The term “Watering Hole” has become a popular way to describe targeted malware attacks in which the attackers compromise a legitimate website and insert a “drive-by” exploit in order to compromise the website’s visitors. Two recent papers by our friends at RSA and Symantec documented such attacks.
Of course, such attacks are not new. This technique has long been used by indiscriminate cybercriminal attacks as well as targeted malware attacks. I documented the use of such techniques in 2009 and 2010 and there have been more recent cases as well.
While cybercriminals use “drive-by” exploits to indiscriminately compromise as many computers as they can, the use of this technique in relation to APT activity is what Shadowserver aptly described as “strategic web compromises”. The objective is to selectively target visitors interested in specific content. Such attacks often emerge in conjunction with a new drive-by exploit.