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Tech Talk: More on malware, the gunk that slows your computer

POSTED: March 21, 2014 11:19 p.m.

The last dozen computers that I’ve worked on all had two things in common: They were all incredibly slow and all had severe malware infections. A coincidence perhaps? I think not. When I encounter a sluggish system, I immediately suspect malware. It’s what I habitually remove from computers when I repair them.

This type of infection encompasses bloatware, crapware, adware, riskware, spyware, tracking cookies and more. It brought those computers to their knees. They all took five minutes to boot and were barely navigable once up and running.

The least offensive of malware infections are known as PUPs or Potentially Unwanted Programs. Although they may just be annoying apps or toolbars, you still don’t want them.

Sure I get the odd virus, ransomware, even Blue Screen of Death infections, but most of my clients’ computers of late have had malware infections.

Malware by definition is simply malicious or bad software. It is programs that you neither purchased nor intentionally downloaded. These are programs you don’t want on your computer. Unbeknownst to you, they somehow were able to install themselves or otherwise gain access to your system.

Many are teaser apps in which the author hopes you will buy the full version of their product. Others are a vehicle for data miners that clandestinely collect your personal information such as passwords and financial data. There are key loggers that watch what you type and tracking cookies that watch where you go online.

Other types include the all-too-familiar pop-ups that plaster advertisements all over your desktop, fake virus and hijack attacks from browser helper objects, where your home page is redirected to one other than yours. Some also redirect you to use a search engine other than what you’ve already chosen.

There are trojans, some of which allow a remote user to gain control of your system. Just as with the original Trojan Horse, these come disguised as something other than what they appear to be, something innocuous.

The various forms of malware are detrimental to your computer’s well-being. They can corrupt, modify or delete your data. They can block access to it, copy it and pass it along to other users.

Although malware, unlike viruses and worms, don’t self-replicate, they are still a huge nuisance and highly volatile.
Riskware is a common type of malware infection. Its purpose is to fool you into thinking what is not genuine, is. When you get a pop-up advising you of registry errors when you have not initiated a scan of your system’s registry, it is a scam from riskware and should not be taken seriously.

It could also be in the form of a message from your bank or other company (as with Netflix mentioned in my last column) that is not genuine. Intimidation is the key here. You are scared into providing your credit card number to remedy a situation. The only ones who benefit from this are those who get your money. Generally, you get nothing in return.

So you have a malware infection: What do you do?

A comprehensive security suite is the best thing as far as defenses are concerned. Free programs are good and better than nothing, but the paid version of that app is better. For one, you get support. You also get a scheduler that free programs simply don’t have.

Once you install that security application, you must configure it. Tell it what to scan and when and how often. Just having it on your system does nothing.

I had one client that showed me their security icon on their desktop. It turned out to be the installer package they had downloaded from the Internet. It was never installed nor configured. The infections on that system were severe.

Some things you simply have to pay for and it is my belief that this is one of those cases. You don’t think twice about putting a gas filter on your car or putting better tires on it. So why then do you scrimp when it comes to adding things to your computer?

For a mere $50 to $75 annually, you could have the protection in place you need to keep a safe and clean computer. Keep in mind that anything can happen at any time, no matter how much protection you have in place.
You can still get bad gas or a flat tire even with the best equipment. The same goes for a computer.

Remember, an anti-virus utility will only scan for viruses. It will not look for nor eradicate malware. You can only have one anti-virus tool on your system, but multiple malware utilities are fine.

To whatever Internet Security Suite you end up purchasing, I suggest you add more security to it. In the past, I have spoken of Malwarebytes, possibly the best anti-malware utility available. It is inexpensive, it is easy to use and it is effective.

Be proactive. Alter your computing habits. Be aware of what you click on, what you open and be careful not to reinfect your system.

Arthur Glazer is a freelance writer and computer technician in Gainesville. His column appears biweekly on the Business page and on gainesvilletimes.com.


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