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The Blame Game

Major Malware Outbreaks Evade Anti-Virus Protection

A report released on July 14, 2009 states that “Several successive and massive malware outbreaks caused a spike in malware that was undetected by major AV engines.”

In Commtouch’s Q2 Report available here , which covers the analysis of over 2 billion emails and Internet transactions, they also claim:

  • “Business” was the website category most infected with malware
  • An average of 376,000 new zombies were activated each day with malicious intent

Amir Lev, Chief Technology Officer of Commtouch said that for the last 18 months anti-virus (AV) engines used many generic signatures, which were effective at blocking malware. However, malware writers and distributors introduced new variants which are immune to these generic signatures.

This time period coincides with the infection of 1,000s of websites with gumblar, martuz and iframe malscripts which then received Google’s moniker of “This site may harm your computer.”

The Blame Game

Answering many, many blog and forum postings from disgruntled website owners and developers who’ve been the victim of these recent gumblar, martuz and iframe infections, it’s been our experience that quite often the thought process of the victimized website owner follows this path:

  1. The website owner or webmaster receives an email from Google notifying them that their site is infectious. Google rarely (if ever) is wrong so they immediately slap all SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) with the “This site may harm your computer” label thereby stopping all traffic dead in it’s tracks.
  2. Cautiously the site owner or webmaster will try to view the site. They don’t want to become infected from their own site, but their curiosity is overwhelming. They typically don’t see anything malicious.
  3. “How do I find and clean this?” Often these people will post questions on sites like Google’s Webmaster Forums or www.badwarebusters.org or some other favorite online watering hole.
  4. Then their focus turns to, “Who’s to Blame?”

The feeling of many site owners is one of “I’ve been violated and I need to blame someone.”

When hacking victims get to “Who’s to blame”, they quite often turn their attention to their hosting provider. Many times the blogs and forums are filled with postings where people blame even some of the largest hosting providers. Site owners want to instantly spend the time and money to move their website to a different hosting provider where they’ll once again feel safe and secure.

All because they feel it’s the hosting provider’s fault their site, or sites, were hacked.

The site owner or developer will call the hosting provider looking for assistance from their technical staff and quite frequently, they can’t find the obfuscated malscript buried deep inside some harmless HTML code either. Many times the website has been blocked by various anti-virus programs, Google’s search results and sometimes even corporate website filters for days or weeks before the issue is resolved.

Even if the site owner goes through the trouble of moving to a new hosting provider, with these recent infections, their site will just get hacked again and again.

Then who’s to blame? The new hosting provider? How many more hosting provider’s will the site owner move to until they finally find one that gives them that safe and secure feeling?

Many site owner’s want the hosting provider to take responsibility and clean their site. After all, they’re paying their $5 – $10 per month so the hosting provider should take responsibility and the spend the time to clean the infectious website, right? No matter how many times the site gets re-infected.

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but, hosting providers had nothing to do with websites getting hacked with the recent gumblar, martuz or iframe injections. It was anyone’s fault but theirs.

It could be the site owner’s fault, or the anti-virus company’s fault, or Microsoft’s fault, or the fault of the company that wrote the FTP software being used.

It was almost anyone’s fault – except that of the hosting provider.

Let me explain.

You see, with all the malware that went undetected by these generic signatures, thousands of PCs were compromised. According to the Commtouch report referenced above, 376,000 new zombies per day.

You could blame Microsoft, however, the Commtouch report also shows an increase in the amount of Mac malware as well. Besides, blaming Microsoft is so 2,000 late.

These recent website infections came from viruses on the PCs of people who have FTP access to websites.

OMG!

Does that mean it could be the fault of the website owners, developers and webmasters?

It might, rabbit, it might.

These recent undetectable viruses steal FTP credentials – usernames and passwords. These viruses search through the files of popular FTP software looking for the file with the stored FTP credentials. These viruses also record keystrokes so when an infected PC is used to type in the FTP credentials, they get stolen. As another point of attack the viruses also “sniff” FTP traffic. Since FTP transmits all data in plain text, it’s easy for a sniffer to see the username and password in the FTP data stream and steal it. We even did a video to show how easy it is to sniff FTP traffic. It’s so easy that some people use a sniffer on their own FTP traffic if they forgot their stored password. Here’s our video.

