Death of Hugo Chavez Used as Bait in New Email Scam

Cyber criminals often take advantage of major news stories to launch new spam and phishing campaigns. Email subject lines containing news headlines are more likely to be opened by email users. A percentage of individuals who open the emails will click on the links contained in those emails or open the attachments.

One of the latest email scams uses the death of Hugo Chavez to get users to open spam and phishing emails. Unfortunately, curious individuals are likely to end up compromising their computer, and even the network to which it connects.

The latest spam campaign takes advantage of users’ curiosity with a good old conspiracy theory. In this case, the theory is that the FBI or CIA were behind the death of Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez.

Researchers at Kaspersky Labs intercepted one of these spam emails and investigated. The email directed users to a website containing malicious software. Visiting the link would result in the user’s device being infected using the BlackHole 2.0 exploit pack. This would happen without the users’ knowledge. In this case, the malware was widely known. According to Kaspersky Labs, when the link was clicked “The payload dropped was not disclosed; however, 8/46 antivirus programs were able to detect the exploit code.”

The Aim of Many Spam Emails is to Infect Devices with Malware

Kaspersky Labs AV engine is used by SpamTitan to detect emails containing malware or malicious links. The anti-virus giant keeps its virus definitions database up to date and checks for the signatures of the latest malware and viruses to be discovered.  The company has already identified a number of Hugo Chavez email scams doing the rounds, all of which have the purpose of delivering malware to unsuspecting email users.

The emails take advantage of people’s curiosity and direct users either to fake websites or genuine websites that have been hijacked and loaded with malware. Oftentimes the emails contain attachments containing malicious code. Opening those attachments will similarly result in users’ systems being compromised.

The latest emails are nothing new. Spammers and hackers often take advantage of major news events to get their malicious emails opened. Major sporting events, celebrity news, weddings, deaths, elections and natural disasters usually spawn a wave of new spam emails. Cyber criminals are devising ever more complex campaigns to fool users into installing malware or revealing their sensitive information.

Unfortunately, the problem is likely to get worse. As long as it proves profitable to send these spam email campaigns and phish for information, there will be criminals who are more than happy to commit time to developing the campaigns.

Fortunately, it is possible to lower the risk of becoming a victim of the spammers by following some simple rules and being vigilant.

Guidelines to Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Phishing Attack

  •  If you don’t know the sender of the email, don’t open it. Mark it as junk or delete it
  • Never open an attachment sent by someone you do not know
  • Never click on a link in an email unless you are sure it is genuine
  • Never unsubscribe from an email newsletter or service that you have not subscribed to – Doing so will just confirm to hackers that your email address is valid. This will likely see you targeted by even more spammers
  • If you receive a special offer that you are interested in, visit the website of the vendor directly to check the validity of the offer. DO NOT use the link contained in the email
  • Ensure your anti-virus and anti-malware definitions are up to date
  • Develop a culture of security awareness in your organization – The majority of security breaches come as a result of employees falling for a phishing campaign or responding to spam emails
  • Install a robust spam filter to prevent spam from ever reaching inboxes
  • Use web filtering to prevent users from visiting known malware and phishing websites