Will Windows 8's new interface herald full-screen scareware?

Filed Under: Malware, Microsoft

Microsoft has designed a new user interface for Windows 8, with an emphasis on bright colours and friendliness.

Personally, the interface (dubbed "Metro") reminds me of a child's toy.

Windows 8 and Simon toy

One of the interesting features of the Metro user interface is that apps are designed to be full-screen, without any surrounding furniture. That means you won't see scroll bars and the like, unless you interact with the interface.

One has to wonder whether this will lead to a wave of new scareware/fake anti-virus attacks.

Currently, malicious hackers poison webpages to display what appears to be a warning about malware found on your computer - tricking users into downloading software. The initial alert pops up in your web browser.

Fake anti-virus alert on older version of Windows

These phony alerts have proven to be a very effective way for cybercriminals to fool users into installing their malicious scareware. And it's very likely we'll continue to see hackers trick your browser into displaying bogus warning messages

But, with Windows 8, these browser-based fake anti-virus warnings will be shown full-screen, without the tell-tale visible signs that you're in a browser.

That means it may be even easier to convince a victim into believing they are viewing a genuine security alert from the operating system rather than simply a webpage pretending to be one.

Some will argue, no doubt, that Window 8's Metro simplistic interface is a sign of progress, making the use of computers less threatening to those who are currently put off by complicated GUIs.

The view may be that people get confused between operating systems, apps and browsers - why not make them all look the same?

But these are the very people who are, perhaps, most likely to be tricked into believing that a fake anti-virus alert is genuine and blindly do whatever the computer screen is advising them to do.

It will certainly be interesting to see how cybercriminals evolve their social engineering attacks to take advantage of a Windows 8 Metro-interfaced world.

Blue screens, cute screens

One thing we've already seen is how Microsoft has - after many years - revamped their infamous blue screen of death. Now it's a cute screen of death instead (and a slightly different shade of blue).

Blue screen of death - is this progress?

Wow, that's real progress..

One wonders if the blue screen itself will become an attractive disguise for scammers and malicious hackers.

Will they attempt to duplicate the look of the now oh-so-friendly blue screen of death by popping it up in full screen browser sessions, tricking users into making bad decisions?

One thing we can be sure of - if the bad guys think they will make money effectively this way, they'll do it.

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19 Responses to Will Windows 8's new interface herald full-screen scareware?

  1. inw · 1482 days ago

    "One has to wonder whether this will lead to a wave of new scareware/fake anti-virus attacks."

    Yes it will, but so do events like 'Tuesday' and 'sunshine', so I doubt we'll be surprised.

    "Will they attempt to duplicate the look of the now oh-so-friendly blue screen of death by popping it up in full screen browser sessions, tricking users into making bad decisions?"

    Like... restarting their computer? What's the incentive for the malware there?

    I think we're burying the headline, though: look at the new blue screen wording! It's fantatistc. The NT/XP era one ("A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage...") at least suggested that perhaps the OS might at least be involved in some way. The new one is awesomely passive: "Your PC ran into a problem that it couldn't handle, and now it needs to restart". Windows is an observer now, it's not involved in the problem that "your PC" had.

    Language. Awesome.

    • My thinking - no doubt poorly phrased - was that people will see a fake (but now friendly) blue screen of death, and at the bottom it might say "But don't worry, we've got your back, click here and follow our instructions".

      Yes, the new BSOD is awesome.

      • inw · 1482 days ago

        I suppose that's possible. But it's also possible with the current blue screen, and I don't think it's happened.

        • Has been happening for a few years at least with the current blue screen of death.

          For instance, we've seen screensavers installed that generate believable BSODs. Whether this is to carry on the facade of an unstable system due to infection, or to trick the user into rebooting is anyone's guess.

  2. stim · 1482 days ago

    looks like all the metro based apps will be approved by MS first so i guess the answer to your question is, err.. no.

    • The Metro-based app I'm discussing is Internet Explorer. Which I suspect MS will approve. :)

      It's what happens *inside* the browser that will be full-screen. That's where the mischief could be, as it could be made to look like it's not just browsing a webpage.

  3. Sam · 1482 days ago

    Wow. Just started subscribing to this blog's RSS feed a few months ago, and I'm kind of shocked by the amount of FUD coming out from you guys since Tuesday's unveiling of Windows 8.

    With that said, I'm unsubscribing. Goodbye.

    • I thought we were really quite nice and positive about Microsoft building in an anti-virus into Windows 8! It's definitely a good step for those users who aren't running any anti-virus, although there are concerns about a security monoculture.

      Sorry to hear you're leaving us, but if you want to come back any time we won't hold it against you. :)

  4. Teqx · 1482 days ago

    Error screens arn't ment to be friendly, they are ment to make people take their hands off the keyboard, break into a cold sweat and call their local technician to confess...

    Lol with all the patent suits flying around, I hope fisherprice doesn't sue Microsoft haha... If my computer crashes and announces that it made a boo boo, I'm putting it in the trash

  5. Jason · 1482 days ago

    I hated the Fisher Price look in Windows XP and always went back to Classic. I used Classic in Vista.

    I like Windows 7 interface.

    Windows 8 seems like a step back into dumbing it down and making it look like a baby's toy.

  6. Cardell · 1477 days ago

    Maybe Microsoft will inclued it's SmartScreen Filter and phishing filter into the new interface. How about adding WOT. Probably can't stop the criminals, but can put barriers in their way. Also, how about users educating themselves and stop being so gullible. If users will continue to be gullible at least learn the Lana Turner anthem -- " I'm so gullible. I'm so damn gullible. And I am so sick of me being gullible."

  7. Ajay · 1476 days ago

    if you have used Windows 8 on laptop or desktop (not on touch screen based tablet) , can you please tell me that how we are supposed to close a full screen app on laptop. I tried using Esc key and Alt F4 combination also, but nothing closes a full screen app.
    I always need to open task manager and kill the app.
    This may sound stupid but I really want to know what is the normal way of closing a full screen app on a Windows 8 laptop. :)

  8. Mike · 1378 days ago

    Ajay, welcome to the club, haven't figured that out yet myself with Windows 8 DP. I, like yourself have been bringing up the new Task Manager to rid myself of programs I finished using the didn't have "File" >>>> "Quit"/"Close" in them.

  9. Mel · 894 days ago

    I just bought a Samsung COmputer with Windows 8 on it, it has Norton free protection for 2 months, dont know if it will automatically access the Bit finder Anti Virus, thought our I T in the office told me that it has a built in Anti Virus which is Bit Finder, will see

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog at https://grahamcluley.com, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley