Surviving in a Malware Ridden World

A long time ago, I worked in sales. I remember a mentor telling me, don’t worry if I teach you one selling strategy and Bob (Sally or whomever) a different strategy. You and the other salesperson may be trying to reach a different target audience. How true! About a year and a half ago, I had the opportunity to apprentice under a man who owned a long established computer repair shop in central CT, with the possibility that we could work out a deal for me to take over the business. I spent a couple of days shadowing him and I realized that this was not the opportunity for me. Aside from his insistence on all Windows customers using Internet Explorer (strike 1), he wanted to set up all computers the same way. That’s not how I see it my friends. I see all of your computers as a unique situation. That’s what VIP Computer Care is all about. I am a boutique IT solutions provider, not a one-size-fits all guy. In some situations, I am not the best one to handle that particular computer or piece of software you need help with. I’ll be the first to tell you if that is the case.

Moving on computer security topics (Mac users — this may only apply to you 10% of the time, but since you probably have Windows computers in the home or in the family, I try to keep you on the same page):

1. I’m still seeing a lot of malware infections. I don’t think they will ever die down. Malware = bad software = modern day “viruses”, although not technically a virus. Over the past several years the rate of infections I’ve seen are about 10 to 1 or greater, in favor of Windows, but one of the scariest situations I encountered was on a Mac. My client got malware or a hack (someone breaking through the internet connection), and stole passwords, and nearly wired $10K out of their bank account. The saving grace in the situation was — the client had just switched banks — and had a banker who was staying on top of the account like a hawk. Human protection thwarted the attack. I wasn’t notified of the situation until several month later. At that point, I used Intego (see below) to clean up the mess.

2. When malware needs to be cleaned out of your computer — it is often a lengthy job. Rarely can it be accomplished in a 1 hour appointment. Best Buy charges $299 for what they call a “virus removal”. Virus / malware removal, is often, but not always a complete erase of your hard drive and a re installation of Windows or the Mac OS. I always try to back up your documents, songs, pictures, and videos before a clean installation of your Windows / Mac software. Programs will not be backed up. It’s my goal to come in at $300 or under. There have been many times when I discount the bill or simply don’t bill for all the hours I put in because I want to be fair to you. If you have a highly specialized work computer, with lots of custom software, the bill could be a little more and I’ll alert you to this up front.
A. I often go back to this example. You might have an $800 Windows laptop, and Customer B has a $1500 Mac laptop. We may have regularly maintenance, setup and training visits together regardless. Over the lifespan of that computer, let’s say the windows laptop requires 2 major malware clean ups costing $400 to $500 total. That Windows machine will still have a total lower cost, all other factors being the same. So, if you really want a Mac, get a Mac. If you are more familiar with Windows because of work situations or past history — get a Windows system. If you want to play the cost benefit analysis game I just spelled out too out — fine too.

B. Protection software: There are people with zero anti-virus software that never get infections. Yes, it’s true. However, you should have some protection. FYI, all Macs have a built in Firewall and a ”kill switch” that Apple can activate silently to protect against some rogue applications (like outdated Flash). For comprehensive Mac security software, I still recommend Intego. They charge about $40 a year and offer phone support. For Windows, Microsoft’s own Microsoft Security Essentials (called Windows Defender in Windows 8), is OK. Combined with Malware Bytes ($25 a year now for 3 computers), the pair become a viable solution. For a comprehensive all in one security suite for Windows — I like ESET, Kaspersky, or Webroot Secure Anywhere. These three may be able to run in conjunction with Malware Bytes. People with even the “greatest” anti-virus software packages get infections — why — IT’S YOUR FAULT!!!

Seriously, I am just telling you the truth. If you accidentally or intentionally download XYZ Program that your anti-malware software has never heard of and you click YES or OK to install, not even $100 a year software will stop you from getting burned. That software may be able to do some cleanup after the fact, of course. One of the greatest, if not the best security elements of the Mac is the built in password prompt. On a Mac, when you install or update a piece of software (outside the Mac App Store), you are prompted for your password. And, you should have a password. In Windows….. it’s a shame that this isn’t implemented by default. It can be implemented, but you have to enable — USER ACCOUNT CONTROL (UAC). I’m starting to do this with all of my Windows clients. The next time we meet, please ask me if you have UAC turned on. This is a 5 minute fix. This one change, will make your Windows system nearly as safe as a Mac.

C. Good defensive practices: Have a backup of your important data. An external hard drive is essential and so is an online backup service (Dropbox, Carbonite, Crash Plan, Microsoft One Drive). Have a backup of your OS media. Mac users get the easy pass on this one. With OS 10.7 and later, you can reinstall the Mac OS by booting to a special online menu prior to your Mac starting up. Apple has got you covered. With Windows, you need the DVD from your manufacturer or you need to make one onto a blank DVD or USB stick drive. Windows users, please check if you have your installation DVD or USB thumb drive. If you don’t, contact me.

3. In conclusion, there is a reason, why I don’t want my clients buying a Windows buying a computer from the big box stores. These stores almost never sell a computer with the Professional version of Windows, whether it be Windows 7 Pro or Windows 8.1 Pro. I insist that you let me pick out your Windows computer, from a mail order source (usually Dell or Lenovo) because I order it with the right specs, which include the Pro version of Windows (typically a + $50 cost). I do not receive commissions from the computer manufacturers. The Professional version of Windows has more configurable security options, including an easy way to turn on the UAC that I just mentioned. Mac users: One of Steve Jobs’ keynote presentations highlighted the fact that there is just one version of the Mac OS. It is a home version, professional, business and consumer – all in one package. He meant it to be humorous and a swipe at Windows. Point taken!