New Fake Banking Cert Attacks In Play

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2009-06-04 Print this article Print

Researchers with security training experts SANS Institute have reported the emergence of a new wave of attacks seeking to take advantage of trust in online banking sites and digital certificate e-banking security programs.

The involved attacks target customers of Bank of America, asking targets to click through from e-mail borne links to URLs where they are asked to upload new digital certs to protect themselves when e-banking.

Of course, once an end user has clicked on one of the links on the phony BoA pages they are instead infected with malware.

As SANS expert G.N. White highlights in a blog post on the topic, technologically savvy users may be even more likely to fall for the campaigns as they specifically target people who are to some extent educated about, and aware of, digital certs and the role they play in protecting e-banking applications.

At the same time, the example White touts in his post actually tips its own hand by warning users not to worry if after clicking on its links they receive any computer warnings about "potential scripting violations."

How industrious.

Like fake AV programs that harbor malware, the banking attacks seem to play on the likelihood that most users have been trained to worry about cyber-security to some extent at this point, even if they know very little about real attacks or what they look like.

According to the researcher, the malware hosted in the infected URLs is only covered by about 30 percent of the legitimate AV engines aggregated on The program looks to bear some relation to the Waledec family of threats, White reports.

Researchers with McAfee tracking the same threat campaigns identified that involved attacks, or at least some of them, as distributing "a certifiably nasty piece of malware" dubbed "sophialite.exe."

Beyond using common sense approaches to avoiding e-mail and link-driven attacks - such as merely finding your way to the real BoA site to check out your certs before clicking on the links provided in the nefarious e-mails - McAfee researcher Karthik Raman writes in his blog on the topic that users should turn a more critical eye toward any e-banking page they are presented with these days.

"Cautious users may have picked up on the deception [in the BoA cert-themed threats] if they noticed that the sign "Secure Area" [portion of the involved pages] did not complement the non-secure HTTP URL," Raman said. "Psychologists would term the tricks employed above as abuses of the 'exposure effect' and 'anchoring."

More simply put, attackers continue to find ways to use content and icons that users have been trained to trust by legitimate service providers to deliver their own evil handiwork.

All the experts' advice in handling such attacks remains the same, and predictably simple: trust no one, and nothing online until you've done your due diligence, and then check some more.

Happy banking.

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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