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(Note: Our Tech support scams FAQ page has the latest info on this type of threat, including scammer tactics, fake error messages, and the latest scammer hotlines. You can also read our latest blog, Teaming up in the war on tech support scams.)

 

Millions of users continue to encounter technical support scams. Data from Windows Defender SmartScreen (which is used by both Microsoft Edge and Internet Explorer to block malicious sites) and Windows Defender Antivirus show that some three million users are subjected to these threats every month.

In addition to being rampant, technical support scams continue to evolve, employing more and more complex social engineering tactics that can increase panic and create a false sense of legitimacy or urgency in an effort to get more victims.

Given the sheer volume of tech support scams and the pace at which they evolve, here at Microsoft we take a holistic approach to this problem. We monitor the threat landscape for patterns and variations in threat behavior. Using intelligence from sensors, we employ machine learning models to deliver cloud-based protection against the latest tech support scams, whether they take the form of web pages with malicious scripts or Trojans that run on computers.

In 2016, the threat of support scam was most felt in the United States, which saw 58% of encounters. United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia follow, with 13%, 11%, and 8% of encounters, respectively. Notably, significant encounters were also registered in France and Spain, where we saw localized technical support scam attacks.

tech-support-scam-countries

Figure 1. Top counties that saw the most number of tech support scam encounters in 2016

(Note: This blog post is the third in the 2016 threat landscape review series. It follows the review of exploit kits and ransomware. The series looks at how major areas in the threat landscape transformed over the past year. For the latest info on tech support scams, go to our tech support scams FAQ page.)

The evolution of technical support scam malware

Technical support scams are built on the deception that your computer is somehow broken, and you need to contact technical support to fix it. You may then be asked to pay for support. In some cases, the tech support agent may ask you to install other software or malware disguised as support tools on your computer, bringing in more threats that can cause even more damage.

You may come across these threats while browsing dubious websites, most notably those that host illegal copies of media and software, crack applications, or malware. Links or ads on these sites may lead you to tech support scam websites, which display pages that are designed to look like error messages and serve pop-up messages indicating fictitious errors. Some tech support scam threats take the form of executable programs like other malware.

Although tech support scams have been around for many years, in 2016 we saw the threat evolve by integrating more scare tactics. At the beginning of the year, the landscape was dominated by threat families with simple techniques and social engineering lures. However, more evolved threat families have since taken over.

tech-support-scam-malware-families

Figure 2. Top support scam families based on encounters in 2016

FakeCall and FakeBSOD: The early types that used one pop-up window and simple messages

Tech support scams are known for their use of pop-up windows to advance their pretense. While most of the scams today abuse pop-up windows to the point of locking the browser, the earlier types relied on just pop-up windows and effective social engineering lures.

FakeCall is a family of malicious scripts hosted in tech support scam sites. It may use messages about virus infection or suspicious activities on your computer. The first sign you have been led to a FakeCall tech support scam site is a pop-up message that tries to create an impression that it’s a system pop-up and usually describes a fake problem and contains instruction to contact fake technical support.

tech-support-scam-fakecall-pop-up

Figure 3. A sample pop-up message from FakeCall

If you click OK, the website loads a page giving more details about the supposed problem, and more instructions to call the technical support number. It may spoof security products and list malware that have purportedly been found on your computer. The goal is to convince you to call the support number.

tech-support-scam-fakecall-webpage

Figure 4. Sample FakeCall support scam website, which asks potential victims to call 855-400-3930

On the other hand, FakeBSOD is a very similar threat but instead pretends to be a system error, like Blue Screen of Death (BSOD), where it got its name.

tech-support-scam-fakebsod

Figure 5. Sample FakeBSOD site that pretends to look like system errors, such as BSOD, and asks to call 1-844-330-7888

FakeBSOD sites usually force the browser to go on full-screen mode to simulate the BSOD experience. Just like FakeCall, it also has a pop-up message detailing the fake problem and a number to call fake technical support.

