3M Users Targeted by Malicious Facebook, Insta Browser Add-Ons

Researchers identify malware existing in popular add-ons for Facebook, Vimeo, Instagram and others that are commonly used in browsers from Google and Microsoft.

Twenty-eight popular extensions for Google Chrome and Microsoft Edge browsers may contain malware and likely should be uninstalled by the more than 3 million people that already have downloaded them, security researchers said Thursday.

Extensions for the browsers that potentially could pose a security threat include Video Downloader for Facebook, Vimeo Video Downloader, Instagram Story Downloader, VK Unblock, as well as others in use for the two popular browsers, according to research from Avast Threat Intelligence.

Download numbers from the browser store show that several million people worldwide currently may be using the extensions, researchers said. Moreover, while Avast Threat Intelligence began investigating the threat in November, it may have gone unnoticed for years. Reviews on the Chrome Web Store show evidence of this, as they mention link hijacking from as far back as December 2018, researchers noted.

Avast Threat Intelligence discovered the malware after following up on research by Czech researcher Edvard Rejthar at CZ.NIC, who first identified the threat originating in browser extensions on his system, Avast senior writer Emma McGowan wrote in a blog post published Thursday.

Noticing some “non-standard” behavior coming from his computer, Rejthar went hunting for the source in browser add-ons, which tend to be “the most common vulnerability of a user’s computer in addition to phishing,” he wrote.

Rejthar set a trap to catch the culprit in action and found malicious scripts coming from certain browser extensions. The malware entered the system through localStorage, the general data repository that browsers make available to sites and add-ons, he reported.

Avast researchers investigated further and found that infected JavaScript-based extensions contain malicious code that open the door to downloading even more malware to a person’s computer, according to McGowan’s post. They also manipulate all links that the victims click on after downloading the extensions, she wrote.

“For example, links in Google Search lead users to other, seemingly random, sites,” according to the post. “This includes phishing sites and ads.”

Clicking on the links also causes the extensions to send info to the attacker’s control server, ostensibly creating a log of all of someone’s clicks. That log is then sent to third-party websites and can be used to collect a user’s personal information, including birth date, email addresses, device information, first sign-in time, last login time, name of his or her device, operating system, browser used and version, and IP address, according to Avast.

Researchers surmised that either the extensions were created deliberately with built-in malware, or the threat actor waited for the extensions to become popular and then pushed out a malicious update, Avast researcher Jan Rubin said.

“It could also be that the author sold the original extensions to someone else after creating them and then his client introduced the malware afterwards,” he said in the post.

Further, the domains used in the campaign are likely not owned by the cybercriminals; rather, the domain owners probably pay the cybercriminals for every re-direction, Rubin added.

At the time of this writing, most of the infected extensions are still available for download, according to Avast, which recommends that users disable and uninstall them and scan for malware before continuing to use them.

Avast said researchers have reported the issue to both Google and Microsoft. Neither company responded immediately to request for comment about whether they are aware of the extensions and plan to investigate and/or remove them.

The full list of the identified extensions is here; some of them have been taken down, Avast said.

Of the two companies, Google at least is no stranger to responding to news of malicious browser extensions. In June, the company removed 106 Chrome browser extensions from its Chrome Web Store in response to a report that they were being used to siphon sensitive user data.

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