What Is Scareware?

Malware comes in all shapes and sizes, some of which is more alarming than others. While you’re probably familiar with viruses, Trojans and ransomware, a form of malware that often goes unnoticed by business owners is scareware. As the name suggests, scareware is designed to “scare” you — typically for the purpose of buying unnecessary or illegitimate software. To learn more about scareware and how it works, keep reading.

Overview of Scareware

Scareware refers to a form of malware that uses fear to coerce victims into performing a specific task, such as purchasing software sold or marketed by the person or organization behind the attack. Once a computer is infected with scareware, it will create pop-ups asking the victim to purchase software. The pop-ups will continue until one of two things occur: the victim obliges and purchases the software, or the infection is removed from the computer.

How Scareware Works

Although there are several types of scareware, most work using a similar mechanism as non-encrypting ransomware. It triggers pop-ups with fake messages in an attempt to extort money from the victim. With scareware, however, the pop-ups usually include notifications that the victim’s computer is infected with a virus. And in order to remove the virus, the victim must purchase anti-virus software.

Like many other forms of malware, scareware is designed to generate money for the hacker or organization behind the attacks. When the victim purchases the advertised anti-virus software, they earn money.

The Effects of Scareware

Scareware poses serious threats to the security and integrity of infected computers and devices. It’s designed to deceive victims into thinking their computer is infected with a virus. As a result, scareware often contains code to intentionally slow down the infected computer. When the victim realizes their computer is running slow, they may feel compelled to buy the anti-virus software advertised in the pop-ups.

Tips to Prevent Scareware

Because it’s a type of malicious software, you can prevent scareware by taking a more cautious approach when downloading and installing files. A firewall is an invaluable cybersecurity tool for preventing scareware. When deployed on your small business’s network, it will scan incoming and outgoing traffic for potential threats. If someone on your small business’s network unknowingly attempts to download scareware, a firewall should catch it.

Keeping your operating system (OS) up to date will also lower your risk of an scareware infection. Running an outdated OS may create security vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to serve you scareware or other forms of malware.