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Vulnerabilities / Threats

12/30/2007
11:37 AM
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Hackers Take the Holidays

Christmas, New Year's, or St. Swithin's Day, attackers always seem to be in a holiday mood

9:37 AM -- Hackers love holidays.

It doesn't seem to matter whether it's Christmas, Valentine's Day, or Halloween -- if there's a chance to fool users into opening a holiday message and clicking on a link, you can bet an attacker will be there to take advantage of it.

While others were opening gifts or enjoying family feasts over the past week, the architects of the Storm botnet have been busily sending out spam, seeking out gullible users who were in a holiday spirit. The first messages featured scantily clad "Santa strippers"; the next round offered New Year's greetings. (See Storm Darkens Christmas, Takes Aim at New Year's.)

Remember that brief period when e-cards were fun? Now users don't dare open them, no matter how legitimate they might seem to be. This month, some malware authors even included the phrases "no worm, no virus" in their spurious e-card text. (See Watch for Holiday E-Card Spam, Symantec Says.)

And it isn't just the botnet operators and malware writers that are using this approach -- spammers love it, too. Barely a month ago, the industry saw a widespread, pump-and-dump stock spam scam as many as 300,000 messages an hour across email systems worldwide. (See Spam for the Holidays.)

Identity thieves? Heck yeah, they love holidays. Holidays bring users to online shopping sites, and online shoppers have plenty of credit cards and other personal data to steal. Prior to this year's shopping season, experts were predicting record fraud for 2007. (See Cybercriminals Ready for Banner Holiday Shopping Season.)

Oh, and if you don't have enough holiday threats from external attackers, take a look at your employees -- many of them have just received laptops, PDAs, portable storage devices, or other digital gadgets, and they can't wait to get back to work so they can plug them into their machines at the office. (See The Gifts That Keep on Giving.)

Yep, hackers love holidays. They love the fact that holiday-spirited users are more likely to open up those unknown emails. They love the fact that more inexperienced users are drawn to shop online. And they love the fact that most IT security departments are working with skeleton crews, covering for staffers who are on vacation.

If you're a security pro, then, it's a good idea to take a cup of caution with your eggnog or champagne. Celebrate with your friends -- but make sure you're not giving access to those who aren't so friendly.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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