Insta-scamming: Your Likes Worth more than Your Credit

They say money can’t buy you love, but it could purchase a few thousands friends on your favorite social networks. It’s recently been discovered that your “Likes” fetch a higher price on the Internet black market than stolen credit card numbers. Virtual popularity has become the new target for hackers who are using old tricks to get at your social media friends and fans. Their target: one of the most popular mobile apps on the market—Instagram.

Working with a tweaked version of a rather well-known and long-standing Trojan formally used to capture banking information, cybercriminals are targeting Instagram likes and follows. The increasingly popular photo-sharing social network now boasts 150 million users, comprised of people interested in celebrity images, new products, nail polish, foodie photos and more. What makes Instagram unique is that it started exclusively as a mobile app, only later allowing limited account access through online sources. This makes malicious antics such as risky links, spamming and fraudulent followers more difficult to spot, Where most malware on a PC or laptop comes in the form of a link that can be previewed before opening, for mobile devices, most malware is delivered through risky/infected apps.

How are cyber criminals getting to you through your mobile social media accounts?

Using a Trojan horse known as Zeus, cybercriminals are generating counterfeit Instagram “Likes” that are sold to the highest bidder and used to create a fake buzz around a person or brand who wants to boost their social presence. A Trojan horse is a malicious piece of software made to appear benign or useful. “Zeus” happens to be one of the largest and longest running of all malware families. Cybercriminals have manipulated the program to steal a user’s social media account information and use it for dishonest means. They do this the same way they previously used the Trojan to pilfer your banking information: through keystroke logging (recording everything typed on your keyboard) and form grabbing (gathering data in forms you submit to a website). Now, rather than trading stolen credit card numbers, hackers are bartering with false “Likes” and followers.

This whole process is coordinated through a central server where the latest evolution of Zeus infects numerous mobile devices, and forces them to post “Likes” for specific users. Additionally, and even more frightening, these infected devices can be commanded to perform other activities, such as download malicious software. What begins as an annoying misuse of your virtual account could, in fact, lead to something far more harmful to your not-so-virtual life.

How much are these “Likes” worth? On the hacker’s black market, the going price for 1,000 Instagram “Followers” is $15 and more than double that for 1,000 “Likes.” A sale of an equal amount of stolen credit card numbers, in comparison, will go for as little as $6.

Why are cybercriminals turning their efforts to Instagram?

When it comes to social media, reputation can be worth a fortune, especially on Instagram, where users with enough influence are offered free gear and other enticements for placement in a simple snapshot. Within the Instagram community, there is a growing number of users with tens to hundreds of thousands of followers who have been hired by Nike, Mastercard, PayPal and other mega-brands to promote their service or product with a post and a tag. Many of these users began as mobile photographers who have since been catapulted into celebrity-like status, followed avidly by thousands who hang on their every image.

This new form of influencer marketing has a low cost for advertisers who appreciate the benefit of having their promotion coming from a “trusted source.” The more likes, followers and shares, the better. Companies gain influence and an audience that shows respect for their product, and the mobile photographers get free merchandise and other exclusive offerings, plus a huge boost in pride. When Nike asks you to “post” for them, would you say no?

This is a problem that won’t be subsiding anytime soon, especially in the face of social media’s growing importance and role in our daily lives. Hackers will continue to find a way to exploit information that will bring them a solid profit, and at present, your Insta-popularity is the ticket. Don’t fear though, there are a number of precautions that you can take on your mobile device to keep your social profiles safe from the bad guys:

  • Keep your apps up to date. Update your apps as soon as new versions become available. App creators are continuously revising their products to minimize the likelihood of malicious activity, although things do slip through.
    • On an Android mobile device: Open the Google Play Store app, select the menu button (three dots) at the top right of the screen and choose My Apps. Here you can select to update apps individually or all at once.
    • On an Apple mobile device: Click on the App Store icon and then at the bottom right of the screen click on Updates. Here you can choose to update all of your apps or individually select which apps you’d like to update.
  • Report suspicious activity or users. Instagram and other mobile app developers are aware of the budding problems and are hard at work to rid their communities of imposters. If you see any strange happenings on your account, peculiar new followers that do not like or comment on your photos, or on the opposite side of things, users that spam your photos with comments asking you to follow them back—make sure to report them on the app. All of the top social media sites and apps offer easy means of blocking and/or reporting untrustworthy users.
    • On Instagram App: Go to the profile page of the user you want to report. At the top right of their profile page, there is a button with a box and an arrow. Select that box and you’ll be given two options: Block User or Report for Spam.
    • On Facebook App: At the top right of the profile page of the user you want to report, there is a button with a box and an arrow. Select that box and you’ll be given the option to Block the user.
    • On Twitter App: On the selected user’s profile page you will see a silhouette at the far left, in the middle of the page. Select that box and you will be given several options. Two of those options are Block or Report spam.
    • On Pinterest App: At the top of the user’s profile page, there is a button with a flag. Select that button and then you can choose to Report or Block that user.
  • Change passwords continually. Keep your passwords varied between accounts and don’t use anything that a hacker could easily learn about you through public records, such as birthdays, kids’ names, pets, etc.
  • Guard your mobile reputation with comprehensive security. Your personal reputation can be attacked at all angles online, from your banking to your social networks. With McAfee® Mobile Security award-winning software, get enhanced privacy and backup features, protection against the latest threats to mobile devices, location-tracking services, and remote lock and wipe capabilities should your device be lost or stolen.

Don’t let your social media take down your mobile devices. To stay on top of the latest social media and mobile threats, follow @McAfeeConsumer on Twitter and like us on Facebook.


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