Despite appearances, the U.S. is still the most popular place for the bad guys to place their malware code.
StopBadware.org has listed those Internet Service Providers that wittingly or unwittingly host “badware” — an umbrella term for any kind of software that insidiously installs itself on your computer. What’s interesting is that while there is one China company on the list, by far the biggest culprit is one iPowerWeb Inc, based in Phoenix, Arizona, which has more than 10,000 infected sites on their servers. (By comparison, then next biggest culprit has a quarter that.)
Badware is usually installed on a site without the owner’s knowledge, either by exploiting holes in the software that delivers content to the site or hacking into the site by guessing the owner’s password or making use of a hole in the server software. Victims would unwittingly download the badware by either visiting the website in question or be directed there from other websites which had been infected. Here’s a case of a fake MySpace page which lures victims to an iPowerWeb-hosted site where users give up their MySpace password. Interesting detail on how these work is here.
iPowerWeb appear to have a long history of attracting accusations that it doesn’t take this kind of thing seriously. Examples are here, here and here (from two years ago). So far there’s no press statement from iPowerWeb on its website; I’ve requested comment.
The sad thing here is that when Google and organisations like StopBadware find these hacked sites the sites are flagged and removed from Google searches, or else prefaced by a warning page. While this makes sense, it causes mayhem for the owners of these sites who are either not technically savvy enough to resolve the problem, or find themselves in limbo while their site is removed from the list after they’ve cleaned it up. A recent discussion of the problem on the stopbadware Google Group is here. (StopBadware says it will respond to appeals within 10 days and says the time is closer to two.)
One can only imagine the scale of the mess caused by all this. Hosting companies need to be smarter about monitoring this problem they’ll face declining custom or lawsuits.