Scareware Not Swine Flu – An Epidemic Nevertheless!

Cyber crooks are continuing to develop and distribute “rogue software”, also known as “scareware’,  at a furious pace; there are literally thousands of variants of this type of malware currently circulating on the Internet.

Unless you have had the bad experience of being trapped by this type of malicious software, you may not even be aware that such a class of software even exists. The average computer user that I speak with informally, has no idea that rogue applications even exist.  But they do, and distribution has now reached virtual epidemic proportions on the Internet.

It’s all about the money:

Rogue software is software that uses malware, or malicious tools, to advertise or install itself. After the installation of rogue software, false positives; a fake or false malware detection warning in a computer scan, are a primary method used to convince the unlucky user to purchase the product.

Rogue security software can write itself into multiple parts of the operating system, and in many cases it can hide its files, registry entries, running process and services, making the infection, in many cases, virtually impossible to find and remove.

As well, the installation of such malware can lead to a critically disabled PC, or in the worst case scenario, allow hackers access to important personal and financial information.

(Current Internet infections – courtesy of Panda Security)

The highest rated articles on this Blog, in the last 12 months, have been those associated with this type of malicious software. It’s easy to see why.

So how much money is really involved here? Lots -according to Panda Security, approximately 35 million computers are infected with scareware/rogueware each month (roughly 3.50 percent of all computers), and cybercriminals are earning more than $34 million monthly through rogueware attacks.

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(An example of a current rogue security application)

Recently, a reader of this Blog made the statement “These people (cyber criminals), should stop doing this and get a real job”. The obvious answer to this of course is – this is their real job! How many jobs – a relatively easy job at that – could produce this type of income?

The following two examples taken from this Blogs readers’ questions, illustrate the consequences of becoming infected by rogue security software.

Victim #1What do you do if you were duped into buying the XP Antivirus software? Should I take any precautions such as canceling credit card and/or email passwords etc.? Is my home edition of avast! 4.8 Antivirus enough to keep me safe from bogus and/or rogue software???? Please help…my computer is my life! Thank you.

Victim #2I unfortunately fell for the “virus attack” after trying to remove it, gave in and bought the XPAntivirus. They charged me not only for what I had bought but charged me again, $ 78.83 for something which I hadn’t ordered, nor ever received. It was a nightmare trying to get in touch with anybody.

I finally connected with a guy with an accent, who told me to E-mail the billing service re: my problem. I wrote them tried to call, it’s been a week, and they still won’t contact me to clarify what occurred. I printed off a purchase order from them when I bought the XP which verifies what I received. Anybody know what state their in, I’ll notify the states attorneys office. These people are crooks.

(These two readers were responded to privately.)

If you become infected by this, or other scareware (rogue software), have your PC worked on by a certified computer technician, who will have the tools, and the competency, to determine if the infection can be removed without causing system damage. Computer technicians do not provide services at no cost, so be prepared for the costs involved.

If you feel you have the necessary skills, and you want to try your hand at removal, then by all means do so. The following removal solutions will be invaluable.

The individuals / companies, who wrote and developed these free tools, and who offer free removal advice, are to be congratulated for giving back, so freely, to the Internet community.

Without their generous efforts, those infected by rogue applications, would be faced, without the assistance of a professional, with the unenviable task of performing a complete system reinstall, with a strong probability of losing irreplaceable Hard Drive data.

Free resources:

Malwarebytes, a very reliable anti-malware company, offers a free version of Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware, a highly rated anti-malware application which is capable of removing many newer rogue applications.

411 Spyware – a site that specializes in malware removal. I highly recommend this site.

Bleeping Computer – a web site where help is available for many computer related problems, including the removal of rogue software. This is another site I highly recommend.

SmitFraudFix, available for download at Geekstogo is a free tool that is continuously updated to assist victims of rogue security applications.

What you can do to reduce the chances of infecting your system with rogue software.

Be careful in downloading freeware or shareware programs. Spyware is occasionally concealed in these programs. Download this type of program only through reputable web sites such as Download.com, or sites that you know to be safe.

Consider carefully the inherent risks attached to peer-to-peer (P2P), or file sharing applications.

Install an Internet Browser add-on that provides protection against questionable or unsafe websites. My personal favorite is Web of Trust, an Internet Explorer/FireFox add-on, that offers substantial protection against questionable or unsafe websites.

Do not click on unsolicited invitations to download software of any kind.

Additional precautions you can take to protect your computer system:

When surfing the web: Stop. Think. Click

Don’t open unknown email attachments

Don’t run programs of unknown origin

Disable hidden filename extensions

Keep all applications (including your operating system) patched

Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when not in use

Disable Java, JavaScript, and ActiveX if possible

Disable scripting features in email programs

Make regular backups of critical data

Make a boot disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised

Turn off file and printer sharing on the computer.

Install a personal firewall on the computer.

Install anti-virus/anti-spyware software and ensure it is configured to automatically update when you are connected to the Internet

Ensure the anti-virus software scans all email attachments

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