Attack targets firms from the automobile industry in Europe

Attackers are sending emails containing a new information-stealing Trojan program to customer service departments, Symantec researchers said

Cybercriminals are using a new information-stealing malware program to target companies from the automobile industry in Europe, security researchers warned.

The attack campaign started in early August and primarily targeted rental, insurance, transport and secondary market businesses for commercial and agricultural vehicles, according to a new report by researchers from antivirus vendor Symantec.

The attackers distributed their malware program through spear-phishing emails claiming to originate from a company called Technik Automobile that was seeking to acquire used and pre-owned vehicles. The emails contained an attachment called that was supposedly a list of vehicles, but in fact contained an installer for a Trojan program called Carbon Grabber.

"The malicious file will decrypt another executable from its body and inject code into Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, and Mozilla Firefox processes on the compromised computer," said Symantec researcher Lionel Payet in a blog post Friday. "The malware hooks the browser APIs [application programming interfaces], allowing it to steal information before it is encrypted and sent out to the network."

Like other man-in-the-browser Trojan programs, Carbon Grabber is capable of stealing log-in credentials for various Web services, including online banking websites and internal Web applications. It can also steal Microsoft Outlook credentials and use them to send emails on behalf of the victims.

The Carbon Grabber malware appeared earlier this year on the underground market and is used by more than one cybercriminal group, Payet said.

In the attack campaign observed by Symantec, the rogue emails were sent to the customer service departments of the targeted companies.

"Customer service departments are often granted a great deal of access within a company as they are required to perform a multitude of administrative and financial tasks on a daily basis," Payet wrote. It's not clear if the attackers behind this campaign are only driven by financial motives, but if their attack is successful they gain a foothold in the victim's business, he said.

The automobile industry has been the primary target for Carbon Grabber attacks, accounting for 48 percent of the victims observed by Symantec. However, the malware has also affected companies from other business sectors including public services, finance, charity, energy, research, telecommunications and tourism.

According to Symantec's data, the victim distribution by country is: Germany (38 percent), the Netherlands (31 percent), Italy (24 percent) and the U.K. (7 percent).

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