Cybercriminals are always on the lookout for their next scam, and appears they have found a new one.
According to research from Symantec, a number of botnet offerings have surfaced to provide users of the Twitch streaming video platform a shortcut for building their audience. Introduced in June 2011, Twitch now boasts 1.5 million unique broadcasters and 100 million unique viewers per month. That growth has presented a new revenue stream for scammers looking to help Twitch broadcasters build their viewership.
“The popularity of Twitch allows some broadcasters to earn money while streaming their videos, provided that they have a large enough audience,” blogged Symantec researcher Lionel Payet. “While many broadcasters have managed to legitimately earn their viewers, others have attempted to artificially inflate their viewership figures by renting a botnet. Some of these botnets were created by infecting victims’ computers with malware and forcing them to keep Twitch streams open in the background.”
Broadcasters can earn money through their Twitch streams in a number of ways, including having viewers subscribe to broadcasters’ channels on a monthly basis in order to access new perks, accepting donations from viewers and displaying ads before, during or after their streams, Payet noted.
“Before broadcasters can take part in these revenue programs, they first need to gain a large audience that views their content regularly−an average concurrent viewership of more than 500 viewers,” the researcher added.
In response to this reality, a market has emerged to help people build an audience of bots for their Twitch channels. Similar scams are also a reality for YouTube.
“During our research, we found several Twitch botnet services that were for sale both on underground forums and on the open web,” Payet explained. “These services allow people to rent bots over a period of time to boost their Twitch channel viewership stats. The offerings are marketed as being easy for customers to set up. We also found that many services offered a single application that could generate a huge number of fake Twitch channel viewers.”
“For one botnet service, the seller claims that each “victim” on the botnet can view five streams on broadcasters’ Twitch channels,” he continued. “The affected computer is seemingly forced to open the Twitch channel streams, though the streams are hidden and muted so that the computer’s owner is unaware that anything is amiss.”
Another service let broadcasters rent different botnet packages. Along with viewers, the service also offers “chatters” – bots that post messages in the chat section on the broadcasters’ Twitch streams. Prices ranged from $29.99 (USD) for 100 viewers and 40 chatters to $159 for 1,000 viewers and 400 chatters. Yet another service offers monthly subscriptions for Twitch bot services starting at $24.95. In addition to offering viewers and chatters, this service also provides customer support to help broadcasters set up these bots to view their channels.
According to Symantec, the botnets have been linked to malware known as Inflabot, which disguises itself as a Chrome or Adobe software update. The malware has mainly infected computers in Russia, Ukraine, U.K. and the U.S. and appears to have come from cybercriminals in Russia.
“Once Trojan.Inflabot compromises a computer, it connects to the malware author’s community page on the Russian social network site vk.com,” Payet blogged. “This page includes a URL to the server that gives the malware details on which Twitch stream to visit, along with the referrer URL. This allows the malware to force the compromised computer to view a broadcaster’s Twitch channel.”
“While many broadcasters stream their gameplay online as a hobby, some have managed to turn it into a well-paid full time job,” he noted. “Over the past few years, this business model has grown sharply, so it’s unsurprising that scammers are piggybacking on the industry in a parallel underground economy.”
Just recently, Twitch forced users to reset their passwords after it was revealed that user account information had been accessed without authorization.