'Scareware' Targeting More Computer Users

Computer security experts say they're seeing more users fall victim to a scam that promises to fix whatever viruses might be on their computers, while giving criminals access to their personal information. David Pitman reports.

About a million computer users every day are being tricked into installing what's called 'Scareware.'  Dave Marcus is the director of security research with McAfee Labs.   He says Scareware is a trojan, dressed up to look like a piece of valid security software, offering to perform a free virus scan.

"It gives you horrible messages that there's something wrong with your machine,  you've got 800 viruses.  And if you're good enough to pay them $29.95, they'll be happy to clean it for ya."

Scareware example messageMarcus says the easiest way to avoid falling victim to the Scareware scam is to decline any unsolicited offers from anti-virus companies that aren't well-known.

"If it's something you've never heard of before, like XP-2010 Security Suite, or something, chances are it's going to be a fake and the results it's giving you are simply there to get you to buy their product."

Even though this scam has been around for a couple of years, Marcus says the people behind it are finding new and more clever ways to get people hooked.  It's expected that Scareware will become the costliest malware of 2010 — to the tune of more than $300 million.

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David Pitman

Local Host, Morning Edition

The one question David hears most often isn't "What is it like to work for an NPR member station?" or "Have you ever met Terry Gross?" (he has)...