China hacks used as lure for more targeted attacks

Spoofed e-mails detailing recent events spotted in targeted attacks, says F-Secure

Malicious hackers have begun using the recent cyberattacks against Google and more than 30 other companies as lures for launching even more targeted attacks, security firm F-Secure said in a blog post today.

The company reported spoofed e-mails purporting to contain details on the alleged Chinese attacks that contain a PDF attachment. When opened, it installs and runs the Acrobat.exe backdoor on the user's machine.

A screen shot posted on F-Secure's Web site showed an e-mail designed to look like it came from George Washington University. The e-mail, with the subject header 'Chinese cyberattack,' offered the target a review of an article on the recent attacks that the purported author had just written for the Far Eastern Economic Review.

When the attached PDF is opened in Acrobat Reader, it exploits a known vulnerability in the function of the reader to install a back door on the user's system, F-Secure said. The flaw was patched by Adobe last week.

F-Secure reported seeing targeted attacks using similarly poisoned PDF files being directed at U.S. military contractors earlier this week. In that case, the e-mails were designed to appear as if they were from the U.S. Air Force and purported to contain information on an actual Department of Defense event scheduled for later this year.

F-Secure also said it has learned of a similar e-mail targeting the "intelligence sector," but offered no further details.

Attacks that attempt to take advantage of popular news events or stories to fool users into clicking on malicious attachments or browsing to malicious sites have become common in recent years. What's different now is that such attacks are being directed at specific individuals and are increasingly tailored to appear as if they are from a trusted source. Many of the so-called Advanced Persistent Threats (APT) faced by large companies such as Google rely heavily on social-engineering tricks to get targeted individuals to open infected e-mails or download malicious files.

Jaikumar Vijayan covers data security and privacy issues, financial services security and e-voting for Computerworld. Follow Jaikumar on Twitter at @jaivijayan, send e-mail to or subscribe to Jaikumar's RSS feed .

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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