Hackers exploit fires in California to spread malware

Clu-blog readers who follow the news will probably be all too aware with the horrible situation in California where wildfires have been spreading, resulting in the death of two firefighters and thousands of properties being threatened with damage.

The fires are currently burning in various areas across California, with the largest fire (known as the “Station Fire”), burning just north of Los Angeles.

Sadly, hackers follow the headlines with just as much interest as the rest of us – but with more malice in mind.

In the last 24 hours SophosLabs has discovered a number of webpages deliberately constructed by cybercriminals with the intention of striking PCs belonging to computer users who search for information on the breaking news story.

By using search engine optimisation techniques, the hackers have been able to place their sites high in search rankings.

Malicious search results related to fires in California

Some sites will pretend to display a bogus security warning as soon as you visit them, telling you that your computer needs to be scanned for threats, before displaying fake anti-virus alerts. The worry is that some people will believe that these warnings are genuine and happily run the “solution” that the hackers suggest you download.

Meanwhile, other pages are using the old trick of offering video clips of the latest news on the fires, hoping to fool unsuspecting users into installing malicious code posing as fake codecs and Flash updates.

Hackers push fake Flash update

Hackers push fake Flash update - but beware of that download

It’s only natural that concerned members of the public will turn to the internet at a time like this to find out the latest information on a disaster, or will hunt online for the latest maps to see the spread of the inferno. But it can be very hard to determine with the naked eye which website is safe, and which is designed to cause you damage to your wallet and data.

That’s why the best defence is to keep your computer security up-to-date with the latest anti-virus and patches, your wits about you, and find out if your company is scanning every website you visit for malicious content.