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New Click-Fraud Attack Is Stealthiest Yet 99

Posted by kdawson
from the penny-here-penny-there dept.
An anonymous reader sends news from The Washington Post's Security Fix blog of a new Trojan horse program that takes click fraud to the next level. The Trojan, dubbed FFsearcher by SecureWorks, was among the pieces of malware installed by sites hacked with the Nine-Ball mass compromise, which attacked some 40,000 Web sites this month. The Trojan takes advantage of Google's "AdSense for Search" API, which allows Web sites to embed Google search results alongside the usual Google AdSense ads. (SecureWorks' writeup indicates that Yahoo search is targeted too, but the researchers saw no evidence if the malware redirecting Yahoo searches.) While most search hijackers give themselves away on the victim's machine by redirecting the browser through some no-name search engine, FFsearcher "...converts every search a victim makes through Google.com, so that each query is invisibly redirected through the attackers' own Web sites, via Google's Custom Search API. Meanwhile, the Trojan manipulates the victim's PC and browser so that the victim never actually sees the attacker-controlled Web site that is hijacking the search, but instead sees the search results as though they were returned directly from Google.com (and with Google.com in the victim browser's address bar, not the address of the attacker controlled site). Adding to the stealth is the fact that search results themselves aren't altered by the attackers, who are merely going after the referral payments should victims click on any of the displayed ads. What's more, the attackers aren't diverting clicks or ad revenue away from advertisers or publishers, as in traditional click fraud: They are simply forcing Google to pay commissions that it wouldn't otherwise have to pay." If FFSearcher were the only piece of malware on the machine, it would have a better chance of staying under the radar.
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New Click-Fraud Attack Is Stealthiest Yet

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  • by BitterOak (537666) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:41PM (#28537517)
    The article mentions that both IE and Firefox are vulnerable, but doesn't talk about other browsers. It also doesn't say if it affects current versions, or unpatched browsers only. Will security patches for IE and Firefox be coming soon?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Zerth (26112)

      Lynx [wikipedia.org] is presumably immune...

    • by jesser (77961) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @01:14AM (#28538775) Homepage Journal

      Firefox and IE are the targets of the trojan once it already has control over your computer. That doesn't mean they are "vulnerable" or are in need of patches.

      Only the last link in the Slashdot article discusses how these attackers gained control over your computer:

      After redirection, the exploit payload site returns highly obfuscated malicious code. The malicious code attempts to exploit MS06-014 [microsoft.com] (targeting MDAC) and CVE-2006-5820 [mitre.org] (targeting AOL SuperBuddy), as well as employing exploits targeting Acrobat Reader and QuickTime. The MS06-014 exploit code will download a Trojan dropper with low AV detection rate [virustotal.com]. This dropper drops a dll with the name SOCKET2.DLL to Windows' system folder. This file is used to steal user information. The malicious PDF file, served by the exploit site, also has very low AV detection rate [virustotal.com].

      So, basically an IE hole that was fixed in 2006, plus a handful of plugin vulnerabilities. They didn't even bother looking for an old Firefox vulnerability to exploit, perhaps because too many Firefox users are up-to-date.

    • by Jahava (946858) on Wednesday July 01, 2009 @01:17AM (#28538791)

      The virus itself is a complicated one. As per the article, it was installed on the system during a mass exploit dubbed Nine-Ball [websense.com], which was loaded onto 40,000 legitimate websites. Visiting those sites caused the Nine-Ball script to execute, which redirected an iframe to a page containing malicious code which mounts a series of attacks. Those mentioned by the site are:

      • Exploit MS06-014 [microsoft.com], which targets the MDAC ActiveX control
      • Exploit CVE-2006-5820 [mitre.org], which targets the AOL SuperBuddy ActiveX control
      • [Some] targeting Acrobat Reader"
      • [Some targeting] QuickTime

      So basically, an application (browser) visits this malicious page. If that application runs the ActiveX controls mentioned (and presumably Acrobat Reader and/or QuickTime), it was vulnerable to the initial Nine-Ball exploit. IE qualifies for all 4 of those; Firefox can use ActiveX (I believe, with a plugin), but not out of the box... however, it does have plugins for Acrobat Reader and QuickTime.

      If any of those vulnerabilities were present with the applicaton visited the iframe, it runs malicious code that installs a crapton of viruses on the host computer, among them the FFSearcher virus.

