IT News

Explore the MakoLogics IT News for valuable insights and thought leadership on industry best practices in managed IT services and enterprise security updates.

How to change your Social Security Number

After seeing their Social Security Number (SSN) leaked in the AT&T breach, some US citizens are wondering if and how they can change their SSN.

The good news is that even though it’s a challenging process, it is possible. But if you’ve ever had to abandon an email address that you used for years, imagine all of the hassle that came with that, and then imagine it being about 10 times worse. Governments, your employer, and everyone else that identifies who you are by your SSN will have to be notified. And since it doesn’t happen very often, most of them will not have a streamlined process in place. It will take a lot of time and effort to set every record straight.

All that said, this process is not impossible, and in some cases, it is worth the effort.

When do I qualify?

The first obstacle will be to qualify for a change of your SSN in the first place. You will have to show that you:

  • Are the victim of identity theft. Importantly, even if this is true, the US government requires that you first have “attempted to fix problems resulting from the misuse,” but that you’re still encountering issues because of your original SSN. If someone is using your Social Security number for work purposes, you report it to the Social Security Administration (SSA) first. If someone is using your number to open lines of credit, you’ll need to go to to report it and establish a recovery plan. If those options didn’t help, then you can apply for a new SSN.
  • Were issued a duplicate number or you and a family member have sequential numbers that are causing problems.
  • Are facing a serious threat to your safety, like severe harassment, abuse, or potential life endangerment.
  • Have religious or cultural objections to the particular number you received. You’ll need to provide documentation from the group you belong to that affirms your objection.

Where do I start?

The first step is to contact your local Social Security office. Under normal circumstances, you will have to pay them a personal visit after making an appointment. They will perform all the required checks and assist you in drafting a statement explaining why you need a new number, and fill out an application for a new SSN.

You will need to bring:

Evidence of your age. This is usually a birth certificate, but in some cases, alternatives are allowed, such as a US hospital record of your birth, a religious record established before age 5 showing your age or date of birth, a passport, or a final adoption decree showing the birth information taken from the original birth certificate.

Evidence of identity. A US passport, US driver’s license or state-issued non-driver identity card satisfy this requirement. Alternatives that may be accepted are a US military identity card, a certificate of naturalization, employee identity card, a certified copy of medical record, health insurance card, Medicaid card, or school identity card/record.

Evidence of US citizenship or immigration status. A US birth certificate or US passport are standard for this requirement. Accepted alternatives may be Consular Report of Birth, Certificate of Citizenship, or Certificate of Naturalization.

For all these documents, US citizens will need to show original documents (or documents certified by the issuing agency).

US immigrants requesting a new SSN will need to provide evidence of immigration status by showing an unexpired document issued by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and additional documents if you are an international student or exchange visitor.

And you will need to provide evidence for the reason you need a new SSN.


Once you have successfully changed your SSN, here is a non-exhaustive list of entities that need to be informed:

  • The IRS.
  • Your employer.
  • Your bank. 
  • Your school.
  • Your student loan provider.
  • Your Medicare or Medicaid provider.
  • Any primary care doctors or specialists with your medical records.
  • Third-party insurance companies.

What you will not have achieved is also important to know. A Social Security number change doesn’t erase your financial history. So, a new SSN doesn’t absolve you of any debts you have, rectify your credit history, or repair a bad credit score.

We don’t just report on threats – we help safeguard your entire digital identity

Cybersecurity risks should never spread beyond a headline. Protect your—and your family’s—personal information by using identity protection.

How to check if your data was exposed in the AT&T breach

AT&T has notified US state authorities and regulators about its recent (or not) data breach, saying 51,226,382 people were affected.

For those that have missed the story so far:

  • Back in 2021, a hacker named Shiny Hunters claimed to have breached AT&T.
  • On March 20, 2024, we reported how the data of over 70 million people was posted for sale on an online cybercrime forum. The seller claimed the data came from the Shiny Hunters breach. However, AT&T denied (both in 2021 and in March, 2024) that the data came from its systems.
  • On March 30, AT&T reset customer passcodes after a security researcher discovered the encrypted login passcodes found in the leaked data were easy to decipher.
  • Finally, on April 2, 2024, AT&T confirmed that 73 million current and former customers were caught up the data leak.

