Two Lessons Learned From a Personal Malware Story

In Learning Tree’s System and Network Security Introduction, we say “never trust software from anyone”. This literally hit home this week. My wife bought a new high-end laptop from a major vendor. There were some issues…

When the laptop arrived, it had a copy of a well-known personal firewall/anti-virus product. The license was limited and since we have multiple licenses for a competing product she decided to remove the one that came with the computer. In order to do so she had to check the web for the removal instructions. Every time she accessed the web, though, new tabs opened in her browser. Regardless of browser she even had tabs open when she tried to scroll down a page!

Partial log of malware scan.
Partial log of malware scan.

So she removed the anti-virus/firewall and decided to try a popular one advertized on television. She needed the malware that caused her browsers to misbehave removed and even though we had licenses for something else, the price of the television-promoted tool seemed hard to beat; besides, online reviews were good. Unfortunately, it was of no help removing the malware impacting the virus.

More web searching and she discovered that some of the malware has been found on other PCs from the same manufacturer. One source even said that the vendor considered it a “feature”.

So my wife downloaded a new copy of the tool we use on other computers. (It took a few tries as she initially downloaded a version that was not compatible with Windows 8.1, but the company’s customer service helped her find the correct download.) With a little more help from the company’s tech support and an additional free download she got rid of the virus and her browsers all work correctly now. Finally.

Why tell you all this? Simple: there is a lot of malware out there. Some folks seem to differ on what’s a “feature” and what will annoy a user. A story published at this week (as I write this) details malware downloaded with popular programs from a site that says it does not accept products with malware!

My wife’s computer is running better now. We haven’t seen malware on any scans and there are no new tabs opening on the browser. I think it may be finally fixed. Our company is small and one computer with malware only took 10-12 hours to fix. Imagine if we’d ordered 50 or 500 new laptops… So a second moral to this story might be to check one PC out of a bigger batch before deploying all of them.

At any rate she’s having a happy new year now, and I hope yours has started off well, too.

To your safe computing,
John McDermott

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