Reality: Each and everyday there are people attempting to gain access to your personal information and money from your bank accounts.
Late last Friday, the Microsoft Malware Protection Center posted an update on their official blog about a recently discovered threat called Hicurdismos: it looks like an update/install of Microsoft Security Essentials, but is actually an attempt to fool you into thinking your system has an error and needs tech support from Microsoft. (Be sure to check out that blog post for details on how this threat works to convince you to call into a tech support 800 number and subsequently be scammed into paying money for support you do not need.)
If you want to see how features built into Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge can help alert you to threats like Hicrurdismos on the Internet be sure to check out our recent article about how to test the SmartScreen Filter and Windows Defender Detection features.
Threats like Hicurdismos comes in various shapes and sizes, but while I was working as tech support for a security software company, the biggest path into someone's home and onto their computer was the telephone.
BEWARE PHONE CALLS THAT CLAIM TO BE FROM MICROSOFT SUPPORT
Phone-based tech support scams are widespread, and the scammers' goal is to gain access to your computer. Many of just want to get on your system and show you errors that are not really errors to convince you the system has a problem. These calls come in from different numbers and most of them begin with the party on the other end stating they are from Microsoft Windows Support and there are reports being received by Microsoft that indicate your system has either a performance issue or malicious software installed.
Of course, Microsoft does not actively monitor error alerts from your specific system but average everyday users like Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe are not usually aware of that small detail. Bottom line is if someone claiming to be from Microsoft support calls about errors on your system it is likely a scam - tell them you know that fact and then hang up the phone. They will eventually stop calling when they know your number has a savvy user on the other end. Unfortunately, others quickly fill that gap so vigilance is very important.
BEWARE POP-UPS THAT ASK YOU TO CALL A TECH SUPPORT LINE
Another way these scammers work to gain access to your system is through pop-ups and fake alerts on your system that make it look like you have an error. Those alerts usually lead to a phone number for you to call and get tech support from Microsoft or another supposedly reputable tech company. Once they have you on the phone they then use the same tactics as shared earlier to convince you there are serious errors on your device.
They can send you into the systems Event Viewer and quickly show you all these errors:
Now this screen is from my own Windows 10 desktop system which I meticulously maintain and protect. This just shows that every Windows systems experiences errors and warnings when they are being used but they are typically harmless. However, to the uneducated eye that long list contains over 1,300 errors and warnings. Many of the file names and services are very cryptic to an everyday users and can therefore be used to convince you there is a real and credible threat on your system.
Some of these tech support scams just want to get your credit card information and help to fix your system. Once they have been paid they will remove these errors and clear the logs to show you a clean system. After a few weeks they will call back to follow up and check your system and of course they will find an entire new list of errors and warnings on your device which need to be addressed. Once you have paid once they are likely to comeback for more later. I have even seen where these same tech support folks leave their contact information in a text file on a users desktop and encourage them to call back if they have any further issues. Same thing, same cycle, same result of you paying money for worthless and unnecessary tech support.
Microsoft is fighting back at these type of scammers but it requires constant effort because it is like playing a game of Whack a Mole and they keep popping up everywhere.
Bottom line is you need to be wary of all of these scenarios and for those of you reading this who are geeks and tech enthusiasts help to educate your relatives that might be susceptible to a scam like this so they can avoid being targeted as well.
Stay Safe out there!