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  1. A new type of underground illicit drug promotion, illicit drug business listings on local search services (e.g., local knowledge panel, map search, voice search), is increasingly being utilized by miscreants to advertise and sell controlled substances on the Internet. Miscreants exploit the problematic upstream local data brokers featuring loose control on data quality to post listings that promote illicit drug business. Such a promotion, in turn, pollutes the major downstream search providers’ knowledge bases and further reaches a large audience through web, map, and voice searches. To the best of our knowledge, little has been done so far to understand this new illicit promotion in terms of its scope, impact, and techniques, not to mention any effort to identify such illicit drug business listings on a large scale. In this paper, we report the first measurement study of the illicit drug business listings on local search services. Our findings have brought to light the vulnerable and less regulated local business listing ecosystem and the pervasiveness of such illicit activities, as well as the impact on local search audience. 
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    Residential proxy has emerged as a service gaining popularity recently, in which proxy providers relay their customers’ network traffic through millions of proxy peers under their control. We find that many of these proxy peers are mobile devices, whose role in the proxy network can have significant security implications since mobile devices tend to be privacy and resource-sensitive. However, little effort has been made so far to understand the extent of their involvement, not to mention how these devices are recruited by the proxy network and what security and privacy risks they may pose. In this paper, we report the first measurement study on the mobile proxy ecosystem. Our study was made possible by a novel measurement infrastructure, which enabled us to identify proxy providers, to discover proxy SDKs (software development kits), to detect Android proxy apps built upon the proxy SDKs, to harvest proxy IP addresses, and to understand proxy traffic. The information collected through this infrastructure has brought to us new understandings of this ecosystem and important security discoveries. More specifically, 4 proxy providers were found to offer app developers mobile proxy SDKs as a competitive app monetization channel, with $50K per month per 1M MAU (monthly active users). 1,701 Android APKs (belonging to 963 Android apps) turn out to have integrated those proxy SDKs, with most of them available on Google Play with at least 300M installations in total. Furthermore, 48.43% of these APKs are flagged by at least 5 anti-virus engines as malicious, which could explain why 86.60% of the 963 Android apps have been removed from Google Play by Oct 2019. Besides, while these apps display user consent dialogs on traffic relay, our user study indicates that the user consent texts are quite confusing. We even discover a proxy SDK that stealthily relays traffic without showing any notifications. We also captured 625K cellular proxy IPs, along with a set of suspicious activities observed in proxy traffic such as ads fraud. We have reported our findings to affected parties, offered suggestions, and proposed the methodologies to detect proxy apps and proxy traffic. 
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  4. Recent years have witnessed the rapid progress in deep learning (DL), which also brings their potential weaknesses to the spotlights of security and machine learning studies. With important discoveries made by adversarial learning research, surprisingly little attention, however, has been paid to the realworld adversarial techniques deployed by the cybercriminal to evade image-based detection. Unlike the adversarial examples that induce misclassification using nearly imperceivable perturbation, real-world adversarial images tend to be less optimal yet equally e ective. As a first step to understand the threat, we report in the paper a study on adversarial promotional porn images (APPIs) that are extensively used in underground advertising. We show that the adversary today’s strategically constructs the APPIs to evade explicit content detection while still preserving their sexual appeal, even though the distortions and noise introduced are clearly observable to humans. To understand such real-world adversarial images and the underground business behind them, we develop a novel DL-based methodology called Mal`ena, which focuses on the regions of an image where sexual content is least obfuscated and therefore visible to the target audience of a promotion. Using this technique, we have discovered over 4,000 APPIs from 4,042,690 images crawled from popular social media, and further brought to light the unique techniques they use to evade popular explicit content detectors (e.g., Google Cloud Vision API, Yahoo Open NSFW model), and the reason that these techniques work. Also studied are the ecosystem of such illicit promotions, including the obfuscated contacts advertised through those images, compromised accounts used to disseminate them, and large APPI campaigns involving thousands of images. Another interesting finding is the apparent attempt made by cybercriminals to steal others’ images for their advertising. The study highlights the importance of the research on real-world adversarial learning and makes the first step towards mitigating the threats it poses. 
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  5. Take-down operations aim to disrupt cybercrime involving malicious domains. In the past decade, many successful take-down operations have been reported, including those against the Conficker worm, and most recently, against VPNFilter. Although it plays an important role in fighting cybercrime, the domain take-down procedure is still surprisingly opaque. There seems to be no in-depth understanding about how the take-down operation works and whether there is due diligence to ensure its security and reliability. In this paper, we report the first systematic study on domain takedown. Our study was made possible via a large collection of data, including various sinkhole feeds and blacklists, passive DNS data spanning six years, and historical WHOIS information. Over these datasets, we built a unique methodology that extensively used various reverse lookups and other data analysis techniques to address the challenges in identifying taken-down domains, sinkhole operators, and take-down durations. Applying the methodology on the data, we discovered over 620K takendown domains and conducted a longitudinal analysis on the take-down process, thus facilitating a better understanding of the operation and its weaknesses. We found that more than 14% of domains taken-down over the past ten months have been released back to the domain market and that some of the released domains have been repurchased by the malicious actor again before being captured and seized, either by the same or different sinkholes. In addition, we showed that the misconfiguration of DNS records corresponding to the sinkholed domains allowed us to hijack a domain that was seized by the FBI. Further, we found that expired sinkholes have caused the transfer of around 30K takendown domains whose traffic is now under the control of new owners. 
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