Feeds

Government websites invaded by smut and spyware

Redirection ruse used to peddle smut bazaars

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

A slew of government organisations and corporations are unwittingly helping hackers promote porn sites.

Targets as diverse as the Marin County Transportation Authority website in California and the Bank of Ghana have been unwittingly playing host to code that redirects surfers to smut as a result of insecure systems.

The tactic is aimed at increasing the search engine ranking of skin flick sites. The offending content is normally hosted elsewhere. However, some of the dodgy pages on compromised corporate servers attempt to install malware onto the PCs of visitors.

A (safe to view) sample html page featuring in this type of attack can be found here.

Typically, the pornographic redirects are hidden deep within the sites. Pages redirecting to smut sites were located via a Google search in directories normally reserved for staff reports on the Marin County website, for example. The front pages of the attacked sites remain unaltered.

Brookhaven National Labs was discovered to be harbouring redirections to pornographic sites last week. It promptly cleaned up its act.

The initial attack on the Marin County Transportation Authority website prompted a temporary shutdown and cleanup operation on all California government websites on 2 October. Despite this, the site was compromised again late last week.

The site was purged on Monday, although how long it stays that way remains to be seen.

The Bank of Ghana website still harbours redirections to porn site.

Anti-spyware firm Sunbelt Software has being closely monitoring the attacks, chronicling its observations on its security blog.

Alex Eckelberry, president and chief exec of Sunbelt, told El Reg that the porn redirection ruse is a common tactic. "These sites were, or in some cases still are, hosting code that does redirections to pornographic sites. Gangs are doing this to inflate search engine results. It's similar to, but more aggressive than, link comment spam," he added.

It's unclear what vulnerabilities were used to compromise the affected sites. DNS hacks, open admin portal (the suspected cause of the initial Marin County attack), or simply poorly patched systems are all possibilities.

"The hackers have automated bots that look for these vulnerabilities. It's hard to pin the cause down to any one thing but we think the same group was involved in the attacks on both Marin County and the Bank of Ghana, based on the sites that are being promoted," Eckelberry explained.

Small municipal organisations, such as the Marin County Transportation Authority, outsource their websites. Eckelberry says poor security policies by some hosting firms can contribute to the problem.

"These redirection uploads happen all the time. The problem is rife on university sites, for example. What happened to Marin County earlier this month, which led to a state-wide cleanup operation of government sites in California, should act as a wake-up call," he added. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Knock Knock tool makes a joke of Mac AV
Yes, we know Macs 'don't get viruses', but when they do this code'll spot 'em
Feds seek potential 'second Snowden' gov doc leaker – report
Hang on, Ed wasn't here when we compiled THIS document
Why weasel words might not work for Whisper
CEO suspends editor but privacy questions remain
DEATH by PowerPoint: Microsoft warns of 0-day attack hidden in slides
Might put out patch in update, might chuck it out sooner
BlackEnergy crimeware coursing through US control systems
US CERT says three flavours of control kit are under attack
prev story

Whitepapers

Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.