Although I try to sell myself as a tutor for computer literacy, in fact, most of my client contacts could be called malware deletion sessions. It does not matter if the client is a senior, middle-ager, teenager, or a business. Few are willing to schedule a tutoring session, but will spend an hour with me listening to an ad hoc tutoring session and asking questions after I have returned their (hopefully) cleaned machine. The reality that they could save money and actually learn more with a proactive stance is not sufficient motivation to call me ahead of time. (If anyone reading this post has figured out how to attract pre-infection tutoring, please share.)
For instance, this week I had a client call who I had not seen for 14 months. The last time we met I removed many Trojans from his teenaged daughter’s computer. At that time, I also uninstalled LimeWire from her computer and lectured her on the dangers of downloading music and videos. It is not my place to judge people or take a position on piracy versus free exchange. My mission in such a case is to make sure the client understands the situation, technically and legally (legally from a layman’s perspective; I am not a lawyer). What they then decide to do is another matter.
On this new repair call, after reviewing the history, I did not even investigate before removing her hard drive and scanning it on my isolated test computer. After running a couple of scans, about 50 infections (Trojan, backdoor, hijack) were removed and it was as clean as I could make it without scrubbing the drive and re-installing the system. Only then did I boot her computer (still not connected to my LAN — I am very paranoid), and although I do not snoop or explore clients’ data, I did look to see if she had installed LimeWire or something similar. She had not. Other than noting the music file was several gigabytes, I did not snoop further.
Both the teenager and her father listened raptly when I went through the standard litany: none of the major anti-virus providers is substantially better than the others — in my opinion. But some, like Microsoft Security Essentials, are free and pretty good. “Your first line of defense is you.” I told them, and then went through the standard presentation on safe surfing. They listened and asked questions; he with chagrin, she softly and with a hint of remorse. I had the distinct impression that my fee would be coming from her allowance or some similar arrangement.
One interesting exchange came when he smugly told me that he was not worried about super cookies because he used a Mac. That led to an in-depth discussion of what super cookies are and how they can be misused. I showed them how installing the “Better Protection” add-on on the daughter’s Firefox browser had resulted in deleting 877 (!) super cookies. That caught their attention. I assured them that super cookies, like normal cookies, were designed to do good things, but could be misused. Then I could not resist out-smugging him by mentioning that my favorite computer is a Linux-only machine.
Windows, OS X, or Linux: all can be good, fun, and useful. All have issues. When driving an automobile, seatbelts and airbags are nice, but the best safety device is the driver. The same is true with computers. But a big difference is that driver’s ed is required to operate an automobile.