Fake antivirus security programs now account for 15 percent of all the malware Google sees on the Web, the company reports. Using a combination of search engine optimization and malicious ads, antivirus distribution networks are thriving.
New research from Google is shining a light on just how prevalent
rogue antivirus scams have become.
According to a paper presented April 27 at the Usenix Workshop on Large-Scale
Exploits and Emergent Threats, in San Jose, Calif., fake
now account for 15 percent of all the malware Google
detects on the Web. In an analysis of 240 million Web pages between January
2009 and February 2010, Google detected more than 11,000 domains involved in rogue
"Social engineering attacks scaring users about false insecurities are
not new," the report noted. "As early as 2003, malware authors
prompted users to download fake AV software by sending messages via a
vulnerability in the Microsoft Messenger Service ... More recent fake AV sites
Windows user interface. In some cases, the fake AV detects even the operating
system version running on the target machine and adjusts its interface to
Google noticed an upward trend in the amount of fake antivirus
software it encountered during the study each week. In the first of week
of January 2009, the researchers encountered 93 unique rogue AV domains, while
they found 587 domains in the last week of January 2010.
The researchers also discovered that fake AV domains have more landing
domains funneling user traffic than other infection domains, and distributors
rely heavily on online advertisements and domains with pages that contain
"We believe that fake AV domains have also evolved to use more agile
distribution networks that continuously rotate among short-lived domains in an
attempt to avoid detection," the report said.
Vincent Weafer, vice president of Symantec Security Response, told eWEEK
that rogue security applications often make use of search
engine optimization techniques,
such as exploiting search engine indexing
algorithms, link farming, keyword stuffing and cloaking.
"In most cases, rogue AV peddlers have automated the SEO poisoning
process for speed of response," Weafer said. "They seem to pull terms
from search engines and feed that data into their network of compromised Websites.
The compromised sites are in fact just ordinary Websites run by regular people,
but which unbeknownst to them have been compromised with malware. This malware
lies below the surface and only shows its head to people that have been
referred to the site from the poisoned search engine result, specifically as a
result of using a hot trend key word."
The researchers' paper can be