Vista cracks used to spread malware
Consumers trying to unlock full versions of Windows Vista by downloading a cracking program could end up getting more than they bargained for, according to one security company.
Drivesentry says it has seen a number of programs that claim to generate an authentication key for Microsoft's new operating system. If a crack worked, someone could validate a pirate copy of Vista; but many of these cracks are in fact carrying Trojans which encrypt or corrupt the data on people's PCs.
The company which develops software-based firewalls for hard drives that protect digital assets and personal data puts some of the blame on Microsoft for claiming that the operating system could not be cracked.
It said this had effectively issued an open invitation to the hacking community to prove it wrong.
The result has been the crack boards are buzzing with posts claiming to have found a way to bypass Vista's authentication process. Drivesentry said some of the cracks it had found did work but it is impossible to tell which until the program is downloaded.
However, it has also lead malware writers to realise they could make a fast buck by using people's greed. They are now posting malicious programs under the guise of cracks or attaching them to genuine crack attempts.
When the unsuspecting consumer downloads what they believe to be a legitimate crack, their personal data is either destroyed or encrypted, often with a ransom note attached.
"One such crack – Windows Vista All Versions Activation 21.11.06 – was recently exposed as a Trojan-carrier, and consumers should be prepared for more of the same," said John Safa, security expert and chief architect at Drivesentry.
"Approximately 50 per cent of the Vista cracks we tested from popular file-sharing tools are really Trojan horses. Hackers are attaching malicious programs to original cracks and sending the mutated versions back into Cyberspace.
"Anyone who then downloads and runs one of these infected cracks will also unlock the malicious program, which could cause irreversible damage to their PCs or data."
The company warned that over the coming months, consumers could see many offers for free or cut-price versions of Vista with alleged cracks being spammed to their inboxes.
Safa said: "By claiming it has locked down Vista, Microsoft has effectively issued an open invitation to the hacking community to prove it wrong.There’s real money to be lost in this high-stakes game, and the rules have completely changed.
"Today’s malware threat has evolved into a destructive force that outpaces even the best anti-virus signatures, leaving consumers’ personal data completely exposed to zero-day attacks.
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