Waging constant war against virus threats

JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin
JPCT 150713 Alan Stainer. Photo by Derek Martin

I get a lot of calls about computers misbehaving. No, I don’t mean they sit in the back of the class room chatting and chewing gum. They are misbehaving by being incredibly slow, or doing odd things like opening additional browser windows, popping up ads willy nilly. That sort of thing.

The reason for all this is of course the ever present threat of computer viruses. I had one particular case recently with a laptop. It was doing some very strange things. Websites were blocked (anti virus sites, what a surprise), adverts kept appearing all over the place and a PC tuning program kept appearing and demanding money for the ‘PRO’ version.

Yeah right. I wasn’t going to fall for that one.

The laptop had anti virus software, which was good. However, it had been well and truly compromised. So I installed a different anti virus program and ran a scan in Windows Safe mode.

It found 2766 threats.

The worrying thing is, I am seeing results similar to this on a more and more regular basis. If that doesn’t sound scary enough, back in May a Symantec (they make Norton Antivirus) executive said in an article on the Wall Street Journal that ‘antivirus is dead.’ Meaning, the war on malicious software is slowly being lost using traditional antivirus solutions.

Clearly something needs to be done. Whether the antivirus software companies can pull a rabbit out of the hat and provide new and effective methods of detection, prevention and mitigation remains to be seen.

There is another alternative. This great proliferation of malicious software exists on one computer platform alone. Microsoft Windows’ dominance in desktop computing revolutionised the world we live in and has made it the largest target in the world for hackers and criminals.

Security conscious people and businesses need to be considering all operating systems for their computing needs. Linux, Mac and ChromeOS are platforms that can all be used for business and are almost virus proof. Now, it is prudent to mention the Unix bug which hit the headlines recently. A 20 year old bug was discovered in Unix (named Shellshock), which also affects Linux and Mac operating systems (they are both descended from Unix). The bug (if exploited with criminal intent) can allow someone access to a server and even remote control that machine. A bug is different to a virus, in that a bug is an error within the underlying code of a system, whereas a computer virus has been deliberately written with the aim of exploiting bugs, security vulnerabilities and user awareness.

So, while news stories about things like Shellshock can be alarming, they are one-offs. System administrators the world over are very quick to patch systems as soon as a bug like this is discovered.

So what will your next computer be?

Alan Stainer