How to Protect Yourself From Fake Antivirus Programs and Other Scamware/Scareware
I’m sure you’ve seen the commercials, heard the warnings, and perhaps been tempted to visit sites such as MaxMySpeed and MyCleanPC. The commercials make the website sound very appealing, one click and your computer’s performance is boosted up to 100% as some commercials claim. Did you ever wonder if it might be too good to be true?
Some of the best antispyware and antivirus programs (generally speaking anti-malware, malware meaning malicious software) are actually free. Some of the most suspicious software (with the exception of a few reputable brands such as TrendMicro, Norton (Symantec), McAfee, etc) costs you money. It’d be one thing if the cost was for a sub-par antivirus or antispyware program. You’d be disappointed, sure, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. Unfortunately it isn’t so simple. Scareware can be anything from a nuisance to a nightmare and the cost may initially only be $40 or so, but wait until you try to remove it.
Scareware/Scamware/Rogueware (same thing) attempts to scare you (hence the name Scareware) into thinking that you have a problem that is worse than it is, so that you’ll buy their software that does nothing more than to scare you and annoy you by creating problems where none existed (hence the Scamware/Rogueware part). Scamware will install on your computer often without your explicit knowledge or consent. Once it’s on, it can be a nightmare to get rid of.
How do you know when you’ve been infected with a fake antivirus (i.e. scareware)?
- First it gets installed without your knowledge and consent. You’ll be minding your own business when suddenly unknown icons often appear in your system tray and you’ll get warning messages flash at you from the task bar.
- Once it’s installed, it will often start a scan on your PC without you asking for it. If it doesn’t start a scan, it will act like it’s got real-time protection that’s already found something. And that something usually sounds horrible!
- If you see a warning pop-up, it will be worded in an urgent manner, as if your computer will fall apart if you don’t hurry up and do something! The aggressive warning messages use scare tactics and typically also direct you back toward the scamware’s website (so you can purchase)!
- Rogueware often hijacks your browser so that any website you try to go to automatically takes you back to their website. Some, however, are nice – they’ll only redirect you when you try to go to a site such as TrendMicro’s Housecall.
- If the software runs a scan, you’ll see numerous things appear. It will look like you’re not only infected, you’re infected hundreds of times over. They use this to scare you more, obviously. However, these files are generally all safe necessary files, usually with funny names that many technically-challenged people don’t recognize. If you removed them, you could wind up with more problems!
- If you get duped into buying it, and attempt to clean the “problems” displayed in the scan results, your computer still won’t be running smoothly because it will still be infected with the fake antivirus! Not to mention, you may have deleted some good files if you did use the scan. That is, if it even worked at all!
It’s not only MaxMyPC, CleanMyPC, MyCleanPC, and StopSign that are the scams. There is a long list of fake antivirus software on Wikipedia. Popular programs include:
- XP Security Center
- Internet Security 2010
- WinAntivirus Pro
- Windows Protection Suite
- XP Antivirus Pro
- AntiVirus Scan
- XP Defender Pro
- AntiVirus 2009
- Windows Security Center (a fake Windows Security Center designed to look much like the real one)
You’ll notice that many of them mimic legitimate software with every similar names and, should you see them, very similar appearances. However, removal of fake antivirus software like any other virus, spyware, adware or other malware is a headache, at best.
So how can you avoid the fake antivirus software and the fake antispyware software and not get duped?
- Many of the best antispyware (or generally anti-malware, since many also serve as antivirus software) programs are FREE. HijackThis, Spybot Search & Destroy, AVG, Avast, Avira, SuperAntispyware, ComboFix, MalwareBytes, WinsockXP Fix (which can repair an internet connection after malware removal), and more are FREE (some have free and pro/pay versions) and work great even on some of the toughest malware. These programs truly help you clean your computer and remove a fake antivirus.
- Remember that TV commercials and other mass advertising isn’t free and they have to be paying for it somehow! The programs above are most often advertised through word-of-mouth on popular tech support forums.
- It can take hours to remove a malware infection and get the computer back to is original state, and no antivirus software can guarantee it’ll work 100% every single time. If it makes this claim, it’s lying.
- Remember that your computer can only be so fast, no matter what. If your computer doesn’t have the necessary hardware specifications to be a fast machine, it won’t be fast no matter how much cleaning. Your computer can only operate within its limits, and any computer that’s been in use for awhile will almost definitely be slower by nature, even if all installed programs are legitimate.
- Before you visit any supposed the website of any supposed antivirus, any software that claims it can clean your computer with one easy click, or any software advertised with scare tactics, research it. Conduct a Google search and look for the results you see the most of. Several search results mentioning it’s a virus? Stay away!