The Tech Herald

Infectious spam hijacks users who view the message

by Steve Ragan - Jan 31 2012, 16:30

Infectious spam hijacks users who view the message. [IMG: J.Anderson]

On Friday, eleven, an email security firm based in Germany, issued a warning to users to be on the lookout for spam that is taking advantage email client settings that allow messages to render HTML. The warning comes after researchers from the company noticed a rash of messages leveraging embedded JavaScript in order to download malicious code to the system.

While this is hardly a new trick or attack vector, it seems as if criminals are returning to their roots.  The spammed email arrives as a banking security alert, with a spoofed return address making the message appear to be from the FDIC. Once accessed, if the message is rendered in an email viewer that allows HTML to be displayed, embedded JavaScript code will attempt to download malware to the system after scanning it various vulnerabilities. At the time the attack starts, the victim only sees a simple “Loading...Please wait...” message.

According to eleven, this latest resurgence of an old attack method is similar to so-called drive by downloads, where users are infected by opening a malicious Website in the browser. Here, the “drive-by-spam” eliminates the need to place harmful attachments or links in the e-mail, which allowed the attackers the bonus of infecting cautious users, who would normally never open an unknown attachment or link.

Most layered security systems that include spam filtering will flag these malicious notices. Here at The Tech Herald, in addition to the protection offered by eleven, we can confirm that Norton, Kaspersky, BitDefender, and Cloudmark (part of VIPRE Internet Security 2012) are blocking them as well. We were unable to confirm other security suites at the time of writing.

In addition to layered protections, the old advice of reading email in plain text is also helpful. For those who may need tips on how to do this, see below:

 

Outlook 2010: File -> Options -> Trust Center -> Trust Center Settings -> Read all standard / signed mail in plain text

 

Outlook 2007: Tools -> Trust Center -> E-mail Security -> Read all standard / signed mail in plain text

 

Outlook 2003: Tools -> Options -> Preferences -> E-mail Options -> Message handling -> read all mail in plain text.

 

Thunderbird: View -> Message Body As -> Plain Text

 

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