Sales of Fake Antivirus (Scareware) Up 225% in 2008

Dennis Faas's picture

A recent report by the BBC News claims that makers of rogue anti-virus software are making as much as $10,800 a day from selling their dubious fake security software to unknowing computer users. (Source:

A typical scenario: a user misspells a web address in a browser and is instantly redirected to a forged web page. From there, the visitor is bombarded with bogus popup warnings claiming that the visitor's PC is infected with malicious programs. The warnings say you'll need to download and pay for anti-virus software costing about $50 to clean up the (non-existent) infection.

This tactic essentially scares the visitor into purchasing a bogus anti-virus software to remove the malicious programs (that never existed); hence the name of the bogus anti-virus software is referred to as "scareware."

Tricked Into Buying Useless Software

Finjan, a computer security firm, researched the selling techniques of scareware developers.

A March 2009 Anti-Phishing Working Group report found 9,287 bogus anti-malware programs in circulation in December 2008 -- a rise of 225% since January 2008.

Chief Technology Officer Yuval Ben-Itzhak of Finjan believes the reason scareware sellers are making so much money is because of new search engine optimization techniques. According to Mr. Ben-Itzhak, pushing scareware typically involves one group of high-tech criminals that hacks web pages and injects them with popular search terms and another group of high-tech criminals that sells the fake security software. (Source:

Some of the hacked pages use popular keywords such as "Obama" while others use terms that are associated with recent events attempting to make the pages appear higher up in search engine page results.

Booby-trapped Links

During its research Finjan found that more than 1.8 million people were redirected to sites pushing scareware over a 16-day period. Of the more than 1.8 million victims that were redirected, 7-12% installed the fake software and 1.79% paid $50 for it. Some of that money was handed back to the other criminals injecting search terms into webpages, netting them about $10,800 a day for their work.

Scareware appears to be a growing trend. As noted by Mr Ben-Itzhak, be very wary of any pop-up windows that claims to have found evidence of an infection. Unless you install software to scan your computer, you should not act upon such suggestions. (Source:

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