International Law

Microsoft Suit: Some Malware Is Preinstalled; Not Just an IP Issue But a Security Issue, Lawyer Says

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For years, users have been blamed when malware infects their computers and repeatedly warned not to open attachments from unknown email senders or download software from dubious sources.

But a major manufacturer now says that malware sometimes is already preinstalled when purchasers first open the packaging of their new computers.

A Thursday post on the Official Microsoft Blog blames what it calls a “broken” supply chain for infected computers on which malware has been installed, embedded in counterfeit versions of Microsoft’s Windows operating system software.

“A supply chain between a manufacturer and a consumer becomes unsecure when a distributor or reseller receives or sells products from unknown or unauthorized sources,” the post says, explaining that cybercriminals have been able to infiltrate the retail market by offering below-cost, malware-infected products.

“What’s especially disturbing,” the post continues, “is that the counterfeit software embedded with malware could have entered the chain at any point as a computer travels among companies that transport and resell the computer.”

According to the Associated Press, some “less reputable” computer manufacturers also may be responsible for installing malware.

Earlier this week, a federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia granted Microsoft an ex parte temporary restraining order in a computer fraud suit. It allows the company to disrupt the operations of an Internet domain registered to Chinese businessman Peng Yong, which Microsoft says is the home base for Nitol malware at issue in its suit as well as some 500 other versions of malware.

Peng said he was unaware of the suit and does not tolerate inappropriate conduct on his site, the AP reports.

However, Microsoft contends in its complaint that “ is a major hub of illegal Internet activity, used by criminals every minute of every day to pump malware and instructions to the computers of innocent people worldwide.” The company says newly purchased Nitol-infected computers immediately sought to connect to servers associated with, and replicated the virus on thumb drives, the article explains.

By forging connections with other computers, a virus establishes a botnet, or network of rogue robot computers that, unbeknownst to their owners, are subservient to a master computer elsewhere and can be used for illicit purposes such as shutting down another website with a flood of Internet traffic.

Former federal prosecutor Richard Boscovich is a Microsoft senior attorney involved in the suit. He tells the news agency that the problem of computers infected by malware “is more than simply a traditional intellectual property issue. It’s now become a security issue.”

Related coverage: (2010): “Wielding Sealed TRO, Microsoft Shuts Down 270+ Web Addresses in Ex Parte Botnet Battle” (2011): “As Hackers Steal Up to $1B Annually from Biz Bank Accounts, Victims May Have No Recourse” (Feb. 2012): “Corporate Clients Should Ask Specific Questions About Law Firm Computer Security, Experts Say” (Mar. 2012): “Microsoft Lawyer Devises Trademark Strategy to Fight Botnets, Joins US Marshals in Raid”

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