Cleaning viruses has become an almost daily task. Hardly a week goes by where I don’t have to go head to head with yet another infected system and it seems like I hear the same questions just about every time. I thought I would gather some of the most common questions that I hear and (without getting too technical) try to answer them here.

First question; why do people take the time to create these things in the first place?

Well, outright theft is one reason. The rogue antivirus epidemic that has been going on for some time now makes a first attempt right off the bat to trick the end user into giving up the credit card number with the false promise of fixing an infection that doesn’t exist. Yet.

Some viruses forward SPAM at an exponential rate by using infected systems as relays and one of the most widespread viruses will actually conscript your machine into a vast “zombie” army called a “Bot-Net” which is controlled (along with millions of other infected machines) by a “Bot-Herder.” The Bot-Herder can then use all of these machines at once to attack a corporate or government network, spread out power needed to crack passwords, harvest information for identity theft, mine bitcoin or other crypto currency and more.

Those are just a couple reasons but one thing is clear, there is often a great deal of sophistication in many of these infections that isn’t readily visible from the infected machine.

Some questions I hear often aren’t really questions but more like assumption; “I don’t open email attachments so I should be OK, right? And “I don’t go to anyplace “unseemly” so I’m safe, right?”

It is true viruses still rely on email to replicate so it’s good not to open attachments from people you don’t know but if you are running a typical machine running typical software there are certain security exploits that viruses will look for if you are connected to the network. Also, you don’t have to go anywhere unseemly to run into an infected advertisement. One strategy they use is to run a legitimate ad on a popular website and switch the ad out with infected code.

Just about every machine I clean has an antivirus program installed so I hear this question all the time; “I have an up to date antivirus program installed? How did I get infected?”

Not all antivirus programs are up to the job. Popular programs like McAfee, Norton and others cost money for a subscription but rate very poorly on the protection level and often bring a computer to a halt by using up so many resources. Without hesitation I remove these programs and replace them with a free antivirus that is light weight and effective. Even AVG (which I had recommended for years) has become too bloated and now causes more problems than it fixes. I have 3 free antivirus alternatives that I currently recommend – Microsoft’s Security Essentials (also known as Windows Defender), Avast, Avira and All 3 are free, self maintaining and use very little resources – they won’t slow your machine down.

The next thing to consider is that new viruses are released daily but it can often take an antivirus company several days to come up with a definition leaving all of us vulnerable in the mean time.

And finally; how can I keep my system safe in the future?

Use an antivirus that works and make sure it is updating itself daily. Then, keep your operating system up to date as many security holes are patched in the updates. Don’t load up on multiple security programs! More is not better; most security programs are bloated and they all expect to be the “final authority” on what goes on in a machine. They don’t share that responsibility easily and often will conflict and “cancel each other out.” One antivirus along with the operating system’s built in firewall is fine. And finally, beware of any message that pops up telling you that you have a problem and telling you to call a number to get it fixed. On the other end of the phone number is a talented con artist waiting for your call and the phone number is a dead giveaway – genuine error or security messages don’t have a phone number! If there’s an alarming message telling you to call a number to get it fixed, it’s a scam.

Well, that’s just a few of the questions I get asked all the time, I know there are more. I hope I answered them to your satisfaction. If you have more questions or need clarification on something, email me; I’ll be happy to answer.

Sean McCarthy fixes computers. He can be reached at 888-752-9049 or (No Hyphens!)

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