Weirdly enough, in the data breach notification, AT&T says the date of discovery of the breach was March 26, 2024. AT&T has still not disclosed the source of the leak, but says the data appears to be from June 2019 or earlier.

Malwarebytes VP of Consumer Privacy, Oren Arar, describes the AT&T breach as “especially risky” because of the type of data that’s been exposed.

“SSN, name, date of birth—this is personal identifiable information (PII) that cannot be changed, and if scammers get their hands on it, it just makes their work in stealing people’s identities a lot easier. In addition, this exposed data was published on the internet – in a way that anyone could access it, and not on the dark web where you need some expertise to find it”.

Check if your data was exposed

Malwarebytes has a super easy tool—Malwarebytes Digital Footprint Portal—that allows you to check if your data was part of the AT&T breach. Just click the button below, enter your email address, and we’ll let you know what personal information we find.

We will keep you posted of any new developments in this case. Stay tuned!

We don’t just report on threats – we help safeguard your entire digital identity

Cybersecurity risks should never spread beyond a headline. Protect your—and your family’s—personal information by using identity protection.

Apple warns people of mercenary attacks via threat notification system

Apple has reportedly sent alerts to individuals in 92 nations on Wednesday, April 10, to say it’s detected that they may have been a victim of a mercenary attack. The company says it has sent out these types of threat notifications to over 150 countries since the start in 2021.

Mercenary spyware is used by governments to target people like journalists, political activists, and similar targets, and involves the use of sophisticated tools like Pegasus. Pegasus is one of the world’s most advanced and invasive spyware tools, known to utilize zero-day vulnerabilities against mobile devices.

The second number became known when Apple changed the wording of the relevant support page. The change also included the title that went from “About Apple threat notifications and protecting against state-sponsored attacks” to “About Apple threat notifications and protecting against mercenary spyware.”

If you look at the before and after, you’ll also notice an extra paragraph, again with the emphasis on the change from “state-sponsored attacks” to “mercenary spyware.”

The cause for the difference in wording might be because “state-sponsored” is often used to indicate attacks targeted at entities, like governments or companies, while these mercenary attacks tend to be directed at individual people.

The extra paragraph specifically calls out the NSO Group and the Pegasus spyware it sells. While the NSO Group claims to only sell to “government clients,” we have no reason to take its word for it.

Apple says that when it detects activity consistent with a mercenary spyware attack it uses two different means of notifying the users about the attack:

  • Displays a Threat Notification at the top of the page after the user signs into
  • Sends an email and iMessage notification to the email addresses and phone numbers associated with the user’s Apple ID.

Apple says it doesn’t want to share information about what triggers these notifications, since that might help mercenary spyware attackers adapt their behavior to evade detection in the future.

The NSO Group itself argued in a court case started by Meta for spying on WhatsApp users, that it should be recognized as a foreign government agent and, therefore, be entitled to immunity under US law limiting lawsuits against foreign countries.

NSO Group has also said that its tool is increasingly necessary in an era when end-to-end encryption is widely available to criminals.

How to stay safe

Apple advises iPhone users to:

We’d like to add:

  • Use an anti-malware solution on your device.
  • If you’re not sure about something that’s been sent to you, verify it with the person or company via another communcation channel.
  • Use a password manager.

We don’t just report on phone security—we provide it

Cybersecurity risks should never spread beyond a headline. Keep threats off your mobile devices by downloading Malwarebytes for iOS, and Malwarebytes for Android today.

Microsoft’s April 2024 Patch Tuesday includes two actively exploited zero-day vulnerabilities

The April 2024 Patch Tuesday update includes patches for 149 Microsoft vulnerabilities and republishes 6 non-Microsoft CVEs. Three of those 149 vulnerabilities are listed as critical, and one is listed as actively exploited by Microsoft. Another vulnerability is claimed to be a zero-day by researchers that have found it to be used in the wild.

