Security Experts:

Attackers Use US Airways Brand in Combined Spam and Malware Attack

A spam campaign leveraging the US Airways brand in order to get attention is offering something far more sinister than reservation details and travel information. According to researchers at Webroot, the crooks behind the junk email campaign are using the Blackhole Exploit Kit in an effort to deliver various malicious payloads.

Related: What is the Black Hole Exploit Kit?

The malicious messages, tagged with subjects like “US Airways online check-in” or “US Airways reservation confirmation” offer a simple message and link in order to pre-check into a flight.

Naturally, most of the people seeing the message are aware that they’ve not booked a flight with US Airways, so they may be tempted to click the link and report the mistaken flight. However, those who are expecting such information may not notice the malicious link until it’s too late.

Passive scans of the email in HTML format show the sender’s address as support(at) or reservations(at), a randomly generated confirmation code, and various US Airways images and logos.

Webroot researchers say that people behind the campaign are leveraging compromised legitimate domains, including personal domains, in addition to compromised game servers to host the Blackhole Exploit Kit, which delivers the malicious payload. Anyone who follows the links within the fraudulent check-in notice will see a “please wait” notice as the page loads, before being shown an error message or redirected to the legitimate US Airways website.

Related Reading: Endless Exploit Attempts Underline Importance of Timely Java Patching

It is believed that the same group is also sending messages alleging to come from the billing departments of Verizon Wireless and AT&T, as well as faked LinkedIn notifications. No matter which of the three themes are used, the result is the same – an under patched endpoint will be compromised with malware such as Zeus.

The spam run is using Blackhole to target vulnerabilities in Microsoft Windows, Adobe’s Reader and Flash platforms, and Oracle’s Java. The exploits are targeting vulnerabilities that have long since been patched, but this good news is of little value to organizations or home users that haven’t applied them.

Campaigns such as these are often a key factor leading to a data breach, as the human element in security is the easiest to exploit. According to data taken from a recent survey conducted by Trend Micro, 62% of the respondents said that employees routinely open attachments and follow links embedded within spam. Moreover, 60% reported that their existing security posture isn’t enough to protect sensitive information from negligent or malicious insiders.

Such stats place generic spam runs like the ones reported by Webroot in a whole new light.

Related: Oracle Java Vulnerability Exploit Rolled into BlackHole Kit, Security Pros Urge Patch

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Steve Ragan is a security reporter and contributor for SecurityWeek. Prior to joining the journalism world in 2005, he spent 15 years as a freelance IT contractor focused on endpoint security and security training.