Cyber criminals find new ways to attack

Criminals are now working to compromise trusted sources in an effort to spread malware, experts say

Cyber criminals are finding new ways to steal information, including infecting legitimate Web sites with Trojans and creating rogue software packages that look legitimate but contain malware, cybersecurity experts warned.

Recent months have seen a rise in sophisticated attacks, also including so-called spear phishing, an e-mail scam targeted at a small group of people, a group of cybersecurity professionals said Tuesday at a TechAmerica cybersecurity forum in Washington, D.C. Spear phishing is a form of the common phishing scam, but instead of a fake e-mail that looks like it comes from a bank or e-commerce site, it instead looks like it comes from someone you know, such as an executive at your company.

Cyber criminals are now focusing on compromising trusted sources of information, by installing Trojans on legitimate Web sites or faking e-mail messages from people known to would-be victims, asking them for personal information, said Eric Cole, cybersecurity senior fellow at Lockheed Martin. In early 2007, two Web sites affiliated with the Miami Dolphins football team were compromised with malicious code, and earlier this year a site affiliated with rock star Paul McCartney contained malicious code.

There are tens of thousands of other legitimate Web sites infected with malware, said Uri Rivner, head of new technologies for consumer identity protection at RSA Security, a cybersecurity vendor. RSA is seeing a recent spike in compromises from the password-stealing Torpig or Sinowal Trojan, around since mid-2007, largely due to infected legitimate sites, he said.

The rule "used to be, 'don't go to the bad part of the Internet,'" Cole said. "'Don't go to those evil parts where bad things are happening.' I don't think most of us ... consider Paul McCartney a bad site."

Microsoft has seen a "tremendous rise" in rogue software being downloaded in the past year, said Vinny Gullotto, general manager of the Microsoft Malware Protection Center. In many cases, the rogue software is disguised as antivirus software and tricks people into downloading it by telling them they have viruses on their computers, he said.

Web users should only download cybersecurity software from a trusted source, he said.

Cyber criminals are also turning to the help-wanted ads and e-mails to recruit unsuspecting helpers to launder money, Rivner said. These work-at-home schemes offer people lucrative jobs if they supply a bank account to process payments for a company or charity, he said. In reality, the payment processors are serving as middlemen in money-laundering schemes, with the money coming from compromised bank accounts.

One job offer River received by e-mail said he could work three hours a day for US$3,000 a week. The lesson is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, Rivner said.

"Lots of people in this bad economy are applying for these types of ads," he said. "A lot of people answer these ads on a daily basis."

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