Two young Israeli men alleged by this author to have co-founded vDOS — until recently the largest and most profitable cyber attack-for-hire service online — were arrested and formally indicted this week in Israel on conspiracy and hacking charges.
On Sept. 8, 2016, KrebsOnSecurity published a story about the hacking of vDOS, a service that attracted tens of thousands of paying customers and facilitated more than two million distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks over the four year period it was in business.
That story named two then 18-year-old Israelis — Yarden “applej4ck” Bidani and Itay “p1st” Huri — as the likely owners and operators of vDOS. Within hours of that story’s publication the two were detained by Israeli police, placed on house arrest for 10 days, and forbidden from using the Internet for a month.
On Tuesday, Israeli prosecutors announced they had formally arrested and charged two 19-year-olds with conspiring to commit a felony, prohibited activities, tampering with or disrupting a computer, and storing or disseminating false information. A statement from a spokesman for the Israeli state attorney’s office said prosecutors couldn’t name the accused because their alleged crimes were committed while they were minors.
But a number of details match perfectly with previous reporting on Bidani and Huri. As noted in the original Sept. 2016 expose’ on vDOS’s alleged founders, Israeli prosecutors say the two men made more than $600,000 in two of the four years the service was in operation. vDOS was shuttered for good not longer after Bidani and Huri’s initial detention in Sept. 2016.
“The defendants were constantly improving the attack code and finding different network security weaknesses that would enable them to offer increased attack services that could overcome existing defenses and create real damage to servers and services worldwide,” Israeli prosecutors alleged of the accused and their enterprise.
“Subscribers were able to select an ‘attack’ package from the various packages offered, with the packages classified by the duration of each attack in seconds, the number of simultaneous attacks and the magnitude of the attack in Gigabits per second, and their prices ranged from $ 19.99 to $ 499.99,” the allegation continues.
Lawyers for Bidani and Huri could not be immediately reached for comment. But both have said their clients were merely operating a defensive “stresser” service sold to companies that wished to test whether their sites could withstand large cyberattacks.
The owners of these stresser services have sought to hide behind wordy “terms of service” agreements to which all customers must agree, arguing that these agreements absolve them of any sort of liability for how their customers use the service.
Law enforcement officials both in the United States and abroad say stresser services enable illegal activity, and they’ve recently begun arresting both owners and users of these services.
In December 2016, federal investigators in the U.S. and Europe arrested nearly three-dozen people suspected of patronizing stresser services (also known as “booter” services). That crackdown was billed as part of an effort by authorities to weaken demand for these services, and to impress upon customers that hiring someone to launch cyberattacks on your behalf can land you in jail.
In October 2016, the U.S. Justice Department charged two 19-year-old men alleged to have operated a stresser service affiliated with the hacking group known as the Lizard Squad.
KrebsOnSecurity paid a heavy price for breaking the story on vDOS’s hacking and the subsequent arrest of its alleged proprietors. Less than two weeks after those stories were published in September 2016, this site came under one of the largest DDoS attacks the Internet has ever witnessed.
That series of attacks ultimately knocked this site offline for nearly four days. According to follow-up reporting published in January 2017, the attacks were paid for by a cybercriminal who was upset and/or inconvenienced by my exposé on vDOS.
At the height of vDOS’s profitability in mid-2015, the DDoS-for-hire service was earning its then-17-year-old proprietors more than $42,000 a month in PayPal and Bitcoin payments from thousands of subscribers. That’s according to an analysis of the leaked vDOS database performed by researchers at New York University.