Hong Kong police offer free antivirus scan in cybercrime crackdown

Force warns against growing botnet threat – the infection of a group of computers by hackers to launch attacks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2017, 8:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 June, 2017, 10:56pm

Computer users will be offered a free antivirus scan starting from Wednesday as part of a year-long police campaign to promote cybersecurity.

The aim is to counter the rising menace of botnets, or “bots” – a group of computers that are infected and controlled by hackers who then use them to attack other computers and steal personal and private information.

Computers are often infected by downloaded malicious software hidden in email attachments and files, after which hackers may command the bots to send spam, computer viruses and ransomware to infect more computers.

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The manipulated bots may also launch phishing attacks – attempts to gain sensitive information such as credit card details – and distributed denial-of-service attacks, in which the hacker disrupts services by flooding the internet host with traffic.

“Hackers may attempt to infect a computer by disguising themselves as someone the user is familiar with, and lure the user to open files attached to the email,” said Victor Law, chief operating officer at antivirus specialist Symantec, which is collaborating with police.

Law said users might be unaware they had been hacked as infected computers still functioned, although at a slower speed. New types of botnets were able to evade inspection, which made it harder to notice an infection, he added.

Botnets are expanding across Hong Kong’s cyberspace. Symantec figures revealed more than 80,000 at the end of 2016, a 33 per cent increase compared with the beginning of the year. And one in every 70 emails contained malicious content in 2016 – double the amount in 2015.

Police recorded 1,353 cybercrime in the first quarter of the year, involving total losses of HK$200 million.

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Officers will work with three information security enterprises to offer the free antivirus programs. These will provide a one-off scan but will not protect users from further attacks. Users are recommended to buy antivirus software for long-term protection.

Police also advise the public not to open email attachments from suspicious sources and to regularly update their computers.

The antivirus program will be available for download at