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INSTANT MESSAGING AND CHAT USERS ARE SUCKERS FOR HACKERS

Source: Security Wire Digest

Posted on March 25, 2002

      Just when corporate security officers finally started getting users to leave e-mail attachments unopened, those same users have found a new way for others to compromise systems.

      Carnegie Mellon's Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) Coordination Center is reporting that hackers are using Instant Messaging (IM) and Internet Relay Chat (IRC) messages to dupe users into visiting dangerous Web sites and downloading malware that can enable distributed denial-of-service attacks. This social engineering scheme bypasses e-mail defenses and introduces vulnerabilities into corporate systems.

      In a typical scenario, an unsuspecting user receives a message that either entices them (with promised software, pornography or other items) or frightens them (with virus horror stories or threats) to download dangerous software. Alternatively, the Web site itself may commandeer the user's machine or data. The same message may go to thousands, using automated software that takes advantage of IM or IRC.

      "People don't have e-smarts," observes Ira Winkler, a CISSP and chief security strategist for Hewlett-Packard Consulting. "They wouldn't follow a stranger down a dark alley, but they do believe what anonymous hackers say."

      Winkler relates a case where a message informed a user that the hacker had obtained files from the user's machine. The frightened user visited a Web site as directed, where another attack actually did read the hard drive of the machine, exposing sensitive information.

      The problem is complicated because many corporations use Instant Messaging extensively for legitimate internal communications.

      Winkler suggests several steps for corporate security officers to take. "They should have policies for IM and IRC, just as they do for e-mail," he advises. "Users should be made aware of this kind of deception, and urged to take common sense precautions."

      In addition, it may be necessary to restrict or forbid IM or IRC use in an organization. Technology solutions, such as personal firewalls, may also save users from unwittingly creating security vulnerabilities.




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