FBI warns of hackers spoofing its domain

FBI headquarters on Pennsylvania avenue sign with traffic reflections at night
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The FBI has warned citizens that hackers have set up copycat websites that spoof FBI-related domains.

In an announcement on the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) site, the law enforcement agency said it “observed unattributed cyber actors registering numerous domains spoofing legitimate FBI websites, indicating the potential for future operational activity.”

The agency identified dozens of spoofed FBI-related domains bad actors could use to trick unsuspecting users into entering personal information or downloading malware to their computers. The bureau hasn’t tied any country or cyber criminal gang to the spoofed domains.

"Cyber actors create spoofed domains with slightly altered characteristics of legitimate domains," the FBI said. It warned that members of the public could “unknowingly visit spoofed domains while seeking information regarding the FBI’s mission, services, or news coverage.”

“The FBI urges all members of the American public to critically evaluate the websites they visit, and the messages sent to their personal and business email accounts, to seek out reliable and verified FBI information,” the FBI said in a statement.

The FBI also provided recommendations to help the public spot these fake domains. The recommendations included verifying the spelling of web addresses, websites and email addresses, and updating operating systems and applications to the most current versions.

Carl Wearn, head of e-crime at Mimecast, told ITPro there’s a wide range of reasons for individuals or groups spoofing law enforcement or government websites.

“These specific examples are likely to be the potential for monetary gain through credential theft, as online reporting of crime is a feature of the genuine FBI website. The motive could also be more sinister, with the potential misuse to spread disinformation, and/or to impact the credibility and trust that individuals have in any agency or department,” Wearn said.

Wearn added that spoofing or using law enforcement credentials to defraud or scam people has been a common fraudster tactic for a long time, even before the internet. Criminals seek to exploit the trust society places in these organizations and the enhanced likelihood of compliance with their instructions.

“Please ensure you go to any genuine website via your browser, and do not click on links in emails or other electronic communications which may take you to these fake or spoofed websites and steal your personal details or worse,” Wearn said.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.