By Hook or by Crook: Exposing the Diverse Abuse Tactics of Technical Support Scammers [article]

Bharat Srinivasan, Athanasios Kountouras, Najmeh Miramirkhani, Monjur Alam, Nick Nikiforakis, Manos Antonakakis, Mustaque Ahamad
2017 arXiv   pre-print
Technical Support Scams (TSS), which combine online abuse with social engineering over the phone channel, have persisted despite several law enforcement actions. The tactics used by these scammers have evolved over time and they have targeted an ever increasing number of technology brands. Although recent research has provided insights into TSS, these scams have now evolved to exploit ubiquitously used online services such as search and sponsored advertisements served in response to search
more » ... es. We use a data-driven approach to understand search-and-ad abuse by TSS to gain visibility into the online infrastructure that facilitates it. By carefully formulating tech support queries with multiple search engines, we collect data about both the support infrastructure and the websites to which TSS victims are directed when they search online for tech support resources. We augment this with a DNS-based amplification technique to further enhance visibility into this abuse infrastructure. By analyzing the collected data, we demonstrate that tech support scammers are (1) successful in getting major as well as custom search engines to return links to websites controlled by them, and (2) they are able to get ad networks to serve malicious advertisements that lead to scam pages. Our study period of 8 months uncovered over 9,000 TSS domains, of both passive and aggressive types, with minimal overlap between sets that are reached via organic search results and sponsored ads. Also, we found over 2,400 support domains which aid the TSS domains in manipulating organic search results. Moreover, we found little overlap with domains that are reached via abuse of domain parking and URL-shortening services which was investigated previously. Thus, investigation of search-and-ad abuse provides new insights into TSS tactics and helps detect previously unknown abuse infrastructure that facilitates these scams.
arXiv:1709.08331v1 fatcat:tvxw4xq5sja3hksnagwhpucdde