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Cybercriminals Trick Qihoo 360 into Whitelisting Malware

Cybercriminals have come up with a clever way to deliver a piece of malware to users in China and ensure that it would not be detected by an antivirus solution.

According to Check Point, malicious actors bribed the employees of a Chinese gaming company to include a piece of malware among the legitimate files sent to Chinese security company Qihoo 360 for whitelisting.

The malicious file sent through the gaming company passed Qihoo’s verification process and ended up being whitelisted, which allowed cybercriminals to deliver their malware without the concern that it might be detected by the security firm’s free antivirus product, which is very popular in China.

Once their malware was whitelisted, the attackers turned to the popular Chinese online marketplace Taobao.com, where users can acquire an item by sending a picture of it to the seller via the instant messaging app AliWangwang. The payment is then made through Alibaba’s Alipay online payment platform.

The attackers sent the seller a harmless-looking image containing a Trojan. Since the malware had been whitelisted, it would not be flagged as malicious if the victim was using Qihoo 360’s antivirus product. Cybercriminals would then request a refund, and when the seller logged in to their Alipay account to process the transaction, the malware stole their login credentials, allowing the hackers to transfer money from the compromised Alipay account.

On one hand, the incident demonstrates how whitelists used by antivirus vendors can be abused by malicious actors. It also once again shows that attackers can bypass verification processes — as it has often happened in the case of malware published on Google Play and the Apple App Store — and users end up installing applications that are not as safe as they would think.

The Chinese company Qihoo 360 is well known in the West for its skilled researchers, who have often discovered serious vulnerabilities in popular software, including as part of international hacking contests like Pwn2Own.

However, the company has a stained reputation in the industry when it comes to its products. Testing bodies AV Comparatives, AV-TEST and Virus Bulletin decided to revoke all certifications and rankings awarded to Qihoo 360 products last year after they found that the products submitted for testing behaved differently from ones offered to customers.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.