Fake news is bigger than PayPal

Presently, the most impersonated UK institution is not a bank nor a Government department, but the Daily Mirror, which is used to promote cryptocurrency scams.

The scale of these cryptocurrency scams is substantial, such that there are currently more fake Daily Mirror front pages than PayPal phishing login forms.

An example is an article on how Richard Branson would bring "Financial Freedom for ALL UK Residents".

Fraudsters are impersonating the news websites to deliver cryptocurrency scams

Fraudsters impersonate news websites to deliver cryptocurrency scams.

The general theme of these articles is how readers are able to make a small deposit into a cryptocurrency platform and leverage their algorithms to make easy money. The generally well-worded articles provide step-by-step instructions on how a reader is able to deposit their money and withdraw their supposed profits. The link at the end of these instructions typically takes the victim to a professional-looking site operated by the fraudster where they are directed to deposit their money.

Each article provides step-by-step instructions detailing how deposits can be made

Each article provides step-by-step instructions detailing how deposits can be made

In general, these scams are sophisticated, make use of Geo-blocking, and serve localised content depending on the country of the reader. By visiting these sites from many different locations, we found that numerous news outlets are impersontated. For example, when visiting one of the scams from a German IP address, a German language article is served referencing Der Spiegel and Bild. When visiting from the US and Canada, a diet product scam is served instead of the cryptocurrency scam site. No scams are served when visiting from Russian IP addresses.
The scams serve country-specific content, and content targeted at certain demographics depending on where they're visited from

The scams serve country-specific content and content targeted at certain demographics

Scams like these have attracted the attention of the UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). In collaboration with Actionfraud, the FCA discovered a rise in the number of fraudulent online trading platforms [1]. The reported number of cryptocurrency and foreign exchange scams more than tripled in the 2018/19 financial year from 530 than 1,834. Many of the reported claims related to cryptocurrency scams.

French jewellery chain Cleor falls victim to skimming attack

Netcraft recently discovered that French jewellery retailer Cleor—which operates 136 boutiques across France—was infected with a malicious JavaScript skimmer. The injected code sent the fraudster a copy of the credit card details entered by unsuspecting Cleor customers during the legitimate checkout process.

Shopping Site Skimmers

This attack has many of the hallmarks of JavaScript skimming attacks associated with Magecart. Similar to physical card skimmers, credit card credentials are invisibly stolen from unsuspecting customers, in this case through the use of malicious JavaScript code. The stolen credentials are then transmitted to a server (dropsite) under the criminal's control, usually leaving the legitimate transaction unaffected.

In the past few years, this style of attack has affected thousands of websites including those of British Airways and Ticketmaster. As of May 2019, Netcraft is aware of almost 8,000 shopping sites internationally that are currently infected with JavaScript skimming malware. Most of these sites are running common e-commerce software such as Magento, OpenCart and WooCommerce. Attackers target websites running out-of-date versions of these platforms or using plugins with known security flaws.

Skimming for gold

On 10 April 2019, Netcraft discovered that Cleor's website was infected with malicious skimming code.

The malicious code is served from an external domain, cleor.co. This is injected into the website alongside a legitimate Facebook tracking script. The similarity of the domain to the real cleor.com makes it easy to mistake as benign.

A script tag inserted into the website

A script tag inserted into the website

The skimming code on hxxps://cleor[.]co/api.js has been obfuscated by its author in an attempt to disguise its purpose. This is a common tactic of criminals. When deobfuscated, its malicious intent is made clear:

The malicious code after deobfuscation

The malicious code after deobfuscation

The code contains references to credit card input fields, which are used to extract sensitive information entered into the checkout form by visitors to Cleor's site. This data is sent to hxxps://cleor[.]co/track.js, which is also visible in the deobfuscated code.

We confirmed this by doing a test checkout on the site. Once the credit card details were filled in as part of the checkout process, a POST request is sent to hxxps://cleor[.]co/track.js. The data sent to the dropsite is Base64-encoded, decoding it reveals a JSON array containing all of the credentials entered into the form.

Credentials entered into the form are obfuscated in the request

Credentials entered into the form are visible in the POST data

Even customers who did not complete their purchase may have been affected, as the credentials are skimmed immediately after they are entered rather than when the checkout form is submitted.

