Cybercriminals leverage swine flu threat

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Sophos details Tamiflu fraud.

Cybercriminals are making millions from the public panic-buying counterfeit Tamiflu medicine.

Following warnings about buying Tamiflu over the internet, a report by Sophos claims that panic-buying Tamiflu over the internet will not only line cybercriminals' pockets with millions of dollars, but also grant them access to sensitive personal data to be used for other crimes.

Detailed in a whitepaper entitled “The Partnerka – what is it, and why should you care?”, Sophos has looked at underground web affiliates which form networks called the Partnerka, which profits from online Tamiflu sales.

It claims that the Partnerka works inside an organised criminal network alongside the businesses running online pharmacies, and generates traffic to those sites for an agreed share of the profit. Many of these pharmaceutical sites brand themselves as ‘Canadian Pharmacy' in order to appear as a more trusted website to unsuspecting internet users.

The business model for exploiting online purchases is fairly simple - once someone searches online for Tamiflu, they are directed to specific online pharmacies such as the Canadian Pharmacy to purchase a generic and very possibly counterfeit version of the drug.

Sophos said that what most people don't know is that cybercriminals have manipulated internet search engine results to drive as much online traffic as possible to these sites, and they bombard innocent users with adverts via spam email sent from hijacked computers and hacked social networking accounts.

Sophos' research has discovered that on one of the more popular affiliate networks operated out of Russia, called Glavmed, it is possible to earn an average of US$16,000 a day promoting pharmaceutical websites – totalling US$5.8 million a year. But the criminals can be members of more than one affiliate network, and some have boasted of earning more than US$100,000 per day.

Profits can range between 20 and 40 per cent for each of the parties involved, depending on who has the upper hand in the relationship. Although unwitting buyers do often receive some kind of drug as result of the transactional exchange, at best the drug doesn't work and at worse it can pose serious health risks.

Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos, said: “As more and more cases of swine flu come to light, it is essential that we all resist the panic-induced temptation to purchase Tamiflu online. The criminal gangs working behind the scenes at fake internet pharmacies are putting their customers' health, personal information and credit card details at risk. They have no problem breaking the law to promote these websites, so you can be sure they'll have no qualms in exploiting your confidential data or selling you medications which may put your life in danger. If you think you need medication go to your real doctor, and stay away from quacks on the internet.”

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