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Anatomy of a malware scam

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The First Hint

The first thing a potential victim would do is open up one of the sites. For my tests I used www.msn-us.info. I did my initial test on Windows Vista. After various trickery, I got the dialog in figure 1.

Figure 1 The site issues a redirect to a different site

Notice the chrome in Internet Explorer. My virtual machine is running Windows Vista. The popup, however, has the XP chrome. As it turns out, the popup is not a popup at all. The whole page is just one image, hyperlinked to a file download. I must give the criminals here credit for graying out the background to lend it credibility; a la Vista User Account Control (UAC). One of the questionable benefits of UAC is that it has conditioned people to believe that as long as the screen background is grayed out they can trust whatever is on the screen.

Before the popup in the screen shot there was actually another one too. That one was an animated GIF that looked like it was performing a virus scan of your computer. Needless to say, it found several pieces of fake malware on my computer, hence the dire warning in the fake popup.

If this looks suspicious to you, it should. We are not on www.msn-us.info. We are on virus-securityscanner.com. When you go to any of the sites that are linked in the blog comments you download a few files, and then it redirects you to http://virus-securityscanner.com/2008/3/freescan.php?aid=880421, where the last part is some form of identifier that we will return to shortly.

Similar sites to this one have been reported at least as far back as 2003. The modus operandi does not change, although the exact details of what the sites do seem to. It appears likely that these sites are all related and that there are multiple fronts for them. Virus-securityscanner.com appears to be hosted at an ISP in Pennsylvania at the time of this writing, but that is likely to change by the time you read this. In fact, between the time I started researching this and the time I wrote the article, the site name had changed to virus-onlinescanner.com.

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