An ongoing campaign where malware distributors use email spam to deliver dangerous programs to unwitting victims has begun to change its tune, switching the scam to incorporate different brands. In the latest scam, the message appears to be an order confirmation from Amazon.com for the purchase of an expensive consumer electronics item, or a contract (spelled, tellingly, “conract“) for expensive home improvement work, purportedly to be done on the recipient’s home.
A few weeks ago, the emails switched from a “shipping confirmation” hook to one which claims the contents of the attachment include a code worth $50 on Apple’s iTunes online store.
The spam messages for several months have included a .Zip compressed attachment. The file inside the .Zip, which looks like a Microsoft Word document, is a malicious program we classify to the definition Trojan-Downloader-Tacticlol.
An extremely dangerous downloader, the Web sites and domains from which Tacticlol (aka Oficla or Sasfis) retrieves its payloads have been remaining online longer than normal. Typically the download site is shut down within a few days, effectively neutralizing the downloader and preventing it from retrieving anything. Recent variants, however, have use Web domains that remain online for weeks or even months.
Malicious sites that remain active only increase the danger that someone who inadvertently opens the attachment a few weeks after the message arrives will still infect their computer.
In addition, the payloads delivered by the download site Tacticlol contacts are being rotated as the days go on. In the initial infection period, within about 36 hours after the spam messages arrive, the download sites deliver a number of different payloads, including the Trojan-Backdoor-Zbot keylogger, the Trojan-Pushu (aka Pushdo) spam bot, and rogue antivirus installers. After a week, the payloads switch to the installers for botnets, which zombify the infected machines and turn them into longer-term hacker workhorses. Recent payloads have included a “dead man switch” which can render the infected computer unbootable.
I’ll discuss the ramifications of opening attachments such as these in an upcoming blog post. Nevertheless, it should be second nature that you avoid opening any attachment that arrives through email unless you can confirm — by telephone, or some other method — that the attached document is legitimate and was deliberately sent to you. Also, train yourself to avoid opening any attachment with an .exe file extension, regardless of its appearance or origin.
If you received one or more email messages over the past week that claim to contain an attached gift certificate for the Apple iTunes store or an unsolicited résumé, you probably received the latest scam involving the Tacticlol downloader.
The iTunes-themed spam messages use the forged return address of firstname.lastname@example.org and read, in part, You have received an iTunes Gift Certificate in the amount of $50.00. You can find your certificate code in the attachment below. The resume messages simply say Please review my CV, Thank you! — using the abbreviation for Curriculum Vitae, the British analogue to the word résumé.
The Trojan’s ongoing campaign attempts to trick victims into opening Zip-compressed attached files, which themselves contain an executable installer. The attachments almost always use the icon of a Microsoft Word document, and we usually see the Trojan launch an instance of Word and modify the default document template (named normal.dot) in the course of the infection.
We followed this Trojan down its particular rabbit hole and discovered logs and other files that indicate that, in just one day of operation, the Trojan had infected more than 9000 computers around the world and had begun to download one of three payloads, one of which was immediately identifiable as the prolific spambot we call Trojan-Pushu (aka Pushdo or Cutwail). The other two payloads were a keylogging password stealer, and a rogue antivirus installer.
The campaign is clearly connected to the most recent spamming of something we saw a few weeks ago, in which the message (in hilariously misspelled English) claims the attachment is a recording contract of some kind, with a forged return address of what appears to be a record company. A similar campaign was waged over the past several weeks, in which the recipient was told that the document contains a new password for their Facebook account. However, the end result of opening the alleged iTunes Gift Certificate is no different than opening the Facebook document, the “Conract,” or the shipping label or invoice documents: Instant infection, with the promise of more infections to come.
When you see an online order form that bears Microsoft’s logo and the words “pay to: Microsoft Inc.,” are you any more likely to enter a credit card number into the form and click submit? That’s the psychological experiment currently being undertaken by a company that calls itself DefenceLab, which subjects unsuspecting users to its peculiar blend of fakealert with rogue antivirus.
Last year, our friends at Sunbelt wrote two very interesting blog items about DefenceLab. At the time, DefenceLab was accused of lifting content from the products and Web sites of legitimate comapnies such as Microsoft and AVG, inserting that text into their own Web site. They had stolen AVG‘s “awards” links from that company’s Web site, and posted it on their own; They were also lifting, whole cloth, copy from Microsoft’s Web site, then replacing words in the pages (like “Microsoft”) with “DefenceLab.”
