How the Rise of Cryptocurrencies Is Shaping the Cyber Crime Landscape: Blockchain Infrastructure Use

UPDATE (May 31, 2018): A section of the post on commonly used
OpenNIC IPs has been removed to avoid any implication that the
OpenNIC IPs are inherently malicious, which is not the case.


Cyber criminals have always been attracted to cryptocurrencies
because it provides a certain level of anonymity and can be easily
monetized. This interest has increased in recent years, stemming far
beyond the desire to simply use cryptocurrencies as a payment method
for illicit tools and services. Many actors have also attempted to
capitalize on the growing popularity and subsequent rising price of
cryptocurrencies by conducting various operations aimed at them, such
as malicious cryptocurrency mining, collection of cryptocurrency
wallet credentials, extortion activity, and the targeting of
cryptocurrency exchanges.

Coinciding with the rising interest in stealing cryptocurrencies,
distributed ledger technology (DLT), the technology that underpins
cryptocurrencies, has also provided cyber criminals with a unique
means of hosting their malicious content. This blog covers the growing
trend of cyber criminals using blockchain domains for malicious infrastructure.

Blockchain Infrastructure Use

Traditionally, cyber criminals have used various methods to
obfuscate malicious infrastructure that they use to host additional
payloads, store stolen data, and/or function as command and control
(C2) servers. Traditional methods include using bulletproof hosting,
fast-flux, Tor infrastructure, and/or domain generation algorithms
(DGAs) to help obfuscate the malicious infrastructure. While we expect
cyber criminals to continue to use these techniques for the
foreseeable future, another trend is emerging: the use of blockchain infrastructure.

Underground Interest in Blockchain Infrastructure

FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence has identified eCrime actor interest in
cryptocurrency infrastructure-related topics dating back to at least
2009 within underground communities. While searches for certain
keywords fail to provide context, the frequency of specific words,
such as blockchain, Namecoin, and .bit, show a sharp increase in
conversations surrounding these topics beginning in 2015 (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Underground keyword mentions

Namecoin Domains

Namecoin is a cryptocurrency based on the Bitcoin code that is used
to register and manage domain names with the top-level domain (TLD)
.bit. Everyone who registers a Namecoin domain is essentially their
own domain registrar; however, domain registration is not associated
with an individual’s name or address. Rather, domain ownership is
based on the unique encrypted hash of each user. This essentially
creates the same anonymous system as Bitcoin for internet
infrastructure, in which users are only known through their
cryptographic identity. Figure 2 illustrates the Namecoin domain name
generation process.

Figure 2: Namecoin domain creation process

As Namecoin is decentralized, with no central authority managing the
network, domains registered with Namecoin are resistant to being
hijacked or shut down. These factors, coupled with the comparative
anonymity, make Namecoin an increasingly attractive option for cyber
criminals in need of supporting infrastructure for their malicious operations.

Navigating to Namecoin Domains

Domains registered with Namecoin use the TLD .bit, and are not
managed by standard DNS providers. Consequently, a client will be
unable to establish a connection to these blockchain domains unless
additional configurations are made. According to the Namecoin
, individuals can take one of the steps shown in Figure 3 to
browse .bit domains.

Figure 3: Options for navigating to
Namecoin domains outlined on Namecoin wiki

These options are not ideal for cyber criminals, as downloading the
entire blockchain onto an infected host would require significant
space and bandwidth, and routing their malicious traffic through an
unknown third party could result in their traffic being blocked by the
resolver. As a result, many have configured their malware to query
their own privately managed Namecoin-compatible OpenNIC DNS (Figure
4), or to query other compatible servers they’ve purchased through
underground infrastructure offerings. Bulletproof hosting providers,
such as Group 4, have capitalized on the increased demand for .bit
domains by adding support to allow malicious actors to query
compatible servers.

Figure 4: Blockchain domain support
advertised on OpenNIC website

Underground Advertisements for Namecoin Support

The following underground advertisements relating to the use of .bit
domains have been observed by researchers over the past several years.
These posts range from actors offering .bit compatible modules or
configuration updates for popular banking Trojans to .bit
infrastructure offerings.

