What Is Scareware?

What Is Scareware

Imagine browsing the web when suddenly, out of nowhere, a popup warns that your computer has viruses. While these prompts may appear genuine, cyber criminals use them as bait in order to trick users into clicking and install malicious software that then either exposes information, deletes files or steals money from users’ bank accounts.

Preventative controls and data monitoring can help safeguard customers against these kinds of attacks, providing early warning when something changes in behavior that might indicate an attack is underway.

What Is Scareware?

Scareware is a form of malware which attempts to trick or coerce users into downloading fraudulent antivirus software, or can steal data, delete files, expose personal information, extort funds from victims and cause other forms of harm.

Scareware infiltrates devices after unwitting users visit deceptive websites, click fake online advertisements or open malicious email attachments that contain scareware. Once installed, this fake security software will bombard users with pop-up warnings and window error messages stating their device has become infected with virus infection.

These scams may be difficult to spot as attackers have become adept at mimicking the design and language used by legitimate security software providers. Attackers might ask victims for access information so that “technical support” can help troubleshoot an infected device.

Any time a user encounters an alarming pop-up or error message that requires immediate action, they could be experiencing scareware. To combat it effectively and stay protected against cyberattacks of this sort, practicing good cybersecurity hygiene can help. Avoid clicking buttons such as the “X”, and always close browser windows/modals using Control-Alt-Delete on Windows devices or Command-Escape on Mac devices to close them down as soon as they appear.

Scareware Ads and Pop-ups

Scareware is a form of malware that exploits fear and urgency to induce users into downloading software that may either be non-functional, or contain additional threats such as viruses that further infiltrate a device. One common form of scareware is a pop-up window claiming there have been detected malicious viruses on a user’s PC.

Scareware attacks often feature an urgent warning message with all caps text and exclamation points, along with an option to “remove” threats or purchase software programs. Such an attack could occur on desktop computers, smartphones and tablets alike.

When they click on the button, they are taken to a website asking them for credit card or personal data and stolen by scammers who use scareware attacks involving fake virus alerts and scareware software programs like Rogue Security Pro for scareware attacks. It is crucial that anti-virus software remains up to date to avoid scareware threats; pop-up blockers should also be enabled along with keeping browser versions current to avoid further risks to devices and data loss.

Scareware vs Ransomware

Scareware works by inducing an overwhelming sense of fear among users, most often through pop-up advertisements that mimic antivirus scan results and convince them that their device has a virus, prompting them to download antivirus software in an effort to fix the problem – which often doesn’t work and may even install malicious code onto their device.

Ransomware attacks work by encrypting data files on the device and blocking access until payment of a fee. Though scareware attacks may seem less severe, they still pose serious threats that could lead to malware infections and credit card fraud.

Cyberattacks come in all shapes and forms, all designed to coax users into downloading malware or handing over personal information. Knowing some of the most prevalent scareware types can help you recognize them quickly and avoid becoming victims of these scams. For further protection for your device’s security, reach out to a cybersecurity company offering antimalware protection, ransomware prevention or any other necessary solutions for protecting it against attackers.

How to Recognize Scareware Attacks

One way that users can protect themselves against scareware attacks is to refrain from clicking unscheduled pop-up ads or any unexpected downloads. Reputable antivirus software programs should never notify customers about potential viruses or security threats through pop-up ads or similar notifications.

Cybercriminals can make significant money through scams that successfully target victims into downloading malware. Some scams offer fake tech support services in exchange for cash payments while others use downloaded software to gain access to bank accounts or corporate systems and steal sensitive data or gain entry.

If a business suspects an employee of being subjected to this kind of attack, they should immediately disconnect their network connection and conduct a full system scan using legitimate software. They should also pay close attention to how the device performs; any slowness in operation or increased overheating could be signs that there’s an active scareware infection on board requiring removal via system cleanup in order to restore full functionality to it.

How does scareware work?

Scareware exploits fear and urgency to convince users to install malicious software that exposes data, deletes files, steals funds or otherwise takes malicious action against their devices. Scareware can be downloaded via pop-up messages, notifications or even emails and once installed will pose as antivirus or antimalware software on victim’s devices claiming to protect from it and infiltrate it all the same way.

These cyberattacks often start with a pop-up message claiming to have found virus-infected files or pornographic material on a user’s computer, prompting them to purchase fake antivirus software to eliminate these threats. Sometimes these pop-ups even look exactly like genuine warning messages, making it even harder to distinguish them from real warnings.

