Who's tracking phone calls that target your computer? Stay Tuned to the ISC

Published: 2012-04-29
Last Updated: 2012-04-30 02:43:44 UTC
by Lorna Hutcheson (Version: 2)
12 comment(s)

The story I am about to tell is similar to the diaries posted by Rob VandenBrink in July 2010Mark Hofman in May of 2011 and Daniel Wesemann in March of 2012.  This past week I got a call from someone that I thought was a regular old telemarketer until they said they were from a company in Texas providing Microsoft Support.  The caller had a very thick Indian accent.  I played along like a dumb user (the lady kept getting very angry with me when I asked her to repeat things and said I didn't understand:)  I got to look at my logs by running "eventvwr" from run line prompt. In my application logs, I found out that warning and error messages were really "viruses" and I should not click on them because they would multiply and destroy my mother board.  I also got to run "inf virus", which just opens the Window's inf folder and disregards the word "virus", and was asked if I downloaded those files.  Of course I said no and she told me they were viruses and all sorts of evil things that had been downloaded to my computer.  She then said that Microsoft had developed a very special software that would take care of all of this for me and she would help me.  She asked me to now type "www.logmein123.com" at the run line.  At this point, 40 minutes later, I told her I had to go somewhere.  I asked if I could call her back because I sure didn't want all that stuff on my computer.  She said I could and gave me the number 773-701-5437 and said her name was Peggy.  I didn't have time to finish the call, but I sure would have like to have gotten a VM fired up and see what "special software" she had for me to install.

After the call, I started researching this type of scam and was surprised to see it seemed to be dating back to the 2009 time frame.  However, I could not find any statistics that were tracking this data.  Maybe I am just looking in the wrong place.  I saw guidance from contact your local law enforcement to send an email to antiphishing.org.  I checked antiphishing.org and could not find any data on this trend nor is there any mention in their report released 26 April 2012 that summarized 2H2011.  It states "This report seeks to understand trends and their significances by quantifying the scope of the global phishing problem. Specifically, this new report examines all the phishing attacks detected in the second half of 2011 (“2H2011”, July 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011)."   This type of phishing is something APWG doesn't appear to track at this time.

I consider these calls to still be phishing attempts because according to APWG, phishing is defined as "Phishing is a criminal mechanism employing both social engineering and technical subterfuge to steal consumers’ personal identity data and financial account credentials."  The delivery vector is not email in this case but rather a phone call.  The end result is still the same.  So, where does that leave us for tracking the trend of fake calls whose target is your computer?

At this point in time, there is no central tracking of this type of delivery vector.  However, stay tuned to the ISC.  After discussing this with some of the other handlers, the ISC is going to set up a method for reporting these attempts to us for tracking and trending this delivery method.  More will be posted in the near future as soon as the details are worked out.


UPDATE:  The page for reporting these types of calls is now available at isc.sans.edu/reportfakecall.html.  Please let us know what you think and if we have missed anything.

12 comment(s)


Over the past 2-3 years my wife and I have received about 4 or 5 similar phone calls to our home phone. I didn't have the patience or time to talk to the Indian caller for 40 minutes. Eventually I got sick of them calling me and I told them I wasn't interested in their scam and I didn't need their malware on my PC and that I would report them to the police who would trace the call, the caller promptly hung up and I have not received another call from them since.
The point Lorna makes is valid though, I am unaware of any data regarding the extensive use of this vector. I know from talking to others who have received similar calls that it must be widespread. I would like to know what level of success their social engineering has with the general populous.
Thanks for your comments. Your thoughts will help us as we think through what to ask for trending and tracking. A draft collection form for this data collection is already in progress!
Does your form need to collect country data?

In the report I just submitted, I mentioned unvailability of the phone number that called me. This required mention of BT Callback - a UK-specific service. If this report is read by a non-GB handler, at least they'll know I'm talking about a UK-specific feature.
this has been happenning in the UK and is prevalent at this time. i've let no end of friends know not to accept calls from people pretending they are either a) Microsoft or b) their ISP provider, informing them of a virus on their computer. Not sure it is being tracked in the UK, although initially reported in theregister.com sometime ago. latest call received on 28th April. Problem here in UK is that anyone can spoof the caller-id and some 'international' or 'unavailable' calls originate from clever computer routing/ call centre outside UK legal jurisdiction. Crazy, as BT, the main carrier in the UK could identify the source, as the call has to originate and terminate to be made - so routing data must be available on the various networks. Wish you well with this.
I recently called my UK ISP for support regarding a slow broadband connection. On two separate occasions I was asked by a call centre worker with an Indian accent to go to, guess where, www.logmein123.com. The first guy didn't actually say what the software was for before sending me there and was not best pleased when I refused to allow him access to my machine.

Given that legitimate businesses use the very same tools to provide support it's not surprising that people fall for these scams.
I've had a couple of these calls over the last two years. I played them along for a while, asking questions like "Can you see if my computer is sending out messages now?" and "Do you have evidence of my computer being infected?". Of course, most of the commands they asked me to type didn't work very well on my Linux systems (which was all that was online at the time).

The crux of the conversation asked for credit card details for downloadable software that would clean up all these problems. This appeared to be a anti-virus shell game, merely attempting to flog AV software and similar services, rather than attempting to install a botnet client.
Very interesting. My Mom (lives alone with her Macintosh and cat) has been receiving similar calls. They claim to be from microsoft, thick accent etc. Unfortunately they are persistent and they had my Mom worried. I told her it sounded like a scam, and I'm glad I was probably on target. Luckily she called me, as I do infosec for a living, but I'm concerned about people in similar situations who may be vulnerable.

Thanks for the heads up, Lorna
It might be entertaining to try one of these in Wine from a fresh user account and get a good laugh at them when the desktop viewer doesn't work.
I've always really wondered how much the people who make these calls really understand what they're doing. Assuming these are big operations like credit card fraud, how many are 'work from home employees' duped into a "tech support" job with a script? I'd love to see somebody do an expose on this like the many written about spammers and botnets.
I did worse to the poor guy who called. He barely could read the script he was working from and his understanding of spoken English was worse. I started correcting him after about a min of his stumbling through the script and then started with the "are you trying to get a credit card number or just vishing for user info" questions. He gave up when I dropped the "you have to understand what you are trying to do" lecture on him and hung up. 10 mins of cheap fun & I haven't gotten any calls like it since.

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