9/30/2009
03:24 PM
John H. Sawyer
John H. Sawyer
Commentary

Password-Stealing Malware Spikes

McAfee's recent report on malware has staggering numbers that are simply hard to believe, yet because I've been battling daily the very bots, Trojans, and scareware they researchers are talking about, I can't help but agree.



McAfee's recent report on malware has staggering numbers that are simply hard to believe, yet because I've been battling daily the very bots, Trojans, and scareware they researchers are talking about, I can't help but agree.For example, McAfee reports in its blog that password-stealing malware increased 400 percent in 2008, and the first half of 2009 has seen an increase that nearly surpasses last year's total numbers.

While the malware features McAfee talks about in its blog really aren't all that new, they do describe a disturbing trend of focusing more and more on stealing user passwords. We've known for a while that malware has been taking screenshots as users enter passwords and click on CAPTCHAs. What's particularly evil is how malware, like Zbot, has expanded its scope beyond just stealing credentials and has been modifying login pages to banking sites to include extra fields to ask for PIN, mother's maiden name, and other similar details.

Of particular interest is item #3, "Leaving Your Door Unlocked." It is probably the issue that goes unnoticed the most by the techs I've worked with. There is a false sense of security in finding and squashing malware with one or two antivirus products. After a "successful" scan, the techs bless the system as clean and put it back into production, only to find it infected again a couple of weeks later. Guess what? It was infected the whole time; their tools just didn't catch it the first time, and it took a week or more for their AV products to finally have detection for the malware.

I guess we should take some comfort in the fact that gaming passwords are now the most targeted login on the Web (provided that your company isn't in the gaming industry or has employees gaming while they are at work). Otherwise, you better watch out and start working on ways to protect your customers better with multifactor authentication and anomaly detection for weird account behavior.

Something worth noting is that users often are manual-password synchronizers, meaning they use the same password for multiple systems. If they're gaming password gets compromised, then it could lead to their bank or work accounts getting compromised.

We've had some excellent analysis here at Dark Reading about how attackers crack passwords and commonly used passwords, but when it comes down to it, if you can dupe a user into infecting themselves or, better yet, exploit them with a client-side attack against Adobe Acrobat, then you'll get their passwords and so much more in less time than it would take to brute-force their passwords (unless you had rainbow tables ready to go).

John H. Sawyer is a senior security engineer on the IT Security Team at the University of Florida. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are his own and do not represent the views and opinions of the UF IT Security Team or the University of Florida. When John's not fighting flaming, malware-infested machines or performing autopsies on blitzed boxes, he can usually be found hanging with his family, bouncing a baby on one knee and balancing a laptop on the other. Special to Dark Reading.

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