      Once FFSearcher is on your computer, it causes itself to get run all of the time, probably as Administrator. It then proceeds to:

      1. Executes a Windows root-kit to hide its presence
      2. Injects code into browser application processes; for IE, it will inject an IE-specific payload, and for Firefox, it will inject a Firefox-specific payload. Each payload causes the infected browser to do all the malicious redirecting that is described in lower-level detail in the article.

      So a nice, clean, and secure IE / Firefox get started up, but Windows, itself infected, loads the virus into them! No vulnerabilities are exploited, here. Since FFSearcher runs as Administrator, everything it does is straightforward and allowed by the system; it can do basically anything. What it chooses to do is target IE and Firefox. Since it's running as Administrator, it doesn't have to exploit any vulnerabilities in either; it just barges in and rewrites parts of them to do its bidding. Administrator can do things like that.

      In conclusion, there isn't any vulnerability in IE or Firefox that's involved in FFSearcher, and the only reason FFSearcher doesn't pwn other browsers is because the author didn't bother to write a payload for them, too. FFSearcher, itself, was installed due to some browser vulnerability that happened sometime, and now, permanently present on the system, takes advantage of its Administrator privileges to do some pretty wicked stuff.

    • I guess I should finally download Chrome - isn't that a Google product?
  • by Krneki (1192201) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:42PM (#28537523)
    I can't find how the server gets infected. Is it Windows, Linux, Apache, IIS, ... ?

    What part is to blame?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mrbene (1380531)
      The server in the Nine-Ball distribution could be any with an active exploit against it - an "infected" server is just one serving up pages with an iframe to the exploit site, so that site visitors would end up being attacked. Since any web server on any OS can serve up HTML...
      • by Krneki (1192201)
        But how this exploit gets on the server web page?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by nacturation (646836) *

          The goal is to get some website to distribute your payload, which consists of specially crafted HTML code. This can be done by simply posting a comment on any webpage which accepts and retransmits arbitrary HTML. Or it could be done by exploiting a bug in IIS, Apache, or other webserver software so that the original site serves up your payload. Or you could hack Windows or Linux to get the webserver to use your payload. The payload then exploits any number of browser bugs, whether Firefox, IE, or anothe

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by sexconker (1179573)

          Ads.
          Sites host ads.
          People buy ads through ad placement companies like Google.
          Bad people engineer ads to contain the exploit and payload.
          Site serves up bad ad.
          Users of site get fucked.

          It's always the fucking ads.

      • by Krneki (1192201)
        Or it comes in a form of an ADD pointing from an infected server?
    • by Seth Kriticos (1227934) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @09:55PM (#28537623)
      Reading the article helps - there is only one server: my-web-way.com , which is supposedly controlled by the attackers. The whois entry reveals, that it is registered in Moskow, Russia.. probably with a fake name.

      Now to what gets infected: Windows machines. It plays with DLL's and the Registry (described in the article).

      Interesting is: this peace of mallware does not directly (perceivably) damage the user of the infected machine, but it generates revenue through (semi fake) Google ad clicks. I wonder how they (Google) will react.. would guess that big corporations get quite pissed by this kind of stuff. Let's wait and see..
      • by stephanruby (542433) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:22PM (#28537835)
        Interesting is: this peace of mallware does not directly (perceivably) damage the user of the infected machine, but it generates revenue through (semi fake) Google ad clicks. I wonder how they (Google) will react.. would guess that big corporations get quite pissed by this kind of stuff. Let's wait and see..

        Finally, a piece of malware I'm not super-annoyed by.

        • by wordsnyc (956034)

          Yeah. This really isn't "click fraud" in the sense of defrauding Google through spurious clicks. The ads are real, the clicks are from real potential customers, it's just that Google is having to cough up a minuscule fraction of its revenue to the page owner -- the same commission it would pay if the search were run under a legitimate instance of the Adsense for Search api, which is to say .005% of SQUAT.

          Stop the presses! Google's been robbed! Not really. Obviously, the taking over PCs bit is bad behav

          • Um... depending on the search terms 20 dollars a click isn't unreasonable (or wasn't two years ago), and while Google puts a cap on payouts for high click value terms, they still pay about 75% of their click revenue to adsense publishers.

            Hijack a hundred thousand machines this way, and you could pull a pretty good income, at least till you get shut down.

            • Note: my figures are from 2004, and may not reflect 2009 numbers.

              • Second note: Those payout figures are for large affiliate programs (like with AOL), they probably don't reflect smaller sites.

                • by wordsnyc (956034)

                  I've gotten $3 per click on my sites on a good day. Of course, we all just take Google's word for the economics of Adsense -- they don't "do" auditing.

