When Karim Rattani isn’t manning the till at the local Subway franchise in his adopted hometown of Cartersville, Ga., he’s usually tinkering with code. The 21-year-old Pakistani native is the lead programmer for two very different yet complementary online services: One lets people launch powerful attacks that can knock Web sites, businesses and other targets offline for hours at a time; the other is a Web hosting service designed to help companies weather such assaults.
Rattani helps run two different “booter” or “stresser” services – grimbooter[dot]com, and restricted-stresser[dot]info. He also works on TheHosted[dot]me, a Web hosting firm marketed to Web sites looking for protection from the very attacks he helps to launch.
As part of an ongoing series on booter services, I reached out to Rattani via his Facebook account (which was replete with images linking to fake Youtube sites that foist malicious software disguised as Adobe’s Flash Player plugin). It turns out, the same Google Wallet is used to accept payment for all three services, and that wallet traced back to Rattani.
In a Facebook chat, Rattani claimed he doesn’t run the companies, but merely accepts Google Wallet payments for them and then wires the money (minus his cut) to a young man named Danial Rajput — his business partner back in Karachi. Rajput declined to be interviewed for this story.
The work that Rattani does for these booter services brings in roughly $2,500 a month — far more than he could ever hope to make in a month slinging sandwiches. Asked whether he sees a conflict of interest in his work, Rattani was ambivalent.
“It is kind of [a conflict], but if my friend won’t sell [the service], someone else will,” he said.
Rattani and his partner are among an increasing number of young men who sell legally murky DDoS-for-hire services. The proprietors of these services market them as purely for Web site administrators to “stress test” their sites to ensure they can handle high volumes of visitors.
But that argument is about as convincing as a prostitute trying to pass herself off as an escort. The owner of the attack services (the aforementioned Mr. Rajput) advertises them at hackforums[dot]net, an English language forum where tons of low-skilled hackers hang and out and rent such attack services to prove their “skills” and toughness to others. Indeed, in his own first post on Hackforums in 2012, Rajput states that “my aim is to provide the best quality vps [virtual private server] for ddosing :P”.
Damon McCoy, an assistant professor of computer science at George Mason University, said the number of these DDoS-for-hire services has skyrocketed over the past two years. Nearly all of these services allow customers to pay for attacks using PayPal or Google Wallet, even though doing so violates the terms of service spelled out by those payment networks.
“The main reason they are becoming an increasing problem is that they are profitable,” McCoy said. “They are also easy to setup using leaked code for other booters, increasing demand from gamers and other customers, decreasing cost of attack infrastructure that can be amplified using common DDoS attacks. Also, it is relatively low-risk to operate a booter service when using rented attack servers instead of botnets.”
The booter services are proliferating thanks mainly to free services offered by CloudFlare, a content distribution network that offers gratis DDoS protection for virtually all of the booter services currently online. That includes the Lizardstresser, the attack service launched by the same Lizard Squad (a.k.a. Loser Squad) criminals whose assaults knocked the Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation networks offline on Christmas Day 2014.
The sad truth is that most booter services probably would not be able to remain in business without CloudFlare’s free service. That’s because outside of CloudFlare, real DDoS protection services are expensive, and just about the only thing booter service customers enjoy attacking more than Minecraft and online gaming sites are, well, other booter services.
For example, looking at the (now leaked) back-end database for the LizardStresser, we can see that TheHosted and its various properties were targeted for attacks repeatedly by one of the Loser Squad’s more prominent members.
The Web site crimeflare.com, which tracks abusive sites that hide behind CloudFlare, has cataloged more than 200 DDoS-for-hire sites using CloudFlare. For its part, CloudFlare’s owners have rather vehemently resisted the notion of blocking booter services from using the company’s services, saying that doing so would lead CloudFlare down a “slippery slope of censorship.”
As I observed in a previous story about booters, CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince has noted that while Cloudflare will respond to legal process and subpoenas from law enforcement to take sites offline, “sometimes we have court orders that order us to not take sites down.” Indeed, one such example was CarderProfit, a Cloudflare-protected carding forum that turned out to be an elaborate sting operation set up by the FBI.
I suppose it’s encouraging that prior to CloudFlare, Prince was co-creators of Project Honey Pot, which bills itself as the largest open-source community dedicated to tracking online fraud and abuse. In hacking and computer terminology, a honeypot is a trap set to detect, deflect or otherwise counteract attempts at unauthorized use or abuse of information systems.
It may well turn out to be the case that federal investigators are allowing these myriad booter services to remain in operation so that they can gather copious evidence for future criminal prosecutions against their owners and users. In the meantime, however, it will continue to be possible to purchase powerful DDoS attacks with little more than a credit card or prepaid debit card.