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Malware authors have lifted a page from the legit software industry's rule book and are slapping copyright notices on their Trojans.

One Russian-based outfit has claimed violations of its "licensing agreement" by its underworld customers will result in samples of the knock-off code being sent to anti-virus firms.

The sanction was spotted in the help files of a malware package called Zeus, detected by security firm Symantec as "Infostealer Banker-C". Zeus is offered for sale on the digital underground, and its creators want to protect their revenue stream by making the creation of knock-offs less lucrative.

The copyright notice, a reflection of a lack of trust between virus creators and their customers, is designed to prevent the malware from being freely distributed after its initial purchase. There's no restriction on the number of machines miscreants might use the original malware to infect.

Virus writers are essentially relying on security firms to help them get around the problem that miscreants who buy their code to steal online banking credentials have few scruples about ripping it off and selling it on.

In a blog posting, Symantec security researchers have posted screen shots illustrating the "licensing agreement" for Infostealer Banker-C.

The terms of this licensing agreement demands clients promise not to distribute the code to others, and pay a fee for any update to the product that doesn't involve a bug fix. Reverse engineering of the malware code is also verboten.

"These are typical restrictions that could be applied to any software product, legitimate or not," writes Symantec researcher Liam O'Murchu, adding that the most noteworthy section deals with sanctions for producing knock-off code (translation below).

In cases of violations of the agreement and being detected, the client loses any technical support. Moreover, the binary code of your bot will be immediately sent to antivirus companies.

Despite the warning copies of the malware were traded freely on the digital underground days after its release, Symantec reports. "It just goes to show you just can’t trust anyone in the underground these days," O'Murchu notes. ®

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