Fishing in a lake

Law enforcement reels in phishing-as-a-service whopper

A major international law enforcement effort involving agencies from 19 countries has disrupted the notorious LabHost phishing-as-a-service platform.

Europol reports that the organization’s infrastructure has been compromised, its website shut down, and 37 suspects arrested, including four people in the UK linked to the running of the site, which also allegedly included the original developer of the service.

Europol’s announcement also hints that this isn’t the end of the story, and users of the platform should ready themselves for some uncomfortable encounters with law enforcement in the future. As Europol said in its release:

A vast amount of data gathered throughout the investigation is now in the possession of law enforcement. This data will be used to support ongoing international operational activities focused on targeting the malicious users of this phishing platform.

The UK’s Metropolitan Police (“The Met”), which spearheaded the operation, says it has already contacted the criminals who used the site:

Shortly after the platform was disrupted, 800 users received a message telling them we know who they are and what they’ve been doing. We’ve shown them we know how much they’ve paid to LabHost, how many different sites they’ve accessed and how many lines of data they’ve received. Many of these individuals will remain the focus of investigation over the coming weeks and months.

In a phishing attack, criminals use emails to trick users into entering details like passwords or credit card numbers into fake websites. The emails and websites typically mimic popular brands like UPS, Amazon, or Microsoft, and copy the format of emails sent by those companies, luring victims with things like fake security alerts.

Phishing-as-a-Service (PaaS) provides the tools and infrastructure criminals need to carry out phishing attacks on a subscription basis, so they don’t have to create and run it themselves. This lowers the barrier to entry for these kinds of crimes and puts sophisticated tools in the hands of people who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them.

LabHost was set up in 2021 and grew to become one of the largest PaaS vendors. Europol says that “with a monthly fee averaging $249, LabHost would offer a range of illicit services which were customizable and could be deployed with a few clicks.” Those services reportedly included a menu of over 170 fake websites for users to choose from, and a campaign management tool called “LabRat” that could capture two-factor (2FA) authentication codes.

The phishing platform is reported to have had 2,000 registered users and was used to create “more than 40,000 fraudulent sites.” The Met says that around 70,000 individual UK victims have been phished using the service, and that globally, it swallowed up 480,000 card numbers, 64,000 PIN numbers, and more than one million passwords.

Victims in the UK have been contacted by the Met to inform them that some of their data has been compromised. Ironically, thousands of victims being contacted in this way creates an opportunity for copycat phishing emails with Met branding. For that reason, the Met has been careful not to include any links in its communications and warns potential victims that:

…if you receive any contact from the Met with links in, this will be fraudulent so please do not engage with this.

If you’ve been contacted by the Metropolitan Police about the LabHost breach you can find some useful guidance and support on its LabHost Disruption page.