Chances are all of you have had to endure those pesky pop-up and online ads informing you that your computer is vulnerable to outside threats and that you must immediately update the machine’s security system. Turns out that more often than not, those ads themselves are the threat.
The FBI and Department of Justice this week announced that a collaborative effort titled Operation Trident Tribunal has exposed and disrupted two separate ‘scareware’ international cyber crime operations. Combined, the scams affected at least one million individuals, with losses totaling more than $70 million.
The first case, far and away the bigger of the two, was investigated by the FBI’s Seattle office. It involved a scam that directed individuals to a website advertising a free virus scan. Visiting the site itself, however, would infect the user’s computer with malicious software that manifested itself in the form of a never-ending stream of pop-up ads claiming the computer had been infected by a virus.
Naturally, the only way a person could get rid of the so-called virus was to buy the anti-virus software advertised at a cost of $129. The FBI estimates that 960,000 people fell victim to the ploy, at a cost of $72 million.
The second scam, which the FBI’s Minneapolis office took the lead on investigating, involved an international crime network that was running a version of the good old cybercrime standard, malvertising.
In this case, two scammers created a fake advertising agency and then ran an advertisement for a hotel chain on the site of a prominent Minneapolis newspaper. Once the ad went live, though, the pair altered the computer code contained within the ad itself to ensure that anyone who clicked on it would be infected with devious software that launches scareware. This scam netted victim losses of more than $2 million.
The FBI had help on the latter case thanks to cooperative efforts from agencies in the UK, Canada, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Latvia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Romania, and Sweden. Though the alleged perpetrators of the scheme have been arrested, and more than 40 computers, serves and bank accounts seized, the investigation will continue.
Of course, this episode again gives us the opportunity to remind you all just how important it is to stay diligent when browsing the web. The FBI itself is warning computer users to keep an eye out for security alerts that don’t seem quite right, even if they contain names that seem legit (such as Virus Shield, Virus Remover, etc):
“Upon closer inspection, some elements aren’t fully functional. For instance, to appear authentic, you may see a list of reputable icons—like software companies or security publications—but you can’t click through to go to those actual sites,” the FBI says.
Cybercrime is still as rampant as ever, even with busts like this taking a small chunk out of the overall problem. It’s up to you to keep yourself protected! As always, leave us your thoughts and comments!