


Discovering Router Vulnerabilities with Anomaly Detection

Ep. 37

Ready for a riddle? What do 40 hypothetical high school students and our guest on this episode have in common? Why they can help you understand complex cyber-attack methodology, of course! 

In this episode of Security Unlocked, hosts Nic Fillingham and Natalia Godyla are brought back to school by Principal Security Researcher, Jonathan Bar Or who discusses vulnerabilities in NETGEAR Firmware. During the conversation Jonathan walks through how his team recognized the vulnerabilities and worked with NETGEAR to secure the issue, and helps us understand exactly how the attack worked using an ingenious metaphor.  


In This Episode You Will Learn:  

  • How a side-channel attack works 
  • Why attackers are moving away from operating systems and towards network equipment 
  • Why routers are an easy access point for attacks 

Some Questions We Ask:  

  • How do you distinguish an anomaly from an attack? 
  • What are the differences between a side-channel attack and an authentication bypass? 
  • What can regular users do to protect themselves from similar attacks? 



Jonathan Bar Or’s Blog Post: 

Jonathan Bar Or’s LinkedIn: 

Nic Fillingham’s LinkedIn: 

Natalia Godyla’s LinkedIn: 

Microsoft Security Blog: 



Security Unlocked: CISO Series with Bret Arsenault 

More Episodes


Looking a Gift Card Horse in the Mouth

Ep. 35
Is it just me, or do you also miss the goodoledays of fraudulent activity?You remember the kind I’m talking about, theemails from princes around the world asking for just a couple hundred dollars to help them unfreeze or retrieve their massive fortune which they would share with you. Attacks havegrownmore nuanced, complex, and invasive since then, but because of the unbelievable talent at Microsoft, we’re constantly getting better at defending against it.On this episode of Security Unlocked, hosts Nic Fillingham and NataliaGodylasit down with returning champion, Emily Hacker, to discuss Business Email Compromise (BEC), an attack that has perpetrators pretending to be someone from the victim’s place of work and instructs them to purchase gift cards and send them to thescammer.Maybe it’s good tolookagift cardhorse in the mouth?In This Episode You Will Learn:Why BEC is such an effective and pervasive attackWhat are the key things to look out for to protect yourself against oneWhy BEC emails are difficult to trackSome Questions We Ask:How do the attackers mimic a true-to-form email from a colleague?Why do we classify this type of email attack separately from others?Why are they asking for gift cards rather than cash?Resources:Emily Hacker’s LinkedIn:’s2020Internet Crime Report’sLinkedIn:’sLinkedIn: Security Blog: Unlocked: CISO Series with Bret Arsenaulthttps://SecurityUnlockedCISOSeries.comTranscript:[Full transcript can be found at]Nic Fillingham:Hello, and welcome to Security Unlocked, a new podcast from Microsoft, where we unlock insights from the latest in news and research from across Microsoft security engineering and operations teams. I'm Nic Fillingham.Natalia Godyla:And I'm Natalia Godyla. In each episode, we'll discuss the latest stories from Microsoft security, deep dive into the newest thread intel, research and data science.Nic Fillingham:And profile some of the fascinating people working on artificial intelligence in Microsoft security.Natalia Godyla:And now, let's unlock the pod.Nic Fillingham:Hello listeners, hello, Natalia, welcome to episode 35 of Security Unlocked. Natalia, how are you?Natalia Godyla:I'm doing well as always and welcome everyone to another show.Nic Fillingham:It's probably quite redundant, me asking you how you are and you asking me how you are, 'cause that's not really a question that you really answer honestly, is it? It's not like, "Oh, my right knee's packing at the end a bit," or "I'm very hot."Natalia Godyla:Yeah, I'm doing terrible right now, actually. I, I just, uh- Nic Fillingham:Everything is terrible.Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:Well, uh, our guest today is, is a returning champ, Emily Hacker. This is her third, uh, appearance on Security Unlocked, and, and she's returning to talk to us about a, uh, new business email compromise campaign that she and her colleagues helped unearth focusing on some sort of gift card scam.Nic Fillingham:We've covered business email compromise before or BEC on the podcast. Uh, we had, uh, Donald Keating join us, uh, back in the early days of Security Unlocked on episode six. The campaign itself, not super sophisticated as, as Emily sort of explains, but so much more sort of prevalent than I think a lot of us sort of realize. BEC was actually the number one reported source of financial loss to the FBI in 2020. Like by an order of magnitude above sort of, you know, just places second place, third place, fourth place. You know, I think the losses were in the billions, this is what was reported to the FBI, so it's a big problem. And thankfully, we've got people like, uh, Emily on it.Nic Fillingham:Natalia, can you give us the TLDR on the, on the campaign that Emily helps describe?Natalia Godyla:Yeah, as you said, it's, uh, a BEC gift card campaign. So the attackers use typosquatted domains, and socially engineered executives to request from employees that they purchase gift cards. And the request is very vague. Like, "I need you to do a task for me, "or "Let me know if you're available." And they used that authority to convince the employees to purchase the gift cards for them. And they then co-converted the gift cards into crypto at, at scale to collect their payout.Nic Fillingham:Yeah, and we actually discuss with Emily that, that between the three of us, Natalia, myself and Emily, we actually didn't have a good answer for how the, uh- Natalia Godyla:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:... these attackers are laundering these gift cards and, and converting them to crypto. So we're gonna, we're gonna go and do some research, and we're gonna hopefully follow up on a, on a future episode to better understand that process. Awesome. And so with that, on with the pod.Natalia Godyla:On with the pod.Nic Fillingham:Welcome back to the Security Unlocked podcast. Emily hacker, how are you?Emily Hacker:I'm doing well. Thank you for having me. How are you doing?Nic Fillingham:I'm doing well. I'm trying very hard not to melt here in Seattle. We're recording this at the tail end of the heat wave apocalypse of late June, 2021. Natalia, are you all in, I should have asked, have you melted or are you still in solid form?Natalia Godyla:I'm in solid form partially because I think Seattle stole our heat. I'm sitting in Los Angeles now.Nic Fillingham:Uh huh, got it. Emily, thank you for joining us again. I hope you're also beating the heat. You're here to talk about business email compromise. And you were one of the folks that co-authored a blog post from May 6th, talking about a new campaign that was discovered utilizing gift card scams. First of all, welcome back. Thanks for being a return guest. Second of all, do I get credit or do I get blame for the tweet that enabled you to, to- Emily Hacker:(laughs) It's been so long, I was hoping you would have forgotten.Nic Fillingham:(laughs) Emily and I were going backward forward on email, and I basically asked Emily, "Hey, Emily, who's like the expert at Microsoft on business email compromise?" And then Emily responded with, "I am."Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:As in, Emily is. And so I, I think I apologized profusely. If I didn't, let me do that now for not assuming that you are the subject matter expert, but that then birthed a very fun tweet that you put out into the Twitter sphere. Do you wanna share that with the listeners or is this uncomfortable and we need to cut it from the audio?Emily Hacker:No, it's fine. You can share with the listeners. I, uh- Nic Fillingham:(laughs)Emily Hacker:... I truly was not upset. I don't know if you apologized or not, because I didn't think it was the thing to apologize for. Because I didn't take your question as like a, "Hey," I'm like, "Can you like get out of the way I did not take it that way at all. It was just like, I've been in this industry for five years and I have gotten so many emails from people being like, "Hey, who's the subject matter in X?" And I'm always having to be like, "Oh, it's so and so," you know, or, "Oh yeah, I've talked to them, it's so-and-so." And for once I was like, "Oh my goodness, it me."Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Emily Hacker:Like I'm finally a subject matter in something. It took a long time. So the tweet was, was me being excited that I got to be the subject matter expert, not me being upset at you for asking who it was.Nic Fillingham:No, I, I took it in it's, I did assume that it was excitement and not crankiness at me for not assuming that it would be you. But I was also excited because I saw the tweet, 'cause I follow you on Twitter and I'm like, "Oh, that was me. That was me." And I got to use- Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:... I got to use the meme that's the s- the, the weird side eye puppet, the side, side eye puppet. I don't know if that translates. There's this meme where it's like a we-weird sort of like H.R. Pufnstuf sort of reject puppet, and it's sort of like looking sideways to the, to the camera.Emily Hacker:Yes.Nic Fillingham:Uh, I've, and I've- Emily Hacker:Your response literally made me laugh a while though alone in my apartment.Nic Fillingham:(laughs_ I've never been able to use that meme in like its perfect context, and I was like, "This is it."Emily Hacker:(laughs) We just set that one up for a comedy home run basically.Nic Fillingham:Yes, yes, yes. And I think my dad liked the tweet too- Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:... so I think I had that, so that was good.Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:Um, he's like my only follower.Emily Hacker:Pure success.Nic Fillingham:Um, well, on that note, so yeah, we're here to talk about business email compromise, which we've covered on the, on the podcast before. You, as I said, uh, co-authored this post for May 6th. We'll have a, a broader conversation about BEC, but let's start with these post. Could you, give us a summary, what was discussed in this, uh, blog post back on, on May 6th?Emily Hacker:Yeah, so this blog post was about a specific type of business email compromise, where the attackers are using lookalike domains and lookalike email addresses to send emails that are trying, in this particular case, to get the user to send them a gift card. And so this is not the type of BEC where a lot of people might be thinking of in terms of conducting wire transfer fraud, or, you know, you read in the news like some company wired several million dollars to an attacker. That wasn't this, but this is still creating a financial impact and that the recipient is either gonna be using their own personal funds or in some cases, company funds to buy gift cards, especially if the thread actor is pretending to be a supervisor and is like, "Hey, you know, admin assistant, can you buy these gift cards for the team?" They're probably gonna use company funds at that point.Emily Hacker:So it's still something that we keep an eye out for. And it's actually, these gift card scams are far and away the most common, I would say, type of BEC that I am seeing when I look for BEC type emails. It's like, well over, I would say 70% of the BEC emails that I see are trying to do this gift card scam, 'cause it's a little easier, I would say for them to fly under the radar maybe, uh, in terms of just like, someone's less likely to report like, "Hey, why did you spend $30 on a gift card?" Than like, "Hey, where did those like six billion dollars go?" So like in that case, "This is probably a little easier for them to fly under the radar for the companies. But in terms of impact, if they send, you know, hundreds upon hundreds of these emails, the actors are still gonna be making a decent chunk of change at the end of the day.Emily Hacker:In this particular instance, the attackers had registered a couple hundred lookalike domains that aligned with real companies, but were just a couple of letters or digits off, or were using a different TLD, or use like a number or sort of a letter or something, something along the lines to where you can look at it and be like, "Oh, I can tell that the attacker is pretending to be this other real company, but they are actually creating their own."Emily Hacker:But what was interesting about this campaign that I found pretty silly honestly, was that normally when the attacker does that, one would expect them to impersonate the company that their domain is looking like, and they totally didn't in this case. So they registered all these domains that were lookalike domains, but then when they actually sent the emails, they were pretending to be different companies, and they would just change the display name of their email address to match whoever they were impersonating.Emily Hacker:So one of the examples in the blog. They're impersonating a guy named Steve, and Steve is a real executive at the company that they sent this email to. But the email address that they registered here was not Steve, and the domain was not for the company that Steve works at. So they got a little bit, I don't know if they like got their wires crossed, or if they just were using the same infrastructure that they were gonna use for a different attack, but these domains were registered the day before this attack. So it definitely doesn't seem like opportunistic, and which it doesn't seem like some actors were like, "Oh, hey look, free domains. We'll send some emails." Like they were brand new and just used for strange purposes.Natalia Godyla:Didn't they also fake data in the headers? Why would they be so careless about connecting the company to the language in the email body but go through the trouble of editing the headers?Emily Hacker:That's a good question. They did edit the headers in one instance that I was able to see, granted I didn't see every single email in this attack because I just don't have that kind of data. And what they did was they spoofed one of the headers, which is an in-reply-to a header, which makes it, which is the header that would let us know that it's a real reply. But I worked really closely with a lot of email teams and we were able to determine that it wasn't indeed a fake reply.Emily Hacker:My only guess, honestly, guess as to why that happened is one of two things. One, the domain thing was like a, a mess up, like if they had better intentions and the domain thing went awry. Or number two, it's possible that this is multiple attackers conducting. If one guy was responsible for the emails with the mess of domains, and a different person was responsible for the one that had the email header, like maybe the email header guy is just a little bit more savvy at whose job of crime than the first guy.Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:Yeah, I li- I like the idea of, uh, sort of ragtag grubbing. I don't mean to make them an attractive image, but, you know, a ragtag group of people here. And like, you've got a very competent person who knows how to go and sort of spoof domain headers, and you have a less competent person who is- Emily Hacker:Yeah. It's like Pinky and the Brain.Nic Fillingham:Yeah, it is Pinky and the Brain. That's fantastic. I love the idea of Pinky and the Brain trying to conduct a multi-national, uh- Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:... BEC campaign as their way to try and take over the world. Can we back up a little bit? We jumped straight into this, which is totally, you know, we asked you to do that. So, but let's go back to a little bit of basics. BEC stands for business email compromise. It is distinct from, I mean, do you say CEC for consumer email compromise? Like what's the opposite side of that coin? And then can you explain what BEC is for us and why we sort of think about it distinctly?Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative), so I don't know if there's a term for the non-business side of BEC other than just scam. At its basest form, what BEC is, is just a scam where the thread actors are just trying to trick people out of money or data. And so it doesn't involve any malware for the most part at the BEC stage of it. It doesn't involve any phishing for the most part at the BEC stage of it. Those things might exist earlier in the chain, if you will, for more sophisticated attacks. Like an attacker might use a phishing campaign to get access before conducting the BEC, or an attacker might use like a RAT on a machine to gain access to emails before the actual BEC. But the business email compromise email itself, for the most part is just a scam. And what it is, is when an attacker will pretend to be somebody at a company and ask for money data that can include, you know, like W-2's, in which case that was still kind of BEC.Emily Hacker:And when I say that they're pretending to be this company, there's a few different ways that that can happen. And so, the most, in my opinion, sophisticated version of this, but honestly the term sophisticated might be loaded and arguable there, is when the attacker actually uses a real account. So business email compromise, the term might imply that sometimes you're actually compromising an email. And those are the ones where I think are what people are thinking of when they're thinking of these million billion dollar losses, where the attacker gains access to an email account and basically replies as the real individual.Emily Hacker:Let's say that there was an email thread going on between accounts payable and a vendor, and the attacker has compromised the, the vendor's email account, well, in the course of the conversation, they can reply to the email and say, "Hey, we just set up a new bank account. Can you change the information and actually wire the million dollars for this particular project to this bank account instead?" And if the recipient of that email is not critical of that request, they might actually do that, and then the money is in the attacker's hands. And it's difficult to be critical of that request because it'll sometimes literally just be a reply to an ongoing email thread with someone you've probably been doing business with for a while, and nothing about that might stand out as strange, other than them changing the account. It can be possible, but difficult to get it back in those cases. But those are definitely the ones that are, I would say, the most tricky to spot.Emily Hacker:More common, I would say, what we see is the attacker is not actually compromising an email, not necessarily gaining access to it, but using some means of pretending or spoofing or impersonating an email account that they don't actually have access to. And that might include registering lookalike domains as in the case that we talked about in this blog. And that can be typosquatted domains or just lookalike domains, where, for example, I always use this example, even though I doubt this domain is available, but instead of doing, they might do Microsoft with a zero, or like Microsoft using So it looks like an M at first glance, but it's actually not. Or they might do something like or something, which that obviously would not be available, but you get the point. Where they're just getting these domains that kind of look like the right one so that somebody, at first glance, will just look up and be like, "Oh yeah, that looks like Microsoft. This is the right person."Emily Hacker:They might also, more commonly, just register emails using free email services and either do one of two things, make the email specific to the person they're targeting. So let's say that an attacker was pretending to be me. They might register, or more recently and maybe a little bit more targeted, they might register like, and then they'll send an email as me. And then on the, I would say less sophisticated into the spectrum, is when they are just creating an email address that's like And then they'll use that email address for like tons of different targets, like different victims. And they'll either just change the display name to match someone at the company that they're targeting, or they might just change it to be like executive or like CEO or something, which like the least believable of the bunch in my opinion is when they're just reusing the free emails.Emily Hacker:So that's kind of the different ways that they can impersonate or pretend to be these companies, but I see all of those being used in various ways. But for sure the most common is the free email service. And I mean, it makes sense, because if you're gonna register a domain name that cost money and it takes time and takes skill, same with compromising an email account, but it's quick and easy just to register a free email account. So, yeah.Nic Fillingham:So just to sort of summarize here. So business email compromise i-is obviously very complex. There's lots of facets to it.Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:It sounds like, first of all, it's targeted at businesses as opposed to targeted individuals. In targeted individuals is just more simple scams. We can talk about those, but business email compromise, targeted at businesses- Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:... and the end goal is probably to get some form of compromise, and which could be in different ways, but some sort of compromise of a communication channel or a communication thread with that business to ultimately get some money out of them?Emily Hacker:Yep, so it's a social engineering scheme to get whatever their end goals are, usually money. Yeah.Nic Fillingham:Got it. Like if I buy a gift card for a friend or a family for their birthday, and I give that to them, the wording on the bottom says pretty clearly, like not redeemable for cash. Like it's- Emily Hacker:So- Nic Fillingham:... so what's the loophole they're taking advantage of here?Emily Hacker:Criminals kind of crime. Apparently- Natalia Godyla:(laughs)Emily Hacker:... there are sites, you know, on the internet specifically for cashing out gift cards for cryptocurrency.Nic Fillingham:Hmm.Emily Hacker:And so they get these gift cards specifically so that they can cash them out for cryptocurrency, which then is a lot, obviously, less traceable as opposed to just cash. So that is the appeal of gift cards, easier to switch for, I guess, cryptocurrency in a much less traceable manner for the criminals in this regard. And there are probably, you know, you can sell them. Also, you can sell someone a gift card and be like, "Hey, I got a $50 iTunes gift card. Give me $50 and you got an iTunes gift card." I don't know if iTunes is even still a thing. But like that is another means of, it's just, I think a way of like, especially the cryptocurrency one, it's just a way of distancing themselves one step from the actual payout that they end up with.Nic Fillingham:Yeah, I mean, it's clearly a, a laundering tactic.Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:It's just, I'm trying to think of like, someone's eventually trying to get cash out of this gift card-Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:... and instead of going into Target with 10,000 gift cards, and spending them all, and then turning right back around and going to the returns desk and saying like, "I need to return these $10,000 that I just bought."Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:I guess I'm just puzzled as to how, at scale- Emily Hacker:Yeah.Nic Fillingham:... and I guess that's the key word here, at scale, at a criminal scale, how are they, what's the actual return? Are they getting, are they getting 50 cents on the dollar? Are they getting five cents on the dollar? Are they getting 95 cents on the dollar? Um, it sounds like, maybe I don't know how to ask that question, but I think it's a fascinating one, I'd love to learn more about.Emily Hacker:It is a good question. I would imagine that the, the sites where they exchange them for cryptocurrency are set up in a way where rather than one person ending up with all the gift cards to where that you have an issue, like what you're talking about with like, "Hey, uh, can I casually return these six million gift cards?" Like rather than that, they're, it's more distributed. But there probably is a surcharge in terms of they're not getting a one-to-one, but it's- Nic Fillingham:Yeah.Emily Hacker:... I would not imagine that it's very low. Or like I would not imagine that they're getting five cents on the dollar, I would imagine it's higher than that.Nic Fillingham:Got it.Emily Hacker:But I don't know. So, that's a good question.Natalia Godyla:And we're talking about leveraging this cryptocurrency model to cash them out. So has there been an increase in these scams because they now have this ability to cash them out for crypto? Like, was that a driver?Emily Hacker:I'm not sure. I don't know how long the crypto cash out method has been available.Natalia Godyla:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Emily Hacker:I've only recently learned about it, but that's just because I don't spend, I guess I don't spend a lot of time dealing with that end of the scam. For the most part, my job is looking at the emails themselves. So, the, learning what they're doing once they get the gift cards was relatively new to me, but I don't think it's new to the criminals. So it's hard for me to answer that question, not knowing how long the, the crypto cash out method has been available to them. But I will say that it does feel like, in the last couple of years, gift card scams have just been either increasing or coming into light more, but I think increasing.Nic Fillingham:Emily, what's new about this particular campaign that you discussed in the blog? I-it doesn't look like there's something very new in the approach here. This feels like it's a very minor tweak on techniques that have been employed for a while. Tell me what's, what's new about this campaign? (laughs)Emily Hacker:(laughs) Um, so I would agree that this is not a revolutionary campaign.Nic Fillingham:Okay.Emily Hacker:And I didn't, you know, choose to write this one into the blog necessarily because it's revolutionary, but rather because this is so pervasive that I felt like it was important for Microsoft customers to be aware that this type of scam is so, I don't know what word, now we're both struggling with words, I wanna say prolific, but suddenly the definition of that word seems like it doesn't fit in that sentence.Nic Fillingham:No, yeah, prolific, that makes sense. Emily Hacker:Okay.Nic Fillingham:Like, this is, it sounds like what you're saying is, this blog exists not because this campaign is very unique and some sort of cutting-edge new technique, it exists because it's incredibly pervasive.Emily Hacker:Yes.Nic Fillingham:And lots and lots of people and lots and lots of businesses are probably going to get targeted by it. Emily Hacker:Exactly.Nic Fillingham:And we wanna make sure everyone knows about it.Emily Hacker:And the difference, yes, and the, the only real thing that I would say set this one apart from some of the other ones, was the use of the lookalike domains. Like so many of the gift cards scams that I see, so many of the gift cards scams that I see are free email accounts, Gmail, AOL, Hotmail, but this one was using the lookalike domains. And that kind of gave us a little bit more to talk about because we could look into when the domains were registered. I saw that they were registered the day, I think one to two days before the attack commenced. And that also gave us a little bit more to talk about in terms of BEC in the blog, because this kind of combined a couple of different methods of BEC, right? It has the gift cards scam, which we see just all the time, but it also had that kind of lookalike domain, which could help us talk about that angle of BEC.Emily Hacker:But I had been, Microsoft is, is definitely starting to focus in on BEC, I don't know, starting to focus in, but increasing our focus on BEC. And so, I think that a lot of the stuff that happens in BEC isn't new. Because it's so successful, there's really not much in the way of reason for the attackers to shift so dramatically their tactics. I mean, even with the more sophisticated attacks, such as the ones where they are compromising an account, those are still just like basic phishing emails, logging into an account, setting up forwarding rules, like this is the stuff that we've been talking about in BEC for a long time. But I think Microsoft is talking about these more now because we are trying to get the word out, you know, about this being such a big problem and wanting to shift the focus more to BEC so that more people are talking about it and solving it. Natalia Godyla:It seemed like there was A/B testing happening with the cybercriminals. They had occasionally a soft intro where someone would email and ask like, "Are you available?" And then when the target responded, they then tried to get money from that individual, or they just immediately asked for money.Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Natalia Godyla:Why the different tactics? Were they actually attempting to be strategic to test which version worked, or was it just, like you said, different actors using different methods?Emily Hacker:I would guess it's different actors using different methods or another thing that it could be was that they don't want the emails to say the same thing every time, because then it would be really easy for someone like me to just identify them- Natalia Godyla:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Emily Hacker:... in terms of looking at mail flow for those specific keywords or whatever. If they switch them up a little bit, it makes it harder for me to find all the emails, right? Or anybody. So I think that could be part of the case in terms of just sending the exact same email every time is gonna make it really easy for me to be like, "Okay, well here's all the emails." But I think there could also be something strategic to it as well. I just saw one just yesterday actually, or what day is it, Tuesday? Yeah, so it must've been yesterday where the attacker did a real reply.Emily Hacker:So they sent the, the soft opening, as you said, where it just says, "Are you available?" And then they had sent a second one that asked that full question in terms of like, "I'm really busy, I need you to help me, can you call me or email me," or something, not call obviously, because they didn't provide a phone number. Sometimes they do, but in this case, they didn't. And they had actually responded to their own email. So the attacker replied to their own email to kind of get that second push to the victim. The victim just reported the email to Microsoft so they didn't fall for it. Good for them. But it does seem that there might be some strategy involved or desperation. I'm not sure which one.Natalia Godyla:(laughs) Fine line between the two.Emily Hacker:(laughs)Nic Fillingham:I'd want to ask question that I don't know if you can answer, because I don't wanna ask you to essentially, you know, jeopardize any operational security or sort of tradecraft here, but can you give us a little tidbit of a glimpse of your, your job, and, and how you sort of do this day-to-day? Are you going and registering new email accounts and, and intentionally putting them in dodgy places in hopes of being the recipient? Or are you just responding to emails that have been reported as phishing from customers? Are you doing other things like, again, I don't wanna jeopardize any of your operational security or, you know, the processes that you use, but how do you find these?Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:And how do you then sort of go and follow the threads and uncover these campaigns?Emily Hacker:Yeah, there's a few ways, I guess that we look for these. We don't currently have any kind of like Honey accounts set up or anything like that, where we would be hoping to be targeted and find them this way. I know there are different entities within Microsoft who are, who do different things, right? So my team is not the entity that would be doing that. So my team's job is more looking at what already exists. So we're looking at stuff that customers have reported, and we're also looking at open source intelligence if anyone else has tweeted or released a blog or something about an ongoing BEC campaign, that might be something that then I can go look at our data and see if we've gotten.Emily Hacker:But the biggest way outside of those, those are the two, like I would say smaller ways. The biggest way that we find these campaigns is we do technique tracking. So we have lots of different, we call them traps basically, and they run over all mail flow, and they look for certain either keywords or there are so many different things that they run on. Obviously not just keywords, I'm just trying to be vague here. But like they run on a bunch of different things and they have different names. So if an email hits on a certain few items, that might tell us, "Hey, this one might be BEC," and then that email can be surfaced to me to look into.Emily Hacker:Unfortunately, BEC is very, is a little bit more difficult to track just by the nature of it not containing phishing links or malware attachments or anything along those lines. So it is a little bit more keyword based. And so, a lot of times it's like looking at 10,000 emails and looking for the one that is bad when they all kind of use the same keywords. And of course, we don't just get to see every legitimate email, 'cause that would be like a crazy customer privacy concern. So we only get to really see certain emails that are suspected malicious by the customer, in which case it does help us a little bit because they're already surfacing the bad ones to us.Emily Hacker:But yeah, that's how we find these, is just by looking for the ones that already seem malicious kind of and applying logic over them to see like, "Hmm, this one might be BEC or," you know, we do that, not just for BEC, but like, "Hmm, this one seems like it might be this type of phishing," or like, "Hmm, this one seems like it might be a buzz call," or whatever, you know, these types of things that will surface all these different emails to us in a way that we can then go investigate them.Nic Fillingham:So for the folks listening to this podcast, what do you want them to take away from this? What you want us to know on the SOC side, on the- Emily Hacker:Mm-hmm (affirmative).Nic Fillingham:... on the SOC side? Like, is there any additional sort of, what are some of the fundamentals and sort of basics of BEC hygiene? Is there anything else you want folks to be doing to help protect the users in their organizations?Emily Hacker:Yeah, so I would say not to just focus on monitoring what's going on in the end point, because BEC activity is not going to have a lot, if anything, that's going to appear on the end point. So making sure that you're monitoring emails and looking for not just emails that contain malicious links or attachments, but also looking for emails that might contain BEC keywords. Or even better, if there's a way for you to monitor your organization's forwarding rules, if a user suddenly sets up a, a slew of new forwarding rules from their email account, see if there's a way to turn that into a notification or an alert, I mean, to you in the SOC. And that's a really key indicator that that might be BEC, not necessarily gift cards scam, but BEC.Emily Hacker:Or see if there is a way to monitor, uh, not monitor, but like, if your organization has users reporting phishing mails, if you get one that's like, "Oh, this is just your basic low-level credential phishing," don't just toss it aside and be like, "Well, that was just one person and has really crappy voicemail phish, no one's going to actually fall for that." Actually, look and see how many people got the email. See if anybody clicked, force password resets on the people that clicked, or if you can't tell who clicked on everybody, because it really only takes one person to have clicked on that email and you not reset their password, and now the attackers have access to your organization's email and they can be conducting these kinds of wire transfer fraud.Emily Hacker:So like, and I know we're all overworked in this industry, and I know that it can be difficult to try and focus on everything at once. And especially, you know, if you're being told, like our focus is ransomware, we don't want to have ransomware. You're just constantly monitoring end points for suspicious activity, but it's important to try and make sure that you're not neglecting the stuff that only exists in email as well. Natalia Godyla:Those are great suggestions. And I'd be remiss not to note that some of those suggestions are available in Microsoft Defender for Office 365, like the suspicious forwarding alerts or attack simulation training for user awareness. But thank you again for joining us, Emily, and we hope to have you back on the show many more times.Emily Hacker:Yeah, thanks so much for having me again.Natalia Godyla:Well, we had a great time unlocking insights into security from research to artificial intelligence. Keep an eye out for our next episode.Nic Fillingham:And don't forget to tweet us @msftsecurity, or email us at with topics you'd like to hear on our future episode. Until then, stay safe.Natalia Godyla:Stay secure.

