Monday, September 14, 2009


A week ago DD mocked New York Times reporter Riva Richmond's computer advice column, asking the question: Where does the newspaper find these people?

In a column on computer security for the clueless buying a new PC for their kids, she wrote:

"Since a lot of malicious programs now come through Web sites, you will also want to use one of the many free tools available to help you avoid malicious sites."

It was rubbish advice. Always has been, always will be. DD commented:

[It's] advice which ties you to the underlying bedrock of a world reliant on enumerating badness. And since the bad actors know that people try to avoid obviously malicious sites, or who already use filters which try to steer them off, they're always busy trying to poison and infiltrate sites which are not assumed to be malicious.

And yesterday, reality intruded in the guise of a malicious download on the Times' website, blowing Richmond's observation to bits. Again.

And today, the Times throws Richmond into the fray, one ... more ... time -- with predictable results.

It's just an annoying fact that some people aren't so good at stuff but that their minders mystifyingly hold the opposite opinion.

"[One analysis] of the problematic ads indicated that an antivirus program called Avast, which has a free 60-day trial available, was able to spot them before they caused trouble," writes Richmond.

Avast is free to the home user. That's what DD was using yesterday when visiting the New York Times. A simple visit to the web makes the free part plain.


"When installing a new security program, you should disconnect from the Internet and any backup devices and, if possible, install it from a CD-ROM," she continues.


If a security program has failed because it is not up-to-date on the most recent badness afflicting the user, disconnecting from the Internet will not make it work better, particularly if you are choosing to reinstall it.

Avast, by one example, is almost always downloaded from the web.


So are most of the anti-virus programs and various standalone system cleansing tools -- for instance, like HiJack This!

Doh! Doh!

"Some malicious programs, often known as malware, are programmed to block the downloading of antivirus programs from the Web," she continues.

This is true but not particularly helpful since it does not include a solution or practical suggestion. Neither does it describe a slightly complicated set of realities.

The most obvious problem with Richmond's statement, and it is a big one, is that store-bought anti-virus software, the kind that comes on a CD-ROM (or that old thing that's been in your desk drawer for a year), is -- by definition, not up to date. And it will not detect the new virus that may be blocking access to anti-virus sites. Plus, buying a new-box-with-CD immediately purges you of some cash money without guaranteeing a solution to the predicament.

If the malware in question has anti-virus software countermeasures, the anti-virus software will not generally be able to operate freely on the system unless the PC is restarted in safe mode. However, restarting in safe mode imposes a different set of handicaps on users.

However, some anti-virus programs will operate adequately under handicapped conditions when a computer virus has taken control of some normal system functions. But no general users are apt to know which products are the best candidates on a case by case basis.

But still, most -- make that almost everyone for the sake of this discussion, cannot access the Internet to update their software -- they are, in essence, handicapped -- when the PC is started in the fall back safe mode, anyway. So safe mode is immaterial.

Ohhhh s---! Boy, this is really a plateful of suck.

In the hands of these many users, the CD-ROM delivered software will not be able to remove the new virus properly since it will not have been updated and informed of the the present problem. See here for an example of how this happens all the time.

On the other hand, if the afflicted user is still on-line, he or she can take a whack at updating or downloading the installed anti-virus or another similar program. Google can be used to search for a solution, too. And since many more will have already suffered or be suffering the same problem, there are always work-arounds -- and unblocked links to programs which can be downloaded and used -- to remove the malware.

This is not easy and it is often tedious work -- but it is a straightforward task.

So only someone nuts would waste their time running out to the store to buy new a-v or install from an old CD-ROM taken off the shelf.

And if you are still so ferhoodled, so knocked about by the virus that you cannot even navigate anything on-line, then you can do the reliable and obvious:

Call someone who knows. Then pay them.


The New York Times Sunday Virus Adventure


Blogger João o Ião said...

Just made a few euros today on account of "Personal Antivirus", just another another busy day at work....
I don't even usually use a virus to remove this kind of stuff (not anymore), just hijack-this and regedit (been doing this for way too long i guess).
Of course, in the end I run the updated antivirus to check if there is something else lurking in the back...

2:52 PM  
Anonymous User_Hostile said...

Minor nit-pick: "Doh!" is actually spelled "D'oh!".

9:59 AM  
Blogger George Smith said...


10:00 AM  

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