The presence of rogue anti-virus products, also known as scareware, on a Microsoft Windows computer is often just the most visible symptom of a more serious and insidious system-wide infection. To understand why, it helps to take a peek inside some of the more popular rogue anti-virus distribution networks that are paying people to peddle scareware alongside far more invasive threats.
Distributors or “affiliates” who sign up with avprofit.com, for example, are given access to an installer program that downloads not only rogue anti-virus but also ZeuS, a stealthy piece of malware that specializes in mining online banking credentials from infected PCs. ZeuS is the very piece of malware directly responsible for helping thieves steal tens of millions of dollars from small to mid-sized businesses over the past year.
Avprofit says it will pay affiliates roughly $1,000 for every 1,000 times they distribute this installer program, or about $1 per install. Typically, affiliates will embed these installers at porn sites or bundle them with programs seeded on peer-to-peer file-sharing services. The nightmare for the victim starts when he or she responds to the fake anti-virus pop-up warning of supposed threats resident on the victim’s PC, by agreeing to download and run a scanning tool.
What’s remarkable about this entire ecosystem is that in many cases, victims who have this installer run on their systems often end up paying for the rogue anti-virus, in addition to unknowingly giving up their passwords and handing complete control of their computer to the bad guys running this distribution network.