Hackers exploit festive cheer on Twitter to send malware

3 Dec 2010

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Anti-malware lab PandaLabs has warned cyber criminals are exploiting Twitter to send malware using festive-themed messages. Using Black Hat SEO techniques, hackers are taking advantage of trending topics to distribute malware.

As the holiday period has begun, topics such as Advent calendar, Hanukkah or even grinch, are among the most popular subjects hackers use to entice users.

Thousands of tweets have been launched using holiday-related phrases, such as, "Nobody cares about Hanukkah," or "Shocking video of the Grinch," along with short URLs pointing to malicious websites.

Users who click the link will be taken to a page that infects systems with false codecs. These exploit a security hole in PDF files and try to trick users into downloading a codec that is really a downloader Trojan, which in turn downloads more malware onto the compromised computer.

In addition to subjects related to Christmas, cyber criminals are using other hot topics to spread their creations, including the Sundance Film Festival, the AIDS campaign, the Carling Cup and tweets about the actor Morgan Freeman.

“Social networks are becoming increasingly popular among hackers as a vehicle for spreading malware,” said Luis Corrons, technical director of PandaLabs.

“Facebook and Twitter are commonly exploited with malicious intent, giving their ever-increasing number of users the false sense of security that they’re safe posting content on these sites. This is why the number of clicks, and therefore infections, tends to be very high.”

Keep your computer safe this Christmas

With the increased risk over the holiday period, PandaLabs offers users a series of practical security tips for using social media:

1.    Don’t click suspicious links from non-trusted sources. This should apply to messages received through Twitter, through other social networks and even via email.

2.    If you click on the links, check the target page. If you don’t recognise it, close your browser.

3.    Even if you don’t see anything strange in the target page, but you are asked to download something, don’t accept.

4.    Install all available operating system updates and patches. Cyber criminals are particularly skilled at exploiting critical vulnerabilities in operating systems and commonly used applications. Computer users are often silently redirected to a website with a carefully crafted malicious payload that leaves the computer infected with data-stealing malware or extortion-based threats. In addition to updating your system, PandaLabs strongly advises people to update Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader and Java software, which are all commonly targeted by cyber criminals.

5.    If you do download or install an executable file and the PC starts to launch messages or behaves strangely, there is probably malware on your computer.

6.    As a general rule, make sure your computer is well protected to ensure you are not exposed to the risk of infection from any malicious code.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com