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One Step Ahead
November 6, 2007, Volume 54, No. 11


One Step Ahead

Another tip in a series provided by the Offices of Information Systems & Computing and Audit, Compliance & Privacy.

Personalized Email Scams

In the past, hackers operated mostly for the glory of seeing their viruses distributed to millions of computers.  Nowadays, they are more interested in financial gain and are increasingly writing viruses and worms targeted to particular groups to steal passwords and credit card numbers. By narrowing their focus, they also more easily evade anti-virus and spam filtering software.

This summer, fraudsters sent targeted email to thousands of HR professionals who use the monster.com recruiting service. The email attachment carried a keystroke logger that was used to steal the recipient’s Monster password. The attackers then used the stolen passwords to send email to job applicants forged to look like it came from HR hiring professionals, with email attachments that carried keystroke loggers.

Earlier this month, IT managers at universities across the country (including Penn) received email offering technical training at a price too good to be true, from an organization purporting to be associated with Educause, a higher education IT professional association.  Recipients were invited to visit a website and create an account and password.  Presumably the attackers were banking on the fact that people often choose the same password for many accounts.

Attackers will often mine social networking sites like Facebook for personal information and relationships in order to further personalize scams.  The common denominator in the IT training scam was that most recipients had personal profiles on the Educause web site.

Be prepared for personalized email scams:

• Don't automatically trust email from colleagues or friends.  If the content of the email is out of character with the sender, consider the possibility of fraud.

• Be suspicious of offers that are too good to be true.

• Don't click on links or attachments in email if you suspect fraud.

For additional tips, see the One Step Ahead link on the Information Security website: www.upenn.edu/computing/security/.

Almanac - November 6, 2007, Volume 54, No. 11