Beijing Olympics Spur Flurry of Unlawful Internet Activity

The Beijing Olympics have come and gone, and the events seemed to unfold according to plan. But while billions of viewers reveled in new world records and celebrated their favorite athletes being catapulted to international fame, others were scheming to exploit this mammoth event to make — or steal — a quick buck.

“So often at global events there is a much larger population that you can go after for different deception tactics,” said Dan Hubbard, chief technology officer at Websense, a company that specializes in Internet filtering and Web-security solutions.

In 2007, Websense predicted that the Beijing Olympics would present the No. 1 security threat in 2008, with an expected increase in new cyberattacks, phishing and fraud.

Sure enough, cybercriminals found ways to defraud people on the Internet — the most popular ways being through fake ticket sales and bogus e-mail alerts.

In terms of the fake tickets, Hubbard said phony Web sites prompted people to buy tickets to their favorite games using slogans such as “Buy [your] tickets online,” “Make sure you have your tickets for the Olympics,” and “Log on to this Olympics Web site and [enter] your credit card details.”

The bogus e-mail alerts were designed to use the Olympics as a launching platform for a wave of attacks. The spam messages — with subject lines reading something like “Michael Phelps going for 8 gold medals” — posed as official alerts from notable news Web sites CNN and MSNBC. The messages then prompted users to click on a legitimate news site, but simultaneously lured them to download malicious files and applications.

Hubbard’s advice to unsuspecting targets is simple. “Be aware of unsolicited e-mails — the standard things apply,” he said. “If you’re going to buy tickets, be sure you’re going to a trustworthy source.”

Another new threat that has surfaced with the Beijing Olympics is cybercriminals using search engines as a platform to infect users’ computers.

For example, if a user types “Olympics scores” into a Google search, cybercriminals have arranged for their malicious Web sites to be at the top of the search results.

Hubbard said one of the contributing factors to the increase in deception tactics at this year’s Olympics is its huge online presence.

“The thing about this Olympics that has been different than in the past is [that it] has had a ton of online presence, [such as] MSNBC’s live, streaming events, [archived events, etc.],” he said.

Especially given the time-zone difference, it is not uncommon for Olympics fans to catch a few events live on the Internet at work.

“People have really gotten used to going to the Web to get a lot of their Olympic feeds, as well as interviews, which is new for the Olympics this year,” Hubbard said.

 – Deanna Hartley, dhartley@certmag.com

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Deanna Hartley

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