Cybercrooks have launched a phishing campaign targeting Bitcoin users – and it's enjoying high response rates despite the seemingly random spraying of corporate email addresses with the spam-based scam.
Security-as-a-service provider Proofpoint has detected 12,000 messages sent in two separate waves to more than 400 organisations across a variety of industries including higher education, financial services, high tech, media and manufacturing. Consumers are also on the target list.
The broad nature of this campaign was surprising, since most previous Bitcoin credential theft scams have used lists of known and active Bitcoin users.
The phishing campaign follows a fairly straightforward “account warning” template, using the Bitcoin site Blockchain.info instead of the usual bank or online payment service names. Prospective marks were falsely warned about a failed login attempt originating in China, attempting to create a sense of urgency by capitalising on popular fears over Chinese hacking.
Any information entered by the user into the fake Blockchain.info site set up by the fraudsters will be captured and immediately sent to the phishing attackers, while the user is sent to a generic login error message.
Armed with an ID and password, the attackers can easily loot compromised Blockchain.info accounts, transferring Bitcoins to wallets under their control. The measures that protect consumers from losses caused by online banking fraud do not apply to Bitcoin users, making it unlikely a Bitcoin thief will have to contend with pursuit by banks. Because Bitcoin transactions are irreversible and difficult to trace by design, victims will have little or no recourse but to accept their losses.
The vast majority of those hit up with scam emails have probably never used Bitcoin to pay for anything but such is the hype around the digital currency that the scam emails are getting a 2.7 per cent click through rate on the embedded phishing URL, much higher than the percentage of Bitcoin users in the general population.
Kevin Epstein, vice president of advanced security at Proofpoint, commented: “People who had no Bitcoin accounts – no reason to click on the email solicitation – were clicking anyway. It seems likely that attackers were taking advantage of Bitcoin’s recent popularity in the news to engage targeted users’ curiosity."
"Cybercriminals are continuing to improve their odds of success by exploiting human psychology as well as technology," he added.
This high click-through rate is a concern because crooks could easily switch from Bitcoin scams to targeting curious users with DDoS malware, remote access Trojans, corporate credential phish, or other threats.
Anti-spam firm Cloudmark said the campaign spotted by Proofpoint was typical of recent phishing campaigns it has intercepted.
"We have also detected this Bitcoin-based phishing attack which ProofPoint reported has targeted over 400 organisations with the intention of stealing crypto-currency wallet passwords," said Andrew Conway, a security researcher at Cloudmark. "This was actually quite a low volume spam campaign compared with many we see, and the spammers were not very successful at evading spam filters. With that in mind, it looks more like a trial run by inexperienced spammers rather than a full blown spam campaign."
"If your credit card or bank account credentials are stolen, the criminal will still need to extract money from your account. The chances are that you can raise this as fraud and your bank will protect you and take the hit. However, if your Bitcoin wallet is compromised, the contents are gone for ever, and there is no way to get anything back. Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons why Bitcoin fraud is becoming popular," he added. ®