Hackers Renew Airline-Ticket Scam Spam

Graphic: Diego Aguirre
In a reprise of a summer tactic, hackers are trying to trick people into infecting their PCs with malware by sending them e-mail that poses as bogus airline ticket invoices and boarding passes, a security company said Monday.

The spam, which claims to be from Continental Airlines Inc. , thanks the recipient for using a new "Buy flight ticket Online" service, provides a log-in username and password, and says the recipient's credit card has been charged more than US$900, according to Trend Micro Inc.'s research.

An attached .zip file, the message says, includes an invoice and "flight ticket." In fact, noted Trend Micro, the archive file contains an executable file "e-ticket.doc.exe," that is actually a Windows worm that downloads and installs other attack code to the PC.

"It's the old double-extension trick to hopefully fool the user to double-click the attachment," said Joey Costoya, a Trend Micro researcher, in an entry to the company's security blog . "The phrase'Your credit card has been charged ...' will just add more worry for the user, convincing him more to examine [and] double-click the'flight details'," Costoya added.

An almost-identical attack hit consumers last July when hackers sent spam that masqueraded as mail from Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. Among the few differences: The current campaign has dramatically bumped up the amount supposedly charged to recipients' credit cards. In July, the figures were often in the $400 range.

Airline ticket prices jumped this summer as fuel costs climbed, a fact Continental recognized when it posted its third-quarter earnings last Friday. The airline, which reported a net loss of $236 million for the quarter, blamed both high fuel prices and Hurricane Ike for its poor performance.

According to Continental, its jet fuel averaged $3.49 per gallon during the quarter, up from $2.16, a 62% increase. Fuel prices peaked at $4.21 per gallon during the period, Continental said.

The malware used in July also differed from the attack code spotted by Trend Micro. Three months ago, hackers tried to plant an identity-stealing Trojan horse on users' Windows PCs. The Trojan had made a name for itself in 2007 as the malware used to rip off more than 1.6 million customer records from Monster Worldwide Inc. , the company that runs the popular Monster.com job site.

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