About two weeks ago, it was reported that “Paunch”, the author of the Blackhole Exploit Kit (BHEK), had been arrested by Russian law enforcement. (In addition to his work on BHEK, Paunch is also suspected of working on the Cool Exploit Kit.) Some reports suggested that associates of Paunch had been arrested as well, although how exactly they were tied to BHEK remains unclear.
What is clear is how cybercriminals have reacted so far. As part of our continuous monitoring of global spam activity, we routinely monitor spam campaigns that use BHEK to distribute various threats.
Since the weekend of October 5-6 – when Paunch was arrested – we have not observed any major spam campaigns that used the BHEK to deliver malware. Let us be clear: in the two weeks since Paunch’s arrest, significant BHEK spam runs have ceased. Neither have we observed any other major campaigns that use similar exploit kits. The calendar below shows the major spam campaigns we have observed in the weeks leading to Paunch’s arrest:
Table 1. BHEK spam campaigns identified
Meanwhile, in underground forums, cybercriminals are still digesting the news of Paunch’s arrest and wondering what the long term impact will be, as well as what his ultimate fate will be.
One particular area of concern in Russian underground forums is whether users of BHEK could face arrests themselves. In particular, users who purchased BHEK directly from Paunch or his authorized resellers would be in Paunch’s database of clients, which is now presumably in the hands of law enforcement.
Figure 1. Underground forum post
It is unclear what will happen to Paunch next. His real name has not been released by police, and neither have any details of his arrest – including what charges he faces – made public. Some believe that he could receive a suspended sentence in lieu of any jail time, and become an expert in the employ of the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB.
Figure 2. Underground forum post
In the long term, the impact of BHEK’s apparent demise remains somewhat unclear. Other exploit kits are available, but these may not have the support structure that Paunch was able to build with BHEK. We will continue to monitor these developments as necessary in order to protect Trend Micro customers.
Earlier this year we provided an overview of the current state of BHEK, as it was used by attackers earlier this year. Among the most high-profiles uses was in spam campaigns based around news reports of the birth of the British royal baby.
Additional information provided by Jon Oliver and Max Goncharov