Internet Tips and Tricks

Scareware: Definition, Examples & Prevention Tips

Scareware is one of many types of social engineering attacks. Just like phishing, whaling, baiting, and SMishing hackers prey on users’ emotions, to trick them into visiting infected websites or clicking on malicious pop-ups. Scareware attacks can lead to slower performance or much worse, identity theft or an empty bank account. 

This blog post covers everything you need to know about scareware and how to protect yourself against its detrimental consequences. In addition, we provide real-life examples and prevention tips. That way, you can rest assured you’ll know what to do if you run into scareware if it ever comes to it. 

What is Scareware? 

As the name suggests, scareware is a type of malware that scares users. Cybercriminals who employ scareware rely on inducing fear or anxiety in users, using those negative emotions they get the user to perform a certain action. Scareware is most often disguised as a pop-up, ad, or a program. 

For example, a pop-up appears on a user’s screen. It’s flashing and alarming, saying that their computer has been infected with a virus and they can reverse the damage by clicking a button or calling a telephone number. And they better do so immediately 

What an unaware user doesn’t know, though, is that there’s no virus on their computer. It’s only by clicking on the pop-up that they download harmful software on their device.  

Aside from pop-ups, scareware can also appear as a website, spoof email, or look like a notification from the operating system. 

Such scareware messages often pose as fake antivirus software solutions, prompting users to: 

  • Click a button in the pop-up, such as “Scan Device” or “Download Now” 
  • Register or buy their cybersecurity product 
  • Call a number on the pop-up 

The consequences of downloading malicious software range from repairable to disastrous. In a repairable case, the user can accidentally end up with bloatware that can be easily removed. Bloatware is software that negatively affects the device’s performance and battery life and serves no other functional purpose. You can identify it by going through a list of all your downloaded apps and deleting it. Alternatively, you can use a bloatware removal tool. 

The picture below shows a scareware example. If this window pops up on a computer screen and you proceed to click anywhere on it, you might download malicious software.


Source: BitDefender 

How to Spot Scareware & What to Do Next?  

It’s far easier to spot scareware than a phishing attempt. Most users already know better than to click on any fear-inducing pop-ups and messages. But those who aren’t as digitally proficient can learn how to identify scareware quickly. 

There are some common signs of malware that victims can learn to recognize in advance. These include: 

  • The text gives off a sense of urgency. Real antivirus programs will never use fear or panic-inducing text to inform you about any potential threats. The scarier the message, the more likely it’s scareware. 
  • The pop-up is hard to close. It has big buttons prompting you to download or update your anti-virus software, with no exit button. 
  • Diminished performance on your computer. If you suspect that your computer is slower than usual, you might be hosting some bloatware. You can identify it by running a diagnostic scan with your anti-malware software. 

If you suspect you’re dealing with scareware, proceed as follows: 

  • Don’t click on any buttons on the pop-up, including the ‘Exit’ button. Cybercriminals don’t play by the rules. You can accidentally download malware by clicking anywhere. Instead, use Ctrl + Alt + Delete to open task manager, go to Task Manager, and click End Task. 
  • Scan your device for malware. Use Microsoft Defender Antivirus, Apple’s XProtect.  
  • Observe your computer’s performance. If you’re unsure whether you’ve accidentally downloaded scareware, keep a close eye on your device. Malware typically slows down your computer. 
  • Monitor your bank account. Make sure your money is still in your bank account to fare on the safe side. That way, if your funds go missing, you can report it immediately. 


Scareware Prevention Tips 

When it comes to cybersecurity, prevention is better than cure. Ideally, you won’t even run into scareware in the first place. However, you can protect yourself and your information against scareware by following these steps: 

  • Use pop-up blockers and ad blockers. All browsers have a built-in pop-up blocker.  
  • Use trusted security software. Don’t wait for scareware to remind you that you need an antivirus product. Research the best security programs and install one of the trusted options. 
  • Run regular malware scans. Run an antivirus scan at least once a week. 
  • Browsers and operating systems should be regularly updated. Software updates typically include better, updated cybersecurity features. 
  • Use network security software. Many ISPs now offer subscribers security apps that scan malware in real-time and prevent unwanted transfer of malicious data. 
  • Don’t let negative emotions guide your decisions. Never click on dubious pop-ups or call numbers you don’t know. Never share your personal information, such as passwords, bank account information, etc. 

Conclusion: Stay Safe with Home Network Security Systems 

Knowing the basics about scareware can go a long way in keeping your devices safe against cyber criminals. However, there’s always a chance you’ll click on a scareware pop-up completely by accident and compromise your online safety. 

Here are the main takeaways: 

  • Scareware preys on people’s emotions, such as fear, panic, or anxiety, and is mostly distributed through pop-ups 
  • If you suspect you’re dealing with scareware, don’t click on any buttons and run an antivirus scan 
  • Prevent scareware by using pop-ups blockers, antivirus software, and network security solutions provided by your ISP 

Online safety and privacy are one of the top concerns in the cyber world. Some ISPs, such as Race Communications, are stepping up to the challenge by offering their customers home network security applications that keep them out of harm’s way. 

We’re dedicated to expanding access to reliable, fast, and safe internet connections. Our Race CommandIQ app protects and gives you insights into your home network. From parental controls to vigilant anti-phishing, we ensure our customers can browse the internet completely worry-free.  

If you’d like to find out more about Race Communications services, reach out to us at 877-722-3833 or send us an inquiry