Fake AV makers, scammers exploit Bin Laden news

'Hackers love a big, breaking story,' says researcher

Malware makers and scammers have quickly latched onto the news that U.S. military forces killed Osama Bin Laden, security researchers said today.

Antivirus vendors have spotted multiple threats based on the news, including links that lead to fake security software -- dubbed "rogueware" -- attack code masquerading as plug-ins that users must supposedly download to view video, and attempts to harvest personal information.

Sunday night, President Obama announced that a special operations team had assaulted the Pakistani compound of Bin Laden, and during a firefight, shot and killed the al-Qaeda leader.

Cyber criminals wasted no time in leveraging the news.

"Hackers love a big, breaking story, said Rob Rachwald of Imperva, a Redwood Shores, Calif. security firm, in a post to the company's blog Monday.

Rachwald reported that Imperva had monitored forums where hackers bragged about posting fake videos, then duping users into clicking a Facebook "Like" button that in fact generate "Likes" to a product or service page they're promoting.

"This is one of those rare opportunities that can build you a great list and a couple of zeros in your profit," an anonymous hacker crowed. "Use it while the news of Bin Laden killed by US forces is hot. I just started one and it had 600 likes in 2 minutes."

"Not at all unexpected," said Sam Masiello, chief security officer at Return Path, of the quick appearance of Bin Laden-related threats. "We saw it with the death of Michael Jackson, with the death of Elizabeth Taylor, with [Hurricane] Katrina, with the Japanese earthquake. But Bin Laden will be effective [for scammers] because he's such a polarizing figure."

With the tight window of opportunity, Masiello said that hackers and scammers simply recycle existing campaigns and malicious content whenever a major news story breaks.

Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab said it had seen criminals poisoning Google Images search results with black-ops SEO (search engine optimization) tactics. The sites, which are artificially promoted to high spots in Google's search rankings, redirect victims to malicious URLs that in turn try to convince users to download rogueware.

Rogueware is the term for bogus security software that claims the user's machine is heavily infected and constantly nags the victim with pervasive pop-ups and alerts until they fork over a fee to purchase the worthless program.

"We've been tracking this group for months," said Kurt Baumgartner, a senior malware researcher at Kaspersky. "They're using the same black hat SEO tactics to promote their sites, and using the same fake AV distribution domains."

Other Kaspersky researchers are tracking Facebook scams that rely on the Bin Laden news to extract personal information from consumers, such as their email addresses. The bait: Free tickets on Southwest Airlines or free Subway sandwiches.

While search- and Facebook-related Bin Laden scams were the first to kick off after Sunday's news, Masiello expects that other tactics, including malware-infected spam, to follow shortly.

"It's only a matter of time," he said.

Users can protect themselves by "being diligent," said Masiello, and not clicking on links to Bin Laden-related news. Instead, he advised users to type in URLs manually for trusted news sites.

Baumgartner recommended that users equip themselves with a comprehensive security package that will block attempted installs of rogueware, or failing that, to disable JavaScript, or rely on the Firefox NoScript add-on.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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