Both FakeCall and FakeBSOD heavily rely on social engineering lures to get you to take action, and don’t have much in terms of technical complexity. Simply closing the browser will work in most cases.

TechBrolo: Support scam malware on steroids

TechBrolo takes on characteristics of both FakeCall and FakeBSOD, but integrates technical enhancements that not only makes the pretense more believable but can also adversely affect your overall computing experience.

For instance, TechBrolo employs the dialogue loop technique. When you visit the TechBrolo site, you get a pop-up message that won’t go away, no matter how many times you click OK. This method effectively locks your browser; you must manually terminate the process via Task Manager in order to close your browser.

tech-support-scam-techbrolo-1

Figure 6. Sample TechBrolo site with dialogue loop and fake support number 1-866-219-0211

Most variants of TechBrolo also play an audio describing the problem, adding a sense of urgency. For example, one recent variant mimics Windows Defender Antivirus, and when the website loads, it plays an audio with the following message:

“Critical alert from Microsoft. Your computer has alerted us that it is infected with a virus and spyware. This virus is sending your credit card details, Facebook login, and personal emails to hackers remotely. Please call us immediately at the toll-free number listed, so that our support engineers can walk you through the removal process over the phone. If you close this page before calling us, we will be forced to disable your computer to prevent further damage to our network. Error #268D3.” It is important to note that Windows Defender Antivirus does not act this way.

tech-support-scam-techbrolo

Figure 7. Sample TechBrolo site that spoofs Windows Defender Antivirus, plays an audio message, and uses fake support number 07-5405-9588

Recently, we also spotted a TechBrolo variant that uses website elements to spoof the Microsoft support site and fake the pop-up dialogue box. It does this by loading a page that looks like a browser and then going to full screen. If you are not too paying attention, you might think Microsoft is giving you a warning. Microsoft does not deliver warning messages like this via the browser.

tech-support-scam-escape-from-fullscreen-1

Figure 8. One TechBrolo site uses website elements to achieve a browser in a browser effect and asks target victims to call 1-844-313-7003

Non-English support scam websites

Consistent with our findings that some of the countries most affected by tech support scam are non-English speaking countries (see Figure 1), we have seen some localized tech support scam malware.

These sites employ a combination of the techniques discussed in this blog, only presented in non-English websites, images, or pop-up messages.

tech-support-scam-french

Figure 9. French tech support scam website that uses fake support number 01-86-26-42-66

tech-support-scam-spanish

Figure 10. Spanish tech support scam website that uses fake support number 900-839-260

tech-support-scam-german

Figure 11. German tech support scam website that uses fake support number 0-800-183-8114

tech-support-scam-techbrolo-japanese

Figure 12. Japanese tech support scam website that uses fake support number 03-4578-9419

Cusax, Hicurdismos, and Monitnev: Support scam Trojans

Apart from scripts hosted on websites, we have also seen tech support scam malware in the form of executable files. They may be installed on your computer by other malware or downloaded from drive-by sites.

These malware have the same goal as their script counterparts: to get you to call the technical support number. However, the difference is that their malicious behaviors are not limited to the browser.

For instance, Cusax is a tech support scam malware that makes system changes, including registry modifications that ensure it runs every time your computer starts. It then forces a reboot, further reinforcing the scam that there is a problem with your computer.

As soon as your computer boots, it opens a window that asks for your Windows activation key as well as the technical support number.

tech-support-scam-cusax

Figure 13. Cusax uses the lure that you need to enter your activation key and asks to call the number 1-877-256-3313

Hicurdismos, on the other hand, displays an image that looks like the BSOD. However, this fake BSOD screen has instructions to call a technical support number, something that the real error doesn’t have.

In order to further its pretense, Hicurdismos hides the mouse cursor, disables Task Manager, and makes sure the fake BSOD image occupies the entire screen and is always on top of other windows.

tech-support-scam-hicurdismos

Figure 14. The fake BSOD screen displayed by Hicurdismos contains the number 1-800-418-4202

More recently, Monitnev was discovered to monitor event logs. It then displays fake error notifications every time an application crashes. This can appear more convincing because the pop-up messages are timed with legitimate computing behavior.

