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Spam and phishing in 2017
15.2.2018 Kaspersky Analysis 
Spam
Figures of the year
The share of spam in mail traffic came to 56.63%, down 1.68% against 2016.
The biggest source of spam remains the US (13.21%).
40% of spam emails were less than 2 KB in size.
The most common malware family found in mail traffic was Trojan-Downloader.JS.Sload
The Anti-Phishing system was triggered 246,231,645 times.
9% of unique users encountered phishing
Global events in spam
Spam emails that mention the hottest topics in the world news agenda are a permanent feature of junk traffic. This trend has been observed for several years and is unlikely to change any time soon. Natural disasters in 2017 (hurricanes Irma and Harvey, the earthquake in Mexico) were a gift to fraudsters. “Nigerian” scammers bombarded mailboxes with messages asking for assistance in obtaining the inheritance of deceased relatives and donations for disaster victims, etc. Natural disasters were also a common theme in advertising spam and emails offering jobs and loans.

In 2017 spammers made frequent mention of natural disasters

Sporting events are another favorite topic of spammers. The most popular — and most mentioned in fake giveaway messages — are major soccer competitions and the Olympics. Back in 2016 we picked up emails citing the FIFA 2018 World Cup, and the following year their number increased, with the format and content unchanged. Typically, such emails say that during such-and-such lottery, supposedly held by a well-known organization, the recipient was randomly selected among a million others as the winner of a huge cash prize. Besides money, scammers sometimes promise tickets to competitions. The details are usually outlined in file attachments using official competition and sponsor logos.

“Winning” the lottery can be timed to major sporting events

The “Nigerian” scammers often refer to famous figures. Presidents and other political VIPs are especially in demand. In 2017, one of the most popular figures for fraudsters was US President Donald Trump.

We predict that in 2018 scammers will continue to pay close attention to world events and famous figures so as not to let slip the chance to squeeze ever more money and personal info out of gullible victims.

Cryptocurrencies in spam
Throughout the year we wrote that cryptocurrencies had gained a foothold in advertising spam and fraudulent mailings: all the numerous “Earn from home” schemes, financial pyramids, fake lottery wins, and phishing scams, etc., seem to have been updated and given a cryptocurrency makeover. Let’s try to systematize the various types of cryptocurrency-related spam.

Seminars
As major conferences and seminars are held on blockchain technology, spammers are making increasing use of this topic for their own purposes. The seminars advertised in their mailings don’t overload users with technical details, but promise to teach them how to extract eye-watering profits from cryptocurrencies. Such mailings are relatives of “traditional” spam on the topic “How to make a killing on the stock exchange.”

Example emails advertising “lucrative” seminars

Financial fraud
A specific type of cryptocurrency fraud relates to fake “cloud mining” services. Such services hire out the mining power of their own specialized data centers. Fake sites offer similar services, but on paying up, the user receives neither mining power nor their money back. The crypto version of the classic pyramid scam warrants a special mention: the user “receives” mining income until they enlist other victims (for which there is also a reward). But sooner or later the cash flow stops, and the original investment is not repaid.

Fake “cloud mining” services offer enticing rewards

Sites masquerading as cryptocurrency trading platforms operate in a similar manner. The crucial difference between them and real exchanges is that money can only be invested, not withdrawn. Revenue usually “grows” very quickly, stimulating the user to invest more funds.

On fake cryptocurrency exchanges, experience really isn’t necessary

More subtle are binary options brokers (and their fake counterparts). We covered them in a previous report.

Another type of cryptocurrency fraud is fake services offering to exchange one currency for another, or convert it into “real” money. Scammers lure victims with favorable exchange rates, and then make off with the cash.

The “currency exchange desk” simply pockets the money for itself

Spam is very often used for this kind of fraud because it gives what all scammers crave — anonymity.

