Malware writers think global, act local
Mono-linguists need not apply
Online miscreants are beefing up their cultural outreach skills.
According to a new report from McAfee, attacks are increasingly being tailored to victims in specific geographical regions. Spam, phishing emails and even malware now address their potential victims in their native tongues, often with flawless grammar. Attackers have also become familiar with local culture, including sports and other pastimes, and often incorporate them into their ploys to further the chances of tricking their Marks.
"We really wouldn't have had this conversation two years ago," said Dave Marcus, a security research and communications manager at McAfee. Back then, "the distribution of malware was very English language centric."
As a result, spam and malware targeting Germans are likely to target their enthusiasm for the World Cup. Attacks on Japanese, meanwhile, are likely to piggyback on the popularity in that country of Winny, a P2P file sharing program. And Chinese scams will likely involve gold farming, which refers to the harvesting of virtual valuables in games such as World of Warcraft.
The multicultural celebration comes as more parts of the world connect to the internet for the first time. With a larger proportion of non-English speakers than ever before, it makes sense attackers are trying to find new, more effective ways to pwn their machines and steal their banking credentials.
McAfee's findings, which are were published Thursday, dovetail with recent research from Thomas Holt, a professor of criminal justice at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. It found that the marketplace for rootkits, Trojans and other malware increasingly transcends national boundaries. A title first released in Spain may be appropriated by a crime syndicate in China, which adds support and other features tailored to the local language.
The trend toward localized threats is particularly important for international travelers, who need to adjust their defenses as they move from one country to the next.
When Marcus is in the US, he says he never receives spam on his mobile phone. But as soon as he travels the UK, he immediately receives fraudulent SMS messages, and when in Tokyo, it's not unusual for him to receive spam sent over Bluetooth connections.
"It's very, very localized, and that's not to say I can't deal with it," he says. Still, he adds, "I will want to gather some of that local information." ®