Cusax, Hicurdismos, Monitnev and other tech support scam malware can be more complex than scripts. Because they make system changes, they can inflict more damage and can be trickier to remove. However, we’re seeing significantly fewer of these types of tech support scam threats because they are more difficult to distribute than their script counterparts. Despite that, they pose threats that you need protection from.

Protection against tech support scams

Tech support scams take different forms and are known to take on more characteristics over time. Get the protection against the latest tech support scams by upgrading to Windows 10. The Windows 10 Creators Update brings in additional security features and will start rolling out on April 11, 2017. Keeping your computers up-to-date gives you the benefits of the latest features and proactive mitigation from Microsoft.

A majority of these threats, like TechBrolo, FakeCall, and FakeBSOD, are scripts hosted on websites where you are led to by malicious ads on dubious sites. To avoid tech support scam websites, use Microsoft Edge. Enable Windows Defender SmartScreen (also used by Internet Explorer) to block known malicious websites, such as tech support scam websites.

tech-support-scam-microsoft-edge-blocked-twitter

Figure 15. Microsoft Smart Screen blocks techs support scam websites

In addition, Microsoft Edge provides a way to close dialogue loops, which are used by support scam sites to keep on delivering pop-ups even after you close them. At the bottom of pop-up dialogue messages, you have an option to tick the checkbox Don’t let this page create more messages, which will stop the recurring messages.

tech-support-scammicrosoft-edge-protection-against-dialogue-loops

Figure 16. Dialogue loop protection for Microsoft Edge

Enable Windows Defender Antivirus to remove tech support scam Trojans, such as Cusax and Hicurdismos. Windows Defender AV uses cloud-based protection, which helps make sure you are protected from the latest threats.

Tech support scams employ varying social engineering techniques to get you to call the support hotline. Do not call the number in pop-up messages. Microsoft’s error and warning messages never include a phone number.

Some scammers can also contact you directly and claim to be from Microsoft. Remember, Microsoft will never proactively reach out to you to provide unsolicited PC or technical support. Any communication we have with you must be initiated by you. Reach out directly to one of our technical support experts at the Microsoft Answer Desk.

For more information on techs support scams, go to our tech support scams FAQ page.

 

Jonathan San Jose, Alden Pornasdoro, Francis Tan Seng
Microsoft Malware Protection Center

 

 

 

 


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Related blog entries

 

Other details

We have seen the following tech support numbers used by scammers. Don’t call or accept calls from these numbers.

For an updated list of tech support scam hotlines, go to our tech support scams FAQ page.

