My PC has 32,539 errors: how telephone support scams really work
David Harley ESET
Martijn Grooten Virus Bulletin
Steven Burn Malwarebytes
Craig Johnston Independent researcher
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Fake security products, pushed by variations on Black Hat SEO and social media spam, constitute a highly adaptive, longstanding and well-documented area of cybercriminal activity. By comparison, lo-tech Windows support scams receive far less attention from the security industry, probably because they're seen as primarily social engineering not really susceptible to a technical 'anti-scammer' solution. Yet, they've been a consistent source of fraudulent income for some time, and have quietly increased in sophistication.
In this paper, we consider:
- The evolution of the FUD and Blunder approach to cold-calling support scams, from 'Microsoft told us you have a virus' to more technically sophisticated hooks such as deliberate misinterpretation of output from system utilities such as Event Viewer and Assoc.
- The developing PR-oriented infrastructure behind the phone calls: the deceptive company websites, the flaky Facebook pages, the scraped informational content and fake testimonials.
- Meetings with remarkable scammers: scammer and scam-victim demographics, and scammer techniques, tools and psychology, as gleaned from conversational exchanges and a step-through remote cleaning and optimization session.
- The points of contact between the support scam industry, other telephone scams, and mainstream malware and security fakery.
- A peek into the crystal ball: where the scammers might go next, some legal implications, and some thoughts on making their lives more difficult.