After a busy 2011, malicious hackers are wasting no time making headlines in 2012. The first target: Facebook. The social-media giant was hit with a malware worm known as Ramnit -- and the attack offered a booty that reportedly includes the log-in details for more than 45,000 Facebook users.
"Our security experts have reviewed the data, and while the majority of the information was out of date, we have initiated remedial steps for all affected users to ensure the security of their accounts," Facebook said in a published statement.
"Thus far, we have not seen the virus propagating on Facebook itself, but have begun working with our external partners to add protections to our anti-virus systems to help users secure their devices."
The Hackers' Motive
Security firm Seculert is taking credit for discovering the hack, which mostly targeted users in the United Kingdom and France. The Microsoft Malware Protection Center describes Ramnit as "a multi-component malware family which infects Windows executable as well as HTML files," and said its goal is to steal "sensitive information such as stored FTP credentials and browser cookies."
"We suspect that the attackers behind Ramnit are using the stolen credentials to log-in to victims' Facebook accounts and to transmit malicious links to their friends, thereby magnifying the malware's spread even further," Seculert wrote in a blog post.
"In addition, cybercriminals are taking advantage of the fact that users tend to use the same password in various Web-based services (Facebook, Gmail, Corporate SSL VPN, Outlook Web Access, etc.) to gain remote access to corporate networks."
Ramnit's Financial Focus
Ramnit was first discovered in April 2010. But it's a major nuisance for corporate IT administrators. Symantec issued a report in July 2011 indicating that the Ramnit worm and its variants made up about 17 percent of all new malicious software infections.
"Ramnit started purely as a worm and only later added financial malware features. But this worm isn't new. It has been around for a while," said Bill Morrow, executive chairman of Web security firm Quarri Technologies, noting how the latest hit made the Facebook account passwords available on a drop server for the botnet.
"Originally thought to be distributed via USB key, Ramnit is now using things like stolen Facebook credentials to spread," Morrow said. "This is just another example of how end users are at risk from malware that puts sensitive data at risk, and yet another reason for organizations to consider applying a browser information security solution to protect data accessed within a Web session."
Seculert's researchers said the attack indicates hackers may be moving away from e-mail targeting.
"With the recent ZeuS Facebook worm and this latest Ramnit variant, it appears that sophisticated hackers are now experimenting with replacing the old-school email worms with more up-to-date social network worms," the researchers wrote.
"As demonstrated by the 45,000 compromised Facebook subscribers, the viral power of social networks can be manipulated to cause considerable damage to individuals and institutions when it is in the wrong hands."