Simulating the Enemy

Ep. 34
How does that old saying go?Keep your friends close andkeepyour understanding of a threat actor’sunderlying behavior and functionality of tradecraft closer?Asnew tools are developed and implemented for individuals and businesses to protect themselves, wouldn’t it be great to see how they hold up against different attacks withoutactually havingto wait for an attack to happen?Microsoft’s new open-source tool,Simuland, allows users to simulate attacks on their owninfrastructureto see where their own weaknesses lie.In this episode of Security Unlocked, hosts Natalia Godyla and Nic Fillingham sit down with Roberto Rodriguez,PrincipleThreatResearcher for the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC)andSimuland’sdeveloper,to understand how the project came to life, and what users can expect as they use it.In This Episode You Will Learn:How community involvement will helpSimulandgrowHow individuals can useSimulandto seeexamples of actions threat actors can take against their infrastructureWhat other projects and libraries went intoSimuland’sdevelopmentSome Questions We Ask:What exactly is being simulated inSimuland?What do does Roberto hope for users to take away fromSimuland?What is next for theSimulandproject?Resources:RobertoRodriguez’sLinkedIn:’s blog post,SimuLand: Understand adversary tradecraft and improve detection strategies:’s Twitter:Cyb3rWard0g Fillingham’s LinkedIn:’sLinkedIn: Security Blog: Unlocked: CISO Series with Bret Arsenaulthttps://SecurityUnlockedCISOSeries.comTranscript:[Full transcript can be found at]Nic Fillingham:Hello and welcome to Security Unlocked. A new podcast from Microsoft, where we unlock insights from the latest in news and research from across Microsoft Security Engineering and Operations teams. I'm Nic Fillingham.Natalia Godyla:And I'm Natalia and Godyla. In each episode, we'll discuss the latest stories from Microsoft Security, deep dive into the newest threat intel, research and data science.Nic Fillingham:And profile some of the fascinating people working on artificial intelligence in Microsoft Security. Natalia Godyla:And now let's unlock the pod. Nic Fillingham:Hello listeners. Hello, Natalia. Welcome to episode 34 of Security Unlocked. Natalia, how are you? Natalia Godyla:I'm doing well, thanks for asking. And hello everyone. Nic Fillingham:On today's episode, we have Principal Threat Researcher from the MSTIC Group, Roberto Rodriguez, who is here to talk to us about SimuLand, which is a new open source initiative, uh, that Roberto, uh, announced and discuss in a blog post from may the 20th, 2021. Natalia, you've got a, an overview here of SimuLand. Can you give us the TLDR? Natalia Godyla:Of course. So SimuLand is like you said, an, an open source initiative at Microsoft that helps security researchers test real attack scenarios, and determine the effectiveness of the detections in products such as Microsoft 365 Defender, Azure Defender and Azure Sentinel, with the intent of expanding it beyond those products in the future. Nic Fillingham:And Roberto, obviously we'll sort of expand upon that in the interview. Uh, one of the questions we asked Roberto is how did this all begin? And it began with an email from someone in Roberto's team saying, "Hey Roberto, could you write a blog post that sort of explains the steps needed to go and, uh, deploy a lab environment that reproduces some of these techniques?" And Roberta said, "Sure." And started writing. And he got to about page 80. Uh, you got 80 pages in and decided, "You know what, I think I can probably turn this into, uh, a set of scripts or into a tool." And that's sort of the kickoff of the SimuLand project. There's obviously more to it than that, which Roberto will go into, uh, in the interview. The other thing we learned, Natalia is Roberto might have taken the crown as the busiest person in, in security. Natalia Godyla:He certainly does. And, uh, lucky us, we get to ask him questions about all of the open source projects that he's been working on. So we'll do a little bit of a Harbor cruise through those projects in addition to SimuLand and this episode.Nic Fillingham:And with that, on with the pod.Natalia Godyla:On with the pod.Nic Fillingham:Welcome to the Security Unlocked podcast, Roberto Rodriguez. Thanks for your time.Roberto Rodriguez:Yeah. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for having me here. Nic Fillingham:Yeah. We'd love to start with a quick intro. If you could tell the audience, uh, about yourself, about your role at Microsoft and, and what is your day-to-day look like? Roberto Rodriguez:Sure. Yeah. So my name is Roberta Rodriguez. Um, I'm a Principal Threat Researcher for the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center, known as MSTIC, and I'm part of the R&D team. And my day-to-day, uh, is very interesting. There's a lot of things going on. So my role primarily is to empower all their security researchers in my organization to do, for example, some of their development of detections, performing research in general. So I tend to follow my day-to-day into... I kind of like breaking it down into a couple of pieces. Like the whole research methodology has several different steps.Roberto Rodriguez:So what I do is I try to innovate in some of those steps in order to expedite the process, trying to maybe come up with some new tools that they could use. And at the same time, I like to dissect adversary tradecraft, and then try and just to take that knowledge and then share it with others and trying to collaborate with other teams as well. Not only in MSTIC, but yeah, but across like other teams at Microsoft as well.Natalia Godyla:Thank you for that. And today we're here to talk about one of the blogs you authored on the Microsoft Security blog, SimuLand understand adversary tradecraft, and improve detection strategies. So, um, can we just start with defining SimuLand? What is SimuLand? Roberto Rodriguez:Yep. So SimuLand is an open source initiative. It's, it's a project that started just as a blog post to talk about, for example, an end-to-end scenario where we can start mapping detections to it. So we decided to take that idea and started sharing more scenarios with the community, showing them a little bit how, for example, like a threat actor could go about it and trying to compromise the specific, you know, resources either in Azure or on Prem. And then try to map all that with some of the detections that we have, trying to validate detections and alerts from different products from the 365 Defenders security, Azure Defender. Roberto Rodriguez:And of course, Azure Sentinel at the end, trying to, trying to bring all those data sources together and then allow also not only people at Microsoft, but outside, right? Customers or people even trying to use trial licenses to understand the, you know, the power of all this technology together. Because usually, you know, when you start thinking about all these security products, we always try to picture them like as isolated products. So the idea is how we can start providing documentation to deploy lap environments, walk them through a whole scenario, map the... For example, attack behavior to detections, and then just showcase what you can do with, you know, with all these products.Roberto Rodriguez:Um, that's kind of like the main idea. And of course I, some of the output could be understanding, you know, the adversary in general, trying to go deep beyond just alerts. Because our goal also is not just to say, "Oh, this attack action happens. And then this alert triggers." The idea is to say first, you know, let's validate those alerts, but then second, we want you to go through and analyze the additional data, additional context that gets created in every single step, because at the same, you know, it will be nice to see what people can come up with. Roberto Rodriguez:You know, there's a lot of different data sets being showcased through this, you know, type of lab environments that, you know, for example, we believe that there could be other use cases that you can create on the top of all that telemetrics. So that's what we want to expose all that documentation that has helped us, for example, to do internal research. When I joined Microsoft, there was not much so I would say from a lap environment that was fully documented to deploy and then just try to use it right away when there is an incident, for example, or just trying to do research in general. So my idea was why can't we share all this with a community and see if they could also benefit because we're using this also internally.Nic Fillingham:I, I'd love to actually just quickly look at the name. So SimuLand, I'm assuming that's a portmanteau or is it, is it an acronym? Tell me how you got to SimuLand. Because I think that may actually also help, you know, further clarify what this is. Roberto Rodriguez:Yeah. So, yeah, SimuLand, uh, it's I believe, you know, it comes from as... Well, it has also some contexts around Spanish. Uh, so in Spanish we say simulando. So simulando means simulating something.Nic Fillingham:Okay.Roberto Rodriguez:But at the same time, I feel that SimuLand, the idea was to say, deploy this environment, which could turn into a, let's say like a land out there that it's, it's primarily to simulate stuff and to start, you know, learning about adversary trade graph. So it's kind of like the SimuLand, like the simulating land or the land of the simulation. And then also in Spanish, they simulando. So it has a couple of different meanings, but the, the main one is this is the land where you can simulate something and then learn and learn about that simulation in general. Roberto Rodriguez:So that, that was kind of like the thought that, you know, when behind it, not probably too much, but, uh, (laughs) that was idea. And I think that people liked it. I think it just stayed with the project. So-Nic Fillingham:And, and given that you're s- you're simulating sort of the threat space is, is this land that's being simulated? Is this your sort of sovereign, uh, land to protect? Or is this the, is this the actual sort of the theater of cyber war? Like what are you simulating here? Are you're simulating the attacker's environment. Are you simulating your environment? Are you simulating both?Roberto Rodriguez:Yeah, it's a great question. So we're trying to, primarily of course you simulate, let's say an organization that has, for example, like on-prem resources that are trying to connect to an Azure cloud infrastructure, for example. So simulating that environment first, but then at the same time, trying to execute some of those, for example, actions that I threat actor could take in order to compromise the environment. And of course that could come with some of the tools that are used also by, you know, known threat actors who trying to stay with public tools. So things that are already out there, things that have been also identified, but a few threads reports out there as well.Roberto Rodriguez:So we're trying to use what others also could use right away. You know, we don't want to, you know, of course share code or applications that no one has seen ever out there. So the idea is to primarily simulate the full organization environment, like an example of, of what that environment will look like, but then at the same time use public tools to perform some actions in the environment. Natalia Godyla:So, as you said before, you're exposing a lab environment that you had been leveraging internally at Microsoft so the community can benefit from it. What was the community using before in order to either test these products or do further research? Roberto Rodriguez:Sure. So I would say that there is a lot of different communities that we're building, let's say, like, for example, some active directory environments, uh, trying to simulate the creation of different, you know, windows endpoints, um, on a specific domain. And then they were using a lot of open source tools, for example, like, you know, things such as Sysmon from a windows perspective, like, oh, it's squarely also in windows, but then on other platforms. But at the same time, what I wanted to do is why can't we use that, which people are used to trying to use open source tools or just open tools. Roberto Rodriguez:And then at the same time trying to use, uh, for example, enterprise, security controls or products in general. That type of, uh, simulation of a full end-to-end scenario, I have not seen it before. I have seen, for example, some basic examples of one, let's say, um, you know, scenario from Microsoft Defender, evaluation labs, for example, they have a service where you can simulate two to four computers with MDE, which is Microsoft Defender for endpoint, those scenarios existed, but there was nothing out there that could have everything in one place. Roberto Rodriguez:So we're talking about Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, identity, Microsoft