Let’s first have a look at the two zero-days. The Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) database lists publicly disclosed computer security flaws. The CVEs for these two vulnerabilities are:

CVE-2024-26234 (CVSS score 6.7 out of 10): a proxy driver spoofing vulnerability that Microsoft listed as “Exploitation detected” hours after it initially listed it as non-exploited.

In fact, the patch is a revocation of a Microsoft Windows Hardware Compatibility Publisher signature that was used to sign a file which contained a backdoor using an embedded proxy server to monitor and intercept network traffic on an infected Windows machine. Apparently, the software, designed to remote-control phones, was used to make them act like online bots, collectively liking posts, following people on social media, and posting comments.

CVE-2024-29988 (CVSS score 8.8 out of 10): a SmartScreen prompt security feature bypass vulnerability. Microsoft still has this listed as “Exploitation More Likely” and acknowledges the fact that functional exploit code is available. Which means that the exploit code works in most situations where the vulnerability exists.

One reason for the contradiction could be that the exploitation requires some form of user interaction. It requires an attacker to get the victim to click on a link or open a file. If the victim falls for that, the bug allows the attacker to bypass the SmartScreen security feature in Windows that’s supposed to alert users to any untrusted websites or other threats.

Researchers said that attackers are using the weakness to send targets exploits in a zipped file which bypasses the Mark of the Web (MotW) warnings, a warning message users should see when trying to open a file downloaded from the internet.

A few applications that deserve some of your attention if you’re using them are SQL Server (38 vulnerabilities), and Windows Remote Access Connection Manager (9).

Other vendors

Other vendors have synchronized their periodic updates with Microsoft. Here are few major ones that you may find in your environment.

The Android Security Bulletin for April 2024 contains details of security vulnerabilities for patch level 2024-04-05 or later.

Google also updated Chrome to patch a zero-day vulnerability.

SAP has released its April 2024 Patch Day updates.

We don’t just report on vulnerabilities—we identify them, and prioritize action.

Cybersecurity risks should never spread beyond a headline. Keep vulnerabilities in tow by using ThreatDown Vulnerability and Patch Management.

How to protect yourself from online harassment

It takes a little to receive a lot of online hate today, from simply working as a school administrator to playing a role in a popular movie or video game.

But these moments of personal crisis have few, immediate solutions, as the current proposals to curb and stem online harassment zero in on the systemic—such as changes in data privacy laws to limit the personal information that can be weaponized online or calls for major social media platforms to better moderate hateful content and its spread.

Such structural shifts can take years (if they take place at all), which can leave today’s victims feeling helpless.

There are, however, a few steps that everyday people can take, starting now, to better protect themselves against online hate and harassment campaigns. And thankfully, none of them involve “just getting off the internet,” a suggestion that, according to Leigh Honeywell, is both ineffective and unwanted.

“The [idea that the] answer to being bullied is that you shouldn’t be able to participate in public life—I don’t think that’s okay,” said Honeywell, CEO and co-founder of the digital safety consultancy Tall Poppy.

Speaking to me on the Lock and Code podcast last month, Honeywell explained that Tall Poppy’s defense strategies to online harassment incorporate best practices from Honeywell’s prior industry—cybersecurity.

Here are a few steps that people can proactively take to limit online harassment before it happens.

Get good at Googling yourself

One of the first steps in protecting yourself from online harassment is finding out what information about you is already available online. This is because, as Honeywell said, much of that information can be weaponized for abuse.

Picture an angry diner posting a chef’s address on Yelp alongside a poor review, or a complete stranger sending in a fake bomb threat to a school address, or a real-life bully scraping the internet for embarrassing photos of someone they want to harass.  

All this information could be available online, and the best way to know if it exists is to do the searching yourself.

As for where to start?

“First name, last name, city name, or other characteristics about yourself,” Honeywell said, listing what, specifically, to search online.

It’s important to understand that the online search itself may not bring immediate results, but it will likely reveal active online profiles on platforms like LinkedIn, X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, and Instagram. If those profiles are public, an angry individual could scrape relevant information and use it to their advantage. Even a LinkedIn profile could be weaponized by someone who calls in fake complaints to a person’s employer, trying to have them fired from their position.

In combing through the data that you can find about yourself online, Honeywell said people should focus on what someone else could do with that data.

“If an adversary was trying to find out information about me, what would they find?” Honeywell said. “If they had that information, what would they do with it?”

Take down what you can

You’ve found what an adversary might use against you online. Now it’s time to take it down.

Admittedly, this can be difficult in the United States, as Americans are not protected by a national data privacy law that gives them the right to request their data be deleted from certain websites, platforms, and data brokers.

Where Americans could find some help, however, is from online resources and services that streamline the data removal process that is enshrined in some state laws. These tools, like the iOS app Permission Slip, released by Consumer Reports in 2022, show users what types of information companies are collecting about them, and give user the opportunity to request that such data be deleted.

Separately, Google released on online tool in 2023 where users can request that certain search results that contain their personal information be removed. You can learn more about the tool, called “Results about you,” here.

When all else fails, Honeywell said that people shouldn’t be afraid to escalate the situation to their state’s regulators. That could include filing an official complaint with a State Attorney General, or with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or the Federal Trade Commission.

“It sounds like the big guns,” Honeywell said, “but I think it’s important that, as individuals, we do what we can to hold the companies that are creating this mess accountable.”

Lock down your accounts

If an adversary can’t find your information through an online search, they may try to steal that information by hacking into your accounts, Honeywell said.

“If I’m mad at David, I’m going to hack into David’s email and share personal information,” Honeywell said. “That’s a fairly standard way that we see some of the worst online harassment attacks escalate.”

While hackers may have plenty of novel tools at their disposal, the best defenses you can implement today are the use of unique passwords and multifactor authentication.

Let’s first talk about unique passwords.

Each and every single one of your online accounts—from your email, to your social media profiles, to your online banking—should have a strong, unique password. And because you likely have dozens upon dozens of online accounts to manage, you should keep track of all those passwords with a devoted password manager.

Using unique passwords is one of the best defenses to company data breaches that expose user login credentials. Once those credentials are available on the dark web, hackers will buy those credentials so they can attempt to use them to gain access to other online accounts. You can prevent those efforts going forward by refusing to repeat passwords across any of your online accounts.

Now, start using multifactor authentication, if you’re not already.

Multifactor authentication is offered by most major companies and services today, from your bank, to your email, to your medical provider. By using multifactor authentication, also called MFA or 2FA, you will be required to “authenticate” yourself with more than just your password. This means that when you enter your username and password onto a site or app, you will also be prompted with entering a separate code that is, in many cases, sent to your phone via text or an app.

MFA is one of the strongest protections to password abuse, ensuring that, even if a hacker has your username and password, they still can’t access your account because they will not have the additional authentication that is required to complete a login.

In the world of cybersecurity, these two defense practices are among the gold standard in stopping cyberattacks. In the world of online harassment, they’re much the same—they work to prevent the abuse of your online accounts.

Here to help

Online harassment is an isolating experience, but protecting yourself against it can be quite the opposite. Honeywell suggested that, for those who feel overwhelmed or who do not know where to start, they can find a friend to help.

“Buddy up,” Honeywell said. “If you’ve got a friend who’s good at Googling, work on each other’s profile, identify what information is out there about you.”

Honeywell also recommended going through data takedown requests together, as the processes can be “extremely tedious” and some of the services that promise to remove your information from the internet are really only trying to sell you a service.

If you’re still wondering what information about you is online and you aren’t comfortable with your way around Google, Malwarebytes has a new, free tool that reveals what information of yours is available on the dark web and across the internet at large. The Digital Footprint Portal, released in April, provides free, unlimited scans for everyone, and it can serve as a strong first step in understanding what information of yours needs to be locked down.

To learn what information about you has been exposed online, use our free scanner below.

Introducing the Digital Footprint Portal

Digital security is about so much more than malware. That wasn’t always the case. 

When I started Malwarebytes more than 16 years ago, malware was the primary security concern—the annoying pop-ups, the fast-spreading viruses, the catastrophic worms—and throughout our company’s history, Malwarebytes routinely excelled against this threat. We caught malware that other vendors missed, and we pioneered malware detection methods beyond the signature-based industry standard.  

