Viral marketing adds a taste of spam to your mail

Benign Active-X trojan secretly alters your signature

A Web portal called Gohip wishes to offer you a "free video browser enhancement" which does nothing to enhance your video viewing pleasure, but does secretly enable Gohip to advertise using your e-mail signature. Not exactly a threat, but certainly an annoyance. Call it 'viral marketing'.

The file is certified by a California "Internet trust services" outfit called VeriSign, which issues Web server certificates as well as billing and network security services. A pity they don't scan the files they certify for malicious code, but that's not their job. Certification simply means that the Web site offering the download is also its publisher.

Once the "enhancement" is accepted, an executable file named download.exe is copied to the system and executed automatically. In the Windows startup folder, a file named winstartup.exe is created which performs a re-installation of components each time Windows is booted.

The file's download and execution are handled by an Active-X script which effectively conceals these processes, even from advanced users.

The installation includes changing the user's default home page and search page to Gohip.com pages, and altering the user's default e-mail signature to this chirpy commercial message:

Click here for Free Video!!
http://www.gohip.com/freevideo/

Mail recipients who follow the link arrive at, you guessed it, the page where Gohip's "enhancement" is offered.

The malicious use of Active-X scripting is quite difficult to defend against. "Unless a user's security settings are set to high, it will run automatically," Finjian Software Marketing Director Dave Kroll told The Register.

"You can easily use Active-X to run a trojan," he added. "The Beauty of Java and Active-X is that their activities can be concealed even from anti-virus software."

"Your anti-virus program would probably not detect a trojan if it were compressed" and then expanded and launched via such a script, he warned.

We note that VeriSign's third-party certification enhances the 'social engineering' aspects of the package. Innocent users are likely to be persuaded that the file is being certified for safety.

"Digital certification isn't the answer," Kroll noted. "Certificates can be bogus....they're very generic and can easily be duplicated."

Victims who wish to remove the corruptions to their system can follow instructions graciously posted on Gohip's customer service page.

Further information is available from Web security outfit Finjian Software, which originally alerted us to this amusing new marketing ploy. ®

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