Fake Antivirus Applications Are Alive and Well

The fake antivirus is the most common virus I see on computers. The irony is not missed by anyone. The problem with these tricksters is they can be a pain to remove. Knowledge is the power in this situation so click carefully when using your computer.

“System error: A virus has been detected. Click here for a removal tool.” Sound familiar?

Realistic “error” messages like this pop up on PCs every day. The goal: get people to click through and buy an antivirus application that doesn’t actually work. Or worse, infect a computer with a spyware application that collects personal information about the user and sends it back to the app’s creator.

Tactics of the Bad Guys

Usually called rogueware or rogue security software, these programs are designed to trick users into paying for simulated removal of security threats. The security “scans” are very convincing and seem to be doing a good job. The fraudulent company then asks the user for more money to upgrade to a fuller version that can detect even more threats.

In 2010, Google reported that 11,000 domains were hosting fake antivirus software, with about half delivering their rogueware through Internet advertising ploys. Some of the better-known product names include WinFixer, WinAntivirus, DriveCleaner and ErrorSafe.

More recently, hackers have been using search engine optimization techniques to get their Web sites listed at the top of search results. For example, you might Google a recent news event, and a “poisoned result” will appear at the top of the page. When you click on it to read the article, you’ll be redirected to a series of sites before landing on a page that claims your machine is infected. The site might offer a “free trial” security scan.

Once installed, the software might play an animation that simulates a system crash. More commonly, it selectively disables parts of a system to prevent you from uninstalling the software. Some products even thwart antivirus software, disable automatic system software updates, and block access to Web sites of legitimate antivirus firms.

Defensive Action

To protect yourself against rogueware, be very wary of any security alerts or warnings that seem unfamiliar or mention a company you don't know. If you see an error message, don’t panic. Rogueware creators make their money from the sudden anxiety that strikes users and causes them to quickly remove threats that don't exist.

Don’t provide credit card or PayPal information to any company that's associated with these types of alerts. Many times, simply closing the browser window will remove the scary-looking “system error alert” that's come up.

If you think you’ve been targeted and that rogueware is already on your system, seek the help of a technology professional. These programs are very difficult to remove on your own, and a pro can wipe out any hidden viruses or other threats.

Unfortunately, fake antivirus applications will live on for a long time, since they make so much money for their creators. But with some awareness and skepticism, your security can stay alive and well, too.

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