NORMAN — Your computer is too slow. Click here to speed it up!” “Your computer’s drivers may be outdated. Click here to fix them!” “862 registry errors detected. Click here to clean your PC!”
If you see notices and ads with blaring headlines like these, they are most likely invitations to disaster, and not solutions to problems your computer actually has. They are tricks placed by scammers designed to lure you into installing “scareware.”
It seems that I fix at least five or six computers a month that have been infected with “scareware.” Short for “scary software,” scareware is a form of extortion, as it is designed to scare you into giving a crook some money.
Scareware succeeds by exploiting the fact that most people don’t know much about their computers. This state of ignorance has turned scareware into one of the most profitable scams on the Internet. Most folks couldn’t tell you what a “driver” for their computer actually is, much less whether or not it should be updated. This make them easy prey for the bad guys.
The simplicity of a scareware attack is one key to its success. Somehow, someway you land on a website that triggers an official-looking “Alert” that pops up, warning you that your computer has been infected by a gazillion viruses, Trojans and spyware programs, or you need new drivers, or your computer is slow, etc.. You are then offered the opportunity to get a “free download” that can get rid of all those nasty viruses. It’s a piece of malware that will eventually offer to sell you an antivirus program, which is itself another piece of malware. Clever, isn’t it?
Scareware alerts can come from infected, but otherwise legitimate websites, such as Microsoft’s MSN website, or that of the New York Times. Even the London Stock Exchange website has been hacked into serving up scareware, and earlier in 2014, Yahoo was found guilty of serving up scareware ads to its visitors. Scareware alerts can also be found on many legitimate-looking but totally bogus websites specifically setup to nab potential victims.