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Threat Actors Shift to Android-Based Carding, Struggle with iOS

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Cybercriminals operating on Russian-language Deep & Dark Web (DDW) forums are demonstrating an increased interest in using mobile operating systems—specifically Android—to evade detection when using stolen payment card data to make fraudulent purchases online, Flashpoint analysts said.

Since these schemes, known as carding, are typically carried out using desktop computers, many cybercriminals seem to believe that e-commerce retailers’ anti-fraud systems may be less likely to identify carded purchases made from mobile operating systems. Not only has this perception led more cybercriminals to attempt carding via Android mobile devices, it has also encouraged those who lack such devices to instead use virtual machines (VMs) designed to emulate Android smartphones. In fact, since VM Android emulators eliminate the need to acquire a physical Android device, cybercriminals typically prefer using emulators rather than actual smartphones for mobile carding.

Russian-speaking cybercriminals’ shift toward Android-based carding demonstrates their willingness to adapt their tactics to capitalize on perceived security blind spots. Indeed, there appears to be a consensus among cybercriminals that (1) making carded e-commerce transactions from mobile devices or emulators has a higher success rate than other methods and (2) working with the open-source Android OS is far easier and more straightforward than doing so with iOS devices.

Tutorials for Android-Based Carding Gain Popularity

The presence of carding tutorials on Russian-language DDW forums lowers the barrier to entry for abusing Android technology among low-skill fraudsters. In January 2017, a threat actor operating on a lower-tier Russian-language forum posted a comprehensive guide for setting up Android devices for carding. Despite the post now being more than a year old, forum members continue to use and refer to this tutorial when discussing carding schemes.

Cybercriminals appear to be primarily be using Android versions 4.4–4.4.4 (KitKat) and 5.0–5.1.1 (Lollipop) to carry out carding schemes. One threat actor recommends using Android version 4.4.4, warning that certain applications recommended in their tutorial would not work as well on later versions. Other actors have claimed it is easier to achieve root access on version 4.4.2, and one emulator popular on Russian-language forums is available for versions 4.4.2 and 5.1.1.

The aforementioned Android versions are outdated and no longer supported with security patches. To gain access to KitKat or Lollipop, threat actors may seek out older Android devices or, more likely, run a VM that allows them to emulate these operating systems on a computer.

Cybercriminals Struggle to Leverage IOS Devices

While threat actors are well-versed in the practice of abusing Android devices and emulators for carding, the configuration of iOS devices for similar schemes continues to present obstacles, preventing iOS-based carding from becoming widespread. Threat actors must jailbreak—the process of escalating privileges to bypass manufacturer restrictions—an iOS device in order to make the modifications necessary for carding schemes.

The fact that relatively few threat actors are attempting to use iOS devices to commit fraud reflects cybercriminals’ tendency to avoid methods perceived as technically demanding. Open-source operating systems such as Android can be modified more easily to meet a threat actor’s needs than can closed-source operating systems such as iOS, which does not support emulators nor many other tools and modifications favored by cybercriminals.

Assessment

A growing number of Russian-speaking threat actors appear to be using Android devices and emulators to make carded purchases using stolen U.S. credit card data. Flashpoint analysts believe that Android will play an increasingly vital role in cybercriminal operations as threat actor communities seek to tap into consumers’ increased use of mobile devices for retail purchases. Meanwhile, notwithstanding the aforementioned examples, the vast majority of cybercriminals believe configuring iPhones for carding schemes to be too difficult at present, due to the lack of open-source code or effective emulators for iOS, as well as other stringent security measures taken by Apple.

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