Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Anti-Virus Scam

I have a very close friend who relies on me constantly for Windows tech support. Not that I know anything about Windows, or that I like to fix his machine all the time. But as he constantly reminds me, even though I shun Windows and only use the platform for gaming, I still know a lot more about it than he does.
My friend has an iMac that dual boots, thanks to my setting it up that way for him. He really only ever uses the Windows side, and then, only to play Pirates of the Burning Sea, an online role-playing game in which he runs a band of British sailors. My friend is a huge sailing buff, and got out of the army a few years ago, so he's a big fan of being the leader of a squad of other players in the game.
When I first went over to set up his system, I made a point of bookmarking some useful sites for him, after I downloaded Firefox for him. I bookmarked Hulu,, and Youtube so he could watch things online. I bookmarked his bank. And I'm not ashamed to admit that I had a few favorite porn sites in there too. Knowing what a meathead my buddy is, I figured I'd better show him how to find decent porn, and not the sort that demands credit cards or infects your systems.
My bachelor friend was coasting along fine for a while. His graphics card drivers kept going bad, but a quick reinstall of those made everything OK. Then, I got the dreaded phone call.
“I think I have a virus or something. It keeps telling me I am infected.”
After fruitlessly attempting to walk him through a few first solutions, I had to go over to his apartment in the Haight to fix the problem.
What happened? Despite my bookmarking a very simple-to-use porn site, my numbskull friend had clicked on an ad along the right side of the site, where it clearly states “Our Advertisers.” I'm sure one of the ads told him “someone in San Francisco wants to have sex with you!” and he dutifully clicked, hoping for some kind of free love.
The end result was that he downloaded an application. An anti-virus application. Or so he thought. The app is called Advanced Anti-Virus, and it's the digital equivalent of a slap in the face; each time he boots, this horrible program tells him he's infected and he needs to use the program to disinfect. When he runs the “disinfect,” another window comes up asking for a credit card number and some personal information. It says he needs to buy the “Pro” version, which is another way of saying he needs to send his credit card info to some awful scammers in Malaysia.
I looked up the company behind this application. The only thing I could find was a domain registration under the name Cindy Chan, with the following phone number: +1-415-1234567
My friend is now looking into ways to track down these people, knock on their door, and confront them. I am quite inclined to help him in this endeavour, as I think it could be a good business model.
I'm certainly not in favor of the death penalty for bloggers, virus writers and such, as Iran is now proposing.
But I am absolutely in favor of stopping everyone associated with Advanced Anti-Virus. They're not experimenting like a virus writer. They're not political prisoners, or researchers trying to help the world. They're just a bunch of Internet thugs, and they deserve swift and painful justice.

-- Alex Handy

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