For the average consumer, Black Friday and holiday shopping look different in 2020. In previous years, we would physically make our way to a store, hoping to score serious product discounts. Some of us (ahem, Rick Holland) make a point to save money throughout the year to splurge on bleeding-edge tech merchandise during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. 

However, this year, COVID-19 threw a wrench into many of our holiday shopping plans, and the pandemic swayed people to purchase their holiday goodies online. While online shopping for Black Friday is new for many people, not much has changed for cybercriminals. 

A week before Thanksgiving, Digital Shadows (now ReliaQuest) found that data leakage risks accounted for 49% of the alerts we sent to our retail clients; however, we didn’t see a whole lot of chatter regarding discounts or deals from the underbelly of the internet. 

We waited it out to see if anything changed. Well — it did. In this blog, we explore how cybercriminals are taking advantage of not-so-cheery sales this holiday season. From carding methods to account sales, nothing is off-limits. 

Mentions of “Black Friday” on cybercriminal forums and marketplaces
Figure 1: Mentions of “Black Friday” across chat messages, forum posts, marketplaces, and dark web pages October 2020-December 2020 (taken from Digital Shadows (now ReliaQuest)’ Shadow Search (now ReliaQuest GreyMatter Digital Risk Protection))

1. Cybercriminals on the lookout for deals

Whether you’re a regular consumer or a cybercriminal, shoppers are always on the lookout for discounts. Members of forums such as BlackHatWorld, a forum based on sharing search engine optimization (SEO) techniques, create threads dedicated to sharing deals and offers that they come across. 

These threads will start months ahead of when Black Friday begins, as eager as ever, riddled with individuals posting comments reading “following this thread” so that they can be alerted as soon as a new offer is released. 

BlackHatWorld user offering Black Friday discount codes
BlackHatWorld user offering Black Friday discount codes on tools

These kinds of threads are often an incentive for members of the forum to promote their services. Although affiliate links are generally frowned upon, Black Friday sales are also accompanied by large, attention-grabbing banners for maximum visibility.

BlackHatWorld user offering discounts for SEO solutions
BlackHatWorld user offering discounts for SEO solutions

2. Carding tactics and timing discussions

While carding has been around for ages, cybercriminals still frequently discuss their strategies amongst one another. In advance of Black Friday, these fraudsters typically discuss methods they plan to leverage while conducting their dirty deeds.

Club2Crd users discussing carding tactic a
Club2Crd users discussing carding tactic and timing methods

3. Compromised account sales

In July 2020, Digital Shadows (now ReliaQuest) released our research on account takeover (ATO), where we identified over 15 billion credentials available across cybercriminal marketplaces and forums. Account takeover is a significant issue for organizations, so we wanted to crack into some of the account sales that cybercriminals hope to profit from.

We identified multiple account accesses advertised across carding sites and cybercriminal marketplace and forums, including Club2Card, XSS, and RaidForums – all for discounted prices to reflect the festive time of year.  

Black Friday dating account listing
Black Friday dating account listing on Club2Crd
Black Friday account listing on XSS
Black Friday account listing on XSS

As discussed in our previous research, sometimes credentials are sold for a discounted price because the rightful owner may have successfully recovered the account. In this case, many vendors also offer a “lifetime warranty,” ultimately promising customers that they will have lifetime access to the accounts that they buy. In essence, this brings peace of mind to the buyer and boosts the respective vendor’s credibility (if they can follow through). 

User offering lifetime warranty for compromised accounts on RaidForums
User offering lifetime warranty for compromised accounts on RaidForums

While we identified plenty of individual accounts for sale, such as Hulu, Netflix, and Disney+, we also uncovered larger-scale, discounted listings that offered buyers access to corporate and government databases and exploits to vulnerabilities.

Discounted databases on RaidForums
User offering discounted databases on RaidForum

5.Illicit drug sales

4. Illicit drug sales

While some cybercriminals rake in their money by selling credentials or tools, others choose to line their pockets by selling illicit drugs. Yeah, I know… typical dark web stuff. In the run-up to the holiday, many vendors across cybercriminal marketplaces, such as Dread, are offering discounts on amphetamines, cannabis, Xanax, and Adderall just to name a few.  

