The FIFA World Cup kicked off today in Johannesburg, South Africa. Soccer's showcase event always puts viewership records in grave danger with its ability to elicit unprecedented frenzy. On the inaugural day of the tournament, news sites turned out to be the main beneficiaries of the fan fervor. According to content delivery firm Akamai, news sites around the world experienced vastly heightened activity on Friday as viewers flocked to them in record numbers.
Its Net Usage Index, which continuously monitors global news consumption, showed a steep climb in traffic around noon, when traffic peaked at nearly 12.1 million visitors per minute. Akamai has never before recorded such levels. The previous record of around 8.5 million vpm was set when Barack Obama won the presidential race.
Soccer fans around the world are eagerly waiting for the 2010 FIFA World Cup to kick off. Soccer's marquee event will virtually transform host nation South Africa into the mecca for the sport's impassioned followers around the world. Like with any other major world event or cataclysm, the internet's dark alleys are filled with people ready to tax the outpouring of human emotion during the World Cup. It is likely that some of their nefarious plans are already afoot, even though there is a fair bit to go before the start of the event.
Symantec recently discovered a “targeted attack” that quite clearly tries to exploit the mounting soccer fever. Thankfully, the attack was thwarted before it could cause any damage. The attackers tried to drop their malicious payload using an email message ostensibly sent by a legitimate African Safari organiser, Greenlife. To the untrained eye, the sender had attached a “highly informative World Cup Travel Guide” with the message. But in reality the attached file was a modified variant of the real Greenlife's actual PDF guide. The actual PDF document was first debased with malicious code to exploit a recently patched vulnerability in Adobe Reader before being forwarded as an attachment.
“The patch for this critical rated vulnerability was released by Adobe on February 16, 2010. Since then we have observed a large number of targeted attacks attempting to exploit this vulnerability. Proof-of-Concept exploit code is available in the Internet which is contributing to the large number of observed attacks,” Daren Lewis, a Symantec employee wrote on the MessageLabs Intelligence blog.
Targeted attacks are known to be precise and less spammy. For instance, Symantec only has to deal with less than 100 such attacks every day, despite it blocking around 500,000 malicious emails per day. Such attacks usually target organizations, with people at the top of the pecking order more likely to be attacked first. This way the attackers can gain access to a pretty large chunk of that organization's sensitive information. In this case, the malicious email was sent to a person only identified as “a user in a major international organisation that brings together governments from all over the world.”