Fake antivirus now hijacks, blocks computers

Panda Security’s anti-malware laboratory has identified a new, more aggressive trend for selling fake antivirus programs or rogueware. Until now, when a computer was infected by this type of malware, users would typically see a series of warnings prompting them to buy a pay version of the program. Now, these technologies are being combined with ransomware, hijacking the computer and rendering it useless until victims complete the purchase.

“The way this rogueware operates presents a dual risk: firstly, users are tricked into paying money simply in order to use their computers; and secondly, these same users may believe that they have a genuine antivirus installed on the computer, thereby leaving the system unprotected,” explains Jeremy Matthews, head of Panda’s sub-Saharan operations.

Once a computer is infected, any attempt made by the user to run a program or open a document will be frustrated. The only response from the computer will be to display a message falsely informing the victim that all files are infected with the only solution being to buy the fake antivirus.

This fake program, called Total Security 2009, is offered for €79.95 (almost R600). Victims are also offered ‘premium’ tech support services for an additional €19.95 (about R150). Users that pay the ransom will receive a serial number, which, when entered in the application, will release all files and executables, allowing them to work normally and recover their information. The fake antivirus however, will remain on the system.

“Users are often infected unknowingly – in most cases, through visiting hacked websites, and once a computer is infected it is extremely difficult to eliminate the threat, even for those with a certain degree of technical knowledge,” says Matthews. “Users are also prevented from using any type of detection or disinfection tool, as all programs are blocked. The only application that can be used is the Internet browser, conveniently allowing the victim to pay for the fake antivirus.”

For this reason, Panda has published the serial numbers required to unblock the computer if it has been hijacked on the PandaLabs blog. Users can then install genuine security software to scan the computer in-depth and eliminate all traces of the fake antivirus.

PandaLabs recently published a report about the lucrative business of rogueware. The shift towards hijacking computers indicates either that users are becoming more adept at recognizing these threats and that security companies are beginning to close the net. This would explain why hackers are becoming more aggressive in the methods used to force the victims into paying. The PandaLabs report is available here.

The serial numbers and a video demonstrating how this scam operates is available on the PandaLabs blog.

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