Virus writers are incredibly smart and this round of malware proves it.

Once the virus has the FTP credentials it sends them to the server of a cybercriminal. This server is configured to login to the website as a valid user, inject it’s infectious code and move on to the next site.

Who’s to Blame?

How many websites did you visit that displayed some type of ad? Did you know that many ad networks have served up infectious ads – unknowingly of course, but nonetheless, the ads could have infected many visitors.

How many websites did you visit that displayed Flash intro’s or allowed you to view an Adobe Acrobat file (pdf)? Adobe had a few vulnerabilities in their software, that were exploited during and prior to this time period. Combine a vulnerability in files so widely used with the ineffective generic anti-virus signatures, and there’s another source to blame. Maybe two new sources – the AV companies and Adobe.

Did you update your Adobe products as soon as the update was available?

If not, then there’s another person to blame – you.

Could the companies that wrote the FTP software used, maybe have encrypted the stored usernames and passwords so that it wasn’t quite so easy to find and steal the FTP credentials? There’s anothe source to blame.

Maybe if so many people didn’t use their PCs with full administrator rights, there wouldn’t be such a virus outbreak in the first place. Maybe these PC owners are to blame.

Whoever you decide to blame, don’t incur the costs involved with moving to a new hosting provider before you find out what your site was infected with and how those infections occurred. You might be barking up the wrong tree.

I’ll tell you, the cybercriminals are to blame.

They’re the people who write and distribute viruses, malware and malscripts.

Cybercriminals (some call them hackers) want to control as many computers as they possibly can. They don’t care if it’s a computer for a university or if it’s the computer of a new Internet start-up company. One compromised computer looks just the same as another.

Compromised computers make up their inventory.

You know what a hacker calls an uninfected computer – opportunity!

Their digital assets are the computers they control. Often times some of their inventory of infected computers gets rented out to other cybercriminals. This provides them with a source of income.

If you really need to blame someone, blame the hackers, or the international cyber laws, or the world economy. Just don’t blame the hosting providers.

Hosting providers provide a very valuable service. Their margins are squeezed tighter and tighter as it seems everybody thinks it’s a great idea to enter the hosting industry. The good hosting providers work hard for their customers. They depend on customer retention and acquisition – just like every other business. They do the best they can with what they have.

The only thing a hosting provider could do to prevent these gumblar, martuz and iframe infections is to block all FTP traffic. Then you would have a very good reason to blame them for something, but you still wouldn’t be able to justify blaming them for the rash of website infections.

It simply isn’t their fault.

Let me know your thoughts on this. Who would you blame if your site got hacked? Who did you blame if your site was already hacked?

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The Errors of Error Pages

Over the past few months, the number of sites infected with malscripts has increased dramatically. Many of these injection infections are difficult to track. Unbeknownst to many site operators, “error pages” can actually complicate the detection process. This blog posting discusses what we call “The Errors of Error Pages”.

Frequently, if you mistype a word in a URL, the “Page Not Found” error page is displayed. The very plain, non-descriptive message is not terribly user friendly in that it gives minimal information. The error code produced by a “Page Not Found” is a 404.

If you request a non-existent page on a Microsoft IIS webserver you might see something like this:

 404-iis1

Much has been written about preventing the typical “Page Not Found” error page from scaring away potential buyers. However, most of these marketing articles omit the critical discussion of how cybercriminals use these error pages to distribute their malware. This posting focuses on that topic.

The General Problem

When a site discloses Google’s moniker, “This site may harm your computer”, the user’s or host’s first response is to scan their website with anti-virus programs – rarely will this find the malscripts. Since Google prohibits the site from appearing as a normal search result while generating this message, the user aims to quickly find the injection infection. Once discovered, the site then seeks Google’s permission to reappear. We’ve handled many cases where everyone from the hosting provider, to friends, to the web developer, has checked “every file” and found nothing malicious on the site in question. Often, the error page is the source of the problem. However, they routinely fail to investigate the error pages – and cybercriminals know this.

