Electronic Design

Who's Winning The Computer Virus War? Probably Not Us

Back in December, I decided to uninstall the anti-virus software on my desktop computer at home. The computer was taking several minutes to boot up, and when it was finally ready to go, everything ran slowly.

Whenever I opened up an Excel file, I had to wait five or six seconds while the anti-virus program frisked it. And then there were the endless popups reminding me to perform hard-disk scans and update the software until I finally got sick of it all.

Who are the guys developing viruses, after all? Are they a bunch of slackers who want to show how smart they are? They’re not making a lot of money at it, are they? And who protects us from these flunkies? The anti-virus software guys are certainly making money at this game.

But why am I in the middle of this fight between the bad guys and the good guys? As far as I’m concerned, the good guys aren’t that good anyway. They probably hamper my productivity more than the bad guys do. After all, if I don’t get a virus, the bad guys aren’t affecting me at all.

But let’s not be naïve. The virus guys seem to have nothing else to do with their time but to keep trying to wreak havoc on our computers. After a while, you’re bound to fall into one of their traps. And three months after uninstalling my anti-virus software, I got caught.

I was trying to find the results of a 15K race run here on Long Island and went to one of the sites that provide local race results. A notice on the site said that it was undergoing some improvements, and a window popped up asking if I wanted to download a file.

Normally, I decline. But I trusted this site, and I figured the guy who runs it might be adding some new functionality. I clicked on the message, and a notice came up indicating that the file had a trusted certificate. Truthfully, I wasn’t paying much attention and just clicked to download it.

I knew I was in trouble when the file ran and rebooted my computer. An annoying message started popping up in the right side of the Windows XP taskbar telling me that I had a virus. Then I got a popup soliciting me to purchase an antivirus program to get rid of it. Sound familiar?

The guys who created this virus may have been inspired by some old gangster movies. A bunch of thugs would approach a small shop owner and promise that he would be safe from any danger, as long as the owner paid for “protection.” The police would call it extortion. In this case, the bug is called WinReanimator. It proved to be a very nasty virus, like some of the human viruses that went around last winter.

My first reaction was to perform a free scan to find this virus and delete it. I tried about four different scans, but none worked. Then I searched on Google for WinReanimator and read the tales of woe of people whose computers were infected. In the meantime, my computer had slowed dramatically in only a couple of hours.

It started taking me longer and longer to try new things. I actually had to switch to one of my laptops to search for ways to recover from this attack. After about four hours, I gave up. I was very concerned, since I thought I had lost all of my files, and I only had backups of some of the most important ones.

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Though I wasn’t making any headway, I tried some of the solutions recommended on the Internet. Most tell you to start by booting up in Safe Mode. Although I couldn’t do much in Safe Mode, I still had access to all of my files.

Luckily, I have an external hard disk. When I plugged it in, Windows recognized it, even though I was in Safe Mode. I took this opportunity to back up all the data files on my hard disk. What a joy!

Next, I looked for the files that weren’t in the My Documents folder, like my Outlook Express e-mail. I couldn’t find this file anywhere, but fortunately one of the Internet sites I visited explained how to locate it (Tools>Options>Maintenance and click on Store Folder). After backing up all my data files, I was ready to blast WinReanimator into kingdom come.

On my desktop, pressing F10 during bootup will initiate a complete “destructive” restore of the original programs shipped with the computer, which means the hard disk is reformatted before the software is installed. So I did it. When the dust settled, WinReanimator was nowhere to be found.

Getting the computer back to where it was isn’t a simple task. You don’t realize how often you upgrade software over the course of time. And there was one file I did forget to back upthe file that contains all my e-mail rules.

Long ago, I gave up trying to use message rules against e-mail spammers. Instead, I relinquished my inbox to the spammers and instituted rules for everyone else, i.e., normal people who don’t try to change their e-mail addresses every day. When all the rules are functioning, my inbox becomes my default spam folder. Adding all the rules again was a chore and, worse yet, I still don’t know where the rules file resides.

In any case, my computer’s back in top form, zipping along until the next virus traps me. But now with a backup on my external hard disk, which I’ve disconnected from my computer for safety’s sake, I’m caring less and less about the struggle between the good guys and the bad guys.

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