Hackers leverage Obama win for massive malware campaign

Attacks accounted for 60 percent of all malicious spam on US election day, says one researcher

Hackers have seized on the results of the US presidential election to launch a major malware campaign that tries to trick users into installing an update to Adobe's Flash, but actually plants a Trojan on unprotected PCs, security experts warned Wednesday.

The malware blitz stems from spam messages touting Democratic Senator Barack Obama's victory, and offers up a link to what is supposedly a site sporting election results. When users click on the link, however, they're shunted to a fake site that demands the user install an update to Adobe System's Flash Player before viewing a video.

Rather than a Flash update, what's downloaded is a Trojan horse that compromises the PC then floods the machine with more malware, said Dan Hubbard, vice president of security research at Websense. "This is very coordinated," said Hubbard of the Obama-themed attacks, "with evidence that they planned this, then waited for the election results."

According to Hubbard, the hackers registered 15 to 20 domains Tuesday to host the malware and fake site. All the domains are on so-called "fast flux" servers, Hubbard added, referring to the practice in which criminals rapidly switch domains between multiple IP (Internet protocol) addresses. Identity thieves often use the fast-flux tactic as a way to stay ahead of the law, and prevent their servers from being shut down.

Hubbard called the attacks "the largest malicious e-mail campaign going," adding that Websense had tracked 100,000 individual copies of the scam message so far Wednesday.

Meanwhile, rival researcher Graham Cluley of Sophos said his company put the volume at 60 percent of all the malicious spam on the Internet. "This is taking advantage of 'Obama mania'," said Cluley, a senior technology consultant with the UK-based security firm. "He's easily the most famous person on the planet, and the fascination with him isn't just in the US It's global."

Both Hubbard and Cluley noted that the attacks are nearly identical to previous campaigns that have tried to dupe users into installing a file posing as a video codec or player program. Last August, for example, several massive campaigns lured users to malware-hosting sites by promising video clips from the CNN and MSNBC cable news channels. One of those campaigns tried to convince users to install a fake version of Flash Player, just as the Obama-oriented attacks did Wednesday.

"This is just the latest evolution of the campaigns we've seen in the past," said Cluley. "Obama is the hottest celebrity, isn't he?"

Hubbard and Cluley also agreed on one more thing: This is just the beginning of Obama attacks. "You would expect another wave, or a copy-cat of this, maybe with another fake news story," said Hubbard.

"This is far from the last piece of malware we'll see abusing Obama," Cluley echoed. "Users need to remember not to click on links."

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Gregg Keizer

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