News of the severe storms still wracking Europe was used early Friday as fodder for a massive spam run that included a dangerous Trojan horse, security companies said.
The message comes with the subject head "230 dead as storm batters Europe," and includes an executable file purporting to contain either more details on the bad weather or a video showing its destruction. The Trojan was identified by Sophos as "Troj/DwnLdr-FYD," code that when launched by the user infects his or her PC. The Trojan is able to download additional malicious code to the victimized system that, for example, turns the machine into a spam zombie or mines it for valuable personal information.
Around midnight Thursday London time, Sophos and other security vendors monitored a massive spike in infections caused by the spammed Trojan. At one point, the spam accounted for of 1 of every 200 e-mails sent using the Internet.
"Whoever is behind this spam campaign has generated an aggressive storm of e-mail in the last 12 hours, and some inboxes will be feeling battered by the deluge, said Graham Cluley, a Sophos technology consultant, in a statement. "Hackers are deliberately exploiting public interest in breaking news stories like this in their attempt to silently infect innocent users' PCs."
Using news of high-profile disasters to dupe users into opening attachments is nothing new. Within weeks of the December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in south Asia, hackers were tying malware to messages of the humanitarian crisis in the region. Similar campaigns were waged by cyber criminals after the Katrina hurricane and the London terrorist bombings of 2005.
Most of those attacks, however, were launched days after the event; Friday's was within hours of the storms hitting Europe on Thursday with hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall.
Friday's spammed attack tapered off about eight hours after it began, Finnish security company F-Secure said in a video statement from its nerve center. "But as you can see, the reach was far."