A growing concern among consumers is the possibility of becoming a victim of identity theft. However, that concern can also work against you, should you become the target of a cyber-criminal’s bid to have you install their scamming software.
Responsible computer users are well aware of the need to have updated antivirus and antispyware programs installed on their PCs. Without effective programs such as these, a computer can be subject to attack from any number of malicious software sources. The software that can be inadvertently downloaded may cause problems that can range from damaged files to compromised personal data leading to identity theft.
But the days of installing a simple antivirus program and refusing to open suspicious emails, in order to afford complete PC protection, are over. Identity thieves, hackers and scammers have become more sophisticated over the years. These cybercriminals, in some cases, are offering “free” software that claims to protect your computer against malicious attacks cause by malware, viruses and spyware.
But, in reality, these free programs can actually infect a computer with the same type of dangerous software that it claims to protect you against! Therefore, it’s important to know how to distinguish between bogus software protection programs and the real thing.
For example, you may be surfing an Internet site when, all of a sudden, a yellow triangle will appear on your screen with an attached warning. The warning may state something to the effect that your PC is “infected” with dangerous spyware. But we’ll suppose that you are skeptical and decide to click the “x” in the alert window’s upper right-hand corner in order to close it. Unfortunately, that would be a mistake. The next thing you may notice is an army of pop-up ads sprouting up until your computer freezes. Re-booting won’t help and you could spend hours with a technician trying to fix the problem.
You’ll be glad to know that malicious hackers whose goal is to harm your computer are actually quite uncommon. Most of the time, scammers are trying to frighten consumers into purchasing their own (possibly fake) PC protection programs. They do this by trying to convince people that their computers are, indeed, infected with some sort of harmful software. In addition, their fake alerts can actually imitate those of reputable brand-name anti-virus products.
A common “alert” is, “Your PC Has Been Infected!” This will be followed by an ad to purchase anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Without exercising caution, a concerned PC user may purchase the advertised software that is being offered at a “discount”.
In the meantime, identity thieves will be able to use the bogus software that is loaded on the computer, in order to collect personal and financial data. This can later be used for their own purposes or sold to other criminals.
The actual fake alerts are created by programs known as “Trojans”. These programs can hide in various sources, such as opened email attachments, infected websites or other pop-up advertisements. Particular website favorites for Trojan infections are adult sites and “free software” hacker sites. Once the Trojan has infected a computer, it will take control and issue the fake virus alerts. It can even accomplish this by placing its own malicious code in a computer. This is especially true if one has requested a “free virus scan” that a website or pop-up may offer.
Some of the things that may alert you to the fact that you are dealing with bogus (rogue) PC protection programs can include:
• Rogue PC protection programs will often generate more virus and spyware “alerts” than reputable software.
• Pop-ups may appear even when the computer is not online.
• Sales copy ties to pressure you to buy the product NOW!
• Infected computers may slow down considerably.
• Your browser homepage unexpectedly changes or new unexpected icons and/or desktop wallpaper appear.
There are a number of things that you can do in order to protect your PC from becoming infected. These include:
• Use an alternative browser, such as Firefox, Safari or Chrome, rather than Internet Explorer (which is targeted more by cyber-criminals).
• Use brand-name reputable anti-virus and anti-spyware programs and keep them updated. Use a good firewall, as well.
• Never open email attachments unless the source can be positively identified.
• Never click on anti-spyware or anti-virus software pop-up ads.
• Don’t touch virus alerts that appear on your screen! Hit “Control-Alt-Delete” and check the list of programs that are running. You can then delete the currently running rogue program.
• Avoid questionable websites that may be infected.
Should your computer become infected by a fake software program, stop all work and contact the PC manufacturer’s technical support hotline. Continuing to use an infected computer can further damage it and expose you to an increased risk for identity theft.
Fake antispyware and anti-virus software scams are on the rise. This is ironically due to more people becoming aware of malware and spyware dangers. However, by exercising caution, you can decrease the risk of becoming a victim of identity thieves, hackers and scammers.