Sample Advertisement #1

Figure 5 shows an advertisement, observed in late 2015, posted by
the actor "wachdog" in a popular Russian-speaking
marketplace. The actor advertised a small utility (10 KB in size) that
is compatible with both Windows and Android operating systems, and
would allow for the communication to and from .bit domains.

Advertisement Translated Text:

The code is
written in C+ for WinAPI or Java for Android. It can be
used for small stealth applications to access .bit

The registration of new domain costs 0.02
NMC, update of a record – 0.005 NMC.

So, the price for
domain registration and update will be approximately 0.0072$
and 0.0018$.

The code works in all Windows starting
from XP, it doesn’t require additional libraries, admin
privileges, it doesn’t download a lot of data. The size of
compiled code is 10 KB. It’s easy to write it in asm, paskal,
c#, java etc. It also works for Android (all versions).

You should download the Namecoin wallet, credit it with the
minimum amount of NMC and register your own domain using the
wallet. IP of C&C can be linked to the domain also using
the wallet (one of many, everything works as for normal DNS).
Create a build of your software locked to .bit domain. In case
the IP of your server is listed, just change the DNS record
and assign your domain a new IP for just for 0.005 NMC. No
need in new rebuild or registration of new domains. .bit
domain cannot be taken, botnet cannot be stolen.


Technology + code in C: $300 USD

Technology + code in C + code in Java for Android: $400
Payment methods: BTC, PerfectMoney

Figure 5: Actor "wachdog" advertises
utility to connect to .bit domains in late 2015

Sample Advertisement #2

In late 2017, actor "Discomrade" advertised a new HTTP
distributed denial of service (DDoS) malware named "Coala"
on a prominent Russian-language underground forum (Figure 6).
According to the advertisement, Coala focuses on L7 (HTTP) attacks and
can overcome Cloudflare, OVH, and BlazingFast DDoS protections. The
original posting stated that the actor was working on adding support
for .bit domains, and later updated the forum post to specify that
Coala was able to support .bit domain communications.

Advertisement Translated Text:

Coala – Http DDoS
Bot, .net 2.0, bypass cloudflare/ovh/blazi…
The sale

I changed my decision to rewrite the bot from
the scratch on native language.
I’m looking forward to
hearing any ideas / comments/ questions you have about
improving this DDoS bot.
I updated and enhanced the bot
using your previous comments and requests (changed
communication model between server and bot, etc)

added the following features/options/abilities:

– to
customize the HTTP-headers (user-agent, cookie,
– to set task limits
– to count the
number of bots used for particular task
– to read the
answer from a server
– to use async sockets
– to
set the number of sockets per timeout
– to set the
number of HTTP-requests per socket
– to set custom
waiting time
– to set an attack restart periods

to count the requests per second for particular task

removed the feature related to DDoS attacks against TOR sites
because of its improper functioning and AV detects.

Currently I am working on .bit domains support.

The price: $400

Figure 6: Discomrade advertising Coala DDoS
malware support for .bit domains

Sample Advertisement #3

The AZORult malware, which was discovered in mid-2016, is offered in
underground marketplaces by the actor "CrydBrox." In early
2017, CrydBrox offered an updated variant of the AZORult malware that
included .bit support (Figure 7).

Advertisement Translated Text:

 AZORult V2

[+] added .bit domains support
[+] added CC
stealing feature (for Chrome-based browsers)
[+] added
passwords grabbing from FTP-client WinSCP
[+] added
passwords grabbing from Outlook (up to the last version)
[+] fixed passwords grabbing from Firefox and
[+] added the feature to examine what
privileges were used to run stealer
[+] provided
encrypted communication between management panel and the
[+] added AntiVirtualMachine, AntiSandbox,
AntiDebug techniques
[+] fixed logs collection feature
(excluded info about file operations)
[+] accelerated
the work of stealer process
[+] removed .tls section
from binary file
[+] added ability to search logs by
cookies content (in management panel)
[+] added the view
of the numbers of passwords/CC/CoinsWallet and files in logs
to management panel
[+] added the commenting feature to
[+] added viewing of the stats by country,
architecture, system version, privileges, collected
[+] added new filters and improved of old

