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CERT warns on social engineering tricks

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IRC and instant messaging (IM) services are increasingly becoming vectors for social engineering attacks.

That's according to an alert by security clearing CERT issued yesterday. This warns that script kiddies are tricking gullible users into downloading and executing malicious software using the services.

These risks are well known but CERT's comment that "tens of thousands of systems have recently been compromised in this way" makes the warning more timely.

Reports received by CERT suggest that crackers are using automated tools to post messages to unsuspecting users of IRC or IM services.

"These messages typically offer the opportunity to download software of some value to the user, including improved music downloads, anti-virus protection, or pornography," it explains.

"Once the user downloads and executes the software, though, their system is co-opted by the attacker for use as an agent in a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) network. Other reports indicate that Trojan horse and backdoor programs are being propagated via similar techniques."

CERT has provided examples of the types of messages to be wary of and encourages users not to run programs of unknown origin on their PC, and to use anti-virus software.

Previous advice by CERT has covered the security risks involved in using chat clients, which extend beyond social engineering attacks to include software flaws, such as buffer overflows or insecure configurations.

The message here is the same as for other Internet applications - make sure your system is up to date with the latest patches. Never send passwords by IM (or unencrypted email, CERT reminds people.

It's all fairly obvious advice but considering how often such common sense measures are ignored, it bears repeating. ®

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