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Moroccan scammers use fake charities to steal US gift cards

A Moroccan cybercriminal group, identified as Atlas Lion or Storm-0539, has been posing as charities to steal US gift cards, the FBI and Microsoft researchers warned.

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A Morocco-based criminal group has been pretending to be charities to trick cloud companies into giving them free access to computer storage. This access allows the group to steal gift cards from major US retailers, Microsoft researchers and the FBI revealed in May.

The Moroccan group, tracked by Microsoft researchers as Storm-0539 or Atlas Lion, has been active since 2021. Researchers say this cybercriminal group specializes in gift card theft. They create fake charity websites to trick cloud companies into giving them free access to online computers.

Then, they trick employees at big US stores to gain access to their gift card systems. Once inside, they steal gift cards without exceeding the limit to avoid detection.

Detected by the FBI's Cyber Division

The FBI has also warned of the fraudulent activities of the Morocco-based group. In a May 6th note, the FBI's Cyber Division reported that as of January 2024, they had «noted a cybercriminal group labeled STORM-0539, also known as Atlas Lion, targeting national retail corporations; specifically, the gift card departments located in their corporate offices».

«STORM-0539 used smishing campaigns to target employees and gain unauthorized access to employee accounts and corporate systems. Once they gained access, STORM-0539 actors used phishing campaigns to target other employees to elevate network privileges», the FBI explained.

The group targets employees' personal and work mobile phones in retail departments with smishing campaigns. The FBI even detailed the techniques used, including a «sophisticated phishing kit with the ability to bypass multi-factor authentication».

Once an employee's account is compromised, the group would «conduct reconnaissance on the business network to identify the gift card business process and then pivot to employee accounts covering that specific portfolio».

Within the network, they attempt to access secure shell (SSH) passwords and keys in addition to targeting credentials of employees in the gift card department. After successfully gaining access, the group creates «fraudulent gift cards using compromised employee accounts».

The group's maneuvers also include «exfiltrating employee data including names, usernames, and phone numbers, which could be exploited for additional attacks or sold for financial gain».

Logging in instead of breaking in

According to Emiel Haeghebaert, a senior hunt analyst at the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center, the group consists of no more than a dozen people in Morocco.

«They essentially log in instead of break in», he explained, adding that Microsoft has been able to detect the group «creating domains to pose as legitimate nonprofit organizations, such as animal shelters and charities in the U.S. and Europe, and even obtain copies of correspondence with the Internal Revenue Service that designate those groups as legitimate nonprofits».

«The group's reconnaissance and ability to leverage cloud environments are similar to what Microsoft observes from nation-state-sponsored threat actors», Haeghebaert and the other researchers said in a May 2024 Cyber Signals report.

It is not clear how much money the group has stolen through their cyber operations.

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