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Hackers leverage Obama win for massive malware campaign

Attacks account for 60% of all malicious spam today, says one researcher

November 5, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Hackers have seized on the results of the U.S. presidential election to launch a major malware campaign that tries to trick users into installing an update to Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash, but actually plants a Trojan horse on unprotected PCs, security experts warned today.

The malware blitz stems from spam messages touting Sen. Barack Obama's victory last night, and offers up a link to what is supposedly a site sporting election results. When users click on the link, however, they're shunted to a fake site that demands the user install an update to Adobe's Flash Player before viewing a video.

Rather than a Flash update, what's actually downloaded is a Trojan horse that compromises the PC then floods the machine with more malware, said Dan Hubbard, vice president of security research at Websense Inc. "This is very coordinated," said Hubbard of the Obama-themed attacks, "with evidence that they planned this, then waited for the election results."

According to Hubbard, the hackers registered 15 to 20 domains yesterday to host the malware and fake site. All the domains are on so-called "fast flux" servers, Hubbard added, referring to the practice in which criminals rapidly switch domains between multiple IP addresses. Identity thieves often use the fast-flux tactic as a way to stay ahead of the law and prevent their servers from being shut down.

Hubbard called the attacks "the largest malicious e-mail campaign going," adding that Websense had tracked 100,000 individual copies of the scam message so far today.

Meanwhile, rival researcher Graham Cluley at Sophos PLC said his company put the volume at 60% of all the malicious spam on the Internet. "This is taking advantage of 'Obama mania,'" said Cluley, a senior technology consultant at the U.K.-based security firm. "He's easily the most famous person on the planet, and the fascination with him isn't just in the U.S. It's global."

Both Hubbard and Cluley noted that the attacks are nearly identical to previous campaigns that have tried to dupe users into installing a file posing as a video codec or player program. Last August, for example, several massive campaigns lured users to malware-hosting sites by promising video clips from the CNN and MSNBC news channels. One of those campaigns tried to convince users to install a fake version of Flash Player, just as the Obama-oriented attacks did today.

"This is just the latest evolution of the campaigns we've seen in the past," said Cluley. "Obama is the hottest celebrity, isn't he?"

Hubbard and Cluley also agreed on one more thing: This is just the beginning of Obama-themed attacks. "You would expect another wave, or a copycat of this, maybe with another fake news story," said Hubbard.

"This is far from the last piece of malware we'll see abusing Obama," Cluley echoed. "Users need to remember not to click on links."

Read more about Security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.



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