A particular habit is quite illegal and unfair yet practiced by some computer users, and that is searching for cracked software downloads online. Those that get involved in such acts may or may not understand the risks associated with it, but their motivation is often to save money by evading the need to pay for a genuine software license.
Many people seeking to download free pirated software copies made it feasible for cybercriminals and hackers to take advantage of it by spreading malicious downloads to as many computer users as possible. These cybercriminals would pretend to be helping users by providing cracked versions of the software in high demand, yet their motivation lies in their desperate urge to spread harmful software. In fact, the threat actors go as far as mimicking cracked software websites to spread various kinds of malware.
As we all know, malware is dangerous and can easily infect any system, especially those that lack antivirus protection. There are various types of malware, and while some may be used for encryption/ransom purposes, others are used in stealing information that scammers would use to perpetrate fraudulent acts.
The risk of malware infection has increasingly worsened in recent times and is now a threat faced by virtually every computer user working in cyberspace. To make matters worse, it can infect any computer without the owner being aware, thus enabling it to cause significant damages undetected.
Typically, the victim never actually gets to install a functional and useful software version that was the primary goal. The downloaded file is simply named as a setup of a desired program, but it is nothing else than executable file for the malware itself. In some cases, the malware is set to launch after a computer reboot, so the victim might not instantly notice the harmful program.
The worst part is that often times, users simply convince themselves there is something wrong with the installation file and proceed to look for other resources online to try and download another sample of a cracked software.
There is a wide set of harmful or unwanted programs that can infect user’s computer when trying to download pirated software copies. These programs generally fall into two broad categories – spyware and malware, and each of them contain various types of computer threats that can inflict different levels of damage to user’s computer, data stored on it, or private information.
Below, we have listed the most common types of harmful programs that can await in illegal online downloads.
Cybercriminals make use of “cracked” programs as a medium for the spread of these malware types. Since they already know that some users are seeking cloned versions of free software content, they would embed the malware in those “cracked” software before uploading them for free download. Once they’re downloaded by unsuspecting users, they will trigger malware infection.
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Granted that there are many platforms from which one can download programs on the Internet, not all of them are safe. Indeed, there are many malicious sites that only churn out malware-ladden executable files named as software installation setups, and some of them even rank high on search results. Therefore, users should be wary not to fall victim to them.
The fact that malicious software downloading sites with cracks are ranking high on the search engine is problematic because it indicates that web search engines are not excellent when it comes to identifying and removing harmful and dangerous pages from search results. It also indicates that cybercriminals are using SEO techniques to rank high in Google and other search engine results.
However, it has become necessary to provide clues that would help users to sense potential dangers if they even come across such sites or are thinking about downloading something from them.
Here are the main characteristics that often describe malicious cracked software download sites:
Series of identical or very similar websites available in search results. Cybercriminals often make use of the same templates in the websites they own. Therefore, when you observe that more than one website has a similar design template (site theme), then it should be considered a red flag. Also, did they place the download button at the top? If yes, then it’s another red flag.
They often replicate the same contents while embedding them with different malware types. The result is that a particular system may end up with one or more malware types.
The website randomly asks to allow downloads or push-notifications. Such activities indicate that the website is either trying to force a download or get your permission to send you endless push notifications, possibly from dangerous websites as well.
The website offers to download the file either via direct link on external website, or as a torrent file. The majority of these malicious websites redirect you to an external website that provides a generated link for a direct download, and asks to copy it – once you do and paste it to your browser’s URL bar, the URL instantly starts a download of the malicious file. The downloaded file is typically an archive that is also password-protected (this can help to deceive some antivirus solutions). If the user enters the password (which is usually very simple, 123, 1234, or 123456), the malware launches in the background, meanwhile the user gets a notification that the setup has stopped working.
Users should beware of a popular cracked software websites’ network that is known to distribute NullMixer malware, which is a dropper used to infect victim’s computer with a wide range of threats, including bankers, backdoors, spyware, Trojans and others. These websites often appear in the first pages of Google search results whenever users look up for a phrase consisting of desired software name and keywords crack or keygen.