Other types of fraud
More traditional types of fraud, such as fake lottery wins, started using bitcoin bait:

Malware
CryptoLocker, whose creators demanded payment in bitcoin, was found in spam far less often than in 2016. That said, we encountered various modifications of Locky, Cerber, Rack, and other ransomware. At the same time, new capabilities such as stealing passwords from cryptocurrency wallets and mining were added to spam-distributed malware.

What’s more, a host of malware was distributed in spam under the guise of bitcoin mining tools or trading instructions.

The attached document was detected as HEUR:Exploit.RTF.Generic

Address databases
Targeted address databases advertised through spam were updated with the email addresses of cryptocurrency users, putting the address owners at risk of a targeted attack (for example, phishing as mentioned above).

Like other hot global issues, cryptocurrency is set be a recurring theme in spam for a very long time to come. And given the juicy rewards on offer, 2018 can expect to see growth in both fraudulent and phishing “cryptocurrency” spam.

Spamming by ethnicity
As we all know, spam peddles everything from potency-enhancing drugs to fake goods by well-known brands — it’s an international phenomenon that knows no geographic boundaries. However, 2017 caught the eye for some more localized spam content.

China and manufacturing
Back in 2016, we wrote about the Chinese habit of using spam to market goods internationally. Nothing changed in 2017: More and more Chinese companies are offering their products in this way.

India and IT
Whereas the Chinese are keen to sell goods on the international market, spam from India is more likely to offer IT services: SEO, web design, mobile apps, and much more:

Russia and seminars
Russian spam is written in, yes, Russian — and is therefore aimed at the domestic market. It too advertises goods and services, but more striking is the range of seminars and training on offer:

America and targeted business spam
In the US, the law governing the distribution of advertising messages operates on the opt-out principle. Accordingly, users can be sent messages until they explicitly unsubscribe from the mailing list in question, for which a link must be provided. The CAN-SPAM Act stipulates many other legal requirements for mailings. The legislation demands that the message body match the subject in terms of topic, there be no automatic collection of addresses, the advertiser’s physical address appear in the text, and much more.

Using the opt-out principle, many small, and sometimes not-so-small, companies send out promotional materials to people who have not subscribed to them. A legal gray area arises from the fact that even if spam-mailing companies are physically located in the US, the emails are distributed worldwide, and most countries operate an opt-in policy, requiring the prior consent of recipients. In other words, some countries at the legislative level consider mailshots to be spam.

A trait of business spam is its very narrow targeting of companies operating in specific areas. Oftentimes, mailings are not directed to the company as a whole, but to people with certain job titles.

Malware and the corporate sector
The number of malicious spam messages in 2017 fell 1.6-fold against 2016. Kaspersky Lab clients registered a total of 145,820,119 triggers of Mail Anti-Virus throughout 2017.

Number of Mail Anti-Virus triggers among Kaspersky Lab clients in 2017

This drop is due to the unstable operation of the Necurs botnet: it mediated the spread of far fewer mailings, and in Q1 2017 was completely idle. Malicious mailshots sent via Necurs were short, not personalized. They were used to try to install cryptolockers from the Locky family on recipients’ computers.

In general, 2017 was marked by a large cluster of malicious, but well-crafted emails, containing fragments of business correspondence matching the company profile, plus the full details of the organizations in whose name they had been sent.

Emails containing malicious objects detected as Backdoor.Java.Adwind.cu

The messages were not mass-distributed, but most likely targeted. Based on the target domain names, it can be assumed that the attackers were primarily interested in the corporate sector, while the tactic of citing previous messages of the addressee suggests in some cases a Business Email Compromise-type attack.

An email containing a malicious object detected as Trojan-PSW.Win32.Fareit.dnak

Malware downloaded onto the victim computer most often had functions for collecting detailed information about the system and its settings (as well as passwords, keystrokes, etc.), and then transferring this data to a remote server. For information about potential targets and perpetrators of such attacks, see our article.

Phishing
Phishing pages migrate to HTTPS
Sites have been moving to HTTPS in increasing numbers, and not just legitimate resources. If a year ago a top tip for users was “check that pages requesting personal data are secure,” today a certificate does not guarantee safety: anyone or anything could be behind it.

