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Google goes spear phishing on MySpace

Short-lived spike in phishing traffic

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If it seems like every Tom, Dick and Harry with a MySpace account was getting his account hijacked a couple of months ago there's a reason. Starting in mid-March, the number of page views generated on phish sites increased five-fold, with almost all (95 per cent) targeting the popular social networking site.

The revelation, included in an entry on Google's Online Security blog, bolsters other research suggesting social networks are a growing target of phishers.

One reason for the increase: sites such as LinkedIn and MySpace offer conmen a streamlined means for identifying and winning the trust of individuals connected to a particular company or industry. What's more, individuals frequently use the same username and password across dozens of accounts. Misappropriated MySpace login credentials represent a possible entry point for accounts on a wealth of other online destinations, including banks and web-based email.

More often than not, the bait in a MySpace phish is the networking site itself, as opposed to the more traditional spammed email instructing the recipient to visit a spoofed site to confirm an account. To observe how the scams work, Google employees set up dummy accounts and then slipped the login information information to the bad guys.

Turns out the injection of a simple CSS code into a profile is all it takes to infect the page so that clicking anywhere on it, including what appear to be legit MySpace links, will redirect a user to a phishing page.

(Examples of profiles that use the CSS code to redirect to third-party sites are here, here and here, though we strongly urge readers not to click on the MySpace profiles themselves since it's possible some of them point to sites that try to install malware.)

As if it wasn't enough that MySpace's CSS quirks make it a snap to redirect users to spoofed sites, there's more. Despite providing explicit warnings that a phishing site was a spoof, Google received thousands of complaints from users who wanted to know why the fraudulent destination wasn't allowing them to access photos and other MySpace content. It seems MySpace users aren't a particularly cautious lot.

According to Google's blog entry, the spike in phishing traffic was curtailed in mid-April and MySpace phishing has dropped to much lower volumes - though we're not sure why. Google attributes the drop to an update in MySpace's server software that allows administrators to nix bad links dropped into user profiles.

That may be playing a part, but we have our doubts. As we demonstrated above, it's plenty easy to find examples of CSS redirects on MySpace profiles. And according to Loren Williams, who frequently blogs about MySpace at GhettoWebmaster, the link filtering software MySpace implemented in late April works only on the comments section of a user profile, not on the profile itself and applies only to links added after the changes were put in place.

Says Williams: "They're saying that they released this filter and now everything is hunky dory. That's not the case." ®

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