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22 Hours: Average Time to Exploit News Events for Malware Distribution

Cybercriminals continue to respond with lightning speed when they see an opportunity to exploit a national or global news story to spread malware. In fact, the Commtouch Security Lab now sees instances of criminals inventing “breaking news” that appears to relate to high-profile current events.

Number of the Month September 2013

The Commtouch Security Lab continually analyzes malicious campaigns that exploit breaking news using the CNN name and other prominent news outlets to lure email recipients to malicious sites. The average time between an actual news event and its exploitation hovered around 22 hours during the last three months.

On Friday, September 6, malware distributors invented fake news designed to take advantage of public interest in the possibility of a U.S. airstrike against Syria. The emails used the subject line, “The United States Began Bombing,” and were crafted to appear as a legitimate CNN news alert. It is an example of the cybercriminal community harnessing the interest and anxiousness about current events to increase the success of their malicious campaigns.

Prior to the Syria-related example, the average start time for a virus attack was already decreasing. In March 2013, when the new Pope was elected, the first malware and phishing attacks began after 55 hours. In April 2013, after the Boston Marathon bombing, it took 27 hours to see the first related attacks exploiting interest in the event. Further examples include the newborn royal baby and news about the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. But examples such as the recent Syria-related campaign in September show that spammers are not waiting around – they are becoming even “faster” than the events themselves.

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