Protect Yourself from Fake Anti-Virus Software

10 Tips to help you avoid fake anti-virus software scams: Internet ScamBusters #232

Today’s issue is about a scam that’s growing very fast and that you really need to be aware of: how fake anti-virus and anti-spyware software is being used by scammers and identity thieves in many cunning ways.

Scammers, identity thieves and hackers have grown more sophisticated. Today, some cyber-criminals are selling — or giving away — software that supposedly fights viruses, spyware and malware.

In fact, their “rogue software” often doesn’t work, or actually infects your computer with the dangerous programs it is supposed to protect against!

In this issue, we tell you how to distinguish between useless — or even malicious — security software and the real deal. And we’ll explain why you need to be cautious about closing or deleting these alerts, even when you know they’re fake.

Now, here we go…

Protect Yourself from Fake Anti-Virus Software

Not long ago, a colleague was conducting Internet research when — pop! — a yellow triangle appeared on his screen, warning that his computer had been infected by dangerous spyware. The alert looked real. He thought it was “issued” by his security software maker.

Still, he was skeptical. Using his mouse, he closed the alert by pressing the “x” in the window’s upper right-hand corner.

That was his first — and last — mistake!

Pop-up ads began sprouting everywhere, his screen froze, and none of his programs were accessible — even after rebooting. Basically, his computer was disabled, and he spent hours on the phone with tech support to correct the problems.

Welcome to the world of fake anti-virus, anti-spyware programs.

Despite what happened to our friend, it’s not that common to encounter hackers who simply want to harm your computer with fake anti-virus programs.

In most cases, you’ll confront scammers who want to scare you into buying “rogue” security software by making you think your computer is infected. (“Rogue” means software of unknown or questionable origin, or doubtful value.)

In fact, fake “virus alerts” often mimic ones displayed by brand-name products.

For example: “Your Computer Has Been Infected!” That’s what some pop-ups and phony alerts will say, hoping you’ll download fake anti-virus software. Don’t be fooled!

Meanwhile, ID thieves will use the fake software to gather your personal and financial information — for their own ID theft scams or for sale to others.

Fake Virus Scam Tactics

Fake virus alerts are usually generated by a Trojan — a program that takes control of your computer — after you open an email attachment, click on a pop-up advertisement or visit a particular website. (Adult sites are special favorites.)

Read more about Trojans on our page on computer Viruses.

If you run programs that provide file-sharing information — including some instant messenger (IM) applications — your computer might be remotely accessed by scammers, hackers and identity thieves.

Sometimes, the Trojan creates “false positive” readings, making you think viruses and spyware have infected your computer, even though nothing has. In other cases, scam software actually implants malicious code into your computer, especially if you request a “free virus scan.”

In other words, some peddlers of fake anti-virus software actually design the viruses, spyware and malware that their software is supposed to detect!

What to Look For Rogue Spyware

  • Rogue anti-virus/spyware programs often generate more “alerts” than the software made by reputable companies.
  • You may be bombarded with pop-ups, even when you’re not online.
  • High-pressure sales copy will try to convince you to buy RIGHT NOW!
  • If you’ve been infected, your computer may dramatically slow down.
  • Other signs of infection include: new desktop icons; new wallpaper, or having your default homepage redirected to another site.

(Mac users: if you run Windows using Boot Camp, Parallels or VMWare, these tips apply to you. However, at the time of this writing, Mac OSX does not have these problems.)

Fake Anti Virus Prevention Tips

1. Use Firefox as your browser rather than Internet Explorer.

2. Keep your computer updated with the latest anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and be sure to use a good firewall.

3. Never open an email attachment unless you are POSITIVE about the source.

4. Do NOT click on any pop-up that advertises anti-virus or anti-spyware software, especially a program promising to provide every feature known to mankind. (Also remember: the fakes often mimic well-known brands such as Grisoft AVG, Norton and McAfee.)

5. If a virus alert appears on your screen, do NOT touch it. Don’t use your mouse to eliminate or scan for viruses, and DON’T use your mouse to close the window. Instead, hit control + alt + delete to view a list of programs currently running. Delete the “rogue” from the list of running programs, and call your computer maker’s phone or online tech support service to learn if you can safely use your computer.

6. Do not download freeware or shareware unless you know it’s from a reputable source.

Unfortunately, freeware and shareware programs often come bundled with spyware, adware or fake anti-virus programs.

7. Avoid questionable websites. Some sites may automatically download malicious software onto your computer.

8. Reset your current security settings to a higher level.

9. Although fake software may closely resemble the real thing, it’s rarely an exact match. Look for suspicious discrepancies.

10. Check out this list of rogue/fake anti-virus and anti-spyware products.

If your computer is infected by rogue software, stop work and contact your computer manufacturer’s tech-support hotline. Don’t keep using the computer. This may further damage your machine and provide identity thieves with more information about you.

Use of fake anti-virus, anti-spyware software is a fast-growing scam, especially as more people become aware of the dangers of spyware, adware and malware. By following the tips above, however, you’ll better protect yourself from becoming the next victim of scammers, identity thieves and hackers.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!