Defender for cloud application security, Azure Defender. And then on the top of that, Azure Sentinel detections, all that together was not out there. Once again, there was just a couple of scenarios, lap environments that were touching a few things, but he was not covering the whole framework or the whole platform to test all these different detections. But at the same time, how you can work with everything at once, because that's also one of the goals of the project is we always hear, for example, once again, detections from one product only, but then there is a lot that you can do when you have one detection from MDE, one detection from Azure Sentinel, MDI, et cetera, all that additional context was not public yet before SimuLand.Roberto Rodriguez:So that's what I was trying to do. Is to bring all this in one place and, and, you know, bringing everything to the SimuLand. (laughs)Nic Fillingham:Is there a particular scenario Roberto, that you can sort of walk us through that's sort of gonna, gonna fully cover the gamut of what SimuLand can do?Roberto Rodriguez:Yes, yes. Definitely. So there is one scenario in there. We're trying to, to of course, you know, add more scenarios to this, uh, platform. So the only one that we have in there is what I call golden SAML two, you know, still for example, or 4J SAML token, and then use that in order to, for example, modify Azure ID applications in order to then use those applications to access mail data, for example. So that's one scenario. The, the main part is golden SAML. That's scenario for example, what we're trying to do with SimuLand is to first make sure that we prepare whoever is using SimuLand to understand what it is that you need before you even try to do anything. Roberto Rodriguez:Right? Because usually we try to jump directly to the simulation and trying to let's say, attack an environment, but there is a lot of pieces that you need to happen before, right? So SimuLand gives you what is called preparation. So in preparation, and you understand all the licensing that you might need, not every scenario needs, uh, we'll need, let's say an enterprise license, or there's going to be a couple of scenarios where are going to be simple. So not too much going on in there, but next step is how to deploy an environment. So once you take care of the licensing, once you take care of, for example, what are the additional resources that you might need to stand up before you deploy a full environment? So now we can deploy it. Roberto Rodriguez:We provide also Azure resource manager templates. So arm templates to let's say first document the environment as code, and then be able just to deploy it with a few commands, um, rather than trying to do everything manually, which is time consuming and is too complex to, to figure it out. The next step of once we have the environment, then we can start for example, running a few actions. So if we go to golden SAMLs, a golden SAMLs starts with let's for example, use a compromised account that was the one handling the Active Directory Federation Services, for example, in the organization on Prem, then we take that and then we start, for example, accessing the database where we can instill the certificate to sign tokens. Roberto Rodriguez:Once we get that, then we can go through that whole scenario step-by-step as we go executing every single action, we can start identifying detections, images of what it would look like on MDI, MD, MDE, MKAZ, Azure Sentinel, all the way to even show you some additional settings that you might need to potentially enable if you want to collect more telemetry. And then at the end, which is, you know, closest scenario with, you know, showing you what it is that you did. And then, uh, at the same time, all the alerts that trigger or the telemetry that was available.Roberto Rodriguez:And since we are sharing a full environment where everything is running, then you can just go back to the environment and go deeper. Maybe do some forensics, maybe do some additional incident response actions. So that, that will be, I would say the, the end-to-end thing with SimuLand, what you can do once you jump into the project.Natalia Godyla:And so for users who've jumped into SimuLand and gone through some of the scenarios, what is your intent for the users once they have these results, what's the use case for them and how do you want them to interact with your team as well? How do you want the community to get involved? Roberto Rodriguez:Yes, that's a great question. So initially what we want to people using SimuLand is once again, go beyond just the alerts. Because alerts, which is one thing that will trigger, we're taking care of all that. So wherever is using, for example, the Microsoft 365 Defender products in general, you know, they are protected with all these detections, right? But my goal is for a researcher or a security analyst to go deeper into that telemetry once again, around in a specific, uh, so I run a specific on alerts so that they can learn more about the adversary behavior in general.Roberto Rodriguez:Usually we just see the alert and then we stop and then we just started the incident and then we pass it to somebody else. I want people to dive into the, you know, all this telemetry that is being collected and they start putting together that whole adversary tradecraft, for example. Understanding the behavior to me is, is very important. There is a lot of different things that you can do with a telemetry already in SimuLand. So that's just one of the goals. The second goal is to see if you're even ready for those types of, you know, alerts. For example, what do you do if you get all these four or five alerts in your environment? How do you respond to that? Roberto Rodriguez:So these could also be part of our training exercise, for example. So there is a couple of things that you can do in there. Another scenario could be, you know, exporting all the data that is being collected and then probably use it for some demos. Once again, also for some training, focusing a lot on trying to understand and learn the adversary tradecraft. Like for me, that's very important once again, because we don't just want to learn about one specific indicator of compromise, we want to make sure that we're covering, uh, scenarios that would allow us to, you know, respond and understand techniques or at the tactical level.Roberto Rodriguez:Um, and then from a collaboration with us, I believe that, you know, one could be trying to give us some feedback and see what else we could do with these scenarios. There is a couple of people in the community, for example, that are sharing some cool detections on the top of the stuff that we already developed. There is a lot of detections being insured through Azure Sentinel GitHub, through enter 65, advanced square is GitHub. And there is people just building things on the top of that. So we would like to hear more of those scenarios and maybe include all those to SimuLand so that we can make SimuLand also a place where we can share those schools, those cool detections ideas that people might have. Roberto Rodriguez:And that could be shared also with others using the environment. Everything I would say from a communication perspective happens through GitHub through issues. Anything that anybody would like to add or probably request, any features. It will be nice. We had one person asking us about, can we add, for example, Microsoft Defender, so MDO, which is Microsoft Defender for Office 365, I think it is. And so those, you know, for example, products, something that I had not added yet. So that's something that is coming. So, uh, invest the type of collaboration that I expect from the community as well.Natalia Godyla:And what's on the roadmap for simulant? What's next for evolving the project?Roberto Rodriguez:Yeah. So SimuLand has a couple of things that are coming out. So one is going to be automation, automation from the execution of attacker actions. So right now the deployment is automated. I would say, I would say 90% of the deployment is automated. There is a few things that are kind of hard to automate right now. And it's just a simple, just like a few more clicks on the top of the deployment. But from the attacker's perspective, we wanted to make SimuLand a project where you can walk someone through the whole process. These are the actions that take place in the whole simulation, and then you can start exploring one-by-one. Roberto Rodriguez:So it's a very manual process to, to go through the SimuLand labs, for example. So one thing that we wanted to do is to automate those steps, those attacker actions, because, you know, we have, for example, a few people that are taking advantage of how modular SimuLand is that they do not want to deal with preparation and deployment. All they wanna do is take the execution of the actions and then just plug them into their own environment. Because they say, I already have the same deployment. Well, yeah. A similar deployment with all the tools that you ask to be deployed. Why not? Can I just take the attacker actions and then just to start a learning or maybe do it in a schedule base, right?Roberto Rodriguez:Like every Friday we execute a few scenarios. So that turned into, uh, a new project, which I'm going to be releasing in Black Hat, 2021 in August. That project is called Cloud Katana. And that's a project where I will be using Azure functions to execute actions automatically. And then the other thing that we have for SimuLand is data export. So what I wanna do also is share the data that gets generated after going through the whole SimuLand scenarios, and then just give it to the community. Because I believe that we also have a few conversations with people from the community that say, you know what, I don't have the environment to deploy this. Roberto Rodriguez:You know, for example, I don't have resources to, you know, learn about all, you know, all of this, my company doesn't want to somehow, I don't know, support these type of projects, right? So a lot of things, you know, people are having some obstacles as well, right? To try to use these things, even like having a subscription in Azure might be an obstacle or constraint for a lot of people. So why not just give them the data with all the actions that were taken, all the alerts that were collected by Azure Sentinel, and then allow them to use, for example, plain Python code or PowerShell or Jupiter notebooks on the top of that, like, you know, to analyze the data, build visualizations from the top.Roberto Rodriguez:So we want to empower those that also, you know, my want to use it, but do not have the resources to do it. So that's also, you know, second thing in the, uh, uh, in the list for SimuLand. The other thing is going to be, so we have, uh, have a lot of things going on, but, (laughs) the, the other thing is going to be, how can we provide a CICD pipeline for the deployment? That's critical because want to make sure that people can plug these into, for example, Azure DevOps, and then they can just have the environment running and they may be, you know, bring the deployment down, you know, bring it up every week and then run a few scenarios, bringing down again.Roberto Rodriguez:So we wanted to make sure that he's also flexible for those too, right, to work with. And what else. And I think that the last thing that we have would, would be trying to see if we can integrate more products from Microsoft, and just share, uh, more scenarios. We have two or three coming, uh, hopefully in the next couple of months and it's going to be fun. Yeah. We have a lot of stuff in there. (laughs)Nic Fillingham:Tell me how you built SimuLand and then worked a full-time job in the MSTIC team. Was this actually a special project that you're assigned to, or was this all extra curricular? A little column A, little column B?Roberto Rodriguez:(laughs) Yeah. So once again, when I started right, these conversations, so I, I mentioned that my role is to also empower others and help to, you know, develop, you know, environments for research, because I love to do research as well, like dissecting. Yeah. Adversary tradecraft is pretty cool. And then the question was just, "Hey, can you build this environment?" Just a simple email? And I was like, "Yeah, I can do that." And I just, to be honest, it took me maybe a week or two to figure it out the infrastructure, and then maybe took me, uh, probably close to a month to write down the whole scenario and make sure that I have the PowerShell scripts that were actually working.Roberto Rodriguez:So let's say probably two months it, it took me to do this. It was extra curriculum activities. (laughing?) Definitely besides what I was doing already. Um, and it was fun. I mean, it was fun because that's what I love to do. So some of my boss is super cool, you know, letting me do all this research and then allow me just to also spend some time and trying to get some feedback from also our internal team and other teams as well. So yeah. So it turned into just as a question, can you do this? And I love those questions and somebody says, can you do this? I was like, I would say yes, but then I don't know what I'm getting myself into. And that's the fun part of it.