Discounted drugs listing on Dread
Discounted drugs listing on Dread
Discounted drugs listing on Dread
Discounted drugs listing on Dread
Discounted drugs listing on Dread
Discounted drugs listing on Dread

5. Discounts on tooling, services, and resources

Even if vendors aren’t offering deals on stolen consumer data, Black Friday can also serve as an opportunity for cybercriminals to improve their toolset. Discounts on DDoS services, HTTPS/SOCKS proxies, and dedicated servers are common and hot commodities for bad guys on a budget. 

For example, many cybercriminal operations rely on proxies to maintain anonymity or improve the likelihood of accessing an account. These have long-lasting potential and offer a useful function within any cybercriminal’s arsenal, no matter what time of year. 

Promo code for Proxies and SOCKS on XSS
Black Friday promo code for Proxies and SOCKS on XSS
Black Friday discounts for proxy packages on Exploit
Black Friday discounts for proxy packages on Exploit
Black Friday discounts for proxy packages on Exploit

On the other hand, a sale on DDoS services is an attractive offer, especially for less sophisticated cybercriminals who may want to conduct attacks on availability but may not have the necessary know-how or infrastructure resources.

DDoS service discount listed on XSS

Some cybercriminal vendors offer subscription services for a multitude of information, tools, and resources. For example, we identified one RaidForums user offering potential buyers a subscription service for databases, checkers, mailers, exploits, combolists, and automated payload injections. 

Discounted subscription service on RaidForums
Discounted subscription service on RaidForums

As we mentioned earlier, some threat actors don’t possess the infrastructure they need to conduct larger attacks, and in response, vendors are prepared to help. We found some discounted listings offering the sale of dedicated servers for less than USD 100 per month. 

Black Friday listing on RapidForums
Black Friday listing offering dedicated servers on RaidForums

We came across some other listings that included discounted offers on other useful tools, such as Linken Sphere browser and KleenScan. Linken Sphere is a Chromium-based web browser that enables cybercriminals to circumvent different organizations’ anti-fraud programs by imitating the behavior of a real person, and KleenScan allows users to analyze suspicious files and URLs to detect types of malware, including viruses, worms, and trojans.

Discount for Linken Sphere browser on XSS
Discount for Linken Sphere browser on XSS
Black Friday discount for KleenScan on XSS

How to stay safe as a consumer during the holidays

The holiday season can yield an increased risk of financial loss, in addition to great sales and savings. Because many individuals have turned to online shopping, cybercriminals are granted a broader attack surface to commit fraud and other malicious acts. Consumers should take several steps to curb fraud and ensure that they remain safe when shopping.

  • Be mindful of where you shop. Before putting your personal or financial information into a website, make sure that you’re on the site you intend to be on. Phishing sites that seek to steal your information are incredibly common, and a keen eye that looks for unusual characters in the URL or on the web page can make all the difference. Always ensure you shop via reputable and official vendors; even on Black Friday, if a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is.
  • Don’t always trust the padlock. If a site has a valid certificate and is using HTTPS, it doesn’t automatically mean that your data is secure; some certificates are free, and attackers can also easily purchase e-commerce sites with valid certificates on criminal marketplaces.
  • Don’t make the mistake of buying counterfeit goods. Fraudsters may use the hype of Black Friday to push fake products. Be suspicious about sales, prices, and deals that are well below the standard going price (even on Black Friday).
  • Take some time to monitor your accounts. If you happen to find yourself the victim of fraud, constant account checkups can be useful to catch fraudulent activity before it can do even more damage. Contact your bank or card issuer immediately if you identify any suspicious purchases.

Interested in monitoring the open, deep, and dark web for instances of counterfeit goods or impersonators to your company brand? Get a free trial of Search Light (now ReliaQuest GreyMatter Digital Risk Protection) here.