There are 4 variants of the stealer:
AU2_EXE.exe – run and send the report
AU2_EXEsd.exe –
run, send the report and remove itself
AU2_DLL.dll –
collect info after the load into the process, send data and
return the control to the process
AU2_DLLT.dll – after
the loading of the DLL into the process it creates the
separate thread for stealer work
*DLL versions
successfully work with all popular bots.
The size – 495
KB, packed with UPX – 220 KB

The prices:
1 build
– $100
rebuild – $30

Figure 7: CrydBrox advertising AZORult support
for .bit domains

Namecoin Usage Analysis

Coinciding with malicious actors’ increasing interest in using .bit
domains is a growing number of malware families that are being
configured to use them. Malware families that we have observed using
Namecoin domains as part of their C2 infrastructure include:

  • Necurs
  • AZORult
  • Neutrino (aka Kasidet, MWZLesson)
  • Corebot
  • Coala DDoS
  • Emotet
  • Terdot
  • Gandcrab
  • SmokeLoader (aka Dofoil)

Based on our analysis of samples configured to used .bit, the
following methods are commonly used by malware families to connect to
these domains:

  • Query hard-coded OpenNIC
    IP address(es)
  • Query hard-coded DNS server(s)


The AZORult sample (MD5: 3a3f739fceeedc38544f2c4b699674c5) was
configured to support the use of .bit communications, although it did
not connect to a Namecoin domain during analysis. The sample first
checks if the command and control (C2) domain contains the string
".bit" and, if so, the malware will query the following
hard-coded OpenNIC IP addresses to try to resolve the domain (Figure 8
and Figure 9):


Figure 8: Hard-coded OpenNIC IP addresses
– AZORult

Figure 9: AZORult code for resolving
C&C domains


The analyzed CHESSYLITE sample (MD5:
ECEA3030CCE05B23301B3F2DE2680ABD) contains the following hard-coded
.bit domains:

  • Leomoon[.]bit
  • lookstat[.]bit
  • sysmonitor[.]bit
  • volstat[.]bit
  • xoonday[.]bit

The malware attempts to resolve those domains by querying the
following list of hard-coded OpenNIC IP addresses:


Once the .bit domain has been resolved, the malware will issue an
encoded beacon to the server (Figure 10).

Figure 10: CHESSYLITE sample connecting
to xoonday.bit and issuing beacon

Neutrino (aka Kasidet, MWZLesson)

The analyzed Neutrino sample (MD5: C102389F7A4121B09C9ACDB0155B8F70)
contains the following hard-coded Namecoin C2 domain:

  • brownsloboz[.]bit

Instead of using hard-coded OpenNIC IP addresses to resolve its C2
domain, the sample issues DnsQuery_A API calls to the following
DNS servers:

  • sourpuss.[]net
  • ns1.opennameserver[.]org
  • freya.stelas[.]de
  • ns.dotbit[.]me
  • ns1.moderntld[.]com
  • ns1.rodgerbruce[.]com
  • ns14.ns.ph2network[.]org
  • newton.bambusoft[.]mx
  • secondary.server.edv-froehlich[.]de
  • philipostendorf[.]de
  • a.dnspod[.]com
  • b.dnspod[.]com
  • c.dnspod[.]com

The malware is configured to run through the list in the
aforementioned order. Hence, if a DnsQuery_A call to
fails, the malware will try sourpuss[.]net, and so on (Figure 11).
Through network emulation techniques, we simulated a resolved
connection in order to observe the sample’s behavior with the .bit domain.

Figure 11: Modified to to
force query failure

Monero Miner

The analyzed Monero cryptocurrency miner (MD5:
FA1937B188CBB7fD371984010564DB6E) revealed the use of .bit for initial
beacon communications. This miner uses the DnsQuery_A API call
and connects to the OpenNIC IP address to resolve the
domain flashupd[.]bit (Figure 12 and Figure 13).

Figure 12: Code snippet for resolving the
.bit domain

Figure 13: DNS request to OpenNIC IP

Terdot (aka ZLoader, DELoader)

The analyzed Terdot sample (MD5: 347c574f7d07998e321f3d35a533bd99)
includes the ability to communicate with .bit domains, seemingly to
download additional payloads. It attempts resolution by querying the
following list of OpenNIC and public DNS IP addresses:


This sample iterates through the hard-coded IPs in attempts to
access the domain cyber7[.]bit (Figure 14). If the domain resolves, it
will connect to https://cyber7[.]bit/blog/ajax.php to download data
that is RC4 encrypted and expected to contain a PE file.

