I received a call the other day that went something like this; “Hi Mike? Do you guys do exorcisms?”
“No. We are a computer repair company.”
“Yea. I need somebody to come over and exorcize the demons out of my computer. It has a mind of its own now with stuff popping up all over the place and taking me to Web sites I don’t want to go to. It is possessed! The only place I can go is to this Web site where they want to charge me $40 for some software that they say will get rid of my problems, but I don’t trust them. Can you guys help?”
Sound familiar? It may, because in the past couple of weeks, we have been flooded by calls from people who are having these same issues.
Many people ask us: “What did I do to get this stuff? I didn’t go anywhere bad.”
You do not have to visit questionable Web sites to get infected with malware (the term for any type of spyware and/or viruses). Some people never get infected and others seem to get infected every week, and I believe it has to do with updates and the type of protection people use. I used to believe people who used a dialup Internet service were immune to malware until last evening when an Ahwatukee Foothills resident e-mailed me asking for help. He had NetZero as his Internet Service Provider. That was a first.
The symptoms of these issues are generally a window (or perhaps multiple windows) that incessantly pop up telling you a virus has been detected on your computer and instructing you to click on the pop up for removal. You are transported to a Web site where they demand a ransom of about $40 to $50 for removal.
The bad thing is when they do remove this spyware (and it is spyware and not a virus) generally another Trojan is installed on your computer set to activate at a time in the future, thereby, ensuring the company has an ongoing income stream. In more severe cases, your entire Internet connection is shut down to every Web site except theirs so you cannot get on the Internet to download any programs, update any existing protection programs or do much of anything.
I have seen the malware reprogram your Internet connection to a proxy, which allows you to only access the Internet through a designated computer, meaning whoever the insidious individual was who installed that malware on your system. This is a form of Internet hijacking.
Is it illegal? Yes, of course. If these programmers were on United States soil they would be arrested and prosecuted to be certain, but they are generally located in another country or on the ocean, miles out to sea. It is virtually impossible to find and prosecute these individuals.
So what to do? Make sure you have an anti-virus program and keep it up to date. I have been using Avira. You can download it free at www.download.com. Make sure you have at least one anti-spyware program and keep it up to date. I like Super Anti-spyware and Malwarebytes.
Nothing will protect you 100 percent so don’t think you can go to questionable Web sites and be protected. As always, if this is more than you care to do yourself, you can always e-mail or call us.
Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services and lives in Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (480) 753-7667.