Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


'Middlemen' Drive Distribution Of Rogue Security Software, Report Says

Symantec study says networks of 'affiliates' are paid between a penny and 55 cents for each download of scareware

Who's behind the recent rash of fake security software being distributed over the Web? A new study suggests the culprits might not be the developers of the malicious apps, but the growing channel of "middlemen" who are paid to distribute it.

According to the Symantec Report on Rogue Security Software, which was published earlier today, much of the "scareware" on the Web today is actually distributed by "affiliates," or hackers who are paid each time they successfully install an exploit on a user's PC.

"There's definite organization behind it," says Marc Fossi, executive editor of the Internet Security Threat Report (ISTR) at Symantec and one of the authors of the rogue security report. "It's a lot like the old adware business model, where affiliates were the main drivers."

Most affiliates are working on a pay-per-install model that pays them anywhere from a penny to 55 cents each time a scareware program is installed, Fossi says. "We've even seen affiliates collecting VIP points that they can redeem for high-end electronics -- in one case, there was a promise of a luxury sports sedan to the affiliate with the most downloads."

U.S. installations generally offer the highest commissions for affiliates, the report says.

The top affiliates of rogue security distribution site TrafficConverter.biz reportedly earned as much as $332,000 a month in commissions for installing and selling security risks, including rogue security software, Symantec says.

Of course, the originators of the scareware are making even more money, according to the study. Each rogue program costs the user between $30 and $100, but that's just the start of the cost to the user, Fossi observes.

"Once you've installed it, the [originators] have the ability to add more malicious software to the machine -- keyloggers, bots, and information stealers may come later," Fossi says.

Symantec has detected more than 250 distinct rogue security software programs, according to the report. The five mostly commonly reported fake applications are SpywareGuard 2008, AntiVirus 2008, AntiVirus 2009, SpywareSecure, and XP AntiVirus.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message. Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
7 Old IT Things Every New InfoSec Pro Should Know
Joan Goodchild, Staff Editor,  4/20/2021
Cloud-Native Businesses Struggle With Security
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  5/6/2021
Defending Against Web Scraping Attacks
Rob Simon, Principal Security Consultant at TrustedSec,  5/7/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2021 Top Enterprise IT Trends
We've identified the key trends that are poised to impact the IT landscape in 2021. Find out why they're important and how they will affect you today!
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
Use After Free vulnerability in nfc sockets in the Linux Kernel before 5.12.2 allows local attackers to elevate their privileges. In typical configurations, the issue can only be triggered by a privileged local user with the CAP_NET_RAW capability.
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
Exposure of System Data to an Unauthorized Control Sphere vulnerability in web UI of Argo CD allows attacker to cause leaked secret data into web UI error messages and logs. This issue affects Argo CD 1.8 versions prior to 1.8.7; 1.7 versions prior to 1.7.14.
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
Deskpro Cloud Platform and on-premise 2020.2.3.48207 from 2020-07-30 contains a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability that can lead to an account takeover via custom email templates.
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
Cross Site Scripting (XSS) in LAOBANCMS v2.0 allows remote attackers to execute arbitrary code by injecting commands into the "Website SEO Keywords" field on the page "admin/info.php?shuyu".
PUBLISHED: 2021-05-12
An Information Disclosure vulnerability exists in dhcms 2017-09-18 when entering invalid characters after the normal interface, which causes an error that will leak the physical path.