Fake anti-virus or 'scareware' scams could be netting cyber criminals over £850,000 a year, as the business of online criminality becomes evermore organised, according to new research by security giant Symantec released today.
The vendor's interim threat report found that the scams, which involve tricking users into believing their computer is infected, and then peddling fake anti-virus products to 'address' the problem, are becoming increasingly widespread as criminals seek to cash in on the public's fear of internet threats.
Symantec said that it has uncovered 250 separate scareware programs through its analysis, and that the creators distribute the rogue software via an affiliate-based pay-per-install model.
Top scammers using this model could earn as much as £70,000 a month, and around 93 per cent of scareware downloads are done so deliberately by the victims, said Symantec.
The scammers have refined their sites to make them appear more credible, and bogus anti-virus products are commonly launched at the same time as those from legitimate security vendors, further boosting the chances of duping their victims.
David Wall, professor of criminal justice and information society at Leeds University, argued that the coming-of-age of scareware marks "a step change in cyber crime".
"The model has a history that goes back six years, but it seems to have come out of nowhere this time," he said. "It lives in the borders of illegality and is being done quite professionally now. The look and feel of this stuff is often like that of a major supplier."
Wall added that the amounts that individual victims end up paying the fraudsters are so small that the crime is frequently overlooked by law enforcers.
More joined up police work nationally and internationally would help law enforcers to get a better idea of the scale of the phenomenon, according to Wall, and possibly force them to take a harder line against scareware scammers.
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