It recently came to light that cybercriminals have been deceiving ‘Reddit’ users into voluntarily handing over their usernames and passwords.
Why would anyone do that of their own free will you might ask? It all comes down to a simple typo – reddit.co instead of reddit.com
When users accidentally type this address, rather than redirecting to the original website, the browser will take you to a clone site that looks exactly the same but has malicious intent. The site even has a valid SSL Certificate and so shows up as secure in your browser.
“This shows that cybercriminals are now stealing personal details by taking advantage of the one security measure every Internet user has been trained to trust: the padlock in web browsers,” says Venafi chief cyber security officer Kevin Bocek.
“These padlocks are supposed to signify a trusted machine identity – a digital certificate that means the machine is who it says it is. But now cybercriminals can obtain get certificates to look authentic for virtually nothing and often instantly available. This is a high risk, high impact threat that security teams cannot ignore anymore.”
According to Domain Tools, Reddit has never owned the domain despite many attempts to do so since 2010.
“Time is of the essence for Reddit here, and the company needs to warn its users about the site,” says RSA director of advanced cyber defense practice EMEA and APJ Azeem Aleem.
“The company isn’t alone, however, as it is often very hard for an organisation to know if their site has been spoofed until someone has already become a victim. This is why the public need to have greater awareness of spoofing and take care to protect themselves online.”
And unfortunately, Bocek says it’s not just sites like reddit.co, as last year more than 14,000 certificates were used to set up phishing sites spoofing PayPal alone.
“This shows the power of the padlock for cybercriminals, allowing them appear trusted while tricking unsuspecting victims out of their data and damaging brand reputations across the internet,” says Bocek.
“This attack is part of a much larger problem that jeopardises the system of trust used throughout the internet and shows why a new system of trust built on reputation is needed.”
Bocek says the answer lies in certificate reputation scoring. The site previously hosted porn, it’s not a real Reddit owned domain, and the certificate was issued by Comodo whereas the real Reddit uses certificates produced by DigiCert – these are all factors that a certificate reputation score would have flagged for remediation by Reddit a long time ago.
“Free certificates provide little validation, yet users see them as sacred. If people cannot trust that the sites they visit are genuine, our digital world could start to crumble,” says Bocek.
“Action is needed now by security teams of enterprises since no one else will protect you from the bad guys.”
Aleem says what is most worrying is what this stolen data will be used for, as stolen credentials are used to breach the victim’s other accounts, and carry out sophisticated phishing attacks on friends, colleagues and family.
“Our advice would be: firstly, avoid clicking on links to websites from emails, if it is from an unknown source. Instead, look up the website using an established search engine. Secondly, always be sure to check the URL of a site that you are visiting to make sure that the it is correct – often with spoofed sites there will be a few letters in the wrong place that will give clues that it is not official, as in this spoofed Reddit site, the devil is in the detail,” says Aleem.
“Thirdly, check the address bar to ensure you are visiting a secure site and there are no warnings – although as we can see here, there are ways to fake this. Lastly, if you have any doubts, then see if there is a phone number where you can call and get validation before sharing any personal information.”