Stock spammers pump up the volume with MP3 files

October 18, 2007 Sophos Press Release

Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis centers, have discovered a pump-and-dump spam campaign that is attempting to manipulate share prices through MP3 music files. Files posing as music from stars such as Elvis Presley, Fergie and Carrie Underwood actually contain a monotone voice encouraging people to buy shares in a little-known company.

Emails seen by Sophos often contain no subject line or message body but have attached to them an MP3 file typically named after a popular music artist.

Some of the filenames used include hurricanechris.mp3, allforone.mp3, carrieunderwood.mp3, elvis.mp3, baby.mp3, fergie.mp3, and bbrown.mp3.

The voice on the MP3 file, which is randomly altered in an attempt to avoid detection by anti-spam filters, says the following:

Hello, this is an investor alert

Exit Only Incorporated has announced it is ready to launch its new website, already a huge success in Canada, we are expecting amazing results in the USA.

Go read the news and sit on EXTO. That symbol again is EXTO. Thank you

Exit Only, Inc is a company listed on Pink Sheets that runs a website marketplace for new and used motor vehicles. Some of the MP3 files repeat the message twice, rather than once.

"Users may click on the MP3 file expecting to hear Elvis, but they'll be all shook up when they discover it's actually a voice resembling Marvin the Paranoid Android droning on about a stock that is set to be the next big thing," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "The spammers are already likely to have purchased stock on the cheap, and they are now trying to artificially inflate its price by encouraging others to purchase more. Once the stock rises, they'll quickly sell up, leaving the duped investors crying in the chapel. Thankfully though, it's hard to believe that many internet users will fall for such an amateurish presentation of an 'investor alert'."

The MP3 file encourages recipients to buy EXTO stock
The MP3 file encourages recipients to buy EXTO stock.

Sophos experts believe that firms should consider policing the types of file which come into their networks via email.

"Although the spammers seem to have quite a fair bit to learn about machine-generated sales patter, some companies might consider blocking all MP3s in email as a matter of course," continued Cluley. "So many music files infringe copyright, and it can be hard for a company to establish which ones are legal and which aren't after they've arrived. Blocking MP3s, or at least quarantining until requested by the user, can be a good way for a company to take a proactive stance against the use of email for illegal file sharing. It also has the benefit of neutralising this sort of spam at the same time."

In July 2007, Sophos published its Security Threat Report, examining the latest trends in spam, malware and hacking. The report described how spammers were using a variety of techniques to spread their unwanted messages and manipulate stock prices.

Sophos experts report that pump-and-dump stock campaigns account for approximately 25 percent of all spam, up from 0.8 percent in January 2005.

Sophos recommends companies protect themselves with a consolidated solution which can control network access and defend against the threats of spam, hackers, spyware and viruses.