(laughs)Nic Fillingham:Before we, before we sort of wrap up here, we're a better, are there any projects that you're working on right now or you're contributing to that you can, you can talk about? Roberto Rodriguez:Yeah. So I would say from an open threat research perspective, there's a project called Modeler. So Modeler is a project where I decided to every time I execute or go through my research process, and, and then let's say learn about a specific attack technique, I can collect the data. And then I share those datasets through that project. So for other people that would like to learn about those techniques, they can just access the data directly. So you can learn about adversaries through the data instead of trying to go through a whole process to like to emulate or simulate an adversary. Roberto Rodriguez:Which for a lot of people, it's, it's not that easy. So, you know, so for me, I wanted to find ways to expedite that process. Uh, so that project is something that I'm, you know, revamping, uh, soon. So I'm, I'm collecting more data sets from the cloud. Most of my datasets were windows base. I have a couple of from Linux. I have some from AWS, but I wanted to get more from, you know, from Azure. So SimuLand datasets are going to live in Modeler project. So, you know, anything that, you know, gets out of SimuLand, contributed directly to an open source project as well. Roberto Rodriguez:So that's one of them. And the other one is Cloud Katana, which is the one that I talked about a couple of minutes ago. So Cloud Katana, the automation of SimuLand attack actions, that one I'm spending, uh, a lot of time to, uh, that one will be released under Azure, but this is still going to be open source. So that's also something that we want to provide to the community to use. And let's say there is a, all the projects too. Yes, I have another project. So it is a project called OSSCM, O-S-S-C-M. And OSSCM is a project that I started to document telemetry that I use during research. Roberto Rodriguez:So I believe that a lot of people that want to dive into the technicians and the starring the, you know, defender world, they need to understand the data before they want to make the decisions of like building detections. So my goal with that project was to first document events that I use from different platforms. At the same time, I wanted to create a standardization like common data model for data sets, which by the way, Azure Sentinel is building their common data models through this project OSSCM. So it's also one of our interesting collaboration and opportunities that we have. Uh, Azure Sentinel reaching out to the community and saying, "Hey, instead of Pfizer reinventing the wheel, can we explore your project?" Which is OSSCM.Roberto Rodriguez:And then the third part of OSSCM is also a way to document, for example, you know, relationships that we identify in data. So when you want to build, for example, detections, most of the time you want to understand what events can I use to build a chain of events that would actually give me context around an attack behavior. So what we do is we explore the data, we identify relationships and we just document them through that project. So that way somebody else could actually use it and understand what can they do with that telemetry.Roberto Rodriguez:So I would say, once again, you learn about that telemetry, you standardize your telemetry, and at the same time, we give you some ideas into what you can do with our telemetry to build detections. So that's another project. Last one would be, (laughs) yeah, last one would be another-Nic Fillingham:There's more?Roberto Rodriguez:Yes. There's one more. (laughing)Nic Fillingham:Do you sleep, man? When do you sleep?Roberto Rodriguez:It is being hard but I try to manage my time for sure and do that, but it is, uh, a another project, it's private right now, but it's going to be public, uh, soon. It's going to be through the open threat research community as well. This project is a way to collaborate with, for example, researchers in the community that build offensive security tools or just tools to do, for example, you know, red teaming, they want to use those tools to perform certain actions in, in, in, in a specific environment. Roberto Rodriguez:So we want to, you know, collaborate and partner with them and start documenting those tools in a way that we can share with others in the community. So for example, me as a researcher, dissecting adversary tray graph, like all, all the techniques and the behavior behind on a specific tool or a specific technique, it takes time. Like for me, like it would take probably a couple of weeks to dissect all the modules of one tool. So the goal is to why don't we partner with the authors of those tools, we document those, uh, tools and then we can start also sharing some potential ideas into how to detect those scenarios. Roberto Rodriguez:That way we, you know, we expedite the research, right? We do it, let's say in a private setting with a lot of researchers from the community, and then we just distribute that, that knowledge across the world. So that way we also help and expedite that whole process. So open through research, we have data. Now we have knowledge, we have infrastructure and then we have a way to share it with our community. So it's like a whole kind of like the main parts of your, you know, research process, but we want to give it a community touch to the, you know, you know, to all this. And that's, and that's it. So I have a couple more, but that's, (laughing) that's kinda like another project that it's, it's, it's coming soon. So-Nic Fillingham:I, I think we're going to have to let you go, Roberto. 'Cause if you're just going to get back in today's projects and start submitting some more contributions.(laughing) But before we do that, I want to, I want to circle back to SimuLand, and again, for folks listening to SimuLand, um, they're going to get rid of the blog post. We'll put the link in the, in the show notes. Tell me, what is your dream contribution? What is sort of the first scenario that you want sort of contributed back into this project?Nic Fillingham:Or sort of, where are you really hoping that the community will come and rally around either a particular scenario or some sort of other... Who is the person you, you want to be listening to this podcast right now and go like, "Oh yeah, I can do that." What's that one thing you need, or you're really looking for?Roberto Rodriguez:Well, actually two things. So one is the automation of, of the attacker actions. It will be, uh, uh, a dream, I would say because I'm, I'm building it on the top of Azure infrastructure. So it will be easier to plug in into your environments to kind of like, you know, periodically do some testing and then map it to SimuLand scenarios. So you have like the full end to end, uh, the environment. You have the labs preparation infrastructure as code all the way to even automating those, um, you know, validation of analytics, for example.Roberto Rodriguez:That, that, that's one that even though it's something that it's been done in other places, I think the way how it's going to be done through, through Azure functions is going to be very, very interesting because we're going to have potentially not only attack our actions being automated, but we could maybe have some detections being automated on the top of that. So instead of releasing a tool that will only be used, let's say to attack, right, and a specific environment, we can use a tool that can do both to attack and defend the, uh, the environment.Roberto Rodriguez:So usually you see one or the other. One tool to attack or one to defend. The automation that I'm planning to, to release, which would be one of the dreams is to be able to attack and defend automatically. And I think that that would link also very nicely with projects like CyberBattleSim. So that's also one of the dreams is how can we, uh, for example, document SimuLand in a way that could help us create synthetic scenarios that CyberBattleSim can use and then drop an agent and then learn about the most efficient path to take? Because that's, you know, CyberBattleSim, right? Roberto Rodriguez:They build environments, synthetic environments to then, you know, teach an agent to take the most efficient path through like, you know, rewards and, and, you know, all this stuff. So SimuLand, the dream would be to connect also those projects. How can, you know how you can have these nice process where you can SimuLand can provide the adversary, tradecraft knowledge, all the, for example, preconditions and all the, the context that is needed to create a CyberBattleSim scenario, and then improve a model to, for example, automate some of that execution of attacks. Roberto Rodriguez:And then that model can then be used through Cloud Katana to then execute those paths automatically. And then at the end, you can have some detections on the top where you can apply a similar context. Because SimuLand comes with the attack and detections. So we might find a way to create a data model where we could say, here's the attack here, all detection. So we can maybe build something also with CyberBattleSim the same way. And the other one, so the other dream bug is for me in SimuLand would be, since I was talking to a few coworkers today about this, um, that it would be nice to maybe provide SimuLand as a service for customers or also for, you know, people in the community.Roberto Rodriguez:It will be nice to have a platform that people can just access and start learning about these, these tools, these, these data, uh, necessarily not give somebody of course control to execute something. We take care of the execution, but then just expose all this telemetry in a way that is easier for those that, you know, might not have the resources. I love to do things, to build things that would help others to, you know, to do more. So I think that that will be also one of the dreams is how can we just take SimuLand and then just make it a service for, you know, for the community.Roberto Rodriguez:That would be pretty cool. So if anybody is listening, (laughs) and, and, you know, would like to make that happen, it would be amazing to have SimuLand as a service for those that don't have the resources like schools, uh, you know, like has anybody in general, the community that, you know, would like to, you know, learn more about this.Natalia Godyla:Wow. Roberto, you're going to be busy. Roberto Rodriguez:Yes. (laughs)Natalia Godyla:For anyone who hasn't watched episode 26, we did discuss CyberBattleSim there. So if that peaked your interest, definitely check out that episode and Roberto, as we wrap up here, are there any resources, Twitter handles that folks can follow to continue to watch your work or maybe join the threat research community? Roberto Rodriguez:Yes, yes. Yes. So my Twitter handle is Cyb3rWard0g with a three and the zero. So instead of the E and the O. So Cyb3rWard0g in Twitter. So there is what I share everything that I do is through there. Um, if you want to join the community, we would love to, you know, learn from you and collaborate, go to the Twitter handle OTR. So OT and then R_community. And then they're in the profile and description of the Twitter handle, you have a better link for the, uh, for the discourse invite. So the moment you join that discord, all you have to do is just accept the code of conduct. We want to make sure that we're inclusive, which is welcome everybody. Roberto Rodriguez:And if you agree with that, just click the 100% emoji, and then you have access to, to, (laughing) and then you have access to all these channels where you can, you know, ask questions about open source projects. So that's the best way to collaborate.Natalia Godyla:Awesome. Thank you. We'll definitely drop those links in the show notes. And thank you again for joining us on the show today, Roberto. Roberto Rodriguez:No, thank you for having me. This was amazing. Um, I had never had the opportunity to talk about a lot of projects. Uh, usually it's a one project and then we will see when we talk about. So this has been nice. So thank you very much. I really appreciate it. And I hope to see you guys in another episode. Nic Fillingham:We hope so too. Thanks for Roberto.Roberto Rodriguez:Thank you. Natalia Godyla:Well, we had a great time unlocking insights into security from research to artificial intelligence. Keep an eye out for our next episode.Nic Fillingham:And don't forget to tweet us @msftsecurity, or email us at, with topics you'd like to hear on a future episode. Until then, stay safe.Natalia Godyla:Stay secure.

