Web 2.0 sites a thriving marketplace for malware

Hacker groups making a name for themselves in the thriving world of malware and computer crime

A wiry young man with his head shaved and wearing a tank top points a handgun straight at the camera in a disturbing YouTube video. The man wears what appears to be a wedding ring, and he gazes vacantly away from the viewer.

Though it's an odd image for an advertisement, this video isn't promoting your average company. It's from a not-so-underground Albanian hacker group that's out to make a name for themselves in the thriving world of malware and computer crime. Besides the shot of the gunman, the video showcases images of a computer screen, a table loaded with foreign currency, and plenty of links to the group's Web site.

Malware is big business, and groups like the Albanian hackers are trying to cash in, using the latest Web 2.0 tools: social networking profiles, blogs, and other publicly available media and Web pages. The digital desperados are moving more and more into wide-scale advertising and brand building on public sites and networks to grow their underground trade.

Not Illegal

But wait a minute — how can people get away with selling programs for breaking into your PC or stealing your identity? Simple: Selling malware is not directly illegal in the United States (or nearly anywhere else). Only using it is illegal.

As the malware underground grows, "it's moving away from technology towards business," says Zulfikar Ramzan, senior principal researcher with Symantec Security Response. While virus vendors are still quick to jump on the latest security vulnerability or technical trick, "the real innovations are more business and marketing," he explains.

On the face of it, public ads appear to violate the number-one rule of any illegal activity: Don't make yourself known. And it's true, says Ramzan, that "the more sophisticated guys are more quiet." But since the writers and sellers of Trojan horses and other malicious apps have no real fear of legal repercussions, they have no compelling reason to be shy.

Don Jackson, a senior research­er with managed security services provider SecureWorks, says the Albanian advertisers are a team of hackers who break into computers and networks. "They want to be used for criminal purposes," he says. So they advertise.

Another video ad, this one from a Turkish group, hypes a program used to break into PCs. The group's name and logo (a stylized alien face with the Turkish crescent-and-star emblem on its forehead) play front-and-center in the program's graphical interface, and the video's speaker walks the viewer through a 5-minute-plus tutorial on using the program. More than 17,000 people have watched it.

Beyond YouTube

YouTube is a popular venue for ads from malware makers, with videos for supposedly undetectable Trojan horses, "packers" that compress and obfuscate malware payloads, and even password stealers for breaking into Steam online game accounts. (Asked about the trend, a spokesperson says that YouTube doesn't control site content, but that it will investigate if viewers report videos as inappropriate.)

Advertisements from Internet bad guys don't stop with YouTube. According to Jackson, many online thugs maintain profiles on social networking sites and blogs to keep in touch with their business partners and customers. Many bot­net controllers, who sell time on their networks of bot-infected PCs to spammers and other crooks, keep blogs on the livejournal.com site, Jackson says.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Erik Larkin

PC World
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?