Viruses, Trojans, and Spyware - Oh My!

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Have you ever had to call Symantec or McAfee to ask them how to remove a virus? Or have you spent hours online trying to figure out how to remove spyware, only to find out that you did something wrong and now your computer won't boot? I know your pain and frustration with just trying to use your computer without worry. As a computer technician at ARCH Computing Services, I know how hard it can be to pay someone to remove viruses and spyware. In fact that's how I started in the computer business. I didn't want to pay someone to fix the problems that I usually caused. A little voice in my head told me "I can build a computer, it doesn't look that hard!"

Six years later, and a lot of dead computers in the beginning, have placed me where I am now. Let me tell you, it's a full time job, even when I'm not at work. There is always some new technology being developed, and of course security is a never-ending battle with new viruses, trojans and spyware daily.

The internet is full of how-to information. You can learn everything from how to make the perfect loaf of bread, tune your car, or remove a virus. Making a loaf of bread seems to be easy, and it probably is. Even if you end up making flat bread or burnt bread, you're not out a lot of money or in too much trouble. On the other hand, if you try to tune your car and break a spark plug or put the wires back incorrectly, it could end up costing you a lot more to fix it. All you wanted to do was save a few bucks and do it yourself. I've burnt bread and I've tried to fix my own car. The bread was thrown in the trash, the car I ended up taking to an auto mechanic and having it fixed right, which of course cost me much more than money, it cost me time.

You must be wondering what my point is. Yes, removing a virus or building a computer isn't really that hard of a task?if you live and breathe computers like I do and others do (we affectionately call ourselves Geeks). Let's take a look at the following scenario.

James is a real estate broker, and a damn good one. He makes his living helping people find the best buy for their dollar. As a result James keeps an extensive client list on his computer. Somewhere along the line he manages to pick up a nasty Trojan. His anti-virus software caught it but was unable to clean it. He does some research online and finds a site that explains how to remove the Trojan. After following the instructions he reboots his PC only to find that his machine will not boot. In frustration he goes to another computer and looks up information on boot problems and finds out that the best thing he can do is reformat his hard drive and re-install his operating system from his backup. Oh, by the way, he hasn't done a backup in over 6 months. By this time he has spent 4 or 5 hours trying to fix the problem, and now has the daunting task of re-installing his operating system without any backup?

The moral of the story here is that he literally wasted hours that he could have spent making a sale or helping a client purchase a house or land. Is the above scenario a little extreme? In some ways it is, but it doesn't fall too far from the truth. Many of the clients I see with virus or spyware problems have tried everything they can to remove the problem, only to find out they spent hours with no results, and often come out worse than they were. By the time they come to see me they are frustrated and just want it fixed. Unfortunately, this does cost them money that they didn't want to spend in the first place, and more importantly in this day and age, it costs them more time. Time is the great equalizer. If James had been able to make a 10% percent commission on a $200,000 house, spending the 65 to 100 dollars to clean his computer wouldn't have seemed very significant.

Nine times out of ten an infected computer does require a re-format and re-install. I don't say this lightly. It is usually much easier to backup and start over than spend hours trying to find every little piece of nastiness that was installed on your computer.

Eric Graves is a Senior Computer Technician at ARCH Computing Services. His computer knowledge and interpersonal skills have helped the company to grow at a remarkable rate. He's currently completing his BS in IT Management, and will go on to complete his Master Degree in Information Systems Security. He is also currently the administrator for the Mutagenix forums, a Slackware based Live CD.

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