Posted by: David Harley | February 1, 2018

Coercive Messaging and Windows Defender

[Also published at AVIEN]

It’s not all about tech support scams, but Microsoft’s announcement about beefing up detection of ‘coercive messaging’ in Windows Defender is certainly related to some approaches used by tech support scammers, such as the use of malware that directs victims to a scam-friendly ‘helpline’.

Coercive messaging? As indicated in Microsoft’s evaluation criteria for malware and unwanted software,  that would be messages that ‘display alarming or coercive messages or misleading content to pressure you into paying for additional services or performing superfluous actions.’ That includes exaggerating or misrepresenting system errors and issues, claiming to have a unique fix, and using the well-worn scamming technique of rushing the victim into responding in a limited time-frame.

Certainly that’s all characteristic of the way that fake tech support is monetized, but it’s also characteristic of the lower-profiled but persistent issue of useless ‘system optimizers’.

Microsoft’s article actually strongly resembles some of the hot potatoes topics addressed by the Clean Software Alliance, which describes itself as ‘a self-regulatory organization for software distribution and monetization’. Unsurprisingly, since Microsoft had a great deal to do with the launching of the initiative. Anyway, it covers a great many issues that are well worth considering. I don’t think Microsoft and Windows Defender will be able to fix all these problems all on its/their own, but any movement in this direction is a Good Thing.

Shorter article focused more on coercive messaging from Barak Shein, of the Windows Defender Security Research Team: Protecting customers from being intimidated into making an unnecessary purchase.

Commentary by Shaun Nichols for The Register: Windows Defender will strap pushy scareware to its ass-kicker machine – Doomed: Junkware claiming it can rid PCs of viruses, clean up the Registry, etc

On behalf of the security industry, which provides a large chunk of my income, maybe I should stress that not all programs that claim to rid PCs of viruses are junkware. 🙂 But perhaps it’s worth remembering that the difference between legitimate and less legitimate marketing is sometimes paper-thin. And talking about papers, here’s one on that very topic. 🙂 However, since that ESET paper for an EICAR conference goes back to 2011, maybe I should consider revisiting the topic.

David Harley

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