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Trick or trojan - watch out for Halloween malware

Don't download the dancing skeleton

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Surfers are warned to be wary this Halloween of malicious spam messages playing on Wednesday's horror-themed holiday.

A run of Halloween-themed spam invites would-be marks to visit a site and download a "dancing skeleton", a malicious package that falsely claims to create a novelty dancing skeleton on users' desktops.

In reality, the site (safe screen grab from F-secure here) is loaded with exploits designed to download a new variant of the Storm Worm (Trojan) onto vulnerable Windows PCs. Infected PCs become members of the zombie botnets of compromised PCs under the control of hackers.

The malicious messages arrive with subject lines such as "Halloween Fun", "You'll laugh your but (sic) off" and "The most amazing dancing skeleton".

The Storm Worm malware strain first surfaced in January, in emails attempting to trick users into visiting maliciously-constructed websites under the guise of messages offering recipients information about the storms ravaging Europe at the time.

Over recent months crackers have refined their tactics. Emails punting the malware now contain fake links to YouTube, for example. Hackers have also attempted to trick users into visiting maliciously-constructed websites via login confirmation spam or bogus electronic greeting card receipts.

The attack methodology - tricking users into maliciously constructed websites that attempt to load botnet clients onto vulnerable PCs - has remained much the same.

Access to compromised PCs is sold in underground forums. Zombie clients are used for activities including launching denial of service attacks and distributing spam. Net security firm Marshall estimates that the Storm botnet is the source of up to 20 per cent of all current spam.

Hackers often take advantage of holidays and items of topical interest to flavour their attacks. The Storm Worm gang are not the only group to take advantage of Halloween for questionable purposes. A spam email campaign identified by net security firm Sophos earlier this month attempted to coax recipients into handing over personal information on the dubious promise of a $250 gift card.

General security precautions apply in the case of these particular, or similar future, attacks. Consumers are advised to resist the temptation to open suspicious-looking emails from people they don't know. Running properly maintained security software and keeping PCs up-to-date with patches are also important precautions. ®

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