New series: The most popular attacks Part 1: Scareware tricks and dangers

Today’s crooks are no longer stealing handbags or cars – they’ve got their sights set on internet users’ data and money. We’ll show you the most popular scams, how you can spot them, and what you can do to defend yourself. In the first part, we’ll look at fake virus alerts.

Increasing internet use has given rise to an increase in internet criminality. And just as the number of victims has risen, so too have losses. Assailants now have many tricks up their sleeve to get their hands on your data or money. From hijacked PCs that redirect internet traffic to fake security programs that block your PC – the crooks’ creativity is astounding. Yet, all attacks have one thing in common: A piece of malware first has to implant itself on your PC before the cybercrooks can put their dastardly plan into action. In this series of blog posts, we’ll show you the ten key symptoms that are a sure sign of an infection.

Symptom 1: Fake virus alerts/scareware

The warning sign: If your antivirus program or Windows keep showing you alerts that turn out to be fake, it’s a sure sign you’ve been infected by a virus.

The scam

Spread fear, trick, cash in – cybergangsters try to lure unsuspecting PC users into their trap using scareware programs. The criminals offer authentic looking virus protection, optimization, or anti-spying programs. These are advertised on websites using fake test winner logos or on ad banners where they stoke your curiosity and then end up getting on your PC. Popular scams include misleading alert messages on websites, which you can only get shot of if you get the (often chargeable) tool (see image). One particularly nasty trick is that the fake alert messages are hard to tell apart from the real alerts that Windows spits out. The only thing is that these tools are often completely useless – or free programs are available from reputable developers that can do exactly the same if not more. In the worst case, the full version downloads new malware from the internet. And it’s a highly profitable business: Until it was exposed, Innovative Marketing was the largest known scareware developer with annual sales in excess of 140 million euros and around 600 employees.

The solution

The best thing to do is to simply ignore the alerts. If you can’t close the alert window or your browser, end the browser using Task Manager (CTRL + ALT + DEL). Ended up installing a program unintentionally? Switch off your computer immediately. Then, try starting your computer in Safe Mode to restore Windows 10 to a state it was at before the infection. You’ll need to perform a system restore to do this. It’s also worth using a rescue DVD from an antivirus scanner developer to start your computer and check it for infections (see part X).

We’ll be focusing on adware in part 2.

This post is also available in: German