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March 02, 2018

Study: Porn Sites Still Pose Danger Of Malware, Cyberattacks

CYBERSPACE—More than a million people last year contracted dangerous viruses on their smartphones and other mobile devices from visiting porn sites, which have become a widespread cover for digital criminals to conceal their dangerous “malware,” according to a recent study by the Russia-base cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Labs. At the same time, the study found that desktop computer users surfing adult sites were vulnerable to attacks from 27 different strains of malware in three different “families.” Using those malware programs, hackers attacked approximately 50,000 personal computers around the world in 2017, and about 300,000 were exposed to the dangerous software, Kaspersky Labs found.  “Malware,” short for “malicious software” is a type of program that secretly downloads itself from an internet site onto a user’s personal computer or mobile device. The malware then performs any one of a wide range of destructive functions, without the user’s knowledge. Those insidious infections could be as simple as “adware,” which forces internet browsers to produce unwanted pop-up ads over and over again, to spyware which can steal a user’s most sensitive personal information. In fact, Kaspersky found 72 million personal login and payment credentials from porn sites that had been stolen via malware and posted online, from well-known adult sites. The Kaspersky report noted that its findings did not include 400 million credentials stolen in a massive data breach of the site AdultFriendFinder. About 46 percent of adult-site surfers are exposed to “clicker” malware, which covertly signs up its victims for paid subscriptions to sites unknown to the user. The subscriptions are then paid for by money secretly extracted from the user’s bank account. One way to minimize the risk of contracting malware from adult sites is simply to avoid porn from unfamiliar sources. While many popular sites have been vulnerable to data breaches, "cybercriminals often set up fake porn sites for the single reason of infecting victims with malware,” the study found. But malware has long been a risk for porn sites. As far back as 2010, a study by the University of California at Santa Barbara and two other academic institutions found that 3.23 percent of all unique URLs on adult sites “were found to trigger malicious behavior such as code execution, registry changes, or executable downloads.” With, according to another recent study, 98 percent of men and 73 percent of women saying they have accessed online porn at least once in the past six months, that 3.23 percent figure could yield millions of exposures to malware. In the United Kingdom alone, the Kaspersky Labs researchers concluded that almost one of every three adults have contracted malware on a mobile device by visiting an adult site. At the same time, according to the CEO of the anti-virus software maker Malwarebytes, porn sites are not necessarily any more dangerous than any other type of online destination, and many porn sites have shown more diligent responses to cyberattacks than non-porn sites. "Pornography publishers are about half the publishers we work with,” Marcin Kleczynski told TechWorld magazine in 2015. “They do take security seriously... Their response times have been significantly better than other publishers."  But with porn being perhaps the single most popular genre of site online, users are more likely to encounter cyber-infections from porn. So what can visitors to porn sites do to keep their phones, tablets and computers safe? “Anyone who is planning on visiting an adult website should make sure their computer or mobile device has a full suite of up-to-date anti-malware and anti-phishing software, and they should know the latest tricks and scams,” wrote Gary Robbins of The San Diego Union-Tribune in a report on porn-based malware last year.  Otherwise, Robbins recommended, porn site visitors could use a cheap Chromebook or used Windows laptop for their adult site visits—keeping all personal information and financial apps off those machines.

 
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