I remember my first encounter with a virus. It was March/6th 1993. It was named Michelangelo and managed to destroy two PC’s at a company I worked for. It really had more nuisance value than anything else. It takes 10 minutes and a couple of diskettes to rebuild a DOS system. Times have changed, the minor irritation of 1993 is now a multi $billion a year headache, for consumers and industry. As far as I can see the only winners are the makers of Anti-Virus software.

Of course the problem with anti-virus security software it is reactive rather than proactive. It knows about thousands of viruses from last week, last month, last year, last decade, but it does not know about todays new viruses. Also they are about as useful as a ham sandwich at a Jewish wedding for finding complex and possibly state sponsored viruses such as Stuxnet.

There are two other types of bad actors that you can end up hosting on the computer. Malware and Adware. There are thousands of these things, mainly they nag you to death about how you can pay $20 to buy a program to remove it from your computer.

Two days ago I got hit by an interesting one. Where it came from I have no idea. I was in the middle of a word document when suddenly my computer switched itself off. Well having been involved with computers for 40 years, I can hardly say this is the first time a computer has done that. The silence is deafening when an IBM mainframe in a room the size of an aircraft hanger goes into sulk mode. My Dell Laptop was a lot less exciting, the screen went black, and the power light went out.

I switched it back on, and was not paying attention but caught the last half a second of a Windows message about changing a Registry Setting.

The computer booted up OK, and I viewed the incident as an AOG (Act Of God) as opposed to a PUE (Probable User Error). It did not take me long however to spot a little bit of an issue. My favorite browser Firefox would not open. IE and Chrome were fine, well almost, but Firefox was sulking. When I say IE and Chrome were almost fine I did notice that the Homepage had been Hijacked, and rather than google I was being taken to a different search engine, but the results seemed ok, and I would deal with the problem later.

So I uninstalled Firefox, rebooted, went to IE and opened google, searched on Firefox and in the #1 spot was Mozilla, well it looked legit. It wasn’t until it was too late that I realized my mistake. I went from one piece of adware to 12. Two frustrating hours later of playing whack-a-mole, I had my computer back to normal. I should have been more careful, that is my fault, the good news was that I knew how to dig my way out of the problem. Many people do not. Beware of free gifts online, rarely are they free. Get a good Anti-Virus program, and a decent Malware/Adware remover.

Simon Barrett


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