The FBI has issued a warning over a torrent of Osama Bin Laden malware designed to exploit the public's curiosity for photos and videos in the wake of President Obama's announcement of the 'Ten Most Wanted' suspect's death.
It's a familiar pattern: as soon as a big name or event hits the headlines, hackers and cyber-criminals are quick to cash in, delivering malware via spam and social networks, as well as exploiting so-called 'black hat' SEO techniques to ensure links to bogus news stories and other attack sites rise to the top of the lists of results returned by search engines.
US intelligence officials urged users to report to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) any malicious email that claims to come from the FBI. In a press release, the Bureau said:
"The FBI today warns computer users to exercise caution when they receive e-mails that purport to show photos or videos of Usama bin Laden's recent death. This content could be a virus that could damage your computer. This malicious software, or 'malware', can embed itself in computers and spread to users' contact lists, thereby infecting the systems of associates, friends, and family members. These viruses are often programmed to steal your personally identifiable information."
The threat extends to social networks, too. Security vendor BitDefender today reported that more than 11 per cent of all Facebook detected by its social networking safety app, safego, over the last 24 hours had been themed around Bin Laden's death.
The company said it had identified three variants of messages claiming to show footage of Bin Laden's death. Clicking through to a malware-laden page resulted in notifications being posted to all of the victim's Facebook friends' walls, spreading the threat.
Head of the BitDefender's Online Threats Lab, Catalin Cosoi, said: "If users do land on this kind of site they will be presented with a fake scanner page and prompted to download a rogue antivirus utility, which they should definitely avoid."
The public's curiosity about big news stories have been a favourite vehicle for scammers to spread malware and other security threats. The recent Japanese earthquake, Michael Jackson's death and Tiger Woods' marital bust-up in 2009 have all give rise to a surge in spam and internet scams.
The answer to staying safe? Same as ever: common sense. BitDefender's Cosoi advises users seeking more information about Bin Laden's death to visit their favourite news websites, exercise caution with email messages even when they're sent by friends and colleagues - and never to open attachments sent by from unknown senders.