Tweaked Zeus: Fake Instagram 'likes' are worth more $ than stolen credit card numbers

If you see a “trending” topic, do you consider it “important” and check it out? Many folks do, just as a large number of “fans” or “likes” can influence people to hop on the buzz bandwagon. It’s like a positive snowball effect. Gaming social networking sites is not new, such as by buying Twitter followers, Facebook “likes,” and even “votes” on social media sites; it can be accomplished by using automated software. Now, however, cyber fraudsters running a tweaked version of the Zeus trojan can make more money by selling fake “followers” and “likes” for the photo-sharing app Instagram, than by selling stolen credit card numbers.

Zeus trojan modified for Instagram likes, more profitable than selling credit card numbers

“In the world of cyber fraud, a fake fan on Instagram can be worth five times more than a stolen credit card number,” explained Reuters. Although Zeus usually steals banking, credit card or corporate data, cyber criminals can modify the code so Zeus steals whatever login credentials interest the crooks. One of the latest Zeus botnet fads involves creating fake Instagram “likes,” according to cybersecurity experts at RSA. “The modified Zeus virus is the first piece of malicious software uncovered to date that has been used to post false ‘likes’ on a social network.”

These fake "likes" are sold in batches of 1,000 on internet hacker forums, where cyber criminals also flog credit card numbers and other information stolen from PCs. According to RSA, 1,000 Instagram "followers" can be bought for $US15 ($16.31) and 1,000 Instagram "likes" go for $US30, whereas 1,000 credit card numbers cost as little as $US6. 

That might seem strange, but it’s currently true. Criminals go where easy money can be made and social media marketing has become so profitable that cyber crooks are cashing in on the trend.

Online marketing consultant Will Mitchell admitted to sometimes advising clients to buy fake social networking traffic. Ethically, he said that is “fine to do for the first 100” as it can create “an early foothold online.” But not everyone stops after 100 fake “likes,” so you might keep that in mind the next time you are influenced by trending topics, popular social media accounts or hot new products.

LiveOn: Fake online twin can make you an immortal tweeter

In yet another twist about fakeness, even after you die, you can have a bogus “online twin” continue to tweet for you. LivesOn offers a service so that “when your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.” Twitter isn’t necessarily thrilled with the idea, but that hasn’t stopped LivesOn. The app works by learning your Twitter style while you are still living so an algorithm can find similar content for bots to tweet and “favorite” after your death. It can tweet about once an hour and takes a break at night as if you might be sleeping; but as it currently stands, those tweets are not going to fool anyone into believing that your brain is immortal.

Only 20 people were given access to test the platform and The Telegraph’s Theo Merz was one of them. His LiveOn tweets make no sense at all; they were “just fragments” of his “previous tweets spliced together, which gives the whole thing a rather nightmarish feel.”

“Sometimes they are really funny, sometimes they are gobbledygook and sometimes they do sound exactly like you,” said Dave Bedwood, a partner at the creative agency Lean Mean Fighting Machine that conceived the idea of LiveOn. “I tweet absolute nonsense anyway so you can't really tell the difference.”

LiveOn is set to roll out to the public in September; so far about 12,000 people have signed up, wishing to be immortal tweeters.

But don’t be so sure your digital legacy will live on, even if you prepay for the privilege. For example, although a sports blogger prepaid to host a website for five years, Yahoo yanked the site for violating its Terms of Service. The blogger, Martin Manley, cannot contest the takedown, since he launched the site on his 60th birthday—the same day he committed suicide. 

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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