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April 18, 2010

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How To Browse the Web Safely

Be Aware of Scareware

Scoroncocolo, Scoroncocolo Tech Pages, ScarewareDon't be a victim of black-hat scam artists by allowing your computer to become infected with Scareware.

In February of this year, a trainer at Sea World in Orlando, Florida was killed in an attack by a Killer whale. Everyone of us remembers seeing this horrible story on TV or reading about it in a newspaper or on the Web. Miscreant cybercriminals immediately flew into action to take advantage of this sensational and well-documented tragedy. They stole millions of dollars from naive Web surfers by planting links to malware in Google results for searches terms related to the tragedy, such as "killer whale video pictures". Unsavvy surfers who followed these poisoned links were warned of supposed security risks on their PCs in an effort to persuade them to try and then buy fake anti-virus software. To make matters worse, the software that these victims wasted money on turned out to be infested with worms, viruses and trojans.

Almost any newsworthy event that captures the public's attention is likely to garner high placement on the first few pages of Google's, Microsoft's and Yahoo's search engine results pages or (SERPs). Tech savvy crooks use black-hat SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tactics to place their poisoned pages high in search engines. Not long ago I wrote an article on Search Engine Optimization intended to help publishers of legitimate web pages gain higher ranking in search engines like Google. The bad guys use many of the strategies I pointed out in this article for nefarious purposes.


It Looks Like a Real Spyware Removal Program

The point I'm trying to make is that you should be especially wary when you are browsing for information that you know that millions of other people are interested in as well. Googling "Haiti earthquake", "Chile earthquake" or "Iceland volcano" is not dangerous, in and of itself, as long as you click on websites you trust like CNN, Wikipedia etc. But the Bad Guys know that it is very likely that you are going to type those words into Google, so be careful where you click. Googling high-profile celebrities is another risky thing to do. How many people on a daily basis world-wide do you suppose type the words "brad pitt" or "angelina jolie" into Google?

Also, it's very important to remember that just because a website is listed on the first page of Google SERP's doesn't mean that that page is safe to visit. Very often pages listed high in Google are infested with malicious content that can easily expose you to some horrific malware that could possibly cause irreparable damage to your computer.

While doing research for this Tech Page post, I came across an excellent article written by Bill Jimenez and posted March 19th on his website entitled "Do You Really Know Where That Link Is Taking You?" I encourage you to visit Bill's website and read that post carefully.

The Scareware Scam

Early last year Websense Security Labs reported that, the respected computer magazine website, was hosting enormously malicious ads on its pages. (Those ads have long since been removed) Before the situation was corrected, if a visitor to the website clicked one of the ads, the visitor was re-directed to a website that started to automatically install software on his/her machine without the user's prompting - a classical instance of a Drive-by Download. The people responsibly for running had no idea that they were hosting infected ads.

But is not the only highly reputable on-line company to allow spyware to creep onto their website. In November of 2008 CNETs was unintentionally offering two notoriously nasty pieces of spyware for download - Anti-spyware 2008 (see above illustration) and Anti-virus Defender 1.01. These Scareware programs, among other things, change your home page, create fake alerts on your computer, and occasionally display alerts in your web browser stating that you are infected with malware when the only thing you are probably infected with is Anti-spyware 2008 or Anti-virus Defender 1.01. Once you're infected with either of these two Scareware programs the shakedown begins. If you'll just send the bad guys some money, they promise to go away and leave you alone. Yeah, right!

The newest editions of Scareware go well beyond a simple shakedown. They install botnets, spyware, and other nasty programs. Some install backdoors that allow the bad guys to actually control your computer. Most of these new Scareware programs have the ability to block access to Websites that help eliminate them. And that makes them very difficult to un-install.


This One Looks Even More Legitimate

Internet Security 2010 is just one of many fake anti-spyware programs out in the wild waiting for you download them in order to infest your computer. Others are Advanced Virus Remover, Antivirus XP Pro and Security Essentials 2010. There are undoubtedly others so be carefull what software you download and from where you get it. CNETs (mentioned above) is actually one of the safest places to download software from. Some of the best legitimate maleware removal programs are AdAware by Lavasoft, Superantispyware and Spybot all of which are free downloadable programs.

Internet Security 2010 turns off many important programs on your computer, including all Office programs, most games, QuickTime Player, Photoshop, and even MS Paint and MS Calculator. Running those programs may bring the warning: The file is infected. Please activate your antivirus software. In short, your machine is now being held hostage and the ramsom being demanded is the activation of the rogue maleware which will infect your computer with other even more harmful malware.

If you think your computer may be infected with one or more of these Scareware programs go to this Microsoft site for help immediately.

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