By Andrew Brandt
11 August 2005
Far from getting a handle on the issue of spyware, two events this
week have demonstrated the growing problem.
Sunbelt Software, maker of the CounterSpy spyware remover program,
announced its researchers had discovered a new spyware distribution
that installs itself via an Internet Explorer security exploit and is
powered by the CoolWebSearch spyware application.
The code uses components of the VX2/Transponder spyware application
together with an unknown Trojan horse application to steal sensitive
financial and personal information and send it to a remote server.
Sunbelt researchers discovered sensitive personal information
(including bank account log-ins, credit card information, and billing
addresses) belonging to thousands of people stored on a server that is
physically located within the United States and that the data thieves
were using as a dead drop for their ill-gotten data.
Alex Eckelberry, Sunbelt's president, explained: "It's a little Trojan
that sits there and [reads data stored in] the Protected Storage
Windows XP uses the Protected Storage area to record sensitive
information, such as your browser's AutoComplete histories for URLs,
passwords that you instruct Explorer to save and enter automatically,
and data you submit to websites on SSL-protected forms. The Trojan
horse reads this information, including "search terms, stuff you enter
in forms, passwords, everything you enter at a bank," according to
Eric Sites, Sunbelt's vice president of research and development - and
then forwards the data to the server.
As yet, there's no fix for the problem, although alternative browsers,
such as Firefox, do not store their auto-complete information in the
Protected Storage area, and are therefore are immune.
Investigative curiosity also led researchers at anti-spyware company
Webroot to a bizarre discovery of a symbol of hate embedded in a
Late last week, Webroot's researchers discovered a file compressed
into a new variant of the SARS Trojan horse containing the words "ein
Volk, ein REICH, ein Fuhrer !!!" beneath a Nazi swastika rendered in
The phrase, "one people, one nation, one leader," quoting Adolf Hitler
is a popular slogan at websites run by white supremacist groups.
The Trojan itself is dangerous. "Normally, it sits on your machine,
resident in memory, and waits for some kind of trigger," said Paul
Piccard, Webroot's director of threat research. "If it sees a secure
connection starting, it begins logging that connection. It then
reports to a central location."
The malware file that Webroot discovered had been compressed using the
UPX compression method. Accompanying the executable Trojan horse was a
text file containing the swastika and the Hitler quote. "This is the
first hate speech we've heard of [in spyware]," Piccard said. "I'd
hope this is just an isolated thing. This just came out of nowhere -
you don't expect to find it in spyware or adware. It took us by
"It could be there for the shock value, or it could be [that the
Trojan was distributed by] people who really believe in this thing,"
Piccard said. "It's probably not a joke."
Sept 16-18th, 2005
San Diego, California