As Get Safe Online week swings into action, we’re told that one in four of us has been targeted by a cold-calling security scam. But is it time to question the role of the security software industry in all this?
A quarter of us have been affected by a scam call telling us we have a computer virus, according to Get Safe Online.
It’s likely that victims were directed to a website confirming the virus, and then offered to have their computers ‘cleansed’ – at a price.
Scaremongering leads to scareware
Many of the headlines on these subjects originate from press releases issued by security vendors such as Symantec (which publishes Norton security suites), Kaspersky Labs and Sophos. I know this as I receive a regular stream of these to my inbox at work.
I’m not saying these fears aren’t genuine. It only takes one keylogger (a program that secretly installs on your computer and logs every keystroke you make) to give criminals the key to your online bank.
But, the criminal fraternity only invests its energy in areas where it can reap the biggest rewards with the minimum of effort. Currently, scareware – as Get Safe Online rightly identifies – is one of the biggest risks.
At best, our well-intentioned caller will take your money and deliver nothing. At worst you’re paying them to install their own keylogger. Like all cons it’s a masterstroke of social engineering – they know you’re worried about your computer’s security and that you’ll pay for peace of mind.
High price for security?
Similarly, security software vendors know you’ll buy a security suite if it means keeping your computer safe. Arguably, the security industry has acted in the interests of us all by alerting us to threats such as identity theft, which if you become a victim is potentially devastating.
Yet I believe that, like the Little boy who cried wolf, it may have been exaggerated.
Sure, there are risks out there, but the latest was self-perpetuated by an industry that has plenty to gain from your fears, however genuine they may be.
You can protect yourself free of charge with programs such as AVG Free and Microsoft Windows Security Essentials. Combine these with good practice, such as not clicking on links you don’t recognise and installing regular daily updates, and you have little to fear.
The next issue of Which? Computing reveals the truth about your computer security.