Fireball Malware Infects Millions of Computers
A malware package known as Fireball has infected over 250 million computers worldwide. The Fireball malware is present on about 20% of corporate IT systems and concentrated mostly in India, Brazil, and Mexico but there are 5.5 million infections in the US already. This malware affects both PC and Mac computers.
Fireball primarily is an adware malware. It resets an infected computer’s web browser default search engines to pages that belong to the author, Chinese digital marketing firm Rafotech. The pages look like search engines Google.com and Yahoo.com. The purpose is to drive traffic to these sites and generate ad clicks. The object is to generate revenue through false ad clicks. The Fireball malware also installs plugins and alters settings to increase advertisement revenue.
Fireball is also capable of downloading files and executing files that already live on the infected machines hard drive. The Fireball malware also collects private user data through the user of tracking pixels. Rafotech is not violating the law since Fireball is considered adware, not malware. Distributing adware is not considered a crime. However, if Rafotech acquires information from the infected computers such as credit card numbers and sells them, then is obviously a cyber crime. However, Fireball does not appear to be using that data, it just focuses on generating ad revenue through false clicks and website traffic. Fireball is not ransomware, virus, or a hack like last month’s WannaCry virus.
How Do Computers Get Infected with Fireball?
Fireball malware is disguised as a Microsoft PowerPoint File. It’s bundled with another download that users have agreed to download. However, they are not necessarily aware that they are also getting Fireball during the same download. The Fireball malware is sent via email. In the email is a link to a file named “order&prsn.ppsx” or “order.ppsx” or “invoice.ppsx.” What is worrisome about this malware is that users do NOT have to click on the link in the email for the download to begin. Simply hovering over the email is enough to begin the download. Note that PowerPoint Files have a “.pptx” file extension NOT “.ppsx”
Because the adware can begin downloading without even clicking on a link, it’s very important to scrutinize which emails you open. IF the email comes from an unknown sender (be sure to look at the email address and not just the friendly name!) then do not open the email. Install spam detection software and a virus scanner on your computer to help detect and remove any suspicious software.
How Do I Remove Fireball Malware from My Computer?
Microsoft states that Windows Defender and Office 365 Advanced Threat Protection both protect against the Fireball malware.
Fireball can be removed from PCs by uninstalling the malware using Add / Remove Programs in the Windows Control Panel. Mac users can use the Mac Finder function in the Applications folder on Macs. The default search engines must be set manually once the adware is removed. Any unfamiliar search engine listed in any browser should be removed, whether it is in use or not.
Michelle writes about cyber security as well as how to protect your data online. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers