By Andrew Brandt
For a couple of weeks now, I’ve been noticing a curious (and increasingly prevalent) phenomenon: Some of the free Web hosts popular among those who engage in phishing are popping new types of multimedia ads over the tops of the pages they host. Not only does the victim, in this case, risk having their login credentials to banks or social media sites phished, but many of those ads behave almost identically to “missing codec” social engineering scams that have been popular among malware distributors for years.
The ads — and I use the term very loosely, because these contrivances fall well over the shady side of the ethical line for online advertisements — appear in banners or (in the multimedia-heavy version) glide down in front of the page the Web surfer happens to be browsing, annoyingly obscuring the page. In most cases, these “ads” take on the appearance of some sort of media player window that appears to be stuck in a “video loading” loop, but this is a ruse. There is no media player. The Flash animation is designed to look like one, with the goal to convince the viewer to click the fake video player window, which initiates the download of something called XvidSetup.exe from a server on the domain appbundler.net.
That domain, as well as appbundler.com and clickpotato.tv, appear to be owned by a company with a less than stellar online reputation called Pinball Corp. The executables are not malware, but they also don’t entirely do what they say they will, either. And while the programs also distribute an old, outdated version of the XviD codec (in addition to other sponsored apps, more about this below), they do so without the permission of the publisher of that software, and possibly in vi0lation of the GPL software license terms that XviD uses. A new term of art seems to be required to describe this type of advertising; I propose calling the ads scads, a concatenation of scam and ads. Scadware describes the fraudulent software more precisely than the prosaic Potentially Unwanted Application.
The deceptive way in which Pinball Corp’s ad convinces users to download and install the sponsored software certainly leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Read on for the details.