Grasping at Straws – Did Malware Hack Palin’s Email Account?

There are times that malicious software actually results in innocent people being accused or even convicted of crimes they did not commit. There are times, however where malware is not to blame.

Today I read a story at http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/12/09/palin_hack_spyware_defence/ where the lawyers for David Kernell, the man accused of hacking Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email account, claim that Kernell’s computer was infected with “unspecified malware”

There is no malware that I am aware of that perpetrates password reset attacks. It will be interesting to see exactly what malware was discovered on the laptop. Simply logging personal information does not perform password reset attacks.

The details of the malware have yet to be released. In a motion filed by Kernell’s lawyers (http://blogs.csoonline.com/sites/blogs.csoonline.com/files/motion.pdf) they state that “The program, which was installed by an unknown method before the computer ever came into
Mr. Kernell’s possession, uses sophisticated technology to record and report personal information without the user’s knowledge”.

Recording personal information does not perform password reset attacks.

There are a lot of ways malware can incriminate people. Malware can download pornography or cause pornographic images to be displayed on a computer. Malware can be used to make a computer perform denial of service attacks or send spam. While there is very, very little that malware can’t be programmed to do, in this case it seems pretty irrelevant that the suspect’s computer contained spyware.

A professional forensic analysis can reveal the capabilities of the malware found on the computer. I know enough not to say it is impossible that malware was responsible for assisting someone else in perpetrating the attacks, but it will be quite surprising if that really was the case.

Sure, it is possible that a Republican opponent of Palin decided to kill two birds with one stone and target the son of Democratic representative while attacking Palin, but that’s really grasping at straws!

I look forward to the release of the details of the malware.

Randy Abrams
Director of Technical Education

Author ESET Research, ESET

  • mmbb_c

    unless, of course, remote desktop is considered malware…  ;)

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