Smart computer users know about the importance of security software. These are the programs that prevent hackers from stealing your information and protect against viruses corrupting your computer. But did you know that some of the programs advertised as security software are actually fakes that don’t protect, and in some cases, actually infect your computer with the very malware they purport to defend against? Rogue security software (also called scareware) is a serious problem threatening computer users today. Here, we take a look at what it is and how to protect yourself.
Security Software Scams
Because security software is necessary for every user, profiteering programmers have attempted to exploit it for their own benefit. By offering users fake security software that is either ineffective or actually carries malware, scammers can make money by charging users for the programs — worse — steal user’s information for identify theft. The lucrative scam targets naïve users who may shell out up to $100 for programs that do not work and are often fronts to steal personal information.
In addition to the financial drain, the software can also do legitimate damage by infecting your computer with a virus. In fact, a 2010 Google study suggests that scareware currently accounts for 15 percent of all malware detected on the web. And this problem only continues to grow as millions of installations are attempted each year.
So how does rogue security software work? These scams manipulate users into downloading the “programs” through a variety of techniques. Some of these methods include:
• Ads offering “free” or “trial” versions of security programs, offering pricey “upgrades,” or encouraging the purchase of “deluxe” versions (some rogue security programs even promote that a portion of the proceeds go to charity).
• Popups warning that your computer is infected with a virus, which encourages you to “clean” it by clicking on the program.
• Manipulated SEO rankings that put infected websites as the top hits when you search. These links then redirect you to a landing page that claims your machine is infected and encourages a free “trial” of the rogue security program. (Google found 11,000 websites participating in this.)
• Security program offers through email spam, which encourages you to click on the link for a special offers.
Once the scareware is installed, it can steal your information, slow your computer, corrupt files, disable updates for legitimate antivirus software, or even prevent you from visiting legitimate security software vendor sites.
Install legitimate security:Install and keep active your firewall, antivirus, and antispyware security software. ZoneAlarm® Extreme Security 2012 provides all this protection, plus Browser Virtualization, which protects you against the download popups scammers attempt to lure you in with. Also automatically update your security software and operating system.
Always buy the real deal: Security software is a necessity, so make sure you’re buying from a well-known, legitimate source. Verify that you’re purchasing from the authentic website, and contact its customer service with any questions you may have.
Think before you click: Avoid phishing scams that encourage you to click on email links from unauthorized senders. And don’t download from popups that encourage you to download a program. Legitimate security software won’t “scare” you into downloading something. If you see one of these popups, just close the box (don’t even click no or cancel).