Feeds

Online attackers feed off Norton forum purge

Silence isn't golden

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

Quick-moving attackers took advantage of a glitch in an update for Symantec anti-virus software, using an information vacuum that followed as an opportunity to lure panic-stricken users to websites that tried to install malware on their computers.

The glitch began around 4:30 pm California time on Monday, when Symantec engineers accidentally distributed a software update for older versions of the Norton Anti-Virus that had not been digitally signed. Symantec customers soon received ominous error messages popping up on their computer screens - so they did what good end-users are supposed to do: they went to the company's support forum to get the official word on a file called pifts.exe that was the subject of the warnings.

To the amazement of many, there were no messages. To make matters worse, there was evidence that every time a customer posted a query about the error, someone at Symantec removed it. By Tuesday morning, several websites with top billing from Google and other search engines were exploiting the confusion by promising details about the problem but pushing malware instead.

What's impressive about the scam is how quickly the miscreants seized on the completely unexpected event. Within hours, their sites had managed not only to reference pifts.exe but also to rise to the top of Google's rankings.

Jeff Kyle, group manager for consumer products at Symantec, said posts were only deleted after the forum was flooded with more than 600 nonsensical messages that contained the string "pifts." Recognizing their site was under attack by bot-controlled PCs, forum administrators promptly shut down threads that were discussing the file.

The removal of the threads only made users more eager for information about a file they had every reason to believe represented a clear and present danger to their computer security. That created a golden opportunity for professional malware pushers.

One of the websites promising information was inspected by Randal Vaughn, a professor of information systems at Baylor University. He said it was outfitted with javascript that checked to see how visitors had arrived at the rogue site. If Google, Yahoo, or MSN had referred them, the site tried to foist malware on them. If not, it returned an error message.

It's unfortunate that this episode happened at all. A single well-placed post from a Symantec official would likely have nipped most of it in the bud and prevented the mass confusion that enabled this social-engineering attack. Kyle said that the forum is run by Symantec employees in what amounts to their spare time, and isn't supposed to be relied upon to communicate glitches such as the one that happened on Monday.

We wouldn't be surprised to see that change. As the episode makes clear, real-time communication with customers is key for security providers, especially following glitches.

"We have to look at how to better communicate to our users," Kyle said in an interview. "We constantly do that and this just calls out a different flavor and an increased need to be able to communicate actively and accurately to our user base." ®

Security for virtualized datacentres

More from The Register

next story
'Kim Kardashian snaps naked selfies with a BLACKBERRY'. *Twitterati gasps*
More alleged private, nude celeb pics appear online
Home Depot ignored staff warnings of security fail laundry list
'Just use cash', former security staffer warns friends
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
UK.gov lobs another fistful of change at SME infosec nightmares
Senior Lib Dem in 'trying to be relevant' shocker. It's only taxpayers' money, after all
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Snowden, Dotcom, throw bombs into NZ election campaign
Claim of tapped undersea cable refuted by Kiwi PM as Kim claims extradition plot
Freenode IRC users told to change passwords after securo-breach
Miscreants probably got in, you guys know the drill by now
THREE QUARTERS of Android mobes open to web page spy bug
Metasploit module gobbles KitKat SOP slop
BitTorrent's peer-to-peer chat app Bleep goes live as public alpha
A good day for privacy as invisble.im also reveals its approach to untraceable chats
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.