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Cybercrooks book a stay in hotel email inboxes to trick staff into spilling credentials • The Register | #cybercrime | #computerhacker

Cybercriminals are preying on the inherent helpfulness of hotel staff during the sector’s busy holiday season.

Researchers at Sophos said the latest malware campaign targeting hotels involves sending emails that play on the emotions of staff, while at the same time applying time pressure, to trick them into downloading password-stealing malware.

Two main categories of emails are sent: those that complain about serious issues regarding a recent stay, and requests for information to assist a future booking. Both typically necessitate a fast response from hotel management.

Complaint emails can range from allegations of violent or prejudicial behavior from staff or having possessions stolen, for example. In these cases, attackers will often compose a strongly worded email, only including text, outlining their initial complaint.

When the staff then responds by requesting more information, the attacker sends a message directing the staff to open a link that supposedly contains evidence supporting their claim.

These links typically point to legitimate cloud storage services like Google Drive and contain a password-protected archive, the password for which is included in the email, which leads to the download and installation of credential-stealing malware.

Example of an attacker’s email sent to hotels including a link to a malicious archive instead of medical records. Image courtesy of Sophos

Attackers are also known to pose as guests traveling with disabled children. Similar to the previous examples, the attacker will instruct the staff to visit the link, which supposedly contains the information necessary for the hotel staff to familiarize themselves with the medical needs of their fake children.

Some emails are composed in what reads like native English, reducing the likelihood of staff members working fast-paced jobs being alerted to the malicious nature of the message. Others included the grammar and lexical errors one would expect from a phishing attempt.

Hotel staff have been advised to make themselves aware of the types of scams going around and be vigilant to any signs that the email might be an attempt at an attack.

Other methods involve creating an emotional scenario claiming the need for the hotel’s help to retrieve a lost item left behind in a hotel room, for example – sometimes with sentimental value.

Email sent to hotels including a link to a malicious archive instead of images of a lost item. Image courtesy of Sophos

This could be anything from a passport needed to fly home, a camera containing the last images of a deceased relative, or something else of the like.

In these cases, attackers may try to disarm the staff with grief, playing on their willingness to offer help, which Sophos says is a self-selecting trait of successful hospitality workers.

When the hotel staff asks for reservation details (name and booking number), the attackers’ attitude turns from grief to mild aggression, responding with a message akin to: “I have already told you about my family’s grief, I have lost a very precious thing with my mother’s last memories on it, if I send you a picture of the camera could you please help me.”

Again, the message then contains a password-protected download link that leads to malware.

All of the methods described in the research serve to steal hotel management credentials, which have recently been used in a spate of attacks against customers, and have been ongoing since at least March 2023.

The goal is to steal credentials to admin management portals, which are in turn logged into the partner portal.

From there, attackers have been sending messages directly to customers from within, lending an air of legitimacy to the communication. Conversations even follow on from existing chats from within the travel company’s app, for example.

Credit card details are requested to secure a customer’s booking, while also being told it will be cancelled within 24 hours if details aren’t provided – creating a sense of urgency. From there, predictably, money is being siphoned from the stolen payment details.

When the activity was first observed, it led customers to believe’s own systems had been compromised, but investigators managed to uncover the true nature of the incident.

Investigating the incident, Secureworks also spotted a high demand for credentials on underground forums, with some users offering up to $5,000 for a valid infostealer log, along with incentives to regular suppliers.

One crook – who offers a service that checks infostealer logs for valid credentials to various platforms, including Facebook Ads Manager, Gpay, Discord, and more – added a new admin portal service to the offering, again suggesting demand has risen.

A Spokesperson told The Register:

“While this breach was not on, we understand the seriousness for those impacted, which is why our teams work diligently to support our partners in securing their systems as quickly as possible and helping any potentially impacted customers accordingly, including with recovering any lost funds,” it told the BBC.

A follow-up piece from the BBC showed how customers lost hundreds of pounds through the scams. The company said it was implementing new safety features but said that there was no “silver bullet to eradicate all fraud on the internet.” ®


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