Dial 'T' for Tech Support Fraud

Ep. 33
We’ve all had a family dinner, Netflix binge, or otherwise relaxing moment ruined by a telemarketer trying to sellyou something you didn't need – a magazine subscription, insurance, you name it!But recently, people have been getting calls that are much more sinister in nature; people claiming to be employees of Microsoft, or Apple, or Amazon,have been callingunsuspecting victimsand urging them to pay the caller in exchange for cleaningtheir computer of viruses.Viruses that don’t exist.None of these peopleworkfor the companies they claim to,butrather are a small cog in a larger machine working to defraudthe public.On this episode of Security Unlocked, hostsNatalia GodylaandNic Fillinghamkick off athree-episodearc discussing tech support scams. To get started, they speak withAnupBKumar,Microsoft’sDigital Crime Unit’s Asia lead of investigation and analytics, to get a better sense of who is behind these scams, what their motivations are, and some ideas on how to stop them.In This Episode You Will Learn:Who these scammers target andwhyHow the scammers trick victims into trusting them.Why working with law enforcement is crucial to stoppingthe problemSome Questions We Ask:Do the scammers know that they are scamming?How pervasive is this scam?Can we stop the scam byhelping tofacilitatelegitimateemployment?Resources:Anup Kumar’s LinkedIn: Report a Scam: Security Services: Fillingham’s LinkedIn:’sLinkedIn: Security Blog: Unlocked: CISO Series with Bret Arsenaulthttps://SecurityUnlockedCISOSeries.comTranscript:[Full transcript can be found at]Nic Fillingham:Hello, and welcome to Security Unlocked, a new podcast from Microsoft, where we unlock insights from the latest in news and research from across Microsoft's security, engineering, and operations teams. I am Nic Fillingham.Natalia Godyla:And I am Natalia Godyla. In each episode, we'll discuss the latest stories from Microsoft Security, deep dive into the newest threat intel, research, and data science.Nic Fillingham:And profile some of the fascinating people working on artificial intelligence in Microsoft Security.Natalia Godyla:And, now, let's unlock the pod. Hello listeners, welcome to another episode of Security Unlocked. And, hello, Nic.Nic Fillingham:Hello, Natalia. How are you?Natalia Godyla:I'm doing well. So I have a question for you. Have you ever received a call from Microsoft Support telling you that there's an issue with your PC and if you paid a sum of money, say $75, they would help fix the issue for you?Nic Fillingham:You know, I have. I get these calls all the time, which is bananas because, first of all, I work in Microsoft. Second of all, I work in Security and know that these, these aren't real phone calls, these are tech support scams, and third, you can really easily put my name, and I guess your name as well, into, into Bing, into Google, and it'll show that we work for Microsoft and we work in Security, and so we're probably not good targets for this tech support scam. But, yeah, no, I get these all the time. And, and for me, they're sort of... you know, they're a mildly entertaining inconvenience, but for many people there, they're a real problems.Natalia Godyla:Yes. Unfortunately, not everyone knows that Support just won't call you. That's not part of the model. So we see that as a clear red flag, but others are, sadly, duped by it and then they lose money to these scammers to pay to fix their laptop. And, in reality, if there is an issue with the laptop, typically the solution is turning on and off again.Nic Fillingham:That is true. Turn it off and on, on again is often the solution to many of life's problems, uh-Natalia Godyla:(laughs).Nic Fillingham:... technical or otherwise. But tech support scams are a very real problem, and so we thought here on Security Unlocked, we'd take a few episodes to really dive into this issue and sort of better understand it. And so on today's episode, we are joined by Anup Kumar, who is the Asia lead in the investigation and analytics division of the Microsoft Digital Crimes Unit. Anup is joining us from Singapore, and Anup is very uniquely qualified to discuss this problem with us. Apart from leading the, the Asia Digital Crimes Unit, investigating tech support scams, Anup was the, uh, inspector of police for the Central Bureau of Investigations in India for over 10 years. And so, he's really seen the public sector, or sort of the government side, as well as the private enterprise side. Nic Fillingham:Anup really sort of walks us through the entire problem and understanding the motivations and how they work and the infrastructure and the culture of these tech support scammers are. Very happy to have Anup on the podcast and to really help us understand this problem. On with the pod?Natalia Godyla:On with the pod. Nic Fillingham:Welcome to the Security Unlocked Podcast, Anup Kumar. Thanks so much for joining us.Anup Kumar:I'm glad to be here. And I would like to congratulate both you and Natalia for doing such a great job, especially for somebody coming from this field. Your podcast, which I listen to when I'm jogging. It's quite insightful, and it's quite interesting, you know, to understand and see, you know, what else is happening, because, at times, you are just limited, uh, to our area of functioning, but there is so much more to security than just, you know, what we are doing here.Nic Fillingham:Oh, Anup, that's lovely. Thank you so much for saying that. Um, I think we can just end the interview there. That's, uh, that's all we need for-Anup Kumar:(laughs).Nic Fillingham:... today's episode. Just, um... no, that's wonderful. Thank you. But tha- thank you for joining us. It's wonderful to hear that you're a listener as well as, as now a guest. You're, uh, you're dialing in from Singapore, so, you know, obviously, thanks for getting up early for the interview. We appreciate that. Could you introduce yourselves to the audience? Uh, what is your role at Microsoft, what does your day-to-day look like, and then maybe we'll jump into this interesting topic of tech support scams.Anup Kumar:Sure. So I am from the Legal Department of Microsoft, and within this department, I am the Asia lead for investigation and analytics for the Digital Crimes Unit, and I'm based in Singapore and I cover the Asia region. So my team comprises of investigators and analysts, and our primary focus is to protect our customers against organized cyber crime, and also understanding the mechanics of cyber crime. And attribution is one important part of our job, but we take it a little bit further wherein we not only attribute it, but we also invest time and resources to filing civil and criminal referrals, which also means that a lot of my time also goes into working with the cyber crime units of the law enforcement agencies of various countries in the region in Asia.Nic Fillingham:On today's episode of the podcast, we're going to unpack tech support scams, and I'm very much looking forward to this conversation. When you say tech support scams, walk us through it. What is a tech support scam? Is it just getting an unsolicited phone call trying to get you to hand over your credit card details? Is it more than that? What do we need to know?Anup Kumar:So it's actually a mix of a lot of things. You know, at the end of the day, it's basically a scam. The only difference, I would say, is that generally, in this type of scam, uh, the perpetrator want you to go to your device or machine, whatever you're using, and trying to gain your trust in order to scam you. And while doing that, there'll be some kind of an urgency and try and scare you and then coerce you, or even at times sweet talk you, into believing that your device has got some kind of a technical issue which needs to be rectified.Anup Kumar:Earlier, it was limited technology companies, but we have seen that, uh, of late, you could be approached by, say example, your internet provider. You know, they could approach you stating that, "We are calling in from your internet provider. That is an issue with your IP address, et cetera," and then make you go near your device and try and remote login and try and get remote access to your device so that they can display that there is a big issue, which is most of the time not there at all, and make you believe that you need to immediately, uh, you know, get some kind of a service from them, for which they will charge you a fee. Many a times, these are like subscription charges, which keeps on recurring, and that is how, uh... you know, that's the basic mechanics.Anup Kumar:But over the time, it has moved on from just cold calling onto, you know, popups for example, which is now increasingly we are seeing that cold calling is reducing, but the popups are increasing, for example. But, at the end of the day, it is just a scam which uses technology extensively and is at a hyperscale.Nic Fillingham:Got it. So from my experience, I've received, you know, an unsolicited phone call. My phone will ring, it will be a number that I don't recognize, but it'll probably be a US number. I'll answer the phone and it'll be someone saying, "Hi, this is John Terry, whatever it is, from Microsoft. We've detected a problem with your PC and we're here to help. We wanna help you get this resolved. You know, are you in front of your computer right now?" And then they'll go through sort of this elaborate sort of scheme to, essentially, get me to go to my computer, turn it on, visit a web page, maybe install some kind of remote desktop client, then they'll try and sort of display something on my computer to make it look like there's a problem, to then make me think that I have to pay them to fix this problem that doesn't actually exist.Nic Fillingham:And so that's, that's sort of the experience. I mean, I knew what they were doing, but that's the experience that I sorta had. Is that the bulk of tech support scams, what I've just sort of described there, Anup, or are there other sort of permutations of that?Anup Kumar:Yeah, that's the bulk. That forms a major, because, you know, that's the easiest way that they can because most of the people have devices, machines, computers. So that's the reason that's the easiest way for them to make contact with you, speak with you. Uh, at the end of the day, they are just wanting you to speak and, you know, they improvise... they are very good at improvising. And, depending on who you are, what you are looking for, and they are very good at assessing that pretty quickly, and then accordingly, they will try and sell you anything which, in the first place, was never required for you.Nic Fillingham:Hmm.Natalia Godyla:And who are the target victims? Who did the attackers go after? Is it indiscriminate?Anup Kumar:Actually, I think many years back, when this started, you know, they were basically looking for people who are not technologically savvy, or maybe seniors, who do not understand as much, but over the years, it doesn't matter who it is, because they have improved their script, they have improved their conversation skills, they improved how they engage with the victim. So it could be anybody. Even, you know, I know certain people who are in the tech industry who were also scammed, you know, who lost money. At the end of the day, it is anyone who they can target or victimize.Anup Kumar:And the big shift now is that earlier, it was just cold calling, but now they have devised a mechanism so that the victim calls them up, instead of they calling the victim. So you can imagine that if the victim calls them up, they have almost won half the battle, because now the victim believes that there is an issue, and that is how that victim is calling up the number which is displayed on a particular popup.Natalia Godyla:It's an indicator that they've considered the scam to be credible. And how do attackers even pull off the tech support scams? What's the technology behind these scams?Anup Kumar:So one of the primary technology enabler are the popups. And, as you know, that pop-up has legitimate business use, for advertising or authentication. And popups are, basically, JavaScripts, right? So what they do is that they attach these JavaScripts on certain websites and then the JavaScript runs on a loop at the backend, and it could have intimidating, uh, sound or, you know, messages, apart from the display, the blue, uh, s- uh, display, which kind of would be representative of a particular company, and creates an impression and it kind of locks out their device and, you know, creates a situation of a panic for the victim.Anup Kumar:So that's the main thing. But we have also seen another thing, use things like add-words the... on the advertisement. So when you're going onto the search engine, the first pages, when you see, when you look for a Dell Support or a Microsoft Support is actually not the real Dell or Microsoft, it is the scammers which was there. However, now, all the search engines have taken care of that so, at least, on the first page, I can assure that you won't see the webpages of the scammer. So it is taken care of. But still you would encounter that.Anup Kumar:Secondly, could be search engine optimization. They use that quite a bit. Thirdly, it could be fraudulent URLs. They could be using URLs which consists of brand name, for example, Hotmail Support. So it actually is not Microsoft, but it's creating an impression as if it is associated with Microsoft. Or it could be, uh, uh, you know, sub-domains. For example, they could register and then add a sub-domain,, which, again, gives an impression, uh, that this is, uh, you know, associated with the company. And, similarly, it could also be that, you know, because they are also running name servers at the backend, so they will, they will customize the sub-domains according to whose server their target is. It could be Google, the next time it could be Apple, so they will keep on changing that depending on the