Scareware: Unmasking the Digital Boogeyman

We often react in good faith when we get a pop-up message that malware has been found on our device - but it could also be a trick from the hacker.

07-08-2023 - 5 minute read. Posted in: malware.

Scareware: Unmasking the Digital Boogeyman

In the realm of cyber threats, one malicious tactic stands out as the digital boogeyman - scareware. Scareware manipulates users into thinking their computers are infected with harmful malware by taking advantage of their concerns and vulnerabilities. It uses fear as a tool to pressure money and ultimately personal sensitive data from the victims they get to.

We’ll look furhter into the deceiving world of scareware and pop-ups and look at the different strategies hackers utilize, the effects it has on users, and what measures you can implement to guard yourself against falling victim to this treacherous hacking method.

What is Scareware?

Scareware is a kind of malware that appears as a trustworthy security tool or software. It is often referred to as "rogue security software" or "fake antivirus." Usually, it tricks users into thinking that their computers are infected with malware, viruses, or other cyber security risks.

Scareware often appears in the form of unexpected pop-up notifications, false system scans, and excessive alerts about suspected viruses.

The thing about scareware is that it uses social engineering to pressure the victim by being an urgent action they have to make. When we see an alert saying that our device is infected with malware, many would panic and try to remove this by installing the antivirus software that the pop-up suggests.

And that is when the malware is installed onto the device. It’s the same principle of MFA bombing and malvertising - either spamming the victim with notifications or hiding malware behind an ad or pop-up.

Tactics Employed by Scareware

To give you a better understanding of scareware, we’ve collected the most used tactics here:

  • Fake pop-ups: Scareware developers make notifications that look legitimate but are in fact fake messages of antivirus software. These notifications state that an alarming amount of cyber threats have been found in the software and systems and demand that the threats be removed immediately.

  • Pressure and Time Constraints: Scareware acts under time constraints. The pop-ups are often urgent messages that warn the user of great consequences if the user doesn't take immediate action and acquire the complete edition of the "antivirus software" which is, of course, disguised malware.

  • Social Engineering: As mentioned above, scareware developers usually use social engineering strategies to emphasize the credibility of the fraud. They might imitate well-known antivirus businesses' logos and designs to deceive consumers into thinking the warning is real.

  • Browser highjacking: Scareware can hijack a user's browser and redirect them to malicious websites or stop them from closing the browser altogether.

The consequences of scareware

Scareware and the malware hackers install onto your device can have a great impact on you. Some of the most common things that are compromised by scareware can lead to:

  • Financial loss: Scareware takes advantage of your concern about the malware and pop-up warning you of this malicious software. They do so to convince you to get the full version of the fake software in order to fix the "problems" that don't exist. Users wind up paying for a useless product as a result, as well as potentially installing malware onto the device.

  • Unstable software: Scareware installations can cause system instability and performance problems since the malware uses system resources and may interfere with reputable security software.

  • Risk of data loss and identity theft: In some cases, scareware may be combined with more severe malware, which could result in identity theft and data breaches.

How to prevent falling victim to scareware

You might wonder if there’s anything to do about scareware, since you can’t really tell what is a legitimate pop-up and what is not.

You can start by educating yourself on cybersecurity through awareness training. Once you’re informed about the different cyberthreats in the cyberworld, you’re more attentive to the signs of these. By staying updated on the trends in the cyberworld, you furthermore learn about the hacker’s tactics and strategies - when you know them, you know what to look for.

Another thing you can implement to your cybersecurity is to use trusted security software - even though hackers imitate legitimate software, it’s always a good idea to use programs you know and are familiar with. And remember to keep the software updated as well!

As you might figure, be wary of pop-ups when you’re browsing the web and using your device. You should always verify the legitimacy of the software before you agree to use it. You can run a manual scan of your systems before you use the antivirus software.

Lastly, you can enable browser security. Many browsers have built-in security features that block pop-ups; it improves the user experience and minimizes the risk of scareware. So, keep them active and update these as well.

Remember to be cautious

Scareware is a continuous threat that keeps preying on people's emotions to get data and money. Once we understand how the hackers work, we can better protect ourselves and our devices against the malware.

The scareware boogeyman can be defeated by relying on trustworthy security software, being cautious when dealing with pop-ups, and being cautious when we visit different websites.

Author Caroline Preisler

Caroline Preisler

Caroline is a copywriter here at Moxso beside her education. She is doing her Master's in English and specializes in translation and the psychology of language. Both fields deal with communication between people and how to create a common understanding - these elements are incorporated into the copywriting work she does here at Moxso.

View all posts by Caroline Preisler

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