Fake Nintendo Switch Emulators Distribute Potentially Harmful Software

Symantec revealed that scammers are using fake Nintendo Switch emulators to distribute potentially harmful software.

The "emulators" promise to let desperate gamers experience The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and other Switch games without having to purchase the new console. Frustrated shoppers might be tempted by that prospect--retailers have struggled to keep the Switch in stock. Now scammers are offering to ease the pain of missing out on the Switch hype while actually spreading unwanted software. (A bait-and-Switch, if you will.)

These emulators spread via YouTube videos that "contain a step-by-step process showing how to visit a website, download a file, and play Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on a PC," according to Symantec, which said many of the videos link to external sites in their descriptions. Many of those sites asked visitors to take surveys in exchange for the promised emulator, while others just let you download the disguised software.

Here's what Symantec said in a blog post about the software you'll actually install if you fall for these Switch promises:

Outside of the surveys, we found a YouTube video that didn’t lead to a survey, but instead resulted in software downloads for 'Switch_Emulator_0.6.1.dmg' on Mac and 'Switch_Emulator_061.iso' on Windows. We detect the Mac installer as OSX.Malcol and the Windows installer as PUA.Downloader, which will download a potentially unwanted application called PUA.OneSystemCare.

Chances are good that any "Nintendo Switch emulator" you find is a scam. Finding ways to emulate console hardware in software, and doing so in ways that games made for that hardware recognize, is a long process. Consider Dolphin--the multi-platform GameCube and Wii emulator is constantly updated with better compatibility for specific games, new features, or improved stability, and those consoles are both more than a decade old.

We aren't going to see a Switch emulator for a while. Even when one is made, Symantec offered some good advice to help determine whether you're being scammed or downloading the real deal:

If you’re looking to play emulated games on your personal computer, be wary of websites that ask you to fill out a survey to unlock content—that’s a big red flag that you’re being scammed. Do some additional research before you download and install any application on your computer. And if you really want to play games for the Nintendo Switch, consider buying one instead.

If you're curious about the Switch itself, you can learn more in our hands-on with the hybrid game console or check out its official specs. You might not be able to buy the console right away, but at least you won't have to worry about scams like this, or downloading more dangerous malware once attackers realize how many people are frothing at the mouth to get their hands on some of that sweet, sweet Breath of the Wild action.

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.

  • dstarr3
    I wonder how difficult it will be to emulate a Switch. Because it is at least partly Android-based, innit? Plenty of Android emulators out there already to borrow from.

    The catch will be getting ROMs to play. Because Nintendo's whole reason for moving to cartridges was for piracy. And that's a method that fortunately-or-unfortunately works quite well.
  • AldoGG
    Console emulators typically take many many years to properly play a game, so people caught downloading this harmful software are not well informed
  • bloodroses
    That's kind of a "duh, it's obviously fake" emulator out there. I've been following the emulator scene since its early days. Currently, the most modern systems out there they're trying to emulate are the PS3, 360, WiiU, and 3ds; all of which in very early beta stages. Even the last generation of consoles before that are still under heavy development; and require beefy systems.

    As for ROMs, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be too hard for someone to create a ROM dumper for the new cartridge format since it is still based on older technology. Nintendo has been heavily cracking down on circumvention devices though:

  • ikaz
    basically if you wanted to play the new zelda you get a dump from the wii u version and play it on dolphin.
  • jeremy2020
    PS3 still can't be emulated to run commercial games. Nintendo managed to make a console that was weak enough that people believed it could be emulated already.
  • mitch074
    Actually, since it's using an ARM cpu core and the graphics API is open (Vulkan), emulating it may be easier than with more esoteric hardware. The firmware is another matter though.
  • bloodroses
    19496855 said:
    Actually, since it's using an ARM cpu core and the graphics API is open (Vulkan), emulating it may be easier than with more esoteric hardware. The firmware is another matter though.

    The original XBox was a similar idea with an x86 and GeForce 3 (essentially non-custom cpu/gpu), but is way behind on emulation development. The problem is the rest of the custom, not documented, hardware used; as well as the firmware/bios. I'm thinking the Switch will be the same way.
  • airsoftsoldrecn9
    Look up CEMU, which is an experimental, Wii U emulator. The development team has rapidly advanced the system's capability over the past 12 months. Current beta releases appear to have BOTW in a playable state albeit with some bugs and of course, generally the best hardware you can find.