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7 sneak attacks used by today's most devious hackers

Roger A. Grimes | Oct. 1, 2013
Most malware is mundane, but these innovative techniques are exploiting systems and networks of even the savviest users

The most interesting bait-and-switch attacks I've seen as of late involve bad guys who create "free" content that can be downloaded and used by anyone. (Think administrative console or a visitor counter for the bottom of a Web page.) Often these free applets and elements contain a licensing clause that says to the effect, "May be freely reused as long as original link remains." Unsuspecting users employ the content in good faith, leaving the original link untouched. Usually the original link will contain nothing but a graphics file emblem or something else trivial and small. Later, after the bogus element has been included in thousands of websites, the original malicious developer changes the harmless content for something more malicious (like a harmful JavaScript redirect).

Lesson: Beware of any link to any content not under your direct control because it can be switched out on a moment's notice without your consent.

Stealth fallout: Total loss of control
Hackers have been using stealth methods to hide their maliciousness since the beginning days of malware. Heck, the first IBM-compatible PC virus, Pakistani Brain, from 1986, redirected inquiring eyes to a copy of the unmodified boot sector when viewed by disk editors.

When a hacker modifies your system in a stealthy way, it isn't your system anymore — it belongs to the hackers. The only defenses against stealth attacks are the same defenses recommended for everything (good patching, don't run untrusted executables, and so on), but it helps to know that if you suspect you've been compromised, your initial forensic investigations may be circumvented and fought against by the more innovative malware out there. What you think is a clean system and what really is a clean system may all be controlled by the wily hacker.

 

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