Relevant Codes

To understand the criminal mind, one must first understand the various response codes generated by different requests. For example, when one uses their browser to request http://www.wewatchyourwebsite.com, the page actually exists. Therefore, the response code the browser receives is a 200. These codes don’t appear on the screen, but the browser sees them.

On the other hand, if one types in http://www.wewatchyourwebsite.com/fredflintstone.php, the browser would generate a 404 (Page Not Found) response code because there is no page with that name on the site.

To avoid a user receiving a 404 response, and the resulting “ugly” Page Not Found page, a website can be configured to generate a different response for those requests which would typically result in a 404 response code. Instead of a 404 response, you would see a page that’s been created to replace the “Page Not Found” response, or some substitue page that informs the visitor that the page they’ve requested has either moved or does not exist.

Use of Security Tools

In our work, we’ve tested various tools, vulnerability scanners, exploit engines, etc. seeking a vulnerable script file or software exploit, and found that if the tool sends a request to a website that generates a response of any kind, often times the tool considers the exploit successful. However, if the website being tested is setup to return a custom error page rather than the basic “Page Not Found” page, the security tool will record that attempted exploit as successful, thus, rendering a false positive.

For example, a security tool may be used to check for a vulnerable version of some shopping cart software. If the website being checked is set up to return a customized 404 error page, the security tool will see that it generated a webpage response to it’s request for the vulnerable shopping cart URL. If the tool detects a webpage in response to it’s check, the tool will assume that the site must have the vulnerable version of the shopping cart software – a potentially false positive.

Since hackers know that false positives arise under these circumstances, when they infect a website, they inject their infectious code into the default error pages. As cybercriminals also know, frequently, these pages are neglected by those working to detect infections on websites.

Clues to Find and Methods for Searching

Knowing all of this, during a search for infections, we always check for fredflintstone.php. (When we start seeing websites with a webpage with this name, we might switch to betty.php, wilma.html, barney.cfm or dino.asp.) Nevertheless, by checking for pages that we know don’t exist, we are confident that we have scanned for this obvious point of infection, and thereby detected possible cybercriminal activity.

Further, many shared hosting services use a folder off of the root folder named something like “error_docs”. Often, the hosting provider will fill that folder with basic webpages that a site uses as responses when visitors request webpages they aren’t allowed to see or simply don’t exist. Sometimes these files will be named with the response code, e.g. for a “Page Not Found” error the resulting webpage might be called 404.html. Other times, the webpage will be called by the error name it’s produced by – like “page_not_found.html” for a 404 response code.

Every host or site owner should determine how their site handles these different responses and check those files for any malscripts. At the end of this article, we suggest a valuable tool to conduct such checks.

More Examples

In the course of our work, we recently discovered a rather ingenious way of delivering malscripts through the use of 404 error pages. Apache Web server software can be configued differently to a request for a webpage that doesn’t exist.

One basic response is in the configuraton file: httpd.conf, and it would look like this:

  • ErrorDocument   404   /404.html

If you’re on a shared hosting plan (you’ll know if you’re not), you probably (hopefully) don’t have access to this file. But you will have access to .htaccess (yes there is a period in front of that file name). This file might also have the same entry for ErrorDocument listed in there.

How do hackers use this to infect visitors to one of their distributional assets?

One of two ways.

First, they can see what file is used for the 404 (or other such response codes) and inject their malscript into that page. This can be found during a scan of the files residing on the webserver.

Or, they can instead insert their own malicious URL replacing the /404.html in the line ErrorDocument…

Instead of this: ErrorDocument    404    /404.html

They would put: ErrorDocument    404   http://hackerswebsiteinsertedhere

That way when someone scans all the files with a search tool, it won’t find the malscript because the malscript isn’t in any of the files located on that server. It’s located on a server miles away.

This is why it’s always important to know how a site is handling 404’s and other errors. The specific method used by the hosting provider must be checked. Any suspicious looking should be checked and verified.

As hackers become more sophisticated, website owners and developers must as well. Therefore, while the hackers increase their attempts to infect websites, so too, must we all increase our efforts to detect and to block them.

How can you check your site?

