Brian Krebs is an American investigative journalist and investigative researcher. He is most well known for his reporting of cyber-offense crimes involving computer fraud. His first real interest however came about when a computer worm completely locked him out of his computer in 2021. The experience that led to his eventual discovery of the truth about cyber crime did not exactly lead him to be a good reporter though.
Krebs begins his story in the summer of 2021; he is just finishing up a year’s worth of field work in Asia trying to figure out how hackers are inserting their code into smart cards used by cash-paying vendors in that region. One of the methods he is investigating is called Tricarboxylic Acid (TCA). According to Krebs, this method is often used by hackers with anti-virus programs to load malicious codes onto electronic devices. Krebs states that this method “renders the device almost useless.” In his investigation, he discovered that TCA has several common elements with the so called worms known as Trojans.
Krebs discovered that Trojans were using tricarboxylic acid (TCA) as a password protection mechanism. Once installed, the Trojan worm allowed the hacker to remotely control the victim’s operating system. Krebs states that he was able to determine that the hackers were inserting the code into the credit card software in order to gain access to the user’s bank accounts. Krebs states that he did eventually find one sample of tricarboxylic acid that was active on a live credit card machine. However, he found that the hackers had “cleaned” it from the system with what appeared to be specialized equipment.
Krebs then performed what is referred to as a tricarboxylic acid cycle where he replicated the procedure. This cycle gave him evidence that the hackers were installing a working version of the worm onto infected credit card machines. Krebs also noticed that the malware appeared to function more smoothly on a live terminal than on a CD-ROM. He concluded that the attackers used an interface that was separate from the operating system in order to gain access to the victim’s account information.
After performing the tricarboxylic acid cycle, Krebs created a paper that documented all of his findings. He posted these findings on a Web site where he offered a free download of a Tricarboxylic Acid Infection Workbook. In this paper, Krebs explained how he had exposed the secret behind this worm and suggested ways that credit card companies could detect the attacks and remove them from their systems.
According to Krebs, this worm makes use of an ATP (analogous Toshiba Transport Protocol) layer to communicate with a remote server. The worm then sends a series of data packets that contain the encryption key needed to access the account information. Krebs believes that the ATP layer was designed by a group of Chinese hackers who hacked into the databases belonging to American banks.
The ATP layer is composed of a MAC (memory configuration data), a descriptor, and a random access key for session initiation. The MAC, or Message Authentication Code, is used to encrypt the message before sending it over the Internet. The decryptor decipheres the data sent back and modifies it using the most current Blowfish algorithm. Once the data is transformed, it is sent as a session request to the remote server. The server uses the Blowfish algorithm to generate a challenge that is used to authenticate the authenticity of the transmitted request. Krebs states that this “attacks” the encryption algorithm in such a way that if it is able to crack the encryption, it will allow access to account information of pain.
According to Krebs, he was able to successfully hack into the tricarboxylic acid database and recover around one million usernames and passwords. The database contained user names, passwords, e-mail addresses, and the dates of birth of users. This revelation has caused hackers to turn their attention towards Tricarboxylic Acid databases in order to find other unsecured databases that are accessible using the Krebs Cycle attack.
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