I’m proud of our success, but it wasn’t just our technology that got us here. It was our attitude.  

At Malwarebytes, we believe that everyone has the right to a secure digital life, no matter their budget, which is why our malware removal tool was free when it launched and remains free today. Our ad blocking tool, Browser Guard is also available to all without a charge. This was very much not the norm in cybersecurity, but I believe it was—and will always be—the right thing to do.  

Today, I am proud to add to our legacy of empowering individuals regardless of their wallet by releasing a new, free tool that better educates and prepares people for modern threats that abuse exposed data to target online identities. I’d like to welcome everyone to try our new Digital Footprint Portal.  

See your exposed data in our new Digital Footprint Portal.

By simply entering an email address, anyone can discover what information of theirs is available on the dark web to hackers, cybercriminals, and scammers. From our safe portal, everyday people can view past password breaches, active social media profiles, potential leaks of government ID info, and more.  

More than a decade ago, Malwarebytes revolutionized the antivirus industry by prioritizing the security of all individuals. Today, Malwarebytes is now also revolutionizing digital life protection by safeguarding the data that serves as the backbone of your identity, your privacy, your reputation, and your well-being online.  

Why data matters 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read that “data is the new oil” without reading any explanations as to why people should care.  

Here’s my attempt at clarifying the matter: Too much of our lives are put online without our control.  

Creating a social media account requires handing over your full name and birthdate. Completing any online shopping order requires detailing your address and credit card number. Getting approved for a mortgage requires the exchange of several documents that reveal your salary and your employer. Buying a plane ticket could necessitate your passport info. Messaging your doctor could involve sending a few photos that you’d like to keep private.  

As we know, a lot of this data is valuable to advertisers—this is what pundits focus on when they invoke the value of “oil” in discussing modern data collection—but this data is also valuable to an entirely separate group that has learned to abuse private information in novel and frightening ways: Cybercriminals.  

Long ago, cybercriminals would steal your username and password by fooling you with an urgently worded phishing email. Today, while this tactic is still being used, there’s a much easier path to data theft. Cybercriminals can simply buy your information on the dark web.  

That information can include credit card numbers—where the risk of financial fraud is obvious—and even more regulated forms of identity, like Social Security Numbers and passport info. Equipped with enough forms of “proof,” online thieves can fool a bank into routing your money elsewhere or trick a lender into opening a new line of credit in your name.  

Where the risk truly lies, however, is in fraudulent account access.  

If you’ve ever been involved in a company’s data breach (which is extremely likely), there’s a chance that the username and password that were associated with that data breach can be bought on the dark web for just pennies. Even though each data breach involves just one username and password for each account, cybercriminals know that many people frequently reuse passwords across multiple accounts. After illegally purchasing your login credentials that were exposed in one data breach, thieves will use those same credentials to try to log into more popular, sensitive online accounts, like your online banking, your email, and your social media.  

If any of these attempts at digital safe-cracking works, the potential for harm is enormous.  

With just your email login and password, cybercriminals can ransack photos that are stored in an associated cloud drive and use those for extortion. They can search for attachments that reveal credit card numbers, passport info, and ID cards and then use that information to fool a bank into letting them access your funds. They can pose as you in bogus emails and make fraudulent requests for money from your family and friends. They can even change your password and lock you out forever. 

This is the future of personal cybercrime, and as a company committed to stopping cyberthreats everywhere, we understand that we have a role to play in protecting people.  

We will always stop malware. We will always advise to create and use unique passwords and multifactor authentication. But today, we’re expanding our responsibility and helping you truly see the modern threats that could leverage your data.  

With the Digital Footprint Portal, who you are online is finally visible to you—not just cybercriminals. Use it today to understand where your data has been leaked, what passwords have been exposed, and how you can protect yourself online.  

Digitally safe 

Malwarebytes and the cybersecurity industry at large could not have predicted today’s most pressing threats against online identities and reputations, but that doesn’t mean we get to ignore them. The truth is that Malwarebytes was founded with a belief broader than anti-malware protection. Malwarebytes was founded to keep people safe.  

