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Millions Fall Victim to System Cleaner Hoaxes

The first half of 2019 has seen a spike in the number of PC users attacked with fake system cleaners, according to research from Kaspersky.

Research shows that the number of users jumped to 1,456,219 in the first half of 2019, compared to just 747,322 for the same period in 2018.

“We’ve been watching how the phenomenon of hoax cleaners has been growing for the last couple of years, and it is a curious threat. On the one hand, many samples that we have seen are spreading more widely and becoming more dangerous, evolving from a simple ‘fraudulent’ scheme into fully functioning and dangerous malware," said Artemy Ovchinnikov, security researcher at Kaspersky, in a press release.

"On the other hand, they are so widespread and seemingly innocent, that it is much easier for them to trick users into paying for a service rather than frightening them with screen blockers and other unpleasant malware. However, these two ways end up [with] the same results with users losing their money.” 

With many users complaining of slow computers and crash errors, malicious actors have taken to offering specious solutions, though the programs that are supposed to scrub the computer clean are really just hoaxes.

These types of hoaxes are difficult for the average user to detect given that there are many legitimate tools that do actually solve such issues. However, researchers are seeing more of these fraudulent programs designed to trick users into paying for alleged computer issues to be fixed.

Cyber-criminals are leveraging user vulnerability and tricking them into installing the hoax cleaners, which are really just disguises for malware such as Trojans or ransomware, according to Ovchinnikov.

Though these hoaxes can be distributed through scams or dubious websites, “Hoax developers’ target audience is inexperienced home users not very familiar with device operating systems or concerned about 'taking out the trash' and updating the system," Ovchinnikov wrote.

“Our statistics show that the most popular target country for Hoax creators and distributors is Japan, where in recent years one in eight users has encountered it. Japan is followed by Germany and, surprisingly, Belarus. Italy and Brazil round out the top five.”

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