Gate.io is a cryptocurrency exchange. "[A]ccording to coinmarketcap.com, several million dollars, including USD 1.6 million in just bitcoin transactions, transit this platform every day." It "is a very popular site, especially in China, where it boasts an Alexa ranking of 8,308. Globally the site ranks 26,251." "Gate.io is operated by Gate Technology Corp. [They] are dedicated to security and your experience, offering you not only a secure, simple and fair Bitcoin exchange but also promising to safeguard your asset and trading information." They "have Super secured SSL Link, Offline Bitcoin Wallet Technology, Instant deposit and withdrawal for Cryptocurrencies, Two factor authentication, Low Fee. No fee for deposit. Low trading fee. Low withdrawal fee with optional withdrawal service."


The StatCounter "service is used by many webmasters to gather statistics on their visitors – a service very similar to Google Analytics. To do so, webmasters usually add an external JavaScript tag incorporating a piece of code from StatCounter – www.statcounter[.]com/counter/counter.js – into each webpage." "StatCounter has more than 2 million member sites and it computes stats on more than 10 billion page views per month."


Both services were allegedly "compromised in another supply-chain attack, which resulted in an unknown number of gate.io customers getting their money stolen, according to ESET." "The ESET team today said that the crooks injected malicious code within statcounter.com/counter/counter.js, a piece of JavaScript that StatCounter's two million or so customers embed in their websites to measure their visitor traffic." "Faou says that the Statcounter breach happened on November 3. They discovered it on Tuesday (November 6) and immediately notified both StatCounter and gate.io."


"Faou works for ESET, a security firm on the order of MalwareBytes or Norton, which provides consumer and enterprise security products and necessarily conducts research and penetration tests. He says the compromise was designed to replace bitcoin withdrawal addresses on the Gate.io platform with addresses belonging to the attacker." "Researchers at ESET have found that the JavaScript used by StatCounter's analytics platform has been modified by miscreants so that when embedded into the pages of Gate.io, a cryptocurrency exchange, it can siphon off alt-coins."


"Hackers successfully sandwiched crypto-stealing code into the middle of a popular web traffic-measuring plugin from StatCounter, which is now used on more than two million websites, including government sites. They have determined, however, that the rather wide swath of infections may have been designed to eventually infect cryptocurrency trading sites, and that the scheme did, in fact, infect popular crypto-trading site Gate.io. By situating the code in the middle of StatCounter’s downloadable javascript web traffic analysis tool, hackers made it harder to detect."


"It turns out that among the different cryptocurrency exchanges live at time of writing, only gate.io has a valid page with this URI," explained ESET malware researcher Matthieu Faou. "Thus, this exchange seems to be the main target of this attack." "The URL targeted by the malicious code is part of a user's account dashboard, and more specifically it's the URL for the page on which users make Bitcoin withdrawals and transfers." "Outside of gate.io, none of the other two million-plus websites using StatCounter's metrics services appear to have been affected by the malicious JavaScript, even if they downloaded it."


“[T]he malicious script submits the [withdrawal] form, which executes the transfer from the victim’s account to the attackers’ wallet. This redirection is probably unnoticeable to the victims, since the replacement is performed after they click on the submit button. Thus, it will happen very quickly and would probably not even be displayed.”


"[T]he attackers registered a domain very similar to the legitimate StatCounter one, statcounter[.]com. They just switched two letters, which can be hard to notice while scanning logs for unusual activity. Interestingly, by checking the passive DNS of the domain, we noticed that this domain had already been suspended in 2010 for abuse."


"Statcounter, which boasts of over 2 million members/customers, has yet to publicly comment on the incident. Hopefully they are working on securing their compromised assets and removing the malicious code from the script. Statcounter customers would do well to demand some answers from the company, even if they weren’t affected this time."


"Gate.io has reacted by removing the Statcounter script from their website." “After that, we didn’t find any other suspicious behaviors,” they said, and added that “users’ funds are safe.” They did not say whether they will reimburse those users who have performed transfers between November 3 and 6 and have had their money stolen.


"Because the thieves used multiple wallets to receive the hijacked funds, the researchers do not know precisely how much was stolen. They believe, however, that the loss could be significant." "Even if we do not know how many Bitcoins have been stolen during this attack, it shows how far attackers go to target one specific website, in particular a cryptocurrency exchange," said Faou.


Gate.io later issued a further clarification statement. “On Nov. 6, 2018, we got the notice from ESET researcher’s report and the “ESET Internet Security” product that there’s a suspicious behavior in Statcounter’s traffic stats service. We immediately scanned it on Virustotal in 56 antivirus products. No one reported any suspicious behavior at that time [ …] However, we still immediately removed the Statcounter’s service. After that, we didn’t find any other suspicious behaviors. The users’ funds are safe. To have the maximum security, please make sure you have two-factor authentication (Google OTP or SMS) and two-step login protected.”

Gate.io operated a cryptocurrency exchange service, and thought that they'd use a third party to track visitor statistics. This third party was compromised, and code was injected which allegedly modified the withdrawal addresses of customers and/or submitted withdrawal requests on their behalf.


Gate.io appears to have acted to remove the JavaScript code, and appears to suggest that no user funds were lost. There is no indication that could be found of users reporting losing funds.


In this case, no funds were lost.


In general, exchange platforms must exercise caution with all parts of their service, and minimize any dependence on third parties. The use of a multi-signature wallet for processing withdrawals increases the level of scrutiny on outbound withdrawals, and it makes sense to use this as a standard process for all large withdrawals.


This type of situation is extremely rare and unusual, and likely can be dealt with by the platform reimbursing customers and improving security.


Check Our Framework For Safe Secure Exchange Platforms

Sources And Further Reading

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