process that they are running at that time. Anup Kumar:And, recently, we have come across, uh, potentially unwanted programs, or malware as we call them, uh, also being increasingly used, which is also, again, it's the same thing but then, at the end of the day, they will expect you to click a link. Once you click the link, it will run a kind of a scan, which displays that your device has all these viruses and all these issues which you need to take care of. But, primarily, it is user-initiated action in most of the time, because of which, eventually, they'll end up in the hands of these perpetrators.Natalia Godyla:Do the scammers know that they are scamming?Anup Kumar:(laughs) Yeah. I think in most of the cases, they know that they are scamming. And part... how they justify what we believe is that they are justifying that they are, at the end of the day, making a sales. But they know and understand that what they are doing. And there are many reasons how they get drawn into this, but they know what they are doing. And the infrastructure that has been used are all legitimate infrastructure, so these are registered entities. You know, they have got directors, they have got HR, they have got employee benefits. So, as somebody... you know, one of your s- earlier speaker had said, uh, cyber crime is a business. That's absolutely true. And if you want to see cyber crime as a business, this is one of the perfect examples of how it is run as a enterprise.Nic Fillingham:And so, Anup, one of the reasons why we're talking to you today and we're, we're doing this episode on, on the Security Unlock Podcast is because Microsoft is one of these entities that is being impersonated to perpetuate this scam. These scammers are... they are impersonating large corporations like Microsoft, like Dell, like Apple, Amazon, et cetera, et cetera, in order to operate this scam and have people think that there's something wrong, and to get that thing wrong, they need to sort of pay some money. So tell us, from Microsoft's perspective, from your perspective, the, the work that you and your team do, what is Microsoft's role in all of this, and what is Microsoft doing to, to try and combat this, you know, bizarre new form of, of cyber crime?Anup Kumar:Yeah. So, uh, you know, before we go there, uh, I would like to take a step back and-Nic Fillingham:Please.Anup Kumar:... you know, take you many years back, wherein around 2014, 2015, wherein we started receiving a lot of reports from our customers stating that they were scammed, and somebody representing Microsoft had reached out to them and all that. And that is where Microsoft felt that there is something that needs to be done about it and we opened up a channel called Report A Scam. It is like So anybody could come in and report to us. And we started receiving close to 24,000 reports a month. And when we began, the reports didn't make a lot of sense, because as you can understand that somebody reporting doesn't exactly know what pings to feed in and also things like, you know, uh, what will be important evidence or what will be important for investigation. So they were just putting in, you know, different stuff. Anup Kumar:But what we did was that down the line, we started using, uh, machine learning, and we start to triage the reports that we were receiving, so that we could, uh, attribute a particular domain and associate it with a phone number which has been reported, and then associate it with a merchant account which has been reported, and associate it with an entity which has been reported by somebody else. And you can imagine that this was a global program open for anybody could... and it gave us a very clear picture that this was a global issue, it was an industry-wide issue, and it was, basically, targeted towards developed English-speaking countries. Anup Kumar:But, uh, the interesting thing with machine learning and triaging was that it started to emerge a picture about groups of people or entities who could be clubbed together, that multiple reports could be clubbed better and make sense of, of what it is. And, apart from that, we also started scraping their tech support fraud-related popups and used a two-model machine learning approach of text and image classification. And crawlers would categorize, uh, these popups into legitimate words as fraudulent, and then we were feeding all this information into the artificial intelligence technology so that we could identify the fast moving scammers, we could prioritize, we could attribute or group them into certain group of people or their... based on their modus operandi, or based on the location where we believe they were, or where they are being reported or where they were targeting, because there were some companies who could be targeting from a particular country, there could be some entities who could be targeting a particular kind of a geography and things like that.Anup Kumar:So once we started doing that, picture started emerging clearly. And because DCU is a global team and, you know, we work across the globe and our team are based in Europe, US, and Asia, and, you know, and we cover the region and, and we work collaboratively together operationally as well. And we had the geographical reach to actually go and verify, on the ground, that were exactly the call center which actually scammed a particular victim was located. So you can imagine what was basically happening is that a victim could have reported from the US, and a merchant account ha- that has been reported is actually registered in, say UK, and the money was actually routed via China because there is, again, a, a merchant account showing up there, which is connected with another report, and then we have an associated domain name reported from Australia.Anup Kumar:And we could bring all that together and then identify who exactly... where the call center is located, and then we would deploy other outside investigators to go and verify that what exactly they are doing, and we're able to then pinpoint where they are coming from, who they are, and identify as much intelligence as possible out of them.Nic Fillingham:Wow. And so all of this began really just, I think you said maybe like five, six years ago, is that right?Anup Kumar:Yeah, that's right. Nic Fillingham:It is sort of a newish problem. It's a, it's a problem that's only been around... it hasn't been around for 10 years yet. Do we have any indication of the size? Do we know how many scammers there are, or sort of the volume of the victims that they've, they've encountered? How big is this problem, Anup?Anup Kumar:I think, at this point, I can only, you know, make certain assumptions, which I want to avoid, however, but the thing is that, as I said that 24,000 victims were reporting to us, now it's down to around 10,000. But actual number of people reporting to us is very, very small, because many a times victims, don't even realize and know that they have been scammed, or the victims don't even know how do they attribute who did it to them, so they don't know and they can't take any further steps. And there are very, very few people who actually report to us. Anup Kumar:So... but one thing I can say is that it's hundreds and thousands of victims all over. And, you know, this is an insight that we also got because of some of the work that we di- did along with the law enforcement agencies to understand that one call center was actually making hundreds and thousands of dollars, uh, every year. And so I don't have the exact number, and it's very difficult to really give, but we have a survey coming up, uh, which will give more insight pretty soon.Nic Fillingham:Anup, I wanted to ask if you could talk a little bit about the partnerships that you have gone and created with the law enforcement agencies and any other sort of like cyber protection groups that may exist at sort of the government or the industry level. Who is Microsoft partnering with? How do you partner with them? I wonder, are you able to... you know, without, um, you know, jeopardizing any sort of operational security here, can you tell us about maybe one of these engagements, one of, one of the, the times when maybe you've partnered with local law enforcement and you've gone and actually visited, uh, a call center on the ground and seen what the operation was like?Anup Kumar:Yeah, sure. But I also want to, uh, you know, take you more in-depth into why we stepped in and, uh, why why we felt a need to actually do something about it and partner with law enforcement agencies, because at the end of the day, it is definitely our brand name being used. And this was also one of the challenges that many of the victims, um, who actually tried to reach out to law enforcement agencies. This is typical of cyber crime, because the victim is in a country, the payment processor is in another country, the money was routed to a th- third country and likewise.Anup Kumar:So there are some challenges in terms of where does the victim actually go, and how does he, he or her report? So once we started realizing that our customers, our victims, could not actually be able to, you know, go to the country where these perpetrators are based and report it to the police, and even if they reported, the police is, is not able to take any action, because there is not enough evidence or enough material for them to proceed any further. That is when it was thought that, you know, we could step in and try and bridge that gap. And, uh, we started partnering with, uh, law enforcement agencies, uh, from the victim countries.Anup Kumar:We also, uh, started working with the law enforcement agencies, uh, in India where these call centers were based. We immediately understood, uh, the ground challenges and, uh, you know, I also want to mention here that I'm a former police officer and I was with the Central Bureau of Investigation, uh, back in India, and wore the federal law enforcement hat for about 11 years. So, on the ground, I could understand the ground realities, 'cause they wanted to take action but they were, uh, tied because it would also require a victim who is based out of India, would require some kind of a mutual legal assistance from the law enforcement agency from the, from the victim countries.Anup Kumar:So here, uh, what we did was that we... the intelligence and the analysis that we were able to do, and as I said that we would attribute it to the person, the entity, the directors who were involved in, in such type of operations. So what we did was that we built the intelligence which was good enough, which we could go and, uh, share it with the law enforcement, so now it was not a John Doe complaint that somebody did s- "I don't know who did to me, but I was scammed." So this was very specific, wherein victim reported to Microsoft and here is the victim's declaration, which our lawyers in, say for example US, went and approached the victim who lost money, got a declaration from them, and we built all the intelligence and we went to the law enforcement agency and told them sh- and showed it to them that, "This is what we have."Anup Kumar:And we also were ready to file a criminal complaint on behalf of Microsoft, because our name was being used to scam the victims. And once the law enforcement saw that, that there is enough meat and enough material, so they took internal approvals, they did verification, and once everything was... uh, you know, they could verify on the ground, they said, "Okay, let's go ahead." And, you know, they were keen to take prompt action on it. And, uh, you know, they went a step further that they said that, "Okay, let's not only do one call center, let's... why don't we do a sweep? Because, you know, doing one call center may not be effective enough, let's do a couple of them. Do you have enough intelligence?"Anup Kumar:And we... because of the machine learning and the triaging that we were doing, we already were sitting on a lot of information. So we built on that information and then, uh, the police... uh, we shared criminal complaints and the police took criminal action against them. They made arrests, they sealed the premises, and also, uh, you know, many of these cases, they have already framed charges and these are in trial at the moment. Anup Kumar:And then, likewise, it was just not limited to one state. And this was done by the state police. We went to various state police and once the name got out that our approach worked in one state, we knew that we could go to other states. So, likewise, we went from... to multiple states, three, four states, and we worked with the cyber crime units of those states and then, you know, they took in- uh, action based on, on our criminal complaint. Nic Fillingham:So these, these employees, these people who are working in these call centers, you know, I assume they're taking these jobs because they're paid, and maybe they're actually paid well, maybe scamming is, is lucrative. Is there also a role here to play for, uh, skilling up these sort of folks who are looking for employment, looking to make money, and seeing scamming as an opportunity for them? Is there a way that we can actually provide for the training better job opportunities? You know, is there something that can be done here to, to make not just scamming difficult, but to make it hard to get employees to actually conduct the scamming?Anup Kumar:I think Microsoft is doing quite a bit in this space as well. However, the thing is that these are people who do have some kind of a basic skill. And, as you can understand, that there is a very large backend processing operations, and there is a huge ecosystem which supports those operations. So there are a, a lot of trained people out there. So that issue will always be there of, uh, you know, things like unemployment, which drives these people. So creating more job opportunities would be, definitely, something, and, and Microsoft in India is heavily investing