Don't Get Scared by Scareware: Here's How Hackers Use it to Steal Your Money

In today's world, cyber threats are becoming increasingly complex and sophisticated. Scareware or rogue security software is one of the latest types of cyber attacks, posing as legitimate security software to trick users into purchasing it. They are often designed to scare or trick users into believing their system is infected with a virus, malware, or spyware, even when it is not. These types of attacks are becoming more popular and successful, making it important for everyone to understand how they work.

What is scareware?

Scareware is a form of malware that deceives users into installing fake antivirus or other security software. It can also come in the form of pop-up ads that mimic legitimate antivirus warnings, leading users to believe their system is infected. These pop-ups can be found on websites, or as an attachment through email or other communication channels. The scam is designed to create a sense of urgency, prompting users to purchase the software immediately, even if they don't need it.

How does it work?

The scareware software is usually installed on the victim's computer via a website download or via a Trojan, which is a type of malware. The downloaded software then creates fake warnings and alerts to trick the user into believing their system is infected with a virus. The user is then prompted to buy the fake antivirus to remove the non-existent virus.

Once the user has purchased the fake antivirus, the software may claim to have found more viruses in the system, requiring additional payments for removal. This can go on and on until the user realizes that the supposed antivirus program is fake and that they have been scammed.

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Scareware attacks can be targeted toward anyone, regardless of technical knowledge or experience. A user may be targeted by mistake, or they may be specifically targeted because they are seen as vulnerable to scams.

Real-life examples of scareware attacks

One of the most notable examples of a scareware attack was the 2009 Conficker worm attack which caused panic among computer users across the world. The worm took advantage of a vulnerability in the Windows operating system, allowing it to spread rapidly across networks. The worm enabled the attacker to remotely control the infected computer, blocking access to legitimate antivirus software, and displaying fake antivirus alerts. Fake antivirus programs were then used to scam users of their money.

Another high-profile case in 2010, the Reventon scareware scam, operated by a Russian criminal gang that conned more than a million users in Spain alone. Criminals duped users into paying for the fake antivirus program with a Trojan. Once the fake software was installed, victims were locked out of their computer and blackmailed for money to regain access.

Preventing scareware attacks

Scareware attacks can be prevented by following some basic security measures. Here are some tips for preventing scareware attacks:

1. Keep your computer up to date: Ensuring that your software and operating system are up to date will prevent attackers from exploiting any known vulnerabilities.

2. Use antivirus software: Legitimate antivirus software will help prevent scareware from infecting your computer. Be sure to update your antivirus software regularly.

3. Beware of pop-up ads: Be very cautious about clicking on pop-up ads, especially ones that promote antivirus or other security software. Close any pop-up windows immediately.

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4. Don't download from suspicious websites: Stick to downloading software and other content from legitimate websites.

5. Don't give out personal information: Don't give out any personal information, bank account or credit card information to anyone without verifying their legitimacy.


Scareware attacks have increased significantly in recent years, with attackers using increasingly sophisticated methods to deceive unsuspecting users. Understanding how they work and following basic security measures can help protect you from these types of attacks. Remember to keep your computer up-to-date, use antivirus software, avoid clicking on suspicious pop-up ads, avoid downloading from suspicious websites, and be wary of any requests for personal information.

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