Unfortunately, those who want to spread malware know that people want to protect their PCs and have created a weapon that exploits it – the security tool virus. This is a threat that has been around for some time, but continues to be an issue, as the people who tend to download a security tool virus are also usually people who don’t have a way to detect it.
Let’s take a look at some common traits these malware threats possess that blow their cover.
Virus Detection Before Installation
You’ve probably had this happen before. You’re minding your own business when suddenly, a tab in your browser starts what appears to be a virus scan. If you allow it to finish, a number of scary PC security threats are shown, along with a warning that you should download a security update, tool, antivirus, or other such program.
Although this may seem like an old-fashioned trick for spreading a fake security tool, it wouldn’t be used if it didn’t work, and it’s easy for drowsy or inattentive users to take this information seriously. The important thing to remember is that legitimate security tools will not “scan your PC” for viruses before you download them. In fact, the entire “scan” is actually a web animation, not an actual scan. If you pay close attention you’ll notice that the file structure represented doesn’t quite conform to the one on your PC – and many of these deceptions are still built to reproduce the computer window from a Windows XP computer, which makes it rather easy to see through the scam if you’re using Windows Vista or 7!
Aggressive Use Of Fear-Based Advertising
All security tools, be they legitimate or not, tend to use a dash of fear in their advertising. After all, you’re interested in them because you want to protect yourself from a perceived threat, and this means you have a need that can be teased out by advertising.
However, a security tool virus will often approach you by going entirely overboard. The virus detection before installation is just one example of this, but if you happen upon the front page of an illegitimate security tool (this is thankfully much harder to do now than in the past, thanks to search engines becoming better about de-listing malware) you’ll typically be spammed with all kinds of threats and suggestions about your PC’s security. Phrases like “Your security is at risk!” and “Your computer could be infected now!” are common.
There are usually a great number of weasel words in advertisements about these tools, as well. Your computer “is likely” at risk to a threat “experts agree” “may” compromise the security of “some people.”
No Information Available From Reviews
Perhaps one of the most ironclad indications that a security tool is not legitimate is the information blackout that seems to surround such programs. Legitimate security tools are reviewed like any other piece of software, but those that are malware usually don’t receive such attention.
I say usually, however, because there’s nothing stopping the creators of a particularly aggressive fake antivirus app from using online advertising or setting up blogs that provide fake reviews of their products. Although such elaborate schemes are rare, they have existed in the past. Not all security tool malware is free – some unfortunate users have been sucked into paying to install malware on their own system.
Perhaps the best source of information is AV-Comparatives, a source I’ve mentioned in many articles about malware. AV-Comparatives is an independent organization that exists solely to provide in-depth and objective testing of anti-malware solutions. Most legitimate security tools show up on their website at some point. If AV-Comparatives has never tested it, the security tool is likely not worth your time, even if it isn’t malware.
A security tool virus is a particularly devious piece of malware because it naturally tends to be installed on systems that don’t already have security software. Often, these programs sucker users with the promise of free protection but, as mentioned, there have been times in the past whenwith names like Antivirus XP and MS Antivirus have proliferated.
These days, there is really no need to go searching for free security tools, as there are many free antivirus solutions available from legit companies. Even Microsoft now offers Microsoft Security Essentials, a legitimate and quite effective security tool.
Here are a couple of other MakeUseOf articles on the subject:
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