One of My Computers is Down…

…and I’m angry, not quite raging rip-down-walls-mad, but close. Despite two different reputable anti-virus systems, both current, some virus or perhaps more than one, has rendered it useless, so much so that I had to turn it over to computer professionals for rehab.  All the files I need, except one, are backed up, and I can reconstruct that one, if necessary, but the time, money, and inconvenience resulting from this sort of event are more than a little irritating.

And for what?  So that some cyber-psycho can get his or her kicks out of destruction, out of wasting people’s money and time?  Or so that some sociopath can make other people’s hardware and software unwitting tools for some grand nefarious project that will victimize even more people?

I’m fortunate; I have back-ups; and I can afford repairs, but there was a time when this sort of thing would have thrown a huge monkey-wrench into life and family finances… and that’s still true for all too many people.

I’m definitely not a Luddite.  I like technology.  But as I’ve posted before, computer technology opens whole avenues of mischief, crime, and destruction.  It also has destroyed borders in so far as criminal activities are concerned.  Among other misperspectives, the right-wing opponents of immigration reform have totally missed the boat on crime.  Thanks to computers, a lot of the criminals outside our borders don’t even have to enter the U.S. in order to victimize Americans.  Without immigration reform, all we’re doing is making criminals out of those who came here to find work and opportunity and keeping the brightest of the rest of the world from coming here.

Computer viruses, worms, scams, identity theft, and the like are all part and parcel of crimes at a distance, where the perpetrator doesn’t see or have to face the misery he or she has caused, usually is never apprehended, and even if caught is seldom punished in any degree of relation to the harm caused.  It’s just another aspect of the technological desensitization of society, which includes rampant violence in every form of entertainment, sensationalistic news, computer/video games glorifying crime and violence, and the possibility of drone attacks all over the world.

Me, I’d just settle for an active virus-defense system that would immediately wipe the computer of anyone sending me such a virus or worm.

 

15 thoughts on “One of My Computers is Down…”

  1. Dave Ansell says:

    My commiserations. Viruses et al are a massive pain in the butt & currently appear (like death & taxes) to be unavoidable.

    However, have you heard the theory circulating in Australia that the majority of viruses are developed & perpetuated by anti-Virus software houses to ensure we keep using their services??

    Certainly the anti-Virus companies do surround their products with lots of obscure terminology, in-group jargon and a host of statistics. I do find myself thinking “smoke & mirrors”, “sleight of hand” and other cynical expletives! Of course, even if such a thing were true, it would only be another case of good old American knowhow making sure that a market for a product existed!!
    I’m glad you had backup and thus could recover. But given the inconvenience (as you remarked) it’s a poor consolation.

    Dave

  2. Kathryn says:

    “computer/video games glorifying crime and violence”

    Sigh. No. Not really. And even if they do, the games that do that cannot legally be purchased by anyone under (depending on your country) about 15. And the games that do are a minority in the grand scheme of things. There’s games like that, yes. Others involve forming empires, creating economic routes, puzzle-solving, navigating conversations, collecting items or even just simple racing.

    Games are no different for violence and so-on than books.

    But back to the events; I’ll offer my commiserations as well. Viruses are not fun. I don’t know why people make them, aside from some people obviously trying to get a hold of your personal details.

  3. Vandulus says:

    I truly feel the frustration that you’re going through as I deal with this problem every day as a security analyst.

    Anti-virus products only work for known malicious software (malware) and it typically takes the anti-virus vendors 2-4 weeks to create a signature needed to recognize the malware. Unfortunately it only takes a hacker 5-15 minutes to run the malware through a set of tools to make it a new variant, unrecognizable by any anti-virus program. The other issue is zero-day vulnerabilities in products such as Java, PDFs, Flash animations, etc. that the hackers use and there are no known patches or detections for. We have to rebuild 10-20 systems a month due to zero-day vulnerabilities and trojans that anti-virus products can’t detect or clean. Our employees have the same reaction as you when they’re told their work computer needs completely rebuilt.

