SPAMing as a Full Time Job?

no spam
I’ve been noticing that most of the spam I get (and nearly all that gets through the filters) arrives during the week, not the weekends. Actually, looking at my spam box, it looks like I receive around twice as much on week days than weekend days.

My point being, and I sure there are some good answers: Is spamming a full time job for a lot of spammers, or even a 40 hour a week job? I’d have to say for at least the dedicated ones, it probably is. Or, do they just figure more people check their mail on the weekdays?

Either way, spam sucks.

Cross Site Scripting can cause your stock to tank

A woman working in HP Israel sent an email to hundreds of co-workers accusing (falsely) that a snack made by Osem, one of the largest food manufacturers in Israel and the local subsidiary of the Nestle food giant, is causing infant death.

This email quickly spread and the immediate result was a 6% drop in Osem’s stock in just a few hours.

The email wasn’t very sophisticated. It wasn’t even remotely true and the ministry of health immediately issued a statement confirming the rumour is false. Still, Osem – one of the largest companies in Israel – will see its stock down a few percent over this rumor.

Earlier this month, Apple’s stock went down following rumors that Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs had a heart attack. The Apple stock takes a beating every time that rumor surfaces, and that happens regularly.

Stocks going up or down because of rumors is old as the invention of the stock market. But the Internet makes it easier to create a rumor that reaches far and wide within hours; there is just one more component that is missing: credibility.

Imagine if you saw a news item on that discussed the death of CEO and chairman Steve Jobs. Imagine if you saw a clarification text on Osem’s web site explaining that the ‘bamba’ snack is indeed suspect of poisoning infants. This is not difficult to do – I don’t really need to break in or deface the web sites for this to happen – I just need to find a cross site scripting vulnerability and use it for attack.

In fact, we made a quick proof of concept to the Tel Aviv stock exchange a few years ago when we planted a false news item using a cross site scripting attack. The reaction from TASE was familiar to anyone who ever reported a XSS vulnerability: “oh, this is not really a problem as it does not permanently changes the page” (for something that is “not a problem” they sure fixed it within the hour, though).

We’ve repeated this exercise almost every time our vulnerability scanning service found a XSS vulnerability and we had to explain why the report claims it’s a serious issue. We planted false financial reports in the ‘investors’ section, altered news items and in almost all cases, met with the standard reaction: “this is not a real vulnerability” and “how can this really affect me?”

Most security researchers opt to explain XSS as an attack for stealing cookies. While this is true, I think there’s a greater risk in altering the information on the page to visitors which could be useful in a phishing attack, or like the examples above, a speculative attack.

I’m waiting for the first XSS attack that will tank a big company stock. If you’re reading this, make sure your company won’t be the one.

AVG’s NOPslide

AVG's NOPslide

AVG Technologies (formerly Grisoft) has been through a lot the last 17 years. Its almost considered an adult! From specializing in security software to… well actually they still do the same thing, they just focus greatly on antivirus and antimalware technology today.

In April 2006, AVG acquired Ewido Networks and bumped up their own antivirus’s version from version 7.1 to 7.5. Soon thereafter, Microsoft (!@#$) stated that AVG’s products would even be DIRECTLY available from the Windows Security Center in Vista.

Not cutting many corners, lets shift our focus now on AVG’s acquisition of Exploit Prevention Labs in late in 2007. AVG liked their ‘LinkScanner’ code and later released it in the next huge ‘revision’ of the AVG antivius suite, AVG 8. Now before I bash AVG 8, I will tell you that I used to be a big AVG fan. I always recommended it to everyone, whenever I had the chance. It WAS great — AVG offered advanced protection and ran so smooth and so clean. But at the moment, its bloated, clunky, very slow, a huge resource hog, and I am glad that I don’t have to use it. LinkScanner seems to have great intentions but has, so far, gotten off to a rocky start (or finish). A friend of mine warned me about it when it first was released, and I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, keeping it on the ‘good’ list. I just simply don’t like the fact that it has been near ruined recently, thanks to AVG’s poor decisions.

Just like in poker, “Its about making the best decisions”, and how true that is when you think about it for the software industry too. Everyone makes mistakes, but AVG: PLEASE BE GOOD AGAIN!

Kaspersky’s SAFE Internet


Recently Kaspersky, the company who makes your favorite, or not-so-favorite anti-malicious software, called upon government and banking institutions to be more secure. But is it really up to these agencies to make draw the perfect picture of security, or should the end users stop making such bad decisions, both on and offline?

If these ‘safety nets’ are deployed, it won’t going to make the best out of security situation, but it will help. On the other side of the packet, using outdated software or insecure browsers (cough!*IE*cough!) that do little or nothing to protect the web surfers, directly and indirectly, should also be of major concern. Wouldn’t it be something if, when accessing one of these websites running INSECUREBROWSER, it suggested you use MORESECUREBROWSER, FOR SECURITY REASONS IF NOTHING ELSE? Woah, wouldn’t that be a different color light bulb. Especially if it was something like, say, Internet Explorer VS Firefox (Yes, I am saying that Firefox’s security is better than Internet Explorer. I believe both core and rendering engines are better, too).

Now, if they try to regulate the internet with security laws and cyber architecture boundaries, its just going to be one big mess. If you’d like one reason it wouldn’t work, just think about how outlawish the internet already is, and has been, since its inception. Then take a break and elaborate on it. I’m sure you’ll find more than one reason we can’t import some crazy set of regulations and actually believe they are going to work and/or solve our problems.