As cybercriminals change their tactics, as scammers needle their way onto online platforms, and as thieves steal and abuse the sensitive data that everyone places online, Malwarebytes will always stay one step ahead. The future isn’t about worms, viruses, Trojans, scams, pig butchering, or any other single scam. It’s about holistic digital life protection. We’re excited to help you get there.  

New ransomware group demands Change Healthcare ransom

The Change Healthcare ransomware attack has taken a third cruel twist. A new ransomware group, RansomHub, has listed the organisation as a victim on its dark web leak site, saying it has 4 TB of “highly selective data,” which relates to “all Change Health clients that have sensitive data being processed by the company.”

The announcement follows a series of events that require some unpacking.

Change Healthcare is one of the largest healthcare technology companies in the USA, responsible for the flow of payments between payers, providers, and patients. It was attacked on Wednesday February 21, 2024, by a criminal “affiliate” working with the ALPHV ransomware group, which led to huge disruptions in healthcare payments. Patients were left facing enormous pharmacy bills, small medical providers teetered on the edge of insolvency, and the government scrambled to keep the money flowing and the lights on.

American Hospital Association (AHA) President and CEO Rick Pollack described the attack as “the most significant and consequential incident of its kind against the US health care system in history.”

The notorious ALPHV ransomware group claimed responsibility, chalking up Change Healthcare as one of a raft of healthcare victims in what looked like a deliberate campaign against the sector at the start of 2024.

ALPHV used the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) business model, selling the software and infrastructure used to carry out ransomware attacks to criminal gangs known as affiliates, in return for a share of the ransoms they extorted.

On March 3, a user on the RAMP dark web forum claimed they were the affiliate behind the attack, and that ALPHV had stolen the entirety of a $22 million ransom paid by Change Healthcare. Shortly after, the ALPHV group disappeared in an unconvincing exit scam designed to make it look as if the group’s website had been seized by the FBI.

ALPHV’s exit left Change Healthcare with nothing to show for its $22 million payment, a disgruntled affiliate looking for a ransom, and very possibly two different criminal gangs—ALPHV and its affiliate—in possession of a huge trove of stolen data.

Now, a month later, a newcomer ransomware group, RansomHub has listed Change Healthcare as a victim on its website.

Change Healthcare is listed as a victim on the RansomHub dark web leak site
Change Healthcare is listed as a victim on the RansomHub dark web leak site

While some have speculated that Change Healthcare has suffered a second attack, the RansomHub site itself makes the connection to the events surrounding February 21 quite clear:

As an introduction we will give everyone a fast update on what happened previously and on the current situation.

ALPHV stole the ransom payment (22 Million USD) that Change Healthcare and United Health payed in order to restore their systems and prevent the data leak.

HOWEVER we have the data and not ALPHV.

RansomHub first appeared in late February and its arrival dovetails neatly with ALPHV’s disappearance in very early March, leading some to think they are the same group under two different names.

The statement also pours water on the idea that RansomHub is a rebrand of the ALPHV group with its suggestion that “we have the data and not ALPHV.” However, any public statement like this has to be tempered by the fact that ransomware groups are prolific liars.

It’s not uncommon for affiliates to work with multiple RaaS providers, so the most likely explanation is that having lost its money to ALPHV, the affiliate that ransacked Change Healthcare has paired up with a different ransomware group.

Whatever the reason, there is no comfort in it for Change Healthcare. Having apparently already paid a ransom thirty times greater than the average demand, it now has to decide whether it’s going to pay out again.

For everyone else, it’s a lesson in how devastating ransomware can be, and how badly things can go even when you pay a ransom.

How to avoid ransomware

  • Block common forms of entry. Create a plan for patching vulnerabilities in internet-facing systems quickly; and disable or harden remote access like RDP and VPNs.
  • Prevent intrusions. Stop threats early before they can even infiltrate or infect your endpoints. Use endpoint security software that can prevent exploits and malware used to deliver ransomware.
  • Detect intrusions. Make it harder for intruders to operate inside your organization by segmenting networks and assigning access rights prudently. Use EDR or MDR to detect unusual activity before an attack occurs.
  • Stop malicious encryption. Deploy Endpoint Detection and Response software like ThreatDown EDR that uses multiple different detection techniques to identify ransomware, and ransomware rollback to restore damaged system files.
  • Create offsite, offline backups. Keep backups offsite and offline, beyond the reach of attackers. Test them regularly to make sure you can restore essential business functions swiftly.
  • Don’t get attacked twice. Once you’ve isolated the outbreak and stopped the first attack, you must remove every trace of the attackers, their malware, their tools, and their methods of entry, to avoid being attacked again.

