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Fox News-themed Malicious Email Campaign [UPDATED]
Posted by Jason Hill on 28 June 2013 02:53 PM

Websense® Security Labs™ researchers, using our Websense ThreatSeeker® Intelligence Cloud, discovered an interesting malicious email campaign using spoofed email addresses from Fox News domains in an attempt to ultimately lure victims to websites hosting the Blackhole Exploit Kit. Should the exploit and compromise be successful, a malicious payload related to the Cridex family appears to be delivered which, as detailed in an earlier Websense Security Labs blog, is typically used to steal banking credentials as well as the exfiltration of personally identifiable information (PII) and other confidential data for criminal gain. These emails, discovered early on the morning of June 27th,  featured “breaking news” subjects and mimicked legitimate news content related to the US Military moving into Syria in order to entice the victim to 'click' on the malicious links. The campaign appears to have targeted a variety of industries and countries, as of 1600 PST on June 27th, the Websense ThreatSeeker® Intelligence Cloud had detected and blocked over 60,000 samples.

Email Screenshot:


Intercepted emails generated interest as they are highly convincing as breaking news alerts and are targeting highly popular and polarizing topics such as Immigration reform, the war on terror, and sending troops to Syria. Example email subjects include:

  • U.S. Military Action in Syria - is it WW3 start?
  • US deploys 19,000 troops in Syria
  • Obama Sending US Forces to Syria

Malicious Email Analysis

The emails above contain links that follow a series of redirections leading to a BlackHole exploit kit which delivers a malicious PDF. Once opened, the malicious PDF executes embedded and obfuscated JavaScript code which delivers an exploit (CVE-2010-0188). In the event the exploit is successful, the shellcode downloads a malicious component from: hxxp://


Redirection Chain:


The malicious component downloaded by the shell-code is characterized as a Trojan that is capable of downloading malicious files onto a compromised computer and spreading itself via mapped and removable drives.

Malicious component:

About the PDF file:

Malicious PDF Analysis

First Stage - Obfuscated JavaScript embedded in PDF:


Second Stage:


The third and final stage reveals the shellcode and URL:

Should the malicious PDF successfully exploit the victim's machine, it creates a Windows Registry entry in order to maintain persistence by running automatically as the system starts:


Once executed, a number of HTTP connections on port 8080 are opened in order to download additional malicious payloads:

Associated Domains

The domain (hxxp:// that hosts the malware downloaded by the PDF exploit above was first registered on June 25th, 2013. In that time, it has resolved to three different IP addresses (,, and has hosted multiple pieces of malware which resulted in it being characterized as a malicious website by the Websense ThreatSeeker® Intelligence Cloud nearly immediately.

Malicious domain (hxxp://
Contact email:
Registrant: Cabrieto, Debbie

A WhoIS lookup on the contact email and registrant indicates that a second domain was registered on the same day (hxxp:// This domain does not resolve yet, but is likely to be used for malicious purposes in the future.

Impact and Protection

The overall efficacy of this campaign is difficult to judge, but the combination of a relatively high level of sophistication in the attacker’s social engineering and the utilization of relatively recent exploits and malware result in an increased risk to targeted systems. Websense provided protection from this campaign at multiple stages. Correlating this attack to the 7 stages of Advanced Threats (as explained in our whitepaper), we currently have protection for:

  • Stage 2 (Lure) - The Fox News themed email campaign
  • Stage 3 (Redirect) - The websites that take the user to the delivery of the exploit code
  • Stage 4 (Exploit Kit) - Real-time detection of the BlackHole exploit kit that was used in this attack
  • Stage 6 (Call Home) - The malicious PDF launches code that reaches out to a server known to host malware and that is blocked via Websense. Further, analytics have been added that detect and block the C2 protocol used by the PDF
  • Stage 7 (Data Theft) - Websense DLP (data loss prevention) tools are capable of detecting and stopping the exfiltration of sensitive information with advanced feature sets such as Drip DLP, OCR analysis and covert channel detection




Tuesday, July 2, 2013:

Websense Labs, via our ThreatSeeker Intelligence Cloud, have identified a modification to this campaign; using Pinterest as it's platform, the update informs the recipient their Pinterest account is in need of updating and suggests they follow a link to do so - clicking on this link results in action which is identical to the Fox News campaign, mentioned in the initial blog.