Where do scammers get certificates? For domains created specifically for fraudulent purposes, attackers most likely use free 90-day certificates from Let’s Encrypt and Comodo, two certificate authorities. Getting hold of one is simplicity itself.

A phishing site with a free 90-day certificate issued by Let’s Encrypt

What’s more, phishing pages are often located on hacked sites that already have the necessary certificates.

A phishing page located on a hacked site with HTTPS

Scammers also make use of free web hosting with an SSL certificate:

On the topic of free hosting sites, it should be noted that attackers often use services that do not closely monitor user-posted content. It is not uncommon for phishing content to be placed on free hosting sites of well-known companies: this reduces the risk of the page being blacklisted, since it is located on a reputable domain with a high-profile name and a good SSL certificate. And although such services are pro-active in the fight against illegitimate content, phishing pages on their domains are found fairly often.

A phishing page located on the Google Sites service redirecting users to a third-party resource where payment system data is requested

Phishing pages located on the Force.com Sites service

Punycode encoding
Another important rule is to always check the spelling of the domain name, a task made more difficult due to the active use by phishers of Punycode encoding, which helps mask phishing domain names under the domains of well-known brands. Web browsers use Punycode to display Unicode characters in the address bar, but if all the characters in the domain name belong to the character set for one language, the browser displays them not in Punycode format, but in the specified language. Scammers select characters similar or identical to ones in Latin script, and use them to create domain names that resemble those of well-known companies.

The technique is not new, but caused a real stir this year, especially after an article by Chinese researcher Xudong Zheng. As an example, he created a domain with a name that in the address bar was indistinguishable from Apple’s domain. Phishers aren’t always able to find identical symbols, but the results are still look pretty convincing.

Examples of domains displayed in Punycode in browser address bars

Besides the external similarity to the original domain, such domains are more difficult to detect by keywords.

Fake cryptocurrency wallets
Fraudsters are always up to speed on the latest trends, brands, and news hooks. The hype around cryptocurrencies in 2017 reached such a crescendo that even those far removed from the virtual world were snapping up bitcoin, whatever it was.

As a result, cryptocurrency wallets were a very attractive target for phishers. Proof of this is the large number of phishing pages spoofing cryptocurrency wallets. We encountered Coinbase, BitGo, and Xapo, to name just a few. One of the leaders by number of spoofs is blockchain.info.

Examples of phishing pages mimicking user sign-in to popular cryptocurrency wallets

Scammers also spoof popular cryptocurrency services in an attempt to get users to hand over money under the guise of lucrative investments.

A page spoofing the popular Coinbase

Social media fraud
In Q2, social networks were hit by a wave of air ticket giveaways. Scammers set up websites under famous airline brands that were supposedly raffling off tickets. After completing a short survey, the user was redirected to a resource created by the attackers. This could be an infected site, a phishing page prompting to install malware under the guise of a browser update, or a page spreading malicious content, etc.

Examples of Facebook posts with links to various scamming domains

The scheme is not new, but the distribution mechanism in this case is innovative: in winning a “prize,” users themselves shared unsafe content in social media.

For some domains in the scheme, visitor activity statistics were available, according to which just one of the sites was visited by more than 2,500 users worldwide in the space of an hour:

In Q3, scammers shifted their attention to WhatsApp and extended their assortment of fake prizes.

Fake giveaways that began their odyssey in social media migrated to WhatsApp, and the range of prizes expanded

Fake viruses
Cybercriminals often don’t even bother to write malware, using instead fake virus notifications supposedly from common operating systems. Such messages often appear as pop-up ads or as the result of the user being passed through a redirect chain. This might happen after completing a survey, as in the scheme described above.

The scammers’ primary aim is to intimidate and coerce users into calling a “technical support” number where they are offered solutions to disinfect their computer — not free of charge, of course.