(0)2070220828 (02)61891708 (02)80164703 (02)80164716 (02)80164756 (02)80172671
(02)80172685 (02)85994345 (03)43092501 (03)57243978 (03)85666148 (03)85927365
(03)86575022 (03)86575029 (03)86575037 (03)86575058 (03)86575059 (03)86575060
(03)86575067 (03)86575087 (03)86575132 (03)86575174 (03)86575185 (03)86575189
(03)86575197 (03)86575202 (03)86575207 (03)86575212 (03)86575219 (03)86575220
(03)86575227 (03)86575233 (03)86575236 (03)86575244 (03)86575246 (03)86575250
(03)86575251 (03)86575252 (03)86575253 (03)86575254 (03)86575259 (03)86575266
(03)86575274 (03)86575279 (03)86575282 (03)8657-5321 (03)86575462 (03)86575481
(03)86575485 (03)86578564 (030)30807257 (040)87407257 (040)87408505 (050)-5865-3083
(06)-9480-0946 (07)30538387 (07)30627228 (07)30627243 (07)3062-7243 (07)31063353
(07)31886052 (07)42299559 (07)55515928 (07)55596520 (08)62440898 (08)62441208
(08)62441245 (08)79137259 (08)79137276 (08)79137290 (08)81204457 (08)81666920
(08)81666934 (08)81666937 (08)81666955 (1-833-870-9055 (20)888-6480 (2845385
(32)25888838 (43)215-5911 (45)89874331 (46)844686279 (646)1234567 (65)31638569
(800)-257-6159 (800)795-3272 (844)200-3946 (844)393-0450 (844)393-0484 (844)393-0486
(844)393-0493 (844)-431-5897 (844)441-3440 (844)676-8550 (844)-760-4122 (844)793-5916
(844)793-5936 (855)-205-9531 (855)209-6074 (855)-225-7708 (855)231-0539 (855)-239-2183
(855)-241-3845 (855)241-4667 (855)-266-4554 (855)266-4741 (855)294-1712 (855)294-1825
(855)-297-7165 (855)-355-5293 (855)-356-7202 (855)-369-2906 (855)405-7100 (855)445-9027
(855)-447-0411 (855)-533-5796 (855)622-1162 (855)624-0140 (855)624-0227 (855)624-7391
(855)625-1554 (855)625-1567 (855)656-6786 (855)-739-7820 (855)-740-4839 (866)201-6980
(866)203-9002 (866)245-3153 (866)246-4756 (866)-258-1972 (866)-260-0177 (866)-273-6495
(866)281-2116 (866)-285-2709 (866)-291-8355 (866)-298-7189 (866)304-3926 (866)307-4818
(866)-309-5567 (866)332-5687 (866)-338-7789 (866)-368-2412 (866)-383-9914 (866)-383-9915
(866)402-1473 (866)412-0891 (866)423-0059 (866)423-0063 (866)424-8189 (866)-424-8267
(866)-428-8273 (866)-446-2164 (866)-461-1815 (866)-465-8228 (866)-472-8834 (866)475-9024
(866)-491-1840 (866)528-4708 (866)-537-8476 (866)-537-8543 (866)564-0080 (866)-564-0233
(866)-664-7153 (866)664-7178 (866)-671-2859 (866)-671-2872 (866)-745-9470 (866)-745-9526
(866)-811-5991 (866)811-6155 (866)-847-7752 (866)-847-7753 (866)-853-5456 (866)-853-5502
(866)-877-9859 (877)205-4993 (877)217-6241 (877)-236-1653 (877)-245-8680 (877)249-0473
(877)265-0722 (877)-390-9713 (877)-393-8186 (877)394-4325 (877)-394-4493 (877)410-1782
(877)-433-3057 (877)-507-9671 (877)582-0878 (877)855-3653 (877)855-3656 (877)856-4874
(877)870-1153 (877)932-2471 (888)206-1755 (888)215-8523 (888)248-8302 (888)-308-4985
(888)-319-2624 (888)-453-1072 (888)503-2516 (888)503-3820 (888)623-3295 (888)660-1761
(888)694-2168 (888)694-2197 (888)810-5341 (888)811-4180 (888)829-5571 (888)829-5736
(888)858-8437 (888)992-3346 001-800-337-6075 001-800-741-0438 001-844-416-0999 001-844-416-3555
