Cyber-criminals have seized on the killing of Osama bin Laden as a fresh opportunity to push out rogue antivirus products, fake video codecs and Facebook scams using poisoned search links.
President Barack Obama announced the success of a US Navy Seals operation that killed bin Laden in a million-dollar mansion hideout in Pakistan, on May 1. Less than 12 hours later, cyber-criminals launched multiple scams designed to take advantage of people flocking to the Web to get the latest information.
Attackers are not just using black hat search engine optimisation techniques to boost searches on the main search indexes, but are also poisoning links on image search results.
As no images or video of the military operation have been released, any sites promoting them are automatically suspicious.
“The bad guys were quite fast and started to poison search results in Google Images,” Fabio Assolini, a Kaspersky Lab expert, wrote on the SecureList blog.
Zscaler’s researchers encountered fake news sites with the story of the operation and a Flash Player window promising a video, only if the user would first update the “VLC plugin”. Instead of downloading the plugin for a popular media player, the site attempts to download XvidSetup.exe, according to Michael Sutton, vice-president of security research at Zscaler.
At this time, Google’s new search algorithms appear to be holding back the massive flood of malicious links from dominating the front page of the Web search results. It is only a matter of time, however, as attackers are also targeting secondary keywords. As those keywords get firmly established, attackers will use them to boost the result related to the main search.
Some of the secondary keywords being targeted include “Islamabad”, “Al Qaeda”, “Navy Seals” and “Obama Address”. The main searches being poisoned include “Osama Bin Laden dead”, “Osama Bin Laden dead 2011” and “Osama Bin Laden dead or alive”. Attackers are expected to target more keywords as more details emerge over the next few days.
Criminals used both tactics to promote their malware-laden pages in the days leading up to and shortly after Britain’s Prince William’s engagement to Catherine Middleton and the royal wedding on April 29.
The attacks are not limited to poisoning search results, as security researchers have found several scams using Facebook ads. One scam promises a limited time offer of a free Subway sandwich to “celebrate” Bin Laden’s death or two airplane tickets from Southwest Airlines, David Jacoby, a Kaspersky Lab expert, wrote on SecureList. Clicking on the link prompts the user to post a message that gets posted on their user Wall, allowing the scam to spread virally, before directing them to survey pages.
Researchers stressed the importance of relying on recognised news sites to get the latest information, such as Al-Jazeera, BBC, CNN and other major US networks, including ABC, CBS and NBC. Users should not be clicking on any links just because they saw it on Twitter or saw it in an email, Paul Ducklin, head of technology for the Asia-Pacific region at Sophos, warned on the Naked Security blog.
“Don’t blindly trust links you see online, whether in emails, on social networking sites, or from searches. If the URL and the subject matter don’t tie up in some obvious way, give it a miss,” Ducklin said.
Some of the malicious codecs and fake antivirus loaders are detected by major security products, so users should ensure they are running fully-updated antivirus products on their machines. If by any chance, users end up on a site that acts unexpectedly, asking users to fill out a form or to download a file, “then get out of there at once”, he said.
After previously expressing its concern, the British Government now confirms a national security review of…