What Is Scareware?

“Your system has been infected” — a blinking message pops up on your screen. Various apocalyptic scenarios start rushing into your head while your heart is galloping. Work-related documents, emails, family pictures, social media accounts — all could vanish in a blink.

Luckily, the pop-up claims to have a solution. You click the ad, buy antivirus software, and exhale with ease thinking that you’re finally on safe ground. The week after, your credit card company starts charging you for services you have never ordered.

That is one hard way to learn about scareware.

Fake virus warning

Scareware (also known as fraudware) is a type of malware that manipulates users into purchasing unwanted software. It falsely claims your device needs to be fixed or that it scanned your operating system and found issues. Scareware can come as an email message, an attachment, a link in a browser, or a pop-up. Those messages and alerts might be very similar to the ones you can receive from legitimate software companies.

After you install scareware, it only pretends to take care after your system: instead, it collects data in the background, charges for additional services you have no idea about, and might steal your credit card details.

How to protect yourself from scareware?

  • Don’t click on any suspicious ads claiming that your system is infected. If you did click, don’t download any software you’re offered.

  • Use only legitimate antivirus software. If you’re not sure whether software is reliable, search for reviews in different sources and read about the developers.

  • Never open email attachments from anyone offering antivirus protection.

  • If a pop-up appears offering you to download antivirus, exit the website immediately. Resist the urge to click the X button to close the pop-up as it may start installing malware automatically.

  • Even if you closed your browser, scan your device just to be sure that everything is fine.

  • Block browser pop-ups in the future.

I’m not going to fall for that

If you’ve read this article until this point, you might think how naive one has to be to fall into these traps. However, it’s not that simple. Sometimes malicious apps make it to Google’s Play Store, and millions of people download them.

In 2018, researchers discovered scareware called AdultSwine in 60 game apps on the Play Store. This malicious software would show pornographic ads and trick users into installing antivirus software. It is estimated that between 3 and 7 million users were affected before Google removed the apps from the Play Store.

How to remove scareware

If you have installed scareware by accident, you have to act immediately as it’s already doing its dirty job behind the scenes.

  1. Disconnect from the internet so that the malware can’t send any information to its servers.

  2. Enter the safe mode on your device as it may block the scareware from launching.

  3. Scan your computer and get rid of any suspicious apps.

  4. Update your operating system, browser, and applications.

  5. Reset all your passwords. It might seem like drudgery at first, so we recommend NordPass to help you with the process.

Chad Hammond
Verified author
Chad loves traveling and technology. His global view and open-mindedness add interesting angles to various security topics. He has already traveled to over 80 countries and is not planning to stop any time soon.
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