I recommend a tool I learned about from Kaleh (a moderator on www.badwarebusters.org and a frequent contributor on Google’s Webmaster forum). The tool is a website: http://web-sniffer.net. Simply, enter a URL in the box at the top, add “/fredflintstone.php” (no quotes) to the end of it, and hit “Submit”.

Scroll down to the bottom of the screen to see what HTML/code the site sends to a visitor’s browser when they request a page that doesn’t exist (404 error).

If you see something that looks out of place, you should suspect that code, research it and possibly remove it. If you ever have any doubts, please contact me and I’ll review it for you. We have deobfuscation tools available and can usually determine what a piece of obfuscated script is really doing.

Should you have any questions or wish to continue this discussion, please post your comments below or contact directly at traef@wewatchyourwebsite.com

Thank you.

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Don't Open That File!

Yes, just when you thought it was safe to open Adobe Acrobat files (with a .pdf extension), it’s not.

Everyone who reads this should update their Adobe Acrobat Reader here: http://www.adobe.com/support/security/bulletins/apsb09-04.html

Hackers (or as some prefer – cybercriminals), have found a new way to use pdf’s to infect computers (CVE-2009-0927) http://www.cve.mitre.org/cgi-bin/cvename.cgi?name=CVE-2009-0927. By using a legitimate website, or websites, hackers can reach many more unsuspecting web users.

What the cybercriminals are doing is finding legitimate websites they can hack and replacing any pdf files with their infectious pdf’s. Anyone who opens that pdf, either on screen or by downloading it and then opening it, will be subjected to this exploit and could face infection.Some websites have various forms they use for reports, registrations or any of a number of uses.

Frequently the infected webpage is designed to open automatically when you visit the page. Rarely will the website owner know they have an infectious website. Often times the infectious website won’t actually contain the malicious code. The webpage will have a line of javascript that downloads the malicious code from some server in a land far far away.

I usually hear people saying, “I scanned my website with 5 different anti-virus programs and nothing was detected.”

While this doesn’t hurt, rarely will this action find the infected webpage because only the javascript code that “reaches” out to the far away server is on the webpage – and it’s heavily encrypted to avoid easy detection. The actual virus or other malicious code is located on their server and often it’s polymorphic – it changes it’s shape and size for each time it’s downloaded on a user’s PC. This “strategy” helps the infectious code in evading detection by most anti-virus programs.

Hacking of a legitimate website is nothing new in distributing malware as I’ve written about numerous times in other blog postings here.

Update your Adobe Acrobat Reader now!

Let’s be careful out there, huh?

Thank you.

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Paul McCartney's Web Site Hacked – "Back in the USSR"

Yes it’s true. The rock n roll icon Paul McCartney had his website hacked. (This attack isn’t necessarily originating in Russia, but I couldn’t refuse the obvious opportunity.)

It’s amazing how certain hackings follow the news. It was just a couple days ago when I was watching the news on TV (yes that old, outdated media) and learned that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were going to get back together for a “reunion” tour.

The website hacking could have been purely coincidental, as the toolkit planted on his website – Luckysploit, has been used in many, many recent website malware distributions. It could be that the cybercriminals behind this exploit  just happened to find this site vulnerable to their recent attack. I believe it’s irrelevant how or why, their timing was impeccable.

This is another example of social engineering used successfully to infect more computers.

Think of the millions of Beatle’s fans (my father-in-law is one of them – a fan not a virus victim) hearing about this reunion and flocking to Mr. McCartney’s website to find out where their concerts will be performed only to find out at the next anti-virus scan that they’ve been compromised by a bank login and password stealing virus.

The nerve of these hackers. Using something so “in the news” to lure millions of people to  infectious websites that have been planted with malicious code, appearing to be legitimate websites, for the sole purpose of delivering a virus that is currently evading detection by many anti-virus programs.

Is there no shame?

This attack is being carried out by the Zeus botnet. Yes while everyone was watching out for Conficker, many forgot about the other botnets out there.

It’s easy to spot the infectious malware code in the “source” of the web page. All you have to do is look for something that’s impossible to read because it is encrypted and obfuscated to avoid easy detection. Luckily for us, we don’t look for specific infections while scanning websites. Our systems are based on any changes to a website. We pay close attention to changes that include specific keywords, but our alert system is based on any changes made to a website.

Once again the cybercriminals use a popular event to spread their malware. This particular infection will steal banking credentials which are then sold on the open black market. This is one of the cybercriminals profit centers. They have many.

Be careful when using the Internet, you never know if you’re getting more than you bargained for.

Other Beatle’s songs that come to mind with my sub-titles:

“Do You Want to Know a Secret” (about my malware)

“Don’t Ever Change” (my website)

“Don’t Let Me Down” (please click on this infectious link)

“Eight Days a Week” (and I’ll infect you every one of them)

“Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” (okay maybe my monkey has some malware to hide too)

“Fixing a Hole” (in your website)

“Free as a Bird” (free as in free malware)

“From Me to You” (more malware from me to you)

“Get Back” (to where you can get infected)

“Got To Get You Into My Life” (so I can hack you some more)

“Help!” (I need the services of WeWatchYourWebsite)

“I Am the Walrus” (I live Belarus) (okay you find something that goes with Walrus)

I could go on, but the Beatles wrote a lot of songs and I need to save server space.

Let’s be careful out there…

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What Conficker was – and wasn't

Well, the big April 1st “dooms day” has come and gone.

I’ll admit that even though we really didn’t think anything malicious was going to happen, we did add a Conficker scanner to The Box (our security appliance at www.ebasedsecurity.com) so we could scan our client’s systems.

Let me explain our thinking.  We’ve been following Conficker all along the way. From the first strain to the most recent, we’ve been watching with our honeypots – collecting data and samples and determining what could happen. We’ve seen the changes, what it does and how it communicates with it’s “mother ship” waiting for it’s next set of instructions.

When news of Conficker hit mass media, (60 Minutes did a piece on it) our non-technical gut feeling was that the cybercriminals wouldn’t actually do anything malicious with their code. There was too much public awareness.

Keep in mind that if they had, they could have created some real havoc on the Internet. Some experts (my Dad’s definition of an expert is: an ex is a has been and a spirt is a drip under pressure) estimate that anywhere from 10 million to 100 million PCs are infected with Conficker.

If a cybercriminal or a group of cybercriminals have remote control of that many PCs and they decided to launch an attack against some main Internet servers, they could overload them with so much bogus traffic as to basically eliminate them from accessibility.

Now, if they attacked the main DNS servers on the Internet (the servers that convert domain names to IP addresses) could they slow down or shut-down the Internet? Possibly.

However, nothing happened.

Or did it?

What actually happened might be exactly what the cybercriminals wanted.

How many of you did Google searches for Conficker over the past week (the week before April 1)?

Many, many (our research showed that over 1.7 million ) people searched for “conficker scanner” or “conficker removal”, “remove conficker”, “find conficker” and numerous other terms.

Did you realize that many of the search results were offering solutions that actually infected your PC? Many of the websites that were displayed as a result of those search terms were created by the cybercriminals!

Could this have been the real intention of the cybercriminals? If so, this could be the biggest social engineering hack of all time. We examined many of these sites and found a number of them (64%) were selling Conficker scanners and removal tools. All of these “tools” we found were actually RATs (Remote Access Trojans) which actually provided the cybercriminals with remote control of the PC it was installed on.

And, “they” (the cybercriminals) got you to pay for it!

Are these guys geniuses or what?

Many of the sites that weren’t selling bogus removal tools tried to infect any PC that visited their site. These infected webpage sites used a variety of sneaky methods to infect PCs. One instance we found actually tried 17 different attacks on all the PCs visiting it’s infectious website.

If you’ve been following us, you know that legitimate websites serving malware are increasing. This coupled with infected websites serving malware makes the Internet a very dangerous place.

Fortunately for all of our clients with The Box, they don’t have to worry about things like this because The Box doesn’t allow downloads from non-whitelisted websites. What a concept.

That’s what Conficker was and what it wasn’t.

Anyone have comments? (comments that aren’t SPAM)

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Bomb Threat SPAM

Cybercriminals are using cleverly crafted SPAM messages to get you to click on a link that supposedly takes you to a Reuter’s video of bomb blasts in your area.

I say cleverly crafted because the email will change based on where your IP address is. For instance, I received one with a subject line of, “Are you and your friends okay?”.

