Viruses are becoming less and less a nuisance in today’s cyber landscape. The reason? There is no money to be made from viruses. Viruses are designed from their core to destroy or inhibit your ability to use your computer. Scareware, however, is becoming an ever increasing problem.
So why the change? When scareware “infects” a computer it poses as a legitimate anti-virus application, often calling itself “Windows 7 Antivirus 2011” or something similar. The scareware then runs a bogus virus scan and reports to the user that, "Oh my god! Your computer is infected with 10,000 viruses and trojans!” In fact, those viruses do not exist on the computer and this is merely a ploy by the scareware. The user becomes flustered by seeing these numbers, but wait! The scareware then reports that it can remove all the viruses on the computer…for a price. If the user says “Yes!” then it is likely already too late. Once the scareware has your credit card info, they will begin a process of making fraudulent purchases as quickly as their dastardly creators can muster. Sometimes the user is lucky and a credit card company will flag those purchases and no money will ultimately be lost. Worst case scenario… Well you get the idea.
So how does a user protect themselves from this scareware? The easiest solution is to have a legitimate, vetted, anti-virus installed and up-to-date. Even then, some scareware sneaks by anti-virus applications. How does this happen? This is called a “zero-day attack.” This happens when a new variant of scareware comes out and infects computers before antivirus applications have a chance to identify it. It is called “zero-day” because it has been “zero days” since it has been identified as an exploit or vulnerability. So what should a user do in this situation? As stated before, if you have a legitimate anti-virus installed, you should be aware of what that application is called (McAfee, Norton, AVG, etc.). If a scanner pops up under a different name, that should be a red flag telling you something is wrong. While removing these scareware programs isn’t normally a difficult task, each iteration requires a slightly different approach that is outside of this blurb. The best option if your computer is compromised by a “zero-day” scareware, or any virus / trojan / exploit, is to contact your IT department. They will know what to do.
Don’t have an IT department? Contact us.