Estonians Charged For $14 Million in Click Fraud – Is Your Computer Infected?

November 22, 2011

In a particularly advanced two prong click fraud scheme, 7 men are charged with infecting 4 million computers worldwide – 500,000 in the U.S. alone. Once infected, the criminals would redirect users search results to websites that would pay the criminals a referral fee, so the more searches they redirected, the more money they made. The second method used was to replace legitimate ads on websites with ads from companies that paid for referring clicks.

In a statement by Janice Fedarcyk, assistant director in charge of the FBI New York office, “They victimized legitimate Website operators and advertisers who missed out on income through click hijacking and ad replacement fraud.”

Hijacked sites included The Wall Street Journal and ESPN. An article in the New York Times included the following illustration of how ESPN ads were swapped; the page shown on the left has a legitimate Dr. Pepper ad, while the ad on the right is for a timeshare company that paid for clicks.

Called the biggest cybercriminal takedown in history, the FBI worked with international law enforcement agencies, security companies, and security experts for over two years to crack the case.

This malware that infected both the Windows and Mac operating systems did not target consumer information; it was designed to defraud advertisers and website companies, but in order to avoid detection by antivirus software the malware blocked antivirus updates. This means that infected users were (and are) vulnerable to other malware.

What this means to you:

Although the FBI has replaced the malicious servers involved, infected users remain infected with the DNSChanger malware, and any other malware that was able to crawl into computers while security software updates were blocked. If you’ve seen unlikely ads or suspect your machine may be infected, the FBI has created a website that will help you detect the malware and get rid of it.