As always, Websense keeps it's users safe through the7 stages of Advanced Threats, via our Advanced Classification Engine.

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How are Java attacks getting through?
Posted by Charles Renert on 22 March 2013 09:37 PM

Were you aware that Java is increasingly being viewed as a security risk? Of course you were recent high-profile attacks have firmly established the trend, so we're not going to do yet another roundup here.


Instead, let's drill in and try to understand the core problem. With so many vulnerabilities, it's hard to keep browsers up to date with the latest patched versions especially because Java is updated independently from the browser. How hard is it? We decided to check.


We recently added Java version detection to our Advanced Classification Engine (ACE™) and pumped it into the Websense ThreatSeeker® Intelligence Cloud to get real-time telemetry about which versions of Java are actively being used across tens of millions of endpoints. Here's what we found (you may need to click on the graph to see all the detail):


Figure 1: Global distribution of Java Runtime Environment versions based on active browser usage


As you can see, Java versions are all over the map. At the time of this writing, the latest Java Runtime Environment is 1.7.17, but only about five percent of the overall mix are using it. Most versions are months and even years out of date. How does this translate into the attack space?  


Exploit kits are a very common tool for distribution of many Java-based threats. From the billions of daily web requests being classified through our network, here is the breakdown of the active browser requests that are exploitable and which exploit kits have incorporated attacks for them.



Java Vulnerability  Vulnerable Versions**  Vulnerable   Exploit Kits With Live Exploits

CVE-2013-1493            1.7.15, 1.6.41                  93.77%         Cool 

CVE-2013-0431            1.7.11, 1.6.38                  83.87%         Cool

CVE-2012-5076            1.7.07, 1.6.35                  74.06%         Cool, Gong Da, MiniDuke

CVE-2012-4681            1.7.06, 1.6.34                  71.54%         Blackhole 2.0, RedKit, CritXPack, Gong Da

CVE-2012-1723            1.7.04, 1.6.32                  67.72%         Blackhole 2.0, RedKit, CritXPack, Gong Da

CVE-2012-0507            1.7.02, 1.6.30                  59.51%         Cool, Blackhole 2.0, RedKit, CritXPack, Gong Da

** All prior JRE versions below those listed are also vulnerable


It is probably no surprise that the largest single exploited vulnerability is the most recent one, with a vulnerable population of browsers at 93.77%. That's what the bad guys do examine your security controls and find the easiest way to bypass them. Grabbing a copy of the latest version of Cool and using a pre-packaged exploit is a pretty low bar to go after such a large population of vulnerable browsers. Most browsers are vulnerable to a much broader array of well-known Java holes, with over 75% using versions that are at least six months old, nearly two-thirds being more than a year out of date, and more than 50% of browsers are greater than two years behind the times with respect to Java vulnerabilities. And don't forget that if you're not on version 7 (which is 78.86% of you), Oracle won't be sending you any more updates even if new vulnerabilities are uncovered.


How do you stop the onslaught if the patches aren't keeping up? Given the complexity and dynamism of exploit kits and their updates, exploit signatures do not suffice. Our protection model against new Java exploits is to use our analytics and real-time telemetry to proactively intercept new instances at every step of their attack strategy. Most prominently, ACE covers the exploit kit/exploit phase with a fine-grained knowledge of the expressible threats from all of the major kits, including not just the vulnerabilities, but also the obfuscation techniques, redirection techniques, and re-packaging of their dropper files. Here are just a few other ways we interrupt the malware kill chain to make it harder for the bad guys to drive right through this sizable hole in current IT infrastructure:


  • Real-time intelligence to block lures, phishing, and other forms of social engineering coming across web, email, and mobile platforms
  • Real-time inbound intelligence to identify known or suspicious malware destinations and compromised sites 
  • Real-time outbound intelligence to identify command and control communication, bot networks, dynamic DNS requests, and fingerprinted data headed to the wrong people or places
  • Identifying malicious droppers both statically and behaviorally (via Websense ThreatScope™



It's clearly not just the zero-day attacks that should be getting all of the attention.

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