Flash Says…

Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.

Posted on: 2010-09-23

Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!

I’m late, I’m late! Apologies, readers, but this blog was delayed because last week, after 16 years of using the internet, I was infected with my first computer virus. It’s taken several days to resolve and get back up to speed.

On Friday I was at work on my Windows PC – checking mail, reading documents, working on a website – when suddenly my antivirus software alerted. Seven beeps in rapid succession told me that infected files had been found. Adult dating sites popped up in my web browser. I tried to delete the infected files but was told “access denied”. I closed the popups and shut down at once.

It is amazing how quickly everything happened. I have no idea what I did to let the virus in but once present it took over in seconds. I was no longer in control of my own PC.

I restarted my machine in safe mode; in this way I was able to manually delete the files which my AV software had detected. I ran virus scans across my whole system. These identified malicious files including a rootkit, but could not delete them – their deletion was automatically delayed until next restart. So I rebooted.

Curiouser and curiouser…

When my PC tried to restart, I saw, for the first time, the fabled Blue Screen Of Death. A Stop Message stated that a threat was detected and my machine would shut down for its own protection. Of course, it instantly restarted… and stopped, and restarted… until I intervened and booted it back into safe mode.

At this point – oh the shame – I received an email from our ISP saying that my PC had been taken over and was a spam zombie, flooding the internet with unwanted email. The real embarrassment for me is that my husband Mike and I used to work at our ISP – it’s where we met – so most likely we knew the person sending the email to us. I felt that I had let people down by allowing my PC to become infected. Mike had no choice but to block my machine from the internet.

I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself you see.

I was still wrestling with my machine when Mike came home, bringing yet more antivirus software, this time on a memory stick. This revealed that not only was my machine infected but that the virus had also edited my existing antivirus software so it could not be deleted… along with altering my google tools and other programmes. The virus was so clever as to change everything and hide itself – leaving me wondering how much could be achieved, if only virus creators worked on legitimate projects. Meantime it became clear that nothing on my PC could be trusted. A complete reinstall was the only safe option.

Plans for the weekend were cancelled; I spent a miserable time backing up essential data to an external hard disk, before a reinstall got me back up and running. The first thing I did was to take a snapshot of my system, so if I’m ever infected again I can get going again much more quickly. At last, after 4 days I was back online.

The moral of this tale is that if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.

My husband runs a firewall on our home network. I don’t use my PC for email (Outlook is not configured to run, as I read my email directly on the mail server) so there’s no entrance for a virus that way. I run antivirus software and keep it up to date. I never open unsolicited documents and I don’t visit dodgy websites. I still don’t know how on earth such an evil program could have found its way onto my computer, and take over with such shocking speed.

So if you haven’t updated your antivirus software lately, or scanned your hard disk, go and do it right away. And if your computer is clean, perhaps now is a good time to back up your data and take a snapshot of your system, and to ensure you have rescue disks to hand just in case you need them later – at least that way you’d be back on your feet rather more quickly than me.

I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.

(With a nod to Lewis Carroll)

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