Examples of pages showing fake system infection messages

It’s not only Windows users in the firing line. Scammers are targeting Apple products, too.

Example of a page showing a fake system infection message

Under the same guise, cybercrooks also distribute insecure software.

Example of a page showing a fake system infection message and prompting to download a file

Tax refunds
Another eternal topic is tax returns and tax refunds. Public trust in government sites plays an important role in the success of phishing operations in this segment. Exploiting features of the taxation system in different countries, scammers carry out successful attacks in the US, France, Canada, Ireland, and elsewhere.

Examples of phishing pages using the names of tax authorities in different countries

The new iPhone
The release of the new version of the popular smartphone also attracted scammers, with attempts to redirect users to phishing pages mimicking Apple sites growing 1.5-fold in September, when the latest iteration of the flagship series went on sale.

Number of Anti-Phishing triggers on user computers caused by attempts to redirect to phishing sites using the Apple brand, 2017

The launch of Apple’s new smartphone inspired a host of fraudulent schemes, including fake giveaways, sales of counterfeit devices, and classic phishing scams mentioning the brand.

Fake Apple sign-in page

Statistics: spam
Proportion of spam in email traffic
The share of spam in email traffic in 2017 fell by 1.68% to 56.63%.

Proportion of spam in global email traffic, 2017

The lowest share (52.67%) was recorded in December 2017. The highest (59.56%) belonged to September.

Sources of spam by country
In 2017, the US remained the biggest source of spam (13.21%). A 6.59% hike in spam distribution pushed China up to second place (11.25%). Vietnam took bronze (9.85%).

India slipped from third to fourth (7.02%), showing a 3.13% decline in its share of spam. Next came Germany (5.66%, +2.45%) and Russia (5.40%, +1.87%).

In the seventh place was Brazil (3.97%, -0.04%). And in ninth, France (3.71%, -0.32%). Italy rounds off the Top 10 with a score of 1.86%, up 0.62% against 2016.

Source of spam by country, 2017

Spam email size
In 2017, the share of very small emails (up to 2 KB) in spam again dropped sharply, averaging 43.40%, which is 18.76% less than in 2016. The proportion of emails ranging in size from 2 to 5 KB amounted to 5.08%, another significant change.

Spam emails by size, 2017

There was further growth in the share of emails between 5 and 10 KB (9.14%, +2.99%), 10 and 20 KB (16.26%, +1.79%), and 20 and 50 KB (21.23%, +11.15%). Overall, spam in 2017 did not buck the trend of fewer very small emails and rising numbers of average size emails (5-50 KB).

Malicious attachments in email
Malware families

Top 10 malware families in 2017

In 2017, the most common malware family in email traffic was Trojan-Downloader.JS.Sload — a set of JS scripts that download and run other malicious programs on the victim computer, usually encryptors.

Runner-up was last year’s leader Trojan-Downloader.JS.Agent — the typical member of this malware family is an obfuscated JS that uses ADODB.Stream technology to download and run DLL, EXE, and PDF files.

Third place went to the Backdoor.Java.Qrat family — a cross-platform multi-functional backdoor written in Java and sold in the Darknet under the umbrella of Malware-as-a-Service (MaaS). It is generally distributed by email in the form of JAR attachments.

The Worm.Win32.WBVB family took fourth place. It includes executable files written in Visual Basic 6 (both in P-Code mode and Native mode) that are untrusted in KSN.

Trojan-PSW.Win32.Fareit completes the Top 5. This malware family is designed to steal data, such as the credentials of FTP clients installed on infected computers, cloud-storage credentials, browser cookies, and email passwords. Fareit Trojans send the information collected to the attackers’ server. Some members of the family can download and run other malware.

In sixth position was the Trojan-Downloader.MSWord.Agent family. This malware takes the form of a DOC file with an embedded macro written in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) that runs when the document is opened. The macro downloads another malicious file from the attackers’ site and runs it on the user’s computer.

In seventh is Trojan.PDF.Badur, which poses as a PDF document containing a link to a potentially dangerous site.

