Report: Hackers engage in vulnerability auctions

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Hackers are participating in vulnerability auctions in which they sell newly discovered security vulnerabilities to criminals rather than disclose them to vendors who could develop the patches to fix the flaws, according to a report released today by Finjan Software, a developer of security software.

“Web Security Trends Report,” a quarterly report released by Finjan’s Malicious Code Research Center, states that Web sites such as Full Disclosure – well-known in the security community – are facilitating auctions in which hackers offer previously unknown vulnerability information to the highest bidders. The report, which focuses on second quarter activities, shows examples of a hacker offering to sell information about flaws in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Version 7.

A market for vulnerabilities not only exists but also includes products that package vulnerabilities into easy-to-use toolkits, said Yuval Ben-Itzhak, Finjan’s chief technology officer.

The industry is witnessing the commercialization of vulnerabilities, he said. Nontechnical people can now exploit vulnerabilities by using hack-it-yourself toolkits.

For example, a Russian Web site offers the Web Attacker Toolkit, which teaches people to embed malicious code on their Web sites. Anyone who purchases this kit can create a malicious Web site that installs spyware on victims’ machines when they visit the site. The product even offers support and update services like any legitimate software product. It costs between $100 and $300.

In addition, the company’s research validates the fact that spam is much more than an annoyance or a way to distribute phishing attacks. Spam now might contain malicious content or links to malicious Web sites and, as a result, can be a harbinger of a blended attack, Ben-Itzhak added.

For example, a spam message targeting National Australian Bank customers surfaced in June. The e-mail message claimed that the bank was going bankrupt and directed readers to a Web site to read the full story. Code on the site checked for patches installed on the users’ machines and exploited those vulnerabilities that hadn’t been fixed. The site used the Web Attack Toolkit to install Trojan software on users’ computers. However, many antivirus applications did not detect the main executable code.

The report also focuses on a new scam involving rogue anti-spyware. Previously, Finjan reported that hackers were trying to convince users to buy rogue anti-spyware programs. Users may have lost $20, but their computers were unharmed. Now there are reports that the rogue anti-spyware installs a potentially unwanted program that is difficult to remove and performs malicious activity on desktop PCs.

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