Malicious actors are bundling a Trojan that looks like a virtual private network (VPN) tool into adware to install malware on infected machines, security researchers discovered.

Although it masquerades as a legitimate business tool and uses certificates signed by U.K.-based ATX International Ltd., users who download the VPN product or sign up for its three-month trial will have malware executables installed on their machines without their knowledge, according to Bleeping Computer. These include AZORult, which steals passwords. The Trojan also connects to a remote server to drop its malicious payloads.

How Does Pirate Chick Work?

The Trojan’s operators distribute the supposed VPN tool through adware bundles and bogus Adobe Flash Player updates. Once downloaded, process names such as Fiddler, Regshot, ImmunityDebugger, ProcessHacker and Wireshot are combined before checking the victim’s system for any duplication.

It appears the perpetrators are targeting users in specific geographies, since the payload is not executed if the IP address is based in Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan or Russia. Pirate Chick also steers clear of users running certain kinds of virtualization applications, including HyperV, VMware and Virtualbox. If none of those things come up, the researchers explained, the fake VPN software downloads a file that is then saved to a temp folder as an executable.

The cybercriminals behind the phony VPN went to great lengths to make it look like the real thing, including a splash page with a sign-up form for a limited try-before-you-buy offer, no credit card required.

Since its initial discovery, Pirate Chick has stopped infecting victims with AZORult and is now installing Sysinternals Process Monitoring. The researchers said they believe this is a placeholder until the perpetrators add something more sophisticated.

Gain Visibility Into Network Vulnerabilities

Although it’s easy to imagine consumers being fooled into downloading a fake VPN at home, the same thing could also happen to employees at work. According to security experts, IT departments don’t have the visibility they need into potential vulnerabilities that may be happening on the network. To gain this insight, security leaders should consider adopting application scanning technologies that will raise the alarm whenever a threat like Pirate Chick pops up.

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