Attackers drop CNN in favor of MSNBC in malware ploy

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Updated on Wednesday, Aug. 13 at 6:15 p.m. EST

Phishers on Wednesday decided to change the channel, so to speak, when they swapped CNN for MSNBC in their latest Russian Business Network-led spam campaign.

Last week, the emails claimed to include links to breaking news stories on CNN.com, but when users clicked, they were delivered to a malicious site requesting they download a codec to watch a video. But trying to install the media player actually attempted to download malware to their machines.

At some point, the hoax lost its novelty, and the attackers decided to pull the plug on CNN. On Wednesday, Mikko H. Hypponen, chief research officer of anti-virus firm F-Secure, said on the company's blog that the phishers "switched the mails to look like they are now coming from MSNBC."

Initially the new scheme was still taking users to a CNN-branded page, but now the phony websites match the emails to include the MSNBC name.

"They've moved to another [name] that hasn't yet gained a whole lot of attention," Ryan Sherstobitoff, chief corporate evangelist at Panda Security, told SCMagazineUS.com on Wednesday.

If victims are lured to the specially crafted site, they are prompted to download a malicious executable that purportedly is an Adobe Flash plug-in, but actually is a trojan, Hypponen said.

Sherstobitoff said the trojan, in some of the attacks, is actually a rouge anti-virus solution that tries to dupe users into purchasing a subscription to it.

"It's basically scamware," he said. "All of a sudden, your machine has been take over by a parasite that says you're infected by some 2,000 viruses. They want people to feel they have all of these viruses and want people to believe the only option is to upgrade and pay for a subscription for the service, which actually doesn't deliver any value."

Infections of the CNN campaign were widespread, mostly because the virus writers were constantly changing the underlying code of the binaries, which allowed the messages to evade anti-spam filters, Sherstobitoff said. Similar success is anticipated with the MSNBC wave.

The notorious Russian Business Network is behind the attacks, he said.


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