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How to Prevent Becoming a Target of ScareWare?

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Scareware, commonly known as deception software, earns its name from introducing itself to the targeted victims. From the start, scareware attempts to establish a fearful environment and warn the users; the state of panic is extremely useful in encouraging users to install the shareware programs.

Scareware calls your system infected with viruses and asks you to buy fake anti-virus software to clean it. It targets your lack of knowledge regarding computers or fears to trick you into giving your sensitive information, including your bank account information or credit card details. The hijackers might install harmful keylogging software to access more data and steal your identity.

The scareware attacks happen due to cyber-criminals’ collective efforts to steal personal credit card information and confidential data. Scammers use tactics that seem legitimate warnings from anti-virus software companies and successfully fool you.

Before we directly jump to the tips to prevent scareware attacks, let’s first discuss some other vital aspects of these attacks.

How Scareware Proves Beneficial to Cyber-Crooks?

Scareware scams are the most favorite tactic used by cyber-criminals. The prime objective of such attacks is to scare the users, so they click on the malicious link. With this, the attacker can install other forms of malware onto your network to steal your account credential and allow other malware-based cyberattacks.

An attacker also uses scareware to fool you into buying a bogus anti-virus product. Thus, by providing the credit card information to the scammer, you’re allowing them to commit fraud.

Remember that your credit card information may get used multiple times rather than a single time once you’ve been tricked. After installing the infected program impersonating as an IT solution, it functions as a keylogger that records all your data. It later sends them to the cyber-criminal looking for passwords for a bank account, email account access, and other relevant information to commit identity theft. Always use a secure password and implement two-factor authentication to avoid uncertain situations.

Worst of all, scareware allows a remote attacker to control your system entirely.

Types of Scareware Scams

The first and foremost important thing that you need to do to protect yourself against scareware and other cyber threats is to learn about the different types of scareware scams. Understanding what scareware attacks look like helps you avoid them and take the necessary measures to mitigate the risk.

Here are three types of scareware scams to improve your knowledge and awareness.

Scareware Emails

It is a social attack technique where the attacker sends an urgent email asking the recipient to take quick and immediate action. In most cases, the email uses an email domain or spoofed sender address to pretend to have come from a reliable source.

The email might also demand the receiver to click on a link to have anti-virus software or even share their access information to allow the technical support team to resolve the issue.

Scareware Website Pop-ups

It is one of the most common types of scareware found on popular websites on various social media channels, including Facebook. A pop-up ad indicates an alert for the anti-virus program and tries to fool the user into believing that there’s malware present on their device.

The objective is to urge the user to download a link in the ad. However, the link is a Trojan horse instead of an anti-virus program loaded with bogus malware to harm your system.

Scareware Tech Support Calls

It is not a complete scareware attack because malicious software isn’t involved in this strategy. The tech support scam scares the users into giving away their sensitive information. 

In this attack, the scammer impersonates them as a technical support agent, saying that your device is infected and needs a fix soon. From here, the scammer attempts to lure you into giving them access to your device. Once you become a fool, they use the information to commit fraud.

How to Recognize Scareware Attacks?

Scareware represents itself as an advert or a message in a pop-up window, email, text attachment, and even a link on a legitimate web page. But, you can also get them on your device by visiting any compromised and vulnerable website.

Here are some quick tips for recognizing these scams.

Pop-up Adverts Emphasis on Urgency

The goal of such a scam is to scare you until you give away your personal information and buy fake products. The pop-up ads are typically designed to give urgent warnings that might convince you that viruses and Trojans infect your system. Hence, the more compelling the message looks, the higher chances of it being a scam.

Difficult to Dismiss

Secondly, these pop-up ads are hard to dismiss, with a hardly visible ‘x button’ at the top right corner most of the time. Clicking on it opens more warnings, clearly indicating that it’s a scareware scam.

Ask You to Scan Your System

When the scareware pop-ups, they warn you of tons of so-called viruses planning to harm your system’s security and ask you to scan your system. Such scams claim you to purchase malware or other privacy guarantee products, but you must think twice before taking action.

Tips to Protect Yourself

There are several tips as well to secure yourself and your devices. Some of them are as follows:

  • Stay vigilant. Any threat or direction to download a solution to a particular problem is simply a scam. 
  • Don’t forget that scareware’s primary purpose is to cause panic and lead the victim to make a terrible decision. Don’t do this. Think twice before taking any further steps and follow your instincts.
  • Use an ad-blocker and keep it on at all times, particularly when visiting a new source or a website. Doing this can prevent pop-ups from appearing on your screen.
  • Avoid downloading anything from an unlikely or unknown source.
  • Don’t open file attachments or click on the links in suspicious emails or text messages.
  • Avoid opening any attachment or link from friends sent through social networks without cross-checking whether it’s genuine or not.
  • Read emails in plain text rather than HTML form that allows embedded graphics, tables, links, and stylish colored text. Although it might not look pretty, the plain text exposes suspicious HTML links within the emails.
  • Use a VPN as it protects all of your network traffic by encrypting your data and traffic. However, remember to use a VPN with a combination of high-quality anti-virus software when connecting to the internet.
  • Installing reliable anti-virus software used on all your devices is another proactive way of securing yourself against scareware scams. It’s crucial to install all the updates for the anti-virus software as they come out. 
  • Make sure to update your browser from time to time as it guarantees protection against pop-ups messages and adverts in the future. Also, please turn on the auto-update feature as it’s the best alternative if you forget to update your software.
  • Avoid clicking anywhere on the pop-up ads or dialogue boxes. The window might have a clickjacking feature that launches a malware download or directs you to a malicious site if you click on the “X button” or cancel it to close the window. Also, be cautious not to click on any download button as well.

Final Thoughts

In the age of cyber warfare, scareware is one more method cyber intruders use to take advantage of your data. However, being aware of it means you’ve won half of the battle. By taking the appropriate measures, you can prevent such scams. Hopefully, the tips mentioned above might help you in the near time in fighting against attacks like this. 

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Rebecca James is an IT consultant with forward thinking approach toward developing IT infrastructures of SMEs. She writes to engage with individuals and raise awareness of digital security, privacy, and better IT infrastructure.

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