Hackers no longer need to develop complex emails to trick you into download a virus. According to this study, they just need to offer you some of their spare change.
The study offered participants between a cent and a dollar to download and run an executable file - a program.
After running the file, the participants would see a timer tick down over an hour. After the hour was up, the program revealed a code that gave them their cash.
Files like these are available for download on sites like Amazon's Mechanical Turk. Basically, employers post small jobs that can be completed by anyone for anywhere between a few cents to a dollar.
The idea behind the study was to release a file that looked conspicuous and offer its participants between 1 cent and $1 to open and run it. It turns out that people are willing to trade their computer's security for almost nothing.
It’s an interesting study, but I did notice that only 2,854 people ended up seeing the researchers’ fake job posts online. Forty-five percent of the 141 people who downloaded their fake virus app ended up installing an unknown file for one cent.
Another posting offered a dollar to install the unknown app. Almost 740 people downloaded the software, and 64 percent of them ended up running the program.
Software like this would generally be used to build what’s called a "botnet."
Botnets are groups of computers controlled remotely from the same location. Programs like the one the researchers posted are usually the way that hackers find their way into your system.
You’ve probably heard the ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ economic principle, but that’s ten times more important online. Any program installed to your computer is a potential security risk.
Always make sure that your downloads are coming from a trusted source.