Your computer was working just fine….
… but at some point you accidentally and unknowingly downloaded a browser-based malware script, and now it has switched on and is displaying a scary message. The examples above look pretty serious, right?
Or, what’s happening more and more recently – you get a phone call out of the blue from “Microsoft” or “Apple” and they thoughtfully point out that they’ve been monitoring the virus activity in your region or neighborhood and have been seeing some suspicious activity (on your particular Dell, or in your city, and just that very evening, etc).
They offer to scan through your machine for a fee and clean up any strange malware or viruses. You’ll need to download and install their “service utility” so they can remotely access your computer right in your own home. They’ll take care of everything! Helpful, right? WRONG!
Your phone number was probably called from a collected, circulated list. (With 37-jillion computers out there running several Windows operating systems, Microsoft has no time or interest in cold calling anyone about anything.)
The helpful operator has not already seen your computer activity, screen, or viruses, to diagnose any prior slowdowns or system trouble. (But seriously, do you know anyone who is completely satisfied with their computer’s performance? They capitalize on that.)
You probably don’t have any serious viruses UNTIL you take their benevolent bait and allow them to INSTALL their software. (And once it’s in there – it’s in there for good.)
You can get “help” from this “helpful” attendant who will “help” do a remote scan of your PC, find all the bad stuff, and “help” run their software to get rid of it — quite “helpfully”. Don’t we live in a nice world where such great people are standing by 24/7 to get rid of these little annoyances?
Well, of course your machine WAS fine until they prompted you to INSTALL THEIR MALWARE (which subsequently TOOK OVER your computer). The virus alert they vaguely but alarmingly detail just happens to be THEIR virus — now causing your frozen or locked screen!!
There’s a name for this kind of malicious, odorous, completely aggravating software – RANSOMWARE. This article from Ars Technica is a bit thick, but it provides some additional explanation.
One guy I know gave these people about $400 to install their software, do the remote scan, and “find” the bug causing his problem. After this first instance is over with, unfortunately they don’t help people REMOVE their remote-scanning software. It’s still in there, ready to lock up the computer again at some future time.
Will another bomb go off and repeat this fiasco sometime in the future? Another call, another $400 scan with the software that’s still there? Of course!
In fact, future calls usually demand even more money! In order to add to the “urgency” of the situation they always know what to say, regardless of any truth, pointing out “But you’ve been hacked! Don’t you want to get that child porn off your computer?”
In my experience, there are two ways to deal with this tech support hell, depending on the severity of the malware:
- If you suddenly (repeatedly?) have a pop-up or whole-screen window – the real, free, and honest fix for this usually just involves clearing out your web browser cache. Some web site or other just implanted a little script when you visited there, and deleting all the cache files should also delete their irritating malware. Restarting your browser after clearing the cache should get you back to watching cat videos in no time.
- If the other type involved the phone conversation where they directed you to install their software, this other fix is far more extreme — a complete annihilation of your computer. The best thing is to wipe the hard drive and reinstall Windows. The potential for this scenario is another great example of the need for backups! One positive note after total annihilation: your computer will be as good as new fresh as a daisy.
Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive are just a few of the big guns who can help you get back to normal after an invasion, restoring your files. They’re easy to set up, and basically you can just forget about them. They work silently in the background and offload your files to another, secured place on the Internet. The downside to cloud storage? You have to set it up BEFORE you need it….