      • by gnick (1211984)

        I wonder how they (Google) will react.. would guess that big corporations get quite pissed by this kind of stuff. Let's wait and see..

        They've got the talent, the resources, and the legal team. This seems like an excellent time for Google to "be evil" and take the law into their own hands.

        We could only hope.

        • by causality (777677)

          They've got the talent, the resources, and the legal team. This seems like an excellent time for Google to "be evil" and take the law into their own hands.

          Yeah. Take the law into their own hands! With ... a team of lawyers.

          • by mqduck (232646)

            What do you think lawyers are for?

            • by causality (777677)

              What do you think lawyers are for?

              Hypothetically speaking, if someone "took the law into his own hands," the lawyers would probably be the first to go...

        • by corbettw (214229)
          Nah, they'll just track which clicks are coming from that domain and then turn off the AdSense account(s) associated with it. That shouldn't be too hard to do.
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by rattaroaz (1491445)

        Reading the article helps - there is only one server: my-web-way.com , which is supposedly controlled by the attackers. The whois entry reveals, that it is registered in Moskow, Russia.. .

        In America, server gets infected, but in Soviet Russia, infections get served!

        • Reading the article helps - there is only one server: my-web-way.com , which is supposedly controlled by the attackers. The whois entry reveals, that it is registered in Moskow, Russia.. .

          In America, server gets infected, but in Soviet Russia, infections get served!

          In America you serve the infection while in Soviet Russia the infection serves you.

      • by weicco (645927)

        Reading the article helps - there is only one server: my-web-way.com , which is supposedly controlled by the attackers.

        echo 0.0.0.0 my-web-way.com >> C:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc\hosts

        There. I ended up their revenue stream :)

      • by Krneki (1192201)
        I'm more interested in the server side of the story, how a fake Google ad finds a way on the server?
    • by notrandom (993713)
      tell you how. this is what happened to my machines (webserver and users). users got infected by some trojan. code was downloaded. executed with admin privileges. my webmastr was infected. ftp passwords were sniffed. all index*.(php)|(html) files were added the injections code. some others as well as phpbb logins etc etc. from there more users were browser-infected. some of those had ftps or such on other sites. rinse. repeat. i cleaned the servers fast as i was in standby at infection time luckily. since t
  • So, let me get this straight:

    The trojaneers' moneymaking is predicated upon people actually clicking on ads.

    Uh... good luck with that!

    • by zappepcs (820751)

      That comment makes more sense than any others I've read in this thread.... sigh

    • by michaelhood (667393) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @11:10PM (#28538137)

      Yeah, good thing no one clicks [google.com] on Google's ads.

      Google reported $21,128,514,000.00 in ad revenues for FY2008.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I would not in a million years click on adds in most sites (those that get past addblock et al, that is), as they're usually about as helpful and legit looking as the used car salesman guy advertising the steak knife cheese juicer on late-night TV.

      But... google adds are small, typically unintrusive and sometimes (*shock* *horror*) relevant and even helpful. So yeah, I will click on one or two every now and then.

    • by mail2345 (1201389)
      Called people who do not understand the concept of ads on their computer. Like the people who fall for typosquatters. Not as dumb as the people who believe that the fellow from nigeria can make him rich, and enlargen his penis.
  • by mlts (1038732) * on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:04PM (#28537705)

    This reminds me of the concern about bank fraud that IBM made the ZTIC device to help mitigate.

    First, the attack is click fraud, but its not that large a jump to target bank transactions. The malware can target a Web browser where a person thinks they transferred some cash to their savings from their checking, when in reality, their entire balance was just moved to an attacker's offshore account. The malware would be doing a man in the middle dance making the victim think that everything is fine, when in reality their account is empty.

    This type of attack would get around a lot of security measures used by banks today. The only real defense would be to have a separate device that shows transactions on it and one confirms or denies on that device as opposed to a potentially compromised computer.

    • by zarzu (1581721)

      i thought there have already been trojans like this (or it was just a thought experiment told to me in a slightly too threatening way), the general solution to it is - as you point out - the inclusion of a second device, like a cell phone, to confirm the transaction. makes it more of a hassle to complete a transaction but adds a rather strong way of detecting fraud, as long as people take the time to read the text message and don't just dismiss it as another 'yes really'-button. i think these trojans are a

    • by Renraku (518261)

      Let us say that your bank account were drained by said trojan. You look it up on an uninfected machine and see that all your money was just transferred to say, Zaire. You call your bank, bitch, moan, and you have your money back. Said account in Zaire is banned from all transfers by that bank.

