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Alternative browser spyware infects IE

Backdoor attack

Reducing security risks from open source software

Some useful citizen has created an installer that will nail IE with spyware, even if a surfer is using Firefox (or another alternative browser) or has blocked access to the malicious site in IE beforehand. The technique allows a raft of spyware to be served up to Windows users in spite of any security measures that might be in place.

Christopher Boyd, a security researchers at Vitalsecurity.org, said the malware installer was capable of working on a range of browsers with native Java support. "The spyware installer is a Java applet powered by the Sun Java Runtime Environment, which allows them to whack most browsers out there, including Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape and others. In the original test, only Opera and Netcaptor didn't fall for the install but Daniel Veditz, who is the head of Mozilla security, has since confirmed to me that this will also work in Opera and Netcaptor," he explained.

In the example Boyd highlights surfers looking for Neil Diamond lyrics (of all things) are served with a variety of adware and spyware packages including Internet Optimizer, sais (180 Solutions) and Avenue Media. Thereafter, if victims allow the packages to install, victims will be bombarded with pop-up ads and their computer will be reduced to a crawl. The malware doesn't install automatically but managed web security firm ScanSafe reckons the pop-up dialogue it generates is obscure enough to fool most home users.

Alternative browser adware risk

ScanSafe reports an increase in spyware of 15 per cent over the last three months of 2004 compared to the previous quarter. Adware accounted for three of the top 10 most prolific threats recorded by ScanSafe over Q4 2004. Spyware authors have thus far restricted themselves to targeting vulnerabilities in IE but ScanSafe reckons it’s only a matter of time before they turn their attention towards alternative browsers.

John Edwards, CTO of ScanSafe, said that some users migrated away from IE to alternative browsers such as Firefox after various security scares last year. He cited figures from Secunia that Firefox and IE were both subject to five advisories in the first two months of this year to support his argument that Firefox was not "bullet-proof".

"Just switching away from IE does not give adequate projection. Now that Firefox and other alternative browsers have a toehold in the market the hacking community will get busy exploiting the vulnerabilities that exist in any complex browser," he said. ®

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