The goal was to maximize what Peterson calls the delivery rate, the number of targets who actually read the malicious email.
“We saw the vast majority of these messages delivered to the victims,” said Peterson. “We don’t actually have statistics on how many of them either installed malware on their computers or gave away their iTunes credentials, but I can say that the delivery rate was far greater than your typical mass-market spam.
Like many other malicious email attacks, the French incident convinced targets that their iTunes accounts were at risk if they didn’t click on a link and enter their credentials. Unlike most big spam attacks, though, the perpetrators took the time to customize their messages.
“It’s just a question of good copy-writing skills and a lot of attention to detail, so that [the spam] looks just like the original,” said Peterson. “The reality is, it’s not that difficult. It’s just that historically, criminals have been able to blast billions of these, and if half the people didn’t think it was authentic, the criminals didn’t lose too much sleep because they had sent so many.”
Be skeptical about emails
Because it’s relatively easy to produce an authentic-looking spam message, Peterson said, internet users should never assume they can tell the difference. He suggested people should be skeptical when evaluating emails.
“If you were walking down the streets of Toronto and someone came up to you and claimed to be from your bank or your auto warranty with a problem, people know how to respond to that,” said Peterson. “But for some reason, when someone plops something in their inbox pretending to be similar entities, people just believe it.”
If an email tempts you to clicking on an external link, Peterson recommends hovering your cursor over the hyperlink and checking to see if the destination URL is what it claims to be.
It’s possible that users of smaller internet service providers are more at risk from these types of attack, added Peterson.
“It’s very difficult nowadays to keep up in the cyber arms race. Even the largest providers with the most resources are struggling.”