The documents, which appear to come from Olympic mail servers, but include embedded malware, are so relevant to the recipient that researchers have noticed many victims are forwarding the malicious messages on to other Olympic committee members.
“These are otherwise perfectly valid documents,” Maksym Shipka, senior architect at MessageLabs, told SCMagazineUS.com today. “It's real information. It's a continuation of actual email conversations. Yet the document is bad.”
Opening the attachment activates a difficult-to-detect exploit in Microsoft Word, according to MessageLabs. The document silently extracts and runs the malicious code on the end-user's computer.
Social engineering is one of the most dangerous trends in spam. Messages are tailored to behavioral patterns of the users. Because the attachment is an actual, known document from a trusted sender, the user is tricked into thinking it is safe.
Shipka said the social engineering of this attack has been so precise, the target was compelled to not only open the attachments, but also to pass it on to other Olympic committee members. This marks the first time that such an outcome was intended by the attackers, he said.
Socially engineered attacks make it difficult to tell the difference between what is safe and what is dangerous, meaning that users must now be more vigilant before opening or forwarding any email attachment, Shipka said.