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Sophos: In new twist, criminals adopt bizarre audio technique in attempt to inflate share prices

October 2007 by Sophos

IT security and control firm Sophos has discovered a new pump-and-dump spam campaign that is attempting to manipulate share prices through the use of MP3 music files. MP3 files that pose as music from stars such as Elvis Presley, Fergie and Carrie Underwood, but which actually contain a monotone voice encouraging people to buy shares in an obscure Canadian company, are currently being spammed out to email users worldwide.

According to Sophos, the emails often contain no subject line or message body but have attached to them an MP3 file typically named after a popular music artist. Some of the filenames used include hurricanechris.mp3, allforone.mp3, carrieunderwood.mp3, elvis.mp3, baby.mp3, fergie.mp3, and bbrown.mp3.

The voice on the MP3 file, which is randomly altered in an attempt to avoid detection by anti-spam filters, says the following:

’Hello, this is an investor alert.

Exit Only Incorporated has announced it is ready to launch its new [obscured].com website, already a huge success in Canada, we are expecting amazing results in the USA.

Go read the news and [obscured] on EXTO. That symbol again is EXTO. Thank you.’

The stock spam MP3 file can be found at:

Exit Only, Inc is a Canadian company that runs a website marketplace for new and used motor vehicles. Some of the MP3 files repeat the message twice, rather than once.

"Users may click on the MP3 file expecting to hear Elvis, but they’ll be all shook up when they discover it’s actually a voice resembling Marvin the Paranoid Android droning on about a stock that is set to be the next big thing," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "The spammers are already likely to have purchased stock on the cheap, and they are now trying to artificially inflate its price by encouraging others to purchase more. Once the stock rises, they’ll quickly sell up, leaving the duped investors crying in the chapel. Thankfully though, it’s hard to believe that many internet users will fall for such an amateurish presentation of an ’investor alert’."

Sophos experts believe that firms should consider policing the types of file which come into their networks via email.

"Although the spammers seem to have quite a fair bit to learn about machine-generated sales patter, some companies might consider blocking all MP3s in email as a matter of course," continued Cluley. "So many music files infringe copyright, and it can be hard for a company to establish which ones are legal and which aren’t after they’ve arrived. Blocking MP3s, or at least quarantining until requested by the user, can be a good way for a company to take a proactive stance against the use of email for illegal file sharing. It also has the benefit of neutralising this sort of spam at the same time."

Sophos reports that pump-and-dump stock campaigns account for approximately 25 percent of all spam, up from 0.8 percent in January 2005.

In July 2007, Sophos published its Security Threat Report, examining the latest trends in spam, malware and hacking. The report described how spammers were using a variety of techniques to spread their unwanted messages and manipulate stock prices.

The Sophos Security Threat Report July 2007 can be downloaded from:

Sophos recommends companies protect themselves with a consolidated solution which can control network access and defend against the threats of spam, hackers, spyware and viruses.

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