Scareware is fake anti-virus software. It looks like something that should help you stop malware, but instead it infects your computer. Scareware is also referred to as “Rogue security software […] or extortionware.”14

The primary strategy comes in the form of a pop-up screen on the computer that poses as a warning that a machine has been infected with malware. The warning looks genuine, but entices the nervous user to click through to what they believe will provide an antidote, usually a fake anti-virus fix that costs anywhere from $30 to $100. But the consequences of this fraud don’t stop there. Once a user is lured into this scheme and gives up credit card information and other personal details, this data can then be used in further identity fraud practices.15


Not only does scareware compromise your credit card information (if you’re gullible enough to actually pay for the malware) but it then makes your computer more vulnerable to other types of attacks.

As well, once a victim installs the fake software, they are given the false hope that their system is now safe, when in fact it may be corrupted to the point where it is open to new attacks. This is because the malware often prompts users to close down firewall settings and/or disable existing anti-virus programs.16


People fall for scareware because it looks legitimate and it preys on their ignorance and their fear. The guiding principle is this: Never believe a banner ad or pop-up ad that tells you your computer is infected with something! Always assume that such an ad is scareware. Whether or not you cough up your credit card number, just clicking on the ad may grant permission for it to install malware (such as spyware) on your machine. If you’re going to by an antivirus software package, do your homework, research the products, and then buy your product from the manufacturer (such as Symantec or McAffee).

How to Avoid Scareware

The following tips for protecting your computer against scareware comes from an article in New Scientist by Jim Giles:17

  • Before buying security software, make sure it comes from a well-known and trusted company. If in doubt, consult a tech-savvy friend.
  • If a virus warning appears when you are browsing the web, run a search on the company named in the scan. Many scareware companies are quickly identified this way.
  • Make sure you have a firewall installed and turned on. A firewall blocks unauthorized traffic between your computer and the Internet, and will prevent scareware from installing itself without your knowledge.
  • If you think nasties are already lurking on your hard drive, use the free scans provided by reputable companies like McAfee, Symantec and Microsoft.

Make sure you keep your security software up to date once you have it installed.

14 Greg Masters, “Web of Deceit,” SC Magazine: For IT Security Professionals 21, no. 4 (2010): 24-27.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.
17 Jim Giles, “Scareware: the Inside Story,” New Scientist 205, no. 2753 (2010).

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