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Microsoft fights gaming Trojan menace

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Microsoft is claiming big successes in its efforts to to rescue gamers from malware.

The latest (June) edition of Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT) included a device to remove password stealers from infected machines. MSRT is a basic anti-malware tool designed to zap prevalent forms of malware. Signature updates to the optional package are updated at the same time Microsoft releases security patches, the second Tuesday of every month (Patch Tuesday).

Historically the MSRT utility was created to mop up instances of worm infections from the likes of Nimda, but its role has expanded over the years to include attempts to control the spread of the Storm worm (Trojan) and beyond. The June update to the tool added detection for password stealing Trojans of a type commonly used to grab online gaming passwords.

Strains of malware, such as Taterf, steal login credentials for online games (Lineage Online and World of Warcraft are among the most popular targets). Many of the Trojans originate in eastern Asia (particularly China).

Taterf spreads across network shares. If you plug a USB stick into an infected machine, that gets the pox too. Another prevalent Trojan - Frethog - uses browser exploits.

Neither technique is particularly advanced. Nonetheless both Trojans have become a big hit over recent weeks, spreading farther than anybody previously thought, according to Microsoft's clean-up stats.

After adding detection for Taterf to its MSRT tool on 10 June, Redmond cleaned-up Taterf component infections from more than 700,000 machines on the first day and 1.27 million in a little under a fortnight. Another strain of password stealing Trojan - Frethog - was removed from 200,000 machines on day one and 652,000 machines by last Friday.

By comparison, the Storm worm was removed from under 350,000 machines in the first month that detection was added to MSRT.

Matt McCormack, a security researcher at Microsoft and gamer, posits the theory that part of the reason for the high incidents of infection might be that gamers avoid running anti-virus software out of concerns it might impair the performance of their machines. This risk is compounded by the fact that many gamers fail to practice safe computing. "Downloading dodgy copies of games and the cracks to match make you much more likely to get infected," McCormack notes in a post to Microsoft's threat response and research blog here. ®

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