What is Scareware?

We’ve all seen it even if we haven’t recognized it. “Scareware” is a type of malicious code that is designed to trick, deceive, or mislead a user. Such malware is intentionally designed to cause the user to panic or become anxious over the integrity of his system. (In some instances, Scareware also defines malicious code whose sole purpose is to cause alarm.) They do this by using pop-ups, “clickjacking,” and faking a large number of system errors like unprotected ports in a firewall, registry problems, infected files, etc. The code’s end goal can be anything from purchasing to downloading useless software to “protect” the user. Scareware can come in the form of pop-ups on internet web browsers or accidently downloaded applications.

Scareware effects can take any number of forms, but most uses some combination of notifications and/or pop-ups to panic the user into taking an action that could be potentially harmful to their system. Once the user starts following the prompts it can do any number of things such as downloading infected files, creating holes in a user’s firewall, altering other program’s parameters and similar dangerous activity. Scareware that tricks you into purchasing it can be monetarily burdensome both immediately and in the future. The same bogus company that sold you Scareware software in the beginning can repeatedly charge your financial information. Actually fixing the latter can be a task in and of itself and may lead to affected users having to completely change their information to stop the charges.

Scareware Popup
Example: Scareware Popup

How to Protect Yourself from Scareware

In most cases, protecting yourself from Scareware is a matter of being perceptive with what you download from the internet and/or getting an ad blocker that’s up to date. Should you suspect that you’re receiving faulty notifications immediately close out any suspicious programs in your system tray.

Following these important steps may considerably reduce your risk of falling victim to Scareware:

  • Become naturally wary of any pop-up window that appears on your PC. Most operating systems minimize the use of pop-ups to help with this.
  • Do not perform “free” security scans offered by any website.
  • Make it a practice not to click on any links within pop-up windows or other alerts.
  • Never click on the pop-up window (or the alert), even the “X” or “Close” buttons.
  • If you’re faced with any of the warning signs of a Scareware scam immediately shutdown your web browser, or if that’s not possible, or turn off your PC.
  • To close the alert window, press CTRL + ALT + DEL and close the browser using Task Manager.
  • Check for any recently installed programs that you don’t remember installing. (Pro Tip: Sorting by “date of install” makes it easier to notice what’s been recently installed in your system) If there are any, simply uninstall them and run virus scan with an antivirus like STOPzilla Antivirus.