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Guarding Against Malware

Malicious software technique: dialog boxes that interpret any interaction as an invitation to infect your computer. What can you do when any place you click is unsafe?

The Problem

First, let's set the scene: You're browsing the web when suddenly a pop-up window informs you that you have a virus on your computer, and it offers to scan or disinfect the computer for you. You're a savvy user, though, and you realize that this is just a scam, and what it is really going to do is install spyware or adware on your computer. So, you click on the "Close" button or box in the dialog, right?

Well, unfortunately, that might be just the wrong thing to do. That "Close" button may actually trigger the installation of malware. In fact, clicking anywhere in the dialog box can trigger an action. We've even seen malware installers that attempt to force you to interact with a dialog box by not allowing you to access the browser menus or the system task bar.

The Solution

If you find yourself in such a situation, by far the safest thing to do is to forcibly exit from the browser. Be aware, though, that the application will exit immediately and will not save your data. If you have trouble with that concept, weigh it against the hours of time you will lose as you try to recover from a malware infection.

Forcibly Exiting on a PC

  1. Press Ctrl-Alt-Delete (hold the Control, Alt, and Delete keys down all at the same time).
  2. Select "Task Manager" from the buttons that appear.
  3. Click on the "Applications" tab.
  4. Right-click on the browser (Firefox or Internet Explorer) from the list.
  5. Select "Go to Process." This will bring you to the Process tab with the correct process selected.
  6. Click "End Process."

Forcibly Exiting on a Mac

We haven't yet seen a scheme such as this target a Mac, but we have seen Mac browsers lock up when they encounter one. Keep this trick up your sleeve, and use it even if you think a scam is targeting only PC users:

  1. Press Command-Option-Esc (hold down the Command (Apple), Option, and Escape keys.
  2. Select the browser (Firefox or Safari) from the list, and then press "Force Quit."

The Last Resort

If you try the method above and are unable to forcibly quit the browser, you can force a hard restart by pressing and holding the power key on your computer. Be aware, however, that any unsaved data in any open application will be lost.

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