Cold-calling scammers target antivirus customers, diversify their tactics

Tech support scammers are impersonating customer representatives from antivirus companies

Tech support scammers have started targeting antivirus customers and have diversified their techniques, according to reports from antivirus vendors Avast and ESET.

Cold-calling scams that target English-speaking computer users have been a common occurrence during the past two years. The scammers usually pose as tech support engineers who work for Microsoft or ISPs in an attempt to trick victims into buying questionable security or PC optimization software.

However, it seems that these attacks are becoming increasingly more targeted, with callers beginning to impersonate employees from companies that users have already entrusted with their computers' protection.

"During the past week or so, we have received some complaints and it appears that some of our customers are being targeted by a new scam," said Adam Riley, head of third party suppliers at antivirus firm Avast Software, in a blog post on Tuesday.

A small number of Avast customers have recently received unsolicited phone calls from people claiming to be Avast customer service representatives, who asked for money to fix problems identified on their computers, Riley said.

However, Avast's customers are not the only antivirus users targeted by tech support scammers. "I recently learned from my colleagues at ESET UK that cold-callers from Mumbai have developed a new twist on this cold-calling scam, calling people in the UK and apparently claiming to offer paid support in response to problems that don't exist, because, they claim, 'ESET doesn't offer free support'," said David Harley, a senior research fellow at antivirus vendor ESET, in a blog post.

Harley has been tracking tech support scams for a long time and has recently observed the development of new tactics by the people behind them.

In order to trick victims into believing that their computers have a problem, scammers commonly leverage the Windows Event Viewer, a legitimate Microsoft application that lists various errors and warnings logged on the system. Most of them are not of critical importance, but can appear worrisome to non-technical users.

However, attackers have recently started to ask users to open the Run dialog box by pressing Win key + R and type commands like "prefetch hidden virus" or "inf trojan malware," Harley said.

The PREFETCH and INF commands open the C:\Windows\Prefetch and C:\Windows\Inf folders respectively, which contain legitimate system files. However, less technical users might be inclined to think that these are malicious files revealed by the "hidden virus" or "trojan malware" command parameters.

"In fact, neither of these commands accepts parameters in the Run box," Harley said. "You could type 'inf elvish fantasy' or 'prefetch me a gin and tonic' and you'd get exactly the same directory listing, showing legitimate files."

Fortunately, antivirus companies almost never contact their customers by phone regarding technical support issues, so receiving unsolicited phone calls from people claiming to represent such companies is a good indication of a scam, Harley said. "I can't guarantee that you won't get marketing calls but they should be within acceptable legal and ethical boundaries, and that doesn't include pretending to see malware on a system they don't have access to."

Another sign that users are dealing with a scam is the caller's intention to use free or trial versions of commercial remote desktop software. "If a professional AV company needs access to your machine, they won't do it by misusing free licences for another company's software," Harley said.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

More about AvastMicrosoft

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by Lucian Constantin

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts