As helpful and indispensable as the internet has become, it continues to bring with it a host of threats that one must be constantly vigilant against. One of these threats is the infection of computer viruses. Traditionally, computer viruses were introduced to one’s personal computer as an attachment to an email or an infected document. Further, computer viruses then were mainly malicious code responsible for deleting data, corrupting files and being a general nuisance for users. It was viewed as the result of bored anti-establishment coding gurus. With time, things have taken a turn with malware nowadays being structured less towards just data destruction and more towards a financial motive including stealing customer data and pulling off remote hijacks. This why spyware and adware are some of the most commonly used buzzwords in Internet and PC security today.
Adware is a program that installs components to the user’s hard-drive via their internet connection that delivers the consumer unwanted advertisements through the use of pop-up ads or an additional toolbar on the browser. Spyware, on the other hand, installs a program to the hard drive via the user’s internet connection that allows remote hackers, in the worst cases, to take screen shots and monitor key strokes of the consumer in an effort to obtain sensitive and private financial and personal information, including account numbers, passwords, and user IDs. This critical information can then be used to steal a person’s funds or their entire identity. In the process of performing their intended functions, adware and spyware will also cause system anomalies that can prevent the entire operating system from performing properly.
Naturally, the prolific use of anti-virus software to prevent adware and spyware has given rise to a new type of threat- rogue antivirus software. Rogue antivirus or security software, also called scareware, is a type of malware that poses as genuine antivirus software claiming to scan the user’s system for the presence of computer virus threats. It plays on consumers’ fear by professing to detect numerous instances of other viruses, spyware and adware, and insists that the user pay a certain fee to have their system returned to its original state. The detection of a fake virus is usually enough to fool even the most savvy home user into paying a nominal fee, which naturally is pure profit to the purveyor of the scareware, as no improvements whatsoever are performed on the consumer’s system. On the contrary, the simulated scans and fake program installations can actually cause components of a person’s system to stop working properly.
Scareware, or rogue antivirus and security programs, will usually have a Trojan horse component that the consumer can be misled into installing in many different ways, including a new plug-in or extension, specific codec required to play a video clip, or an image or file attached to an email message. Recently, aggressive scareware manufacturers have managed to push their infected URLs to the top of the results in search engines, and when the consumer clicks on the first link, they are redirected through a series of malicious sites before finally landing on a page that insists the problem has been caused by a computer virus (in reality a fake virus) and that the consumer should immediately download and pay for the rogue program to remove unwanted elements.
Knowing that scareware is the main computer virus threat is the first step in avoiding it. It is important for the consumer to realize that no reputable antivirus program will overly aggressively insist that they pay for and download additional antivirus or scanning software. In addition, one must never download any plug-ins, programs or email attachments unless they are from absolutely reputable sources and can pass the rigors of a true antivirus scan. Because certain computer viruses will change elements of the user’s operating system so that the rogue software cannot be uninstalled, it is especially crucial to avoid installing them to begin with. If one does get installed, prevent it from gaining access to the internet and use a reputable tool, usually free, that is specifically designed to remove this type of malware.