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Syrian rebels targeted using commercial Skype trojan

It's already encrypted, EFF warns dissidents

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Syrian activists are coming under attack from a new Trojan, based on a commercial spyware application.

Targeted attacks surreptitiously install the BlackShades Trojan onto compromised machines, an advisory by the EFF and Citizen Lab warns. The Trojan is been distributed in via compromised Skype accounts of Syrian activists in the form of a ".pif" file purporting to be an important new video that is actually a malicious executable file. Opening the file on a Windows machine drops a key-logger onto infected machines.

The use of remote surveillance software against activists has been going on amidst the conflict in Syria since February, if not earlier.

Previous attacks have involved a phishing campaign targeting the YouTube or Twitter credentials of high profile Syrian opposition figure and malware tainted files posing as documents regarding the foundation of a Syrian revolution leadership council. Another attack punted infected documents supposedly detailing a plan to assist the city of Aleppo.

Most of these attacks have pushed the Dark Comet Trojan while other less commonplace attacks have featured the Xtreme Trojan. Successful attacks allow hackers to attackers to plant key-loggers or extract data from infected machines. Other attacks include remote desktop remote desktop viewing, webcam spying, audio-eavesdropping and more.

Dark Comet has also been pushed through attacks supposed offering a Skype encryption add-on. In reality, Skype traffic is already encrypted and the supposed utility is secretpoliceware designed to get around this technology to spy on activists. Another attack punting the Xtreme Trojan was seeded using the Skype accounts of recently arrested activists.

All these attacks, as well as the most recent BlackShades assault, are blamed on the Syrian government.

A detailed technical description of the BlackShades Trojan-based attack can be found in a blog post by Citizen Lab here.

Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary research team based at the Munk School of Global Affairs, at the University of Toronto, Canada. ®

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