Malware can make you US$10 800 per day

August 2009 Cyber Security

If you thought IT security was not worth the hassle, think again, if you are not too concerned about ethical business practices, there is good money in dispensing malware.

Finjan, a provider of secure Web gateway products and unified Web security solutions for the enterprise market, has announced that its Malicious Code Research Centre (MCRC) managed to gain entry to and research a rogueware affiliate network, where members can make up to US$10 800 per day.

In the Cybercrime Intelligence Report for 2009, Finjan states, “Cybercriminals’ main drive is to make as much profit as possible. They are making money from every infected PC by stealing and trading data or by selling rogue software (often disguised as antivirus software). They are therefore constantly focusing on increasing their distribution reach. Finjan has reported and described many cases where legitimate websites were compromised and used for infecting their visitors with unwanted or malicious software.”

The report shows how cybercriminals used SEO to optimise the distribution of their rogueware. Typos and misspelled keywords (such as 'obbama' and 'liscense') as well as trendy keywords taken from the Google Trends system were abused to show compromised websites as top search results. Subsequently, the traffic volume to the compromised websites increased significantly luring masses of potential buyers to the rogueware offering.

The result of this is that users searching on a common search engine would find the top results from sites that were compromised. When clicking on a link, a small script on the page redirects the user to the rogueware page where anything goes. A common scam once users are on this rogue page is to try and sell the user antivirus software.

Cybercriminals are aware that most people know about virus threats. Using this, when a user hits an infected page they are faced with a simulated virus attack and the malware sends a fake notification telling them their machine is infected. The catch is the site also offers to sell them antivirus software to supposedly remove the infection.

“In principal, this type of attack is similar to a phishing attack, in that a user gets a similar type of message when visiting areas on the darkside of the Web, panics and pays the $50 to avoid becoming entangled in an embarrassing situation,” explains Grayford Holton of Holton and Associates, local BitDefender distributor. “Alternatively, the message points out that the user is now infected with an untold number of viruses and offers a solution to remove the malware. The guilt syndrome takes over and the user not only pays for the rogue software, but provides access to his/her address books and private data.”

Finjan found that “one of the most popular distribution models for this kind of sales is the use of affiliate networks. Their members are paid high commissions.” The research report shows:

* Installation rate of the rogue software is 7%–12%.

* 1,79% of the victims paid $50 for it.

* 58%–90% of the sales price flows back to the affiliate, which accumulates to 9,6 cents (in US currency) per redirected request.

During 16 consecutive days in which the site was monitored, 1,8 million unique users were redirected to the rogue anti-virus software and members of the affiliate network were rewarded for each successful redirection, totalling US$172 800 or US$10 800 per day.

“Effective protection is the keyword,” adds Holton. “A firewall is essential to prevent rogue software suddenly appearing on your computer without you knowing. Proactive virus protection is key in blocking new, previously unknown viruses, before they can infect your computer.

“Lastly, having a local technical service team that users can contact for quality answers to their problems counts for a lot. It is amazing how much South African users still enjoy being able to call a local number and have a reassuring voice helping them.”

The report is at

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