001-844-441-4490 001-855-220-5679 001-855-371-9444 001-855-382-4333 001-888-549-8666 001-888-578-9666
01-013-894-74 010-8080688 010-8080698 01-088-482-93 01-513-6657 01-586-613-14
0-161-660-4291 0-161-660-8204 01-617918571 01-70-71-29-83 01-70-71-29-85 01-70-72-08-31
01-70-75-40-58 01-76-34-05-40 01-76-34-05-42 01-76-34-05-43 01-76-34-05-47 01-76-34-05-48
0176-350-282 01-76-35-02-82 0-176-350-282 01-76-35-02-86 01-76-39-05-48 01-76-42-02-52
01-76-44-03-79 01-76-54-26-50 01-76-54-26-55 01-76-54-27-02 01-76-54-27-37 01-76-75-32-49
01-78-42-94-73 01-82-88-82-58 01-82-88-82-68 01-82-88-82-69 01-82-88-82-88 01-82-88-83-09
0-182-888-313 01-82-88-83-23 01-82-88-83-28 01-82-88-83-50 01-82-88-83-55 01-82-88-83-64
01-82-88-84-33 01-82-88-85-17 01-82-88-89-29 01-82-88-89-30 01-84-88-46-81 01-84-88-70-53
01-86-26-01-80 01-86-26-22-91 01-86-26-42-69 01-86-26-47-64 01-86-26-47-68 01-86-26-51-73
01-86-26-51-85 01-86-26-52-13 0186266214 0186266232 0186650003 0186650010
01-86-65-01-04 01-86-65-01-12 01-86-65-01-25 01-86-65-19-63 01-90-38-86-6 0-199-346-0018
020-3514-9444 0-203-868-2233 0208-068-3410 0208-133-6658 02-8017-2666 02-831-09124
02-83176354 030-30807257 032-221095548 03-4578-9419 0345795825 0345-795-825
0345798390 0345-798-390 03-4580-9710 03-4589-4823 03-4589-4826 03-4590-2887
03-4590-2890 03-52929333 0383758532 03-86575028 03-86575082 03-86575137
03-86575205 03-86575225 03-86575233 03-86575236 03-86575244 03-86575255
03-86575259 03-86575441 03-86575492 0-408-740-8503 0-408-740-9127 050-5865-3083
06-9480-0911 0694808661 0694-808-661 0694808798 0694-808-798 07-30677862
07-55515928 076-888-8369 076-888-8645 0-800-014-8165 0-800-046-5034 0-800-046-5059
0-800-046-5067 0-800-046-5088 0-800-046-5208 0-800-046-5230 0-800-046-5240 0-800-046-5266
0-800-046-5275 0-800-046-5705 0-800-046-5727 0800-086-9887 0800-086-9891 0800-086-9895
0800-086-9897 0800-086-9957 0-800-086-9957 0800-086-9967 0-800-088-5368 0-800-090-3247
0-800-090-3813 0-800-090-3815 0-800-090-3834 0-800-090-3869 0-800-090-3876 0-800-090-3931
0-800-090-3961 0-800-098-8427 0-800-133-7582 0-800-181-2377 0800-183-8200 0-800-189-0355
0800-368-8157 0-800-368-8920 0-800-723-4924 0-800-724-3871 0800904638 0-800-910-990
0800919811 0800-919-811 0-800-919-811 08-05-08-66-15 0-808-164-4743 085-208-4376
085-208-5236 085-208-5308 08-62440898 08-81666928 08-81666971 08-93742253
09-424-112-54 0970736361 09-74-59-53-39 09-75-18-92-61 09-887-9731 11480248
1300417412 1-300-596-394 1-300-596-397 1-300-596-398 1-562-926-5672 1-646-751-8006
176391769 18002013517 1-800-201-3517 1-800-208-4060 1-800-208-4060- 1-800-218-8813
1-800-219-713 1-800-230-6593 1-800234567 1-800-239-102 1-800-253-8598 1-800-265-80
1-800-278-4266 1-800-281-6897 1-800-281-97 1-800-284-7304 1-800-285-1641 1-800-285-6111
1-800-290-6829 1-800-291-4481 1-800-291-7514 1-800-292-1174 1-800-297-6859 1-800-309-1126
1-800-309-1126- 1-800-311-5914 18003161942 1-800-316-1942 1-800-318-4284 1-800-351-8467
1-800-353-2506 1-800-363-5019 1-800-380-1734 1-800-381-2059 1-800-381-9788 1-800-431-255
