A new Trojan quietly circulating in the wild uses components from a commercial optical character recognition (OCR) application to decode captchas, those jumbled-text images meant to help a website discern human activity from automated bots.
The OCR-using captcha breaking tool is just one component of the Trojan. Its main purpose appears to be to fill out contest entries, online polls, and other forms relating to marketing campaigns originating in the US, and it uses the OCR-cracking software in order to read the captchas and submit the form entries, on pages where the website presents a captcha to the user.
And this is not just any captcha-cracka, but a Swiss Army Knife of sorts. The maker of the “Advanced Captcha Recognition Engine” tool, based in China, claims that the tool is capable of bypassing more than 30 different captcha systems, including those used by Yahoo, MSN, and some of the largest portal sites and banks in China.
The captcha decoding tool itself is a kludge, marrying some bespoke files and components expropriated from an older version of a commercial optical character recognition (OCR) suite called TOCR. The UK-based company that makes the TOCR software, Transym Computer Services, also licenses its components to third parties, though it’s not clear they knowingly have a relationship with the Chinese captcha cracker maker, nor were they aware that parts of their engine was repurposed for sale to Chinese malfeasants. The files appear to have been stolen or pirated, and used without Transym’s knowledge.
This week it was impossible to escape the “big news” that Twitter got hacked. The French hacker, known as “Hacker Croll,” who made headlines back in May for a similar Twitter breach, was at it again. This time he managed to get his hands on at least 310 sensitive Twitter business documents by gaining access to an employee’s email account, subsequently using information found in that account to then access the employee’s Google Apps account to steal the confidential company documents. The hacker sent the documents to TechCrunch, who then chose to publish them along with an account of the breach.
This highly publicized breach got people talking, and ignited a wave of speculation about two things: first, about the security of passwords and how easy it is to guess the answer to someone’s security question based on publicly available information found on social media sites; and second, about the security of data stored “in the cloud” – in this case, Google Apps.
Oh no, the sky is falling!
Our data isn’t safe in the cloud!
On the second point, let’s not take this too far. This incident has little to do with the security of the cloud apps themselves. It is much more about the first point and the security practices that users of all Web sites and applications – whether they are banking sites, social media sites or cloud applications – should be employing in their day-to-day use.
The key learning end users should take from this incident is that password security is critical, both in terms of the passwords you choose as well as the amount of data you expose publicly through social media sites like Twitter and Facebook.
Twitter spells this out on its blog response and even Hacker Croll himself articulates that his intention is to teach people a lesson about the security holes in secret questions:
“What I would like to say is that even the biggest and the strongest do silly things without realizing it and I hope that my action will help them to realize that nobody is safe on the net. If I did this it’s to educate those people who feel more secure than simple Internet novices. And security starts with simple things like secret questions because many people don’t realise the impact of these question on their life if somebody is able to crack them.”
Last year, we at Webroot (as well as many other people) saw a huge spike in two specific types of malware: Rogue antispyware products — the ineffective, deceptive kind — and the various tricks the companies that sell rogues use to trick you into downloading (and eventually buying) their bogus products, something we refer to, generally, as Fakealerts.
Here’s usually how the trick works: First, you’re fooled into browsing to a Web site which employs any of a number of tricks to install the Fakealert code onto your PC. The Fakealert then begins popping up messages warning you about some sort of infection in the System Tray, or in dialog boxes, and/or by opening browser windows to pages that look uncannily similar to control panels or dialog boxes used by Windows XP and/or Vista. Later, after you’ve been provided a smoke-and-mirrors “free scan” of your system (which, of course, reports all kinds of salacious and undesirable “detections”), you’re directed to a page where, for just $59 you can be rid of your spyware problems forever.
The tricks these guys employ get more creative with every new iteration. We’ve seen them drop hundreds of junk files on a hard drive, which are then “detected” as infections; install screensavers that look just like your computer is going through Blue Screen of Death convulsions; and run every dirty trick and cheap gimmick to get a sale.
So it came as no surprise when we encountered yet another Fakealert — we decided to call it Adware-Loserbar — that leads, eventually, to a rogue product. What set this one apart was its sheer gall — and a few new tricks we hadn’t seen before.