Scammers and hackers are now targeting children

21 Sep 2011

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Scammers and hackers are now targeting children over the internet with games that will entice them into downloading and installing malicious software that would in turn steal their parents’ data.

Some hackers are going as far as creating series of online games that trick users into installing malicious software onto computers, according to the Bitdefender Online Threats Lab.

Games that invite kids to nurture online kittens, allow them to paint pumpkins and witches, or “spot the differences” between two similar images, are being laced with malware that could give scammers access to the kids’ parents financial data or recruit the kids’ computers into international networks, or botnets, aimed at further criminal activity.

“Some scams might raise suspicions of adults – particularly when they seek to install software on the computer or redirect computer users to suspicious websites,” said Catalin Cosoi, head of the Bitdefender Online Threats Lab.

“So the scammers are going for easier targets. Kids are more easily tempted into clicking on that big green download button or flashing icon in hopes of having more fun. A four-year-old, obviously, isn’t worried about online banking vulnerabilities.”

The problem is only set to grow as children spend more time on the internet and parents often neglect to supervise their online activity.

A Bitdefender online survey shows that about 46.6pc of children in the US and the UK have their own social network accounts and that 24.7pc of parents don’t monitor their kids’ online activity. Of the 1,649 adults surveyed between 12 April and 10 July, 44.3pc said their children had accessed sites that they shouldn’t have.

Bitdefender analysts in the past week have discovered more than half a dozen samples of eye-catching Flash games rigged with Trojans that could steer kids to web pages that install malicious software potentially capable of stealing financial information or injecting spyware onto the machines.

Beware the ‘magic brush’

Games are not the only online threats for children. Sites with educational and entertaining materials for children have been used to lure young computer users.

A few malware discoveries by Bitdefender include a site where children “adopt” and grow virtual pets. The “magic brush” application that changed the colour of the pet was altered to route children toward malware. An Italian “online kids land” was also hacked and rigged to expose all visitors to malware and retail sites with stuffed animals have been rigged with malicious software.

In all cases, the malicious code was planted in a hacking attack on legitimate, high-traffic websites.

Bitdefender’s advice to parents is:

·        Never let your children use the computer while logged in as an administrator. Instead, create a limited account with the child’s name. This will prevent them from installing applications, modifying critical system settings or deleting system files that might damage the operating system.

·        Use an antivirus: some pieces of malware have been designed to run even on limited accounts. In this case, a good antivirus may be the last line of defence.

·        Use parental control: not all hacks against children’s sites lead to malware. Sometimes, cyber scammers redirect kids to pornography or violent content.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com