'Prolific Puma' Hacker Gives Cybercriminals Access to .us Domains

Cyber Security Threat Summary:
A report by Infoblox uncovers a concerning trend involving a link-shortening service called "Prolific Puma." This service assists cyber attackers and scammers by providing them with top-level .us domains, enabling them to run phishing campaigns with reduced visibility. Over the past 18 months, Prolific Puma has generated up to 75,000 unique domain names, often sidestepping regulations to offer malicious actors .us URLs. Shortened links offer malevolent actors several advantages, including fitting into text messages, concealing the destination to entice users, and evading automated security product detection. Cybercriminals need multiple domains for their command-and-control operations to evade detection. They often rely on domain generation algorithms to create numerous potential domains, but most remain unregistered. Prolific Puma employs a "registered" domain generation algorithm, using registrar APIs to create a significant number of properly registered domains, enhancing their infrastructure's resilience.

Notably, Prolific Puma primarily uses common top-level domains like .me, .cc, and .info. However, since May 2023, over half of its domains have featured the .us extension. Despite .us domains being reserved for American citizens and organizations. Prolific Puma mainly uses the NameSilo registrar, allowing registrants to provide fake information and use bitcoin for added anonymity when registering .us domains. This raises concerns about the abuse of domain registration policies and support for cybercriminal activities.

Security Officer Comments:
Prolific Puma takes advantage of limited oversight, registering over 20 new .us TLD domains daily for cybercriminals. Significantly, it was observed converting domains for personal use with private registration settings, violating .us TLD terms without repercussions. Tackling this issue begins with domain registrars, but Renee Burton emphasizes the need for a comprehensive approach. The challenges lie in both technical and policy aspects. Registrars and registries can use third-party threat intelligence to spot suspicious domains and implement anomaly detection algorithms. Addressing this issue requires a coordinated effort to enhance security in the domain registration process.

Suggested Correction(s):
Users should always be cautious of individuals or organizations that ask for personal information. Most companies will not ask for sensitive data from its customers. If in doubt, users should verify with the company itself to avoid any potential issues.

Users should always take a close look at the sender’s display name when checking the legitimacy of an email. Most companies use a single domain for their URLs and emails, so a message that originates from a different domain is a red flag.

As a general rule, users should not click links or download files even if they come from seemingly “trustworthy” sources.

Check for mismatched URLs. While an embedded URL might seem perfectly valid, hovering above it might show a different web address. In fact, users should avoid clicking links in emails unless they are certain that it is a legitimate link.

Users should always be on the lookout for any grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Legitimate companies will often employ proofreaders and editors who ensure that the materials they send out are error-free.

Users should not be frightened or intimidated by messages that have an alarmist tone. They should double check with the company if they are uncertain about the status of their accounts.

Phishing emails are designed to be sent to a large number of people, so they need to be as impersonal as possible. Users should check whether the message contains a generic subject and greeting, as this can be a sign of a phishing attempt.

Although not every end user has access to advanced anti-phishing software, they can still use the built-in protection of their email clients to filter messages. One example is setting the email client to block all images unless approved.

Legitimate companies will never send confirmation emails unless there are specific reasons for doing so. In fact, most companies will avoid sending unsolicited messages unless it’s for company updates, newsletters, or advertising purposes.

Users should always take the context of an email or message into account. For example, most online accounts do away with viewable member numbers, so users should be wary if they receive emails containing a “member number” for services that generally don’t use them.

It is important to take note of unusual information in the text of the message. Any mentions of operating systems and software that are not typically used by consumers can often be indicators of a phishing attempt.

If it seems suspicious, it probably is. Users should always err on the side of caution when it comes to sending out personally identifiable information through messages and emails.