Hackers Compromise bin Laden Live-Blogger's Site

By Fahmida Y. Rashid  |  Posted 2011-05-02

The man who inadvertently live-blogged on Twitter the Navy SEAL operation that took out Osama bin Laden on May 1 received an unexpected gift to go with his 15 minutes of fame.

His Web site was compromised with a malware kit to download malware onto site visitors' computers.

When Sohaib Athar posted on Twitter, "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)," he didn't know he was seeing the start of a historic event.

As the night wore on and he heard bomb blasts, sounds of gunfire and reports from friends in other parts of town, he realized something monumental was going on. After the news broke that Osama bin Laden was dead and President Barack Obama made his speech confirming that fact, Athar and everyone suddenly realized exactly what he had been writing about.

"I apologize for reporting the operation 'unwittingly/unknowingly' - had I known about it, I would have tweeted about it 'wittingly' I swear," Athar wrote on May 2.

People flocked to his page to read what Athar had posted, and to ask questions of their own, which he tried to respond to throughout May 2. Cyber-criminals figured out that a lot of people would be checking out the @ReallyVirtual account, especially as news sites picked up on the posts, and decided to capitalize on the situation.

"Cybercriminals are constantly exploiting where the masses go, and news on Osama bin Laden's death is no exception," Patrik Runald, senior manager of security research at Websense Security, told eWEEK.

Athar linked to his personal Website from his Twitter page, and the attackers compromised the Web server to install the Blackhole Exploit kit, Runald wrote on the Security Labs blog.

"It is a good thing my blog server is infected with malware today, I guess :-/," Athar posted, tongue-in-cheek.

When visitors clicked on the link to visit Athar's page from his Twitter feed, they inadvertently loaded content from a malicious URL within an IFRAME. The Blackhold Exploit Kit analyzed the visiting system to figure out which malware to download and automatically install on to the victim's computer.

"Make no mistake--hackers are going to go after websites, like @ReallyVirtual's, along with search engine results to prey on visitors looking for more information," Runald said.

One possible drive-by-download exploit was a fake scareware called WindowsRecovery that claimed to have found system problems on the computer and offered to fix the problems after paying for an "upgrade," according to Runald.

"To convince the user that something really is wrong with the system, the malware hides all files and folders in the hard drives and on the desktop," Runald wrote.

Cyber-criminals immediately took advantage of Athar's fame and the huge trends in bin Laden-related searches in an attempt to infect massive amounts of computer users.

"Compromises on breaking news items are also very dangerous to organizations because employees who are searching online can potentially put an organization at risk for exploit and data loss," Runald said.

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