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ImageGate: Check Point uncovers new method for distributing malware through images - Technique used in recent ransomware attacks via social media sites

November 2016 by Check Point

Check Point announced that its security researchers have identified a new attack vector, called ImageGate, which embeds malware in image and graphic files. The researchers have discovered the hackers’ method of executing the malicious code within these images through social media applications such as Facebook and LinkedIn.

According to the research, the attackers have built a new capability to embed malicious code into an image file and successfully upload it to the social media website. The attackers exploit a misconfiguration on the social media infrastructure to deliberately force their victims to download the image file. This results in infection of the users’ device as soon as the end-user clicks on the downloaded file.

Over the past three days, the security industry has followed the massive spread of Locky ransomware via social media, particularly in its Facebook-based campaign. Check Point researchers strongly believe that the new ImageGate technique reveals how this campaign was made possible, a question which has been unanswered until now.

The Check Point researchers were able to uncover the attack vector which affects major websites and social networks worldwide, including Facebook and LinkedIn. Check Point updated Facebook & LinkedIn about this attack vector early in September.

In cases involving Locky ransomware, once users download and open the malicious file that they receive, all the files on their personal device are automatically encrypted and they can only gain access to them after the ransom is paid.

“As more people spend time on social networking sites, hackers have turned their focus to find a way in to these platforms,” said Oded Vanunu, Head of Check Point’s Products Vulnerability Research. “Cyber criminals understand these sites are usually ‘white listed’, and for this reason, they are continually searching for new techniques to use social media as hosts for their malicious activities. To protect users against the most advanced threats, Check Point researchers strive to identify where attackers will strike next.”

How to stay protected

Check Point recommends users take the following preventive measures:

1. If you have clicked on an image and your browser starts downloading a file, do not open it. Any social media website should display the picture without downloading it.
2. Don’t open any image file with an unusual filename extension (such as SVG, JS or HTA).

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