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Security consultant's blog found pushing crudware

A warning for us all

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A prominent IT security consultant has issued a mea culpa after learning a blog he set up on Blogspot and later abandoned is being used to push crudware.

"If I'm supposed to know what I'm doing, what about the 299 million people out there who don't know better?" said Winn Schwartau, an expert in information warfare and computer security education, when asked why his old security blog, SecurityAwareness, tries to trick visitors into installing crudware called Malware Alarm. "I'd rather cop to it and say I got nailed. We all screw up."

The incident is a cautionary tale for anyone who has ever kept a blog or website and then decided to pull the plug. Schwartau had ditched the Blogspot address for a new URL that was linked to the website of The Security Awareness Company, a business he runs.

A spokeswoman for Google, which runs Blogspot, said when the URL was retired, it went back into regular rotation, meaning it was available for the first person to request it. The new owner, evidently, is responsible for the content that warns users they may have malware and invites them to download Malware Alarm.

"This is more a case of 'URL squatting' and not a security issue," the Google spokeswoman said in an email.

Whatever you call it, the case should be a wakeup call for those retiring web names that are closely linked to a business or person. Simply allowing it back into general circulation could allow some of the net's creepier elements to capitalize on a lot of goodwill.

According to some security vendors, Malware Alarm's free software gives bogus security warnings designed to con end users into buying a premium version of the program that promises to rid machines of supposed infections. The software has been reported to flag common Windows files and innocuous programs as malware.

According to screenshots posted on the SunbeltBLOG, those visiting Winn's site received a pop-up warning their machine could be infected. When the Sunbelt blogger took the bait and clicked through, the Malware Alarm site issued another popup warning that the machine - running OS X, no less - was "infected with spyware!" It then urged the user to download the Malware Alarm scareware.

Our own visits on Wednesday afternoon California time - using machines running both Windows and OS X - showed the Blogspot site was continuing to promote the deceptive antispyware program. (In a previous version of this story, we incorrectly reported Google had removed the site within hours of it coming to light.)

This isn't the first time Blogspot has been used by scammers. In March, Blogger.com, Google's other web publishing system, was found to be hosting hundreds of blogs that sent visitors to phishing sites.

The moral of the story: even the paranoid among us make security mistakes. Now if you'll excuse us, we're off to check on a few domain names we registered during our indiscreet youth. ®

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