Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Protection Racket

My computer is infected with malware again. This as distinguished from all the other ‘wares’ such as hardware, software, goodware, and eveningware. These infections happen from time to time, and generally necessitate me devoting a substantial chunk of my life to running various cleaner programs and scans, tracking down patches, and generally spending hours deleting file after file of self-replicating computer-slowing adware, worms and trojans while hunting their evil hive mother.

A while back I got concerned that I hadn’t renewed my subscription with McAfee, and finally unpocketed the money to keep my computer safe again. It came as no surprise that an initial scan found more than 50 infected files. The surprise came later, when after repeated scans and cleanings my computer was inching along like molasses, slower than ever. A painstakingly tedious crawl through a Google search fingered the most likely culprit. McAfee Antivuirus was hogging all the system resources. Yes, I paid $50 for a program which apparently planned to keep my computer safe by not allowing it to do anything.

Now I use Avast Antivirus, which I like not just because it’s free and it allows my computer to function at a reasonable speed, but also because it has a little voice that keeps me informed of my computer’s status. Virus detection is accompanied by a siren and calm but urgent computer voice: ‘Caution--a virus has been detected. Caution--a virus has been detected.” It’s just like being a starship captain!

Avast is great about alerting me to problems and taking out the head-on attacks, but the more subtle Trojan style malware downloaders occasionally take additional legwork on my part. In my current situation, Avast has taken out a baker’s dozen of adware programs, but the source lives on, as evidenced by the pop-up windows that spawn everytime I load a new page. The variety of advertisements that have infiltrated my computer is as fascinating as it is bewildering. I can understand why sleazy sounding sites promoting things like online poker, discount tropical vacations and 'the playphone' would consider drastic measures to get my attention, but what about ‘The World’s Most Popular Intelligence Test’ by Tickle? Is this really the sort of thing that necessitates aggressive, no holds barred marketing?

The big names that pop-up also disturb me. ‘Yahoo! HotJobs.’ ‘AccountNow Prepaid Visa.’ Do these companies not know they are being advertised by people who are downloading trojans onto my computer? Is this some sort of free service provided by the adware people? How is this even legal?

My favorites, of course, are the variety of ‘Malware Protection’ sites that flash their advertisements onto my screen (through the employ of malware) accompanied by ingenuous little queries like ‘Is your computer running slower than usual?’ They warn about potential malware being downloaded to your computer, privacy violations, or (I love the wording): ‘dangerous adult content.’ It’s so sweet of them to offer protection from the many reprehensible types on the internet such as themselves. Very old-school mafia.

These malware protection racketeers also number among the sneakiest of the ads, making liberal use of fake system notifications, windows alert style pop-ups, and supposed system scans which return a list of infected files on my system with scary sounding names like TrojanWorm.SoBig and EvilAdware(Downloader).bug. I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I think my current virus protection software is more than capable of detecting malware which openly announces its nefarious intentions right in its file name.

Of course, any attempts to halt the automatic download of their program prompts a barrage of warning windows: ‘Download is not complete!’ ‘Your system is still infected!’ ‘Click any button below to continue download!’ They’ve even managed to inveigle themselves into the places of the ad banners of the sites I’m visiting. Now five seconds after page load the same banner flashes warnings at me from at least three different locations on the page. My favorite has spiders all over it. Because adware, like spiders, is very scary.

But nothing can rival the baffling error box prompted by my refusal to seek my secret local crush:

Yes. Click ‘Cancel’ to accept. It’s all so clear.

I’m scheduling boot-time scan.

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