The virtual machine that fights Microsoft scammers

The virtual machine that fights Microsoft scammers

Dominik Bärlocher
Zurich, on 31.07.2018
Pictures: Thomas Kunz
Translation: Eva Francis
Microsoft scammers are a pain in the backside. They’re relentlessly trying to infect your PC with viruses, Trojans and other rubbish. And they won’t take no for an answer. That’s why we’ve decided to beat them with their own weapons. And we're doing it in style. How? With a virtual computer.

Whenever our Chief Editor, Aurel Stevens, sends after-work text messages, he’s got something funny or important to say. This time, both apply. He’s been pestered by Microsoft scammers who are trying to convince him that his computer is infected and only they, the scammers themselves, can save him. By accessing his computer via TeamViewer and installing software. They vow to be sent by Microsoft and to be here to help.

Right. Sure. Of course they are.

Placeholder image
placeholder

placeholder

In the last paragraph of his article, Aurel writes about something I did a while back: I built a pretty rubbish virtual machine. All it was, in fact, was an Ubuntu with a background that I painted in MS Paint and that looked kind of like the standard Windows desktop. Aurel and I have a good laugh and think to ourselves «How silly is that?!».

And then he says: «Hey, can I borrow your VM?»

And I answer: «Sure.»

But then I realise I don’t have my VM anymore. I told you it was a while ago. So I have to build a new one. And this is exactly what I do. That same night. Because this idea is genius.

Midnight thoughts

It’s about 11 p.m. when I get to work. I first intend to create another rubbish Ubuntu desktop, but then decide I can do better. So I download a Mint VR, which comes with Cinnamon. Why? Cinnamon looks a bit like Windows 10. Kind of.

After having thrown quite a few technical terms at you, let me explain what they mean. If you don’t need a glossary and a guide, press CTRL/CMD+F and search for «Now that my VM is ready».

  • VM: Virtual machine. An operating system that runs on your PC or Mac but only exists virtually. There’s no need for a separate computer.
  • Mint Linux: A Linux distribution. There are an almost infinite number of them.
  • Cinnamon: A desktop environment.
  • Desktop environment: With Linux, there are a range of graphical user interfaces. Each one offers a completely different look to your desktop. This feature is referred to as desktop environment.

    The Linux community jumped on the VR band wagon a long time ago, so the Internet is full of things I can use. The website osboxes.org, for example, offers ready-to-use virtual machines. That saves me about an hour of work.

    The toughest challenge will be replicating the Windows 10 look, but I'm lucky once again. b00merang has created a theme for Cinnamon and other desktop environments that does just that.

    All that's left for me to do is put everything together. Here's a step-by-step guide on how I did it, which should allow you to build your own VM at home – or at least understand how it's done.

    VMWare Workstation Player: this thing is key

    Just like a CD from the old days, a VM doesn't work without a player. Just as everything else on the Internet, there are dozens of ways to play a VM. I've always worked with VMWare Workstation Player, which is why I'm doing the same for this project.

    You only need to carry out the following steps once.

    VMWare Workstation Player: installation and setup

  • Download the VMWare Workstation Player
  • Run the installer and click «Next»
  • Check «Enhanced Keyboard Driver». After this, you’ll need to restart your computer.
  • «Check for Product Updates»: Yes
  • «Join the VMWare Customer Experience Program»: No
  • Create Shortcuts: Yes and Yes
  • After that, «Yes», «Next», «Done», «Amen» to everything.

    That’s it, now VMWare Player is up and running and you can launch your VM. Below, you'll find a ready-to-use download link for the VM I'm building in this tutorial. Go ahead and recreate it if you fancy. It's fun and takes about two hours – that's without rushing.

    VMWare Workstation Player: configuration for Linux Mint

    Now let’s configure a regular, unmodified osboxes.org VM.

  • Download the Linux Mint VM from osboxes.org
  • You’ll probably need the 64bit version Mints
  • Unzip the 7-Zip where you save the VM. The download directory may not be smart. I always place them in the default folder suggested by VMWare.
  • Open VMWare Player on your PC
  • Select «Create a New Virtual Machine» on the right
  • Select «I will install the operating system later»
  • Select the version «Other Linux 4.x or later Kernel 64-bit». By doing so, you’re telling the virtual machine what it’s based on.
  • Enter a name for your VM
  • Keep the storage location that’s suggested
  • Maximum Disk Size: 8GB
  • Split virtual disk into multiple files
  • After that, «Yes», «Next», «Done», «Amen» to everything.
  • You’re back to where you started and the VM appears on the left.

