Purpose one: writing a travelogue to describe my various trips.

Purpose two: muse.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Computer Issues

I have written about malware issues before. This time it is worse. Some virus killed my main PC, and I spent over two months trying to restore and clean it. Four security packages failed to do it automatically.

It was tedious work. I reinstalled the OS and available upgrades many times, too many to count. I scoured through registry settings, looking for suspicious entries. One evening, I manually copied 176 system DLLs from the XP installation DVD, one by one. I installed security packages and ran updates and scans, little of which proved productive.

Though I harbor little respect, and much disdain, for the malware authors, I have to admit the viruses are getting sophisticated. They morph themselves so that they are difficult to recognize, by programs or humans. They use counter measures, so that if you partially disable one, it will reconstitute itself. (This happened to me many times). They use indirection and one-way references, so that finding the root of each takes effort. They try to limit their system impact so that you might not notice them. Like biological viruses, they try not to kill their hosts, though in both cases, a lossage in the 10-20% range is perfectly acceptable.

I managed to get my system working and clean, and even got ESET Smart Security installed and operating. It is my favorite security program so far, because of its speed and relatively simple design (though the UI could use some work). Even it was not the silver bullet for me, though.

In the end, was it all worth it? I could have scratched the system and started over. (All my data is backed up regularly). That would have taken almost as long, though, and I would have lost a few assets -- some programs I would not have been able to reinstall and relicense. I would also not have learnt as much.

I have concluded that a few system settings and a security software package is not enough to protect you. You need more layers of security. I have become a fan of the limited user account. I have also looked for malware lists, such as the one found on malwaredomains.com. It is a non-profit, which I promptly donated to, because I like his work. Through it, I also found the Unmask Parasites blog, which reveals how some viruses work, security holes, and perhaps most importantly, includes tips and tidbits for end-users and webmasters alike.

I have also concluded that many viruses, especially the commercial ones, are so discreet that many computers and websites are infected, without the owners' awareness.

Browse safely.