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Software cracking tools open the door to malware

One in six PCs harbour dodgy utilities

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Some of the most prevalent "hacking tools" are those which users unwittingly install themselves, according to stats from anti-virus firm Trend Micro.

Trend Micro warns that, for example, key generator programs designed to unlawfully activate Nero CD burning software from a trial mode into a paid mode are often packaged with a range of malware.

Nero cracker packages downloaded using P2P networks or via websites hosting illegal software expose users to risks such as the theft of personal or financial information.

Downloads of WinXP cracking tools and JellyBean, a utility designed to extract Windows operating system and Office registration codes, pose a similar risk, according to Trend.

The Japan-based net security firm defines hacking Tools as "software tools including cracking applications, remote access Trojans, and other programs that are used to control and manipulate unsuspecting PCs".

Threats packaged within these tools typically use rootkit functionality to hide their presence on infected PCs, making them more dangerous than typical viruses. Operating under the radar the tools carry out their covert function, for example key loggers designed to record ecommerce login credentials.

"We estimate that approximately 16 per cent* of PCs worldwide are infected with hacking tools," said Trend Micro senior researcher David Sancho. "In many cases, computers are being infected by users downloading software cracks and visiting illegal software download sites. The objective is often to avoid paying £30 for a piece of software - however, consumers should in fact realise that it could cost them hundreds of pounds in the long-term." ®

Trend's top five hacking tools

  1. CRCK_NERO: Cracker or key gen programs designed to unlawfully activate Nero CD burning software from a trial mode into a paid mode by subverting the registration system.
  2. CRCK_JBEAN: Jbean (aka JellyBean) is designed to extract Windows and Office registration codes from a computer. Useful for a user who has misplaced their original software documentation and code, it also assists hackers in stealing registration codes for resale on the black market.
  3. CRCK_WINXP: These cracker or keygen programs generate a registration code that can be used to register Windows from trial into a paid mode. Warez sites advertising the software often contain malware.
  4. HKTL_HIDEWIN: Used by script kiddies to hide the windows of programs they wish to run on a computer under their control. These programs are often found on botnets.
  5. HKTL_PROCKILL: A hacking tool used by hackers to stop a program from running on a compromised PC.

*Trend's stats are based on scan reports from the 3.7 million PCs that used its HouseCall online scanning service between 1 January and 1 September 2007.

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