What is Scareware?

Scareware is a type of software that appears as a pop-up window on a computer. This software disguises itself as a warning message, but it is nothing but a ruse that is intended to scare the computer owner into revealing their personal information.

Once the computer user has agreed to give the software access to their computer, it begins to scan the computer, and then it often will take a screenshot of the “My Computer” window.

It then mimics the characteristics of the computer. Once the scan is complete, the program tells you that there is a virus on the computer, even if there is not, and that you can pay $49.95 or more for software that will save the day. If you do not download the software, you will simply continuously see pop-ups informing you that the virus is present.

The goal of scareware is to trick users into clicking links or downloading software. The rogue program may come with a customer support link that will lead to a live chat session with the hacker. Once the chat begins, the fake customer service representative will ask for remote access to your computer, and when this access is given, they can see and access everything. 

A new feature of scareware now involves a pop-up window that mimics an Internet browser, and it contains a warning that indicates the website has malware or an expired security certificate, or the site itself may be a phishing website.

The window is typically red in color, and has a warning. It may also provide a button, link or software that will give you the option of downloading software or updating security.

Some of the common names of this scareware include “WinFixer,” “AntiVirus2010,” “WinAntivirus,” “AntivirusXP,” “DriveCleaner,” “Antivirus 2016” or “WinAntispyware.” These may be spyware, an actual virus, or even junk software that has no value.

What makes this software so believable is that it mimics a typical online purchase. It has an order form, shopping cart, download and credit card processing. Despite the odd or silly labels and terminology that is often associated with criminal hacking, there is nothing funny about the techniques hackers use to steal the identity of others. Ultimately, this software can and will create chaos in your life, and the understanding of these terms can help you realize what you are dealing with and how you can protect your information.

Protecting Yourself from Scareware

The idea of an infection on your computer is alarming, and it can mean lost time, money and data. Most of us want to get rid of these issues, but this is exactly what the hackers use to make money. Once you agree to purchase from a hacker, the criminal will end up with your credit card information and other personal details, and all you get in return is malware.

Here are a couple of steps that you can use to protect yourself:

  • Do not click on any link from a popup window. If you notice a pop up message that says your computer has an infection or virus, close out the window by clicking the “X.”
  • If you believe that your computer has a virus, run a scan with your chosen Antivirus software.
  • Ensure that you have a comprehensive security program installed on all of your devices, including all Macs, PCs, smartphones and tablets.

Though it can be a scary thought to think about your computer having a virus, do not fall for any fake alerts that may compromise your personal or financial information. Instead, keep a clear head, run a legitimate scan first, and then take steps to eliminate it. This way, you can avoid giving up your money and information to the bad guys.