Andy vs. Spyware, Round 1

Tonight, I have learned some very valuable lessons:

  • Be kind to your fellow human beings, and try to make the world a better place.
  • Don’t use Internet Explorer.
  • Give generously to those in need.
  • For the love of all that is holy, don’t use Internet Explorer.

Tonight, I had my first real encounter with malware–malicious software installed (generally without your knowledge) by evil websites and viruses and such. Don’t worry, gentle reader–it wasn’t my machine, which I safeguard from such abominations with anal-retentive fanaticism. Tonight I received a Phone Call from someone in my church congregation whose computer had started acting loony. More specifically, it was rebooting itself immediately after booting, which would qualify as a definite problem. So I filled a CD with some popular spyware/malware/virus killers, and went over to check it out.
This was my first encounter with a malware-choked computer, and it exhibited all of the classic symptoms about which you read in computer magazines and frothing Slashdot threads. In addition to the charming “automatic rebooting” feature, we had all the classics. Mysterious search bars on the desktop? Check. Sabotaged security settings, constant browser hijacking, and popups that can’t be closed? Check. Programs that can’t be uninstalled? Check. Constant downloading of mysterious Data from the internet? Check. Check, check, you get the idea.
So I went to work, and through the use of four or five different handy programs, we cleaned out about 400 specific instances of malware. Two hours later, there were still a few pieces of malware that I knew were installed, but which I couldn’t figure out how to delete–so I’ll probably need to have a another go at it once I do some more research.
Looking for information on the web, I soon found that nearly all of the major instances of malware arrived on his machine via vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer (and this despite his up-to-date Windows Updates and the presence of SP2). I was hesitant to recommend that he switch cold-turkey to a different browser about which he had never heard (Firefox, which worked flawlessly on his computer while IE was brought to a crashing, popup-filled halt within seconds of startup). Nevertheless, I did install Firefox and imported all of his IE bookmarks and such, telling him that if he continued to have trouble with IE, to try using Firefox instead. I don’t know if he’ll take my advice, but I hope he does.
So yeah. Let me go on record: I generally like Windows XP, find it to be stable and easy to use, and am much indebted to it for several years of really cool games. I will spare you the use of oh-so-clever phrases like “WinBlows” and “Micro$oft.” But my friend, I beg you. Don’t do it… just don’t. Don’t use Internet Explorer.

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2 thoughts on “Andy vs. Spyware, Round 1

  1. topher

    I’ve found that once people realize that it was IE that did that to their machine, they RUN, nay, FLEE, to something else. Firefox is a GOOD browser. People tend to really like it, not just put up with it because they have to.

  2. jrau

    Yeah, towards the end of the experience, he seemed to be at least somewhat interested in Firefox. One of the problems, however, was that one of the particularly nasty pieces of malware identified itself as “Firefox installer” or some such, which had caused him to associate Firefox with malware. But I left the nice shiny Firefox icon there on his desktop and encouraged him to try it out…

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