286D3 is a sequence of characters that has been exercising my computer support skills tonight. My Mum had clicked on something, probably in Facebook, and was now faced with a scary sounding message and repeating voice instructing her to contact Microsoft support ASAP to fix her computer. Or, more accurately “Microsoft”.
Fortunately she called me instead and I was able to talk her through closing down Firefox, running a Malwarebytes scan and restarting Firefox in safe mode to check the settings. The symptoms, including reference to “error 286D3” appear to be quite widespread on the web. A couple of bits of potentially unwanted software have been cleaned up and the browser appears to be back to health. Had she called the number the malware wanted her to, she would almost certainly had a helpful technician talk her through steps to apparently fix the problem and for only a moderate fee – leaving her with a deeply compromised computer and someone criminal having her bank details.
In fact, I’m not sure the incident really installed anything on her machine; I think it was like beaters trying to scare birds on a shoot. It isn’t the beaters who are dangerous but the people with the guns who are waiting for the quarry to break cover. If you take the risk of using a computer online, sort out your lines of support in advance, don’t trust any advice that pops up onscreen during a crisis and do your best not to panic. This kind of thing is another kind of con trick, based on misdirection and exploitation of fear and misinformation and makes me very angry.