Netcraft alerted Cleor of the incident, and the skimmer injection code has since been removed.

Purpose-Registered Domain

In this attack, a single site, cleor.co, is used to both serve malicious code and receive the stolen credentials. The domain was purpose-registered for this attack, a trait shared with the British Airways skimmer, which makes it easy to mistake the code as benign.

cleor.co was registered with Namecheap on 10 January this year, suggesting the attack may have been carefully planned before deployment or been active for some time.

The criminals responsible for this attack are also plausibly behind at least one other more wide-spread attack from a domain registered just one day later, also with Namecheap, ajaxstatic.com. Both of these attacks are hosted by Ankas-group, the only Moldovan-hosted sources of skimming code identified by Netcraft. ajaxstatic.com is currently hosting at least 27 distinct skimmers which target a range of payment gateways including Authorize.net, Verisign, Stripe and Braintree.

Prevention and protection

A Content-Security-Policy (CSP) header can be used by websites to limit which resources can be loaded by a page by supported browsers. A correctly configured CSP policy can prevent the loading of resources on non-whitelisted domains; in this instance, it could have prevented JavaScript being loaded from cleor.co.

Subresource Integrity (SRI) instructs web browsers to perform integrity checks of third-party resources, which can prevent the browser from loading any resources that have been tampered with. CSP can be used to ensure that all resources loaded on a page use SRI.

In many cases, the proper use of CSP and SRI can protect websites from falling victim to JavaScript attacks; however, it is not a silver bullet. Certain dynamically-loaded scripts are unsuitable for protection by SRI, and if a hacker gains complete control of a server, CSP will often provide no defence. In addition, SRI only provides assurance that a script has not been altered; not that it was safe in the first place.

Netcraft offers a number of services to protect organisations from malicious JavaScript and other forms of attack, including scanning TLDs for malware, web application security testing and enterprise JavaScript protection. For more information on our services, email info@netcraft.com.

May 2019 Web Server Survey

In the May 2019 survey we received responses from 1,326,664,693 sites across 235,011,143 unique domain names and 8,726,985 web-facing computers. Although this reflects a gain of 1.12 million domains and 113,000 computers, there has been a loss of 119 million sites.

This month's relatively large drop in sites (-8.2%) includes a 10.3 million reduction in the number of websites that are served by nginx, just a month after it became the first vendor other than Microsoft and Apache to serve the largest number of websites over the past 23 years. As Apache lost only 696,000 sites this month, nginx is now only 1.73 million sites ahead, with a market share of 29.20% compared with Apache's 29.07%.

The sites metric has been particularly volatile for Microsoft, which was within two percentage points of Apache's share last month; but this month, it suffered a significant loss of 112 million (-30.8%) sites, leaving it more than 10 points behind with a market share of 18.9%.

Despite losing more than 10 million sites, nginx has outperformed every vendor in all other headline metrics this month – this includes a gain of 939,000 active sites, 1.06 million domains, 63,800 web-facing computers, and an additional 2,120 sites within the top-million websites. Apache continues to lead in all of these metrics, while nginx is in second place and closing, increasing its market share while Apache's declines.

Apache lost 4,330 entries from the top million sites this month, decreasing its share of that market to 31.8%, but leaving it still more than 5 percentage points ahead of nginx. Some of the highest-traffic users of Apache include FedEx, Orange, Slack, Adobe and Ubuntu, while prominent users of nginx include the likes of DuckDuckGo, the BBC, GitLab, and the bit.ly short link service.

The highest-traffic site, www.google.com, uses the in-house gws (Google Web Server), which is also used by many other top-million Google websites, including Google Maps and dozens of country-specific variants of the main search site – like google.de and google.nl.

Envoy

A relatively unfamiliar server called envoy has suddenly leapt into 10th place by sites after experiencing 500-fold growth, increasing its website count from just 10,300 to 5.10 million sites across 2.71 million distinct domains. The majority of these sites are hosted by SquareSpace, which provides easy-to-use website and online store building services that feature drag-and-drop layouts with ready-made templates.

Envoy is an open source edge and service proxy designed for cloud-native applications. It was originally built by the transportation network company Lyft, but Squarespace is now by far the most visible user of the product. Squarespace engineers pursued a self-service infrastructure with Kubernetes to handle the complexity of their software, but to keep up with growth and demand, they started integrating the Envoy proxy into their system more than a year ago to build a service mesh control plane – a policy that turns a set of isolated stateless sidecar proxies into a distributed system.

While this is the first survey in which Envoy has been seen en masse at Squarespace, it is possible that they have already been using it for a number of months without revealing the envoy server header.

cPanel

This month's survey also saw cPanel advance to 9th place with a total of 7.35 million sites. cPanel is a Linux-based web hosting control panel that provides a graphical interface for administering websites via a secure service on port 2083. Most cPanel-administered websites exhibit the bare cPanel server banner on HTTP port 80, but there are also 5.77 million Apache-powered sites that reveal the use of cPanel via Server headers similar to Apache/2.4.39 (cPanel) OpenSSL/1.0.2r mod_bwlimited/1.4.

While the cPanel interface is aimed at individual end users or hosting customers, the associated WHM (WebHost Manager) interface allows hosting providers to manage large numbers of cPanel user accounts and add custom branding to their customers' dashboards. A slightly cheaper cPanel Solo product also provides most cPanel and WHM features to hosting providers or individuals with only a single server account to manage. These products have led to cPanel being found across a variety of hosting locations in more than 150 countries, ranging from more than 400,000 cPanel-powered sites operated by a single French hosting company, to a single cPanel-powered website in the whole of Zambia.

New web server releases

  • nginx 1.16.0 was released on 23 April 2019. In keeping with nginx tradition, this first release in the 1.16.x stable branch includes all of the new features and bug fixes that were introduced in the 1.15.x mainline branch – this means it has improved UDP proxying, support for TLS 1.3 early data and dynamic loading of TLS certificates amongst other features.

  • Envoy 1.10.0 was released on 5 April 2019, enabling TLS 1.3 on the server-side, and making a multitude of other changes and additions. The previous release, 1.9.1, addressed two vulnerabilities – CVE-2019-9900 and CVE-2019-9901– both of which could have allowed remote attackers to bypass access control rules.

  • GoDaddy is currently using DPS 1.6.0 to serve customer sites that have been created with its Website Builder tool. This server software continues to be updated fairly frequently: the sites were using DPS 1.5.11 when this month's survey data was originally collected, and DPS 1.5.7 during last month's survey.

Total number of websites

Web server market share

DeveloperApril 2019PercentMay 2019PercentChange
nginx397,728,88927.52%387,416,88929.20%1.68
Apache386,380,89326.73%385,685,25229.07%2.34
Microsoft362,109,19625.05%250,440,88718.88%-6.18
Google25,956,0801.80%27,711,3752.09%0.29
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Most Reliable Hosting Company Sites in April 2019

Rank Performance Graph OS Outage
hh:mm:ss
Failed
Req%
DNS Connect First
byte
Total
1 www.choopa.com Linux 0:00:00 0.000 0.294 0.005 0.020 0.020
2 www.viawest.com Linux 0:00:00 0.000 0.489 0.005 0.230 0.230
3 GoDaddy.com Inc Linux 0:00:00 0.000 0.452 0.006 0.024 0.026
4 One.com Linux 0:00:00 0.000 0.395 0.084 0.191 0.191
5 www.dinahosting.com Linux 0:00:00 0.000 0.300 0.090 0.180 0.180
6 Rackspace Linux 0:00:00 0.004 0.689 0.007 0.018 0.018
7 Hyve Managed Hosting Linux 0:00:00 0.004 0.187 0.065 0.137 0.137
8 CWCS Managed Hosting Linux 0:00:00 0.004 0.300 0.074 0.152 0.152
9 New York Internet (NYI) FreeBSD 0:00:00 0.009 0.568 0.059 0.118 0.118
10 Netcetera Linux 0:00:00 0.009 0.225 0.085 0.169 0.169

See full table

The most reliable hosting company site in April 2019 belonged to Choopa.com - it responded to all of Netcraft's requests and had the fastest average connection time of 4.597ms. Choopa.com provides cloud hosting, dedicated servers, colocation and managed services from its primary data centre in Piscataway, New Jersey, and also has facilities in Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Tokyo. ViaWest.com, in second place, also responded to each of Netcraft's requests and had an average connection time of 4.601ms. The top two are therefore separated by just 0.004ms after taking the average over nearly 23 thousand requests.

