Many business owners consider investing in business antivirus software to protect their machines and their data from corruption and theft. However, attackers have begun launching fake antivirus (AV) products that masquerade as legitimate software. These fake programs show up on both desktop computers and mobile devices. Protect your business by knowing how these programs work and how to avoid them.
How Attackers Deploy Fake AV Software
Imagine that you’re using your Android phone, and you decide to install what looks like a third-party version of Skype that claims that it allows you to make free phone calls. When you download the application, it asks for admin rights to your phone. As soon as you say “yes,” you see a screen that indicates an antivirus app is scanning your device. The app claims that it has found 14 critical pieces of malware on your Android phone.
You’re prompted to purchase the full version of the software, but you tap “Cancel.” When you tap the “Home” button, your Android phone crashes. When you reboot it, guess what? The AV app pops up again. Every time you try to open a different app, you see the fake AV purchase screen instead, and every time you tap “Home,” your smartphone crashes. Essentially, the malware is holding your Android phone for ransom, and it won’t release your device until you purchase the software. It may even use images from your browser history or even pornographic images to trick you into believing that someone is remotely trying to take over your phone.
These fake AV programs have shown up on Windows computers for some time. On a PC, they usually appear as a pop-up window that will not go away until the user either purchases the fake software or finds a way to uninstall the program. However, the appearance of fake AV on Android phones proves that business AV software should be installed on desktop, laptop and mobile computing devices.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Many fake AV programs have started to incorporate a ransomware component. As shown in the preceding example, they may utilize actual images from your browser history to frighten you into purchasing the product. Until you do make the purchase, your device becomes non-functional. When you grant the program Admin rights, it becomes almost impossible to uninstall.
Take these steps to keep programs like this from infiltrating your computers, smartphones and tablets:
- Avoid downloading from file-sharing or torrent sites. Pirated versions of legitimate software may tuck these malicious AV programs into your downloaded content.
- Avoid clicking suspicious links. If you feel uneasy about a link on any Web page, email or text message, then avoid clicking it to find out what it is. Instead, navigate away or delete the message.
- Pay attention to warnings about potentially dangerous websites. If your browser warns you not to go to a particular website, then pay attention.
- Never install any program from an uninvited pop-up window. Sometimes, if you click on a video or other media, you may be prompted to install an extra program to view the media. Instead of installing the program, which is called a browser plug-in, from the pop-up button or link, research it and, if it’s real and necessary, install it from a legitimate site.
- Be suspicious of security warnings. When you’re using your phone or computer and you receive a warning that your device is infected with malware, avoid clicking or tapping buttons that say things like “load,” “install” or “activate.” Instead, download or run a trusted AV program.
- Download security products from a trusted name only. Many websites claim to offer free AV software. Unless you recognize the name, never download the product. Instead, look for AV software from a trusted provider. Many providers offer free trial periods so that you can see whether the product works for you.
- Update your legitimate AV software often. Usually, the best thing to do is to enable automatic updates whenever your computer connects to the Internet.
Fake AV malware can not only lock up your device but also steal sensitive information like your credit card numbers and bank account login credentials. Talk to a professional or go to your IT department if you accidentally download one of these programs. Above all, never purchase the product just to get rid of the pop-ups.
About the Author: Melissa Cromwell is a content curator specializing in cyber security and data center infrastructure.