We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message
80,259 News Articles

Spear-phishing scam targets CEOs

Targeted attacks trick thousands in the US

After tricking several thousand executives into downloading malicious software earlier this week, online scammers started up their subpoena phishing scam again on Wednesday, but on a much smaller scale.

First reported on Monday, the phishers send a small number of emails to senior executives within companies, often CEOs, telling them that they've been subpoenaed for a federal court case. The emails direct the victim to a website that is very similar to a legitimate California federal court page, but ending in '...-uscourts.com', rather than the '....uscourts.gov' web domain actually used by federal courts.

Although they end with the same letters, the domains used in this scam are actually different from and not connected with the uscourts.com website, which offers access to court records in some jurisdictions.

The email sent to executives is specially crafted to appear legitimate, a tactic called 'spear-phishing'. The emails include the executive's name, company's name and even the correct phone number.

Executives who click on the link in the email are then told that they need to download a plug-in in order to read the subpoena. That plug-in is actually malicious software.

Although the US federal court system uses email to communicate information about cases, subpoenas for new cases are not served via email.

Verisign, which estimates that about 2,000 people were tricked by the scam on Monday, believes that Wednesday's attack was on a much smaller scale. Late Wednesday the company's iDefense group had tracked only about 100 infections, said Matt Richard, director of iDefense's Rapid Response Team.

Security experts have been fighting the phishers. By Tuesday they'd managed to get the first phishing website taken down, only to have the second one pop up on Wednesday.

Because the attack targets such a small number of victims, antispam companies have had a hard time filtering the emails; antivirus companies have been similarly pressed to block the malicious software that the attackers are using.

Yesterday, antivirus companies weren't blocking this latest version of the malware, said John Bambenek, a security researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and volunteer at the SANS Internet Storm Center.


IDG UK Sites

Windows 9 release date, price, features: Windows 9 beta leaked ahead of 30 September unveiling

IDG UK Sites

Is Apple losing confidence in itself?

IDG UK Sites

How a London VFX studio is ditching desktop workstations for cloud-based creative power

IDG UK Sites

iOS 8 tips & tricks: Get to know iOS 8's handy new features