Creative cyber criminals are continually looking for new ways to deceptively make money online. Enterprising minds are constantly placing new spins on old scams with the goal of scaring people into believing that a virus has compromised their data, or in some cases actually hijacking a computer or smartphone which locks out the owner from access. These schemes are all forms of malware which can disrupt a person’s digital life in many ways. So what’s out there online of which to beware?
Basically this is software designed for click fraud; software that falsely presents itself as an anti-virus service that has detected viruses on a system and offers to help alleviate the viruses by clicking on the service’s link. When in reality, a click on the link may actually download real viruses or spyware; the service then offers to sell their brand of software for use in cleaning up the system. There are several signs of strong-arm selling tactics to look for that may alert to fraudware:
Just as it sounds, this is an extortion scheme in which thieves hijack a system and demand a ransom before the system is restored to its original condition. Files may be encrypted with malicious code into an unreadable format; another scenario locks the monitor’s screen at startup and then displays information for contacting the cyber criminals. In a worst case scenario ransomware may even disable USB ports and DVD drives, preventing security programs from loading, thereby rendering them useless in attempting to defeat it. This type of malware is also referred to as cryptotrojan, cryptoworm, or cryptovirus.
Typically ransomware enters a system through an email attachment, an infected program, or a malicious website that has been visited. Instructions may include wiring money, sending a text message with credit card payment, or even requiring purchase of a decryption tool (software) before a key is provided to decipher the encryption. And in some cases even after payment the software that is sent is useless, rendering the computer or phone impossible to use.
This is one of the latest scams, also known as rogueware. It arrives at a computer and pretends to find multiple fictitious infections that cannot be detect with the currently installed security software. It claims that personal data is extremely vulnerable, and then asks for payment for their specific scanning program which will cleanse the system of fake infections. Some scareware programs can block any installed security programs from reaching their databases rendering them unable to update themselves; or block system tools and third-party applications from executing, making it a time-consuming process to determine the true security status of the computer system.
Scareware cyber criminals will often present a very professional appearing webpage. They may even display the icons of reputable technology companies on their page, implying that they are associated with them; however if the icons are clicked they lead to dead links. Of course the explanation often is that the infected system is to blame for blocking the links. This is indeed a telltale sign not to purchase any antivirus scanning program they are trying to sell. In most cases the scan is actually static, has no access to the hard drive, and always claims that “You’re Infected!”
One of the most common paths for scareware to reach you is through Malvertising, pop-up windows that can appear on legitimate sites. Another path involves creation of hijack sites loaded with popular keywords related to actual real-time events. For example, a site might purport to contain exclusive clips from the current blockbuster movie, when in actuality it contains mundane material, and its’ real purpose it to capture your identity.
The best way to guard against any malware is advance prevention, so always install and maintain reliable security software on any computer or smartphone system. Never click on questionable emails or open documents from any unknown source. Spam is currently a frequent source of malware, so never open it, or any files that come with it; and spam-proof your Inbox.
If fraudware is suspected, search the Net to see if anyone has reported problems with a particular anti-virus program before installing it. Always read the User Agreements that accompany any software program carefully to insure that they do not include terms allowing for download any unknown programs onto a system.
A best practice tactic to employ for avoiding intimidation from fraudware, ransomware, or scareware is to backup files often. Then if a reformat is required it can be accomplished with a minimal loss of data.