‘Factory-sealed’ viruses found on brand new computers

PCs could be infected with malware before you’ve even bought them, says Microsoft

LAST UPDATED AT 09:42 ON Fri 14 Sep 2012

A MICROSOFT investigation has found that a significant proportion of brand new PCs are being sold already infected with computer viruses capable of allowing a cybercriminal to steal your bank account details or even spy on you with your own webcam.

Microsoft’s findings are based on 10 desktop computers and 10 laptops it bought from different cities in China. Four of the 20 PCs were found to be infected with malware, despite being factory sealed.

In each case, the malicious programs had been installed on the computer as part of pirated Windows software. The Windows operating system is developed by Microsoft, which is fighting a constant battle against counterfeit versions of its software such as those found on the infected computers.

The worst of the malware unearthed by Microsoft allows the victim’s computer to be controlled by a ‘botnet’ - a network of infected computers controlled by a cybercriminal - called Nitol. As soon as the computer is switched on it tries to contact the Nitol botnet. It can then become involved in hacking attacks and is left open to the installation of yet more malware.

The Nitol botnet is hosted on a website called 3322.org, which has been linked to malicious activity for four years. The website was hosting 500 strains of malware, some of which was “capable of remotely turning on an infected computer’s microphone and video camera, potentially giving a cybercriminal eyes and ears into a victim’s home or business”.

Microsoft has been given permission by a US court to disrupt the 3322.org network – a significant blow in the fight against malware.

Microsoft blames the problem of what are being called ‘factory-sealed viruses’ on “unsecure supply chains”, adding that it was “especially disturbing” that the malware could have entered the chain at any point as a computer travels among companies in China that transport and resell the computer. · 

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