What is scareware and how can you protect yourself from it?


Scareware is malware that is designed to trick a user into paying money or installing more malware by presenting an alleged threat. The best means against scareware are prudent user behavior and appropriate cybersecurity.

What is scareware?

The term “scareware” is made up of the English words “scare” and “software”. Scareware is malware that tricks the user into believing that there is an acute or imminent threat, and is thus intended to induce the user to take certain actions. This can be a payment or the installation of an actual malware program. Such social engineering tactic is thus a scam that can cause a lot of damage. This also happens because the scareware is not always easy to recognize as such.

How can you recognize scareware?

The best and easiest way to recognize scareware and other malware and take the best possible action against it is to stay calm. With a little distance and a clear head, you can recognize the malware in many cases at first or at least second glance. A good antivirus program does not build up a threatening backdrop, but instead calmly and seriously presents a solution. Concentrated capital letters, numerous exclamation marks and horror scenarios, as well as an unrealistic threat posed by several viruses at the same time, are therefore good indicators of a fraud attempt. The same applies to the second example: an authority does not communicate via pop-up or desktop display – but scareware does.

However, if a scareware is more professionally designed, it may not be distinguishable from a legitimate program at first glance. Even in this case, however, there are some clues that indicate malware. These include:

  • High frequency alerts: when an antivirus program has detected a threat, it makes itself known and then guides you through the necessary steps. Scareware, on the other hand, often follows up with several pop-ups to make the supposed threat seem even more acute.
  • New windows and programs: If you have already clicked on scareware, it may install programs or add new windows on its own. If your browser or desktop changes without your intervention, it is an indication that malware is already on your computer, smartphone or tablet.
  • Decreased performance: malware harms your device, often slowing it down. So, if you notice that operations suddenly take longer, the screen freezes or programs crash for no apparent reason, this can be an indication of scareware.
  • No access to certain programs: You may also find that you can no longer access certain programs. This can also indicate an infestation and definitely requires immediate countermeasures.

What to do in case of scareware infection?

The question arises as to which countermeasures are most suitable in the event of an infection with scareware. Different malware may also require different approaches, but the following steps are usually promising:

  1. First, remove the downloaded program and all files associated with it. On a PC, this can be done via the Control Panel and the “Uninstall a program” option. Find the malware in the list and delete it completely. On a Mac, select “Programs” in the Finder and find the scareware there. Then drag it to the Trash and empty it. While this step is important and correct, scareware often infects other areas as well, so, unfortunately, a simple deletion process will not remove all of its components.
  2. For this reason, you should turn off your computer afterwards and restart it in safe mode. In this mode, the computer only accesses the most important programs and thus stops the scareware from working. In Windows, click “Restart” and hold down the Shift key at the same time. After the restart, select “Troubleshoot” and “Advanced options”. Here you will find the item “Startup Settings” and press the “F5” key. This will start your PC in safe mode with network drivers. On the Mac, also hold down the Shift key while restarting. After a short time, the login screen will appear.
  3. This way, your computer will work with only the most necessary programs, keeping the scareware at bay, but still allowing you to access the Internet. Thus, you can download, install and run a real anti-malware program. Such a program will find all the components of the scareware and delete them. If you already have an anti-virus program installed, run it. It is important that the software fits your device. There is special software for Android and iOS that achieves the best results.

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