A study by Google suggests that fake antivirus software has recently been responsible for an outbreak malware in PCs.
The study was carried out over 13 months and analysed 240m web pages to discover that the fake anti-virus program accounted for 15 per cent of all the malicious code which was discovered.
The programme works by convincing users that their PC is infected with a virus and advising them to download an anti-virus solution to fix the problem. However, once installed the software can demand payment to register the software and steal personal information.
The reports analysts stated: ""Surprisingly, many users fall victim to these attacks and pay to register the fake [anti-virus software]. To add insult to injury, fake anti-viruses often are bundled with other malware, which remains on a victim's computer regardless of whether a payment is made."
The study was presented at Usenix Workshop on Large-Scale Exploits and Emergent Threats in California, and analysed websites between January 2009 and February 2010.
It found more than 11,000 web domains involved in its distribution of fake anti-virus and google says half of these used adverts to deliver the fake program.
Graham Cluely from security firm Sophos said: "The hackers track trending news stories - such as the death of Michael Jackson. They then create websites stuffed with content, which in many cases can appear on the first page of search results."
Cluley said that people should be familiar with their own anti-virus software and always take a suspicious attitude to updates.
"If you already have anti-virus installed you shouldn't need to do that," he said.
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