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Phony BBB email dupes more than 1,400 execs

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A provider of online security services has uncovered a highly sophisticated phishing scheme that has already duped at least 1,400 US executives. They were fooled into sending sensitive information in response to an email purporting to come from officials at the Better Business Bureau.

The ruse starts with an email addressed to a high-ranking company executive that claims a customer has recently filed a complaint. The email, which is careful to include the proper spelling of both the executive and the company, then invites the recipient to review a copy of the complaint by clicking on a link.

And according to Joe Stewart, a senior researcher at SecureWorks, plenty of executives did just that. It turns out the link installs a malicious post logger that transmits all information submitted through Internet Explorer to a website controlled by the attackers.

After reverse engineering the rogue browser helper object that attaches itself to IE (the malware doesn't work on other browsers), Stewart says he was able to locate a site that stored detailed information on some 1,400 executives who fell for the scam. What he found surprised even him.

"When I realized the targeted nature of it and the extent of the data they were collecting, I thought: 'Wow that's far and beyond what we've seen,'" he said in an interview.

Word of phishing scams spoofing BBB complaint notices has been around since at least the beginning of March, when the national organization warned of a batch of phony messages bearing its name. The scheme Stewart helped uncover has taken that old play to new levels by employing two ingeniously evil tactics.

First, as opposed to phishing campaigns that carpet bomb as many members as possible of a bank or other organization, the BBB scam is narrowly targeted and is aimed at those who are likely to have the most sensitive information to lose. No more than one executive of a company is targeted, and the email goes to great lengths to get the names of the exec and the exec's company correct.

Even execs for security companies have been targeted. Stu Sjouwerman, a VP of Marketing for Sunbelt Software, recently got a BBB come-on, according to this blog entry. An individual at SecureWorks has also been targeted, Stewart said.

And second, the malware, once successfully installed, proves adept at lifting especially sensitive information. Social security numbers, account numbers, debit card numbers, prescription information and log-in credentials that normally would be securely cloaked behind SSL defenses are all fair game.

Some of the information contained in the the attackers' online repository was more than three weeks old, Stewart said. The service provider that hosted the site has since taken it down. The trojan that installs the malware is detected by about 80 per cent of the antivirus programs available, Stewart estimates. Many programs refer to it as "Troj/Iwebho." A Snort signature developed by SecureWorks to detect leakage of data from the trojan is available here. ®

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