“This isn’t madness. This is Sparta!” I screamed at my dust covered laptop as I dragged it out of the closet.
The poor thing was battered, worn, and in bad shape. The battery was dead, the DVD drive screwed up, and the screen was beginning to separate from the cover. But, it had Microsoft Access installed and my PC did not have this program. After finding Base for OpenOffice lacking in the tutorial department, I realized I now needed this program if I was going to learn how to create a database without taking a course or paying for additional software.
The only problem with my laptop, the real reason it was in the closet, was like Troy, it had a Trojan horse hidden within.
Now, I like Saturdays. I like to go out to Venice or go see a movie, maybe do a little housecleaning or just watch a few movies and relax. What I didn’t like to do was spend it battling for the rights to use my laptop again.
To be fair, I have to admit that I am the despoiler of my computer. I never installed any antivirus software, I downloaded files recklessly, engaged in P2P file sharing, and visited sites that lived on the wrong side of the tracks. Somewhere in my visits to this electronic Bangkok, my laptop was drugged, mugged, and held for ransom by a corporation in the business of making software designed only to profit from hijacking my computer.
I wouldn’t be so mad if this was some fifteen year old sitting in his parent’s basement downloading porn while writing programs to piss people off. This Trojan in my computer is a legitimate company in the business of messing up my computer for profit. As I sat there, ready to throw my laptop out the window and just watch the Olympics, I wondered if this practice is even legal and how much I could get from these bastards for ruining my Saturday.
A few months ago, when I first started receiving Trojans and viruses, I downloaded several antivirus programs like Avasti and AVG and started using applications like Yahoo Anti Spy and Google’s Spyware Doctor. At first, these seemed to do the trick and they would continuously battled a file called Mail.ru that kept returning to my computer. Sure, it took forever for my computer to start up with all that software running. In the meantime, I would take a shower, brush my teeth, have breakfast, and read the LA Times while waiting for my laptop to come on just to check my email. But eventually this situation didn’t last as a malicious program sunk its hooves into my system and fouled things up for good.
This new Trojan was vicious. At first, it just filled my desktop with new icons trying to trick me into click on them. Then, it would tell me blatantly that my system was under attack and I would need to buy its software to remove it. I was not easily tricked and continued to try to root this usurper from my computer. I tried to lock it in virus chests, tried destroying it in boot scans, but the pesky palomino refused to leave my computer. I was all set to have a nice symbiotic relationship with the Trojan, but it decided to get greedy. Next, it hijacked my search engines, redirecting my searches to its sites. Then, it started to slow my computer down, and disabled my task manager. It changed my background and announced in glorious terms that the only way it would go away was if I bought its spyware remover. I stubbornly refused, kept trying to operate my computer, and eventually it began to freeze my Internet Explorer. I tried several times to try to get rid of this Trojan but failed, so I banished my laptop to the closet and there it remained for months until Saturday.
Determined, I went back to what I knew. I tried the same techniques from Safe Mode, trying to remove this predator while operating offline. It had the nerve to keep acting like I nothing was wrong, offering pop up help even the plug was pulled, and tricking my antivirus software into believing nothing was wrong. Several hours of banging my head while boot scans and check disks ran, I decided to quit my current tactics. But like Captain Kirk, I also don’t believe in the Kobyashi Maru and after watching Family Guy in syndication, you know, the episode where Peter predicts the end of the world and starts New Quahog from remains of a Twinkee factory, I attacked the Trojan from a new perspective.
Granted, I am not a computer genius, nor am I a programmer. But I am an expert when it comes to intuition and deduction. I heard a saying from Sherlock Homes that went something like once you eliminate the impossible, whatever’s left, no matter how improbable, is your answer. Well, it was time to start eliminating the impossible and busting caps in the improbable.
I started doing simple things like displaying hidden files and removing software I didn’t really use. I fixed my time and date which I learned in the past can seriously affect your system. I checked the dates on all the little icons in my files, removing all the ones that were labeled as June 1, 2008. Even as these files kept replicating and returning I knew I was on to something. I found a file that wouldn’t allow me to kill it. It claimed it was already being used by some other program. This made me curious and I also realized at this time, that thanks to a Window utility I had installed a long time ago, I had two task managers and one wasn’t affected. So, I sat and watched what my computer did for a while. Now, there were no programs running, but I watched like a doctor as my computer’s heart rate kept spiking, going up and down erratically. Finally, I finding the source of my troubles, I systematically began to exterminate all these errant files. Closing in on midnight, I finally got my laptop running again. I put it to bed with the hope of getting up on Sunday and spending the whole day trying to figure out how to use Access.
I guess sunlight was not in my plans for the weekend.
This wonderful invader to my laptop goes by the name of Vundo. It has several aliases like Virtumonde and Virtumondo. Sometimes, it lives as the bandit named MS Juan. It is tied in with a company called SysProtect, Inc. and is goes by the label of ransomware as it kidnaps your system and forces you to buy its software to remove itself from your computer. I fail to understand how on any level this could be legal. In the least it is fraud, and borders in the realm of extortion and racketeering.
In the end, I am not completely sure the Trojan is gone, and will save that battle for another day. The internet has become a world to its own, with its own predators and prey, growing constantly at a pace that leaves the novice users behind. My advice is that unless you know what truly lurks down that dark URL road, stick to the brightly lit streets labeled .com, .gov, and .net or you will spend your weekend fighting just to check your latest spam from your beloved Helen.