Feeds

Spammers aim to profit from swine flu pandemic

Caution advised over modern day Harry Limes

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

Russian cybercrooks have laid the groundwork needed to build a business cashing in on swine flu panic-buying.

Tamiflu sales from dodgy unlicensed pharmaceutical websites are being promoted through spam email, search engine manipulation and a variety of other underhand techniques. Web affiliates, commonly based in Russia where they are called Partnerka, are driving traffic to dodgy pharmaceutical sites using a variety of spam and adware-related marketing tactics.

Hundreds of virtually similar so-called "Canadian pharmacy" sites exist. Although they claim to be based in Canada (a tactic designed to add a thin layer of legitimacy) the sites might be actually be located anywhere in the world.

Sophos reports that members of Glavmed, one of the more popular Russian affiliate networks, can earn an average of $16,000 a day promoting such dodgy pharmacy websites. These sites have begun advertising Tamiflu alongside more traditional products such as Viagra and Ciallis.

Responding to these spamvertised websites risks exposure to potentially dangerous drugs, while also handing over personal data to cybercrooks, net security firm Sophos warns.

This July witnessed a huge increase in UK internet searches for Tamiflu, at a time when concerns that global Tamiflu production was falling behind schedule. The northern winter could see a repeat of this interest, creating a demand that unlicensed online pharmacies are ready to exploit.

Rat boys

The business model of the cybercrooks is straightforward. Surfers searching for information online about Tamiflu are directed to specific online pharmacies where they are invited to buy a generic and (likely counterfeit) version of the drug. Cybercrooks have manipulated search engine results to drive as much online traffic as possible to illicit pharmacy websites using black-hat search-engine optimisation techniques. Cybercrooks are also bombarding web users with spam and messages from hacked accounts on social networking websites

Sites supplying the drug pay affiliates between 20-40 per cent of the value of any sale. Buyers typically receive some kind of drug as result of their purchase but the supplied pills are liable to be out of date or otherwise risky. In other cases users may receive only sugar-pill placebos. Sophos reckons the top five countries purchasing Tamiflu and other drugs from bogus sites are the US, Germany, UK, Canada and France.

"As more and more cases of swine flu in the UK come to light, it is essential that we all resist the panic-induced temptation to purchase Tamiflu online," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos.

"The criminal gangs working behind the scenes at fake internet pharmacies are putting their customers’ health, personal information and credit card details at risk. They have no problem breaking the law to promote these websites, so you can be sure they’ll have no qualms in exploiting your confidential data or selling you medications which may put your life in danger.

"If you think you need medication go to your real doctor, and stay away from quacks on the internet."

Sophos's research into Partnerka spam affiliate networks more generally, presented at the Virus Bulletin conference back in September, can be found here (PDF).

The warning about spam promoting dodgy pharmaceutical sites coincides with the start of a campaign by drug firm Pfizer, warning that between 50-90 per cent of drugs sold through unlicensed sites are counterfeit. Pfizer has produced a hard-hitting TV advert - which is only allowed to be shown on British TV after 11 o'clock at night - that depicts a man throwing up a rat, as part of this campaign. It claims that rat poison can be one of the ingredients of "medicines" on offer from illegal websites.

In support of its public education push, the Viagra developer has also set up a website featuring less stomach-churning material at realdanger.co.uk. ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen
I scream, you scream, we all scream 'DATA BREACH'!
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
JLaw, Kate Upton exposed in celeb nude pics hack
100 women victimised as Apple iCloud accounts reportedly popped
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
Attack flogged through shiny-clicky social media buttons
66,000 users popped by malicious Flash fudging add-on
New Snowden leak: How NSA shared 850-billion-plus metadata records
'Federated search' spaffed info all over Five Eyes chums
Three quarters of South Korea popped in online gaming raids
Records used to plunder game items, sold off to low lifes
Oz fed police in PDF redaction SNAFU
Give us your metadata, we'll publish your data
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.