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Three Shutdown Internet Scams to Avoid

Paul Michael Hughes/Shutterstock.com

Already, the lapse in federal funding has become a potential funding resource for Internet swindlers. They are "phishing" or spamming unwitting citizens with bogus shutdown-themed messages that solicit money or other sensitive data.

The bad guys actually have been kind of slow on the uptake, according to research. During the past three months, malware dispensers needed only 22 hours, on average, to take advantage of news events, Dark Reading reported just last week. So, at about 48 hours, here's what we're up against:

1. Verizon's RISK Team, which studies data breaches, has observed malicious email campaigns that blame either Republicans or Democrats for the shutdown to collect donations for the rival party. 

Chris Porter, RISK Team managing principal, loosely paraphrased one case: "The government's shutting down and it's all Obama's fault. Give us your money so we can get him and his cronies out of office."

"They use the current event against a particular political side,” he said. That said, the victims' names are harvested from random email lists, not donor rolls or political demographic files. Conservatives conceivably could receive Hillary Clinton 2016 contribution requests and vice versa. 

"These are not targeted attacks," Porter said. Nor have the misfits figured out how to lean on government workers for valuable information. "We're not seeing any lures that are based on the government shutdown that are targeted against government employees," he said, but "government officials are constantly being targeted for their credentials" regardless of the current events. 

2. John C. A. Bambenek, who monitors abnormal online activity for the nonprofit Internet Storm Center, said that about 50 website names related to the shutdown popped up within roughly 24 hours after the stop-work order.  Approximately a third referenced partisan leanings, such as "republicanshutdown" or "dncshutdown." It is unclear which of the site managers are up to no good, because most are not displaying any content yet besides the domain name seller's promotional page. “2013governmentshutdown.com” is an example.

3. Symantec researchers, according to a company blog post, have witnessed fraudulent emails beckoning computer users to take advantage of closeout sales on cars and trucks. Clicking on a link in the message automatically redirects the user to a website containing a fake offer for "HALF OFF on brand new 2013 vehicles" and warning: "Don't delay -- this event will end immediately after a budget deal is reached." 

Some header lines to look out for are:

Subject: Half-off our autos for each day the US Govt is shut down

Subject: Get half off MSRP on new autos for each day of govt. shut down.

From: [NAME] <shut.down@[REMOVED]>

From: [NAME] <short.term@[REMOVED]>

From: [NAME] <very.limited@[REMOVED]>

From: [NAME] <limited.event@[REMOVED]>

The malicious link embedded in the sales ad follows this word pattern:

[DOMAIN NAME]/[RANDOM CHARACTERS]govt-shut[RANDOM DIGITS]do.wn_event[RANDOM DIGITS]

(Image via Paul Michael Hughes/Shutterstock.com)

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