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NordVPN users’ passwords exposed in mass credential-stuffing attacks

https://arstechnica.com/?p=1594961

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Screenshot from gameshow Password.

As many as 2,000 users of NordVPN, the virtual private network service that recently disclosed a server hack that leaked crypto keys, have fallen victim to credential-stuffing attacks that allow unauthorized access to their accounts.

In recent weeks, credentials for NordVPN users have circulated on Pastebin and other online forums. They contain the email addresses, plain-text passwords, and expiration dates associated with NordVPN user accounts.

I received a list of 753 credentials on Thursday and polled a small sample of users. The passwords listed for all but one were still in use. The one user who had changed their password did so after receiving an unrequested password reset email. It would appear someone who gained unauthorized access was trying to take over the account. Several other people said their accounts had been accessed by unauthorized people.

Over the past week, breach notification service Have I Been Pwned has reported at least 10 lists of NordVPN credentials similar to the one I obtained.

Have I Been Pwned

While it’s likely that some accounts are listed in multiple lists, the number of user accounts easily tops 2,000. What’s more, a large number of the email addresses in the list I received weren’t indexed at all by Have I Been Pwned, indicating that some compromised credentials are still leaking into public view. Most of the Web pages that host these credentials have been taken down, but at the time this post was going live, at least one remained available on Pastebin, despite the fact Ars brought it to NordVPN’s attention more than 17 hours earlier.

Without exception, all of the plain-text passwords are weak. In some cases, they’re the string of characters to the left of the @ sign in the email address. In other cases, they’re words found in most dictionaries. Others appear to be surnames, sometimes with two or three numbers tacked onto the end. These common traits mean that the most likely way these passwords became public is through credential stuffing. That’s the term for attacks that take credentials divulged in one leak to break into other accounts that use the same username and password. Attackers typically use automated scripts to carry out these attacks.

Shared responsibility

It’s important for readers to know these lists don’t signal a breach on any NordVPN servers. The lists also don’t indicate that the breach disclosed 11 days ago was worse than the company said it was. Rather, these lists are the result of mistakes both on the part of users and NordVPN. For users, the error is choosing easy-to-guess passwords and using them on multiple sites. Security practitioners almost universally recommend people choose a long, random password that is unique for every account.

I’d argue that NordVPN shares the bulk of responsibility for the high incidence of compromised accounts on its site. Many services such as Google and Facebook proactively sift through credential lists available on both public sites and the Dark Web. When the sites find credentials that match those of their users, the sites notify the users and require a password reset. The sites increasingly are not allowing users to choose weak passwords in the first place or credentials that have been exposed in online dumps in the past.

NordVPN can take other measures to prevent malicious parties from logging in with users’ poorly chosen passwords. Chief among them would be rate limiting and algorithms that detect and block unauthorized logins. It’s hard to understand why NordVPN, a company that’s in the business of providing security to users, is allowing so many of its users to fall victim to these attacks. In an email sent after this post went live, a NordVPN representative wrote:

Our security team is proactively scanning credential lists available on both public sites and the Dark Web, and, from time to time, we are trying to urge our clients to change their credentials, especially passwords. And then we are always trying to educate our customers through our social media channels, blog, and client newsletters that they must keep their passwords unique and strong. We are working at the moment on two other measures – two-factor authentication (2FA) and smart bot-detection system to enhance rate limiting.

Credential stuffing is a growing problem not only for us but for almost every other digital service and website. If you look into marketplaces on the dark web or even more shady forums on a public web – you’ll find hundreds of different accounts for streaming, music, games, health apps, and services sold illegally. All those accounts are acquired through the credential stuffing.

Readers who are NordVPN users should visit Have I Been Pwned and check to see if their email address is contained in any of the lists. If it is, they should change their passwords immediately. For most people, it’s too hard a task to keep track of scores of strong passwords, but that’s where password managers come in. This protection is especially important since NordVPN doesn’t seem to be doing enough to stop these attacks from happening.

