A recent phishing campaign used a fake Google reCAPTCHA as part of its efforts to target Polish bank employees with malware.

Sucuri researchers discovered that the campaign sent out malicious emails masquerading as a confirmation for a recent transaction. Digital attackers deployed this disguise in the hopes that employees at the targeted bank would click on a link to a malicious PHP file out of alarm. That file was responsible for loading a fake 404 error page for visitors that had specifically defined user-agents.

If passed through a user-agent filter, the PHP code loaded a fake Google reCAPTCHA. This feature used static HTML and JavaScript, so was not capable of rotating the individual images used in each authentication test. It also did not support audio replay.

At that point, the PHP code checked the victim’s browser user-agent to determine what payload it should deliver. If it found the victim was using an Android device, the attack would load a malicious APK file capable of intercepting two-factor authentication (2FA) codes. Otherwise, it would download a malicious ZIP archive.

A History of Abusing and Bypassing CAPTCHAs

This isn’t the first time threat actors have incorporated CAPTCHAs into their attack campaigns. Back in 2016, researchers at the University of Connecticut and Bar Ilan University identified a malicious attack in which threat actors could trick users into divulging some of their personal information by completing a fake CAPTCHA. In February 2018, My Online Security observed a campaign that used an image pretending to be a Google reCAPTCHA to download a malicious ZIP file.

Malefactors have also tried to bypass legitimate CAPTCHAs for the purpose of conducting attack campaigns. All the way back in 2009, for example, IT World reported on a worm named Gaptcha that circumvented Gmail’s authentication feature to create new dummy accounts from which to send spam mail. More recently, BullGuard discovered some survey scams using CAPTCHAs to make their ploys more believable.

Defending Against Fake reCAPTCHA Phishing Campaigns

Security professionals can help protect their organizations from fake reCAPTCHA-wielding phishing campaigns by taking an ahead-of-threat approach to detection. Companies should also reject SMS-based 2FA schemes in favor of more practical and convenient multifactor authentication (MFA) deployments that fit into a context-based access strategy.

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