Those accessing the Council of Foreign Relations website via Internet Explorer received an unpleasant surprise in their proverbial stocking this holiday season. The CFR's website was infected with a Trojan that exploited a zero-day flaw in older versions of the web browser which was previously unknown and set the users up for a drive-by download infection.
"The vulnerability is a remote code execution vulnerability that exists in the way that Internet Explorer accesses an object in memory that has been deleted or has not been properly allocated," Microsoft said in a security advisory posted on its website. "The vulnerability may corrupt memory in a way that could allow an attacker to execute arbitrary code in the context of the current user within Internet Explorer."
The malware in question affected users with versions 6 through 8 of Internet Explorer, with people who use versions 9 and 10 sidestepping the threat. PCWorld posted that a temporary fix has been made available until a proper patch is issued in the coming days. The vulnerability occurs due to corrupted browser memory and allows attackers to execute their own code within the user's computer.
Danger at the 'watering hole'
One security company classified the incident as a "watering hole" attack, in which victims are profiled and lured to malware-riddled websites through elaborate social engineering. Similar to what would happen in a spear-phishing attack, computers belonging to these specific people are sought out to be infected.
In the case of CFR, the weapon of choice was Bifrose, a backdoor virus that allows attackers to steal files from a computer.
With the attack on the CFR website, NBC News said dozens of the group's members were likely targets for state-sponsored thieves. Journalists such as Tom Brokaw and Fareed Zakaria sit on the board, as well as Former Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs head Robert Rubin.
"Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and James Baker are reportedly lifetime members, as are current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as well as Hillary Clinton's possible replacement Sen. John Kerry," according to NBC.
Microsoft said for those who cannot upgrade to newer versions of Internet Explorer or patch, setting the intranet security zone settings to "high" before running Active Scripting, as well as installing the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit. However, simple data security solutions are still among the best, as diligently updated browsers would have been immune from attack.
Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro.