Feeds

Scammers making '$15m a month' on fake antivirus

Real scareware threat spawns questionable figures

High performance access to file storage

Figures suggesting that fake anti-virus packages are allowing cybercrooks to make more than €10m a month are been described as little better than guesswork. Vendors across the industry are warning that scarewore packages - which attempt to trick would-be marks into handing over their hard-earned cash for packages that claim to resolve fictitious infections - are a growing problem.

But estimates by Panda Security that 30 million Windows PCs have been infected with fake antivirus programs have met with skepticism from a rival vendor. Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, question Panda's assumption in reaching its figures, which he suggests are little better than back of the envelope calculations.

Panda has tracked almost 7,000 variants of the type of malware over the last year alone. Prospective marks are often served up this type of malicious content after browsing pornographic sites, responding to fake electronic greeting cards or downloading warez. In one case documented by Panda, a fake Google toolbar was used to promote the scam.

These various tricks are all designed to redirect users onto web pages selling fake antivirus products, designed to imitate the look and feel of legitimate packages (as illustrated by screen shots by Panda here). These programs follow a common pattern: users are warned that they are infected with malware via pop-up windows, desktops, and screensavers that keep appearing and getting in the way of using a computer normally. The goal is to scare the less tech savvy into shelling out for products that are worse than useless.

None of these packages detect and defend against malware and some go as far as installing adware or, in extreme cases, banking Trojans on compromised PCs.

Dominic Hoskins, country manager Panda Security UK, explained: "The information we have at present suggests that some 3 per cent of these users have provided their personal details in the process of buying a product that claims to disinfect their computers. In fact, they never even receive the product. Extrapolating from an average European price of €49.95, we can calculate that the creators of these programs are receiving more than €10 million per month".

A blog posting explaining Panda's calculation in greater depth can be found here.

Other security watchers criticise the assumptions Panda makes in arriving at its figures.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, told El Reg: "It looks like Panda says they looked at two million computers, and found three per cent were infected with fake anti-virus. In other words, 60,000 computers."

"They've then taken Forrester's estimate of how many computers there will be by the end of 2008 and extrapolated that there must - therefore - be 30 million computers infected by fake anti-virus. That's quite a jump, and I think a flawed one."

"If the 30 million infections is true, how do they know it's not the same people being infected over-and-over again? How do they know three per cent of people end up paying for the bogus security software?"

Panda's general warning and valid and timely even though its figures are open to question. Questions about the financial impact of malware naturally arise but pining down reliable figures is a notorious tricky business, a problem we've seen before - and will undoubtedly see again. ®

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
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
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
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
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
German space centre endures cyber attack
Chinese code retrieved but NSA hack not ruled out
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.