The most common virus call we get these days is due to “scareware.” For Windows and Mac’s, scareware is the most rapidly spreading malicious software – or “malware” – on the Internet. You can become a victim even if you only visit websites that you trust.
Scareware crooks pose as legitimate advertisers and sneak their programs onto reputable websites like FoxNews.com, NYTimes.com, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and Twitter. It can show up anywhere.
Outwardly, scareware works by loading viruses into your computer and then offering to remove them for a fee. What it’s really doing is trying to steal your personal information and spread more viruses into your computer.
The usual scareware attack shows up as a pop up window that seems to be from your own computer. The pop-up message says that your computer had been infected with a virus and urges you to go to a special website to purchase software to remove the virus.
This fraudulent antivirus software actually installs more viruses and malware into your computer, and in this “purchase” process passes your credit card number to the scareware thieves.
Here are some things you can do to protect your computers and personal information from the threat of scareware:
•Talk over scareware with anyone who has access to your computer. Make sure that they are aware of pop-up windows and how to handle virus warnings.
•Be alert on the web. Scareware can pop up anywhere: on trusted sites, in search results, and, more and more, on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.
•Protect your computer. Turn on “automatic updates” for your operating system, get good antivirus software and keep it up to date. And make sure to install all updates and security patches for interactive software like Java and Adobe Flash. (If in doubt, give me a call.)
•Protect your data. Always keep fresh backups of your personal and business data.
•Take immediate action when attacked. If you receive a scareware pop up window, DO NOT CLICK ON IT or try to close it. (That used to be the advice.) Instead, use your operating system, as follows, to force the window closed.
On Mac’s: Command-Option-Esc to open the “Force Quit” window. Click “OK” to force the scareware window to close.
On Windows: press Ctrl-Shift-Esc to open the Task Manager. then, on the “Applications” tab, highlight the warning message item and then click the “end task” button.
Finally, open your antivirus and run a scan. After the scan, restart your computer and try to use it as usual. If it seems OK, then it probably is OK; but if that warning window keeps popping up, then the program is still there and you’ll need to call someone like me to come and clear it out.
On Windows computers you can also use the built-in “System Restore” tool to set your computer to its state on a date before the attack. (Mac’s don’t yet have a built-in feature like System Restore.)
If you did click on the scareware window and paid for the offered virus remover, the prospects are not good. The Washington Post and other sources offer advice online, but you’ll probably need to call me or another local computer pro to help you deal with it.
The worst case scenario is that, between the scareware and whatever other malware it loads up, your system will be damaged enough to require a complete reinstallation of your operating system.
If that’s the case, then you’ll be glad that you’ve been making those regular backups of all of your data: your pictures, and emails, letters, school papers, tax forms and such. You are making backups, right?
In case it’s useful, here is a sample “typical scareware fake warning” message.
Typical fake warning from scareware.