Vulnerabilities / Threats
9/11/2009
04:35 PM
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Popular News Topics Become Malware Bait

Curiosity about current events is being leveraged to spread malware.

The saying "no news is good news" has a new meaning in the context of online security: You'd be hard pressed to find a popular news topic that isn't being used by cybercriminals to promote malicious Web sites and links.

A more succinct truism describing the current state of affairs might be "no good news goes unpunished."

"Literally every current relevant news topic is actively targeted each day, including highly publicized speeches given by President Obama this week," said Panda security researcher Sean-Paul Correll in a blog post on Thursday.

By "targeted," Correll is referring to "Blackhat search engine optimization" (SEO), through which operators of malicious Web sites attempt to make their sites appear higher up on search results lists through the use of links and popular search keywords in contravention of search engine rules.

It's basically a set of techniques for gaming the search system to maximize the number of people exposed to malicious links. And thanks to the wide availability of tools to determine popular searches, cyber criminals have no trouble finding terms that will tempt the masses.

"Today, Blackhat SEO is truly a mainstream tactic used by cyber criminals," said Correll. "Targeting real-time news events is a serious problem not only for search engines, but for all parties involved in malware mitigation."

Security researcher Dancho Danchev observes in a blog post that the news-oriented SEO campaign has been going on since April. He says a Ukrainian group is responsible, a group that was involved in the creation of the Koobface worm and the misuse of U.S. federal forms to drive sales of fake antivirus programs, or scareware.

Correll argues that the shift toward the real-time Web demands real-time malware protection, which turns out to be easier to deliver from a cloud-based service than through local antivirus software that checks periodically for updates.


InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on the public cloud, digging into the gritty details of cloud computing services from a dozen vendors. Download the report here (registration required).

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