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Security software isn’t perfect. Like any app, the developers sometimes accidentally introduce a bug or compromise a user’s safety with a flaw.
When these situations arise, we can forgive those responsible. Most of the time, the developers move swiftly and efficiently to fix any issues.
But some security software is downright dangerous. Perhaps it’s not been updated in years? Or more worryingly, perhaps it’s malware posing as a security suite?
In this piece, I’m going to list five “security” apps and tools that you need to delete right now.
1. Mac Defender
Also known as Mac Protector, Mac Security, Mac Guard, Mac Shield.
If you own a Mac, don’t listen to anyone who says you don’t need a security suite. It wasn’t true a decade ago, and it’s not true now. Yes, there are fewer viruses and malware apps, but they do exist and their number is growing.
Hopefully, you’ve taken steps to protect yourself — but with any luck, you’ve not settled on Mac Defender as your solution.
The threat first became apparent in May 2011. Several reports have suggested it originated from Russia’s largest payment processor, ChronoPay.
The scam is simple. If a user clicks a malicious link on the web, they receive a pop-up that claims their machine has a virus. The pop-up looks like an Apple window and urges the user to pay $59 for a license fee. If you pay, you can expect to quickly become a victim of credit card fraud.
Mac Defender also inserts links and ads for adult content onto innocent websites, making it dangerous for kids. Luckily, the app is not self-propagating.
2. Security Essentials 2010
Not to be confused with the entirely legitimate (if somewhat underwhelming) Microsoft Security Essentials, Security Essentials 2010 is a rogue anti-spyware program. It has close links to another well-known fake suite, internet Security 2010. It also originated in Russia.
It’s easy to accidentally install the software. It’s generally delivered by Trojans that fool users into thinking they represent an “essential Flash upgrade” for viewing online videos.
Obviously, it doesn’t install a Flash update. Instead, it will download and install lots of additional malware, including the Security Essentials 2010 installation package.
Once on your system, it will hound you with security warnings and virus alerts and ask you to install the software. If you give up and accept the demands, Security Essentials 2010 will run a scan and issue thousands of fake alerts, eventually prompting you to buy a license.
3. MS Antivirus
Also known as ANG Antivirus, XP Antivirus, Total Security, PC Defender Plus, AVASoft Professional Antivirus.
MS Antivirus is marginally less harmful than Security Essentials 2010 and Mac Defender. It will not steal a user’s information nor will it critically harm a system.
However, like the previous scams I’ve covered, it will frustrate you with endless pop-ups, security warnings, and payment prompts.
Removing this type of malware can be tough; often it will protect itself by blocking any removal tools from running, claiming they have a virus. You will likely see a message like “Application cannot be executed. The file is infected. Please activate your antivirus software.”
To get around the problem, try running a tool like RKill.
4. Privacy Center
Also known as Safety Center, Privacy Components.
Privacy Center sounds like something you want on your machine, but it’s just more malware.
The scam is unique because it’s the only tool on this list that can run in Windows Safe Mode. Its icon sits in the system tray but can grow to take over a significant portion of the desktop, often blocking the Start menu button. Closing the system tray icon is impossible. Many users have claimed their USB ports become unworkable when infected.
Users often install it when they click on a fake video codec prompt, though in recent years, people have reportedly found it packaged inside another piece of rogue security software called PC AntiSpyware.
WinFixer has not been active since 2009, but you might still have it on your system.
Its issue is the same as the other four tools: false positives and fake licenses. But what made this malware particularly troublesome was how easy it was to install. When you saw an on-screen pop-up incorrectly alerting you to the presence of viruses, clicking anywhere in the window or on the X icon would install the app.
As such, even if you knew the initial pop-up was a scam, you might still have unwittingly installed it. If you have an old computer that’s running extremely slowly, it’s worth checking to see if it’s hiding somewhere on your operating system.
Choose Your Security Suite Wisely
The apps I have discussed are all fake. But don’t think that just because you use a well-known “big brand” suite you will be safe.
Google’s Tavis Ormandy has reported vulnerabilities and bugs in MalwareBytes, Avast, TrendMicro, AVG, ESET, FireEye, and Kaspersky in the last two years.
The most famous bug he unearthed was the Comodo internet Security VNC server in May 2015. The server was running without a password, meaning hackers could theoretically access your machine over a network.
Even once Comodo “fixed” it by adding a password, it was discovered the new password was nothing more than a combination of serial codes and product keys.
You can see all his discoveries on his Chromium page.
Have You Found Any Suspicious Apps?
Has reading this list set off any alarm bells inside your head? Have you discovered that you have some of this software installed on your machine? Make sure you delete it — now!
Now I want you to share your own tips and warnings. Have you come across any fake security apps I haven’t mentioned? Has an insecure security suite left you exposed to hackers and cyber-criminals?
Leave your stories in the comments section below.