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27 July 2006, 11:35

Spyware disguises itself as Firefox extension

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The antivirus specialists at McAfee have warned of a Trojan that disguises itself as a Firefox extension. It is currently being openly disseminated through spam emails that purport to come from Wal-Mart. If the recipient opens the mail attachment while running a Windows operating system, the Trojan then installs itself as a Firefox extension, presenting itself as a legitimate existing extension called numberedlinks. It then begins intercepting passwords and credit card numbers entered into the browser, which it then sends to an external server. McAfee has dubbed the Trojan "FormSpy," although the company is still currently categorizing its distribution as low.

The file attached to the email consists of an executable Windows program, the AXM downloader. Once launched, it fetches the extension from the Internet and records itself directly into the Firefox configuration data, avoiding the regular installation process. Firefox extensions are normally distributed as XPI files, which ask the user for confirmation after forcing a pause of several seconds.

In a blog entry, Geok Meng Ong from McAfee Avert Labs called on users to take extreme caution when installing unsigned Firefox extensions from untrustworthy sources. This well-intended warning was actually off the mark on several points. One the one hand, only very few websites are authorized to install extensions without seeking additional approval. Furthermore there are at the moment virtually no signed extensions for Firefox or Mozilla. And finally, that mechanism would not have protected against this attack. This is because the user, in opening the file attachment and thereby allowing the foreign program to execute on his computer, automatically provides it with his own usage rights.

An effective protection against this attack is simply never to open file attachments that you have not requested. It is also important not to rely on seemly trustworthy 'From:' address fields, since these are easy to forge. When in doubt, confirm the legitimacy of the email with the purported sender in another way, such as by telephone. Further tips for safe handling of email are provided at heisec Emailcheck.

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