Scam warning over rise in 'plague' malware

Australian internet users have been warned about a jump in criminals secretly taking control of their devices by hiding viruses in legitimate email attachments and popular video games.

Australian Federal Police say there's been a surge in Remote Access Trojans, also known as RATS, which allow third parties to spy on people and steal their personal information.

Computer video modifications and downloadable email attachments hidden in what appears to be legitimate links are the biggest culprits.

Criminals have targeted popular games including Runescape, Minecraft, PUBG: Battlegrounds and ARK Survival, the force said.

The malware allows criminals to access webcams, microphones, passwords, location history and other data held on the device.

The force's Acting Assistant Commissioner Chris Goldsmid likened the viruses to the plague as he urged Australians to continually update their virus protection and software.

He said some viruses aren't detected by antivirus software so victims may not even know if malware has already been installed on their device.

"This type of cyber offending can evolve into extreme and malicious forms of data theft and victim manipulation, with criminals using stolen data to commit extortion or financial crimes,"  Assist Comm Goldsmid said.

In April, an Australian man was charged after allegedly developing and selling a RAT on a hacking forum while in June 2023 a Geelong man was sentenced to a three-year good behaviour bond for buying one of the viruses online.

A 27-year-old Maltese national was also arrested overseas in February for allegedly distributing a virus in the popular game Warzone, partly due to intelligence provided by federal police.

Using a Remote Access Trojan in Australia in any way carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.