Scareware is the catch-all name used for any of the numerous programs that weasel their way into computers and then pepper users with frightening pop-ups telling them their systems have been jeopardized with a virus (they have, but not in the way these warnings suggest – more on that shortly) and urge them to download various security applications to rid them of these supposed viruses. But those downloads that the pop-ups peddle are often malicious themselves, and can disable your computer while making it virtually impossible to wipe the real bugs from your computer. So what can you do if you’re unlucky enough to be infected with scareware? Here’s what the experts suggest:
- Understand the Problem: Don’t ignore these warnings. Even though the content of the messages is false – you don’t have the virus the scareware program says you do – you do have a virus on your computer, and it’s the one that keeps giving you these warnings. Nicolas Brulez, a senior malware researcher at Kaspersky Lab, says that once you digest that bitter pill and recognize that your computer does indeed have a virus (the scareware), you’re on the right track to fixing the problem.
- Pay Nothing: Many of these programs require you to share credit card information under the false pretense of issuing you a licensed antivirus program that can remove the virus that you are being warned about. This can’t be stressed enough: Don’t pay. The reason is two-fold. First, these scammers may indeed temporarily give you access to your system again, but they’ll be back for more money soon. The second, and really more vital reason, is that you will have turned over vital credit card information for people who are almost certainly interested in identity theft.
- Find a Third-Party Solution: TThe scareware program on your system has most likely disabled your native antivirus software, but reinstalling it with the installation disk might enable it again, at which point it may be able to detect and remove the harmful program. If that doesn’t work there are free and premium tools available online that will remove their malicious, deceitful programs. Among them are the Kaspersky Removal Tool, MBAM, offered by bleepingcomputer.com and so on.
- Manual Labor: Here’s where it gets messy. If the above automated solutions don’t work you may have to attempt to manually remove the virus. There is no cookie-cutter solution for this, but once you find out the type of scareware program your system has been infected with you’ll be able to find an online tutorial through various Websites and user forums like bleepingcomputer.com to guide you. If that fails, it’s time to recover what you can: pull off whatever sensitive files you can access from the hard drive (booting directly from your system’s operating installation disk might help), then reformat the hard drive and reinstall the operating systems and applications to restore your computer’s original functionality. Beware: This process is difficult and can end badly. Use it as a last resort.
- Re-install Antivirus Software: Once you’ve restored your system, reinstall a reputable antivirus program. Use it to scan and clean your machine again, because many of these scareware programs install secondary programs that can also be harmful and you’ll need to make sure those are removed.
- Patch it Up: Now that your system is restored and disinfected, make sure that all of your operating system and any third-party programs and applications are up to date. Scareware programs (as well as other viruses and various tools used to exploit systems by scammers) exploit security loopholes in operating systems, web browsers, browser plug-ins and widely used applications. The latest versions of all such items will include patches to plug up those loopholes, so updating your system’s software to its newest version is always a good way to keep it safe.
- Roam the Web Safely: Going forward, know that scareware programs typically require some amount of interaction with users to insert themselves into your system. Protect yourself by avoiding suspicious and questionable links (shortened links on Twitter and Facebook are common hiding places for such programs), and be very wary of any pop-up ads that warn you of potential infections or offer free antivirus scans of your system. The only interaction you should have with pop-ups like that is to close the window in which they appear – immediately. Be sure to never click anywhere within that ad, unless you want to have to go through this seven-step process all over again.