A false sense of security.


Viruses, Trojans and spyware, known collectively as Malware, are a bigger problem on our PCs nowadays than ever before. But how can this be if we are all ‘protected’ by antivirus software?


Put quite simply, the Malware creators are now exploiting a PC’s biggest security weakness - the person using it. By using scams and confidence tricks computer users are being persuaded to carry out actions that they otherwise wouldn’t do. Some scams, known as ‘Scareware’, are simple messages like, “Your PC is infected. Click here to remove the viruses”. Many users believe these messages to be genuine and follow the bogus instructions. The problem is made worse by the faith people put in their anti-virus software. After all, you don’t have to worry too much about a strange message or email because you’re protected! Unfortunately, this false sense of security only encourages bad habits.


 So why isn’t your antivirus program protecting you? PC magazines frequently test antivirus products and quote detection rates as high as 97%, which are then used in product adverts. However, these tests use known viruses, in many cases ones which are many months old. In reality, most PCs are brought to a standstill by new viruses, freshly created every day. Detection rates plummet in these cases. Malware creators are acutely aware of this and so constantly update their programs to remain undetected and evolve their scams to look and feel more believable.


So how do you avoid problems? Most importantly, when any unfamiliar message appears on the screen be suspicious and take time to read it. Avoid the temptation to automatically click [OK]. In fact if you are the slightest bit unsure don’t click on anything. If you have another PC, copy a phrase from the message into Google and see if it is listed as a scam. Look for simple spelling mistakes – many fake messages have them. If your PC didn’t have a problem but the message is now telling you that you do, then again be suspicious. If in doubt press the power-off button and shutdown the PC. Re-start the PC, update your antivirus program and start a scan. If the message re-appears and prevents your PC from working properly, switch it off again and seek further advice. Finally, do not be tempted to follow any on-screen instructions as most will eventually ask for your credit card details - to fix a problem you never really had in the first place.


© Peter Johnston, ByteSupport Ltd  2010.