What Is Scareware?

What Is Scareware?

Scareware is a malicious computer program designed to scam users into an ill-advised download. Hackers promise their download is something of value, such as antivirus protection. It’s often pitched as an alert to protect your computer, immediately.

A message appears to notify you that a virus infected your device. Hackers will suggest a download of their “antivirus software” to fix it. This software either doesn’t work or, even worse, is malware. Messages also come disguised as an offer for a firewall or registry cleaner.

Some alerts are clearly scams. They’ll contain misspellings and other signs of illegitimacy. But cybercriminals create convincing pop-ups that appear as if they’re the real deal.

How scareware works

Hackers need you to click their popup to install their program. Their rogue software makes its way onto your device, and could indicate falsely that additional programs are needed. Buying them might result in:

  • False sense of protection: It seems your device is protected when in reality it’s not, it could even be in danger.
  • Breach of credit-card information: If you enter your financial information to buy the false program, it’s out there in unsafe hands.

A click on the message window, even on a cancel button or page-close X, can direct the user to the attacker’s website. This is called click-jacking.

What should I do if a scareware window pops up?

Protect your personal devices by knowing about scareware and preventative steps you can take to avoid it. If a suspicious message appears on your screen, follow these steps:

Don’t click

Rather than click the cancel or page-close X, right-click on the window’s icon in your task bar. Select close. This terminates the window without your mouse clicking any part of it.

Install pop-up blocker

One attack means your system might be vulnerable to others. Install a pop-up blocker program. Many browsers come with one. Alter settings to allow pop-ups from approved sites.

Other tips

Remain skeptical. No company has software that will scan your computer unsolicited. When searching for antivirus or other protection software, note the source before you download anything.

Read email in plain text. HTML email can mask links to scareware in graphic elements. Plain-text reading will reveal all links without a hyperlink that could bring users to a malicious site.

Beware the “free scan.” Free is a great word to lure users. Buy security software only from trustworthy sources. Refer to your Internet service provider or browser of choice.