Check Point® Software Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ: CHKP) today announced its security researchers have identified a new attack vector, named ImageGate, which embeds malware in image and graphic files. Furthermore, the researchers have discovered the hackers’ method of executing the malicious code within these images through social media applications such as Facebook and LinkedIn.
According to the research, the attackers have built a new capability to embed malicious code into an image file and successfully upload it to the social media website. The attackers exploit a misconfiguration on the social media infrastructure to deliberately force their victims to download the image file. This results in infection of the users’ device as soon as the end-user clicks on the downloaded file.
In the past three days, the entire security industry is closely following the massive spread of the Locky ransomware via social media, particularly in its Facebook-based campaign. Check Point researchers strongly believe that the new ImageGate technique reveals how this campaign was made possible, a question which has been unanswered until now.
The Check Point researchers were able to uncover the attack vector which affects major websites and social networks worldwide, including Facebook and LinkedIn. Check Point updated Facebook & LinkedIn of the attack vector early in September.
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In the case of the Locky ransomware, once users download and open the malicious file they receive – all the files on their personal device are automatically encrypted and they can only gain access to them after the ransom is paid. The industry estimation is that the campaign is still raging and accumulates new victims every day.
“As more people spend time on social networking sites, hackers have turned their focus to find a way in to these platforms,” said Oded Vanunu, Head of Check Point’s Products Vulnerability Research. “Cyber criminals understand these sites are usually ‘white listed’, and for this reason, they are continually searching for new techniques to use social media as hosts for their malicious activities. To protect users against the most advanced threats, Check Point researchers strive to identify where attackers will strike next.”
How to stay protected
Check Point recommends the following preventive measures:
- If you have clicked on an image and your browser starts downloading a file, do not open it. Any social media website should display the picture without downloading any file.
- Don’t open any image file with unusual extension (such as SVG, JS or HTA).
A detailed and technical disclosure of the attack vector will be published by Check Point only after the remediation of the vulnerability in the major affected websites, in order to prevent attackers from taking advantage of this information.
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