Spam poses as CNN story about Israel-Hamas conflict

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Cybercriminals are leveraging the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza to dupe users into visiting malware-laden websites through spam claiming to be from CNN.

Upon visiting one of the scam websites, users are directed to update Adobe Flash Player to view a video about the two-week-old war – but the download is actually a trojan “SSL stealer” that seeks to capture financial and personal information, according to a blog post by the RSA FraudAction Research Lab.

The emails are disguised as coming from CNN, with subject lines such as “Israel offers short respites from strikes.” 

The body of the messages contain a link to a website where the story supposedly can be found, senior security analyst Fred Touchette at email security firm AppRiver, told Friday.

Following the link contained in the fake emails brings users to a legitimate-looking CNN page – a scrolling website complete with a news story, sidebars and a number of fake news snippets. The middle of the page contains a still image of a supposed video news story about the conflict in Gaza. If a user tries to play the video or simply stays on the page long enough, a pop-up message appears claiming the user needs to update their Flash Player, Touchette said.

The campaign, which is being hosted in China, began Thursday around 9 a.m. EST, with 50 instances identified within the first 45 minutes. Spammers quickly turned up the dial -- by 10 a.m. another 1,300 emails were churned out. Volume levels peaked during the 1 p.m. hour, with more than 80,000 being delivered.

So far, approximately 250,000 of the emails have been sent, Sam Masiello, vice president of information security at web/email filtering provider MX Logic, told Friday.

By Friday morning, spam levels have been “fairly light,” but though this initial wave seems to be dying off, another could come soon, Masiello said.

Touchette said that the attack was succesful because it used realistic looking headlines about a major, current world event and was delivered through high quality emails and landing pages with professional looking media graphics, containing accurate grammar and spelling throughout the text.

“People probably wouldn't think twice about clicking,” Touchette said.

A similar campaign was identified last August, when the notorious Russian Business Network reportedly was responsible for attacks that used both the CNN and MSNBC names.

A CNN spokeswoman said the company is aware of the issue and asks users to visit a blog post that addresses the campaign.

US-CERT recommended a number of precautions for users and administrators to help mitigate security risks associated with the attack, including avoiding untrusted sites and installing up-to-date anti-virus software.

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