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Google pulls 500 malicious Chrome extensions after researcher tip-off

Google has abruptly pulled over 500 Chrome extensions from its Web Store that researchers discovered were stealing browsing data and executing click fraud and malvertising.

Google has abruptly pulled over 500 Chrome extensions from its Web Store that researchers discovered were stealing browsing data and executing click fraud and malvertising after installing themselves on the computers of millions of users.
Depending on which way you look at it, that’s either a good result because they’re no longer free to infect users, or an example of how easy it is for malicious extensions to sneak on the Web Store and stay there for years without Google noticing.
That they were noticed at all is thanks to researcher Jamila Kaya who used Duo Security’s CRXcavator tool (also available at CRXcavator.io) to spot a handful of extensions that seemed suspicious, mostly themed around marketing and advertising.
Spotting dodgy extensions was only the start – she still had to connect them to one another to uncover recurring patterns that might highlight other offenders.
The first giveaway was that the extension code often looked like copycats of one another despite small changes to the names of internal functions designed to obscure this.
Another troubling similarity was the number of permissions requested. Enough to allow them to access browsing data and run when visiting websites using HTTPS.
Working with Duo Security, they eventually identified 70 extensions that seemed to be related to one another. All also contacted similar command and control networks and seemed to have been designed to detect and counteract sandbox analysis.
Ad fraud was the biggest activity – contacting domains without the user being aware – as well as redirecting users to malware and phishing domains.

Could it get worse?

Many of the extensions had been active for nearly a year, with evidence some had been around for much longer.
Google carried out its own fingerprinting based on the research and the number of dubious extensions ballooned to over 500. Google later said:

We do regular sweeps to find extensions using similar techniques, code, and behaviors, and take down those extensions if they violate our policies.

Except, an infected user might point out, not often or effectively enough to stop 500 malicious extensions from finding a home inside the Chrome Web Store.
The extensions discovered by Duo Security and Kaya had been installed a total of 1.7 million times.
Google’s Chrome Web Store has around 190,000 extensions, which puts the loss of 500 dubious ones into perspective. That said, a report by Extension Monitor last August estimated that three-quarters of these have between zero and a handful of installs.
Perhaps the sheer number is part of the problem. Malicious extensions have a large population of unused software in which to hide.
Mozilla’s Firefox has experienced the same issue on a smaller scale to the extent that it recently banned 197 risky extensions and reminded everyone that it no longer tolerates extensions that execute remote code.
Anyone using one of the now-suspended 500 extensions will find they’ve automatically been deactivated in their browser, with warnings that mark them as malicious. Deinstallation must be done from the user’s side, however.
The lesson is not to assume that because an extension is hosted from an official web store that means it is safe to use. The best advice:

    • Install as few extensions as possible and, despite the above, only from official web stores.
    • Check the reviews and feedback from others who have installed the extension.
    • Pay attention to the developer’s reputation and how responsive they are to questions and how frequently they post version updates.
    • Study the permissions they ask for (in Chrome, Settings> Extensions> Details) and check they’re in line with the features of the extension. And if these permissions change, be suspicious.

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5 Comments

COMPUTER SECURITY: Microsoft has a HUGE problem. For months now hundreds of people have complained of their Junk Email Boxes being overloaded. I currently have over 1500 junk emails, that doesn’t count the 2,000 I’ve already deleted. Yesterday, I received a junk email in my INBOX. It showed a woman on top of a man having sex, video format, I didn’t even open the email. Microsoft Outlook, ALL APPS have completely ignored people’s pleas to fix this problem. I finally forwarded the SEX SCENE email to Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft because NO ONE at Microsoft is taking this seriously. Maybe a word from Sophos would embarrass them into fixing this problem. Microsoft has so many ways to get “help”, many links that are supposed to help. I don’t know how they keep track of all these links with complaints. If thousands of junk emails are getting through, and now to the INBOX, what are the possibilities that Outlook has been hacked. My Do Not Allow list is so long, I can’t find the end of it, and Microsoft seems to think all of its users are idiots. We know that these junk mail scams change their email addresses constantly. Regarding Complaints: No one from Microsoft EVER responds to these complaints.
PLEASE HELP.

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MS will not help, because it doesn’t effect their revenue. Now if people dumped their Services in large amounts, they would take action. But they know companies are dependent on them, so they won’t do anything. I suggest using a real mail filter service, there are several. Trusting MS or Goog to filter spam/marketing is a bad idea, as that’s how they make money.

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Outlook is a program for sending and receive email. Your issue is your email provider’s spam filter. This is not a Outlook issue.

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The OP didn’t say, but Outlook – in the form of Outlook.com – is a webmail system that is effectively both an email client and an email provider in one, like Gmail.

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I often would look at the geographic location of the “maker” of the App when trying to decide even a “screen saver or theme”. But then I noticed that these were not being published any further?? China and Russia were avoidance locations for me and some eastern Euro countries. I also noticed that even the Asian (Chinese) were using Anglo sounding names of company names???

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