To protect yourself against these attacks, always be wary of messages and ads requiring immediate action; never click the close button! Instead, hover your cursor over buttons with your cursor before clicking them – this allows you to see where their link leads before making a click decision. Also consider installing an adblocking plugin for extra browser protection against malware-ridden sites as well as auto updates so as not to click untrustworthy links or downloads.

Scareware and ransomware

Scareware and ransomware fall into the same category of malware attacks, but differ in how they target victims. The attackers behind both use fear tactics to trick victims into taking impulsive actions that can result in real damage to their devices and information.

Scareware typically arrives as pop-up windows that mimic antivirus warnings and claim a device is infected with dangerous threats. These pop-ups convince nontechnical users that their device or personal data is at risk and they must act immediately. Victims are then prompted to share their access information to a website or download malware disguised as antivirus software. Once installed, scareware tracks the user’s activity and steals their private data, including credit card numbers and bank accounts.

While some versions of scareware are harmless, others can cause a system to slow down or crash and introduce programs or toolbars that the user didn’t install. They can also install malicious software that collects data and enables cybercriminals to take control of the victim’s computer to commit other acts of fraud and extortion.

Protect yourself from Scareware

Preventing scareware attacks begins by being aware of their danger and being aware of how to recognize an attack. Scareware often takes the form of alarming pop-up messages or fake security programs which claim to have identified nonexistent threats on your device or computer, often using all-caps text and exclamation points in fake alerts to create a sense of urgency and create panic among users.

Be wary when clicking advertisements and downloading software from unauthorized sources, and always keep your browser and antivirus software updated with the latest versions. Enabling pop-up blockers also helps protect against scareware ads.

When in doubt, contact tech support through the company that typically supplies your services or devices. Never give away personal or financial details to unknown contacts and do not grant remote access to your computer or mobile device.

If you suspect scareware infection, take immediate steps. Uninstall all suspect programs and scan with a malware scanner as soon as possible – disabling network connectivity will stop the scareware from downloading more malware or transmitting your personal data to cyber attackers.

Scareware Removal and Recovery

Scareware starts by drawing unsuspecting users to fraudulent websites, clicks bogus online advertisements or opening malicious emails that spread scareware. Scareware then takes advantage of fear and anxiety to convince them that their device has become infected with viruses; scareware then coaxes these users into downloading either fake antivirus software or even real viruses which expose data, delete files or take other illegal actions against their device.

Once installed, scareware programs can be difficult to uninstall. They usually linger in your Applications folder with names similar to popular software like Mac Defender or PC Clean Pro; thus requiring an independent third-party scan and cleanup utility to locate and delete these scareware programs from your system. Once this task has been accomplished, install any anti-virus applications bypassed by scareware as soon as your computer has been made clean again.

An important step in protecting yourself against scareware is making sure that your operating system, web browsers and other frequently-used programs have all their patches up-to-date, which will stop malware from exploiting any security vulnerabilities present.

Examples of Scareware

Scareware is an insidious form of social engineering that can result in malware, lost funds or stolen information. Here are some indicators of its presence:

Warnings about viruses with all capital letters and exclamation points to induce victims into clicking and downloading content, hard-to-close popups that open additional windows or adverts for software from unfamiliar companies are among the tactics commonly employed to trick victims.

1. Fake tech support

Scareware typically appears as pop-up ads claiming your device has been infected with malware, in order to entice users into clicking them and installing malware onto their systems. Scareware uses social engineering tactics in order to convince victims into clicking and downloading potentially dangerous software.

These pop-ups often resemble genuine antivirus services in design and style; claiming your device has viruses, infected files or pornographic material and offering to download’solutions’ which in reality can either be useless or malicious themselves, further exposing your devices to potential malware attacks and phishing schemes.

Scammers may pose as technical support staff and contact your IT team, falsely reporting a security threat. This practice, known as Technical Support fraud, can be costly for customers. Unfortunately, IT teams cannot prevent these scams since most interactions between customers and scammers take place on customer end; however they can educate customers to recognize and avoid such scams in the future. Furthermore, cybersecurity tools like ad blockers and firewalls should also be implemented on platforms to secure against malicious content and prevent scareware attacks from taking place.