    VMWare Workstation Player: Linux Mint setup

    To work with the downloaded Mint VM, you need to replace your VM’s virtual hard disk.

  • Click the VM on the left-hand side of your window

  • Go to «Edit virtual machine settings» in the panel on the right
  • Click «Add»
  • Select «Hard Disk«
  • When you reach «SCSI», click «Next»
  • Select «Use an existing virtual disk»
  • Click «Browse» and search for the unzipped VM from above
  • Click «Finish»
  • You return to the virtual hardware configuration window

    What’s left to do now is remove your old and empty hard disk from your VM.

  • The hardware configuration window now displays two hard disks
  • Select the one that doesn’t have the Linux Mint from above as disk file
  • Click «Remove»

    Your Linux Mint

    You're all set and ready to launch your VM and get working with it. Click «Play Virtual Machine» on the main window and off you go.

  • Should any error messages appear, just click «Yes»
  • The first launch will take a while
  • Your login password is «osboxes.org»
  • After you log in, a message might appear in the top right corner saying «Running in Software Rendering Mode». This will disappear once you click on it.

Linux Mint with Cinnamon

Linux Mint: Installation of the VMWare tools

As your VM is currently only working in windowed mode, you'll need to install a few graphics drivers to make sure the VM's operating system knows it's running on a VM and not a hardware computer.

  • Go to «Player» and click «Help» → «Install VMWare Tools»
  • A virtual CD drive with tools appears on the VM's desktop
  • Double click this folder icon
  • It contains a .tar.gz file that’s name begins with VMwareTools
  • Copy this file to your desktop
  • Right click the file and select «extract here»
  • A folder named «vmware-tools-distrib» appears

    Now install the tools via Terminal – one of the greatest Linux features.

  • Open «vmware-tools-distrib»
  • Click into the white space on the right
  • Select «Open in Terminal»
  • Enter the following command:
    sudo perl vmware-install.pl
  • Click «Enter«
  • Your login password is still «osboxes.org»
  • After this, continue clicking «Enter». In all the years I've been working with VMs, I've never seen a case in which the default configuration didn’t work to install VMWare Tools.
  • Once you've reached the end and you see a line in the Terminal that begins with green font and says «osboxes@osboxes», the installation is completed.
  • Write «Exit» and click «Enter»

    After this, go to the Player menu and select «Power» and the option «Restart Guest». This will make sure the VR restarts and the configuration of your VMWare tools is activated.

    Why VMWare tools? They let you work in full-screen mode.

    Have fun.

    Now that my VM is ready

    I did all this last night after I came home from the cinema. By this time, my caffeine levels were slumping, my eyelids feeling heavy and the background music – although quite intriguing – getting on my nerves. But I wasn’t done just yet. Linux doesn’t only allow you to configure desktop environments; it also lets you adjust them. And so it comes that clever coders have found ways to make Cinnamon look just like Windows 10. How? Just change the theme and icon pack. It’s easy enough. You’ll have no trouble doing so if you’ve worked through my step-by-step guide above. If you haven’t, trust Google.

It’s a wrap: my virtual machine

After adding the new look to my VR, all I did was install TeamViewer. That’s what our scammers need to get at your computer.

  • The password for the team digitec account is: rootpassword
  • This VR shouldn’t be used for anything else than to annoy scammers
  • To unzip the VM, you need 7-Zip – it’s free – or a similar software

    Download the VM here, unzip it in your VM folder, create a copy and off you go.

    What to do with the digitec Microsoft Scam VM

    The idea behind this VM is simple: Next time a scammer phones you, give them access to your fully sealed off VM via TeamViewer and watch what happens. It’s important that you‘re adamant that this is Windows. These are the things I said on the phone years ago when I played this same game:

  • «I’m not great with computers.»
  • «My cousin set up my computer.»
  • «Yes, there’s no doubt this is Windows.»

    The last sentence is your most important one. Once the phone call is over, delete the copy of your VM and create a new one from your original VM.

    And that’s it. Have fun with those scammers and share your stories in the comment section below.

89 people like this article


Dominik Bärlocher
Dominik Bärlocher
Senior Editor, Zurich
Journalist. Author. Hacker. A storyteller searching for boundaries, secrets and taboos – putting the world to paper. Not because I can but because I can’t not.

These articles might also interest you