Listed below are websites that are malicious in nature and are used by cybercriminals in spreading malware, so it will be in your best interest to avoid them:
Freeprosoftz.com, Keypccrack.com, Procrackerz.org, Freedownloadfiles.org, Free-4paid.com, Masterkreatif.net, Free4pc.org, Getpcsofts.net, Abbaspc.net, Up4pc.com, 24cracked.com, Crackedrar.com, Piratesfile.com, Pccrackbox.com, Hitproversion.com, Cracka2zsoft.com, Pcsoftstore.com, Pcsoftfull.com, Onhax.io, Kalicrack.com, Proproductkey.com, Idmcracksetup.com, Rarpc.co, Cracksway.com, Wazusoft.com, Crackfullpro.com, Hdlicense.com, Licensekeysfree.com, Ezcrack.info, Getsoftwares.net, Getprocrack.co, Cracksmad.com, Keystool.com, Crackvip.com, Licenseapps.com, Keygenwin.com, Crackdev.com, Crackknow.com, Thecracksetup.com, Activationkeys.co, Crackslabel.com, Zohaibpc.net, Crackszoom.com and many others.
Anytime you encounter such web pages that serve intermediate redirects and hide the download behind a series of steps (such as copying the download URL on a different website, then asking to paste it, and also enter a password when extracting the archived file), you should understand that the download isn’t secure. A simple comparison and explanation is that all these steps are to deceive malware detection systems (password-protected archives have different MD5 per each unique download, making it hard for AV to identify the harmful contents) and the user himself. In reality, legitimate websites never ask users to go such lengths in order to install some software.
Therefore, if you notice such signs, you should close the web page and, if you have downloaded the file, do not open it – instead, delete it for good. Although your web browser or AV should be able to detect and block such malicious files once encountered remotely, there are instances when they will successfully elude antivirus detection, and users would have to run them themselves.
When an infected file is downloaded from a malicious site, it can have far-reaching effects on a Windows computer. Firstly, it will result in the installation of diverse computer malware that can adversely affect it. The direct connection it has with the originating control server would enable the transfer of additional malware that may include Trojans, ransomware, stealers, or miners, among others. It may also simultaneously track or even steal sensitive personal information from the computer. Therefore, to prevent all these issues, computer users should avoid such malicious sites in the first place.
During the analysis, we have inspected procrackerz.org website, and opened the most recent “post” on the page, offering Adobe Photoshop CC 24.0.59 Crack + Keygen (2023) version. As usual, the website design template is almost identical to abbaspc.net, crackedrar.com, or others.
After opening the page for alleged Adobe Photoshop download, there is an easily noticeable Download button at the top.
After clicking it, we experience a couple of redirects going through filebia.us, downloadish.us and serving a web page that asks to copy a download link. Below it, there is a password provided, which the user will be asked to enter when launching the ZIP archive.
After copying and pasting the URL into the address bar, a notification popped up, asking whether we wanted to save or open the file directly. What can also be seen is that the download originates from a Mediafire URL, however, sometimes the criminals use their own websites to store piles of malicious .zip archives.
Next, we choose to open the ZIP archive and the file asks to enter the password to access its contents. The password is provided in the file name, just like it was provided on the site that suggested copying the URL.
In this case, the malicious ZIP archive contained a setup.exe file that was a disguised VIDAR Trojan. It is one of the most widespread information-stealing Trojans, known for its capabilities to steal browser-saved passwords, browsing history, and other relevant data from victim’s computer. In addition, the malicious file executes a cmd command with a timeout of 6 seconds, which is usually done when trying to evade automatic sandbox analysis systems.
Apparently, the discussed fake pirated software sites’ network is pushing malware dropped known as NullMixer, one that can drop over 12 different types of malware on the infected system. During our analysis and reports from users, these websites can infect you with RedLine Stealer, Azorult, SmokeLoader, SgnitLoader, STOP/DJVU ransomware and many other computer threats.
What happens during the launch of such malware is that the user receives a message that the setup.exe has stopped working; however, the malware has already began running its procedures in the background.
If you have fallen victim and downloaded files from similar websites, we strongly recommend that you scan your computer with a robust antivirus solution as soon as possible.
In conclusion, it is in the best interest of every computer user to completely avoid searching for and downloading “cracked” software. Similarly, users should also avoid bogus websites. While it can be difficult to identify malicious websites, you can follow these tips to always be on the safe side and rest assured you have taken the necessary steps to protect your computer and your privacy:
We hope that these tips will help you to avoid malicious downloads online. Remember – pirated software should never be downloaded, as doing so is an act of a copyright infringement, plus, it exposes your computer to serious security risks. If you have a story to share about your experience with such downloads, let us know in the comments section below.
Norbert Webb is the head of Geek’s Advice team. He is the chief editor of the website who controls the quality of content published. The man also loves reading cybersecurity news, testing new software and sharing his insights on them. Norbert says that following his passion for information technology was one of the best decisions he has ever made. “I don’t feel like working while I’m doing something I love.” However, the geek has other interests, such as snowboarding and traveling.
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