Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Messages that indicate you have a problem and recommend a specific download as a solution are immediately suspect. There's typically a safer solution.
I've recently started getting a new warning message when I visit some sites. It says that my computer has tracks of all the adult sites I've visited and that this will affect me in various ways. It recommends that I install a drive cleaning program to remove these tracks.
Does this mean that my computer was infected by a virus, trojan or some kind of tracking software? Have I been hacked by someone? And do you recommend that I install the drive cleaning software? Is it safe?
The short answer is that if you get warning message that indicates you are infected which recommends that you download a specific product to resolve the errors, the answer is simple: don't.
There may be other things you want to do, but following some random pop-up message's instructions to download a specific product isn't one of them.
There are several forms of not-quite-malware that operate as follows:
The question is where does that initial message come from?
There are several possibilities. Some websites will present these messages as a form of advertising when you visit. Sometimes software that you download will include additional software that presents these messages. Sometimes the messages can be the result of a virus or some form of spyware.
As you can see, it varies.
The point is to scare you into downloading and running a specific program to resolve what may or may not be an issue.
The free programs that you might download then report errors that play on people's paranoia. For example they might claim that the Windows Clipboard is a "critical" security violation. It's not, and it's easily cleared with out additional tools. These programs rely on paranoia and a lack of understanding to a) make things seem much worse than they are, and b) position themselves as the only solution.
It's unclear whether the paid versions actually do what they claim. I'm sure that a few do, but the approach to marketing the product makes them very suspect regardless. At the other end of the spectrum, some are simply vectors to become infected - remember, they started by asking you to download and run a specific piece of software that you've probably never heard of before.
So what should you do?
If you get a warning that includes a recommendation to download a specific product to resolve the problem, don't.
Instead, start by keeping yourself safe to begin with. That means have up-to-date anti-virus and anti-spyware software, make sure that they're kept up to date, and run them regularly. Get behind a firewall. Keeping yourself safe to begin with means that you can confidently ignore all these fear-mongering popup messages.
If you do get a message that indicates a problem, and it does not recommend a specific program or download to resolve it, then perhaps pay attention. It might be from Windows or from your anti-malware tools. Learn to recognize messages that come from those sources. If there's a problem, then address the problem with tools that you choose.
Also if you do get a message, with or without a specific recommendation, go ahead and take a moment to update and run your anti-malware software right then and there. If there's a problem, that should take care of it - again, using tools that you selected.
If you are interested in cleaning up traces that relate to privacy, a highly reputable and free program is CCleaner (short for Crap-Cleaner) that will remove most all the "crap" you need to worry about. (Their download page pushes for a donation, but it's not required, and neither is the somewhat controversial Yahoo toolbar that's included in the download. Donate later if you believe it to have been worth it.)
But in general, as long as you're playing safe yourself, you can typically ignore these messages trying to play on your fears.
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