Karl W. SwartzComputer Notebook — Viruses & etc.

Malware is a general term for viruses, trojans, spyware, and a whole host of other software that, I assure you, you do not want running on your computer. These programs get installed on your computer when you click on stupid links, go to stupid websites, open stupid email attachments. By "stupid", I mean those places you know you ought not go, where the probability of harm always outweighs the possibility of good, like the 17-year-old virgin curious about what's going on out back of the biker bar. Stupid sites are also those links you click having no clue where they are taking you, like the ones telling you your computer needs fixing, and only they can do it best. Stupid is also responding to emails from people you do not know who want to "fix" some problem in your life that, if you would give it a moment's thought, does not exist! People who have gotten pretty savvy in life about mail and telephone scams, for some reason become suddenly very naïve when they get on the internet. The "Information Superhighway" is also "Scam Central"—beware!

Using your computer on the internet without anti-virus and anti-spyware software is like having unprotected sex with everyone you encounter. Literally! There is so much excellent free anti-virus software available that there is simply no excuse for not having it on your computer.

Warning! One currently very common class of malware is called "fake anti-virus" software. You visit a website and a window pops open that warns you that you have a dangerous virus, and if you <Click Here> they will scan your computer and remove it for you. The only virus here is their software, which they will give you if you fall for their ruse! Never install any software you know nothing about! If you don't know where to find good anti-virus software, ask someone you trust (who knows more about computers than you do). I have links to great free software which I fully recommend on my Software Links page. Please check it out.

Now. A word about the fake anti-virus software I mentioned above. Most of my calls lately have been due to this type of software. The symptoms are: you turn on your computer and a window opens telling you you need to activate your anti-virus software..., or that you have a virus and need to run your anti-virus software to remove it..., or some such variation of this. I think it really doesn't matter whether you click on the box or not, at this point you are already infected. You try to run any application and you get a pop-up informing you that some file is infected and Windows cannot run this program. Nothing works.

My experience with these programs so far has been that none are as destructive as they wish you to imagine. Usually they simply prevent you from running your applications; rarely is the application itself infected. Additionally (the good news here), most of these will not load and run if you simply restart your computer in Safe Mode. If you don't know what I am talking about here, you really need to find someone who does to fix your computer for you. After rebooting in Safe Mode, you can then run Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware (you did download this through my Software Links page previously, didn't you?) and get rid of it. You should then follow up with a complete scan using another good anti-virus program such as AVG or avast!

If you have not previously installed anti-virus software and you become infected, it could possibly be very difficult to get your system working again. By their very nature, viruses prevent you from taking the steps necessary to remove them. This may sometimes require removing your hard disk from your computer and installing it in another as a secondary drive, then using that computer's resources to clean your disk. This, of course, requires a trip back to the shop and considerable effort (none of which is fun for me, either), all of which will cost you much more than downloading a free program!

This Q&A page has a good discussion of this issue, with tips and suggestions. I also recommend this excellent How-To for instructions on removing these fake "Anti-Virus" programs. It is better to be prepared beforehand than to be freaking out when disaster actually happens.

Another step I wholly recommend is configuring your IP settings to use OpenDNS (Software Links). Again, if you do not understand this, find someone who does to do it for you. OpenDNS provides a level of protection that your ISP DNS servers do not, it is free (basic level), and is worth the effort.

While you are at it, please read my article concerning Email Safety. Too many people do not understand that email can be an easy and excellent entry point for the viruses they encounter. Specifically, if the Subject reads, "Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: Fw: ...", run, don't walk to that <Delete> button! Unknown Attachments should also be <Deleted> ASAP. Opening these items is extremely unwise; I don't care if they were sent by your Dear Aunt Emily, is she more computer-savvy than you? I didn't think so.

Copyright © 2010 Karl W. Swartz — http://KarlSwartz.com
You may freely reproduce and share this text, only if it is not altered and includes this notice.