Researchers have uncovered a massive cache of stolen account credentials which could impact some two million users.
Security firm Trustwave said that its SpiderLabs reconnaissance team has detected a malware operation which has been able to pilfer account credentials on infected machines and build an archive of lifted passwords for services including Facebook, Yahoo and Google.
The attackers also harvested thousands of account credentials for remote desktop services, FTP connections and secure shells.
The attack, which appears to use a derivative of the Pony malware, appears to be largely concentrated on Russian-speaking sites and services, say researchers. While much of the command and control traffic was traced to the Netherlands, researchers noted that the operation likely uses proxies to hide the true location of its control systems.
The company did not report any widespread attacks on the sites themselves related to the password thefts.
While the malware itself is known and the infection can be prevented by installing and maintaining antivirus and security tools, Trustwave noted that the breach highlights a larger, and ongoing, security problem.
An analysis of the stolen credentials would suggest that in many cases, the malware operators would have been able to compromise many accounts simply by guessing. The Trustwave researchers noted that among the dumped passwords, low-security choices such as simple numeric sequences were by far still the most common choices.
Trustwave reports that for many of the stolen passwords, only one type of character was chosen and in many cases the passwords remained extremely short. Just 22 per cent of the observed passwords used a long, strong, and multiple character password classified as "good" or "excellent" by the company and 28 per cent were considered "bad" or "terrible" password choices.
The use of simple, easily-guessed passwords has long been a problem at nearly every level of IT from system admins to chief security officers and anti-malware vendors. Experts recommend that in addition to avoiding blatantly stupid choices such as "12345", users avoid dictionary words and pick log-ins that mix both cases and alphanumeric characters.
Unfortunately, says Trustwave, there is little indication that those efforts to educate users are gaining much traction. The company noted that when compared to a similar password dump analyzed in 2006, the collection suggests that users are in fact relying more on common passwords, with the top 10 most common accounting for 2.4 per cent of all of those harvested.
Even if you've not been infected, now would be a good time to seriously consider changing, strengthening, and diversifying your passwords. ®