New phishing scam preys on fear of child sexual predators

Cyber criminals use a sensitive topic to lure concerned parents into clicking something they shouldn't.
  • Tony Bradley (PC World (US online))
  • 07 February, 2015 05:23

Cyber criminals are always looking for vulnerabilities, and in this case, it's parental instinct. A new phishing scam is disguised as an alert to child sexual predators.

The scam email looks like a warning for parents about a known predator who moved into their ZIP code area. In a blog post by IT security company KnowBe4, CEO Stu Sjouwerman exclaimed, "just when you think phishing criminals cannot sink any further, you get confronted with a new low.'"

What was really interesting to me is that I received two emails back to back: One was from KnowBe4 PR contacting me about this story, and the one immediately afterward was one of the phishing emails Sjouwerman described.

It appeared to be from "Family Safety Notice_Kids*Live*Safe, and the subject line was: "Public Notice, A Sex Offender Alert For Your Area." The message itself was relatively brief and to the point. It just stated that a child predator may reside in our neighborhood, and provided a link to check for child predators in our area. It was signed by Paul Johnson, "Child Safety-Officer." Seems legit.

Normally this is where I would advise people to hover the mouse cursor over the URL in the email to see where it really goes. In this case, the link seems to go to the URL displayed--a neat trick for a phishing scam. Even though the URL is unknown, it seems to be related to the subject matter, and the fact that it doesn't appear to redirect to some obviously shady URL gives it an air of credibility.

According to Sjouwerman, if you click that link you will be redirected through several sites, and eventually end up at Kids Live Safe, which is a legitimate service that provides localized reports on sex offenders. The phishing attack is not from or related to that website.

While you're being bounced around through the redirected sites, though, your PC will be compromised. The malware infection attempts to steal passwords, credit card data, and other sensitive information.

None of this is new, really. Phishing scams are phishing scams, and they all try to use social engineering to prey on human nature. This one is slightly more sophisticated in how it tries to appear legitimate, but in the end it's still a phishing scam.

Kevin Epstein, VP of information security and governance for Proofpoint, explains, "This is a classic longline phishing attack. We see these daily, sometimes many per day."

Phishing scams are typically driven by a sense of urgency--an important message that requires some sort of immediate action. In this case, the attackers hope that you're a parent, and that you'll be concerned enough that you'll forget security protocol and just click the link to learn more.

Epstein stresses that you should absolutely not click on any links, or call any phone numbers in the email, or forward the email to others. You can simply describe the message you received to friends and family so they'll be alert to the scam.

It's important to not let your emotions compromise your common sense. Just because an email hits a sensitive topic for you is not a justification for ignoring security best practices and blindly clicking on links in random emails.