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Phishing Attackers Spotted Using Morse Code to Avoid Detection

 

Microsoft has revealed details of a deceptive year-long social engineering campaign in which the operators changed their obfuscation and encryption mechanisms every 37 days on average, including using Morse code, in an attempt to hide their tracks and steal user credentials. 

One of numerous tactics employed by the hackers, who Microsoft did not name, to disguise harmful software was Morse Code, a means of encoding characters with dots and dashes popularised by telegraph technology. It serves as a reminder that, despite their complexity, modern offensive and defensive cyber measures are generally based on the simple principle of hiding and cracking code. 

The phishing attempts take the shape of invoice-themed lures that imitate financial-related business transactions, with an HTML file ("XLS.HTML") attached to the emails. The ultimate goal is to collect usernames and passwords, which are then utilized as an initial point of access for subsequent infiltration attempts. 

The attachment was compared to a "jigsaw puzzle" by Microsoft, who explained that individual pieces of the HTML file are designed to appear innocuous and slip by the endpoint security software, only to expose their true colors when decoded and joined together. The hackers that carried out the attack were not identified by the company.

"This phishing campaign exemplifies the modern email threat: sophisticated, evasive, and relentlessly evolving," Microsoft 365 Defender Threat Intelligence Team said in an analysis. “On their own, the individual segments of the HMTL file may appear harmless at the code level and may thus slip past conventional security solutions." 

When you open the attachment, a counterfeit Microsoft Office 365 credentials dialogue box appears on top of a blurred Excel document in a browser window. The dialogue box displays a message requesting recipients to re-sign in since their access to the Excel document has allegedly expired. When a user types in a password, the user is notified that the password is incorrect, while the virus stealthily collects the information in the background. Since its discovery in July 2020, the campaign is reported to have gone through ten iterations, with the adversary occasionally changing up its encoding methods to hide the harmful nature of the HTML attachment and the many assault segments contained within the file. 

According to Christian Seifert, lead research manager at Microsoft's M365 Security unit, the hackers have yet to be linked to a known group. “We believe it is one of the many cybercrime groups that defraud victims for profit,” Seifert said.

Google and Mozilla Develop an API for HTML Sanitization

 

Google, Mozilla, and Cure53 engineers have collaborated to create an application programming interface (API) that offers a comprehensive solution to HTML sanitization. The API will be used in upcoming versions of the Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome web browsers. 

HTML sanitization is the process of reviewing an HTML document and creating a new HTML document that only contains the "secure" and desired tags. By sanitizing any HTML code submitted by a user, HTML sanitization can be used to defend against attacks like cross-site scripting (XSS).

Sanitation is usually carried out using either a whitelist or a blacklist strategy. Sanitization can be done further using rules that define which operations should be performed on the subject tags. 

When rendering user-generated content or working with templates, web applications are often expected to manage dynamic HTML content in the browser. Client-side HTML processing often introduces security flaws, which malicious actors exploit to stage XSS attacks, steal user data, or execute web commands on their behalf. 

“Historically, the web has been confronted with XSS issues ever since the inception of JavaScript,” Frederik Braun, security engineer at Mozilla, said. “The web has an increase in browser capabilities with new APIs and can thus be added to the attacker’s toolbox.” 

To protect against XSS attacks, many developers use open-source JavaScript libraries like DOMPurify. DOMPurify takes an HTML string as input and sanitizes it by deleting potentially vulnerable parts and escaping them. 

“The issue with parsing HTML is that it is a living standard and thus a quickly moving target,” Braun said. “To ensure that the HTML sanitizer works correctly on new input, it needs to keep up with this standard. The failure to do so can be catastrophic and lead to sanitizer bypasses.” 

The HTML Sanitizer API incorporates XSS security directly into the browser. The API's sanitizer class can be instantiated and used without the need to import external libraries. 

“This moves the responsibility for correct parsing into a piece of software that is already getting frequent security updates and has proven successful in doing it timely,” Braun said. According to Bentkowski, browsers already have built-in sanitizers for clipboard info, so repurposing the code to extend native sanitization capabilities makes perfect sense.

PayPal Suffered Cross-Site Scripting -XSS Vulnerability

 

The PayPal currency converter functionality was damaged by severe cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability. An attacker might be able to run destructive scripts if the vulnerability is abused. This could lead to the malicious user injecting malicious JavaScript, HTML, or some other form of browser file. The bug was noticed on PayPal's web domain with the currency converter functionality of PayPal wallets. 

On February 19, 2020, the vulnerability was first identified as a concern of "reflected XSS and CSP bypass" by a security researcher who goes by the name "Cr33pb0y" – he's been granted $2,900 in bug bounty programming by HackerOne. 

PayPal said that a flaw occurred in the currency conversion endpoint which was triggered by an inability to adequately sanitize user feedback, in a restricted disclosure that was released on February 10 – almost a year after the researcher identified the problem privately. 

PayPal acknowledged the flaw- in response to the HackerOne forum, that contributed to the currency translation URL managing user feedback inappropriately. A vulnerability intruder may use the JavaScript injection to access a document object in a browser or apply other malicious code to the URL. If hackers load a malicious payload into the browser of a victim, they can steal data or use the computer to take control of the system. As a consequence, malicious payloads can trigger a victim's browser page without its knowledge or consent in the Document Object Model (DOM). 

Typically, XSS attacks represent a browser's script from a specific website and can enable a target to click a malicious connection. Payloads can be used as a theft point in larger attacks or for the stealing of cookies, session tokens, or account information. PayPal has now carried out further validation tests to monitor users’ feedback in the currency exchange function and wipe out errors following the disclosure of the bug bounty hunter. 

XSS bugs are a frequent hacker attack vector. Several recent leaks of data have been related to bugs like what some analysts claim is an XSS flaw. 

While telling that the vulnerability has been fixed, PayPal said, “by implementing additional controls to validate and sanitize user input before being returned in the response.”