As cybercriminals continue to advance their attempts to cash-in on end users' sensitivity to potential security risks they're increasingly combining time-honored social engineering schemes with phony desktop alerts and compromised URLs on legitimate sites to drive-up their likelihood of success.
And while the idea is hardly revolutionary, as such blended techniques have long been the norm among more advanced schemers, greater numbers of attackers appear to be refining their techniques in launching such campaigns and making them harder to discern with the naked eye.
For the last several years, end users have been assailed with a seemingly endless litany of phony AV scanners and realistic Windows security alerts that actually bear malware infections themselves. They've also come to understand that attackers frequently enlist infected pages on legitimate sites to deliver their wares.
However, newer instances of campaigns that parcel targeted social engineering methods together with nefarious security lures are becoming harder for many people to resist, researchers contend.
For example, in the last week experts with anti-spam and messaging security specialist Red Condor have been tracking a series of fraudulent security alerts aimed specifically at users of online auction giant eBay that they have tabbed as particularly troublesome. In a nod to traditional phishing methods - both in delivery manner and social engineering content, as eBay has long been a target of such attacks - the campaigns cited by Red Condor arrive in an e-mail message with the subject line "eBay Procedural Warning - Security Alert."
Addressed to "Dear eBay Member(s)" the missives warn recipients that the auctioneer has "detected security issues on behalf of [their] account" and urge people to "download and install the eBay Security Shield."
An embedded link in the e-mails actually takes users to compromised URLs on eBay's network, the researchers said. On the involved pages is a "Download Now" button that when clicked installs a Trojan attack.
After the victim installs the program they are predictably directed to log into their eBay accounts, at which point they actually hand over their eBay credentials to the scammers.
In addition to the use of actual compromised eBay pages, Red Condor experts claim that the attacks were only recognized by a handful of legitimate AV engines, with even fewer identifying the involved program as a Trojan.
To further promote the likelihood of keeping their attacks under the radar, those responsible for the campaigns are also only releasing their work in small batches, thereby generating less attention.
"While this is a relatively low volume campaign, the scammers have not only figured out how to circumvent the majority of anti-virus engines, they have also exploited an 'About Me' page of a compromised eBay account to host the Trojan," Dr. Tom Steding, president and CEO of Red Condor, said in a research summary. "In past eBay phishing attacks, the call to action URL has been on some random compromised machine. This scam, however, is a malicious and very sophisticated attack, and [represents] the types of phishing attacks that we are likely to see going forward."
By combining well-established attack techniques with an advanced ability to compromise sites on major properties such as eBay and evade AV systems attackers are proving that they hardly need to change their spots much to get the job done.
The only answer? Trust nobody.
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Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to SecurityWatchBlog@gmail.com.