The next three hosting company sites in the top 10 also responded to each of Netcraft's requests in April: GoDaddy, One.com and DinaHosting. These sites were separated by their average connection times of 6ms, 84ms and 90ms, respectively. DinaHosting is a Madrid-based hosting company with services including cloud, dedicated and reseller hosting.

Linux dominates the top 10 in April, with nine of the top 10 sites using the operating system. FreeBSD makes an appearance in ninth place.

Netcraft measures and makes available the response times of around twenty leading hosting providers' sites. The performance measurements are made at fifteen minute intervals from separate points around the internet, and averages are calculated over the immediately preceding 24 hour period.

From a customer's point of view, the percentage of failed requests is more pertinent than outages on hosting companies' own sites, as this gives a pointer to reliability of routing, and this is why we choose to rank our table by fewest failed requests, rather than shortest periods of outage. In the event the number of failed requests are equal then sites are ranked by average connection times.

Information on the measurement process and current measurements is available.

April 2019 Web Server Survey

In the April 2019 survey we received responses from 1,445,266,139 sites across 233,886,577 unique domain names and 8,613,630 web-facing computers. This reflects a loss of 16.8 million sites, but a gain of 1.72 million domains and 87,000 computers.

Most websites now use nginx!

Despite the overall loss of sites this month, nginx gained 22.3 million websites and 2.03 million additional active sites. nginx also gained the largest number of web-facing computers, increasing its total by 63,000 to 2.57 million (+2.52%). nginx's market share of web-facing computers is now nearly 30%, and this is continuing to grow steadily closer to Apache's leading share of 37.3%.

Microsoft and Apache lost shares in every headline metric this month, with both vendors contributing significantly to this month's overall loss of sites. Microsoft lost 18.9 million sites, while Apache lost 17.2 million, causing their shares to decrease by 1.01 and 0.87 percentage points.

These changes have pushed nginx into the lead, giving it a 27.5% share of all sites in Netcraft's April 2019 Web Server Survey. Significantly, this is the first time since 1996 that a vendor other than Microsoft or Apache has served the largest number of websites.

The reign of "a patchy" web server

If we cast our minds back to early 1996 (not long before the arrest of the Unabomber and the release of the Spice Girls' first cassette tape single), the most commonly used web server software was still NCSA HTTPd. This long-since discontinued web server was originally developed three years earlier by Rob McCool at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications; but when he left the NCSA in mid-1994, development stalled, prompting many webmasters to develop their own extensions and bug fixes.

A small group of these developers coordinated their changes in the form of patches, eventually leading to the foundation of the independent Apache Group. By April 1995, the group had made its first official public release of the Apache web server (version 0.6.2), which was based on NCSA HTTPd 1.3.

Although the NCSA resumed development of its own web server around the same time, Apache quickly took hold of the market. Exactly a year after Apache's first public release, Netcraft's April 1996 Web Server Survey showed that Apache had succeeded in overtaking NCSA's lead, marking the start of a remarkable uninterrupted 18-year reign.

The non-profit Apache Software Foundation, was later formed in 1999, and today is home to hundreds of other projects in addition to the Apache HTTP Server. Microsoft briefly took the lead from Apache in 2014, and retook the lead from 2016 until being beaten by nginx this month.

However, for now, Apache remains on top of every other headline metric: It leads with a 30.3% share of active sites, 37.3% of all web-facing computers, 31.5% of all domains, and it serves 32.2% of the top million websites. Nonetheless, nginx's strong and consistent growth makes it look set to challenge Apache's lead within a year or two. Most noticeably, it is rapidly catching up with Apache's declining share of web-facing computers, and may also soon threaten Apache's share of the top million websites.