Our business solutions remove all remnants of ransomware and prevent you from getting reinfected. Want to learn more about how we can help protect your business? Get a free trial below.

Active Nitrogen campaign delivered via malicious ads for PuTTY, FileZilla

In the past couple of weeks, we have observed an ongoing campaign targeting system administrators with fraudulent ads for popular system utilities. The malicious ads are displayed as sponsored results on Google’s search engine page and localized to North America.

Victims are tricked into downloading and running the Nitrogen malware masquerading as a PuTTY or FileZilla installer. Nitrogen is used by threat actors to gain initial access to private networks, followed by data theft and the deployment of ransomware such as BlackCat/ALPHV.

We have reported this campaign to Google but no action has been taken yet. This blog post aims to share the tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) as well as indicators of compromise (IOCs) so defenders can take action.

Step 1: Luring victims in via malicious ads

The initial intrusion starts from a malicious ad displayed via Google search. We have observed several different advertiser accounts which were all reported to Google. The lures are utilities commonly used by IT admins such as PuTTY and FileZilla.

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Online ads from search engine result pages are increasingly being used to deliver malware to corporate users. ThreatDown users that have DNS Filtering can enable ad blocking in their console to prevent such malvertising attacks:

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Step 2: Directing users to lookalike sites

The malvertising infrastructure deployed by Nitrogen threat actors uses a cloaking page that can either redirect to a decoy site or the infamous Rick Astley video. The redirect to a decoy page can be activated if the campaign is not weaponized yet or if the malicious server detects invalid traffic (bot, crawler, etc.).

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The Rick Astley redirect is mostly to mock security researchers investigating this campaign:

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Actual lookalike pages are meant for potential victims. They are often good-looking copycats which could easily fool just about anyone:

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ThreatDown blocks these malicious websites to prevent your users from being social-engineered into downloading malware:

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Step 3: Deploying malware via a fraudulent installer

The final step in this malvertising chain consists of downloading and running the malware payload. Nitrogen uses a technique known as DLL sideloading whereby a legitimate and signed executable launches a DLL. In this case, setup.exe (from the Python Software Foundation) sideloads python311.dll (Nitrogen).

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ThreatDown via its EDR engine quarantines the malicious DLL immediately. System administrators can log into their console and use the AI-assisted engine to quickly search and review the detection:

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While there are many phishing training simulations for email threats, we aren’t aware of similar trainings for malvertising. Yet, the threat has become prevalent enough to warrant better user education.

Endpoints can be protected from malicious ads via group policies that restrict traffic coming from the main and lesser known ad networks. Click here for more information about DNS filtering via our Nebula platform.

Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) is a cornerstone in your security posture, complemented by Managed Detection and Response (MDR) where analysts can quickly alert you of an impending intrusion.

Indicators of Compromise

Cloaking domains:


Lookalike sites:


Nitrogen payloads (URLs):


Nitrogen payloads (SHA256):


Nitrogen C2s:


35-year long identity theft leads to imprisonment for victim

Sometimes the consequences of a stolen identity exceed anything you could have imagined.

Matthew David Keirans, a 58-year-old former hospital employee has pleaded guilty to assuming another man’s identity since 1988. He was convicted of one count of making a false statement to a National Credit Union Administration insured institution and one count of aggravated identity theft.

The man whose identity he assumed—William Donald Woods—and Keirans worked together in 1988 at a hot dog cart in Albuquerque.

Keirans was wanted for theft, so he used Woods’ identity “in every aspect of his life,” including obtaining employment, insurance and official documents, and even paying taxes under Wood’s name, according to a plea agreement signed by Keirans. He even fathered a child, whose last name is Woods.