      That's standard practice for fraud transfers.

      Now, lets say instead, that your bank account was only short a dollar.

      One single dollar.

      Would you notice?

      Alright, if you noticed, do you think the people you work with wo

      • Bank statements do have transaction records on them. While many people (myself included) do not examine them regularly or carefully, there are still many who would.

  • What's keeping Google from shutting down the account that are getting the illegitimate clicks? I doubt they could produce a hundreds of different account just because it would make receiving payment extremely difficult.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by zarzu (1581721)
      i don't think anything is keeping them from it, it's probably the first thing they did or are going to do. the problem is that they need to track the configuration of the trojan (which can be updated remotely) and keep shutting down accounts of the new search sites. it would be far more convenient if they had a possibility to determine click fraud by analyzing their stats, which is very difficult this way, as the fraud essentially looks the same as normal behavior. not having that option increases their wor
  • Nine-ball? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Suzuran (163234) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:50PM (#28537991)
    Does this mean Cirno is the strongest?
  • Interesting Point (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Demonantis (1340557) on Tuesday June 30, 2009 @10:56PM (#28538035)
    Who would be liable for the bug? Since its dlls that are affected Microsoft would have to fix it. The thing is why should they? Their customers are not affected terribly. It is not technically fraud because it is not really misrepresenting what it presents. Google still benefits because of the adsense charges. It would be interesting to see who wants to fix this.
    • by maxume (22995)

      It is in Google's interest to fix it. If the perception that adsense isn't fair becomes widespread, it hurts their pricing power.

  • Alright and then google almost immediately bans that person for adsense.

    Wow brilliant plan guys.

  • We have 3 web sites hosted by gate.com, all different domain names, different passwords, etc.. We have the same code/virus/whatever on all 3 sites, all used a hidden iframe linking to a site in Russia.
  • They're not inducing clicks so it's not by definition click fraud. Who titled that? They're relying on a normal amount of clicks and just taking a commission off them that Google themselves offer freely. So basically they're just violating Google's terms of service for their search API. Actually it might not even say anything specifically related to showing a search API as a full page but still collecting the commission or whatever they're doing. Sounds like it's 99% Google's fault if you ask me.
  • It seems all of these nefarious activities on the Internet seem to come from Russia and other Eastern European countries. What is up with that? It it some sort of nerd gangster culture in that part of the world? Seriously, can someone please explain it to me.

  • ....the impersonators prefer "Don't Be Elvis"
  • "This dropper drops a dll with the name SOCKET2.DLL to Windows' system folder"

    Having thus read, I need go no farther. How does the exploit actually get on to the web servers i nthe first place?

  • With all this modern technology and stuff, things get complicated. Add a bit of English to it and it goes like this:

    [...] the Trojan manipulates the victim's PC and browser so that the victim never actually sees the attacker-controlled Web site that is hijacking the search, but instead sees the search results as though they were returned directly from Google.com [italics added].

    This as-though content that victim does not see is just like the content that the victim sees, the only difference being that there is no difference between the two:

    Adding to the stealth is the fact that search results themselves aren't altered by the attackers, who are merely going after the referral payments should victims click on any of the displayed ads.

    What's more, in this click fraud even clicks aren't changed:

    What's more, the attackers aren't diverting clicks[...]

    Welcome to the world of your invisible, untouchable overlords!

  • One solution to the AdSense cat-and-mouse game is conversion-based ad fees.

    This is how the "complete 10 offers and get a free iPod" sites work. Clicking on the link doesn't work, you need to sign up for the offer and/or spend money.

    If you are using AdWords fully, Google knows your conversions and knows what value those conversions provide to you. Your payment for ads could be changed so that you don't pay for CPM, you don't pay for clicks, you pay for conversions, which are money in your bank.

    There is a pos

  • That's like the kind of sneakiness that would end up in Ocean's 11 or The Unusual Suspects. Whoever made this should do something productive with their time.
  • Surely Google should just follow the money?
  • Why would they make one that was LESS stealthy? Does the Air Force work on making bombs less accurate? Does Porsche try to make their cars more sluggish? Is intel working on a chip that gets hotter?

    This is like those stupid info bites where they pretend a change in any statistic is meaningful. "Unemployment is the highest it's been all month!" So what? You can always find some point in the past to say it's breaking some record. "This is the purplest purple since, um, 20 years ago. Wow!" That it bea

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