Friends of ours from down the street called last night looking for some help as their system had been infected with a nasty virus. The little beasty was sending itself out to everyone in their address book and threatening to make long-distance calls to obscure 1-900 porn services in remote countries unless its demands were met. They wanted my help in picking out a good anti-virus software package and then beating the little critter into submission.
As a professional PC Systems Administrator for one of the big 3 automakers as well as a long out-of-the-closet geek of high order, I’m used to this. Family members, friends, and co-workers have long called me up looking for help with various bits of unruly technology, both PC and otherwise. This occasion was a first for the folks asking me for help and they, like so many others, spent a good deal of time thanking me and apologizing for having to bother me. It was difficult trying to convince them that it wasn’t a bother and I was happy to help. Everyone seems to assume that because I spend all day helping folks I must be sick of it by the time I get home and don’t want to be bothered with it. Unlike a lot of people, though, I actually love my job and enjoy putting what I know to use by helping folks when they need it. It doesn’t do much good to have the knowledge if I’m not willing to share it.
So we get back to the house with a shiny new copy of Norton System Works 2002, which they got a deal on because someone had stamped it with the wrong price making it $30 cheaper than normal on top of a $20 mail-in rebate, and we set about trying to install it. The virus was clever enough to kill the install script when it saw it running so we tried booting from the CD-ROM and using the emergency scan option. Turns out it’s been awhile since these folks last cleaned up their hard drive and they had a LOT of files. This scan was taking forever and I was starting to get the impression that the virus may have been new enough that the default definition file on the CD-ROM might not know about it. So we booted back up and dug around in their email until we found one that gave us the name of the particular virus they were battling with. Much like the legends about demons from hell, once you know the true name of a virus you can do the research necessary to defeat it. A quick visit to Symantec’s Virus Definition website gave us the ability to look up that particular beasty and gain all the knowledge we needed to rip it screaming and crying from the innards of their hard-drive. They even had a nifty little utility to do it for us. Download the utility, reboot into safe mode, run utility, reboot back into Windows, install and update System Works and run a full system scan just to be on the safe side. This is all pretty easy, just rather time consuming and can be daunting to the uninitiated. It’s definitely not brain surgery, but you’d almost think it was with the way some people react when you finally do remove the virus from their system.
Our friends are definitely much more computer literate than most of the folks I end up helping out and they picked up quickly on what I did and how to do it themselves next time if it should happen again. That’s a good thing as they spent part of the time calling friends and relatives from their email address book that are probably infected as well now as they didn’t have any virus scan software installed either. I suspect they’ll be busy for a few days.
The moral, of course, is to have a good virus scanning software package installed on your PC and keep it’s virus definition files updated. Sure, you may be like these folks and have gone for 3 or 4 years without getting hit, but if you use the Internet much at all then your luck will run out eventually. We caught this one before it did much damage, but it had the potential to randomly pick a file on their hard drive and fill it with 0’s destroying the data inside it. Today’s software is easier than ever to use and both of the major packages (Norton and McAfee) have the ability to automatically download and install updates from the Internet without you having to worry about it. Both will scan emails coming into your system as well as going out of your system. Both even include some protection against harmful scripts and ActiveX components that some websites will try to install. Yes, it’s possible to get a virus on your PC simply by visiting a particular website. Trust me, the money spent on a virus scanning package is more than made up for in the long run by not having to struggle to get rid of one of the little buggers when it comes your way. Our friends bought System Works which gave them the excellent Norton Utilities and Clean Sweep on top of Norton Anti-virus so they have a full package to help keep their PC in tip-top shape.
Which is our next project together: Operation Clean That Damned Thing Up where we’ll go through the hard drive with pruning shears and try to eliminate some of the clutter so it’ll run faster. System Works will probably prove invaluable for that.