Guest column: don't fall for PS3 virus alerts

22nd May 2009 | 15:02

Guest column: don't fall for PS3 virus alerts

Security expert Chris Boyd on the panic sweeping the console world

TechRadar welcomes Chris Boyd, Director of Research forFaceTime Security Labs, as guest columnist.

A few days ago, I received a call from a friend in a bit of a state of distress - all I could get out of him was that his PlayStation 3 was "infected with a virus" and he couldn't get rid of the warning the console kept throwing at him.

To me, this was extremely interesting - I don't recall ever seeing a genuine, honest to goodness virus capable of attacking the PS3, and security applications for the console go as far as blocking rogue websites - there are currently no virus scans, because there are no viruses.

However, my friend was insistent that I check his console out, so off I went with a camera and a healthy dose of scepticism. At least, I would have done if he didn't live in Australia. I had to settle for a long, drawn out description of the problem and it took a while to pin it down. Let me go off on a tangent for a moment - don't worry, it'll all make sense shortly…

Rogue anti-spyware websites

Rogue anti-spyware websites are great, aren't they? Websites claiming you're infected with all sorts of nasties, with the intention of having you buy a (fake) security product that doesn't actually do anything.

For the uninitiated, they trap you on the page with non-closable pop ups, insist you download executable files and generally make you wish you hadn't got out of bed in the morning.

I must admit, this is something I'd not thought of before, but... given that you can browse any website you feel like with a PS3, surely the fake anti-spyware sites claiming you have a virus will happily appear on your TV screen, too?

As it turns out, they most certainly do! Here's a fake security scan site, viewed on a regular PC:

Note the fake "My Computer" background, the fake folders and the JavaScript pop-up box that says "Your computer remains infected by viruses! They can cause data loss and file damage and need to be cured as soon as possible. Return to system security and download it secure to your PC".

Now let's see that again, but this time on a PS3 browser. It renders the page a little differently:

As you can see, the fake "My Computer" background is placed on the left, and the screen is split down the middle with the JavaScript virus warning being placed on the right, in what looks like "official" Sony-style font (presumably, all bits of text that aren't part of the webpage are rendered in this way by a PS3).

Of course, this potentially causes people to think that the warning is actually from the console itself, rather than from a crazy JavaScript pop up which couldn't be further from the truth.

The fallout continues…

My friend isn't the only person to have been caught out by this - here's another unfortunate victim convinced his PS3 was about to explode:

"So there I was last night on the internet via the PS3. All was fine until it flashed up saying that a virus had infected my system and that my data would be affected. I, of course, panicked, closed the browser down and since then I have been turning it on and off infrequently to see if there are signs of problems of which, so far, there are not."

It's amazing how something entirely unrelated to games consoles - fake infection warnings aimed at PCs - have started to cause panic in the gaming world.

Rest assured, if you see anything similar to the above, you can rest easy - your console has not been infected, nor should you resort to switching it on and off every five minutes in case it goes boom.

The sooner we can all go back to watching our gaming victories on YouTube (and by "victories", I mean "epic failures"), the better...

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