Feeds

Fake subpoenas harpoon 2,100 corporate fat cats

From phishing to whaling

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Seven Steps to Software Security

A highly targeted email scam that singled out as many as 20,000 senior corporate executives on Monday resurfaced Wednesday as attackers sought to replicate their success installing identity-stealing software on the PCs of some of the world's most powerful individuals.

Like the first volley of emails, these latest messages masquerade as an official subpoena requiring the recipient to appear before a federal grand jury. The emails correctly address CEOs and other high-ranking executives by their full name and include their phone number and company name, according to Matt Richard, director of rapid response at iDefense, a division of VeriSign that helps protect financial institutions from fraud.

Recipients who click on a link that offers a more detailed copy of the subpoena are taken to a website that informs them they must install a browser add-on in order to read the document. Clicking "yes" installs a backdoor and key logging software that steals log-in credentials used on websites for banks and other sensitive organizations.

About 2,000 executives took the bait on Monday, and an additional 70 have fallen for the latest scam, Richard said. Operating under the assumption that as many as 10 percent of recipients fell for the ruse, he estimated that 21,000 executives may have received the email. Only eight of the top 35 anti-virus products detected the malware on Monday, and on Wednesday, only 11 programs were flagging the new payload, which has been modified to further evade being caught.

The group behind the attack is the same one that has launched other high-profile spear-phishing expeditions, in which a relatively small number of emails are tailored to their targets by including their names, titles and other personal information. The customization is designed to fool the recipients into believing they are legitimate. The practice of targeting CEO and other high-ranking execs is being dubbed as whaling.

The malware installed from Monday's attack caused infected PCs to report to a server based in Singapore. The updated trojan had machines reporting to servers in China, Richard said. In both cases, the IP addresses of attackers' servers were controlled by a group that goes by the name Piradius, among others.

Previous spear-phishing attacks by these attackers involved emails purporting to contain a complaint from the Better Business Bureau that tricked more than 1,400 executives into installing malware that stole their personal details. More recently, they pulled off a similar scam that falsely claimed to reference a complaint a business associate filed with the Justice Department.

The group is also responsible for attacks that use stolen customer lists to target individuals who have done business with a particular organization. That allows the attackers to masquerade as sales and support representatives from a company the recipient has a relationship of trust with, making it more likely the victim will agree to install malware or divulge sensitive information.

"That's probably one of their better attacks," Richard said. "It's extremely hard for them to pull off because they need to steal the customer database first."

In earlier attacks, the emails were more convincing because the English grammar and syntax were nearly flawless. The emails in most recent attacks were less polished, Richard said. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Yorkshire cops fail to grasp principle behind BT Fon Wi-Fi network
'Prevent people that are passing by to hook up to your network', pleads plod
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
NEW, SINISTER web tracking tech fingerprints your computer by making it draw
Have you been on YouPorn lately, perhaps? White House website?
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Black Hat anti-Tor talk smashed by lawyers' wrecking ball
Unmasking hidden users is too hot for Carnegie-Mellon
Attackers raid SWISS BANKS with DNS and malware bombs
'Retefe' trojan uses clever spin on old attacks to grant total control of bank accounts
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.