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Updated again Users visiting the website of UK broadcaster ITV earlier this week risked exposure to a scareware package. Malware-laced banner ads that lead to download sites for the Cleanator scare package have also been served up on the Radio Times website.

Radio Times confirmed that it removed the offending ad late Wednesday morning, following initial reports of the problem on Tuesday. ITV said on Friday that it had "identified and blocked the attack". The broadcast station promised to work with its ad networks to ensure betterprotection for its viewers in future.

Cleanator is a rogue security program that shows false warning messages and misleading scan results in a ruse designed to scare punters into purchasing a "full" version of the package. Aggressive advertising tactics - including the use of Trojan downloaders - are used to distribute the software. Several security vendors (including Sophos (here), CA (here) and EMSI (here)) list Cleanator as a pest.

The attack on both ITV and Radio Times was not made from either site directly, but via malicious scripts by way of third party adverts. Other as yet unidentified sites may also be affected.

The presence of tainted ads on the ITV website was brought to our attention by Reg reader Gavin, who was prompted to install Cleanator after watching a video clip on the ITV website. "After wanting to watch a video, I was informed I had no DRM software and that I needed to install it. I reluctantly clicked yes only to be given this prompt that asks me to install 'Cleanator'," he reports.

Preliminary analysis by anti-virus experts at Sophos suggests that a PHP redirect to an Cleanator affiliate site was injected into advert traffic served up by ITV.com via third party agencies. Malware is thought to feature in the attack.

"One of ITV's affiliated advertisement sites contained a link to Gida-B. Gida-B is malicious shockwave file that in turn loads another copy of itself which loads a script to redirect you to a Cleanator site," explained Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

Once they land on the Cleanator affiliate site, users are liable to get stuck in a pop-up loop that's difficult to escape, as explained in a blog posting (containing screenshots) by Sophos here.

Sophos reckons the people behind the attack are the same group who recently punted the Mac Sweeper scareware package, based on similarities between the two attacks. If the user browsing the tainted ads is on a Mac, they get redirected to the Mac Sweeper website. ®

Updated

Reports are coming in that Cleanator infections have also cropped up on MSN UK and the UK Press Gazette.

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