Well these slugs are at it again, only this time they’ve dragged a US-based electronic payment processor into their scam. The payment processor handles the credit card transactions from victims who fall prey to the scam’s fake alert message about a nonexistent infection. Most rogues use fly-by-night processors, based overseas, who provide scant contact information, and never respond to requests for a refund. DefenceLab, however, provides would-be snake oil purchasers with both an email address and toll-free telephone number, in case of a transaction problem.
The only problem I can imagine would be if anyone actually paid perfectly good money to buy their bogus app.
The DefenceLab rogue also uses some time-honored techniques to trap victims, essentially locking nontechnical users out of their computer. Click through to the next page to see exactly how they do it; I’ll even throw in, free of charge, a simple trick that will let you prevent the program from popping up fake antivirus alerts.
By Ian Moyse
A decade on from the ILOVEYOU worm, what has changed—apart from ‘we’re older and (supposedly) wiser?’
We have allowed the bad in the real world to progressively infect our online world, giving criminals a way to attack victims that is more dangerous for the victim and, coincidentally, safer for the attacker. As recently as a decade ago, bank robbers had to physically enter the bank premises and overcome its defenses. Today, they simply need to be clever enough to trick you, rather than break the defenses of the bank itself.
In humanizing the Internet we have dehumanized cybercrime.
The individual computer user was, and remains, the weak link. The concept of social engineering still poses the principal online threat affecting everyone.
At last week’s Infosecurity Europe show in the UK, I spoke about the latest threats, and how they clash with the realities of the Internet and the Web 2.0 world we live in today. Attendees who spoke to me afterward, many of whom provide support and IT services to business of all sizes, told me they live with these threats every day.
I asked the people watching my talk who thinks malware is still as much of a threat as it ever was, and the sea of hands that shot up spoke volumes: Ten years on, we face the same problem on an increasingly large scale. The attackers however have gotten smarter, and more malicious. We have seen more malware in the last 18 months than the last 18 years combined — and the attacks which deliver that malware to victims are equally creative, ingenious, and devious.
If you’re a rock-and-roll star, anticipating the imminent arrival of a new recording contract from your lawyer, you can stop reading this post. If you’re not, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, it was not your hours of practice playing Rock Band, or singing in the shower, that attracted the attention of the music industry. A spammed message, supposedly from a record company, which claims to have a contract attached, is (surprise!) malicious.
The contract, in this case, is no contract at all, but a Trojan that can brick your computer if you run the file inside the Zip archive attached to the message.
We’ve been watching our favorite spam-propagated malware, Trojan-Downloader-Tacticlol (aka Oficla, Sasfis, Fregee, or Losabel). This is its new, extra stupid come-on of the moment. The message appears to come from Rock Out Records and says, in part:
“We have prepared a contract and added the paragraphs that you wanted to see in it. Our lawyers made alterations on the last page. If you agree with all the provisions we are ready to make the payment on Friday for the first consignment. We are enclosing the file with the prepared contract.”
In our tests of the Trojan, it pulls down a number of malicious payloads, some of which modify key Windows files responsible for the operation of the computer. As a consequence of the infection, your computer may not be able to boot up, instead leaving you stuck with a blue screen of despair.
If you’re a customer or an employee of McAfee, chances are, you’re having a rough week. The company published a false positive, or FP, in its antivirus definitions that went out to customers a few days ago. The FP resulted in some computers going into a loop where the antivirus engine misidentified a key component of the Windows operating system as malicious, Windows replaced the quarantined file, and then the McAfee engine removed it again.
I really feel badly both for McAfee’s customers as well as their researchers. The customers certainly didn’t deserve or want their protection to go haywire. Security firms that make antimalware programs, like Webroot and McAfee do, confront the risk of publishing false positives every day. I don’t think there’s a single company that doesn’t strive for a zero percent false positive rate (aside from the snake oil pitchmen who sell rogue antivirus products, whose entire business model is predicated on lies and deception).
Every legitimate company in this space has had to retract some definition set at some point because it misidentifies or removes the wrong thing. We’ve done it, too; It’s nothing to be proud of, but it’s the reality of the situation in which anti-malware researchers work. The malware creators do their best to make this task as difficult as possible. We also know that every minute longer it takes to work on an updated definition, is another minute where our customers roam the Web unprotected from the dangers that lurk around virtually every corner. In the rush to press forward, we sometimes make mistakes. And as a result of those mistakes, we’ve made some improvements over time: Our desktop Webroot Antivirus product can’t, for example, accidentally quarantine some of the key system files Windows needs just to remain operational, as long as those system files remain unmodified by malware.
