According to Panda Security, the global software vendor, a new wave of fake antivirus programmes has infected more than 30 million users, earning cyber-crooks hundreds of millions in the process.
“The information we have at present suggests that some 3% of these users have provided their personal details1 in the process of buying a product that claims to disinfect their computers,” says Jeremy Matthews, head of Panda Security’s sub-Saharan operations. “In fact, they never even receive the product. Extrapolating from an average price of €49.95 (R719), we can calculate that the creators of these programmes are receiving more than €10 million per month (R144 million) 2.”
All of this is achieved simply by creating thousands of variants of a new type of adware and distributing it across the Internet. Users can be infected in several ways: browsing Web pages with adult content; downloading files from peer-to-peer networks; responding to e-greetings; downloading files that exploit security holes so users are infected without realizing, etc. There have even been cases of the Google home page being manipulated
(a picture of this is provided here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/panda_security/2909336058/ ).
These programmes all operate in a broadly similar way: The programme tells users that they are infected and pop-up windows, desktops and screensavers keep appearing, preventing the victim from using the computer. The aim is to scare the user into buying the fake antivirus with, for example, cockroaches ‘eating’ the desktop, or fake blue screens of death.
Internet-savvy users will realize quickly that this is a fake antivirus, and will look for a solution. “One of the worst things though, is that these programmes are very difficult to disinfect. More advanced users might try to disinfect them manually, but this is no easy task. In general, it can take users up to three days to completely remove this threat from a computer,” adds Matthews. “That’s why we advise users whose antivirus has not detected the threat to install a new generation security solution designed especially to detect, disinfect and eliminate all traces of these malicious programmes”.
However, not all users identify the problem: those who actually reach the pages selling the fake antivirus will find products that are clones of those developed by legitimate vendors. “We have to admit that these fakes and the corresponding Web pages can look quite authentic, and it’s not surprising that some users end up buying them as they are desperate to clean their computers.”
During the purchase process, users are asked to enter confidential data. On average, their credit cards are charged €49.95 for an ‘antivirus’ that they never receive. “As the products are imitations of well-known brands, the victims often turn to the companies, who can’t do anything as they have not really bought any licenses”.
What we still don’t know is whether the bank or credit card details are then used later by the cyber-crooks. If that were the case, the financial implications are even greater.
“This new technique demonstrates the ingenuity of cyber-crooks, who are constantly on the lookout for new ways to make money,” concludes Matthews.
A new type of virus epidemic
These types of epidemics are part of the new malware dynamic.
We no longer witness wide-scale epidemics caused by a single virus such as ‘I love you’ or Sasser. These headline-grabbing malicious codes were designed to bring notoriety and kudos to their creators by infecting as many computers as possible.
Now however, cyber-crooks operate in organized mafias with purely financial motives. They bombard the user community with thousands of new variants of each of the malware families everyday. In doing this they hope to saturate antivirus laboratories and at the same time avoid the kind of media attention given to single-virus epidemics. Users therefore have a false sense of security.