New web server releases

There have been several new releases over the past month:

  • Apache 2.4.39 was released on 1 April. As usual, this latest release in the 2.4.x stable branch is regarded by the Apache Software Foundation to be the best available version; but more importantly, it resolves several security issues including an access control bypass and privilege escalation vulnerability.
  • nginx 1.15.10 mainline was released on 26 March, adding some new directives and certificate features. This was followed by two bugfix releases: nginx 1.15.11 on 9 April, and nginx 1.15.12 on 16 April.
  • njs 0.3.1 (the JavaScript-like scripting language that allows nginx functionality to be extended) was released on 16 April, adding several new features, including support for arrow functions.
  • OpenLiteSpeed 1.4.46 was released on 5 April, adding support for PHP7 and app servers that use nodeJS, Python and Ruby.
  • Taobao's Tengine 2.3.0 was released on 25 March. This development version of the open source nginx fork inherits all features from nginx 1.15.9 and includes several new features, changes and bugfixes.

Tengine Aserver

Visible uptake of the latest Tengine 2.3.0 development version is likely to be slow. The most commonly used numbered version is still 2.2.0, despite there being four newer development versions since its release more than three years ago; and development version 1.4.2, which was released in 2012, is not far behind.

Tengine 2.2.0 is currently used by 13.9% of all Tengine-powered websites, but the majority – 42.4% – do not reveal a version number at all, and a further 29.8% respond with the Tengine/Aserver server header. Nearly all of the websites that use Tengine Aserver are online stores hosted on subdomains of taobao.com and the domain of its parent company, alibaba.com, suggesting that it is a custom version designed specifically for these applications.

Development versions of Tengine appear to be far more popular than stable releases. The most recent stable version, Tengine 2.1.2, was released in December 2015 and is used by only 0.26% of all Tengine-powered websites.

Total number of websites

Web server market share

DeveloperMarch 2019PercentApril 2019PercentChange
nginx375,431,60625.68%397,728,88927.52%1.84
Apache403,603,74527.61%386,380,89326.73%-0.87
Microsoft381,017,77626.06%362,109,19625.05%-1.01
Google24,809,6821.70%25,956,0801.80%0.10
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Well known UK bank vulnerable to impersonation for five years

Netcraft has found that Halifax has been left vulnerable to convincing impersonation attacks for five years. The operator of a website promoting Spanish hotels is able to send and receive emails on the official Halifax online banking domain, and get legitimate security certificates issued for the same domain.

Halifax Online

Halifax operates its online banking service on a separate domain (halifax-online.co.uk) to its main website (halifax.co.uk).

The entry point to Halifax's banking service is via www.halifax-online.co.uk. Visitors to the site without the www. prefix are presented with a browser error.

halifax-online.co.uk

halifax-online.co.uk

The mail server configuration of halifax-online.co.uk domain is configured in such a way that makes it open to attack.

MX records

A Mail Exchanger (MX) record publishes the location where email should be sent to for addresses on that domain. For example, Netcraft’s own MX records point to mail.netcraft.com. Any system wanting to send email to info@netcraft.com would look up the MX record for netcraft.com, and see they need to forward the email to mail.netcraft.com.

It is common for many domain name owners to delegate its mail processing to a third-party service; Microsoft and Google are notable providers. In the case of halifax-online.co.uk, the MX records point to mail.btwebworld.com.

BT WebWorld

BT WebWorld was a B2B web host and email service offered by BT. BT WebWorld launched in October 1996 and was discontinued in 2013/2014. During its heyday, BT WebWorld was a popular hosting provider used by many British SMEs and large organisations.

The domain name, btwebworld.com, continued to belong to BT until 2015, at which time the domain registration lapsed. It was then registered by an unaffiliated party on 22nd November 2015, and presently redirects to a hotel-themed website. Some of the original BT WebWorld website content has been copied on to this website. This is likely an attempt by the operator of the website to appear more genuine to search providers, in the hopes of increasing visibility in search results.

Metadata for the IP Address used by btwebworld.com indicates the server is located in Dominica. However, tracing the IP Address shows the server is probably located on the east coast of America. The stated location of the IP Address may have been chosen in an attempt to place the website outside the jurisdiction of certain law enforcement agencies.

Screenshot of btwebworld.com

Screenshot of btwebworld.com

Why is this a concern?