What happened with McAfee has been the subject of a lot of water-cooler discussion here, too. One of the bright points that has come out of the internal conversations I’ve shared with some of my colleagues is this: Putting the definitions into the cloud, instead of letting them reside on the “endpoint” (the desktop computer running the antivirus software) has a clear advantage in cases like this. If a definition hosted in the cloud goes horribly, horribly wrong, we can pull that definition from circulation immediately, thereby limiting the scope of the damage, and hopefully containing it to the small number of users who happen to be in the unlucky position to be first to use a defective definition set.
Another point that someone made concerned the Webroot Web Security Service, which is a Web filtering service we sell to businesses as a way to protect their entire network from dangerous Web sites hosting malware-pushing exploit kits or phishing pages. Web SaaS provides a critical layer of protection from Web-based threats in the unlikely event that you might have to temporarily remove a misbehaving endpoint anti-malware product. Our Email SaaS service does the same for threats that might come through corporate mail systems. SaaS security won’t ever totally replace some sort of security app running on the computer, but it does a bang-up job keeping you safe from most threats.
When it comes to offering protection, the state of the Internet today demands a far more rapid response to threats. We need to respond immediately to new attacks, so our customers are protected the minute we discover something new. And likewise, we need to be able to pull back changes immediately, so we can limit the damage if we make mistakes. This immediacy is the benefit of keeping some security components out in the cloud, and we’re working towards a goal that protects not just the computer, but the people using that computer, the minute new threats reveal themselves. Waiting days and days for protection just isn’t an option anymore.
For the past couple of weeks, owners of Web sites have been hit with a wave of attacks that surreptitiously infect unsuspecting visitors with a wide variety of malware types. The first wave inflicted rogue antivirus on unlucky victims, but late last week victims who visited infectious sites were redirected into a drive-by download site that pushes clickers onto a vulnerable visitor’s computer.
I’m going to name (domain) names in this post, so please, for your own sake, use this information only to block the domains at your gateway or in your Hosts file — don’t go visiting them just to see what happens. I guarantee you won’t like what happens.
In the earlier attacks that began the week of April 5th, the malicious script directed victims to a page hosting the Eleonor exploit kit; The kit uses several well-worn methods to try to push executable malware (typically the Tacticlol downloader, which malware distributors have been using of late to push down rogue antivirus programs) at susceptible browsers, or computers running vulnerable versions of Adobe Acrobat or the Java Runtime Engine.
Those attacks originated from several domains, including corpadsinc.com, mainnetsoll.com, and networkads.net — all of which are hosted on the same IP address in Turkey, and are still live and hosting the exploit page.
But last week the script began directing users into a page on the domain name yahoo-statistic.com, a site which, despite its name, has nothing at all to do with the giant portal. That page, which loads in an iframe, opens other malicious sites which push the infection.
The list of affected sites is global, including a newspaper in Florida; the English-language page of a government’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs Web site; the Web site of a Spanish lawyer’s association; and a car dealership Web site in Indonesia. And as of today, visitors to this growing list of Web sites are still getting hit with Trojans.
Phishing Trojans that try to remain below the radar are still prevalent, but a number of files coming through Threat Research point to a disturbing trend: Several new variants of existing malware families are taking a scorched earth approach to infected computers, rendering the PC unbootable (just check out the batch file at left for just one egregious example) once the malware has retrieved whatever data it’s trying to steal, or deliberately crashing it, repeatedly, if you try to remove it.
Since the middle of last year, we’ve seen a sprinkling of malware that also wipes out key files on the hard drive, sometimes preventing a reboot, after an infection. This isn’t hostageware, which overtly threatens to delete the contents of the hard drive if you don’t pay up, but something more sinister.
In some cases, the crashes we saw were the result of poor coding by the malware author. But increasingly it appears that this behavior is deliberate, and occurs without warning. And this unfortunate trend appears to be getting worse, leaving a raft of perplexed, angry victims unable to use their computers in the wake of an infection.
By Mike Kronenberg
Getting ready to file your taxes online — and doing it at the last minute? Well, cyber-scammers are ready for you. Thieves are schemers, and they’ve got a bag full of tricks to steal your identity. You might even be doing things to make their job easier. And if you use a PC at work to do your return, identity theft could be as simple as a crook (or an unscrupulous coworker) digging around and finding sensitive files.
