Thursday, September 15, 2011

How to avoid the nasty fake antivirus scam

By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan contributor
updated 9/15/2011 12:16:50 PM ET


“Fake antivirus has probably been the most prominent online threat for the last two or three years. It has infected millions of people’s computers,” says Chester Wisniewski, a senior security advisor at Sophos, a worldwide security and data protection firm.

FakeAV is also known as “scareware” because it’s designed to scare you to into buying useless antivirus software that you don’t really need.

What is FakeAV?

FakeAV or Fake AntiVirus, also known as Rogue AntiVirus, Rogues, or ScareWare, is a class of malware that displays false alert messages to the victim concerning threats that do not really exist. These alerts will prompt users to visit a website where they will be asked to pay for these non-existent threats to be cleaned up. The FakeAV will continue to send these annoying and intrusive alerts until a payment is made.

Source: Sophos White Paper

The scam follows a common pattern. A pop-up shows what appears to be a security scan that falsely detects dangerous or illegal files or programs. In some cases, the bogus warnings say there is porn on your computer. The malicious software may even display pornographic images on the screen. And those pop-up warnings won’t stop until your click the button that says “register now” or “remove all threats.”
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Those who do that wind up on a site run by the cyberthieves. It says you need to buy their antivirus program — which is fake — to fix the security problems.

“So people pay for the program and they rescan their machine and of course it says their computer is clean,” explains Coleen Robbins, chief of online threat initiatives at the Federal Trade Commission. “But there was never anything wrong with the computer to begin with.”

Scareware is sold by international criminal gangs. Many are located overseas with accomplices in the United States. Based on recent prosecutions, we know the losses are staggering.


These malicious FakeAV programs can do more than extort money. They can leave nasty things behind on your hard drive.

“There have been reports that people are left with Trojans, which are pieces of spyware that grab information from your computer, which make you vulnerable to identity theft,” says Paula Selis, who runs the hi-tech unit in the Washington State Attorney General’s office. “That’s even worse than being ripped off for a product that’s absolutely worthless.”


The U.S. Department of Justice advises against buying computer security products that use unsolicited “free computer scans” to sell their products. It is also important to keep your operating system and security software up to date.


If you think you’ve by victimized by scareware, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.


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