Posts Tagged: rogue anti-virus

Jul 10

Rogue Antivirus Victims Seldom Fight Back

Recently I came into possession of a series of documents showing the financial books of an organization that orchestrates the distribution of rogue anti-virus attacks or “scareware,” programs that hijack victim PCs with misleading security alerts in an effort to frighten the user into purchasing worthless security software. I found many interesting details in this data cache, but one pattern in the data explains why scareware continues to be a major scourge: Relatively few people victimized by it dispute the transaction with their bank.

The documents list the amounts charged to more than 2,000 people around the world (the screen shots show the distribution of victims globally and in the United States). Victims paid anywhere from $50 to $100 for the fake anti-virus software. The file lists the amounts charged, partially obscured credit card numbers, and the names, addresses and e-mails of all victims.

More importantly, they show that only 367 victims — fewer than 20 percent — bothered to contact their bank or the scammers to reverse the fraudulent charges after the fact.

A second wave of attacks apparently conducted by the same malware gang in early April shows that only 163 out of 1,678 victims – fewer than 10 percent — initiated chargebacks or disputed the sales (the geographic distribution of victims of this second wave is not included in the Google Maps graphics shown here).

I interviewed more than a dozen victims of the first scareware attack, which occurred between April 12 and April 15. All said their computers became unusable and that the only way they could figure out how to regain control of the machine was to surrender and purchase the software. In each case, immediately after the victims submitted their payment information, the hijacking program disappeared, leaving no trace of itself, and no hint of any fake security program on the victim’s machine.

Some victims reported receiving a follow-up e-mail thanking them for their purchase, and directing support inquiries to Others never got an e-mail, but only saw a charge on their credit card statement from Browsing Solutions, Moscow. Other victims saw charges from an

None of the victims I was able to track down had successfully reversed the charges with their credit card provider, although a few did have the charges canceled after contacting the phone number listed in the customer support e-mail. Some said they had tried to contact their credit card provider or the scam company but got the runaround and simply gave up; others said they were confused because they were in the process of trying to purchase legitimate anti-virus software when their computers were hijacked.

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Apr 10

Fake Anti-virus Peddlers Outmaneuvering Legitimate AV

Purveyors of fake anti-virus or “scareware” programs have aggressively stepped up their game to evade detection by legitimate anti-virus programs, according to new data from Google.

In a report being released today, Google said that between January 2009 and the end of January 2010, its malware detection infrastructure found some 11,000 malicious or hacked Web pages that attempted to foist fake anti-virus on visitors. The search giant discovered that as 2009 wore on, scareware peddlers dramatically increased both the number of unique strains of malware designed to install fake anti-virus as well as the frequency with which they deployed hacked or malicious sites set up to force the software on visitors.

Fake anti-virus attacks use misleading pop-ups and videos to scare users into thinking their computers are infected and offer a free download to scan for malware. The bogus scanning programs then claim to find oodles of infected files, and victims who fall for the ruse often are compelled to register the fake anti-virus software for a fee in order to make the incessant malware warnings disappear. Worse still, fake anti-virus programs frequently are bundled with other malware. What’s more, victims end up handing their credit or debit card information over to the people most likely to defraud them.

Google found that miscreants spreading fake anti-virus have over the last six months taken aggressive steps to evade the two most prevalent countermeasures against scareware: The daily updates shipped by the legitimate anti-virus makers designed to detect scareware installers; and programs like Google’s which scan millions of Web pages for malicious software and flag search results that lead to malware.

Google’s automated system scanned each potentially malicious page in real time using a number of licensed anti-virus engines, and all of the files were rescanned again at the end of the study. Beginning in June 2009, Google charted a massive increase in the number of unique fake anti-virus installer programs, a spike that Google security experts posit was a bid to overwhelm the ability of legitimate anti-virus programs to detect the programs. Indeed, the company discovered that during that time frame, the number of unique installer programs increased from an average of 300 to 1,462 per day, causing the detection rate to plummet to below 20 percent.

“We found that if you have anti-virus protection installed on your computer but the [malware detection] signatures for it are out-of-date by just a couple of days, this can drastically reduce the detection rates,” said Niels Provos, principal software engineer for Google’s infrastructure group. “It turns out that the closer you get to now, the commercial anti-virus programs were doing a much worse job at detecting pages that were hosting fake anti-virus payloads.”

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