02 September 2002

We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing
it in full.
  -- Marcel Proust

I have finished fifteen hours of grueling, mind-bending work at a dear friend's home. I downloaded, installed and configured virus-checking software on her Thinkpad, and also on her darling's Presario.

Once installed, I ran full scans on both machines, and discovered both were infected with Trojan polymorph viruses, the ever-popular "W32/Magistr.A@mm" and its nasty and even worse little variant, "W32/MagistrB@mm." If you ever feel like having your hair stand on end and your toes curl up, go have a look at the documentation on what those viruses will do to a computer if ignored. They deliver the worst kinds of payloads imaginable, including erasing hard drives, overwriting disk sectors, writing to flash and BIOS memory, and then propagating themselves out to ten of your dearest friends via self-generated stealth emails.

My friend might never have discovered her machine was infected, had her darling's computer not shown signs of peculiar behavior first. He complained of a general slowdown in performance, and occasionally, his desktop icons would "dance" and "escape" from his cursor. She worried, and since I'm the technical guru in our circle, she asked me if I thought something might be wrong. Adding to the concern was the fact that her darling, an artist on the verge of a cyber-festival showing in a couple of weeks, had never installed anti-virus software, nor had he ever performed a backup of his data. He was working entirely without a net, and in her opinion, the tight-rope was definitely dangerously frayed. "Please come over," she said. I went.

What I discovered was that my friends' ignorance could have proved costly, indeed. His machine had little time left before the final payload was going to shut him down permanently, and she so seldom used her Thinkpad, it might have died the very next time she booted the machine, and she'd have never suspected a thing. Scary stuff.

My task list included disinfecting the machines, consigning the files we could not cure to the quarantine area, at least until I can figure out how to fix or replace them, and checking all known haunts for the virus' residual activity. I also scanned every diskette, zip disk, and CD-ROM disc we could put our hands on in the place. Once the de-lousing was complete, I configured the virus scanners to check and certify every piece of incoming email, every new file arriving on the hard disk, and every shred of media that enters system memory. In return, they have promised me they will invest in backup utilities and devices, so I guess they learned something from the experience.

Fifteen nerve-wracking hours, over one spanned day, and there were times when I couldn't get the machines to re-boot after the anti-virus installation. Sweat was a normal actvity in my vicinity, even though tempers remained even. They trusted that I could help, and save them from a disaster. I wish they'd trusted the software makers, even half as much as they did me. If it sounds like a good time was had by any or all, you're a candidate for serious therapy.

In all the time I've been writing here, I've resisted putting links to other pages. The time has finally come. The anti-virus manufacturers who have earned the gratitude of my friends--and me--are GRISoft, Inc., manufacturers of AVG 6.0. They made it easy, effective, and best of all, completely, unconditionally free, on several operating systems and platforms--there's no excuse for not protecting yourself from a hacker's malice. If you don't have anti-virus software installed, you're tempting the devil, and it's your own fault. The only genius at work last night and today was that of the anti-virus application, no matter how much praise my friends are willing to heap on me. I told them, "Given what I found on your systems, they should call that software AZT, instead of AVG."

It's late. I'm tired. My brain -- what there is left of it -- hurts from so much extended concentration.

Excuse me, I'm going to dip myself in disinfectant and go to bed.


No comments: