|Volume 4 Issue 11||November 2010|
|In This Issue|
|My computer is infected? Or could this be a scam?|
|When a window pops up on your screen telling you that your computer is infected, what should you do? Here's my advice on how to deal with this.|
|My computer is infected? Or could this be a scam?
Imagine this evening that someone rang your doorbell at home. When you opened the door, a man was standing on your porch, waving some sort of high-tech device around for a few moments. Then he frowned and said, "There are some serious problems with your gas furnace. The interchanger is leaking and the regulator is stuck. I can fix it! May I come in?"
What would you do? Would you remember that yours is an oil furnace, and slam the door in his face? Or if you did have a gas furnace (or weren't sure what type you had), would you engage in the conversation? Make him wait on the porch while you check with someone who knows your furnace? Find out how much he charges? Let him in to do the work and pay him?
What if something similar to this appeared on your computer screen?
This is happening on computers around the world every day: You're using your computer, minding your own business when something pops up on your screen with a name like "Antivirus 2010" or "Security Scan." You see the progress bar fill quickly from left to right as it scans your computer. Then it displays a list of "Infections Found"! On your computer! There are 5 or 6 of them, with nasty-sounding names, in horrible orange and red text! You're confused and upset.
Then you spot the nice green button labeled "Remove All Infections" or "Do you want to activate your antivirus software?" Like Dirty Harry taking aim at a lawless punk, you click on it, glad you can wipe out these intruders. On the next screen, you read that this will cost you $42, you'll just need to enter your credit card information. Thinking that you have no other option or that it's not that much money, you do it. After a few more minutes of processing, the problems are gone. What a relief!
More and more I'm hearing from clients who have experienced this. Despite the very convincing and dramatic performance, it's a complete fake, a scam, and an infection in its own right. To add insult to injury, the users who hand over their credit card information are actually paying to get infected.
This type of software is in a special category. Some call it "rogue antivirus software" or "rogue security software," others call it "scareware" or "ransomware."
Here's the unfortunate part of the story: Every client I've helped with this type of infection already had good, up-to-date antivirus software installed and fully functioning on their computer. In other words, two bad things happened:
How can I tell that it's a fake?
Here are the most common clues I've observed, each of which should raise a red flag:
This is another complicated part of the picture. The most likely explanation is that your computer was infected by a "Trojan horse." That is, you (or someone else using your computer) were tricked into clicking a link in a malicious email (or tricked into visiting a malicious web site) that quietly downloaded this software onto your computer. However, the trickiness doesn't end there. If the dramatic "scan" had popped up immediately, you might have realized that the link you had just clicked was the culprit. Instead, the software probably waited days or weeks before popping up and putting on the dramatic show, making almost impossible to associate it with that link you clicked long before.
How can I remove it?
I've found that using special software that's designed to find and remove "malware" (a broad category of malicious software that includes viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, worms, and other types of infections) is the best approach. Many vendors let you download and use this type of software for free.
For Microsoft Windows I recommend the following free programs:
For Macintosh, I recommend the following commercial (paid) program:
How can I prevent this from happening?
In an ideal world, you'd install one anti-malware software package that would give your computer full-time protection against all types of infections. Unfortunately, I have not yet seen any single program that does this well. Perfect prevention is difficult given the ever-changing nature of malware. My best advice is to use multiple programs:
Macintoshes are immune, right?
While viruses and other types of infections are rampant among Windows computers, if you use a Macintosh there is a popular belief that your computer is "immune" to infection. This is completely wrong. There are plenty of reasons to get antivirus software for your Mac:
Things to keep in mind
How to contact me:
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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.