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UK.gov repels zero day WMF attack

The Manchurian (malware) Candidate

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Chinese hackers attacked UK Government targets during the Christmas holidays using the Microsoft Windows Meta File (WMF) exploit. The attacks - initiated before Microsoft's patch against the vulnerability was released on January 5 - came in the form of contamination emails that originated in China, according to email filtering firm MessageLabs, whose clients include the UK Government. It's unclear if independent hackers or the Chinese Government initiated the attack.

Contaminated messages posed as information about a secret rendezvous were sent to around 70 people in parliament and elsewhere in the UK Government, ZDNET reports. Attackers tried to dupe intended recipients into opening an infected attachment containing the WMF Setabortproc Trojan, but the infected emails were blocked by MessageLabs' email filtering system. Some of the attacks were aimed as departments in the UK Government dealing with human rights abuses, The Guardian reports.

The WMF-themed attacks are the latest twist in an armada of specially crafted Trojan horse attacks dating back over a year. Last June the UK's National Infrastructure Security Co-ordination Centre (NISCC) warned that approximately 300 UK Government departments and businesses critical to the country's infrastructure have been the subject of such attacks, many reportedly originating in the Far East. "The attackers' aim appears to be covert gathering or transmitting of commercially or economically valuable information," NISCC warned.

Ordinary consumers, as well as Government, remain exposed to attacks based on the WMF vulnerability.

Anti-virus firm F-Secure says the majority of Windows PCs remain vulnerable to the WMF exploit because users are yet to apply Microsoft's patch. The firm recently detected a phishing scam that exploited the vulnerability in an attempt to install a spyware Trojan on vulnerable PCs. F-Secure reiterates advice to Windows users to apply Microsoft's patch, warning that the WMF exploit is likely to prove fertile ground for "various different attackers for months, possibly years". ®

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