Eighth place was occupied by the Trojan-Downloader.VBS.Agent family — a set of VBS scripts that use ADODB.Stream technology to download ZIP archives and run malware extracted from them.

Trojan.WinLNK.Agent found itself in ninth position. Members of this malware family have the extension .lnk and contain links for downloading malicious files or a path for running another malicious executable file.

One more family of Trojan loaders, Trojan.Win32.VBKrypt, props up the Top 10.

Countries targeted by malicious mailshots
In 2017, Germany (16.25%, +2.12%) held on to top spot. China (12.10%) climbed from third to second, adding 4.78% for the year. Russia (6.87%, +1.27%) rounds off the Top 3.

Countries targeted by malicious mailshots, 2017

Further down come Japan (5.32%, -2.27%), Britain (5.04%, -0.13%), Italy (4.89%, -0.55%), and Brazil (4.22%, -0.77%).

Eighth place is taken by Vietnam (2.71%, +0.81%). And ninth by France (2.42%, -1.15%). The Top 10 is rounded off by the UAE (2.34%, +0.82%).

Statistics: phishing
In 2017, the Anti-Phishing system was triggered 246,231,645 times on computers of Kaspersky Lab users as a result of phishing redirection attempts. That is 91,273,748 more than in 2016. In all, 15.9% of our users were targeted by phishers.

Organizations under attack
The rating of organizations targeted by phishing attacks is based on the triggering of the heuristic component in the Anti-Phishing system on user computers. This component detects all instances when the user tries to follow a link in an email or on the Internet to a phishing page in the event that such links have yet to be added to Kaspersky Lab’s databases.

Organizations under attack by category
The lion’s share of heuristic component triggers in 2017 went to pages that mentioned banking organizations (27%, +1.24%). Second place in the rating is the Payment systems category (15.87%, +4.32%), followed by Online stores (10.95%, +0.78%).

Distribution of organizations subject to phishing attacks by category, 2017.

See our financial report (link) for more details about phishing in the financial sector.

Top 3 organizations under attack from phishers

As before, the trend in mass phishing is still to use the most popular brands. By doing so, scammers significantly increase the likelihood of a successful attack. The Top 3 is made of organizations whose names were most often used by phishers (according to the heuristic statistics for triggers on user computers):

Facebook 7.97%
Microsoft Corporation 5.57%
PayPal 4.50%
The geography of attacks
Countries by percentage of attacked users
As in the previous year, Brazil had the highest percentage of attacked unique users out of the total number of users in the country, seeing its score increase by 1.41% to 29.02%.

Percentage of users on whose computers the Anti-Phishing system was triggered out of all Kaspersky Lab users in the country, 2017

Top 10 countries by percentage of attacked users
Brazil 29.02%
Australia 22.51%
China 19.23%
Qatar 18.45%
Bolivia 18.38%
Albania 17.95%
New Zealand 17.85%
Portugal 16.76%
Angola 16.45%
Russia 16.43%
Top 10 countries by percentage of attacked users

The number of attacked users also increased in Australia — by 2.43% to 22.5%. Next come China (19.23%), where the share of attacked users fell by 3.61%, and Qatar (14.45%).

Results
The number of malicious spam messages in 2017 fell 1.6-fold against 2016. This drop is due to the unstable operation of the Necurs botnet, which mediated the spread of far fewer mailings.

In 2018, spammers and phishers will continue to closely monitor world events and famous figures so as not to miss any opportunity to extract money and personal info from their unsuspecting targets. We can expect mailings to refer to the Winter Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup, the presidential elections in Russia, and other events. What’s more, the first few months of the year are likely to experience a wave of phishing pages and mailshots exploiting the topic of tax refunds, since in many countries April is tax payment month. The theme of cryptocurrency will be popping up in spam for a very long time to come. And given the juicy rewards on offer, 2018 can expect to see growth in both fraudulent and phishing “cryptocurrency” spam.

