What you NEED to know about Scareware

One of our clients contacted us today with frustrations about their system’s performance, stemming from an all too familiar scenario– A PC Performance program states that he  has 384 errors detected, emblazoned in white over an ominous red square with a not-so-subtle exclamation mark. Naturally, concern set in and led our client to seek guidance from us. The screen that let him know something was wrong looked like this:


The first thing to note from our client is that he doesn’t recall ever downloading this program. This was a recent development that appeared about two weeks prior on his machine. Regardless, now our client is concerned because of this third-party ‘educated’ analysis of his system. As a seasoned AntiMalware professional, I’ve both seen and been a part of the machine that develops software such as this and therefore am able to quickly discern between the malign and the malignant as a result. Looking at this with a critical eye reveals that this ‘helpful’ piece of software has not yet been activated, as is the case with the majority of downloadable software– especially those you don’t recall downloading.

When you download a myriad of popular software items or updates on the web, like Java for example– there is a point in the installation process in which developers sell space to other companies who wish for the opportunity to be bundled in with the main installation. Java’s partnership with Google affords them the opportunity to download Google Chrome and the Google Toolbar during the Java install. Most of us, unfortunately, have gotten used to the routine of clicking ‘next’ four or five times in order to get through the install prompts and begin downloading the product. IT professionals call software like this ‘Scareware’.  The softwares that fall under the definition of Scareware are wildly popular. Once downloaded, they start up and ‘scan’ your system. Once they’ve found errors, they post their results in the most daunting manner humanly possible, followed by the opportunity to fix these issues. The caveat to such a humble gesture is that you much purchase the software in order to allow the Scareware to perform its duties. You can either go to the link they provide in order to purchase the product or call an 800 number to speak with ‘support’. Let’s talk a bit about this ‘support’.

Call centers are popping up all over the world that have built their business model around an affiliation with Scareware. Remember the ‘adspace’ we mentioned earlier that developers lease out for other software to be bundled in the install? Well, every download equates to a dollar amount, with a portion going to the renter of ‘adspace’ and the majority going back to the main software developer. The payout is minimal, hence the call center angle. Hoping to capitalize on the confusion of receiving these messages, unwitting users will call support in search of answers. What they receive, however, is a ploy to persuade you into spending a considerable amount of money– anywhere from $19.95 to $250!  The support professionals on the other end of the phone line are actually salesmen, trained to ask discovery questions in an attempt to gauge your computer IQ and reluctance to a sale. Once the situation is explained, these salesmen have a couple of routes they can take. They can either offer to connect to your system in an attempt to verify the results of the Scareware scan, or they will offer to activate your software for a yearly fee. The author of this blog can attest to this process, coming up in the IT arena as a support professional for one of these sales centers. Empowering yourself with an awareness of how the centers run will be an invalauble asset to your ‘IT IQ”.

Does this mean that the software is useless? Not necessarily. Unfortunately… the pedigree will suffer significantly if you’re using supposedly legitimate software to peddle additional wares. Given the rampant accumulation of Scareware out on the net, we felt it necessary to provide readers with an accurate assessment of what goes on behind the scenes, so you can make the correct decisions when faced with another gimmick delivered straight to your desktop. For further insight on the evolution of Scareware, take some time to read about Symantec’s class action lawsuit accusing them of defrauding consumers. Whether the software turns out to be useful or not, chances are you won’t be aligning yourself with an entity purely out for financial gain rather than the safeguarding of your system.


As always, should you encounter a situation like this or if you have any concerns regarding the validity of software, drop a comment here and we’ll do our best to direct you properly.



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