Windows scareware fakes impending drive disaster

"Erases" files, icons as lead up to pitch for $US80 to buy worthless utility

Scammers are trying to trick Windows users into paying to fix bogus hard drive errors that have apparently erased important files, a researcher said today.

The con is a variant of "scareware," also called "rogueware," software that pretends to be legitimate but actually is just a sales pitch based on spooking users into panicking. Most scareware masquerades as antivirus software.

But Symantec researcher Eoin Ward has found a new kind of scareware that impersonates a hard drive cleanup suite that repairs disk errors and speeds up data access.

Dubbed "Trojan.Fakefrag" by Symantec, the fake utility ends up on a Windows PC after its user surfs to a poisoned site -- often because the scammers have manipulated search engines to get links near the top of a results list -- and falls for a download pitch, typically because it's presented as something quite different, like video of a hot news topic.

Fake system or disk cleanup programs aren't new -- Symantec has highlighted the scareware subcategory before -- but this malware goes above and beyond the call of counterfeit duty.

"[Trojan.Fakefrag's] aim is to increases the likelihood of you purchasing a copy of Windows Recovery by craftily convincing you that your hard drive is failing," said Ward in a company blog Monday, referring to the name of the fake suite that the Trojan shills.

The malware kicks off the scam by moving all the files in some folders to a temporary location, by hiding others and by making desktop icons disappear. All of that is followed by a message that looks like a valid Windows warning of impending hard drive doom.

"An error occurred while reading system files," the on-screen message reads. "Run a system diagnostic utility to check your hard disk drive for errors."

If the user clicks "OK," the fraudulent "Windows Recovery" application launches, runs a series of sham scans that sound technical and legit, then reports multiple problems, including disk read-write errors.

With the hook set, the scammers try to reel in the victim by trying to get them to pay $79.50 for Windows Recovery, which will supposedly fix the make-believe issues.

Since the user has just seen his files and icons vanish, he or she is much more likely to fall for the scheme.

"It does a really convincing job of making it appear as though something is wrong," said Ward. "When it 'deletes' files from your desktop, it does so in a very prominent way."

No surprise, but the files aren't deleted; they can be found with a quick local search, said Ward.

Windows isn't the only operating system targeted by scammers. Last week, for example, Intego Security reported finding the first-ever Mac OS X rogueware.

Scammers have upped their "scareware" game by convincing Windows users that their hard drive is ready to croak.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags symantecsecurityWindowssoftwareoperating systems

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Show Comments

Essentials

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?