Monday, July 21, 2008

The latest spyware that masks as antivirus

I'm not sure that any of you have been hit by a new program called Antivirus 2008 or XP Antivirus 2008, but if you have, you'll know of the problems associated with what properly would be called spyware. Spyware that masks itself as an antivirus program? Well, yes, and why not? For those of us remembering the "good old days" when Microsoft security was a bigger joke than it is today and viruses were a daily occurrence, the necessity of an anti-virus program was unquestioned as a best practice. Today, with beefed up security in Microsoft operating systems like Windows XP with Service Pack 2 (or for you who were unlucky enough to have upgraded to Service Pack 3 with its many foibles) and Windows Vista with or without Service Pack 1, the biggest threat to computer security comes not from viruses, but from spyware. Spyware is in a way so big a problem and with so many permutations, it is not unlike talking about the fight against cancer. Cancer can strike in a variety of ways and can spread slowly from one organ to another or metathesize quickly throughout a body. Spyware can be innocuous or dangerous. It really depends on what kind of spyware hits unlucky victims as to how disabled their security will be or whether personal information could be compromised that could potentially be used for identity theft or criminal activity. The XP Antivirus 2008 program features a logo that resembles the security logo used in Windows XP and uses several ingenious popups that make it appear that normal computer activity is in reality viruses. It "finds" these "infections" and then offers to remove them for a license fee. I've even seen it emulate a blue screen of death (or BSOD) in order to scare computer owners into clicking on their product. People whose computers are hijacked in this manner oftentimes will pay these criminals because they believe it is necessary. There is no online or phone support. Once they get paid, they are nowhere to be found. The only effective way to fight these charges is to get in contact with your credit card company and dispute any charges that are made to your account immediately. I've been checking the best way to remove XP Antivirus 2008 and I can tell you that I have had some field success with SUPERAntispyware (Home Page), which has a free home user edition. SUPERAntispy also offers upgrades to its Professional Edition at $29.95 per year. AVG Antivirus Free Edition 8.0 is also very good, but comes without any phone and very limited online support. I've also found that AVG 8.0 Free Edition will stop printing through Internet Explorer 7.0 if upgraded from AVG 7.5 edition on a Windows Vista computer. Using an alternative browser like Mozilla Firefox 2.0 or 3.0 will correct the problem. AVG is also now pushing its Professional Edition, which can cost $59.99 for two years. That's not a bad price when compared to McAfee or Symantec. In any event, please be careful of anything that suddenly appears on your computer and never, never click on any popups that are not from a known application like Norton, McAfee, Panda, Trend Micro, AVG, etc. or from Windows itself. If you're not sure, click the red "x" in the upper corner of the window. If it's a legitimate popup from Windows or an anti-virus program, it should identify itself in the blue bar at the top of the popup or window. If you have any doubt of the origin, call your nearest computer tech and ask. A professional will let you know in just a minute or so over the phone if he (or she) believes it is spyware or a downloader virus. You should not be expected to pay for this service. Any professional who wants a fee for a phone consultation like this is in my opinion too greedy to be worth having as your adviser. Find someone else you can trust. In the meantime, I say good luck and to the spyware good riddance!

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