Scareware gets Scarier

More compromised Web sites are trying to trick you into running their ever more realistic-looking anti-virus 'programs.'

There I was doing some research on a story, well actually looking for the latest Dr. Who episode, when I was presented with a message that my computer might be infected by a virus and it was being scanned. Yeah. Right. This was on one of my Linux desktops and it's no more likely to get a virus than my Pittsburgh Steelers are to win the Super Bowl this season.

What was actually happening was that I'd stumbled over a site trying to scam me into buying, at best, bogus anti-virus software, and, at worse, infect me with malware and steal my credit-card information. I'm not the only one. The U.S. Government's Internet Crime Complaint Center just reported that this kind of scareware is getting to be a lot more common. Indeed, the "FBI is aware of an estimated loss to victims in excess of $150 million."

I strongly suspect far more money has been lost than that. These fake virus warnings are very hard to get rid of once they appear on a Windows PC. If you try any of the usual ways to close a program or window nothing is likely to happen. Your only sure way of escaping from one is to re-boot your computer. What a pain!

Worse still, there's a new virus scareware that fakes an endorsement of the software by Microsoft. In this variation, according to Tom Kelchner and Adam Thomas, security researchers at Sunbelt Software you're presented with a fake virus scan and told you need to buy bogus DefenceLab anti-virus software to clean the problem up. What makes this one especially trick is that to back up its claims it will direct you to what looks like a real Microsoft Support page.

Whatever you do, don't, I repeat, don't click any "OK" or "Fix It" button. If you do, two things might happen and both of them are bad. The first is that it will first ask for your credit-card number and rip you off for the bogus anti-virus program. If you're lucky that's all that will happen. If you're not, God alone knows how much crap will be charged to your credit-card.

The alternative is that it doesn't try to grab your credit-card information, but instead it just installs some kind of malware on your PC.

Of course, there's always the chance that you'll get the scareware trifecta. You'll be charged for a useless anti-virus program or fix; your credit-card information will be stolen; and you'll get a case of malware. Lucky you.

To avoid this junk, use good anti-virus protection software and an up-to-date Web browser. And, if you're still running Internet Explorer 6. Stop. Now. IE 6 hasn't been safe for years.

If you're using a Mac or Linux PC, and you get one of these scareware messages, you can ignore it. None of these scareware programs can attack you. If the fake virus message won't disappear, just re-start your browser. If you're a Windows user, as I said earlier, the smartest thing you can do if you get one of these 'warnings,' is to re-boot your PC. I know it's annoying, but it's the safest way of handling scareware.

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