Spyware, Phishers Play Off

Apr 26, 2005 (01:04 PM EDT)

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Spyware authors and phishing scammers are using a technique almost as old as the Internet to draw unsuspecting users: Web sites purposefully designed to take advantage of typing errors.

Finnish security firm F-Secure has discovered a site just one letter different than that when accidentally visited, drops a slew of malicious software on users' PCs.

The site, and several affiliated sites, are registered to various Russian nationals, said F-Secure, which has alerted local authorities.

Visitors who stumble on the site by mistyping are immediately presented with two pop-up windows linked to sites that in turn load executable files exploiting several Windows vulnerabilities. By the time the entire sad episode's over, the machine has been infected with two backdoor components, two Trojans that drop a pair of DLLs onto Windows, a proxy Trojan, a Trojan-style piece of spying that steals bank-related information, and Trojan downloader that can retrieve and install yet more malware.

To top it off, several pieces of less-malicious adware are added to the PC.

The Trojans want to stay put on the machine, said F-Secure, as evidenced by behavior such as modifying the Windows HOSTS file so that connections can't be made to several anti-virus firms' update sites. Some are also extremely cynical, for they cause pop-ups to appear on the screen that scream "VIRUS ALERT! YOUR PC IS INFECTED!" The fake alert includes a link to a site from which users can download various anti-virus and anti-spyware programs.

"The entire model for phishers is to re-route people to malicious Web sites," said Avivah Litan, research director with Gartner. "They've been using this technique for the last 18 months or so. It's definitely primitive -- most phishers have gone on to more sophisticated methods -- but it still works."

Misspelled domains have been used by the scabrous almost since URLs were created. Pornographers were among the first to adopt the tactic of registering domains that are slightly off legitimate sites' spelling, or play off confusion between. .com and .gov., for instance, was for years the accidental destination of millions who really wanted to visit The simple mistake leads them not to Washington, D.C., but to a porn site that trafficked in "hot interns" and naked "first ladies." The site's owner sold the domain in 2004, saying that he was worried about what his young son would think of his business.

The bottom line, said Gartner's Litan, is that phishers and spyware planters "will try anything" to get victims to sites to steal identities or install malicious software.

"I talked to a major ISP just a couple of days ago," said Litan, who declined to name the Internet provider, "and they told me that they saw as many phishing attacks in the past week as they had in the whole month before.

"Phishing is much more vociferous than anyone believes," said Litan. "There's a tremendous amount of it that's going unreported."