'Winky Face' Email Takes Control of PCs

John Lister's picture

An email with a "winky face" for a subject line has helped a malware campaign become one of the most widespread in the world. It's a scam to expand the reach of the Phorpiex botnet which distributes spam and malware from infected machines to others online the Internet.

According to researchers at security company Check Point, Phorpiex jumped from the 13th most detected malware campaign in May to the number two slot last month. It reports that one in 50 organizations suffered at least one attempted breach from Phorpiex last month. (Source: zdnet.com)

Ransomware, Botnets and Blackmail

The winky face email is effectively a recruitment campaign to try to gain remote control of computers and use them as part of a huge virtual network (botnet), which then unleashes a more powerful malware attack.

Some of the attacks linked to Phorpiex include ransomware campaigns and sextortion scams that falsely claim the user has illegally accessed adult material and attempt to blackmail them.

Winky Face Symbol Works ;-)

While it's not known how many of the emails have circulated, the sheer growth of Phorpiex suggests the winky face subject line proved successful for the scammers.

One possibility is that it becomes much harder to distinguish between the message being spam and it coming from a genuine contact, particularly if their email account has been compromised. That's in contrast to written subject lines where there's more scope for scams to stand out by being suspiciously worded.

Yet another possibility has to do with a psychology theory which suggests that users who have their accounts hijacked are the same type of people who might have sent an email with such a subject line.

In this case the damage comes from .ZIP files attached to the email. As usual, the best advice is to never open a file attachment or click on a link in an email unless you specifically requested the email from somebody you know. (Source: lifehacker.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think you'd be fooled by an email with a "winky face" as a subject line? Is it a surprise that people still get scammed into opening unsolicited attachments? Would it be useful for email applications and webmail sites to flash up a reminder to think twice when a user tries to open an attachment or would that be too annoying?

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