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Malware-as-a-service: Easy hacking for the inexperienced

NetworkTigers explains malware-as-a-service.

The meteoric rise of phishing, malware and ransomware attacks over the last few years could be attributed to an increase in the number of people who have become code and IT-proficient. The pandemic downtime allowed many programmers to further their education and knowledge of computing.

However, a great deal of cybercrime’s expansion is because it has never been easier for inexperienced individuals to obtain, customize and employ malicious software.

The internet makes everything easy.

The internet is loaded with free software for sale or as a subscription-based service.

A person with little knowledge of HTML can use a drag-and-drop platform to build a functional and aesthetically beautiful website. Gamers find no shortage of software programs that let them use vintage controllers seamlessly with current-generation games. Retro game lovers are awash with independently-created emulation platforms that employ crisp user interfaces and systems that are smart enough to import box art and controller mappings with the click of a button.

People with good intentions design the vast majority of these tools. Unfortunately, unscrupulous developers are also working to create platforms designed to allow anyone with internet access to deploy malicious code. 

What is malware-as-a-service?

As defined by Kasperky, malware-as-a-service (MaaS) is:

the lease of software and hardware for carrying out cyberattacks. Typically, clients of such services are offered a personal account through which to control the attack, as well as technical support.

MaaS providers maintain huge networks of infected computers called “botnets.” Customers wishing to launch a cyberattack pay for access to this resource.

MaaS comes with the instructions and tools required to create and distribute hacks previously only attainable amongst those with expert coding knowledge. MaaS operators are businesses like any other, with regular updates and service plans.

Typically, MaaS products are cloud-based, and users do not need to download anything onto their own computers.

Phishing-as-a-Service (PasS) platforms are also available. A new entry called EvilProxy gives amateur hackers a slick, easy-to-navigate interface from which they can launch and manage highly sophisticated phishing campaigns without any backend skills.

What does a hacker need to use MaaS?

Aspiring criminals need access to the dark web to purchase malware packages.

As with most of the internet’s attributes, the dark web is a double-edged sword. Search engines do not index websites on the dark web; users communicate, shop, and sell goods anonymously. The secrecy of the dark web has its uses among security researchers and journalists who plumb its depths to learn about threats or communicate with whistleblowers. Still, it is best known for the illicit criminal activity that takes place within it.

The dark web can be viewed only via browsers specifically designed to access it. Many free software options are available for exploring the dark web, with the most popular browser being Tor.

Using Tor, someone who has never performed a coding task in their life can locate a MaaS provider, purchase a subscription and have everything they need to stage an attack right at their fingertips. They can plan and execute their malware installation without a trace, employing the same encryption used by hackers with decades of programming knowledge.

What can be done using MaaS?

  • Phishing attacks. Using a MaaS botnet, a novice hacker can blast spam emails to thousands of accounts, if not hundreds of thousands. The botnets created by MaaS providers allow a single individual to do the work of a dozen seasoned coders.
  • Ransomware attacks. MaaS can also be employed to stage ransomware attacks. Ransomware encrypts a victim’s network and blocks them from accessing it until they purchase a key to unlock it.
  • Malicious torrents. MaaS can be used to spread malicious files across torrent platforms. Individuals downloading movies illegally risk infecting their hardware with viruses, trojans, and other malicious code disguised as the latest blockbuster.
  • Malvertising. Malvertising is a term used to refer to the act of injecting malware into an otherwise legitimate advertisement. If a user clicks an infected ad, their network or computer may be compromised.

5 ways to stay safe from malware

There is every reason to assume that embracing cybercrime as the perpetrator will become easier and easier. MaaS providers search aggressively for new customers who appreciate the ever-increasing ease and simplicity of MaaS products.

MaaS cannot be stopped, but you can take measures to prevent your network from becoming victim to the malware:

  1. Educate your employees on the dangers of phishing attacks. All it takes is one wrong click to give a hacker complete access to your system. Make education a priority when it comes to identifying suspicious emails and messages. Create a response plan if a malicious link is clicked.
  1. Avoid online advertisements. As hackers have become more adept, malvertising has made ads that appear on reputable websites potentially dangerous. Avoid clicking them. If you see a product or service that interests you, visit the company’s website directly instead of through a banner or popup window.
  1. Keep your software and hardware updated. Hackers love outdated systems because they are often full of unpatched vulnerabilities that are easy to exploit. Set up automatic updates across your operating systems and platforms. Additionally, refresh any old or no longer supported firewalls by purchasing refurbished hardware from a trusted distributor.
  2. Download apps and software only from reputable sources. Be cautious, however, as even well-known brands may be victims. The Google Play store’s lax rules resulted in malware being sold and downloaded under the guise of everything from calculators to horoscope apps.
  3. Use anti-virus and anti-malware protection. These safety nets can make the difference between the security of your data and a mistake costing you significant sums of money.
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn is a freelance research-based technical writer. He has worked as a content QA analyst for AT&T and Pernod Ricard.

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Malware-as-a-service: Easy hacking for the inexperienced