21/Aug/2014 - Last News Update: 02:47

Warning over anti-virus cold calls to UK internet users

Category: Business

Published: 15th Nov 2010 00:44:07

Internet users are being warned about cold callers who offer to fix viruses but then install software to steal personal information.

Campaign group Get Safe Online said a quarter of people it had questioned had received such calls, many suspected to have been from organised crime gangs.

Some gangs, employing up to 400 people, are known to set up their own call centres to target people en masse.

Internet users are also urged to be wary of pop-ups offering virus checks.

Earlier this year, search engine giant Google warned it had discovered massive amounts of malicious fake anti-virus software.

The UK warning on such software comes from national campaign group Get Safe Online, which is backed by the government, police forces and major businesses with a stake in internet security.

It says it has charted a growth in two related scams designed to trick people into installing fake anti-virus software as a means of harvesting personal information such as credit card details.

Rather than exploiting our ignorance... they are actively using our knowledge and fear of online threats to their advantage”

Some of the scams involve pop-up windows claiming that the computer has been infected.

These "scareware" approaches encourage users to click through to a site hosting malicious or useless software that acts as a front for gathering personal information. Most of the time, the software appears almost identical to professional anti-virus products.

In other cases, gangs have set up call centres in Eastern Europe or Asia and cold-call UK phone numbers attempting to find people to con.

In both cases, information gathered from the identity thefts can be used by gangs or sold on to other criminals through online market places.

'Hefty returns'

Investigators from the UK's Serious and Organised Crime Agency's e-crime unit attempt to track scams back to the source gangs who have set them up.

Sharon Lemon, deputy director of Soca, said: "In recent cases, we have seen gangs employing 300 to 400 people to run their operations and using call centre-scale set ups to target victims en masse.

"They can also be paying out as much as $150,000 (£92,000) a month to individual webmasters who are unwittingly advertising their fake software - this level of investment from criminals indicates that the returns are much heftier than this."

Tony Neate, head of Get Safe Online, said that almost half of internet users surveyed for the organisation's annual report had been confronted with pop-up windows warning of viruses.

"Web users should ignore 'cold calls' from companies offering free virus checks, and be very cautious of any on-screen pop ups," he said.

"Most reputable IT providers do not approach customers in this way without prior notice or a direct request."

Dr Emily Finch, a criminologist at the University of Surrey, said: "The general public is more internet security-aware than it was five years ago. Malicious anti-virus scams are an indication that criminals are now tapping into this.

"Rather than exploiting our ignorance - the basic premise of common scams such as phishing - they are actively using our knowledge and fear of online threats to their advantage."

Get Safe Online's annual report says that its research suggests a third of UK internet users are still victims of viruses, despite steady improvements in security. More than a fifth said they had suffered identify fraud.

ICM interviewed 1,520 computer-using adults during October for the survey.

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BBC News, 2010. Warning over anti-virus cold calls to UK internet users [Online] (Updated 15th Nov 2010)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/108015/Warning-over-anti-virus-cold-calls-to-UK-internet-users [Accessed 21st Aug 2014]

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