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UK police issue 'vicious' Trojan alert

Keystroke-logging 'Swiss army knife'

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Britain's top cybercrime fighters have joined up with the banking industry today in warning of the latest attempt to defraud online banking customers. The attacks, in the form of 'Trojan horse' emails, have been spammed out to a number of email account holders randomly across the country. The emails contain links to malicious websites in North America and China. The UK's National Hi-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU) is working with the Internet industry to have these sites shut down. At the time of writing three have been taken out of commission but others remain active.

NHTCU and banking organisation APACS have teamed up to warn on the threat in a highly unusual move that underlines the seriousness of the risk. An NHTCU spokeswoman explained: "This is really vicious. It's just a normal phishing attack but something that tries to install backdoors on victims' PCs".

Touch of Evil

The spam emails contain details of a fictitious order for Web hosting or computer goods and thank the email recipient for a non-existent order. In addition, they also display the apparent cost that will be charged to their credit card. The email also contains a link to one of a number of maliciously constructed website in order to "view the order in more detail". If an email recipient is duped into visiting one of these sites, it appears merely as a site under construction. But in the background malign actions are afoot designed to load a variant of the Mitglieder proxy Trojan onto vulnerable Windows boxes.

These maliciously constructed sites harbour a Trojan downloader routine capable of dropping a keystroke logging program onto vulnerable PCs. This exploit is possible because of well-known Windows security bugs, namely an MHTML URL vulnerability (MS04-013) and an ADODB.Stream vulnerability. Both of thses flaws can be fixed by the latest Internet Explorer megapatch (MS04-025).

If a machine becomes infected, the next time a customer uses their PC to access their own online banking site, the Trojan can potentially record their secret passwords and PINs used to log-on. This information is accessible to attackers thereby compromising the security of victim's online banking accounts. In addition, the Trojan surrenders control of the machine to attackers. It's unclear how many users have been hit by the attack.

Protect and survive

Although the threat from Trojans is a serious one if precautions and advice are not taken, the banking industry offers a number of security measures to defend against these types of attack. These include partial passwords, so not all characters from a password are revealed at any one time. This is further enhanced by the use of drop-down lists, which rely on the use of a mouse to select alphabetic or numerical characters. In addition, some banks also offer customers the opportunity to purchase reduced-price security software via their websites.

Sandra Quinn, Director of Corporate Communications at APACS, said: "By being wary of unsolicited emails and maintaining basic security measures on your computer you can go online with confidence."

APACS refers consumers to its previously published guidelines on safe computing.

Detective Chief Superintendent Len Hynds, Head of the NHTCU said: "The NHTCU is continuing to work hard to bring the perpetrators of these elaborate scams to justice. The criminals behind these attacks are constantly evolving their techniques and changing tactics to target a wider range of victims. With this range of exploits being blended in one piece of code, it is not just about online banking. There is a second keylogger and a program that allows the machine to act as a mail proxy that could be used by spammers. It is the Swiss Army knife of the cyber-criminal." ®

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UK banks and police proffer anti-phishing advice

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