As Hurricane Irene barrels up the East Coast, cyber-criminals will likely launch phishing attacks and other malicious activity tied to the storm news, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Cyber-criminals may take
advantage of the public's desire for information about
to push out malicious emails and other cyber-scams, the
Department of Homeland Security warned.
Government agencies and
private companies should be on the lookout for phishing attacks masquerading as
news regarding the storm and other malicious activity, DHS said in an alert
issued Aug. 25. Cyber-criminals often use highly publicized events to snare
users into falling for their scams, the agency said.
The emails may appear to
originate from a reputable source and would likely have subject lines that
reference the storm. Network administrators and general Internet users should
be aware of these attempts and avoid opening those types of messages, the advisory
said. Clicking on the emails could cause keyloggers, remote access tools and
other malicious software to be downloaded onto the user's computer, DHS warned.
agencies and private organizations could possibly become recipients of
malicious activity, most commonly in the form of socially engineered
spear-phishing emails," the alert from the DHS National Cybersecurity and
Communications Integration Center said.
Organizations need to be
vigilant as recent high-profile attacks against companies, such as RSA
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
, originated with a phishing email.
Scammers have increasingly
taken advantage of natural disasters to push their malicious agenda. Earlier
this year, search engine results were poisoned to return malicious links
Japan was hit by an earthquake
and in subsequent weeks as the Japanese
struggled to contain the
Fukushima nuclear plant
. Criminals pushed out phishing emails pretending to
be from the American Red Cross asking for donations to help earthquake victims.
Security vendors warned of similar emails after the earthquake in Haiti.
Criminals are also using
black-hat search engine optimization techniques to corrupt search engine
results to return malicious sites for certain keywords or distribute malicious
posts on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to push out
links. When users search on those terms and come across those links, their
systems are compromised.
"When a major world
event occurs, people feel like there's an urgent 'need' to know what's going
on, a bit of a frenzy," said Cameron Camp, an ESET researcher.
"There's a scramble to find the most reliable up-to-the-minute information
and less attention paid to the normal defenses," Camp said.
There is also a social
element involved, as many of these malicious links also spread on social
networking sites, making people think that their "friends" sent the
information along, Camp said.
The entire situation is
complicated by the fact that federal agencies, disaster-relief organizations
and state and local governments are also using email, Facebook and Twitter to
warn people about the track of the storm, announce evacuation plans and generally
Virginia Governor Bob
McDonnell warned the state's residents to take "seriously the need to
prepare for this significant storm and to ready their families, homes and
communities for possible evacuation" via Facebook. New Jersey Governor Chris
Christie posted on Twitter that he would be holding a news conference on
hurricane preparedness. The New York
has posted a list on Twitter of hurricane-related information and
resources such as weather forecasts and evacuation centers.
For up-to-date information,
people should go to reputable Websites, such as major news organizations, Camp
said. Instead of clicking on a link, they should type the URL directly into the
browser address bar and avoid clicking on shortened links, even if the accompanying
text claims it's from a well-known site.
Hurricane Irene moved
northwest along the coast of the Carolinas on Friday and is expected to
continue hugging the East Coast, hitting New York City and southern New England
in the afternoon of Aug. 28.