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SALT LAKE CITY — With 130 million people sharing their photos on Instagram, it was only a matter of time before cyber criminals figured out how to make it pay. KSL-TV did some investigating to see how crooks have re-purposed an old computer virus into a money making machine.
The heyday of the Zeus virus was thought to have been several years ago when hackers used it to steal $70 million from American banks. Now it's back and bigger than ever.
This time, hackers are planting the virus onto our computers not to steal our banking information but to create thousands and thousands of bogus "likes" and "followers" on Instagram.
"They've found selling likes is much more profitable than selling credit cards right now," said Kathryn Linford, service manager at the IT consulting firm Netwize.
They've found selling likes is much more profitable than selling credit cards right now.
Internet security firm RSA says the going rate for a thousand stolen credit cards right now is $6. Compare that to thousand bogus "likes" on Instagram that will get $15. And a thousand followers will make $30, five times as much as a stolen card numbers.
But who would buy fake followers or likes? Linford says anyone who wants to create a big buzz for themselves.
"That's where marketing and that's where the media is going. That's where people can start businesses based purely on these fake likes and fake followers," Linford said.
Online marketers sometimes even advise clients to buy social media followers to kick start their campaigns.
"It creates trending," she said. "People to want to connect to it."
Linford says the Zeus virus spreads like wildfire on social media usually through phony links on Facebook or in emails.
Once you log into Instagram on your PC, it gets to work creating fake likes and followers. And even if you are not an "Instagrammer", you've got reason for concern. A hacker could tell an infected computer to do a whole lot of different things.
"That port is open, that virus is there," Linford said. "They can push another thing there, and maybe try to mine other information."
To avoid getting infected with Zeus, Linford says do not click on links you haven't seen before and keep your anti-virus software updated, or cyber crooks could be using your computer to make them money on Instagram.