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Hackers exploit Flash bug in new attacks against Gmail users

Gregg Keizer, Computerworld | June 6, 2011
Adobe today confirmed that the Flash Player bug it patched Sunday is being used to steal login credentials of Google's Gmail users.

Adobe today confirmed that the Flash Player bug it patched Sunday is being used to steal login credentials of Google's Gmail users.

The vulnerability was patched yesterday in an "out-of-band," or emergency update. The fix was the second in less than four weeks for Flash, and the fifth this year. A weekend patch is very unusual for Adobe.

"We have reports that this vulnerability is being exploited in the wild in active targeted attacks designed to trick the user into clicking on a malicious link delivered in an email message," said Adobe spokeswoman Wiebke Lips in response to questions today. "The reports we received indicate that the current attacks are targeting Gmail specifically. However, we cannot assume that other Web mail providers may not be targeted as well."

According to Adobe's advisory, the Flash vulnerability is a cross-site scripting bug.

Cross-site scripting flaws are often used by identity thieves to hijack usernames and passwords from vulnerable browsers. In this case, browsers themselves are not targeted; rather, attackers are exploiting the Flash Player browser plug-in, which virtually every user has installed.

Adobe said that Google reported the Flash Player flaw to its security team.

Targeted attacks that try to steal account information are commonplace, but they've been prominent in the news since last Wednesday, when Google accused Chinese hackers of targeting senior U.S. government officials and others in a long-running campaign to pilfer Gmail usernames and passwords.

China has denied Google's allegations. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is looking into Google's charges.

The attacks aimed at stealing Gmail account information using the Flash Player vulnerability, however, are different than those Google acknowledged last week. Those attacks, which have been active since at least February, did not rely on an exploit, and instead duped victims into entering their username and password on a fake Gmail login screen.

Adobe updated the Windows, Mac OS X and Linux versions of Flash Player Sunday, and said it would follow that with a patch for the Android edition sometime this week.

Google, which bundles Flash Player with Chrome, also updated its browser on Sunday, refreshing all three of its distribution channels -- stable, beta and dev -- to include the patched version of Flash.

Adobe rated the bug as "important," the second-highest ranking in its four-step threat scoring system. In Adobe's scheme, that rating indicates that attackers may be able to access data on the victimized computer, but cannot plant malware on the machine.


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