Scareware targets Windows PC usersFake security products a rising PC security threat

19 October 2009

Scareware is the latest threat to target unsuspecting computer users, according to a report released by anti-virus software maker Symantec today.

The scareware scam involves pop-ups appearing on your screen warning you that your computer is, or is about to be infected with a virus. These messages then urge you to download, and pay for, security software.

Anti-virus and scareware help

Symantec’s Internet Security Threat Report claims there are nearly 200,000 websites worldwide selling over 250 fake programs. Individual cybercriminals are earning an annual income of over £84,000 per year, claims the security firm.

Aside from the money you hand over to pay for the software you could also be exposing your personal details, and potentially your bank account, as some scareware contains malicious software such as keyloggers.

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Con Mallon, regional product marketing director for Symantec said: 'We will never know the true value of marketing illegitimate software. The people distributing this stuff are being paid on a bounty. If I complete a rough installation I'll get paid 30 to 40p. If I can get thousands of these, I could be making £15,000 per week.'

Scareware is new phishing

One worrying aspect of scareware is that individuals are actively downloading the rogue software. ‘People think that they’re doing the right thing [by downloading anti-virus protection],’ said Mallon.

'It's like phishing but with a bigger hook that gets you, and fillets you,' said Professor David Wall, a criminal justice studies lecturer at Leeds University.'It's a new type of cybercrime in that it's automated; it seeks out victims, cons them and collects the money,' he added.

Windows 7 anti-virus controls

Mallon says that Norton Internet Security should flash up a warning when it comes across a program it's unfamiliar with. However, Windows User Account Controls (UAC) also asks you for permission to install software, often when the software is legitimate.

'UAC has muddied the waters – we didn’t like that as a methodology. Consumers don’t have enough information to answer that question [whether to install software],' he said.

Windows 7 gives you greater control over the frequency that UAC appears on screen. 

Warning signs to watch out for

  • If a banner on a website is flashing at you telling you’ve been infected, it's probably a scam
  • Don't download software programs before you've checked them out.
  • Don’t panic. These types of scams often require you to take urgent action to suck you in.
  • Make sure you have security software on your computer and keep it updated.

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