Figure 14: DNS requests for cyber7.bit domain

Gandcrab Ransomware

The analyzed Gandcrab ransomware sample (MD5:
9abe40bc867d1094c7c0551ab0a28210) also revealed the use of .bit
domains. Unlike previously mentioned families, it spawns a new
nslookup process via an anonymous pipe to resolve the following
blockchain domains:

  • Bleepingcomputer[.]bit
  • Nomoreransom[.]bit
  • esetnod32[.]bit
  • emsisoft[.]bit
  • gandcrab[.]bit

The spawned nslookup process contains the following command
(as seen in Figure 15):

  • nslookup

Figure 15: GandCrab nslookup process
creation and command

Emercoin Domains

FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence researchers have identified other
blockchain domains being used by cyber criminals, including Emercoin
domains .bazar and .coin. Similar to the Namecoin TLD, all records are
completely decentralized, un-censorable, and cannot be altered,
revoked, or suspended.

Navigating to Emercoin Domains

Emercoin also maintains a peering agreement with OpenNIC, meaning
domains registered with the Emercoin’s EMCDNS service are accessible
to all users of OpenNIC DNS servers. Current root zones supported by
EMCDNS are shown in Table 3.


Intended Purpose


currency and commerce websites


associated with the Emercoin project


from the words
Library and Liberty – that is, knowledge and freedom



Table 3: Emercoin-supported DNS zones (Emercoin Wiki)

Users also have the option of installing compatible browser plugins
that will navigate to Emercoin domains, or routing their traffic
through emergate[.]net, which is a gateway maintained by the Emercoin developers.

Emercoin Domain Usage

FireEye iSIGHT Intelligence has observed eCrime actors using
Emercoin domains for malicious infrastructure, albeit to a lesser
extent. Examples of these operations include:

  • Operators of Joker’s
    Stash, a prolific and well-known card data shop, frequently change
    the site’s URL. Recently, they opted for using a blockchain domain
    (jstash[.]bazar) instead of Tor, ostensibly for greater operational
  • Similarly, the following card shops have also moved
    to .bazar domains:

    • buybest[.]bazar
    • FRESHSTUFF[.]bazar
    • swipe[.]bazar
    • goodshop[.]bazar
    • easydeals[.]bazar
  • In addition to the hard-coded Namecoin domain, the
    aforementioned Neutrino sample also contained several hard-coded
    Emercoin domains:

    • http://brownsloboz[.]bazar
    • http://brownsloboz[.]lib
    • http://brownsloboz[.]emc
  • FireEye iSIGHT
    Intelligence identified a Gandcrab ransomware sample (MD5:
    a0259e95e9b3fd7f787134ab2f31ad3c) that leveraged the Emercoin TLD
    .coin for its C2 communications (Figure 16 and Figure 17).

Figure 16: DNS query for nomoreransom[.]coin

Figure 17: Gandcrab POST request to nomoreransom[.]coin


While traditional methods of infrastructure obfuscation such as Tor,
bulletproof, and fast-flux hosting will most likely continue for the
foreseeable future, we assess that the usage of blockchain domains for
malicious infrastructure will continue to gain popularity and usage
among cyber criminals worldwide. Coinciding with the expected increase
in demand, there will likely be an increasing number of malicious
infrastructure offerings within the underground communities that
support blockchain domains.

Due to the decentralized and replicated nature of a blockchain, law
enforcement takedowns of a malicious domain would likely require that
the entire blockchain be shut down – something that is unfeasible to
do as many legitimate services run on these blockchains. If law
enforcement agencies can identify the individual(s) managing specific
malicious blockchain domains, the potential for these takedowns could
occur; however, the likelihood for this to happen is heavily reliant
on the operational security level maintained by the eCrime actors.
Further, as cyber criminals continue to develop methods of
infrastructure obfuscation and protection, blockchain domain takedowns
will continue to prove difficult.

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Threat Research authored by Threat Research Blog. Read the original post at: