Malware Re-invented To Generate Social Media Buzz
August 18, 2013

Hackers Modify Virus To Generate Fake Social Media Likes, Followers

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A virus that originally surfaced over five years ago to swipe credit card numbers and banking information has reportedly been modified in order to pursue a more lucrative target – social media likes and followers.

Certainly, it sounds ludicrous, but according to Reuters, a fake fan on a website like Instagram can actually be worth five-times more than a stolen credit card number. To that end, the Zeus malware has been modified for use in generating falsified online buzz for companies or individuals, cyber security experts told reporter Jim Finkle.

In fact, these fake “likes” are sold in bundles of 1,000 on various hacking-related forums, alongside stolen credit card numbers and other financial information across the Web, Reuters said. The going rate for 1,000 credit card numbers can be as little as $6, Finkle said. The same number of Instagram followers can be purchased for $15, and 1,000 “likes” on the photo sharing service carry a $30 price tag, he added.

“It may seem odd that fake social media accounts would be worth more than real credit card numbers, but online marketing experts say some people are willing to spend heavily to make a splash on the Internet, seeking buzz for its own sake or for a business purpose, such as making a new product seem popular,” the Reuters reporter explained.

“Experts say this price discrepancy reflects the growing value of social media to businesses or individuals who want to promote their brands or products,” added Amar Toor of The Verge. “Buying fake likes is an easy – if ethically nebulous – way to generate false hype around a brand, and companies are clearly willing to pay comparatively high prices for them.”

While social media scammers typically use automated software in order to manipulate the number of likes or followers they (or their clients) have, cybercrime experts told Reuters that the modified Zeus virus is the first piece of malware specifically designed for the purpose of manipulating Facebook, Twitter and other similar websites.

The modified program controls infected desktops and laptops from a central server, Finkle said. The virus forces them to post likes for specific social media entities, and it could be used in order to force those computers to participate in other operations or download other malware programs, security experts told him.

Those computer security experts also urge caution in dealing with hackers who sell fake likes or followers, noting that their social media activities could potentially be nothing more than a cover for identity theft or other cybercrime.

“The accounts are always just a means to an end,” University of California at Berkeley research scientist Chris Grier, who spent a year working on a team that investigated fake Twitter accounts, told Reuters. “The criminals are always looking to profit.”