2. Fake virus scams

Scareware can infiltrate devices through visits to deceptive websites, clicking fake advertisements online, and opening malicious email attachments. Once installed, it may cause intrusive desktop ads, system error prompts, and warnings about potentially infected antivirus protection software to appear unexpectedly on a user’s desktop PC or mobile phone.

These alerts may demand users purchase software licenses or share access details with a “technical support” team in order to remove nonexistent threats from their device or computer, or claim that a virus scanner has detected harmful files on it.

Scareware malware can do many things to disrupt a business, including slowing down computers or mobile devices and displaying false error messages or blocking pathways. Furthermore, this form of cyber attack may alter internal settings making it harder to access critical files or applications.

Real antivirus software does not send notifications through pop-up windows and legitimate security companies never require log-in or credit card details via pop-up windows. When assessing any downloaded software, look out for spelling and grammar mistakes as well as suspicious text designs.

3. Malvertising

Scareware, also known as “ransomware for pranks,” uses social engineering techniques to convince users their computer or mobile device has been infiltrated with malware – sometimes imitating real antivirus programs with logos and names impersonated.

Pop-up windows and modals that employ fear-driven urgency tactics to convince users to download software quickly often claim that damage or data compromise may occur if an action isn’t taken immediately.

Malvertising can be used to extract money from employees by disabling essential business services and stealing sensitive data. Furthermore, it can redirect web traffic towards cybercriminal websites, earning pay-per-click premiums for each click made through malvertising.

To protect against scams like these, it’s vital that your cybersecurity tools remain up-to-date. Set automatic updates for operating systems and web browsers to stay protected; employ next-generation antivirus software (NGAV) to scan devices for suspicious files; don’t click links from unfamiliar companies or websites, download programs from unknow sources, or download programs without knowing who the publisher is; additionally using your web browser’s pop-up blocker can further help safeguard against this type of attack.

4. Law enforcement scams

Scareware attacks targeting individuals by impersonating law enforcement officials are increasing. Con artists use fake credentials, badges and photographs to convince potential victims they are legitimate officials before demanding money through wire transfers or pre-paid cards to settle fines and fees. Federal agencies warn consumers not to respond to emails or text messages purporting to come from law enforcement that request such transactions or purchases of pre-paid cards.

Scareware attacks may also induce device users to download fake security or “cleaning” programs which contain either nonfunctional malware, or are fraudulent solutions containing it themselves – costing the victim money while giving hackers access to sensitive information and devices.

Prevention of scareware takes an expert team. Cybersecurity awareness training is one way of mitigating risks to your organization; using a security suite like Norton 360 Deluxe may also provide added protection from threats that go unnoticed by employees, and help protect against ransomware attacks.

Scareware Removal and Protection

Internet use can make our lives simpler, yet there are risks inherent to it as well. Malware (or malicious software) poses one such threat.

Scareware is malware designed to trick users into installing unwanted programs by showing alarming pop-ups that falsely claim there are viruses or other threats present on their computers or mobile devices.

Scareware is used by cybercriminals to coax users into purchasing their malware products. Typically, this occurs in the form of pop-up windows claiming that devices have been infected with multiple viruses; such messages tend to use all-caps text with exclamation points to convey urgency.

Users are then instructed to follow a link or download software in order to fix their issue. They may be asked for login credentials, to run a computer scan, or provide their credit card number as part of this process.

Once their download is complete, a user may experience their computer slowing down or freezing altogether, as well as programs or features appearing without their knowledge on desktop or browser toolbars.

Malware can make important files unavailable or even delete them altogether, leaving companies vulnerable to compliance risk and potentially exposing confidential customer or employee data. If your business has been infiltrated by scareware, take immediate steps. Use an antivirus program or reboot in Safe Mode with Networking so no apps run until all apps have been deleted from the system completely.

1. Cybersecurity awareness training

Cybersecurity awareness training is an integral component of any company’s IT security strategy, as it equips employees to respond appropriately when suspicious pop-ups appear and prevent malware from infiltrating their devices.

Scareware often takes the form of security providers masquerading as trustworthy solutions, convincing victims that their device has been infiltrated with malware and offering to “fix” this threat, often by selling non-functional or even harmful software that will exploit and compromise it.

Social engineering attacks are hard to detect as they employ techniques such as social phishing and spoofing to create the appearance of urgency. Threat actors typically employ all caps letters with multiple exclamation points to convey this urgency or even fake company names for added credibility.

