Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Another Google bomb

According the latest Interfax news article, someone has initiated a large PR campaign against a well-known Russian Publishing House "Kommersant".

It started from a free distribution of the toilet paper rolls near the subway station of "Arbatskaya" in Moscow.

The campaign continued with a large-scale DoS attack against "Kommersant" website, bringing it down for nearly the whole day on 12th of March.

Then, it proceeded into the Googlebombing phase.

Now, searching for the word "засранцы" in Google returns "Kommersant" website near the top of the list:

NOTE: Russian word "засранцы" (spelled "zasrantsy") is a slang word that rather stands for "pigs" (literal translation would be too rude).

The campaign against "Kommersant" is considered to be an act of retaliation for the article where "Kommersant" has slammed the pro-Kremlin movement "Nashi".

It is said that "Kommersant" has lodged a police complaint about the hackers' DoS attacks and the trademark violation (the paper rolls have the "Kommersant" logotype on it).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Bender way of making money

This post clearly needs to start from a story about Bender.

Ostap Bender was a fictitious literature antihero of the novels written 80 years ago by two ingenious Russian (Soviet) writers Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov.

Ostap was a criminal, a con man. He was poor, but charming, and his sense of humor was extraordinary.

Andrei Mironov in the role of Ostap Bender, 1976

Some might find it strange that a criminal, even a fictitious one, could have been the main character in the novels. One could draw a historical parallel between Russian Ostap Bender and Australian Ned Kelly or English Robin Hood.

Bender did not consider himself a criminal, always saying that pure criminal methods are too vulgar for him - below the level of his self-esteem.

Instead, he preferred "clean" methods. As he admitted himself, he knew "about 400 relatively legitimate methods of parting people and their money". Ostap always studied those he was dealing with, and in case he saw a fair amount of greed or stupidity, he quickly knew a way how to exploit it to make a profit.

Even these days, Ostap Bender is still loved by the millions of Russians. His adventures are reflected in the several movies. There are statues erected to his memory, and some of his adventures from the books were materialized by successful entrepreneurs (such as making the city of Elista the World's Chess City).

Ostap always dreamed to live in Rio de Janeiro, starving for a careless life of an ordinary millioner. Instead, he ended his way right after crossing the frozen river of Dnestr, trying to escape from the Soviet Union with the gold and diamond jewelry.

Bender's aphorisms are still widely used by Russians in their daily conversations - those make no sense to foreigners, so don't be surprised if BabelFish produces something like "the distribution of the elephants" when you try to translate some Russian hacking forum - you need to read Ilf and Petrov to understand the story behind many phrases (e.g. Bender organized a fake Circus show and advertised it as "The Black Magic session and the Elephants Give-away" to draw attention of as many people as possible - that must be the prototype of the modern SPAM).

Interesting enough, it is not only Bender's catch phrases that are widely used these days. His methods are also extremely popular.

Knowing Bender and trying to look with his eyes might help to understand why so many people consider Internet just the muddy water where they can catch lots of fish with no or little effort.

One of the largest scams these days involves fake medicines, probably made of the lawn mown on somebody's backyard.

The super-duper the-all-healing medical product gets a catchy name, is widely advertised on the radio stations, distributed via a wide affiliate program involving the webmasters who are paid for every click, for every pill they sell, for every mentioning of such crap medicine in their blogs or websites.

Add here social engineering tricks such as "Canada-cheap-meds" kind of stereotypes, distribution of SPAM that utilizes the botnets hired on the underground forums, and you'll get the picture of how such large-scale scam can easily enrich the modern Benders.

The big question is how come they succeed?

Until there are plenty of people who fall the victim of their own stereotypes, people naive enough to believe that analogs of expensive pharmaceuticals can still be bought for the fraction of the original price, there will always be plenty of criminals who will try to exploit them.

A question in contrast: How come so many young and talented programmers or web developers participate in that scam?

The lack of respect to the law appears to be the main fuel here. Having the limited employment opportunities (in dollar terms), many webmasters choose to take the bribe, and advertise the crapware, thus poisoning and totally screwing the brains of the popular search engines.

Such crapware does not only affect pharmaceuticals. The same trick perfectly works in the world of software, including antispyware.

True dialog:

Customs Officer at the Sydney Airport: "Sir, what does it mean - 'the malware analyst' in your outgoing passenger card".
- "Ah, well - that's about analyzing computer viruses"
- "Tell me then, is it true that Norton is not good anymore in detecting viruses? I heard they can't detect some really nasty virus!"

If he meant MonaRonaDona scam, then statistically speaking, the public coverage of that crapware must be quite substantial, if an officer (who has no relation to IT) asked me that question (and I don't speak to them often).

But let's get back and check our Bender to see if it's one of his little tricks.

By the book, to get some legitimate coverage for his dirty tricks, Bender has set up a new business and then called it "Horns and Hoofs".

His company rented an office with a table, a chair, a type-writer, and of course, deer antlers on the wall.

The company had a real chairman - a 90-year old man whose "profession" was to be a fake chairman of the fake companies, and who was convicted for that multiple times.

Historic Parallel: "Horns and Hoofs" vs "Unigray Antivirus"

How long did Unigray live? A week?

The same "Horns and Hoofs" are opened, shut down, and then re-opened in the form of newly registered domains, web sites, malware hosting providers, companies producing rogue antispyware and other dodgy software. This practice extends into opening the businesses with the valid bank accounts for money-laundering purposes (nicknamed "candles" as they don't live long).

Indeed, Bender is truly alive until his methods are popular.