The number of phishing sites using SSL certificates will surely continue to grow. As will the use of different domain name obfuscation methods.


Every little bitcoin helps
1.2.2018 Kaspersky 
Spam
It often happens that inventions and technologies that start out good end up turning into dangerous tools in the hands of criminals. Blockchain is no exception to this rule, especially in its most common cryptocurrency incarnation. Cryptocurrencies crop up in all kinds of spam: from traditional advertising (courses about investment and trade) to more fraudulent and malicious varieties. Quite often, cryptocurrencies are used by attackers as originally intended — as a means of payment (albeit from victims). We found and delved into several spam mailings in which cybercrooks exploited user paranoia about information threats and took bitcoins as payment for peace of mind. The attacks targeted employees of small companies, but such emails could be sent to any user’s personal mail.

In the first email, the attacker claimed to have installed malware on a porn site visited by the victim, and to be in possession of several videos recorded from both the device screen and cameras; not only that, a keylogger had supposedly provided access to the user’s IM, email, and social media contacts. To get the attacker off their back, the victim was asked to transfer the equivalent of $320 to the bitcoin wallet specified in the email. It was also mentioned that a built-in tracking pixel would inform the attacker that the email had been seen. And if the recipient wanted proof of that, they should reply to the message, whereupon the compromising info would be sent out to five of their contacts. As a postscript, the scammer warned against going to the police: he allegedly lived in Belarus, so the investigation would drag on for years.

The next email was wordy but imaginative, written by a hacker by the name of Andrey. The attacker informed the recipient that he had studied the latter’s company, together with its employees and their relatives, found weaknesses, and was planning to ruin it. The author listed no fewer than seven ways to achieve this goal, from simply writing negative reviews on various websites to creating fake company reports in his garage(!) and sending them to government departments. However, the hacker’s preferred outcome was for the company to see sense and transfer 3 bitcoins to his wallet. Like the previous email, it specifically mentioned not going to the cops, since “Andrey” lived in Ukraine.

Another email was the work of not one hacker, but an entire chain gang. The attackers allegedly had hacked the company’s server and got hold of information about its clients, bank accounts, tax payments, etc. Now they were threatening to damage the company’s reputation by publishing this information online. It was also stated that at some unspecified moment they would launch an attack on the company’s servers and computers, encrypting all data. To call off the attack, the blackmailers demanded 0.5 bitcoin. If the cryptopayment was not made before the start of the attack, the amount would rise to 2 bitcoins.

Sadly and (perhaps) surprisingly, some people still fall for such concoctions. The targets of these mailings are usually small companies that lack the resources for decent anti-spam protection and basic information security training for staff. So let us reiterate: be vigilant, stay calm, and take anonymous threats of this kind with a pinch of salt.


Tech Support Scammers Fined in US, Jailed in UK
30.1.2018 securityweek
Spam
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced Monday that operators of a nationwide computer repair scam have been banned from the tech support business as part of settlements with the FTC and Ohio.

Commonly known as the 'tech support scam', repair fraud has become a global problem. A Microsoft survey with details published in October 2017 suggests that 2 out of 3 people have experienced a tech support scam in the last 12 months.

One in five U.S. respondents to this survey reported losing money to the scammers. "Since 2014," wrote Microsoft Assistant General Counsel Courtney Gregoire in an associated blog, "Microsoft has supported law enforcement agencies across the country who took legal action against known fraudsters responsible for approximately $165 million in consumer losses."

The scam attempts to engage victims in a telephone discussion about their computer, and to persuade them that it has problems that can be fixed for a price. In the current case, the scammers first caused pop-ups to appear on their victims' computers resembling security alerts from well-known technology companies. These are usually Apple and Microsoft.

ESET senior research fellow David Harley (who has been monitoring support scams for many years), calls them "opportunistic SEO-friendly ads claiming to be from real vendor helplines."

