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What Does Scareware Mean?

Scareware is a deceptive process designed to trick Web users into downloading and/or purchasing malicious software (malware) by generating user disruption, anxiety or panic. Scareware formats include malware, adware, spyware, Trojans and viruses.


Scareware is also known as SmitFraud, crimeware, fake anti-virus, rogue anti-virus, rogue security and rogueware.

Techopedia Explains Scareware

Scareware generates pop-ups that look like Microsoft Windows system warnings and alerts for anti-virus/anti-spyware software, registry cleaners or firewalls. These deceptive pop-ups create a user call to action to purchase scareware and repair alleged errors.

Scareware may include a clickjacking feature to redirect a user to an attacker’s website or initiate a malware download if a user tries to close the pop-up. Scareware also coerces users into uninstalling legitimate anti-virus software. If a suspicious pop-up appears, the user is advised to right click on the taskbar item and select close, or exit the browser by selecting Ctrl-Alt-Del to terminate the browser process.

Scareware infects users and their computers via any of the following methods:

  • Email scams masked as breaking news alerts or greeting cards
  • Ads providing free scans or system clean-ups and displaying a long list of unknown threats to generate user fear
  • Affected websites retrofitted to take advantage of software vulnerabilities

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Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor
Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.