in this area, including, you know, creating a new office and space around the National Capital Region.Anup Kumar:And also up-skilling through various, uh, you know, our NGOs for the people so that not only use of the technology, but, you know, they could use that effectively so that, you know, these, these people that are working on the right side of the law. Also, I think education and educating, because many of these scammers are actually graduates out of college and they start their career with such type of acts, which will have an impact in their career later on as well. So, you know, educating from that point of view is also something that we are working on, we are focusing on.Anup Kumar:And, uh, we have also seen that not everybody who joins the call centers or who is part of the scam are people who intentionally intended to do that in the first place, because there are a lot of whistleblowers who actually reported to Microsoft who were employees of these companies, who once they understood and knew that what was happening, they actually reported to us, which actually helped us build some of the targets. And you can understand that somebody from inside, that's the best source of information for us. Anup Kumar:So we have seen that also increasing, and, and you can see that there is a lot of attention towards this in social media as well. I have seen a lot of people who are working in the in- in this industry, raising their voices, and also are creating awareness, uh, around why these people could... have been moved into, uh, into this, uh, this because of some greedy employers of theirs. Nic Fillingham:Yeah, it's fascinating. So it sounds like... I should ask, like are we... you know, is the scope of this problem, is it contained within India or is India, you know... we, we... you've mentioned India a few times. Are there other countries throughout Asia or throughout Asia Pacific, throughout the Americas, South America, like where, where else are tech support scams happening?Anup Kumar:Unfortunately, because of the ecosystem which exists, a bulk of the export-related calls are actually originating from India. But, uh, we are also seeing some countries in North Africa, uh, which are French-speaking countries, which are also setting up similar kind of, uh, setups. In India, the law enforcement agencies, uh, you know, we are in talks with some of the state agencies and, you know, clearly the message is that they want to clean up the entire city. Anup Kumar:Unfortunately, you know, in India, the COVID situation came in in, in 2020, and it's still going... ongoing. So that... you know, there was a lot of break towards it, but, clearly, you know, the, the action which was taken by the Federal, Federal Law Agency clearly gives a message that, uh, you know, India is serious about taking action against, against such type of scam, because... and there are people who are committed to take action against this, but only thing is that it will take some time, but I think we should be there.Natalia Godyla:How can you identify a scam from a legitimate support request, and what should you do if you're targeted by a tech support scam?Anup Kumar:First of all, I will say that please report it. Report it to a law enforcement agencies or Microsoft, if you are a Microsoft customer, because I can assure you that we are looking at each and every report, and it forms a part of the action that we are taking. And it's not limited to just criminal action, we are doing a lot of other things, civil actions, you know, even cease and desist, and, you know, even sending letters, educational letters, et cetera. We are doing a lot of stuff there. And it helps if you report. If you don't report, you know, you have lost money, but that, you know, that scammer will continue to scam someone else. So you need to please report.Anup Kumar:And remember that there are never any cold calls coming in from any of the companies. There is a lot of material and education being spread around this that there will never be a cold call coming in from... it is always has to be initiated by the customer. Uh, it is never that Microsoft will contact anyone. For that matter, any technology company will not contact anyone. If there are any technical issues, a lot of things are taken care by using technology. And if at all, there is any kind of error message on your device, remember that if it is a error message generated by the operating system, it will not have a number to call back. That's one of the important things to always remember. If there is a number to call, you are sure that this is a scam and you are being swindled. Anup Kumar:And if, if at all, you know, your device locks in, your screen is locked in because of that popup, the easiest thing to do is just restart your device. There is nothing wrong with your machine. You can stay confident, you can stay sure that there is nothing wrong with your device. Just shut down, restart the machine, I can assure you the popup will go.Nic Fillingham:So that... just to summarize that, Anup, so you're saying like if in any doubt, report it. Report it, report it, report it. We want that data. We want those reports. It sounds like there's some pretty sophisticated, some data science happening behind the scenes there to try and correlate those reports to try and link those reports to the phone numbers, to the websites, to the sort of payment infrastructure. And so, really, it sounds like the number one here is if you know you've been targeted or you think you've been targeted, just report it, because that data is gonna ultimately help, uh, either weed out false positives or help, uh, narrow down on actually identifying real scams. Anup Kumar:Yeah.Nic Fillingham:And then I think the second thing you said there, and it's, it's something that I've, I've seen a lot in literature, is, you know, Microsoft will never cold call you with an offer of tech support. I don't think we sell a product. Even in our sort of like highest enterprise tiers, I don't even know if we even have a product where Microsoft would, essentially, (laughs) cold call you to say that they've found a problem. So, so yeah, you'll never receive a legitimate cold call from Microsoft. That's probably the first one, and then the second one then is, if in doubt report, it.Anup Kumar:Yeah.Nic Fillingham:Would that be your two pieces of guidance or is, is there something else?Anup Kumar:Yeah. I think these are the two most important things, and always keep in the mind. And these are simple things, but just keep it in mind.Natalia Godyla:I really appreciate the simplicity of that. If you are targeted by a tech support scam and you start to worry, turn it on and off again. That's it.Anup Kumar:Yeah, that's it.Nic Fillingham:It fixes most things, really, doesn't it?Anup Kumar:(laughs).Nic Fillingham:You know, you can, you know-Natalia Godyla:(laughs).Nic Fillingham:... turn your car on and off, your toaster on and off. Um-Natalia Godyla:(laughs).Nic Fillingham:... I got one of those air fryers and it stopped working, and I just turned it off-Anup Kumar:(laughs).Nic Fillingham:... and just back on again, and now it's fixed. So-Anup Kumar:Yeah.Nic Fillingham:... it's amazing how well that works. Anup, I wondered if, if in your time researching and investigating these problems, have you visited, have you visited any of these call centers? Have you actually gone on the ground in India and seen some of these places, you know, in-person?Anup Kumar:Yeah. Oh, yeah. In fact, uh, visited in the sense, not, uh... you know, I've looked at it from outside because, uh, when these operations are being carried out, before we go to the law enforcement, one of the things that we do is that we, we verify that what we are writing on the criminal complaint is something which exists. So I would do... uh, you know, of course, we have a large team in India and, uh, with support, we have got team of outside investigators and we also have outside counsels who ensure that we, we take the right steps in the right manner.Anup Kumar:But I do visit, looking at, at it from outside and, at times, you know, I've seen pictures because these call centers also like to share a lot on social media. So they'll have birthday parties... as I said, you know, it's just another company, right? So they do share a lot. So I see that a lot in, in the reports that I get from our outside investigators, but actually going inside the call centers, I haven't done it myself. But, yeah, whenever the law enforcement does any kind of operations, uh, they do expect the complainants to be present. Anup Kumar:And also, there could be, you know, something technical that needs to be addressed or explained, so, um, me and, you know, our analysts and our outside counsels are there because we also want the law enforcement to feel comfortable and be there that we are not only writing a complaint, but we are also, uh, you know, providing any kind of, you know, clarifications that they may need, you know, before they take any kind of actions.Nic Fillingham:Anup, I think one of the things is you've sort of blown my mind here, is, you know, (laughs) the, the idea that these tech support scams, they just look and function like a business. Like they have birthday parties, they share pictures on social media, they have sales quotas, they... I think when you hear the word scam and cyber crime, I think you sort of think of underground organized crime, and I'm sure there must be some component to that sort of infrastructurally or sort of from a funding perspective, I mean, certainly that's where the money's going, but the day-to-day operation, these are people showing up to work, putting on a headset, doing a job, hitting a quota, having lunch with their friends, sharing memes. It's just blowing my mind to think that that, that sort of exists at sort of like, uh, some degree of scale.Anup Kumar:Yeah, actually that's the unf- unfortunate part. And, uh, and increasingly, it's just not tech support scam. We are seeing a lot of, you know, and I mentioned this, that cyber crime is run as a business now. I'm just digressing, but, you know, for example, Malware as a Service, you know, MaaS, as, as you call it, it's, basically, a service. They have got customer care. You can call them up. Uh, (laughs) and they will actually advertise that, uh, you know, you can, you can do this and that.Anup Kumar:So it's, basically, it's the same thing. The only thing is that here, because of the work that we have done, we have got a clear picture of how exactly they are operating, and it's very encouraging to see that, you know, the law enforcement and other agency, the cyber crime units are increasingly, you know, building their own capacities, and industry also. You know, we are coming together and trying to address this collectively, because this is not just one single company gonna address it all, uh, you know, take an action.Anup Kumar:Like, for example, you know, two, three years back, I attended an Interpol conference, wherein... and it was a cyber crime conference which Interpol organized, and, similarly, Europe will organized a cyber crime conference and, you know, I, I was invited, wherein I was able to address and talk to the law enforcement officers as to what exactly is happening on the ground and the challenges that, you know, that exist and need to address them. And these are big changes, because, you know, an Interpol cyber crime conference inviting industry, and it was just not Microsoft, there were other companies as well who were invited who work in this space, so the law enforcement is also opening up to this idea of partnering more of... more with, uh, with industry.Anup Kumar:Now, the way we, at least, in Digital Crimes Unit, the way we are trying to fight crime is, basically, by partnerships and, uh, you know, taking everyone together. It's just not we, uh, who are trying to do it, and we are doing it not only for our customers, but for the larger public as well, because it impacts everyone. It im- impacts my parents, you know, my seniors in the family, it impacts my family, my children. So we believe that this is, uh, you know, absolutely the right thing to do, and that is where our team is primarily focused on areas like this.Natalia Godyla:And for anyone who's interested in learning more about tech support scams, protecting themselves against tech support scams, where can they go? What resources are available to them?Anup Kumar:So there is, you know, a lot of material definitely from Microsoft. You can just go and, you know, just key in that word, "Tech support scam," and you will definitely find a lot of material there. And, and there are a lot of guidance, you know, some of the actions that we have done, details about that, you can just search on the internet, there is a lot of material. But the easiest is And, remember, Please report, to the listeners, whosoever, you know, has faced or has come across any such type of calls or such type of popups, et cetera. Whatever little information, uh, would also, remember, that could help out investigations.Nic Fillingham:We'll definitely put those URLs in the, uh, show notes. Anup, thank you so much for your time, and, and thank you for taking on this, uh, really, really important work. You know, I think we've only just scratched the surface here, so we'll, we'll definitely try and learn some more about tech support scams on Security Unlocked. I'd love to talk to you again on the podcast one day, but thank you so much for your time today.Anup Kumar:Same here. Thanks Nic, thank Natalia. It was a pleasure. Nice talking to you, guys.Natalia Godyla:Well, we had a great time unlocking insights into security from research to artificial intelligence. Keep an eye out for our next episode.Nic Fillingham:And don't forget to tweet us @msftsecurity, or email us at, with topics you'd like to hear on a future episode. Until then, stay safe.Natalia Godyla:Stay secure.