White House Christmas Card Is Ruse To Steal Data

Targeted phishing attack hits government, law enforcement workers

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading, Contributor

January 6, 2011

2 Min Read

A phishing attack that appeared to be an email card from the White House was an attempt to steal documents and other data from government workers -- particularly those involved in computer crime investigations, according to news reports.

According to an Associated Press report, attackers used the e-mail to collect sensitive law enforcement data. No classified information was compromised, officials told AP.

The red holiday e-mail card, with its brightly decorated Christmas tree, prompted recipients to click on a link, which would then download Zeus malware for stealing passwords, the AP report says.

The targeted attack then downloaded a second payload that is designed to steal documents from the recipient's computer, accessing Microsoft Word and Excel files.

Researchers who studied the attack say it was small and targeted to a limited number of groups with law enforcement, military, and government affiliations. It might have been sent out manually in order to avoid detection, the researchers told AP.

In his blog, Alex Cox, a researcher at NetWitness, suggests the attack could be the work of the same attackers who launched the "Kneber" exploit last February.

"It's not surprising that the holiday season was again used as an opportunity to take advantage of end users' naivete by sending a holiday e-card they could not resist opening," says Andy Hayter, anti-malcode program manager at ICSA Labs. "It is apparent that additional education needs to be conducted, since many recipients took the bait and clicked on a malicious link leading to becoming infected with a Zeus trojan horse malware." The systems infected were not running the latest anti-malware protection with the latest signature levels, Hayter observes.

Researchers told AP the attackers stole "at least several gigabytes" of data. One U.S. official told AP the code was "rather poorly written." The hackers could only get easily accessible documents and not those filed deep within layers of folders on the hard drive, said the official, who spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

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About the Author(s)

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading


Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one of the top cyber security journalists in the US in voting among his peers, conducted by the SANS Institute. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Voices in Security by SYS-CON Media.

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