Phishing Ploy Seeks to Hijack CMS Creds

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2009-12-08 Print this article Print

Researchers are reporting as new phishing attack aimed at stealing web site content management system log-in credentials in order to poison involved targets' sites with fraudulent e-banking attack code.

According to a new report issued by financial services anti-fraud specialist Trusteer, which last week released an interesting report on larger e-banking phishing trends, the attack is aimed at users of the popular cPanel content management system (CMS), including users of and other well known hosting sites.

Trusteer that the examples of the attack that it has intercepted thus far were designed to look as if the come from Yahoo or other hosts and ask recipients to re-confirm their log-in data. Once they've successfully taken possession of the credentials, the attackers then post phony banking content on their targets' sites, accelerating their nefarious efforts by allowing them to do so without having to compromise the URLs to corrupt them.

While Yahoo is one of the primary targets, other hosts that utilize cPanel are also being swarmed by the threats over the last several days, researchers said.

"The ability to upload arbitrary content into relatively small and less popular sites may seem un-interesting fraud-wise," Amit Klein CTO of Trusteer said in a advisory note. "However, by stealing cPanel login credentials, criminals do not need to use hacking tools to upload content to a website, and therefore can avoid detection until after they have siphoned funds from consumer and business banking accounts."

The experts said that they first began observing cPanel threats through which attackers were not using hacking tools to upload content to hijacked sites, but rather standard cPanel functionality, which provided the first clue that phishers had access to legitimate cPanel credentials.

By comparison, the current campaigns requesting users' FTP credentials, which are not as powerful as the actual cPanel login credentials but still allow attackers to have their way.

In addition to hijacking their sites to target other people, the company noted that the site owner having their pages taken over could face a litany of other risks, including:

• Possible downtime due to aggressive take-down actions taken by the involved bank • Downtime/work/expenses needed to restore the site and remove the phishing content • Possible legal repercussions as theoretically a subpoena can be issued for the server • Inclusion in black-lists of various phishing filters • Damage to reputation by having phishing content served

"On top of this, even if the uploaded content is not phishing-related, it may still be a serious issue, legal and otherwise (e.g. porn and other questionable materials), and may damage the site's reputation (e.g. defacement)," the researchers said.

It will be intriguing to see if Yahoo and other hosts can intervene and do anything to help address the problem.

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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 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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