When I clicked on the link (yes as part of my research), I saw a webpage that showed the Reuter’s logo with, “Powerful explosion burst in Chicago this morning”. There’s a graphic to see the video with text below that reads, “At least 12 people have been killed and more than 40 wounded in a bomb blast near market in Chicago. Authorities suggested that explosion was caused by “dirty” bomb. Police said the bomb was detonated from close by using electric cables.”

Scanning through our logs of SPAM for our clients using The Box, we’ve been able to see how the message refers to a different major nearby city depending on where the client receives their email.

The video will install some malware via a download. We’ve identified the trojan as a strain of Waled or Waledac depending on your AV.

Other subject lines we’ve seen are: “Take Care!”, “At least 18 killed in your city” (which is interesting as all the emails we’ve seen state that 12 have been killed), “I hope you are not in the city now”, “Bomb blast near you” and a host of others.

We’ve reported before on how clever cybercriminals are to use hype and fear as examples of social engineering to get people to want to click on their links. When clicked, systems become infected.

Cyber threats such as these will continue as long as they’re successful at hooking at least a few million people. Hackers are making good money through their craft and will not stop. Using extreme fear and directing visitors to infectious websites will always be a tactic they pull out every once in awhile. This will die down and then in another few months they’ll use some other alarmist strategy and infect some more computers.

That’s what they do.

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Social Networks & Social Engineering – Twitter Round 2

Continuing on from Round 1, I decided to take a step further and show you exactly how susceptible you are to a socially engineered infection through Twitter. Actually it’s more an attack through TinyURL.com, but since Twitter automatically converts URLs in your Tweets (ugh!), it is an attack via Twitter.

For this example, let’s say that a hacker wants to construct a website that references some research on Harvard’s website. It would be on a topic that is of high interest at the moment.

First the hacker (cybercriminal) would use Google Trends (www.google.com/trends) to see what’s hot. As of today (03/02/2009) the list is as follows:

  • granville waiters
  • nyc doe
  • wavy tv 10
  • new york city department of education
  • dr. seuss birthday
  • opm.gov
  • wvec
  • nyc public school closings
  • nyc board of education
  • newport news public schools

These are the top 10.

Nothing in there that is really eye catching that covers a broad scope of people. I’ll use dr. seuss birthday.

Our cybercriminal would construct some basic information about how Harvard University has created this research paper detailing the events behind Dr. Seuss stories. Our cybercriminal needs to have something that already indicates some legitimacy and some validation. For this scenario I’m using Harvard University for 2 reasons; they already carry a huge credibility factor and they have a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability that let’s me use their URL for redirection.

The cybercriminal would take the XSS URL and instead of redirecting the reader to another page inside of Harvard’s website, use it to redirect the unsuspecting reader to their malicious website.

Here is the original URL: http://hms.harvard.edu/lshell/WhitePagesdefault.asp?task=staffandfaculty&theurl=

By appending any URL we want to the end of the above string, it will look like we’re sending you to harvard.edu, however, this vulnerability will actually take you somewhere else.

For instance, if I wanted to send you to my website I would use:

http://hms.harvard.edu/lshell/WhitePagesdefault.asp?task=staffandfaculty&theurl=http://www.wewatchyourwebsite.com

Go ahead and click on that and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, that’s not too bad. I if showed you that link in an email or on my Twitter account, you might not see the end of the URL and just click on it to see what Harvard has to say about Dr. Seuss.

But remember that Twitter uses TinyURL.com which converts any long URLs into “tiny” URLs. Plugging that long URL into TinyURL.com’s website it gives me:

http://www.tinyurl.com/av46js

With TinyURL.com’s preview function I could see the exact URL of the above TinyURL. Maybe you’d see the redirection at the end and maybe not.

Now, our crafty cybercriminal knows that TinyURL.com has this preview function, so he (we’ll assume a male hacker) converts the URL of his malicious website to one you can’t recognize. This is called URL obfuscation (I love using that word).