In 1990, Keirans obtained a fraudulent Colorado identification card with Woods’ name and birthday. He used the ID to get a job at a fast-food restaurant and to get a Colorado bank account. He bought a car for $600 in 1991, using Wood’s name, with two $300 checks that bounced.

It wasn’t the first time Keirans had committed car theft. When he was 16, he stole a car after running away from his adoptive parents’ home in San Francisco.

In 2012, Keirans fraudulently acquired a copy of Woods’ birth certificate from the state of Kentucky using information he found about Woods’ family on

Under the assumed identity, Keirans also worked as a systems architect for the University of Iowa Hospital where he was fired for misconduct related to the identity theft investigation.

Meanwhile, the real William Woods was homeless and living in Los Angeles, when he discovered that someone was using his credit and had accumulated a lot of debt. Woods didn’t want to pay the debt and so went after the account numbers for any accounts he had open so he could close them. He handed a bank employee his real Social Security card and an authentic California Identification card, which matched the information the bank had on file. But because there was a large amount of money in the accounts, the bank employee asked Woods a series of security questions that he was unable to answer.

At that point, the bank employee called Keirans, whose phone number was associated with the accounts. He was able to answer the security questions correctly and stated that no one in California should have access to the accounts.

So, the bank employee called the police and after an investigation, the real Woods was arrested and charged with identity theft and false impersonation, under a misspelling of Keirans’ name: Matthew Kierans.

Because Woods refused to give up his own identity, a judge ruled in February 2020 that he was not mentally competent to stand trial and he was sent to a mental hospital in California, where he received psychotropic medication and other mental health treatment.

For legal reasons, Woods pleaded no contest to the identity theft charges—meaning he accepted the conviction but did not admit guilt—and was sentenced to two years imprisonment with credit for the two years he already served in the county jail and the hospital and was released.

But he didn’t give up his fight for his identity even though the judge ordered him to stop using the name William Woods. He attempted to regain his identity by filing customer disputes with financial organizations to clear his credit report.

It wasn’t until a police detective tested Woods’ biological father’s DNA against Woods’ DNA. Both men had the same birth certificate with the father’s name on it. The DNA test proved Woods was the man’s son. During a follow-up interview Keirans made a mistake and eventually confessed to the prolonged identity theft, according to court documents.

Keirans was indicted on five counts of making a false statement to a National Credit Union Administration insured institution and two counts of aggravated identity theft. He pleaded guilty to one count of each charge, and the other counts were dropped.

A sentence ruling has not yet been scheduled. Keirans is currently in the custody of the US Marshals Service, according to a news release about his plea.

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Porn panic imperils privacy online, with Alec Muffett (re-air): Lock and Code S05E08

This week on the Lock and Code podcast…

A digital form of protest could become the go-to response for the world’s largest porn website as it faces increased regulations: Not letting people access the site.

In March, PornHub blocked access to visitors connecting to its website from Texas. It marked the second time in the past 12 months that the porn giant shut off its website to protest new requirements in online age verification.

The Texas law, which was signed in June 2023, requires several types of adult websites to verify the age of their visitors by either collecting visitors’ information from a government ID or relying on a third party to verify age through the collection of multiple streams of data, such as education and employment status.

PornHub has long argued that these age verification methods do not keep minors safer and that they place undue onus on websites to collect and secure sensitive information.

The fact remains, however, that these types of laws are growing in popularity.

Today, Lock and Code revisits a prior episode from 2023 with guest Alec Muffett, discussing online age verification proposals, how they could weaken security and privacy on the internet, and whether these efforts are oafishly trying to solve a societal problem with a technological solution.

“The battle cry of these people have has always been—either directly or mocked as being—’Could somebody think of the children?’” Muffett said. “And I’m thinking about the children because I want my daughter to grow up with an untracked, secure private internet when she’s an adult. I want her to be able to have a private conversation. I want her to be able to browse sites without giving over any information or linking it to her identity.”

Muffett continued:

“I’m trying to protect that for her. I’d like to see more people grasping for that.”

Alec Muffett

Tune in today to listen to the full conversation.

Show notes and credits:

Intro Music: “Spellbound” by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Outro Music: “Good God” by Wowa (

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