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The Underground Economy of Fake Antivirus Software
Proceedings of the Workshop on Information Security (2011)
  • Douglas G Steigerwald, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Brett Stone-Gross
  • Ryan Abman
  • Richard Kemmerer
  • Christopher Kruegel
  • Giovanni Vigna
Fake antivirus (AV) programs have been utilized to defraud millions of computer users into paying as much as one hundred dollars for a phony software license. As a result, fake AV software has evolved into one of the most lucrative criminal operations on the Internet. In this paper, we examine the operations of three large-scale fake AV businesses, lasting from three months to more than two years. More precisely, we present the results of our analysis on a trove of data obtained from several backend servers that the cybercriminals used to drive their scam operations. Our investigations reveal that these three fake AV businesses had earned a combined revenue of more than $130 million dollars. A particular focus of our analysis is on the financial and economic aspects of the scam, which involves legitimate credit card networks as well as more dubious payment processors. In particular, we present an economic model that demonstrates that fake AV companies are actively monitoring the refunds (chargebacks) that customers demand from their credit card providers. When the number of chargebacks increases in a short interval, the fake AV companies react to customer complaints by granting more refunds. This lowers the rate of chargebacks and ensures that a fake AV company can stay in business for a longer period of time. However, this behavior also leads to unusual patterns in chargebacks, which can potentially be leveraged by vigilant payment processors and credit card companies to identify and ban fraudulent firms.
  • fraud,
  • internet crime,
  • underground economy
Publication Date
Citation Information
Douglas G Steigerwald, Brett Stone-Gross, Ryan Abman, Richard Kemmerer, et al.. "The Underground Economy of Fake Antivirus Software" Proceedings of the Workshop on Information Security (2011)
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