This would take my URL of http://www.wewatchyourwebsite.com and convert it to: %68%74%74%70%3a%2f%2f%77%77%77%2e%77%65%77%61%74%63%68%79%6f%75%72%77%65%62%73%69%74%65%2e%63%6f%6d

If you saw this by itself, hopefully you’d be suspicious and avoid the urge to click on it. However, when used at the backend of an already long URL, you might just throw caution into the wind and click away.

Our Harvard URL would become:

http://hms.harvard.edu/lshell/WhitePagesdefault.asp?task=staffandfaculty&theurl=%68%74%74%70%3a%2f%2f%77%77%77%2e%77%65%77%61%74%63%68%79%6f%75%72%77%65%62%73%69%74%65%2e%63%6f%6d

Which when converted to a TinyURL.com would result in: http://tinyurl.com/bnq5ej

Go ahead and click on that to see what I mean. As of today, that XSS on Harvard’s site has not been fixed so it will load their frame, but inside will be our home page. Keep in mind that even with TinyURL.com’s preview function, you would only see the obfuscated URL with all the percent signs. This might give you a false sense of security and decide to trust your “gut” and go for it. That’s what the cybercriminal is hoping for.

Obviously our website isn’t going to infect your computer, however, if the redirection URL were to take you to the cybercriminals infectious webpage, you’d be infected and not even know it.

To recap, the purpose of this information is to show you the steps a cybercriminal would follow to use social engineering to spread their malware. They would use Google Trends to find a hot topic, they would use the credibility of some other site, Harvard in this example, they would use obfuscation to hide their work from people who know what to look for and they would use Twitter or some other social networking site to find as many people as they could.

As stated earlier, this isn’t so much a vulnerability of Twitter as it is with TinyURL.com, but since Twitter uses TinyURL.com, it does reflect back on them.

Any comments, questions or remarks? Please post them (unless it’s SPAM).

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Social Networks & Social Engineering – Twitter Round 1

My first review will be Twitter. I selected Twitter because it’s widely used and even easier for social engineering than some of the others.

First a little background on Twitter. Many people categorize Twitter as a “micro” blog. This means you can post short (140 character) messages that communicate your current thoughts, actions, wants or needs.

From their website Nicholas Carr describes it as “the telegraph system of Web 2.0” while the New York Times states, “It’s one of the fastest growing phenomena on the Internet.”

The first thing I noticed about Twitter is that most links posted by members are the shortened version of a full URL. Some of the more populare sites for these services are:

  • TinyURL.com
  • bit.ly
  • get-shorty.com
  • SnipURL.com

These services take a URL like: http://www.wewatchyourwebsite.com/defacements/HackedByAL-GaRNi-sample-2.jpg and convert it to something like: www.tinyurl.com/88888

Using these shortened URLs on Twitter allows members to include some description with their link.

I’ve always had a problem with these shortened URLs. Having seen numerous SPAM messages with embedded shortened URLs in order to evade detection, I set out to investigate further.

You never know what the ultimate destination is when clicking on these links. You could easily be led to an infectious webpage. Infectious websites are one of the most popular tactics of cybercriminals to deliver their malware.

I scanned our SPAM traps for messages that included these shortened URLs. I used one of our secured systems to see where these links ultimately delivered my browser.

Much to my surprise, all of the links that used TinyURL.com delivered the following message:

“The TinyURL (shows link) you visited was used by it’s creator in violation of our terms of use. TinyURL has a strict no abuse policy and we apologize for the intrusion this user has caused you. Such violation of our terms of use include:

  • Spam – Unsolicited Bulk E-mail
  • Fraud or Money Making scams
  • Malware
  • or any other use that is illegal”

This tells me that they’re either policing their links or that they actually take action on misuse of their service – this is awesome. I suggest that before clicking on any TinyURL, replace tinyurl.com with preview.tinyurl.com. For instance if you see a link like: http://www.tinyurl.com/8888, before clicking on it, change the URL to: http://preview.tinyurl.com/8888. The resulting webpage will show you exactly where the link will take you with a link that says, “Proceed to this site.”

I know this is somewhat of an inconvenience, but so is having your PC sending millions of SPAM messages after you’ve been added to a huge botnet.

You see, with any security situation, you always have to consider the risk involved when the potentially weakest link is the responsibility of someone else.

