McAfee: A million 'scareware' victims a day

Security firm McAfee is warning consumers to beware of 'scareware' programs that appear to be antivirus software but are actually scams that can steal data and infect your computer.

Larry Magid
Larry Magid is a technology journalist and an Internet safety advocate. He's been writing and speaking about Internet safety since he wrote Internet safety guide "Child Safety on the Information Highway" in 1994. He is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com, and a board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Larry's technology analysis and commentary can be heard on CBS News and CBS affiliates, and read on CBSNews.com. He also writes a personal-tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. You can e-mail Larry.
Larry Magid
2 min read

If you've ever seen a message pop up on your computer telling you that your machine has a virus and offering to fix it for a fee, be careful. You might be a victim of "scareware."

If so you will be in good company. Security firm McAfee that says that worldwide a million people are victimized by scareware daily. There are 69,000 daily cases in the United States, according to the company.

McAfee Labs reports that "scareware has increased more than 600 percent in the last two years." The company says that criminals make "upwards of $300 million worldwide" from scareware scams. Scareware typically appears as if it's a legitimate security product that informs a user of an infection. Users are invited to pay for, download, and install the software. Not only do these scams take your money but they jeopardize the security of your credit card and your computer. If the scareware contains malicious software it can plant a keylogger or a password-stealing Trojan on your machine to steal personal information, or it could infect your system with other types of malware, including software that spreads these bogus messages to others.

McAfee's Dave Marcus McAfee

In an interview (scroll down for podcast), McAfee's director of security research, Dave Marcus, said such programs are "actually worse than useless...It doesn't find what it says it finds and certainly doesn't clean what it doesn't find, the only thing it exists for is scaring you into making this purchase."

"They're very clever in their social-engineering tactics," he said. They often have a "slick Web page" that appears to be from a legitimate company. Marcus said that McAfee offers a free program called Stinger that helps determine if a program is a fake antivirus program. CNET's Download.com also offers several other free virus scanners.

On a company blog, McAfee recommends the following:

• Before downloading any security software from the Web, get a recommendation from someone you trust who is savvy about Internet security software.

• Investigate the company before purchasing its software.

• Be careful when responding to pop-up ads.

Of course the company also recommends you install reputable anti-malware software and keep it and your other software up-to-date.


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