01:37 PM
Connect Directly
Repost This

.Gov, .Mil URL-Shortener Spam Attack Curtailed

1 targeted in work-from-home scam

URL shorteners notoriously come with some risk as well as convenience, and attackers are now abusing the federal government's official link-shortening service, 1

Researchers at Dell SecureWorks last week discovered a spam scam spoofing 1, with emails that included shortened URLs of legit agencies. Victims who clicked on the links were redirected to work-from-home scam websites. A surge in successful attacks hit on Oct. 18, but once the General Services Administration (GSA) stepped in and put up warning pages to users, the scam was derailed on Oct. 19, according to SecureWorks, which alerted GSA of the scam before going public with its research.

It's another example of how URL shorteners can be abused by the bad guys.

"The risks of URL shorteners for masking the destination site are well-known and have been abused in the past. The standout here is that the shortener is meant to be limited to .gov and .mil sites. As such, it's likely to be more trusted by end users. That seems to have been one of the design goals when it was first created," says Jeff Jarmoc, a senior security researcher with Dell SecureWorks' Counter Threat Unit. "In many ways, this is unfortunately common spamming activity. The major difference here is that the attackers were able to combine .gov sites with open redirect vulnerabilities with the URL shortener to produce short links which appear to direct to a .gov site, but instead direct to their own scam site."

SecureWorks saw some 20,000 clicks of the scam links between Oct. 12 and Oct. 16, but the biggest surge came on Oct. 18.

Jarmoc says while this spam campaign was not especially dangerous -- the spam messages were raw and relatively unsophisticated -- because it was relatively easy to spot as a phony. And the good news is that it didn't harbor any malware.

It was more of a foreshadowing of possible attacks. The issue is that .gov URLs can be created and pointed to sites, Jarmoc says.

"If this technique were used in conjunction with a better crafted message that played up the .gov angle, such as the common IRS phishing scams, which seem to occur every year, it could make for a very convincing phish," he says. "There's also some risks of targeted attacks either against government employees, or those in corporate environments who routinely interact with government officials. So far, neither scenario appears to have played out."

The attackers were mainly searching for servers with an open-redirect vulnerability in DotNetNuke's LinkClick.aspx file. That allowed the attackers to redirect the victim to their sites while appearing to be via The phony sites spoofed CNBC news pages, with content "scraped" from the legitimate site, according to SecureWorks' research.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Add Your Comment" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Kelly Jackson Higgins is Senior Editor at She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
Published: 2014-04-24
Cisco IOS before 15.3(2)S allows remote attackers to bypass interface ACL restrictions in opportunistic circumstances by sending IPv6 packets in an unspecified scenario in which expected packet drops do not occur for "a small percentage" of the packets, aka Bug ID CSCty73682.

Published: 2014-04-24
Cisco ASR 1000 devices with software before 3.8S, when BDI routing is enabled, allow remote attackers to cause a denial of service (device reload) via crafted (1) broadcast or (2) multicast ICMP packets with fragmentation, aka Bug ID CSCub55948.

Published: 2014-04-24
Cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability in IBM SmartCloud Analytics Log Analysis 1.1 and 1.2 before allows remote attackers to inject arbitrary web script or HTML via an invalid query parameter in a response from an OAuth authorization endpoint.

Published: 2014-04-24
The openshift-origin-broker in Red Hat OpenShift Enterprise 2.0.5, 1.2.7, and earlier does not properly handle authentication requests from the remote-user auth plugin, which allows remote attackers to bypass authentication and impersonate arbitrary users via the X-Remote-User header in a request to...

Published: 2014-04-24
The password recovery service in Open-Xchange AppSuite before 7.2.2-rev20, 7.4.1 before 7.4.1-rev11, and 7.4.2 before 7.4.2-rev13 makes an improper decision about the sensitivity of a string representing a previously used but currently invalid password, which allows remote attackers to obtain potent...

Best of the Web