Customers want protection from Salesforce.com breach

Up to 1000 Australian users fear imminent attack

Up to 1000 Salesforce.com customers in Australia fear their corporate data is in the hands of hackers after the company was targetted by a phishing scam and one of the vendor's employees was tricked into divulging a corporate password this week.

Desperate to obtain details about the attack Australian customers have been forced to contact Salesforce.com in the United States as the vendor has not notified a single user locally that was contacted by Computerworld.

Users contacted by Computerworld were alarmed by news of the attack confirming that they had not been warned by Salesforce.com although they eagerly awaited a briefing so steps could be taken to protect their organizations.

There was some information made available in the United States with customers sent a note advising online criminals have been sending customers fake invoices and, starting just a few days ago, viruses and key logging software. The e-mails were sent using information that was illegally obtained from Salesforce.com.

Salesforce.com bills its Web-based CRM (customer relationship management) products as easier to use and maintain than traditional CRM software, but this latest development underlines the security risks that come with this more open model.

The problems began a few months ago, when a Salesforce.com employee fell for a phishing scam and divulged a company password that gave attackers access to a customer contact list. With this password, the criminals were able to obtain first and last names, company names, e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of Salesforce.com customers.

Some of those customers then fell victim to the scam and gave up their passwords to the criminals, too. When Salesforce.com started seeing malicious software being attached to these e-mails, the company decided to issue a general alert to its nearly one million subscribers.

Australian customers account for 1000 of the vendor's 35,300 subscription base worldwide. But every company contacted by Computerworld about the attack were completely in the dark not knowing that customer contact lists had been exposed.

A spokesperson at networking and communications provider, Adtran, said it was forced to contact the United States in a bid to get details on how the scam impacts customers.

One customer, Honda Motorcyles and Power Equipment, is currently rolling out Salesforce.com and was shocked by news of the incident.

Other customers including Honda and AAPT were also unaware of the client database breach which allowed a hacker to launch a spate of personalised phishing attacks to build a global botnet.

The Ukraine-based attacker then infected up to 500 PCs with a Trojan Horse and keylogger, sent as attachments to customised phishing e-mails which included customer first and last names, e-mail addresses, company titles, telephone numbers and employer details.

Salesforce.com customers who opened the links or executable file in the apparent Salesforce.com invoice were infected with a kbd.dll trojan horse (PSW.generic5.tlw) and keylogger.

The malware then captures and uploads real time screenshots and keystrokes to publicly available and unauthenticated Web servers.

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Salesforce.com recommends customers install Symantec to remove the infection, however according to the Washington Post, the most popular anti-virus products such as Norton, do not currently detect the virus because its selective distribution has allowed it to fly under the radar.

The selective and customised distribution would also allow the hacker to span-out attacks over a longer period, and target a variety of companies across different countries.

Despite the fallout from this attack an analyst at research firm Ovum, David Bradshaw, still did not believe the software-as-a-service(SaaS) delivery model increased the likelihood of attack.

"SaaS applications like Salesforce.com may seem more vulnerable because they have a very public front on the Internet that anyone can try and enter. But this is not unique to SaaS - most companies have Web 'front doors' for customers and Web 'back doors' for staff to gain remote access to their Intranet, e-mail and other applications", Bradshaw said.

"The only direct relevance is that the thieves are trying to get access to corporate databases held at Salesforce.com to steal customer lists - but they could, and probably are doing the same to the customers of any large CRM vendor.

"Some simple measures can help - for example ensuring that all the laptops used by 'roving' staff have up-to-date protection from malware and by making staff change the passwords regularly. While the latter measure is disliked by staff, explaining the need for this will go a long way towards improving your security."

Salesforce.com urged customers on its Web site to activate IP restrictions to their CRM databases and educate users on avoiding phishing scams.

"Modify your Salesforce implementation to activate IP range restrictions. This will allow users to access Salesforce only from your corporate network or VPN, thus providing a second factor of authentication," the company stated.

Bradshaw said while IP range restrictions is one of the best strategies, it only works for secure networks.

"An alternative solution would be to deploy soft keyboards and other security devices that render keystroke loggers impotent," he added.

Salesforce.com declined to comment further on the matter. "Everything that they have to say about it is in this note," a spokesman with the company's public-relations agency said.

When contacted by Computerworld, Salesforce.com in Australia provided a link which provides customers with steps they should take to protect their organizations. However, local customers were unaware of the link further proof that notification was restricted to users in the United States.

- with Robert McMillan