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The next frontier for viruses: Social media actions?

Viruses to be deployed from "trustworthy" sources in terms of how many likes or followers they got. More likes means more impact for criminals!

Viruses to be deployed from “trustworthy” sources in terms of how many likes or followers they got. Criminals have found a new way to spread viruses and earn revenue.

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you would know about Zeus. Zeus is one of the most fearsome and notorious viruses online that has been tweaked to steal financial information. In other words, Zeus is bad news. It truly embodies how far hacking, virus-making, identity theft and online security breaches have evolved. It used to be that hacking incidents were purely matters of the ego, hackers would hack into the FBI main computer or the CIA so that they can make a name for themselves. It’s a quick way to gain street credibility among the international community of hackers and information thieves. Well, fast forward several years, we’re now in the age were hacking is all about money. Zeus got a tweak to steal credit card information. It’s a very flexible and adaptable virus and this is why it gained international notoriety and enforcement action from the FBI and other law enforcement agencies. Well it appears that the next frontier for viruses like Zeus is not credit information or social security information; it’s something more valuable – social media actions.

The Curious Case of Instagram and Zeus

It’s been learned as reported earlier that Zeus has been tweaked recently to fake Instagram likes and accounts instead of stealing credit card information. It may seem mind-boggling at first but if you look at how much Instagram likes cost per thousand compared to raw dump of credit card numbers, you would clearly see where the money is. While one thousand Instagram likes or accounts can fetch $30, one thousand credit card numbers expiration information cost only $6 based on online black markets- you can definitely see where the money is flowing. Why do Instagram likes cost so much? The truth of the matter is, it’s a question of supply and demand. There are a lot of marketers trying to use Instagram to promote a brand, to get clicks, to get traction for online properties. They will stop at nothing to get competitive advantage and this means buying fake likes or in this case, Zeus-controlled likes on Instagram. Due to such demand, the price has increased while the demand for stolen credit card numbers has remained fairly static.

Using Viruses to Fake Network Effects and Social Proof

The side truth of all of these is that viruses are very versatile and they can be tweaked to produce all kinds of social signals which are not just Instagram likes, Twitter tweets, Twitter retweets, Facebook likes and Facebook photo tags. Viruses are more flexible than that. In fact, if a virus’ network is big enough, it can be tweaked to send all sorts of fake signals to Google to rank certain websites higher than other websites. This may seem like a wild guess right now but I would not be completely surprised if it’s already happening. The truth is, distributed computing using virus can mimic all sorts of human behavior whether it be liking a photo, sending an email, visiting a website, clicking an ad, so on and so forth. People make money with Zeus and if the market is there, people will continue to make even more money. This is why it’s really important to be on the lookout for the use of viruses for social proof.

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