Monday, April 30, 2007

Malware Woes

Every time we thought we had rooted out all the rooted em all out, they would pop up their ugly faces again. My husband and I have been beating our heads against the screen and keyboard since about 3am Saturday morning. Good news is that I am typing this on the laptop. I got back on the desktop after the latest scan and reboot a little over an hour ago. I spent half an hour test driving the IE browser, doing as many of the things that seemed to trigger problems before as I could think of and so far no hint of trouble. I think I may have stymied whatever it was.

Some things I've learned about spyware and adware:

  • They can hide form the scans that know about them.
  • They can block attempts to remove them.
  • They can put themselves back again after they were removed.
  • They hide in folders that are necesary to run the computer.
  • They spread pieces of themselves around so that rooting out one instance of them doesn't solve the problem.
  • They can turn the firewall off.

The nastiest and sneakiest of the ones we were dealing with was UCMore Search Accelerator. That was the one that started the blizzard of popups and popunders Saturday morning shortly after an unwanted popup redirected to a download and downloaded and installed it without allowing any interference from my input. Even forcing a reboot before it finished downloading did not stop it. It resumed as soon as I logged back on to my desktop. I noticed that logging onto the desktop was frequently hanging or taking much longer than it used to.

So this evening when the popups resumed again immediately after a reboot following a scan, for the umpteenth time, I headed to the Startup folder in Documents and Settings and that is where I found it. I deleted it and rebooted. Then before calling up the browser I checked that folder and it was gone. Then I went to Internet options to check the firewall was on. It was. Then I went to set popup tolerance to zero and take a couple of the apparently offending pages off the trusted list. Google pages had seemed to be some of the worst offenders and my husband and I had a fierce um debate over whether Gmail or Google search page or the Google toolbar had been in anyway knowingly responsible.

I stuck up for Google and would not back down. I have been using everything Google for the entire ninteen months I've owned the laptop and never had any issues with it until yesterday when I put my Gmail page on the trusted list for popups so that I could click links inside emails. That was when the problems started up again after my husband and I had test drove the browser for half an hour with no surprises and thought we had licked it. I maintained that it was one of the malware which had not been eliminated and had used the permission for a popup to piggyback. Or possibly one of the advertisers snuck something in, which wouldn't necessarily b

There were about dozen other programs comprising 37 instances of alarm for the AVG scan plus over 400 Tracking cookies.

The weekend before this past one when my power cord gave up the ghost was a wake-up call to me regarding backing up my laptop files. A wake-up call which I did not respond to before this weekend's fiasco really ratcheted up the alarm. I really really really need to address this issue. I have been searching my heart and head for why I keep putting it off. I don't really have to search that far. It has to do with not wanting to save what I deem as a mess. That was the major reason I had not been saving that post draft regularly during the six or eight hours I was working on it Saturday.

Another issue I have with backing up my Document files is that I don't have a floppy drive, which I was used to with previous computers. Instead I have a flash drive port and a writable CD drive. But flash drives cost so much. And I'm not sure how much blank CDs will hold and I hate that they are not rewritable like floppies used to be so I can't save changes to the files I burn onto them. And they also seem so fragile. They break easily if mishandled. They scratch easily and I've also heard that sunlight can compromise them. Though I am not sure how dependable my source was for that last issue.

Anyway, if this latest scare doesn't override my resistance to backing up regardless of how messy my files are... Really, I need to take this seriously. It is about respect for my work. If this malware war had ended in crashing the hard drive instead of just the browser, I could be moaning now about the loss of a couple hundred thousand words of text, who knows how many megabytes in photos and graphics, hundreds of HTML pages created by me, and pages saved off the web that are indispensible to my research. Not to mention my browser favorites which sometime hold the only 'note' I take of something relevant to a research project..

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