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Portuguese-speaking worm attacks Google Orkut users

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Google's Orkut social networking site was hit by a quick-spreading worm that managed to infect a large number of users when they viewed messages that came from friends who were already exposed.

Infected users became part of a community dubbed "Infectatos pelo Virus do Orkut," which loosely translates from Portuguese to mean "infected by the Orkut Virus." More than 655,000 members belonged to the group at time of writing, although some people may have joined voluntarily rather than being forcibly corralled into it by the worm. Within hours, Google appears to have closed the cross-site scripting (XSS) error that made the attack possible.

The incident is the latest reminder of the risks that lurk in social networks, which more and more people use to keep track of business contacts, schedules and other important information. In many respects, it hearkens back to the Samy Worm, a piece of Javascript that in 2005 infected more than 1 million MySpace users. Such attacks are significant because they require nothing more than a victims browse a trusted website.

"It wouldn't have taken much to turn this into an actual malicious attack," said David Maynor, CTO of security services firm Errata Security. "Attacks like this are shifting the paradigm where you just shouldn't trust anything."

Maynor said it would have been relatively trivial for the authors of the Orkut worm to steal an Orkut user's logon credentials, which in most cases are also used to access a person's Google mail and calendar accounts, web searches and recently browsed map locations.

The worm appended a piece of malicious, Flash-based Javascript to a user's profile and then sent a message to all the victim's friends. When friends viewed the message they became infected as well.

It burrowed in using a hole created by an XSS error in code created by Google webmasters. XSS vulnerabilities allow attackers to inject malicious code by tricking a browser into believing the file is coming from a trusted website. XSS bugs have emerged as a major source of security vulnerabilities that over the past year have tripped up Google, Yahoo and many other major web destinations.

The Orkut worm exploited a hole on the Google-owned site that allowed a Javascript file titled virus.js to be fetched from an location at MyOpera and injected into users' profiles.

As is so often the case with XSS-based attacks, the Orkut worm was mitigated by the use of the NoScript plugin. It runs on top of the Firefox browser and prevents the execution of Java, Javascript, Flash and other potentially dangerous code on untrusted websites. ®

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