Screenshot of Pope Spam  (Source: Barracuda Networks)
Following the flood of news related to the Vatican and Pope Francis, there has been an uptick in pope-related spam

Security and networking company Barracuda Networks noted a drastic rise in pope-related spam following the announcement that Pope Francis has been chosen to lead the Vatican. 

The Barracuda real time protection system picked up 400,000+ spam e-mails spoofed to mimic a CNN news alert, with the following headlines:  “New Pope, Vatican officials sued over alleged sexual abuse! –” and “Family sues new Pope. Exclusive! –”

Similar to successful e-mail spam campaigns from past international news events, this latest effort preys on reader emotions, enticing curious or angry recipients to visit the hijacked page.   After someone clicks on the hacked domain, a black hole exploit kit is delivered – and if the kit finds exploits it can use, “the payload executes and sends the information back to its command and control center.” 

Spammers are quick to jump on any major international events, such as a new pope, major natural disaster, or the US presidential election.  Earlier in the month, spammers launched a campaign focused on the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, pointing readers to a recently registered domain, or one that has been hijacked. 

Research experts recommend Internet users don’t open or click links in unsolicited, unfamiliar e-mails, even if it comes from a seemingly reputable source. 

There is a real world market demand for e-mail address lists – and passwords to compromised accounts – that can be used to extend the potential reach of malicious payloads. 

Spam volume drastically increased 92.2 percent in February when compared to January numbers, according to research from the Eleven Research Team.  Specifically, phishing e-mails increased and PayPal remains the top target of phishing by cyber criminal groups.    

As long as there is a market for spam delivery and phishing activity, groups will target certain events to draw added interest from Internet users.

Source: Barracuda Networks Internet Security Blog

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