Scareware is malicious software that uses social engineering techniques to get users to purchase and install the software, usually through false warnings or alerts. It’s a way for cybercriminals to make money and can be a real nuisance for users.
In this article, we’ll explain what scareware is, how to identify and prevent it, and how to remove it from your system. We’ll also provide a few resources to help you protect your computer from scareware.
What is Scareware?
Scareware is a malicious software that uses fake warnings, alerts, and other false information to trick users into installing it. This type of malware often pretends to be legitimate security software, which is initially challenging to identify. Scareware can illicitly acquire personal information, such as bank account details and credit card numbers, and unauthorized access to a user’s computer. It can also install additional malicious software, such as ransomware, spyware, and adware.
Scareware is usually spread through deceptive pop-up ads or emails. It can also be spread through malicious websites, disguised as legitimate websites, or through malicious links sent to users via email or instant message. Once the scareware is installed, it will generally start displaying false warnings or pop-ups to the user, which can be difficult to distinguish from legitimate ones.
How to Identify a Scareware Attack
There are several ways to identify a scareware attack:
a. If you see a suspicious pop-up warning or alert, it’s likely a scareware attack.
b. If you notice your computer’s performance is suddenly lower than usual, or if you start receiving emails or advertisements you didn’t request, it could be a sign of scareware.
c. If your computer’s security settings have been changed without your knowledge, it could be a sign of scareware.
Different Types of Scareware Attacks
There are several types of scareware attacks that cybercriminals use to trick users, including:
a. Fake Antivirus (FAV) Scams: This is the most prevalent scareware attack, wherein a pop-up message notifies the user that their computer is infected with malware or viruses. The message will prompt users to download fake antivirus software to remove the threats.
b. Tech Support Scams: In this type of scareware, scammers redirect users to fake tech support sites mimicking Microsoft or Apple, claiming their computer is infected. They urge users to call a toll-free number and then convince them to download phony software, pay for unnecessary services, or give remote access to the computer.
c. Browser Hijackers: These scareware attacks change the user’s browser settings, causing their homepage to be redirected to a fake website resembling a legitimate search engine. The website displays false pop-up messages warning the user about malware or virus infections and prompts the user to download or purchase software to remove the non-existent threat.
d. File-Encrypting Ransomware: This type of scareware attack encrypts files on the user’s computer and displays a notification demanding a ransom payment to decrypt the files. The message often includes a fake warning about the severity of the infection and the consequences of not paying the ransom.
e. Phishing Scams: A common tactic used by cybercriminals, which aim to obtain confidential and personal information, such as user identifications or credit card information, from unsuspecting users. Typically, these attacks involve sending deceptive emails or messages that impersonate legitimate entities, such as online retailers or banks. The message will often contain a fabricated warning that the user’s account has been breached and encourage them to click a hyperlink to fix the problem.
Common Scareware Examples
Some common examples of scareware include:
a. Fake antivirus software: This type of scareware disguises itself as legitimate and tricks users into installing it. Once installed, it may generate fake security warnings and prompt users to purchase a paid version to remove the alleged threats.
b. Fake system optimization tools: These scareware programs claim to improve a computer’s performance but do little or nothing. They may generate bogus error messages and offer to fix the problem for a fee.
c. Browser pop-ups: Scareware pop-ups appear in web browsers and display fake error messages or warnings, such as “Your computer is infected with a virus.” They often prompt users to click on a link or call a phone number for assistance, which can lead to further exploitation.
d. Ransomware: A user’s data are encrypted by this kind of scareware, which then demands money for the decryption key. The payment demand may be accompanied by a warning that the user’s files will be deleted if they do not pay.
Resources for Protecting Computers from Scareware
Some resources can help protect your computer from scareware. Here are the following:
a. Keep your computer with the latest security patches from your operating system provider.
b. Install a reliable antivirus application with the latest virus definitions.
c. Install a reputable anti-spyware program, and keep it up-to-date with the latest spyware definitions.
Ways to Protect Yourself from Scareware
In addition to the aforementioned resources, there exist other approaches to safeguard oneself against scareware. Firstly, exercising caution when browsing the internet or opening unsolicited emails is advisable, as these can often contain malicious software. Moreover, it is essential to maintain up-to-date anti-virus and anti-malware software on one’s device to detect and remove any potential threats. Additionally, users should refrain from clicking on suspicious links or pop-ups, as they may lead to the installation of scareware. Finally, individuals should educate themselves on common scareware tactics and stay informed on new developments in the field to remain vigilant and protected against potential threats.
How to Change Security Settings to Protect Against Scareware
Here are essential tips on how to modify your security settings and guard against scareware on your computer:
a. Enable automatic updates: Ensure your operating system, antivirus software, and other programs are set to download and install updates automatically. This may ensure that your system is shielded against the most recent threats.
b. Enable a firewall: To stop hackers from accessing your computer and preventing scareware from connecting with its command and control site, enable a firewall. In fact, your operating system may have a built-in firewall, or you can install a third-party firewall.
c. Adjust your browser settings: Configure your web browser to block pop-ups and disable unnecessary plugins or extensions. This can help prevent scareware from appearing in your browser.
d. Disable macros: Scareware may use macros to execute malicious code on your computer. To prevent this, disable macros in Microsoft Office and other programs that support them.
e. Use a standard user account: It is advisable to employ a standard user account for daily computer activities instead of an administrator account. By utilizing a standard user account, users can limit the permissions and access level for the applications and processes that run on their computer, reducing the likelihood of unintended software installations, including scareware.
f. Install reputable antivirus software: Install reputable antivirus software and keep it updated to detect and remove scareware and other malicious software.
g. Practice safe browsing habits: Be cautious when clicking on links. It is recommended to verify the authenticity and legitimacy of the source before clicking on links or downloading files and only to visit reputable and secure websites.
How to Prevent and Remove Scareware
In case you suspect that scareware has infected your computer, there are several measures you can take to eradicate it:
a. Make sure to update your security settings to the latest version.
b. Scan your computer for viruses and spyware, and remove any malicious files.
c. If you still have problems, use a trustworthy anti-malware program to clean up your computer and remove any remaining scareware.
How to remove scareware on Windows
To manually remove scareware on Windows.
a. Open Settings.
b. Choose Apps.
c. Find the application you believe is malware.
d. Click Uninstall.
You could also use Microsoft Defender Offline to scan and find scareware.
a. Navigate to Settings.
b. Select Update and Security.
c. Choose Windows Security.
d. Click virus and threat protection.
e. Select Scan options under Current Threats if you use Windows 10 or 11. Select Run a new advanced scan under Threat history if you use an older version.
f. Choose Microsoft Defender Offline Scan.
g. Click Scan now.
Follow the instructions to run Microsoft Defender Offline in a recovery environment. The Scan will take about 15 minutes to complete and will restart your device automatically.
How to remove scareware on macOS
To manually remove scareware on macOS
a. Open Finder.
b. Select the Applications folder.
c. Find the application you believe is malware.
d. Select the application and drag it to the trash can icon.
e. Right-click the trash icon to open a menu.
f. Choose Empty trash.