Friday, June 24, 2011

International Team Shuts Down PC Scareware Network

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice, and law-enforcement partners in Europe have seized the computers and bank accounts of a cybercriminal ring responsible for PC Relevant Products/Services scareware attacks worldwide. Moreover, two alleged members of a second group posing as a legitimate advertising agency were indicted on criminal charges.

The PCs and servers seized were in the Netherlands, Latvia, Germany, France, Lithuania, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The FBI estimated that the hardware helped cybercriminals bilk more than $74 million from victims.

"Cyber threats are a global problem, and no single country working alone can be effective against these crimes," said Gordon Snow, assistant director of the FBI's Cyber Division. "The FBI thanks the participating foreign law-enforcement agencies for their ongoing partnership and commitment in disrupting this threat."

Long Arm of the Law

In a survey last year by Symantec, nearly 80 percent of respondents said it's not possible to bring cybercriminals to justice. "Many criminals reside in a foreign country, so it's no surprise that people regard them as 'faceless' -- they physically are," said Norton Cyber Security Adviser Adam Palmer.

However, the FBI's success this week in shutting down a network Relevant Products/Services responsible for infecting an estimated 960,000 PCs is a warning to criminals who think they can safely wreak havoc without consequences. Though they may reside on the other side of the globe, the proverbial "long arm of the law" continues to have the ability to reach around the planet and tap them on the shoulder.

Under one of the phony schemes shut down, the Minneapolis Star Tribune was contacted by criminals posing as representatives of a hotel chain that wanted to purchase advertising on the newspaper's web site. Though the initial ads functioned in a normal manner, the cybercriminals subsequently switched the ad's codes so that PC users who clicked on the link were infected with malware.

Social Net Scams

According to Symantec's latest security Relevant Products/Services threat report, the rising popularity of social networking is giving cybercriminals the opportunity to reap huge rewards by compromising a user's profile to send messages to the user's friends that appear to be legitimate. Since these bogus messages appear to come from a trusted source, the unsuspecting recipient is directed to a malicious web site hosting what appears to be a legitimate computer Relevant Products/Services security program.

When users download the fake software, the malware pretends to detect a variety of security threats that don't exist. So the user is tricked into supplying credit-card information to pay for the bogus full software version to fix the fake problems.

Cybercriminals are also benefiting from the popularity of shortened web-site URLs, which camouflage bogus links to what appear to be legitimate services. According to Symantec, during a three-month period last year, nearly two-thirds of malicious links in news feeds used shortened URLs.

"Of the shortened URLs leading to malicious web sites that Symantec observed on social-networking sites over the three-month period in 2010, 73 percent were clicked 11 times or more -- with 33 percent receiving between 11 and 50 clicks," the report's authors wrote. "Only 12 percent of the links were never clicked."

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