A new campaign by malicious hackers uses a website designed to look like Microsoft.'s Windows update page to trick unwitting Internet users into infecting their computers with a Trojan horse remote access program, according to antivirus experts at Sophos.
The scam uses email messages that appear to come from Microsoft to get recipients to visit a Web page that uploads the malicious program. Using the promise of Windows software patches to distribute malicious code isn't new. However, the latest attacks show that scammers were adopting strategies used by phishers to evade detection by gateway and desktop antivirus programs, senior technology consultant at Sophos, Graham Cluley, said. The attack was first detected last week in Sophos's lab after it was distributed in a spam campaign.
The messages have subject lines such as "Update your windows machine" or "Urgent Windows Update", Cluley said.
A link in the body of the email message appears to take users to the Microsoft Windows Update website, but actually forwards them to a website operated by the attackers that installed a Trojan horse program called DSNX-05, according to Sophos.
The website run by the hackers was registered to an Internet service provider (ISP) in Toronto, but has since been shut down. The site looked very much like the actual Microsoft Windows Update page, and displayed Microsoft's corporate logo. One giveaway that something was amiss was that the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) displayed in the Web browser address bar showed only the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the site, instead of the Windows update address, Cluley said. (See: http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.)
Sophos did not know how many Internet users may have fallen for the ruse, he said.
The method of attack is similar to phishing identity theft attacks, which have become common in the last year. As with many phishing attacks, gateway antivirus software does not detect the scam, because there is no malicious code in the email. Destkop antivirus software with spam detection could spot the email, but only if an antispam definition for the attack had been created and the user had updated the antispam definitions for their product, according to Cluley.
Those behind the attack might have been trying to capitalise on anticipation of Microsoft's upcoming software security patch release this week, he said.
The company said it intended to put out a number of security patches for its software.
"It's such a shame that, just as we're beginning to teach people more about security updates, cybercriminals are exploiting that," Cluley said.
Sophos warned that Microsoft does not issue security warnings in the manner used by this attack.
Email users should be on guard when receiving an unsolicited email that contains an attachment or asks the reader to click a link to a Web page, he said.
While the Web page used in the latest attack was disabled, those behind the scam could post the content in a new location and restart the attack, he said.
"It's hard being an average Internet user," Cluley said. "You just can't trust anyone."