One might send you an e-mail that offers a quick refund — or a warning about a problem with your already-filed tax return. Maybe they’ll pitch you with an expert’s review of your tax return, or helpfully offer advice, asking for all the sensitive financial details you’d normally put on your return so they can “look up your account.”
Here are eight tips to stay one step ahead of these virtual pickpockets and protect yourself.
The rogue antivirus goons have taken on 30 Rock, the NBC meta-sitcom about the internal workings of a sketch comedy show.
In a subplot from last week’s episode (which I will recap for those who may have missed it), Alec Baldwin’s character teams up with one of the writing team to prank the rest of the writers. The two form a secret society named the Silver Panthers, and when the prank is successfully sprung on the unsuspecting writers, Baldwin’s character Jack begins to walk out of the room, but pauses, turns back to the victims, and ominously utters the (we assume) Silver Panther motto: “Circulus et Pruna.”
Latin scholars (who, I’m sure, are all ardent 30 Rock fans) probably chuckled when they heard Baldwin’s character utter the nonsense phrase “circle and (burning) charcoal (ember).” Or is it circle and plum? Meanwhile, the rest of us were left scratching our heads and wondering what the hell does that mean?
And so, turning to the font of all worldly knowledge, many Googled the phrase and may have been surprised to find that not one, not a few, but every search result on the first page (and most of the second page of results) led to a Fakealert trap that tries to force victims into downloading and running the installer for a Rogue Antivirus product.
It’s actually kind of an astonishing feat, as well as a horrific example of the current state of search results. When you consider that few, if any, outside Tina Fey’s production team had heard the phrase Circulus et Pruna uttered prior to last Thursday night at 9:30 (8:30 central), one has to wonder how the purveyors of these rogue antivirus products managed to wrest such total control of a nonsense Latin phrase from the world’s largest and (in theory) most comprehensive Internet search engine — mere moments after those words were spoken on television.
By Mike Kronenberg
Attention Facebook and Twitter users: You’re still at risk. Last year, our survey found that lots of people using social networking sites were taking the risk of financial loss, identity theft, and malware infection. Have things gotten any better? Well, the answer is yes but, unfortunately, not better enough — and potentially a lot worse for some of you.
The results of our 2010 survey reveals that more of you are adhering to some safe behaviors — like blocking profiles from being visible through public search engines. That’s a good thing, but the downside is over 25 percent of you haven’t changed your default privacy settings. And more that three quarters of survey respondents haven’t placed any restrictions on who can see their recent activity.
I worry about this because you can’t escape the fact that rogue operators are always trying to extract details about you. They want access to anything that can help them dig into your private life. They can break into Web mail accounts, get your credit card number, steal your identity, or even attack you through cyber-stalking.
And they’ll do anything to get the info, from attacking you with malware to tricking you into revealing passwords.
With that, and our survey in mind, on the following page I’ve posted a few suggestions you can follow to protect yourself.
A new version of Trojan-Pushu is doing some interesting stuff to bypass captchas used by Microsoft’s Hotmail/Live.com/MSN webmail services in order to spam people with links to malicious Yahoo Groups pages.
The three-year-old spy (known by a variety of other aliases, including Cutwail, Pushdo, Diehard, and Rabbit) has always been, primarily, a spam bot. In this case, however, the spy is not sending spam by connecting to open mail relays or more traditional means; It’s spamming through the Hotmail/Live.com Web mail interface. Most interestingly, during the course of the spam sessions, the spy apparently pulls down “audio captchas” and successfully sends back the correct response, which permits it to continue spamming.
Audio captchas are just what they sound like they are: A voice, often female, reads a sequence of 10 numbers in an artificially noisy background. The purpose is simple: to ensure that a human being, and not some automated process, is entering data into a form. Just as you would type in the scrambled-up letters from a captcha image to proceed, with an audio captcha you have to type the correct numbers from the recording, or the site won’t let you continue.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem for this Pushu variant. We’ve seen Trojans attempt to crack visual captchas a number of ways, including using optical character recognition; employing a mechanical turk service (where humans are paid fractions of a penny for each correctly entered captcha); or by prompting the victim him- or herself to enter captcha text, disguising the captcha form as some sort of Windows prompt. This is the first time I’ve heard of a Trojan attempt to crack the audio captcha, let alone succeed.