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Perimeter

10/30/2009
05:04 PM
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LinkedIN With 'Bill Gates'

Bill Gates invited me to join his LinkedIN network. OK, so it wasn't really Bill Gates, but as far as my email system, spam filter, and email client were concerned, it's perfectly normal for Gates to send me a LinkedIn invitation.

Bill Gates invited me to join his LinkedIN network. OK, so it wasn't really Bill Gates, but as far as my email system, spam filter, and email client were concerned, it's perfectly normal for Gates to send me a LinkedIn invitation.Notice that I said he invited me to join his LinkedIN network: If you're a LinkedIn member, then the uppercase "N" should be your first clue the message was phony. That misspelling was in the subject line of the email, though the message's contents spelled it correctly. But apparently many email security products don't notice those things, as researcher Joshua Perrymon demonstrated in his recent spear-phishing experiment, which was 100 percent successful across multiple email products and services, including iPhones, BlackBerrys, and Palm Pres.

I was one of Josh's guinea pigs for his experiment, so I got to see how easy phishing email can bypass email security controls. There obviously wasn't much chance I would get duped by the invite: I knew that my interviewing Bill Gates on the spot at a computer conference when I was in my 20s wasn't enough to get me into his social networking inner circle. But what if Perrymon's rather convincing spoofed LinkedIn invite had come from someone I did know, and had spelled LinkedIn with a lowercase "n"?

I would easily have fallen for it.

Now that's social engineering at its best, right? You bet. There's no patch for a good social engineering attack. But what worries me is that while Perrymon's message had the look and feel of a legit LinkedIn invitation message, it still had the capitalization issue and Bill Gates' name in it -- a couple of things you'd think might appear spammy to a filter. But then again, Russian-language email messages occasionally slip through and land in my inbox, too. So I guess I'm not surprised that the experiment worked on my end.

Still, it was a good exercise to experience firsthand, especially when Perrymon showed me the results of the data he was able to gather about me when I willingly clicked on the link in the email -- my operating system, browser version, IP address, etc. Nope, nothing Bill Gates would be interested in.

-- Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. 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 ... View Full Bio

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