Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The chilling effects of malware
In January, we discussed a set of highly sophisticated cyber attacks that originated in China and targeted many corporations around the world. We believe that malware is a general threat to the Internet, but it is especially harmful when it is used to suppress opinions of dissent. In that case, the attacks involved surveillance of email accounts belonging to Chinese human rights activists. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these are not the only examples of malicious software being used for political ends. We have gathered information about a separate cyber threat that was less sophisticated but that nonetheless was employed against another community.
This particular malware broadly targeted Vietnamese computer users around the world. The malware infected the computers of potentially tens of thousands of users who downloaded Vietnamese keyboard language software and possibly other legitimate software that was altered to infect users. While the malware itself was not especially sophisticated, it has nonetheless been used for damaging purposes. These infected machines have been used both to spy on their owners as well as participate in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against blogs containing messages of political dissent. Specifically, these attacks have tried to squelch opposition to bauxite mining efforts in Vietnam, an important and emotionally charged issue in the country.
Since some anti-virus vendors have already introduced signatures to help detect this specific malware, we recommend the following actions, particularly if you believe that you may have been exposed to the malware: run regular anti-virus as well as anti-spyware scans from trusted vendors, and be sure to install all web browser and operating system updates to ensure you’re using only the latest versions. New technology like our suspicious account activity alerts in Gmail should also help detect surveillance efforts. At a larger scale, we feel the international community needs to take cybersecurity seriously to help keep free opinion flowing.