Feeds

Washington and Microsoft declare war on scareware

One down, but how many more to go?

High performance access to file storage

Washington state's top law enforcement official has filed suit against a man accused of bombarding end users with misleading messages designed to trick them into buying software to fix PC problems that don't exist.

The complaint, filed in Washington state court by Attorney General Rob McKenna's office, names James Reed McCreary IV of The Woodlands, Texas, and two of his companies, Branch Software and Alpha Red. They stand accused of pushing a software package called Registry Cleaner XP by sending end users messages falsely claiming their PCs have corrupted or damaged registry settings that must be repaired immediately. The software sells for $40.

In many cases, the warnings are delivered using Windows Messenger Service, a network administration utility for delivering system-wide messages to end users. The popup windows claim to be generated by the "Local System" and warn of a "critical error" related to the end user's registry. The messages were directed to a wide swath of internet protocol addresses, and in many cases were sent over and over, causing hundreds of windows to open that the user has to close individually.

The prevalence of so-called scareware has reached epidemic proportions. Programs frequently mimic real security features within the Windows operating system to fool people into believing their PC has been infected with malware. In many cases, it's just about impossible to remove the software once it's been installed.

"Through alarmist language seemingly delivered by a trusted source, defendants misrepresent the extent to which installing the software is necessary for repair of the computer for proper operation," the complaint argues. The error messages, which appear on machines free of any problems, "induces the consumers to purchase defendants' product, which must be used in order to 'repair' the 'errors.'"

Attempts to reach McCreary, Branch Software and Alpha Red were unsuccessful. A number listed as belonging to McCreary had been disconnected. No one answered a phone listed in this whois listing as belonging to Branch Software.

Microsoft referred the case to McKenna's office and has been helpful in assisting the AG's consumer protection high-tech unit to enforce laws against scareware mongers. Over the past three years, Microsoft has brought 17 lawsuits under Washington's Computer Spyware Act and the state's attorney general has filed seven.

Yes, the enforcement actions are a step in the right direction, but we question the efficacy of this finger-in-the-dike approach. Despite filing a raft of suits they find themselves back in court again. And at time of writing, registrycleanerxp.com continued to offer free registry scans. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Parent gabfest Mumsnet hit by SSL bug: My heart bleeds, grins hacker
Natter-board tells middle-class Britain to purée its passwords
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Web data BLEEDOUT: Users to feel the pain as Heartbleed bug revealed
Vendors and ISPs have work to do updating firmware - if it's possible to fix this
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
NSA denies it knew about and USED Heartbleed encryption flaw for TWO YEARS
Agency forgets it exists to protect communications, not just spy on them
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.