Friday, December 19, 2008

Situational Awareness

One of the best defenses against phishing, scamming or pretty much any other type of social engineering attack is to be aware of your situation and what to expect to have happen as well as to know when it should happen. The various attacks that come along should all raise red flags at several steps in the process. In the real world, we get this through millions of years of survival training -- those who didn't sense trouble usually died out before they could reproduce.

However, in the internet world, most of the visual and/or aural queues that raise your sense of awareness and caution are missing and we need to learn a new set of such protection mechanisms.

To that end, I'm going to periodically talk through an attack and point out things that one might notice which should cause you to think twice about continuing (or at least do a much more detailed check of whats going on before you continue).

Today, I received an interesting email reportedly from "" (which, of course, we all know we can't trust as anyone can claim to be anyone else with current mailing technologies):

Your Classmates Events: Reunion January 16th 2009 " With pride and joy we invite you to share a special day in our lives and join us for the Class Reunion on Friday, January 16th 2009. Bring the gang from Our High School back together again! Great party - from start to finish! " Proceed to view details: Your favorite people are already here, so use ClassmatesTM to bring them together. With best regards, Carmine Hilton. Customer Service Department. Copyright 1995-2008 Classmates Online, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

At first glance this seemed somewhat legit because I am a member of and so could reasonably expect to get emails from them. I'm also in a graduating class that would have an interesting anniversary in 2009 so it does make sense that we would be scheduling a reunion.

However, the email address to which the email was addressed is not the one that I have associated with account - so clearly it wasn't sending me the email. The address that was used is one that I've had for ages and typically gets close to 99.9% spam, so my internal "what's going on here" guard sprung up.

In addition, the email didn't look like the typical email -- which is just stupid laziness on the part of the attacker as it's pretty easy to fake someone else's email style, so while the email looking right isn't a good sign, having it look wrong is a big red flag.

Finally, the link in the email wasn't at the domain (to find the actual domain you have to look at the third slash (/) in the URL and then work backwords -- the first two slashes should be right after the http: at the begining of the URL, so it's the next /). In this case it was which should be another big red flag since it clearly was made to look like the real domain.

If you did, somehow, follow the link, it brought up the following page:

This, too, doesn't look like the site -- another red flag and has no real information about what's going on. One would expect to at least have some text at this point with the name of the high school and other such information.

Instead all you have is a thing that looks like a video player application but actually is just an image and if you click anywhere on the image (like the play button or, if you're thinking of a YouTube video, the center of the video image) or on the Adobe Get media player button, the site tries to download and run a native application (an EXE). That should send big "DANGER WILL ROBINSON" shivers up your spine. Any website that tries to download an exe directly to your platform has to be treated as the enemy until proven to be a friend (no innocent until proven guilty here -- good sites rarely download EXEs directly like that without at least having some interactions with the user).

In this case the executable was Adobe_Player10.exe -- which I'm sure is a Trojan Horse which would do very nasty things to your computer at some point and it wasn't coming from Adobe's own web site, but rather from the site itself -- another red flag (which, I hope, you never got because you didn't get to this stage). If you did get here and you think everything's legit, you should stop, go to the adobe web site and check version numbers or at least download the application directly from Adobe -- never download/install software that you got to through an untrusted link or from an untrusted site.

UPDATE: I've gotten 7 more of these same invites. All to different email addresses that route to me. That's another really good sign that things aren't well in Kansas and you should stay away from the email.

Moral of the story: It's a jungle out there and you've gotta watch out for yourself as there's nobody else doing it for you.

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