Post updated to add NordVPN comment.

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion. This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would…

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These ten enterprise M&A deals totaled over $40B in 2019

It would be hard to top the 2018 enterprise M&A total of a whopping $87 billion, and predictably this year didn’t come close. In fact, the top 10 enterprise M&A deals in 2019 were less than half last year’s, totaling $40.6 billion.

This year’s biggest purchase was Salesforce buying Tableau for $15.7 billion, which would have been good for third place last year behind IBM’s mega deal plucking Red Hat for $34 billion and Broadcom grabbing CA Technologies for $18.8 billion.

Contributing to this year’s quieter activity was the fact that several typically acquisitive companies — Adobe, Oracle and IBM — stayed mostly on the sidelines after big investments last year. It’s not unusual for companies to take a go-slow approach after a big expenditure year. Adobe and Oracle bought just two companies each with neither revealing the prices. IBM didn’t buy any.

Microsoft didn’t show up on this year’s list either, but still managed to pick up eight new companies. It was just that none was large enough to make the list (or even for them to publicly reveal the prices). When a publicly traded company doesn’t reveal the price, it usually means that it didn’t reach the threshold of being material to the company’s results.

As always, just because you buy it doesn’t mean it’s always going to integrate smoothly or well, and we won’t know about the success or failure of these transactions for some years to come. For now, we can only look at the deals themselves.

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom. Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition. To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and…

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Jumia, DHL, and Alibaba will face off in African ecommerce 2.0

The business of selling consumer goods and services online is a relatively young endeavor across Africa, but ecommerce is set to boom.

Over the last eight years, the sector has seen its first phase of big VC fundings, startup duels and attrition.

To date, scaling e-commerce in Africa has straddled the line of challenge and opportunity, perhaps more than any other market in the world. Across major African economies, many of the requisites for online retail — internet access, digital payment adoption, and 3PL delivery options — have been severely lacking.

Still, startups jumped into this market for the chance to digitize a share of Africa’s fast growing consumer spending, expected to top $2 billion by 2025.

African e-commerce 2.0 will include some old and new players, play out across more countries, place more priority on internet services, and see the entry of China.

But before highlighting several things to look out for in the future of digital-retail on the continent, a look back is beneficial.

Jumia vs. Konga

The early years for development of African online shopping largely played out in Nigeria (and to some extent South Africa). Anyone who visited Nigeria from 2012 to 2016 likely saw evidence of one of the continent’s early e-commerce showdowns. Nigeria had its own Coke vs. Pepsi-like duel — a race between ventures Konga and Jumia to out-advertise and out-discount each other in a quest to scale online shopping in Africa’s largest economy and most populous nation.

Traveling in Lagos traffic, large billboards for each startup faced off across the skyline, as their delivery motorcycles buzzed between stopped cars.

Covering each company early on, it appeared a battle of VC attrition. The challenge: who could continue to raise enough capital to absorb the losses of simultaneously capturing and creating an e-commerce market in notoriously difficult conditions.

In addition to the aforementioned challenges, Nigeria also had (and continues to have) shoddy electricity.

Both Konga — founded by Nigerian Sim Shagaya — and Jumia — originally founded by two Nigerians and two Frenchman — were forced to burn capital building fulfillment operations most e-commerce startups source to third parties.

That included their own delivery and payment services (KongaPay and JumiaPay). In addition to sales of goods from mobile-phones to diapers, both startups also began experimenting with verticals for internet based services, such as food-delivery and classifieds.

While Jumia and Konga were competing in Nigeria, there was another VC driven race for e-commerce playing out in South Africa — the continent’s second largest and most advanced economy.

E-tailers Takealot and Kalahari had been jockeying for market share since 2011 after raising capital in the hundreds of millions of dollars from investors Naspers and U.S. fund Tiger Global Management.