Companies can protect their users against this threat by restricting which partners they allow to advertise on their platforms and providing easy-to-read, accessible documentation that outlines cybersecurity hygiene best practices and organizational policies. Malvertisements can also be detected using data monitoring tools that detect any sudden changes in behavior.

2. Anti-malware tools

Scareware attacks frequently take the form of alarming popup ads that look similar to security software messages and tempt victims into engaging with them, for example warning that their device has been infected with viruses or requests to download a fake antivirus program that might do nothing but expose users to further risks and scams.

Victims may be encouraged to purchase fraudulent software using credit cards, giving criminals access to their personal data and potentially leading to identity theft with potentially dire repercussions.

Scareware attacks can also cause devices to perform slowly or overheat, signaling infection. If your device seems slower than usual or programs appear to use excessive CPU resources, this could be an indicator. Staying up-to-date and installing pop-up blockers are great ways to protect against scareware attacks while having trained employees and an efficient cybersecurity stack can reduce their risks of scareware attacks.

3. Network security tools

Cybersecurity tools designed to prevent infiltration can also protect you against scareware. Ad blockers, firewalls and other security programs, as well as maintaining an up-to-date antivirus solution are the best ways to shield yourself from fake malware warning pop-ups and protect your device.

Scareware messages come in many forms, but one of the most prevalent ones is an onslaught of pop-up windows that claim your device is at risk of an urgent breach or will shut down without installing a program immediately. Sometimes these warnings use all caps font with multiple exclamation points to make you believe they must act quickly or else danger will ensue.

If you click these windows, you could be downloading ransomware – a malicious program which locks devices and demands payment as the only way back in. Sometimes fraudsters offer fake tech support in an effort to obtain even more funds from victims; once your device has been compromised by fraudsters’ scams it can be extremely damaging and frustrating.

4. Software updates and patches

Antivirus software should be updated frequently in order to stay ahead of new threats, and web browsers should receive regular security patches from their developer. Doing this may prevent cybercriminals exploiting software flaws to download scareware or other forms of malware onto your device.

Scareware attempts to convince users to purchase software to remove a purported virus or call an “tech support” number to obtain help in recovering stolen information, often leading to premium rate charges and potentially installing malware onto computers and mobile devices.

Scareware can also take the form of bloatware that slows down your device, consumes memory space or has no functional benefit whatsoever. If this type of software is found on your device, it should be removed as soon as possible using an anti-malware program.

Maintaining updated software on all devices can significantly lower the risk of scareware attacks and malware infections. Update both operating system and web browser software regularly, while setting automatic updating where applicable. For assistance, MSU Tech Store Room 110 of the Computer Center can offer software updates for computers, mobile devices and browsers.

What is the impact on scareware victims?

Scareware is a form of malware designed to lure unsuspecting consumers into buying unnecessary software. At best, scareware just wastes money on unneeded bloatware; at worst it infiltrates a device with ransomware or allows cybercriminals to obtain personal data for financial gain.

Scareware attacks by presenting pop-up windows designed to appear like real antivirus warnings, prompting the user to respond impulsively by clicking an “i” that they believe removes a threat; in actuality, any click causes malicious software download onto their device.

As a result, your device may start performing much slower than usual and error messages and blocked pathways may appear when trying to access files. Furthermore, scareware programs can install additional malware onto devices or attempt to persuade users into upgrading to paid versions of fake antiviruses without really needing it.

Avoiding scareware requires diligence when clicking buttons on your computer or mobile device, particularly when downloading programs from reputable companies and updating all software such as your operating system, web browser and software programs with the latest security patches. In addition, use an effective malware removal tool and scan your device regularly; if a scan finds evidence of infection take it directly to a licensed and reputable computer specialist even if everything appears normal.


Scareware is an ever-present risk to computer, phone and tablet users worldwide. Malware removal software is available to remove it quickly while prevention can include keeping operating systems and browsers up-to-date with security patches; not downloading apps not on your list of trusted programs; learning to identify fake pop-up alerts quickly before blocking them – keeping these simple tips in mind can greatly decrease the odds that Scareware will infiltrate your devices or compromise online safety – more information about scareware can be found on our blog!

Sam is an experienced information security specialist who works with enterprises to mature and improve their enterprise security programs. Previously, he worked as a security news reporter.