1-800-431-357 1800-431-362 1-800-431-362 1-800-431-367 1-800-431-368 1-800-431-377
1-800-431-395 1-800-431-453 1-800-431-492 1-800-445-2620 1-800-446-1359 1-800-446-9531
1-800-469-1480 1-800-558-9204 1-800-569-0786 1-800-573-3082 1-800-586-7035 1800-590-5371
1-800-617-3364 1-800-625-1264 1-800-625-1446 1-800-627-1612 1-800-634-1162 1-800-646-0717
1-800-651-1445 1-800-651-5036 1-800-658-2836 1-800-658-8214 1-800-678-9143 1800-681-591
1-800-683-9049 1-800-683-9841 1-800-696-4076 1-800-718-1917 1-800-729-1951 1-800-737-0675
1-800-741-658 1-800-774-1799 1-800-813-1316 1-800-826-5638 1-800-838-2529 1-800-850-6759
1-800-862-3971 1-800-865-9812 1-800-874-935 1-800-876-0491 1-800-876-491 1-800-917-9647
1-800-928-2104 1-800-933-9950 1-800-942-1460 1800-949-31 1-800-952-984 1-800-954-274
1800-954-357 1-800-954-357 18009568510 1800-956-8510 1-800-962-1569 1-800-969-507
1-800-983-145 1-800-986-9304 1-805-203-8843 1-806-414-1834 1-810-292-797 1-814-753-1577
1817-237-9401 1-818-358-8718 182886068 182886069 182888275 1-833-335-1333
1-833-414-5500 1833-414-6600 1-833-414-6600 1-833-414-8800 1-833-432-7770 1-833-661-1933
1-833-677-5449 1-833-698-8563 1-833-776-8324 1-833-783-7700 1833-990-7999 1-844-200-159
1-844-200-2861 1-844-200-4074 1-844-210-6004 1-844-212-8344 18442155229 1-844-215-5229
1-844-216-3222 1-844-219-9266 1-844-238-9924 1-844-239-5999 1-844-241-7912 1-844-246-0222
1-844-252-6111 1-844-255-7017 1-844-258-4222 1-844-260-7876 1-844-261-8596 1-844-264-6777
1-844-265-1895 1-844-266-6763 1-844-284-8333 1-844-284-8623 1-844-287-1056 1-844-292-4928
1-844-307-1823 1-844-307-3666 1-844-307-3760 1-844-311-9589 1-844-312-7438 1-844-313-2246
1-844-313-6006 1-844-313-6996 1-844-313-7003 1-844-313-9169 1-844-313-9175 1-844-314-758
18443189400 1-844-318-9400 1-844-324-2398 1-844-324-6235 18443263137 1-844-326-3137
1-844-328-3777 1-844-347-5040 1-844-347-8024 1-844-350-4289 1-844-352-9401 1-844-363-5005
1-844-364-3797 1-844-370-2707 1-844-372-887 1-844-378-6888 1-844-378-9888 1-844-386-1464
1-844-392-7021 1-844-399-9041 1-844-410-800 1-844-410-804 1-844-410-806 1-844-416-2777
1844-416-3444 1-844-416-3444 1-844-421-5040 1-844-421-5044 1-844-421-5818 1-844-422-5281
1-844-428-3630 1-844-431-5897 1-844-433-1244 1-844-433-2012 1-844-438-289 1-844-440-1440
1-844-441-1440 1-844-441-3440 1-844-442-6444 1-844-443-9444 1-844-445-0440 1-844-446-245
1-844-448-9577 1-844-450-732 1-844-450-735 1-844-454-7212 1-844-455-5516 1-844-456-2535
1-844-473-5341 1-844-488-0601 1-844-488-601 1-844-488-7669 1-844-489-4777 1-844-489-6111
1-844-505-786 1-844-506-2833 1-844-525-6428 1-844-529-3725 1-844-536-9249 1-844-538-2676
1-844-539-5778 1-844-539-5784 1-844-542-4107 1-844-543-6206 1-844-545-8489 1-844-551-8975
1-844-554-2335 1-844-554-2336 1-844-568-2986 1-844-573-4082 1-844-577-2888 1-844-585-1394
1-844-587-7642 1-844-587-7643 1-844-592-141 1-844-594-0202 1-844-594-202 1-844-598-3874
1-844-599-9699 1-844-608-8791 1-844-609-9925 1-844-610-4969 1-844-612-7496 18446138256
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