LONDON: Hackers are rapidly turning to hooky software authentication keys to spread malware, according to Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing (TwC) division.
TwC reported detecting a marked boom in the use number of so-called KeyGen's that are being used to spread malware in its newly published Security Intelligence Report.
"We saw KeyGens in the first half of 2010 appearing in the top 10 threats in some markets, but weren't too concerned," TwC director Tim Rains told V3 in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
"Since then we've seen a growth KeyGen use by a factor of 26 in the first half of this year, making it the global number one threat. KeyGens are now in our top 10 list for 103 of the 105 countries listed in the report."
KeyGens are programmes that are designed to create authentication codes allowing people to activate and use pirated software. It is commonly used to illegally activate pirated versions of programs like Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop.
Rains noted that while KeyGens aren't themselves dangerous, criminals have begun to weaponise them and use them to spread malware.
"Sometimes people will look for KeyGens, find it and it'll work fine," he said.
"Other times they'll look for them, find one saying it's a KeyGen, but it's a Trojan. Other times it'll be legitimate and work but come bundled with malware."
Rains reported that TwC had detected malware in 76 percent of the six million KeyGens discovered.
It is possible the recent FBI-led Megaupload takedown and series of blockades against sites like The Pirate Bay as a possible reason for cybercriminals increased interest in KeyGens.
"Attackers have seen a demand for KeyGens. They've seen a demand and want to take of advantage of that," Rains told V3.
Megaupload and The Pirate Bay had been two sites that traditionally hosted links to KeyGen downloads.
Pirated software has in the past been massive problem for Microsoft, with numerous individuals and businesses running using pirated versions of its software.
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