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Senior execs targeted in 'precision' malware attacks

Spear phishers prey on friends and family of top managers

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Hackers are targeting senior managers of large firms - along with members of their families - in a new wave of highly-focused email attacks.

On 26 June, net security services firm MessageLabs intercepted more than 500 individual email attacks targeted against individuals in senior management positions. The attack email often featured the name and job title of the intended victim in their subject lines. Chief investment officers accounted for 30 per cent of the attacks, 11 per cent were directed against chief executives.

Other job titles among the top 10 targets included chief information officers, chief financial officers, directors of research, directors of development, and company presidents.

Nothing personal. It's just business

The infected email contained a Trojan payload within a Microsoft Word document. If opened, the executable code would activate a Trojan component that would then compromise victims' Windows PCs. The tactic represents a further refinement of targeted attacks against particular firms which have become more commonplace over the last two years or so, as money making scams have replaced mass mailing viruses as the main malware menace.

As well as targeting senior execs, the attack is being directed against relatives of the intended target, for example a spouse or child of a chief exec. The tactic aims to compromise a family computer, thereby indirectly gaining access to confidential correspondence and intellectual property relating to the target.

MessageLabs has intercepted a number of infected emails addressed to members of the family of senior executives. It reckons hackers obtained this information via publically available information and data submitted to social networking sites such as Facebook, Linked-In, and MySpace.

MessageLabs chief security analyst Mark Sunner said: "This evolving trend of increasingly highly personalised attacks emphasises the effort and research in which the bad guys are willing to engage to potentially obtain very lucrative information." ®

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