Ongoing targeted attacks during Tibet, Burma controversy and Olympic torch protests

Unfortunately, targeted computer attacks commonly occur. This morning’s NPR show exposed such problems in regards to activists and journalists in China. Sadly, not much data is public about these sorts of attacks and it would be easy to speculate that such types of attacks are on the rise. Sometimes, the groups being attacked do not want members to be exposed or further put into public light and sometimes they do not fully understand they are being attacked. The NPR audio mentioned groups like the Falun Gong, Students for a Free Tibet, Human Rights in China and some China-based foreign journalists. Often, the attackers’ identities are more difficult to uncover than more entertaining examples we’ve given in the past. While spoofed sources may seem to be from friends or friendly members of organizations, the true source remains in the shadows, hiding university or seemingly public ip addresses.

The various code used in targeted attacks that we have evaluated to date are not terribly impressive pieces of malware. The trojans and spyware often are delivered over email as embedded data within files of all formats with enticing names that the recipient would most likely be interested in. For example, the NPR interview mentioned a “resume.doc” file that was delivered to current board members and staff of the targeted Students for a Free Tibet from the spoofed email address of an ex-board member. These Microsoft Word docs, Excel spreadsheets, malicious .chm help files, and Powerpoint slideshows usually are malformed in one way or another to attack vulnerabilities in flawed software on the receiver’s side. When opened by outdated software, these maliciously crafted files and the included code drop and run trojans and spyware embedded in the files on the victim’s system.
Most can be prevented by keeping software updated and patched, running security solutions, and as always, security in layers is recommended.

The audio mentions that most AV scanners are often evaded by the software components of these targeted attacks (an unusual admission from a member of the AV industry!). And that trojan builders create nastier rodents in response to the AV companies’ better mousetraps.
ThreatFire is different — our behavioral-based cat is bigger and faster than that little piece of cheese sitting on the wire and wood thing in the attic. Purrs like a kitten too.

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