The Fake-Alert Epidemic
Fake anti-viruses (also known as Fake-Alerts, Scare-ware, and Ransom-ware) are an Epidemic – A wide-spread infection which affects many people, and it’s very difficult to avoid. These types of infections are different than all of the viruses in the past, in that anti-virus programs can not stop the majority of them. This means it is up to the user to learn how to be safe without a program watching over them. The first step is learning how they work, so that you know what to avoid.
Fake anti-viruses pretend to be a real program that is installed on a computer, in hopes that you will believe it is part of your computer and do whatever it says. They are normally very ‘in your face,’ which a real anti-virus generally is not. They generally do a pretty good mimicry of real software – sometimes they will be called things like “Microsoft Antivirus” which sounds like it could be part of windows.
The first thing you should make note of, is what anti-virus programs ARE in your computer. Windows only comes with one thing – Windows defender. If you did not install any anti-virus, and the computer did not come with an anti-virus, then that is most likely the only thing installed. If you’re not very familiar with your computer, you should take some time to figure out what programs normally show up in the lower right-hand corner of your computer. Write them down, and try to keep them in mind. This way, if a program pops up on your screen, you will know if it is something that is normally on your computer or not. Often, these fake anti-virus programs will add a new icon in the lower right hand corner, so it’s good to know what’s normally there and what is out-of-place.
Even though no anti-virus program can catch all of the new fake-alerts, most of them can at least catch some of them. For this reason, it is always a good idea to have an anti-virus program installed on your computer. There are some very good paid anti-virus programs (such as Eset Nod32, Kaspersky, Avira, or GDATA,) but if something like that simply isn’t in your budget, there are also free options. While they’re often not quite as strong as the paid ones, they’re certainly better than nothing, and are often more lightweight and can be good for slower computer. (Right now, Microsoft Security Essentials is one of the best ones available, but others include AVG Free or Avast!.)
The biggest part of prevention is safe web browsing. Safe web browsing is a skill – It takes time to learn what is safe and what is not, and a lot of common sense as well. It’s impossible to explain exactly what safe web browsing is, but the best advice one can offer is; READ EVERYTHING. Always make sure that the thing you’re clicking on is what you meant to click on. Most web browsers display a list in the lower left of the screen when you hold your cursor over a link; Get in the habit of glancing at that and seeing is the URL you’re clicking on sounds like what you mean to click on.
(for instance, if you’re on howtomakealemonpie.com and a link says “click here for instructions on your to make a lemon pie,” you can expect the link at the bottom to be something starting in howtomakealemonpie.com/somethingorother. If it says “howtomakemoneyfast.com,” it’s probably not a safe link and this site probably has some problems.)
Some people are speed-clickers – They like to click on things on a whim. They see a banner suggesting they take an IQ test, they think “Oh, fun!” Terrible idea. Sites like that almost ALWAYS have an alterior motive; They want you to buy something, do something, or click on something. These type of sites are also very vulnerable to security flaws, and are generally unsafe places to be.
Another tip for safe browsing; Nothing on the internet is free. When you search for something like “free cursors,” “free screensavers,” “free games,” the results are the same types of websites that virus-writers go for.
The best thing is to stick to websites you know, and don’t assume everything they link to is safe.
While website ads and things are the most common way to get this type of virus, it certainly isn’t the only way – The biggest source of viruses on the internet is from file-sharing – Websites or utilities that allow you to search for songs / videos to download for your computer. As was already states, nothing on the internet is ‘free.’ There’s always a catch, and in these scenarios, the catch is that ANYONE can upload media to those types of websites – Including virus-writers.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER A FAKE-ALERTs
Fake-Alerts normally appear as a web popup the very first time you see them. By leaving it on your screen, ignoring it, or clicking on it, you allow it to install on your computer. That’s when they become a large problem. If you’re not computer saavy and you know it, your first step should probably be to immediately turn off the computer, Sometimes, the virus programs will not let you; Don’t try to close them or click on them, just pull the plug. This is generally not very healthy for your computer, so you should use a technique like this sparingly.
For those of you who can work your way around a computer a little better, the first thing you’ll want to do is to manually shut down all instances of your browser – You can do this by holding down “CTRL,” “ALT,” and “DELETE.” If you’re on windows XP, from here you can click on your web browser and select “close program.” You may have to click on the ‘processes’ tab, find it in there, right click and select “end process tree.” If you’re in Vista or 7, the steps are the same except that when you first hit CTRL ALT DELETE, you will have to select “Task Manager.”
If you successfully get that all to close, you’re probably ok. You’ll of course want to run a full virus scan on your computer to be sure.
Sometimes, browsers will automatically try to bring back the page you were last on when you re-open them, which will bring the virus back up. If this happens, most browsers have a ‘safe mode’ option you can open them in (through the start menu.) This will not restore tabs.
It’s hard to say if these problems will get better in time – More than likely, legitimate anti-virus programs will be able to figure out how to stop them. Likewise, viruses will keep getting smarter. I wish I knew where things were going from here, but it’s impossible to say.
(and for anyone whose answer is “Linux!” or “MacOS!” Yes. Great idea. At least, until they have a considerable market-share the writers start targeting them instead. It’s only a temporary solution to a greater problem.)