The false alerts claimed the computers had been breached by a virus or hacker, and urged the 'victims' to call a toll-free number for assistance. Telemarketers then took over and asked for remote access to the 'infected' computer. They then ran 'diagnostic tests' that falsely claimed to find major problems that could be solved through the purchase of a one-time fix or a long-term service plan that would cost hundreds of dollars.

The FTC filed a complaint in Ohio last year as part of an ongoing campaign called Operation Tech Trap. The defendants were Repair All PC LLC; Pro PC Repair LLC; I Fix PC LLC; WebTech World LLC; Online Assist LLC; Datadeck LLC; I Fix PC (also doing business as Techers 247, I Fix PC, and I Fix PC 247); Jessica Marie Serrano; Dishant Khanna; Mohit Malik; Romil Bhatia; Lalit Chadha; and Roopkala Chadha.

The settlements announced Monday resolve the case. The defendants have been barred from offering tech support products or services, whether genuine or fraudulent, and misrepresenting their affiliation with another company. Perhaps more to the point, the settlements also impose a $12.4 million judgement that will be suspended upon payment by the defendants of a total of $122,376.

"This scheme affected people in Ohio and across the country, and we were pleased to work with the Federal Trade Commission to shut it down," said Attorney General DeWine. "Scams regularly cross state and national borders, so this kind of collaboration is an important part of protecting consumers."

In the UK, the National Trading Standards (NTS) announced on Friday that Narendra Harilal Vadgama (age 56) has been sentenced to 12 months in prison (reduced to 9 months on a guilty plea) for a very similar offense. "Mr Vadgama's victims were targeted through cold-calling or with computer pop-ups," said the NTS. "In many of the cold-calls Mr Vadgama's company gained the trust of their victims by falsely claiming to be computer technicians from companies like Microsoft. They then claimed that the victim's computer had been compromised or their routers had been hacked or infected and needed urgent action to stop the victim's computer or data from being compromised."

Vadgama was discovered following a joint investigation by NTS, Microsoft, the UK's National Fraud Intelligence Bureau and Leicestershire police. "This case demonstrates precisely why public-private partnership is critical to tackling modern day fraud operating at global scale," commented the City of London Police's Commander Dave Clark (the national coordinator for economic crime). "Partnerships like this are increasingly being used and should send a warning to criminals that the UK is increasingly becoming a hostile environment to commit fraud in."

Whether individual successes against the support tech criminals in both the U.S. and the UK will have any great effect on the overall crime rate is a different matter. "How effective the FTC's ruling will be in practice is another question," Harley told SecurityWeek. "I suspect that it will do little to discourage the many other companies executing similar spams (though we can always hope). While there may be individual call-center operatives who don't realize that they're executing a scam -- they're not always the sharpest knives in the drawer -- I imagine that the companies who employ them are usually fully cognizant from day one. Even if the FTC sanctions are sufficiently scary to stop them operating in the same way, I suspect that there's little to stop them cashing out and/or regrouping."

Ultimately, the best defense against tech support scams is heightened user awareness. Reputable firms like Apple and Microsoft and (especially in the UK, BT) simply do not cold call their customers. Interestingly, the Microsoft survey figures suggest that aged consumers are not, as one might expect, either the prime targets or main victims. According to Microsoft, 50% of its respondents "who continued with a fraudulent interaction" were millennials aged between 18 and 34. Only 17% were over 55.

Security professionals should make sure that both their children and their parents are aware of this scam.

[Update] The FTC has just announced that it is sending 3,791 checks averaging around $176 (a total of $668,000) to victims of a tech support scam action that was settled in May 2017. Part of the settlement included turning over financial assets to the FTC. "These are legitimate checks," says the announcement. "The FTC never requires consumers to pay money or provide account information to cash a refund check."

Interestingly, the FTC also issued a warning today on a different scam: an email claiming to be Secretary Tillerson announcing a $1.8million government refund, provided the recipient sends him $320 plus personal information.

FTC law enforcement actions provided more than $6.4 billion dollars in refunds to consumers between July 2016 and June 2017.