Fake antivirus software is fast becoming the biggest online security threat of 2009, new research has shown.

Bogus programs that attempt to pass themselves off as genuine forms of antivirus software have become one of the biggest concern areas for genuine security software developers, with research by Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG) claiming that they have detected around 485,000 examples in the first six months of 2009, more than five times the total for the whole of 2008.

The problem has grown in recent years as scammers look for alternative means of targeting potential victims with spam, malware and phishing scams. The shift has come because more traditional methods that were previously used are now proving less successful, due to developments in genuine antivirus software programmes, which now include anti-spam and phishing features.

Researchers claimed that the increase is partly due to developments in the way that rouge software can infiltrate a PC, which makes it difficult for some forms of antivirus software to detect. In addition, in the majority of cases in which fake software has infected a system, it has done so because a user has unwittingly initiated the installation themselves.

“The primary reason for the creation of so many variants is to avoid signature-based detection by legitimate antivirus programs,” claimed APWG member Luis Corrons in the report.

“The use of behavioural analysis is of limited use in this type of malware because the programs themselves do not act maliciously on computers, other than displaying false information.”

The report also suggested that the increase can partly be attributed to improved detection methods, the size of the increase gives an indication as to the true scale of the problem.

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