Hack the halls: Watch out for Cyber Monday scamathon

Cyber Monday scams that can ruin your holidays and how to avoid them

holiday scams

Cyber Monday is the biggest online shopping day of the year, which means it is also the single biggest opportunity for criminals to steal cash, personal information and credit card numbers, and they’ve got an imposing arsenal to carry out their plans against the unwary.

They’ll rely on a range of scams that play on human frailties as well as malware technology that automates the theft of sensitive personal and financial data.

Some of these criminal plans have been around for years and with upgrades and revisions remain effective today so beware these holiday traditions.

The FBI is all over this problem and has issued some sound advice, including not responding to, clicking on links in and opening attachments to unsolicited emails. All can lead to infections and data theft. Also, don’t fill out forms in such emails that ask for personal information.

Even if an email seems legitimate – perhaps from your bank - log on to Web sites directly rather than clicking on links. Look up those URLs independent from whatever is contained in the email, the FBI says.

The FBI also recommends:

  • Only shop reputable online sites.
  • When you Google a site, double check the URL of the top-listed sites before clicking. Some criminals pay for high placements in search results.
  • Make sure payment pages are encrypted – start with HTTPS.

The threats include malware that logs keystrokes in order to capture passwords and other personal information and then send it to a command and control server where criminals can pick it up. The C&C servers can even take the information and automate attacks right away on bank accounts of sessions they’ve hijacked.

Other malware attacks go after the point-of-sale terminals in stores, picking off unencrypted data from credit card magnetic strips.

Here are some of the specific tricks and tools lurking out there to cause damage.


Active since 2007

What it does: It can be used to perform man-in-the-browser keystroke logging in order to steal usernames, passwords, account numbers and the like from online banking customers.

Infection method: Driveby downloads and phishing

Presence: It is thought to have infected more than 3 million machines in the U.S. alone

Active since 2013

What it does: It infects Windows-based point-of-sale devices and steals data from the magnetic strips on credit cards.

Infection method: Compromise machines on retailers’ corporate networks and move laterally to gain access to the network segment with POS machines on it, then use a Windows vulnerability to install the Trojan.

Presence: The Secret Service said this year Trojan.backoff has affected more than 1,000 businesses.


Active since 2013

What it does: It captures credit card data from POS machines, stores it on compromised machines elsewhere in the retailer’s network and ships it out to criminal-controlled servers via FTP.

Infection method: Infiltrate corporate networks to find a path to the POS segment and install on POS machines.

Presence: Known since 2013


Active since 2014

What it does: Captures user online bank account credentials as well as credentials for other online services. In some cases it steals cookies from browsers or digital certificates.

Infection method: Phishing emails that contain weaponized PDF attachments that exploit unpatched versions of Adobe Reader.

Presence: Was reportedly used in a phishing campaign against the likes ofBank of America, Citigroup, Royal Bank of Scotland and JPMorgan Chase.

Phony package tracking

Emails that alert recipients to the progress of packages headed their way can be phishing attempts designed to steal personal information. These emails typically include links to follow to find out the location of a package as it wends its way, but instead leads to Web sites that download any variety of malware. But they may also ask for bank account numbers, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers that can be used in identity theft.

Charity pleas

Phishers routinely send phony emails requesting donation to help relieve the crisis of the day like Ebola, but may also solicit funding for other more general humanitarian causes that sound worthy, such as fighting hunger. Responding to them could put credit card or other personal information in danger.

Retail deals

Stores including Best Buy, Kohls, Walmart and Target as well as online retailers such as amazon.com and Google Play, may have legitimate holiday bargains, but double and triple check that you are dealing with the actual sites and not mirror sites that may contain malware. Downloads could set infected machines up to leak passwords, credit card numbers, bank account information and other data that can lead to identity theft.

This story, "Hack the halls: Watch out for Cyber Monday scamathon" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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