Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Risk

4/4/2008
08:45 AM
Connect Directly
Google+
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

'Transient' Hacks Become Attackers' New Favorites

Some attackers now prefer making quick, precision strikes on a Website to evade detection -- and then moving on to another one

Sophisticated bad guys are increasingly sneaking in and out of legitimate Websites and search engine results, even cleaning up after themselves to erase any evidence -- a technique that some researchers are calling "transient hacking."

Roger Thompson, chief research officer for AVG Technologies, says his team has recently witnessed more and more of this stealthy behavior, where attackers jump in and out of these sites rather than set up their own more conspicuous malicious sites to infect unsuspecting users.

"If you knew a site was always bad, you could simply block it at the IP address, or the ISP could block it at its border routers," Thompson says. "But by setting it up so it’s moving all the time, [attackers force victims to] play a losing game of whack-a-mole."

Some bad guys have gone to this hide-and-seek method as a way to stay alive, rather than have their malicious sites shut down. "When I first started looking at this, they would go to a lot of trouble to hide where the exploit sites were. Now they just mass-hack everybody and realize they’re going to be shut down within a few days."

There are three main types of these transient attacks, Thompson says: attackers moving malware on and off of legitimate sites, such as the recent code injection attacks on major Websites that were reported recently; attackers swapping malware in and out of legitimate banner ads on respected sites; and attackers poisoning search engine results as a way to store their malware. "This is a sign of increased skill in hacking into Websites and tracking search engines," Thompson says.

Thompson says these transient hackers appear to be a mix -- gamers from China grabbing World of Warcraft passwords and virtual gold; identity thieves looking for bank account and credit card numbers; and a few bot herders.

iFrame hacks are insidious in that they typically can't be detected on a legitimate Webpage, he says. "iFrames are generally about one pixel wide… they’re embedded, so you can’t see them. The whole point of an iFrame is to embed some data from another site without taking you off that site. There’s nothing you can see unless you’re really alert" to it, he says.

The banner ad approach was used on the recent MLB.com and MTV.com hacks, he says. Attackers change a link in the chain of the legitimate ad (on a legit site) to a malicious one, typically swapping it in and out of the ad so it isn’t as noticeable. "These come in waves and are hard to pin down," he says.

The recent search engine transient attacks are especially clever, according to Thompson. The bad guys find a popular search term, set up a fake link on that topic, and send their bots to that link to pump up the search numbers, escalating it to the top of the search engine results. "They’re not hacking Websites, just getting the search engine to store iFrames in the searches," he says, in hopes that a user will click on the link in their search results.

Of course, savvy search engines end up detecting these malicious links and clean them out of the search caches, Thompson observes. Then the bad guys just send another 100,000 bot hits to another link, playing off another popular search term. "Search engine manipulation is the epitome of a transient hack," Thompson says.

Meanwhile, not all transient attackers bother erasing their tracks, because their time-to-live on a site or in a search engine result list is typically so short. "They know they’re going to get shut down," and that they can just do it all over again somewhere else, he says. "That makes it harder to defend."

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

  • AVG Technologies CZ s.r.o.

    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

    Comment  | 
    Print  | 
    More Insights
  • Comments
    Threaded  |  Newest First  |  Oldest First
    COVID-19: Latest Security News & Commentary
    Dark Reading Staff 9/25/2020
    9 Tips to Prepare for the Future of Cloud & Network Security
    Kelly Sheridan, Staff Editor, Dark Reading,  9/28/2020
    Malware Attacks Declined But Became More Evasive in Q2
    Jai Vijayan, Contributing Writer,  9/24/2020
    Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
    White Papers
    Video
    Cartoon
    Current Issue
    Special Report: Computing's New Normal
    This special report examines how IT security organizations have adapted to the "new normal" of computing and what the long-term effects will be. Read it and get a unique set of perspectives on issues ranging from new threats & vulnerabilities as a result of remote working to how enterprise security strategy will be affected long term.
    Flash Poll
    How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
    How IT Security Organizations are Attacking the Cybersecurity Problem
    The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world -- and enterprise computing -- on end. Here's a look at how cybersecurity teams are retrenching their defense strategies, rebuilding their teams, and selecting new technologies to stop the oncoming rise of online attacks.
    Twitter Feed
    Dark Reading - Bug Report
    Bug Report
    Enterprise Vulnerabilities
    From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
    CVE-2020-15216
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
    In goxmldsig (XML Digital Signatures implemented in pure Go) before version 1.1.0, with a carefully crafted XML file, an attacker can completely bypass signature validation and pass off an altered file as a signed one. A patch is available, all users of goxmldsig should upgrade to at least revisio...
    CVE-2020-4607
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
    IBM Security Secret Server (IBM Security Verify Privilege Vault Remote 1.2 ) could allow a local user to bypass security restrictions due to improper input validation. IBM X-Force ID: 184884.
    CVE-2020-24565
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
    An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...
    CVE-2020-25770
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
    An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...
    CVE-2020-25771
    PUBLISHED: 2020-09-29
    An out-of-bounds read information disclosure vulnerabilities in Trend Micro Apex One may allow a local attacker to disclose sensitive information to an unprivileged account on vulnerable installations of the product. An attacker must first obtain the ability to execute low-privileged code on the ...