Don’t get Scared by Scareware

It’s just another typical day. You turn on your computer and start going about your day to day computer tasks. All of a sudden your computer starts to run slow and messages appear on your screen, that you can’t seem to close out of, telling you that your computer is infected with viruses and spyware and that you need to run a scan of your computer to clean the infections. In a panic you click scan and you see an assortment of infections have been detected. Then you get another message telling you that your anti-virus and anti-spyware protection has expired and you need to purchase an upgraded version in order to clean the infections. The notification provides you with a link to a web site where you can purchase the remedy to these problems. Chances are you are going to go ahead and buy the software. Unfortunately, your decision to purchase the protection you need to keep your computer free of those infections, has most likely compromised your personal and financial information.

Everyone has heard of the term spyware, malware and phishing, especially if you have been reading my Tech Tip articles. It’s the nasty stuff that can get on to our computers that make them run slow and cause pop-ups of all kinds as well as attempt to steal our personal information. More recently, scareware has emerged as another way to cause our computers to run slow and to get us to give up personal information. The idea behind scareware is essentially to scare people into giving up their personal information by presenting them with notifications that their computers are at risk and they need to act now in order to prevent damage or loss of data. This idea is very similar to the e-mail scams that warn the recipient that their credit card or bank account was compromised and they needed to provide personal information to help secure their accounts. The end result is those e-mails did not originate from their financial institution and they provided personal data to someone who doesn’t have their best interests in mind.

Indications that your computer has been infected with scareware are similar to ordinary spyware or malware infections. You experience slow performance and pop-ups. These pop-ups indicate that your security software is out of date or that you computer is infected. These notifications present themselves as being very legitimate and even look as though they are doing a scan and detecting infections like legitimate software would.

The best way to protect yourself is to stay calm and not give in to the warnings that these messages may present. One indication the notification isn’t legitimate is that these pop-ups are usually next to impossible to close and they prevent you from doing anything else with your computer. Another way to tell if the notification is a scam is by taking notice of the name of the program that has detected the infection. If the name of the software doesn’t sound familiar or you know you didn’t purchase the software, chances are it isn’t legitimate. Even if you aren’t sure if this was software you purchased or if it came with your computer, it is important not to give in to the temptation to do what these notifications ask. If the computer is at your place of work, contact your IT department or computer support provider. If this happens on your home computer, it is best not to do anything and to contact an IT professional who can help diagnose and remove the problem.

Ryan’s articles can also be seen in Berkshire Business News, published monthly by the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.