The Anti-Virus "Scareware" Challenge

If you’ve spent much time browsing the Internet, you understand how quickly high-traffic websites will bombard you with pop-up ads for unwanted products and links. While a majority of these are simply nuisances that personal computer users can avoid by turning on pop-up controls in current browsers, a newer addition to the cyber-threat landscape is Anti-Virus Scareware – also called “Fake AV (Anti-Virus)” – which makes these simple ads a lucrative criminal enterprise.

How does it work?

A website “banner ad” or pop-up window will announce “Your computer has a virus,” or ask “Is your computer running slowly?” or state “Make your system run like new.”  These ads look legit and trick many Internet users into downloading their fake anti-virus, anti-spyware or other security software download. Once the new “anti-virus” program is installed, it infects your computer with actual malicious software, disabling security measures and disrupting normal services, and finally tricking users into paying for a “full” version. USA Today reported on one recent scareware scheme that resulted in $163 million dollars of fraudulent software sales.

Should you find yourself confronted with a threat of this nature, the important thing to remember is to not click anywhere inside the pop-up window. Even the “Cancel” buttons inside the pop-up are designed to begin a download. Simply close the browser window—by rebooting your machine if necessary—and run a full scan of your machine with your current anti-virus software.

So what can you do to avoid these types of threats?

  1. The best offense is always to play good defense. It’s never too late or early to evaluate the basic elements of protecting your personal computer: anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall protection. Pinnacle has provided some information about free security resources for your review in our article, “Protect Your Personal Computer From Cyber-Threats.” These tools form a great security foundation for your PC.
  2. Turn off pop-up ads and limit browsing to known good sites. By adjusting the settings on your Internet browser and firewall, you can assure that your browser only displays websites you wish to allow. Some built-in tools in Windows, like Content Advisor, allow you to control the specific websites, or type of website, that Internet Explorer will display on your computer. Microsoft has a guide on using Content Advisor available at
  3. Watch where you click. Even trusted search engines can produce search results with links to malicious websites. Make sure you understand where a link will take you before you click – sometimes a link can open a corrupted document or even begin downloading unwanted software.

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