Any Halifax customer aware of the halifax-online.co.uk website would unlikely be concerned if they received an email appearing to be from halifax-online.co.uk, and could be tricked into sending sensitive information to email accounts on the same domain.

Inconsistent configuration of Halifax’s SPF record increases the chance that fraudulent emails purporting to be from halifax-online.co.uk do not get sent to the ‘spam’ folder, and Halifax would not be alerted to spoofed emails.

Being able to receive email at @halifax-online.co.uk addresses also allows the domain owner to request TLS certificates for the official Halifax online banking domain. This would allow a fraudster to create convincing impersonations of the Halifax website.

SPF

Sender Policy Framework (SPF) is a mechanism that allows a domain name owner to assert control over which servers are permitted to send email from that domain.

An SPF record includes a list of IP Addresses that are allowed to send email for the domain, and an instruction informing email servers how to process email they receive which does not originate from one of the allowed IP Addresses. When a mail server receives an email, the mail server may perform a lookup of the SPF record for the associated domain to determine whether the email is genuine.

A misconfigured SPF record can be advantageous to fraudsters. Email that is permitted by an SPF record is more likely to land in the user’s inbox. Email not permitted is more likely to land in the ‘spam’ folder, or not even get delivered.

The SPF record for halifax-online.co.uk instructs mail servers to only allow email from IP Addresses in its MX record, which in this case is btwebworld.com.

The owner of btwebworld.com — or any sites that share the same email server — would be able to successfully send email from @halifax-online.co.uk addresses, even to email servers which perform checks on SPF records.

TLS Certificates

In order to obtain a certificate issued for a website and appear ‘secure’ the owner of that website needs to prove to a Certificate Authority that they have control over the website. One common method is to prove that you can receive emails sent to a special email address on the domain.

Certificate Transparency (CT) is an initiative where Certificate Authorities publish certificates they issue. This allows unauthorised certificates to be identified. The authorised party could then request the certificate be revoked — although most browsers do not check if certificates have been revoked. It could also request the unauthorised website be taken offline. Providing evidence that the certificate has been included in a CT log is only a requirement for the Chrome browser and recent versions of iOS.

This kind of attack could be partially mitigated through the use of Certificate Authority Authorization (CAA) records. These records allow the domain owner to list the set of Certificate Authorities that are permitted to issue certificates for sites on that domain. There is no CAA record on halifax-online.co.uk.

The end result is that it would be possible for the owner of btwebworld.com to request — and be issued with — a valid certificate for the official Halifax online banking website. The owner could request the certificate from a Certificate Authority that does not require certificates they issue to be logged, reducing the chance of discovery, and would, at least for a significant proportion of web users, appear in the web browser as ‘secure’.

Combined with another attack, such as man-in-the-middle, it would be trivial for a fraudster to create a highly convincing impersonation designed to capture banking credentials of Halifax customers.

Who else is affected?

Netcraft found 131 other domains that still point its MX records at btwebworld.com, including three other Halifax domains, the primary domain of BT’s own BT Wholesale division, 13 domains owned by investment bank Rothschild & Co, a domain for UK insurance company esure, a sub-domain of the NHS, and a domain belonging to soft-drinks company Robinsons.

Netcraft has also found that www.e-commerce.bt.com and www.btbroadband.com both resolve to the same IP Address as btwebworld.com. The owner of this IP Address would be able to set up a phishing attack against BT under an official BT domain.

Remediations

Halifax can make simple changes to their DNS in order to protect itself and its customers from impersonation attacks:

  • redirect halifax-online.co.uk to www.halifax-online.co.uk to prevent visitors attempting to try alternative combinations that might lead them to fraud;
  • update or remove MX records to prevent email being delivered to a non-affiliated website;
  • update the SPF policy to reject emails sent from halifax-online.co.uk addresses if it not used for that purpose by Halifax;
  • add CAA records to ensure only Halifax’s chosen Certificate Authorities are permitted to issue certificates for its domains.

Netcraft has found 171 phishing attacks impersonating Halifax over the past 12 months.

Netcraft offers a range of services to protect organisations against cybercrime, including monitoring of DNS for look-a-like domains, SPF record auditing, and processing DMARC email reports.