Here is some more fuel for thought: How about separating the internet for low and high bandwidth data flow. Interconnected, but bridged. Not a good idea? Well why not? As long as we are on the same network, there will be fighting over who owns what (more than just headers and footers). But as long as we put the big with the small, there is going to be controversy. There are going to be debates. This last part may have been a little off topic, but I feel like it needed to be said. Security isn’t made, its planned and implemented before regulation begins.

Not your typical firefox SSL error message

I almost never mistype domain names, so I’m glad firefox was able to catch my error when I did:

firefox warning

(click the image for a larger version)
If you haven’t noticed (I didn’t notice myself in the first 3-4 times; I kept clicking ok and reloading, I thought firefox was acting up) the url is The good news is that the site is owned by google, so I wouldn’t have been phished in any case. The bad news is that google should have either redirected me to the right site or give me an error message instead of showing me the site with the wrong certificate. I know why they are doing it – it’s easier to do a domain catch-all then a redirect, but it’s not good in terms of user experience.

Firefox’s behavior is interesting too. Note that the warning I got was accompanied with a popup dialog that forced me to press ‘ok’ to get to to a second warning on the page itself.

If you don’t remember the typical error message, here is what anybody surfing more than a day with firefox has seen:

typical firefox warning

(click the image for a larger version)

This typical firefox warning tries to let me know something is wrong. The problem is, I’m seeing it so much that I’m adding exceptions left-and-right. In this case of the ‘gogole’ typo, the problem is more sever ( is claiming to be so I guess firefox decided to add a dialog box to the error. I’m not sure what triggers it and how often it’s displayed, but for me this is the first time seeing it, so my guess is that firefox is trying to keep it for the rare occasion when you need the user to understand the warning has escalated.
I wonder if the next escalation will be a warning siren through the speakers with a small electric shock through the keyboard.

Opera’s Latest Hitman

Opera Logo

Opera the web browser is apparently now great at one thing: following the standards.

Yesterday, Opera 10 Alpha was released and flaunted its 100/100 score on the Acid3 test, passing with all the colors of the rainbow this time. But honestly, Opera, like several other ‘alternative’ browsers (and if your a hardcore fan/follower, excuse me), is just trying to catch up with the old dogs.

Firefox in particular has had many of Opera’s ‘new’ features and ‘improvements’ for quite a while. Security issues in Opera, often simple and totally trivial bugs, have been found and released. Not saying more than other browsers; both Firefox and Internet Explorer have them doubled to say the least, but I just never could bring myself to trust this unique web browser.

Auto-update has just been put in place, and I feel, as a security researcher, that it is an extremely valuable mitigation tool when new exploits spring up. Thank God the development team FINALLY put this sub-standard feature in place. Presto 2.2 has taken things to the next level with most of these improvements, more details of which you can find for windows, mac, and ‘linux/unix‘.

Has security been incorporated into Opera recently more than ever? Maybe. Has Opera been built with security from the ground up? Certainly not. Pay attention to your favorite XYZ exploit/advisory feed for inevitable updates.

Happy Birthday Morris!

Randy Abrams recently pointed out to me that today is the 20th anniversary of the Morris Worm. For all you kids out there who have no recollection of this event, I’ve just posted a blog at that recaps on the worm and includes some relevant references, but right now I want to expand on a thought I had while I was writing it.

The Morris worm was very much of its time. It was a proof of concept (actually of several concepts) item of malware that showed a certain interest in and knowledge of some vulnerabilities that were current at that time (mostly a fingerd buffer overflow exploit and a somewhat flaky implementation of sendmail debugging), and was clearly meant to be self-launching. Most current malware, while it may well use drive-by downloads and other exploits, seems to use some form of social engineering. So maybe the earlier CHRISTMA EXEC worm was the real pioneer, with its mass mailing payload and its chainletter appeal to the gullibility of the victim. Well, we can draw dotted lines between old and new malware from now to Christmas, which is the sort of thing that interests saddos like me but doesn’t necessarily gain us much in terms of securing the internet.

Looking through some historical resources, it strikes me that there are some moments in malware history that not only define the time, but in some way draw a line under it, though Morris was followed by a copycat VMS worm the following year). After that, though, we waited quite a while for a real mass mailer epidemic and for the big network worms of this decade. Melissa managed to mark both the beginning of heavy duty mass mailers and the end (or at least the decline) of macro malware. Yet there are no full stops here. In 2008, we’re still seeing new(-ish) stuff cheek-by-jowl with the sort of malware we’ve mostly forgotten about: old-time boot sector viruses and new-age MBR rootkits; macro viruses and office suite exploits; overflows and drive-bys; and an endless loop of social engineering tricks (phishes, 419s, fake admin messages, fake codecs, fake updates…) The only really substantial change is the disappearance of the hobbyist hacker/malware author, promoted into full-blown cyber-criminality.

It seems that what we really need to patch is human nature: the evil gene, the greed gene, the careless gene, the “what’s a patch?” gene, the “I can click on anything because I have anti-virus software” gene…


APWG: Number of phishing sites has decreased – crimeware is here to stay

First time in the history of Anti-Phishing Working Group (aka APWG) the number of phishing reports received and new phishing sites discovered decreased at the end of period (i.e. Mar ’08).

But don’t say “We won the race – at last” yet. :( The number of crimeware-spreading URLs rose to a new record.
Nothing special when digging the statistics of top hosting countries – U.S., China, Russia, etc. But hey, France is listed too.

And link to the recently released Q1 Phishing Trends Report (pdf) here.