With these shortened URLs, you’re depending on the URL shortening service to provide you with some level of protection.

One other service I investigated, SnipURL.com clearly states on their website:

“SnipURL has a number of operational functions in place to protect the confidentiality of information. However, perfect security on the Internet does not exist, and SnipURL does not warrant that its site is impenetrable or invulnerable to hackers.”

At least they admit that perfect security does not exist, but don’t think that you’re safe clicking on a shortened URL link.

I believe that any free service is going to be exploited by cybercriminals. I’ve seen many times where even fee based services are abused by cybercriminals.

You had better fully trust the person or organization behind the Twitter posting before you blindly click on a shortened link on their site – because you’re either relying on the poster or Twitter. If that little bird in your head is telling you to be careful, you shouldn’t be clicking on it no matter how important you think it might be.

Have you had situations of a security breach on Twitter? If so, let us know by posting a comment.

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Social Networks & Social Engineering – What a Pair

When we started this service we knew that one of our main goals was to “get the word out” on how websites have been in the line of fire for cybercriminals. We published a report, “How Cybercriminals Use Your Website to Distribute their Malware”, but found not many people were interested in what we had to say. We blamed on it “head in the sand” mentality.

We looked to the Internet Marketing world to see how they do it. Some of them have actually sold thousands of e-books for as much as $27 a piece. They must know some secret that we didn’t.

Our studying introduced us to the works of some big name Internet Marketers (IMers). Names like Frank Kern, Jeff Walker, Brian Clark, Yanik Silver and many others all seemed to resonate one key strategy – build community. On of their favorite strategies is using social networks to build this community of loyal followers.

I shouldn’t say it’s one of their strategies, it’s one of their tactics. Their strategy is to always provide something of value. The social networks is just one way they suggest you use to distribute your valuable message.

Using social networks seemed like a great idea so I set out to explore this value distribution tactic. I did this with my ever present security guard on – that’s how I roll.

My exploration included sites like: Twitter, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn and FastPitch.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be revealing my findings and then suggest ways (tactics) you can protect your informational assets while taking advantage of social networks.

I titled this posting “Social Networks & Social Engineering – What a Pair” because many of the tactics of cybercriminals revolve around social engineering which is the art of deceiving others into clicking on a link that you think is safe.

As I write this, I’ve been bombarded with emails about people who received errors while trying to view your profile on Facebook. What happens is when someone clicks on your profile they get an error saying that they could find out the problem by installing the “Error Check System”. You’ll get notifications that “X” number of people have been getting errors while viewing your profile and this “application” will help you determine the cause.

If you Google “Error Check System” Facebook, at least one of the links takes you to an infectious website that will display a message telling you you’re infected with a virus and offers to scan your system. Of course, this is a social engineering attempt. If you agree to the scan, you’ll be downloading a virus. This has been a very popular tactic of cybercriminals lately. They have even started creating websites that offer reviews of anti-virus software – more social engineering, to earn your trust.

I thought the timing of this Facebook “Error Check System” scam was perfect for me to start this series.

Come on back and read the follow-ups.

If you’ve had any experiences with one of the social networking sites, post a comment and let us know.

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Malicious PDF's being sent

In the past 2 days we’ve been picking up malicious Adobe Acrobat files also known as PDF’s (the file extension on these files).

We received these files in our honeypots as email attachments and when clicked on they infect Windows XP SP3 systems with Adobe Acrobat 8.1.1, 8.1.2, 8.1.3 and 9.0.0. It appears that disabling JavaScript in your Adobe Acrobat Reader will eliminate the threat that this attack exploits.

To disable JavaScript in Adobe Acrobat Reader, open the program, click on Edit->Preferences->JavaScript then uncheck Enable Acrobat JavaScript. You may experience some program crashes even with JavaScript disabled, however, you will not become infected.

When a computer is infected, it will have these additional files:

  1. temp/svchost.exe
  2. temp/temp.exe
  3. system32/(8 random characters).dll

In addition the infected computer will open a backdoor that will allow the cybercriminal to remotely control the PC (it will become part of a botnet)

Of course, if you’re security system is blocking “exe” downloads from non-whitelisted sites, you don’t have worry about this. (The Box does)