What is a fake antivirus, and how do you avoid it?

A FAKE antivirus app? I don’t even know if my real one is good, and now I have to worry about fakes? Well, you don’t have to worry about it too much because I wrote this article specifically to address the question of what is a fake antivirus app (sometimes also known as a rogue antivirus app). What is it, and what does it do? Let’s find out!

What is a rogue antivirus?

Fake antivirus refers to both an internet scam tactic and the software involved. It is something you might encounter online. They usually target people who don’t know what an antivirus is through scary pop-ups about virus threats. Once you click on the banner, you may install a (fake) antivirus app or be tricked into purchasing fake antivirus programs

There are multiple ways this can harm you:

  • The fake antivirus app is a bad antivirus app that doesn’t work or doesn’t offer anything over free legitimate antivirus software
  • The fake antivirus app might disable your real security software for whatever nefarious purpose the creators came up with;
  • The fake antivirus program itself may contain viruses and other malware;
  • The fake software may actually be ransomware, locking up your data until you pay a ransom; 
  • The fake antivirus purchase may be a phishing plot to steal your bank credentials

So those are the dangers that fake antivirus software poses to your online wellbeing. But how do you recognize it?

How to recognize a fake antivirus program

It is fairly easy to recognize fake antivirus software. Most of the time, they rely on tricking you into installing it – or just clicking a link. Here are some telltale signs.

  • Website pop-up or a banner claims that your device is infected: this is absolutely not true. A random website can’t just scan your device for viruses. To do so, they would need access to your data – access you haven’t given them as you haven’t installed their fake antivirus software; 
  • Antivirus demands payment for curing viruses on your device: paid/premium antivirus apps don’t go for ads that say: “You have a virus, but we won’t cure it unless you pay us.” Any ads that do so are just scaremongering to get you to click;
  • Deals that are just too good: while nearly all software companies run constant deals these days, scammers are more incentivized to overpromise and lower the pricing. They don’t have to deliver on the promises as the idea is first to steal your bank credentials and then the rest of your money.

Those are some of the most obvious signs that indicate a fake antivirus program scam. 

How do you avoid fake antivirus apps?

Once a fake antivirus app is on your device, it’s fairly hard to get it out. The best you can do is avoid getting caught in the trap in the first place. Here’s what you can do:

  • Make sure you have a legitimate antivirus app: if you’re a Surfshark VPN user, it’s not that hard to get Surfshark Antivirus in the Surfshark One package. If you aren’t, consider Surfshark or research legitimate security software online. If you’re feeling lazy, trusted and known software websites like CNET have some suggestions.
  • Don’t click on the scare ads: if it isn’t your antivirus app notifying you of a virus, it’s most likely a scam. If you still feel unsure, run your trusted antivirus app to see if everything’s in order. 
  • Keep your software updated: keeping your antivirus, internet browser, and operating system updated is the easiest way to prevent viruses and malware

Here’s what to do if you’ve encountered a fake antivirus

If a fake antivirus app is already infecting your device, you need to take measures to remove it. There is hardly a one-size-fits-all solution (except for formatting the drive, which the industry calls “the nuclear option” as it deletes everything), but here’s what you can try to get the malicious software out:

  1. Download an actual antivirus app;
  2. Restart the device in safe mode;
  3. Install the new antivirus software; 
  4. Run a scan and delete the fake app.

If that fails, call a professional

Now, if you have already paid for the fake program, follow the best data breach protocols and  contact your bank (or whatever financial institution you used to pay) and explain your situation. The method above works for VPN scams, too.

In the end, only you can avoid fake antivirus apps

In the end, the best way to defend yourself against fake antivirus apps is vigilance: always keep an eye out for suspicious things and keep your software updated. And if you don’t have a trustworthy antivirus yet, we would like to recommend Surfshark Antivirus. 

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What does “fake antivirus” mean?

“Fake antivirus” is a term to describe a type of malware that pretends to be an antivirus app or is in some way related to falsely claiming that your device is infected and it can help. If you ever go online and see a pop-up or a banner claiming that your device is infected, that’s a fake antivirus.

Is there fake antivirus software?

Yes, cybercriminals use fake antivirus software to infect your device, ransom your data, or steal your bank credentials. 

What happens when you download a fake antivirus?

Downloading a fake antivirus can lead to several things:

  • It may steal your data;
  • It may lock up your data, lie that you have a virus, and request a purchase to “cure” it;
  • It may simply hold your data for ransom like any other malware;
  • It may disable your actual antivirus program.