WASHINGTON - It looked like an innocent e-mail Christmas card from the White House.
But the holiday greeting that surfaced just before Christmas was a ruse by cybercriminals to steal documents and other data from law enforcement, military and government workers - particularly those involved in computer crime investigations.
Analysts who have studied the malicious software said Tuesday that hackers were able to use the e-mail to collect sensitive law enforcement data. But so far there has been no evidence that any classified information was compromised.
The targeted e-mail attack comes as the federal government is desperately trying to beef up its cyber security after the release of thousands of State Department cables and military documents by the WikiLeaks website. Federal authorities want to improve technology systems and crack down on employees to prevent the theft or loss of classified and sensitive information.
The red holiday e-mail card, with its brightly decorated Christmas tree, prompted recipients to click on a link, which would then download the ZueS malware - a well-known malicious code that is often used to steal passwords and other online credentials, primarily to poach Internet banking information. The malware was created several years ago and is widely available for criminals to acquire and adapt. It has been used to steal millions of dollars.
In this case, however, the code downloaded a second payload that is designed to steal documents from the recipient's computer, accessing Microsoft Word and Excel files.