Windows’ Unintended Ecosystem

Could an Industry of Fraud Weaken Microsoft?

EventViewer_lIt’s become routine. A cold call comes in from Microsoft Support, or Windows Technical Support or some combination of those. They’re supposedly calling from Microsoft’s California, San Diego office, or the Australia fraud detection location or the London support bureau. They’ve detected some terrible problems you’re having with your Microsoft Windows operating system — almost certainly the result of malware — and they’re calling to help. They take you through your operating system to find some warning logs. In reality, these contain innocuous messages, but look serious to the untrained eye. The scammers get control of your PC and a financial service charge ensues — or else.

It’s a social engineering scam that’s been going on for years. The caller combines fear with a soothing, technical virtue. They appear to know your problem. They also know your name, address and phone number. They sort of know which operating system you use — it’s Windows XP, or 7, or 8. Merging public records with market share statistics and average end-user knowledge combines to make all things appear legitimate.

The insistent scam artists are causing significant harm to individuals, stealing hundreds from their prey. Microsoft is assisting in the fight back through legal proceedings and public warnings, but the company is getting a black eye by name association. Microsoft’s lawsuits against offshore offenders are likely to fall on deaf ears. Even the influence of Microsoft won’t scare away this immensely profitable industry.

Microsoft’s Windows has about a 90% market share of the PC operating system market. The boiler-room scammers play the odds, which could drive some consumers to other platforms — even friends and family members of affected or potential victims might be tempted to move to the operating system minorities. Microsoft is getting hit by guilt by association, and the wave of crime is growing. Operating system market share is a double-edged sword and, over time, successful operating systems attract malware. The same is true for smartphones and tablets. Sometimes there’s no safety in numbers.

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