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Scareware affiliates playing search engines

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The growing trade in rogue security software is being driven by the gaming of search engines to direct surfers to sites peddling scareware.

Scareware affiliate networks are using black-hat search engine optimisation techniques to drive traffic volumes. To promote their wares, these well-organised cybercrooks are compromising legitimate websites and inject links to SEO-targeted pages which include repetitive references to popular search terms.

The tactic means that compromised websites appear at the top of search results. This black-hat SEO targeted technique yielded almost half a million Google searches to compromised sites, according to stats found on a cybercrime server by net security firm Finjan. A total of 1.8m unique users were diverted to sites peddling rogue anti-virus software during 16 consecutive days.

Scareware applications typically try to frighten users into believing their PCs are riddled with malware, even if their computer is clean, as a ploy designed to trick people in purchasing ineffective clean-up tools.

Between 7-12 per cent of surfers visiting sites punting scareware packages installed the trial version of the fake software, with 1.79 per cent paying $50 for software of little or no utility.

Members of scareware affiliate network made 9.6 cents per redirection, raking in a total of $172,800 or $10,800 per day during the duration of the scam, Finjan estimates.

Finjan's cybercrime report, published on Monday, further explains how the cybercriminals are gaming search engines to promote malware, and can be found here (registration required).

According to a study by the Anti-Phishing Working Group, published last week, the number of rogue anti-malware programs in circulation rose from 2,850 in July to 9,287 in December 2008, more than tripling in the space of only six months.

Campaigns promoting traffic to sites punting scareware packages have been themed around the tragic death of actress Natasha Richardson and the recent confusion around the Norton forum 'Pifts' purge, which followed in the wake of an accidental distribution of an unsigned program update by Symantec.®

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