So how did things turn out in West and Southern Africa? In 2014, the lead investor of a flailing Kalahari — Naspers — facilitated a merger with Takealot (that was more of an acquisition). They nixed the Kalahari brand in 2016 and bought out Takelot’s largest investor, Tiger Global, in 2018. Takealot is now South Africa’s leading e-commerce site by market share, but only operates in one country.

In Nigeria, by 2016 Jumia had outpaced its rival Konga in Alexa ratings (6 vs 14), while out-raising Konga (with backing of Goldman Sachs) to become Africa’s first VC backed, startup unicorn. By early 2018, Konga was purchased in a distressed acquisition and faded away as a competitor to Jumia.

Jumia went on to expand online goods and services verticals into 14 Africa countries (though it recently exited a few) and in April 2019 raised over $200 million in an NYSE IPO — the first on a major exchange for a VC-backed startup operating in Africa.

Jumia’s had bumpy road since going public — losing significant share-value after a short-sell attack earlier in 2019 — but the continent’s leading e-commerce company still has heap of capital and generates $100 million in revenues (even with losses).

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between. It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in…

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Airbnb’s New Year’s Eve guest volume shows its falling growth rate

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

It’s finally 2020, the year that should bring us a direct listing from home-sharing giant Airbnb, a technology company valued at tens of billions of dollars. The company’s flotation will be a key event in this coming year’s technology exit market. Expect the NYSE and Nasdaq to compete for the listing, bankers to queue to take part, and endless media coverage.

Given that that’s ahead, we’re going to take periodic looks at Airbnb as we tick closer to its eventual public market debut. And that means that this morning we’re looking back through time to see how fast the company has grown by using a quirky data point.

Airbnb releases a regular tally of its expected “guest stays” for New Year’s Eve each year, including 2019. We can therefore look back in time, tracking how quickly (or not) Airbnb’s New Year Eve guest tally has risen. This exercise will provide a loose, but fun proxy for the company’s growth as a whole.

The numbers

Before we look into the figures themselves, keep in mind that we are looking at a guest figure which is at best a proxy for revenue. We don’t know the revenue mix of the guest stays, for example, meaning that Airbnb could have seen a 10% drop in per-guest revenue this New Year’s Eve — even with more guest stays — and we’d have no idea.

So, the cliche about grains of salt and taking, please.

But as more guests tends to mean more rentals which points towards more revenue, the New Year’s Eve figures are useful as we work to understand how quickly Airbnb is growing now compared to how fast it grew in the past. The faster the company is expanding today, the more it’s worth. And given recent news that the company has ditched profitability in favor of boosting its sales and marketing spend (leading to sharp, regular deficits in its quarterly results), how fast Airbnb can grow through higher spend is a key question for the highly-backed, San Francisco-based private company.

Here’s the tally of guest stays in Airbnb’s during New Years Eve (data via CNBC, Jon Erlichman, Airbnb), and their resulting year-over-year growth rates:

  • 2009: 1,400
  • 2010: 6,000 (+329%)
  • 2011: 3,1000 (+417%)
  • 2012: 108,000 (248%)
  • 2013: 250,000 (+131%)
  • 2014: 540,000 (+116%)
  • 2015: 1,100,000 (+104%)
  • 2016: 2,000,000 (+82%)
  • 2017: 3,000,000 (+50%)
  • 2018: 3,700,000 (+23%)
  • 2019: 4,500,000 (+22%)

In chart form, that looks like this:

Let’s talk about a few things that stand out. First is that the company’s growth rate managed to stay over 100% for as long as it did. In case you’re a SaaS fan, what Airbnb pulled off in its early years (again, using this fun proxy for revenue growth) was far better than a triple-triple-double-double-double.

Next, the company’s growth rate in percentage terms has slowed dramatically, including in 2019. At the same time the firm managed to re-accelerate its gross guest growth in 2019. In numerical terms, Airbnb added 1,000,000 New Year’s Eve guest stays in 2017, 700,000 in 2018, and 800,000 in 2019. So 2019’s gross adds was not a record, but it was a better result than its year-ago tally.

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