    Also hackers are financially or politically motivated these days, often backed by governments like China or organized crime like the Russian mafia. Your infected computer becomes yet another resource they can use to stage further attacks, or simply drain your bank account.

    I’m glad you make regular backups as most people neglect to do this and often lose months or years of photos and documents. One suggestion I’d make is to use multiple devices to backup files and keep one disconnected at all times. Every two weeks, switch the devices out with one that has older backups. This way if your files are corrupted or if you get infected by ransom-ware (they hold your files hostage until you pay a fee of $100-300), you have older, unaffected copies you can work with. External USB hard drives are fairly inexpensive these days and I use three to guarantee I have a few copies available just in case of problems.

    I’d also highly recommend keeping a copy of your most valuable files offsite, such as a bank safety deposit box or at a friend’s or relative’s house, in case of a robbery or disaster. All of my photos for the past 15 years are digital and I shudder to what would happen if I would ever lose them!

  4. Ryan Jackson says:

    Mr. Modesitt. I sympathize to what happened, it’s hit most of us at one point or another. Unfortionately the reality is that no matter how hard we work, those of us on the protection/security/investigations side of internet crime will never be able to stop it all. We’re in what is essentially an issue you covered in your two Cyador books. The defender always loses.

    In practical terms for the job we do, that’s not quite true, we usually win, after the initial damage is done. Some form of breach/hack/what have you hits, we then do our best to fix it and make sure it can’t be used again. Then some new criminal finds a different loophole and it repeats. For what it’s worth we actually stop a LOT more than we let through, but as your last post shows, no one recognizes what’s prevented, only what’s avenged. I can say the credit industry usually stops and prevents fraud losses somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 to 100 times what actually does get stolen.

    Unfortionately, we don’t really have the option to invade the way Lorn handled his problem. Or at least I and my peers don’t see such an option. Beyond that, no matter how careful we are we can’t prevent human error or stop someone from being tricked by a scam or answering a bad email.

    @Dave. Not likely. The conspiracy theory is comforting for some. Basically because most people would prefer to think things happen due to the plots of some evil overlord to the truth that sometimes bad things happen.

    @Kathryn, he didn’t single out games, he was talking about the violence in all forms of media, which does include games.

    1. Kathryn says:

      I understand that, Ryan. But as video games are the new kid on the block (even 40 years later), it still seems unfair to put emphasis on games. What about books, comics? They’re just as bad, if not worse, at times.

  5. Anything in visual format creates a greater emotional impact than in verbal or even auditory form.

  6. Lourain says:

    Why do hackers create malware? Computers are just a new medium to gratify old desires: greed, striking out at authority, perceived power over others, impressing others in an ‘in group’…
    I had to park on the street while staying overnight with an aunt. Some time during the night someone broke the windshields on every car on the street.
    I live in a rural area. I have to replace my mailbox about every six months because someone has bashed it (along with others on the same road).
    This is not unique to our society or our time. Just read history.
    The barbarians are always with us.

  7. Brian says:

    I understand what you are going through. My laptop got infected at the beginning of May and I had to have the hard drive wiped and everything reinstalled. Since I was planning to take it to the techs where I bought it for some maintenance (since it wasn’t operating as efficiently as it should and the repair programs I was using weren’t solving anything) I had everything backed up externally. It was still frustrating to have to spend twice as much as I was originally going to spend and to be without it for a time. Looking on the bright side I was able to read “Imager’s Battalion” quicker than I would have normally.

    The anti-virus and spyware programs can only stop what they’ve been updated to stop, but backing up immediately and I’m running more scans now and maintenance programs now before Shut Down. It is all I can do and hope that conscientious programmers can develop the countermeasures to update my programs quickly enough to combat new viruses et. al.

    In re: rural mailboxes
    Had mine smashed in more than once. In winter though, it is hard to tell if it is a vandal or an over zealous snow plow operator.

  8. Nordom says:

    I don’t quite understand. If all you’ve got is malware, (a virus, trojan, worm, etc.), you just plug in another hard-drive with a clean OS, utterly make sure it’s the “start up” drive, (changeable in the motherboard’s BIOS), move the files you want from the old OS over to the new one, then wipe the old one out and reformat it. The old one should be completely self-contained, as nothing on it will be registered, (in the registry, in the startup execution, etc.), on the new drive’s OS, and consequently, nothing should execute. As long as you make sure what you’re copying over is clean…(most files that you know and used before should be, but be absolutely sure you know what you’re copying over, or you could screw up the new hard-drive, too…)

    I haven’t gotten a virus for years and years…but my family members have, and I’ve had to clean them up.

  9. Nordom says:

    First of all, it’s not cool that comments are deleted if you accidentally don’t finish the captcha. (Though that might admittedly be a problem local to my browser, Opera.)

    Re-done Addendum: I didn’t really finish my last post. In addition to making sure that the “clean” hard drive is the start-up hard drive, (that is, first in bootup priority in the BIOS), it’s also important to make sure it’s primary drive in your actual hard drive’s bootup priority. If the new hard drive was formatted while another one was plugged in, (with that other hard drive being the primary), it could potentially point to the infected hard drive as the primary drive in its own internal boot up priority…which would be bad. This happened to me once, and I was not happy about it, as I ruined my clean “reformat” 80GB hard-drive and had to prepare another one before I could also fix it as well as the original bad hard drive.

  10. That’s pretty much what I had done… but it takes time and equipment… and that means I lose time doing what makes a living. Considering the hours I work already [and that many people who rely heavily on computers do], this is anything but simple or inconsequential, and also requires keeping current in the computer field — more “non-productive” time — or paying someone else. Either way, it’s a time drain or a money drain.

    1. Nordom says:

      Yeah, I suppose if you’re not prepared for it, it can take a bit of time…moreso if it’s your computer, too.

  11. Grey says:

    Just a thought – it’s not just virus software you need to keep up to date. The AV software on my wife’s computer autoupdates several times per day, but she routinely ignored the ‘update available’ pop-up alerts for Java and other programs. Eventually, she ended up with a virus that used a Java exploit (for which a security patch was long available) to end-run the AV software.

  12. Dov says:

    Mr. Modesitt,

    I have been recommending Google’s Pixel, a high end Chromebook, for people like you that don’t want to spend the time to maintain the skillset required for computer security, nor spend the money on someone who does, for computer security.

    Link for Pixel http://www.google.com/intl/en_us/chrome/devices/chromebook-pixel/

    Link for Chromium OS (not to be confused with Chrome the browser, but there is some code they share) http://www.chromium.org/chromium-os

    There are cheaper Chromebooks than the Pixel, but I wouldn’t recommend them to any professional (you get what you pay for), this link provides list of all available Chromebooks http://www.google.com/intl/en/chrome/devices/

    You will have to use the word processor and such that it supports, but your files would automatically be backed up off site, it also provides for know safe restore points for the OS automatically.

    This youtube from Google provides overview of security features http://youtu.be/A9WVmNfgjtQ

    Also since it is backed up off the device, even if your Chromebook is stolen or damaged, you can still access your documents.

    If your not interested in that, the best source I know for learning about computer security and related is Brian Krebs, formally of the Washington Post.

    His Blog can be found at http://krebsonsecurity.com/

    One of his most useful articles for average people to understand the reason malware is a serious issue, is this one on the commercial value of a hacked computer http://krebsonsecurity.com/2012/10/the-scrap-value-of-a-hacked-pc-revisited/

    I would also strongly recommend his “Tools for a Safer PC” for learning how to improve your computer & online security http://krebsonsecurity.com/tools-for-a-safer-pc/

    Also for anyone that does money or financial transactions online I would strongly suggest this http://krebsonsecurity.com/2012/07/banking-on-a-live-cd/

    Another excellent resource is the “Security Now” podcast, by Steve Gibson http://twit.tv/sn

    Regards,

    Dov

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