Malicious impostors sow seeds of disinformation

Tales of propaganda, cracking and domain name spoofs

Security testing outfit NTA Monitor has warned of the increased likelihood of attacks against news sites and corporate Web sites during the current war in Iraq.

News sites are especially at risk, because attackers could use weaknesses in sites or domain registration tricks to 'rewrite' breaking news to try to create confusion and panic, according to NTA.

The most obvious risk is denial of service attacks, in which sites are deliberately brought down by extreme traffic volumes. However the subtler attacks are of much greater concern.

By registering similar domain names or 'typo squatting' - booking domains with common typo errors (e.g. wwwcompany.com) - traffic intended for official news sites could be re-directed. Attackers can impersonate Internet news sites and make major changes to the news, with potentially disastrous impact.

Kevin Foster, Strategy Director, NTA Monitor, said: "The mushrooming of Internet domain names is open to abuse. There is a real risk here that attackers can exploit weaknesses to redirect visitors to fake News sites to sow confusion and panic.

"It worries me how many people are completely unaware of the security problems surrounding Internet domain names - eBay, Paypal and Nochex have all fallen victim to attacks exploiting domain name issues recently. Taking some sensible steps can reduce the risk of similar attacks affecting your site, or your brand being used to disrupt other sites." ®

NTA Monitor's top 10 steps to take if you believe you're at risk are:

  1. Compile a list of domains you believe you own, and then identify what domains are actually registered under your name (or named subsidiaries) in the main domain name registration bodies
  2. Define a list of combinations and permutations of these domain names,
    including typographical errors and common spelling mistakes
  3. Conduct a thorough search and verification of all the registry bodies around the world to pick up similar registered domain name entries
  4. Verify the ownership of similar domains found to double check whether they do actually belong to you / named subsidiary, or not
  5. Perform manual verification to determine whether domains are being registered maliciously to hi-jack web traffic, or simply by coincidence
  6. Physically check any web sites relating to any similar domain found
  7. Investigate suspicious registrations and take pro-active action before users are duped by rogue web sites. Contact the hosters of malicious web sites and the domain name registration bodies to take immediate action.
  8. Register domains under a pseudonym - this can protect against data mining techniques, Internet footprinting, social engineering attacks - so use something that people looking to harm your organisation wouldn't necessarily associate with it
  9. Engage a third party specialist to carry out regular searching to identify hostile registrations
  10. Above all do NOT overlook the fundamentals - make sure your official web sites can protect themselves. Get your security tested by an independent specialist.

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