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Sewell column: Keeping antivirus protection current can fend off malware

By Adam Sewell
For the Salisbury Post
Since my last article was published (“Getting rid of computer viruses for free,” March 13), I’ve had a few people who became concerned when a seemingly free service suddenly wanted payment to remove the offending malware.
I wanted to address these concerns so that there is not any confusion. To address this, we really need to understand what’s going on and why you may be seeing these messages that require payments.
First, let’s look at what malware really is. Malware is generally classified as computer software that has malicious intent. There are several different variations of malware — viruses, worms, spyware and bots just to name a few. The effects of malware can range from just minor annoyances, to data theft, to even holding your documents, pictures and other information “hostage” — this last one is called ransomware.
One characteristic that certain malware variants have is what’s called a DNS redirect. The malware uses this to help secure its place on your computer. It prevents you from visiting security websites that will help you remove it. This could be Symantec, ESET, McAfee, Malwarebytes, GeeksToGo or others. This kind of redirection behavior is coupled with a legitimate-looking program that tells you the computer is infected and for a fee it will remove the offending malware.
However, that very program is likely malware itself. This sort of “rogue security software” has become a big business in recent years and continues to thrive. A good portion of my business’ virus removals has been this type of malware. It often takes a trained professional to actually remove malware with these characteristics because the removal process can be very difficult.
A key thing that I want to really stress is the importance of never entering sensitive information, such as banking information, usernames and passwords, addresses, etc. into a computer that you believe to be infected with any type of malware. Some types of malware harvest this information and send it to identity thieves. Now that we have a basic understanding of what malware is, let’s look at how to address it.
Using the free forum services like BleepingComputer.com, GeeksToGo.com or others can be a cheap way to rectify a virus-infected computer, however it may not be the best way. These services are offered by volunteers who are not paid, but donate their time. There is no direct contact with your technician other than through the website’s forum. It’s more of a back and forth approach rather than a phone conversation. However, if you’re like me, sometimes you just want to talk to someone.
If that’s the case, then you should skip these websites and go straight to your favorite computer technician.
Of course, it is also a good idea to take the initiative and try and prevent infections from the start. By keeping an up-to-date antivirus application (such as Microsoft’s Security Essentials), keeping your computer up to date with all the latest software patches from Microsoft or Apple, and being wary of emails and websites you don’t know, you stand a much better chance of avoiding infections altogether. Keep in mind though, no anti-virus will prevent infections 100 percent of the time. No matter the precautions you take, there is still a chance of infection, but by following these simple guidelines you can limit the risk and hopefully avoid the issue all together.
Adam Sewell owns MyGeek Computer Services in Salisbury. His website is www.mygeeknc.com

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