Scareware, Ransomware, and How to Avoid It

There’s a new piece of malware going around that falls into the “ransomware” category. This one locks down the user’s desktop, and displays a message warning that copyrighted content has been detected on the PC. It then attempts to extort $400 from the user as a “copyright holder’s fine,” while emphasizing that “the maximum penalties can be five years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.” You can read more about this particular piece of malware in Dancho Danchev’s blog post over on ZDnet.

According to an earlier post by the same author last September, “scareware” and “ransomware,” have emerged as “the single most profitable monetization strategy for cybercriminals to take advantage of.” In general terms, scareware usually takes the form of fake security software – like the infamous “Antivirus 2008.” It is spread almost entirely through “social engineering” tactics that attempt to entice you to visit a compromised Web site. It attempts to trick you into believing that your computer is already infected with malware (or has some other problem, like the fake copyright violation angle), and that purchasing the fake security application or otherwise giving them money will solve the problem.

Some of this malware will prevent your legitimate security software from loading, and from being updated. Some will also attempt to prevent you from running system tools or third-party security applications, which makes it even more difficult to get rid of. Some even encrypt your files and attempt to extort money from you in order to decrypt them.

Needless to say, this is an extremely dangerous, and insidious, form of malware, and one that you want to avoid at all costs. To that end, I highly recommend Danchev’s September post, entitled “The ultimate guide to scareware protection.” It will help you understand what it is, how to recognize it, how it attempts to reach you, and how to avoid it, and provides a helpful gallery of images of many of the variants so you can spot them if they happen to pop up.

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