Search for player software can lead to a virus download: Internet Scambusters #618
Think you're immune to making a virus download?
Maybe you don't realize how cunning crooks are in tricking you into installing malware on your PC. We explain how they do it in this week's issue.
Plus, we have a scam warning about the current Ice Bucket Challenge fad.
Let's get started...
How Crooks Trick You Into a Virus Download
If you ever get malware on your PC, the most likely cause will be that you performed the virus download yourself.
Despite everything we hear it's not that easy for crooks to plant malicious programs on your PC without your help.
They use lots of cunning tricks to fool you into downloading their viruses, some of which even the best security software may not detect, especially if they're newly crafted.
In a security report published earlier this year, Microsoft said these "deceptive downloads" were the top threat in nearly every country worldwide, where they studied the contents of nearly 600 million computers.
What makes them "deceptive"?
Well, it's because they're often baited with free, genuine downloadable programs and games, or even music.
"For example," says Microsoft, "you might receive a file in an email or through social networking but when you try to open it you see a message that says you don't have the right software to open it.
"You do a search online and come across a free software download that claims it can help you open the file. You download that software, but you unknowingly might also be downloading malicious software ... with it.
"This malware might have the ability to access personal information in your computer or use your computer for cybercrime."
In another common version of this trick, victims receive a message pointing to a video, usually supposedly of a sensational nature.
But when they try to watch the video, they're told they need a special viewer or an add-on to their usual media player (called a "codec").
Again, this is merely a ruse to get them to download a virus onto their machines.
Others are less dangerous but just as frustrating, like programs that change your browser's home page (and keep changing it even when you try to re-set it), or spyware that reports on your viewing habits for unscrupulous marketing companies.
So, what can you do to avoid this nasty trap?
Well, think about it: Genuine online video, music and games producers don't, in the main, produce items that need additional software to run them beyond what is already available on most machines.
Why would they, since such a requirement would severely limit the popularity of their products?
So, if you already have a mainstream media player and standard viewers like QuickTime or Adobe Flash, you shouldn't need anything else -- including add-ons and updates that the malware crooks might say you need.
So, here's Microsoft's advice:
- Think before you click.
- Only download material from sites you already know you can trust.
- Make sure you're using the latest versions of software that are already installed on your PC.
- Use a reputable anti-virus program and keep it up to date. This last bit is crucial because, as we said earlier, crooks are always coming up with new pieces of malware. The best way to keep your software current is to allow automatic updates for programs you know and trust.
- Use newer software whenever possible. This is less likely to be vulnerable to malware attacks.
If you think you may already have fallen victim to a deceptive download, run a full scan of your system via your Internet security software.
If you have a current version of Windows (Windows 8 or 8.1), you can run the built-in Windows Defender.
Or with older versions, you can try Microsoft's free Safety Scanner.
Of course, there are also plenty of other anti-virus programs -- free and paid-for -- that safeguard you against nearly all except the most recent threats.
And some Internet browsers now have checks built in for deceptive downloads.
Sometimes, your security software may detect malware but be unable to remove it. You may need professional help, but you can also sometimes find removal guidance online if you know the name of the virus.
Microsoft also offers advice in their Malware Protection Center.
In a worst-case scenario, you may have to restore your PC to an earlier version. This underlines the importance of keeping regular system backups.
Otherwise, you'll be back to square one with a completely new install. That's a high price to pay for a single, deceptive virus download!
Alert of the week
On the same theme as this week's main issue, there's a new alert relating to the current popular Ice Bucket Challenge fad.
In this craze, people produce videos of themselves pouring a bucket of water over their heads -- in the name of charitable money-raising -- and then challenge their friends to do the same.
It makes for some hilarious videos, which is why crooks are sending out emails supposedly pointing to some really spectacular ones, but they're really just malware links.
Other scammers have set up bogus lookalike pages for the original charity that sparked the craze -- the ALS Association.
If you want to donate, go directly to the ALS Association website.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!