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updated 8/25/2011 1:49:15 PM ET 2011-08-25T17:49:15

If you're thinking about skirting the rules and downloading pirated anti-virus software, a dangerous piece of malware found in one such program should make you reconsider.

Attackers have hijacked an anti-virus program from TrustPort with an illegal keygen capable of wreaking total havoc on users who make the mistake of downloading it. Researchers from the security firm Bitdefender discovered the malware.

A keygen generates legitimate user keys for cracked or pirated software; in a pirated copy of Photoshop, for example, the keygen would produce a number to match Adobe's installation-code algorithms.

In this case, criminals rigged the keygen with a particularly devious Trojan, Trojan.Agent.ASDM, that worms its way onto a user's computer and is capable of stealing passwords cached in Web browsers, spying on online habits, capturing video and audio streams from webcams and logging conversations from social networks or Instant Messenger.

"This keygen spreads via P2P sharing services, USB media, instant messaging services or email clients, and users may end up downloading serious trouble on their systems as this particular illicit tool does a lot more than it is supposed to do," Bitdefender wrote on its MalwareCity blog.

Perhaps worst of all, Trojan.Agent.ASDM can alert its friends that it has found a warm new host (your computer) and can download further malware, including the notorious bank-account-stealing Zeus Trojan and remote-access Trojans (RATs) like SpyNet RAT and Apocalypse RAT.

If those names sound scary, imagine what can happen to your computer if you give them a chance to go to work.

Thankfully, there is a huge selection of legitimate, non-corrupted anti-virus software programs to choose from. For a list of some of the best, including free programs, click here.

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