Another Worm Worms Its Way Into Instant Messaging Applications

imageFrom the more things change the more they remain the same files:

AV-killing worm spreads via Facebook chat and IM clients – A rather industrious piece of malware that – among other things – paves the way for other malware by disabling AV solutions and software update modules has been spotted spreading via several Instant Messaging applications (ICQ, Skype, GTalk, Pidgin, MSN, YIM) and Facebook.

The victims receive a message from an unknown user, offering a link to a funny or interesting video. If they follow it, the malware in question downloads automatically from the linked site and is executed.

Nothing new here – as any one of the 10 or more articles I’ve  written over the years on using Instant Messenger applications safely will attest to. The following post (originally published September 4, 2010) will serve as a quick refresher on how to navigate the Internet safely while using an Instant Messenger client.

Tips For Using Instant Messenger Applications Safely

In a recent Symantec survey, which questioned computer users on the most likely routes cybercriminals use to drop malware on unsuspecting users, one resultant statistic made me sit up a little straighter. Just 3.9% of survey participants believed that Instant Messenger applications had a role in malware distribution.

Given the frequency with which instant messaging is used to distribute malware (recent statistics indicate almost 50% of worms use this method to spread), I was more than a little surprised at this unrealistic response.

The reality is, from a security perspective Instant Messaging applications can present considerable security risks. Security breakdowns can occur when these programs are used to share files, folders, or in some cases, entire drives. Instant messaging, unfortunately, is a primary channel used by cyber-criminals to distribute malware and scams.

Programs such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, AIM, and a basket full of other IM applications, are extremely popular with users who want real-time contact with each other and (no surprise here), this makes them the perfect vehicle for cyber criminals.

Hackers use two methods of delivering malicious code through IM: delivery of virus, Trojan, or spy ware within an infected file, and the use of “socially engineered” text with a web address that entices the recipient to click on a URL which connects to a website that downloads malicious code. Viruses, worms, and Trojans then typically propagate, by sending themselves rapidly through the infected user’s buddy list.

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The following is a series of sensible tips for users to get the most out of these programs, securely and responsibly.

As with any other application you use on the Internet, having the knowledge that allows you to use it safely, and being aware of current threats, will make for a more positive experience when using these wildly popular applications.

Don’t click on links, or download files from unknown sources. You need to be alert to the dangers in clicking on links, or downloading files from sources that are not known to you. Even if the files or links apparently come from someone you know, you have to be positive that it really was this person who has sent the message.

Check with your contact to be sure the files, or links are genuine. Remember, if you click on those links, or run those attachments without confirmation, you run the risk of letting malware into your computer.

Use only secure passwords, and be sure to change them regularly. The longer and more varied they are – using a variety of different characters and numbers – the more secure they will be.

Protect personal and confidential information when using IM. Revealing confidential or personal information in these types of conversations, can make you an easy target for Internet predators.

For added protection when using a public computer, ensure that you disable any features that retain login information to prevent other users from gaining access to your instant messaging once you leave.

It’s virtually impossible to avoid publishing your email address on the Internet, however do so only when absolutely necessary. Cyber criminals are always on the lookout for accounts to target.

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3 Comments

Filed under Don't Get Hacked, Instant Messenger Safety Tips, Interconnectivity, Malware Alert

3 responses to “Another Worm Worms Its Way Into Instant Messaging Applications

  1. Mal

    Hey Bill,
    IM apps are in the same category as Java, i.e. they aint installed. If I really want to use one, the online version does me fine. Just because things look all pretty with nice smiley faces and all that, doesn’t make them less dangerous.
    Cheers

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