Microsoft has taken a hard line on malicious online advertisers — also known as “malvertisers” — by filing five lawsuits against the suspected fraudsters in what the software giant claims are the first-ever legal moves against malvertising. The software giant’s suits came on the heels of a rogue anti-virus attack on the high-profile New York Times website where what was purported to be a Vonage ad on the Grey Lady turned out to be malware that served readers fake warnings that their computers were infected, along with a link to “anti-virus software” they must purchase to clean them up.
“Although we don’t yet know the names of the specific individuals behind these acts, we are filing these cases to help uncover the people responsible and prevent them from continuing their exploits,” according to Microsoft’s associate general counsel Tim Cranton late last week. “The lawsuits allege that individuals using the business names ‘Soft Solutions,’ ‘Direct Ad,’ ‘qiweroqw.com,’ ‘ITmeter INC.,’ and ‘ote2008.info’ used malvertisements to distribute malicious software or present deceptive websites that peddled scareware to unsuspecting Internet users.”
The software vendor filed its lawsuits in King County Superior Court in Seattle, and is seeking damages and injunctions due to “unjust enrichment and for intentional interference with contractual relationships and business expectancies,” Microsoft wrote in its legal filings.
Microsoft says its own investigators have uncovered “a number of leads” that could be used to subpoena service providers, companies, or people with knowledge of the real identities of the fraudsters.
Some rogue AV programs even “clean” a victim’s machine so they appear legitimate, at least until the victim’s credit-card transaction goes through, according to PandaLabs. And the bad guys are automatically generating new, unique samples of this code that AV engines won’t recognize. The distributors of these applications are typically in Eastern Europe, and can make commissions of 50 to 90 percent, according to researchers.