IT security and data protection firm Sophos is warning players
of the popular Facebook game "Farm Town" to scan their computers
after it was revealed that the site has been delivering adverts
laced with malware.
According to a statement
on the website of "Farm Town" developers SlashKey, third-party
adverts appearing alongside the game's window are putting users at
risk of infection through fake anti-virus alerts, designed to scam
users out of their credit card details.
Fake anti-virus software (also known as scareware) attempts to
frighten users into believing that their computer is infected with
viruses and Trojan horses by displaying bogus alerts, and then
tricks unsuspecting surfers into making an unsafe purchase to
remedy the "problem". Hundreds of Farm Town users have reported
problems over the weekend, but Sophos warns that many others may be
unaware that they have fallen foul of the attack.
"Farm Town has over 9.6 million monthly players on Facebook, and
poisoned adverts appear to be trickling onto their PCs from a
third-party advertising network," said Graham
Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "Players of
games like Farm Town are not all geeks, and might easily fall hard
and fast for a bogus security warning - straight into the hands of
Sophos believes that SlashKey should make its players security,
rather than its advertising revenue, its top priority.
"Rather than SlashKey simply asking its players to report
offending adverts when they appear, the company should disable
third-party Farm Town adverts until the problem is fixed," added
Cluley. "Doing anything less is surely showing a careless disregard
for the safety of its players. Until the makers of Farm Town
resolve the problem of malicious adverts, my advice to its fans
would be to stop playing the game and ensure that their computer is
properly defended with up-to-date security software."
Sophos advises that both consumers and businesses need to keep
their wits about them to avoid scareware attacks.
"It's essential that computer security is kept up-to-date and
that every webpage is checked for dangerous code and links,"
continued Cluley. "Third-party advertising networks need to do a
much better job of thoroughly checking that the ads they are
carrying are not polluted with malware."
Sophos notes that this is not the first time that hackers have
managed to infect a high profile website with significant traffic.
For instance, last year the New York Times
suffered from a similar attack after a gang of hackers
purchased ad space posing as a legitimate internet telephone
company. Visitors to the New York Times website who were served the
poisoned advert saw pop-up messages warning them that their
computer had been infected, and urging them to install
"Scareware attacks like this are on the rise for one simple
reason - they work. Unsuspecting computer users are easily
frightened by bogus security warnings into installing and
purchasing fake anti-virus software, making cash for unscrupulous
hackers" explained Cluley.