PLEASE don’t click on fake security alerts!

by Andy Turner
Coastal Computers & Design

I’ve just spent the last 2 hours attempting to clear another ‘Smitfraud’ spyware variant. They are notorious buggers to clear completely, hopefully this one has gone for good – but I won’t hold my breath! Update: Nope – this system has a ‘rootkit’ infection as well… more work!

Ninety-nine percent of infections like this are caused by downloading an infected ‘codec’ to watch a particular type of video or a ‘drive-by’ spyware attack – but once you have been infected, please, please don’t ignore it or try to remove this yourself unless you know what you are doing.

Also – DON’T click on the bogus ‘System Alert’ taskbar warning that tells you to ‘click here to download antispyware software’ (or some variant on those words). Leave it alone, shutdown Windows and call a professional for help.
Bogus system alert message
Example taskbar fake warning message.

The golden rule here (which should be written in bold letters on the desktop of every computer these days!) is:

READ EVERY WARNING MESSAGE YOU GET CAREFULLY

DON’T ASSUME IT IS CORRECT JUST BECAUSE IT LOOKS GENUINE!

Many people who use the internet (or use PCs in general) still have a naive belief that everything they read or see is correct or has some authority just because it is on their screen. We must all become PC-skeptics and use the same kind of skepticism we treat used car salesmen and sneaky politicians with. It is our responsibility to judge what is real and what is fake, what is benign and what is malicious.

The only, and I repeat, ONLY warnings that you should take notice of are from your own anti-virus, and anti-spyware software and Windows itself. Windows will never tell you to ‘click here to download official software’ – it will certainly ask you to look at the latest Windows updates available or tell you it has already downloaded them for you and ask if you are ready to install them. The fake system alert shown above is very clever in that it appears on first glance to be a genuine Windows message – but that’s the key – on the second good look and re-read it is obvious that it isn’t. We must all be cautious and examine carefully these kind of warnings. Sure, some may be real and we should take action, but only after stepping back and reading (and looking) carefully.

Really, spyware has now replaced viruses as the malware that your system is most likely to be infected with and often, the most damaging. The only other feature that viruses have that other malware like spyware don’t have is the ability to spread to other computers, but that doesn’t mean that your system is any more secure with just a spyware infection. A lot of this stuff originates from eastern European countries and is implanted solely to get your money by whatever means it can – internet banking passwords, credit card numbers, email addresses – you name it, if it could be valuable they want it!

Even if you don’t use your computer for online banking – think about the places that you will have personally-identifying information on the hard drive. I often see ‘MyPasswords.doc’ files and the like sitting in customer’s My Documents folder – with not just website passwords, but sometimes bank account details and PIN numbers (please don’t do this as it not only puts you at risk, it violates your bank’s terms and conditions and if you lose money they won’t reimburse you). Emails with full credit card details is another scary discovery I sometimes notice – if you ever need to send CC details in an email, send 2 emails with 1/2 the details in each then DELETE the emails from the Sent folder and make sure you remove them from the Trash folder too.

A computer with an infection of any kind means your personal information could be there for the taking – please don’t risk it. Take action to completely clear all infections once you discover them and don’t ‘put up’ with a nagging remnant that can’t be cleared by your anti-virus or anti-spyware software.

Finally, and I tell people this until I am blue in the face but it doesn’t seem to be sinking in – the majority of these ‘Internet Security Suite’ packages – with the notable exception of one that I’ll mention below – are a waste of time, money and your sanity. I have lost count of the number of computers I see that are basically crippled by this junk. Sure, on a brand new PC with nothing else installed – they are ok, but in the real world with PCs running all kinds of software and with low memory (or Vista…), they are just that – junk.

Sorry – if you have just spent another $80 or more getting the latest version (they don’t seem to let you just renew your subscription without a fight do they?) with all the wizz-bang features, I sympathise with you. All I can suggest is that you ask the ‘support’ staff of these companies
1 why is my PC now running as slow as a soggy hankie now and
2. can I get a refund please?

I know what the answers will be –
1.
It’s your PC that’s the problem it can’t be our wonderful software and
2. Nope, sorry no refunds – read the fine print!

There are a range of perfectly adequate free antivirus programs out there (AVG Free is my favourite – get it from here) and if you can’t afford to pay for one then at least install one of these. One brand of AV security software that I do like is this one – AVG Internet Security. It’s the big brother of AVG Free and a very good piece of software it is too. Not only does it do the job, with very good anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-rootkit, antispam, firewall and the amazing link scanner – it does all this with very minimal drain on the computer’s resources. This means, in the real world, that you can use your PC again! It isn’t too costly either currently US$80 for two years subscription if you download it. I can supply the cheaper AVG AntiVirus Desktop Edition (anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-spam) on CD for $60.

This site has a comprehensive review of AVG Internet Security 8.0 and it seems to be an un-biased review as far as I can tell (you have to watch many of these ‘reviews’ sites as often it’s obvious that they get paid to ‘review’ software. The dead giveaway is exactly the same wording which is often lifted straight from the software manufacturer’s websites!

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