January 2010 Archives

Antivirus gone awry?

Connie asks this question:
Something bad has happened to my computer. Somehow, and I honestly don't know who, but Personal Security program has been installed onto my computer. I have been able to run my antivirus and eliminate the problem through that, and I have also now been able to delete it from my programs area. But, it seems to have deleted my icons from my desktop and is preventing me from accessing current websites in my favorites list. Please tell me I have not ruined my computer. And, if possible help me restore to where I was before this misfortune.

I listen to your program as often as I can, as I an a little older computer user and can use all the info in can get into my brain.

I am feeling extremely vulnerable, as my Norton expires and needs renewal by 12-27-09 and I am afraid at this point to use a credit card while this is going on.

I hate to sound like I am begging, but, the truth is the truth. HELP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thank you so much for your consideration to my problem.

Brian's answer:
To be perfectly honest, your inquiry completely baffled me when I first read it. The missing part to the puzzle was that when you described "Personal Security", I thought you were talking about Norton Internet Security and I couldn't understand what sort of problem you were describing. After some further research, I now understand better: You were talking about "Personal Security", which is the trade name of a piece of malware that behaves just like a virus -- with the intention of more or less coercing you into paying for a specific piece of anti-virus software. It's exactly the opposite of "personal security"; it's a security liability.

Rather than trying to reinvent the wheel, I'm going to point you to an existing description of how to remove "Personal Security" that seems to have earned the approval of lots of respondents on message boards, including one for users of AVG Anti-Virus.

If you have followed all of the policies listed in the links I copied above and are still having trouble, you're going to need some one-on-one help. But here's some advice for everyone, so they can avoid your kind of trouble:

  • Use a limited-access account. Don't use your administrator account unless you're trying to specifically install a program. This one step will eliminate 95% of your ordinary risk when using the Internet.
  • Use Firefox, Opera, or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer when surfing the Web.
  • If you're worried about using your credit card for any reason, there's always an alternative: You can call the company selling the product or go to a physical store where you can purchase the software (or whatever you're buying).
Good luck, and if you need to call us, listen this Saturday from noon until 2:00 on Newsradio 1040 WHO.
Listener question:

I purchased a new computer at Best Buy and windows software they sold me doesn't have outlook express.  My daughter suggested a free program but i don't know which to choose.  It would cost another $100 to download outlook.  I'm frustrated.


I don't mean to sound snarky, but don't use Outlook. Outlook is what we call client-based e-mail, which means that every e-mail message you receive is downloaded onto your computer before you can read it. The problem is that using a client-based service means your only line of defense between the viruses that are attached to a lot of e-mail and your computer is your anti-virus software.

Your question came from a Gmail account. We have repeatedly advocated using webmail services (like Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Hotmail) to handle all incoming e-mail. That's because they do a much better job of protecting your computer from inbound e-mail viruses than you could do. First of all, they filter the spam before it reaches your computer. If I were a betting man, I'd wager that 95% or more of viruses and Trojan horses that cross the Internet are attached to spam, rather than to legitimate messages you send and receive from family and friends. So, if you can filter out the spam before it gets to your computer, you've done 95% of the work.

Second, webmail services usually include automatic virus-checking. That's because it doesn't do them any good to have customers whose computers are full of viruses, either. You shouldn't rely on automatic virus-checking through a webmail service for all of your protection -- you should use your own anti-virus software, too -- but having a free second layer of protection certainly doesn't hurt.

Third, webmail services make you stop before trying to download attachments. Using a client-based program may give you instant access to attachments, but it also gives those attachments instant access to your computer. When those attachments include viruses and Trojan horses (which they sometimes do), it's far better to have to take an extra step to make sure that you know what you're downloading -- and that you're running the download past your antivirus software -- than to risk ruining your computer with malware.

So, the bottom line is this: Use a webmail service unless you absolutely must have a client-based program (say, for instance, if it's required for work). If you have absolutely no choice in the matter and have to use a client-based e-mail program, Thunderbird is a free, open-source alternative to Outlook.

For more tips, tune in to the WHO Radio Wise Guys this Saturday at noon on Newsradio 1040 WHO.

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