LinkedIn Malware Schemes Lame, but Not Forever

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2009-01-06 Print this article Print

Just like almost every other social networking site, the all-business world of LinkedIn is apparently becoming an increasingly popular platform for attackers looking to dupe unsuspecting end users into swallowing their bait and heading off to their malware-infected URLs.

Specifically, McAfee researchers said in a blog post that they have recently observed a noticeable uptick in fake profiles being posted to LinkedIn that harbor links to external sites bearing malware infections.

After clicking on one of the links to "my URL" or "my blog" on the involved LinkedIn profiles, users are typically redirected to pages that try to lure them into downloading a multimedia player update or codec that instead delivers a malware assault.

However, rather than trying to replicate the identities of real business people, the profiles mostly advertise tawdry content such as "nude Kirsten Dunst" or "Kate Hudson nude."

But, you have to wonder, is anyone really looking on LinkedIn for nude pics of Hollywood starlets?

Now, in the world of MySpace and Facebook and the like, there is so much mainstream entertainment noise, and such a deeply rooted practice of people launching phony profiles that claim to represent famous faces, you'd think there's a good chance that some users might fall for these types of schemes. People often go to those sites looking for that type of content, after all.

But to me, one of the reasons I've always had more trust in LinkedIn is because it is so much more staid in its content, acting mostly as a free resume distribution and business networking portal.

Would any sane business user go to a porn-themed profile on LinkedIn? Perhaps I'm overestimating the intelligence of the site's users, but it just seems unlikely to me. If you wanted to see that sort of stuff, why not just head over to MySpace?

However, at the same time that LinkedIn's image makes it unlikely that any large number of people will click on through when profiles are being advertised as celebrity porn, you have to recognize that its business focus could conceivably make the site an even more dangerous weapon in the hands of truly cunning attackers -- who could, say, post a believable profile for a well-known CEO or industry pundit along with links to similarly themed malware URLs.

You know, people who might really be using LinkedIn, though it would certainly take a lot more footwork to build and probably get taken down by moderators faster.

But in my mind, this is the real trick of the social networking attack angle. Like comparing the scattershot, mass e-mail phishing campaigns of yesterday to the targeted spear phishing of today, when attackers stop using goofy, easily identified formats for sucking users in via social networking and start using real people's information, aimed at their existing contacts, that's when this stuff will really get dangerous.

A poisoned LinkedIn profile of Hulk Hogan nude? Not too effective.

A poisoned LinkedIn profile from your boss or a known business partner? Owned.

It would seem like only a matter of time before the attackers figure this out, and some probably already have.

Social networking is a powerful tool, for good purposes, and clearly, for some bad ones as well. And the fun has only just begun.

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 as marketing communications manager 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 |

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