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How do I know if an update or alert is real?

Published onDec 17, 2019
How do I know if an update or alert is real?
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One of the “scout laws” in Keep Calm and Log On is:

If I didn’t ask for something my device is giving me, I should make it go away.

This goes for anything that pops up on your device claiming to be an update to your device (the “operating system” of your phone or computer) or your apps, a virus or malware alert, or something that wants to install new software when you didn’t just ask to install new software.

But you may be saying...

“How do I know which one is actually my antivirus?”

You’re right to be suspicious—some malware programs pretend to be antivirus alerts and claim you have bad software which needs to be cleaned off your machine. Then when you click “ok,” they install their malware. Other times, your device really does need to install updates—and particularly when those are patches or other security updates, it is really important to install those quickly.

You may be saying…

“How do I keep from missing the real updates my device wants me to install?

This is the key: Know where to find real alerts on your device. One of the major ways that malware gets on your machine is by tricking you into installing it with a fake alert about cleaning off your device, finding viruses, or installing updates. Particularly keep an eye out for alerts which were not prompted by something you did which say “such and such wants to install so-and-so. OK?” These should be cancelled with a quickness.

So how are you to know the difference between real and fake updates? Follow these steps:

How to keep calm and carry on

  • When you get a new device or someone installs a new antivirus for you, do the following:

    • Write the name of your antivirus or anti-malware program down near your computer so you can refer to it later.

    • Find out where your device usually tells you about updates. Here’s how to do it on Android, iOS and its apps, Mac, and Windows 10 (or earlier Windows versions).

  • If a window pops up telling you to make an update, take a screenshot. This helpful website will tell you how to take a screenshot on a bunch of different devices. The screenshot will help you or anyone helping you with your computer to figure out whether the alert is helpful or hurtful.

    • You can often do a web search for the exact phrase the window says, to see if anyone else online has seen the same alert, and whether they think it comes from software that might be malicious.

  • Then accept no substitutes!

    • If an alert pops up that says you have a virus, check the name at the top of the window or the name of the antivirus that says it found the problem.

      • If it doesn’t exactly match the name of the antivirus you wrote down, check your antivirus or anti-malware app itself, by opening it the way you normally would—click its icon. Run it, to see if it turns anything up. It might identify the culprit trying to fake you out, but it might not.

    • If the alert tells you you need to update something in your system, check the place where your device normally tells you about updates.

      • If your system says there’s actually an update, you can confidently go ahead and install it from that place.

    • If your device’s update area and your antivirus don’t say there is an update, it’s time to go to an expert. There may be malware on your machine that could harm your security or privacy.

  • Be sure to CLOSE THE ALERT that you saw. Do not press “accept” or “ok” or “fix.” Just close it with the “close” or “x” button at the top of the window.

For more steps you can take to protect your digital security and privacy, pick up a copy of Keep Calm and Log On!

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