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Editor's Desk

Fighting the Trojans
By Ken Anderson
Dec 24, 2008 - 12:11:42 PM

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There hasn't been a lot of activity here on the Magic City Morning Star for the past few days. There are a couple of reasons for this actually, one of which will be the subject of this article, but I'll touch upon the other in an editor's note.

A few days ago, while building up an Internet directory that I'm working for on a contract basis, I clicked into a site that contained malware. It was one of those bogus pop-up warnings, the likes of which I've come across before without such dire consequences, which masquerades as a Microsoft Windows warning, informing me that my computer is infected with spyware and prompting me to let it run a scan. With these things, whether you click "Ok" or cancel, something bad is about to happen, and it hijacks your browser so that you cannot close it without rebooting. I've been around long enough not to click "Ok" but those who have done so report that it downloads a fake anti-virus program that hides a trojan, and opens your computer for further malware.

Generally, I could reboot the computer and get rid of the creature by running Ad-Aware and SpyBot. This time, however, SpyBot found only a few tracking cookies and a couple of other inconsequential things, which I let it remove. Ad-Aware wouldn't even load, which was odd since I've never had trouble with Ad-Aware before.

For the past couple of years, I've been using a combination of Avast!, as my anti-virus, and both SpyBot and Ad-Aware to keep my computer free of other forms of malware, having never found either one of these capable of doing so alone. This has worked very well and, particularly given that they are free, I have no cause to complain.

But this time, after rebooting my computer, I found that my search features in Microsoft Internet Explorer had been hijacked. Whichever search engine I used, the titles and descriptions of the results would be as expected, but the URLs were to spam advertising sites. This might not be a problem since there are better browsers out there than MIE but the Morning Star's article manager only works right in Microsoft Internet Explorer so, unless I want to keep popping back and forth from one browser to another, that's the one that I use as a default.

Although my anti-virus is always running, and was pretty good about not letting things infect my computer, this time I had heard nothing from Avast!. I let it do a full scan of all four of my drives, and it came back - more than twelve hours later - with a message congratulating me for having a clean computer. Knowing that this wasn't true, I looked elsewhere. Since none of my other browsers were affected, I looked for someone else who was having a similar problem.

Along the way, I came across an anti-virus/anti-malware program by the name of VIPRE, which had been received good reviews from CNet and other places. Since it wasn't free, I bought a one-year license for it, hoping that it would rid me of my problems. As the cost for licensing the software for two machines was only nine dollars more, I bought a copy for my wife as well, solving the annual Christmas gift dilemma in the process. I let VIPRE run before going to bed that night. It was still running when I got up the next morning and, more than sixteen hours later, I received only a message congratulating me on having a clean computer.

Darn!

It would have been nice if it were true, but my search features were still being hijacked and it seemed that Outlook Express was taking much longer than usual to run, so I worried that this wasn't all that was going on.

A co-worker recommended a program called Trend Micro Housecall, an anti-virus that I had tried once before but didn't like for reasons that I no longer remember. Desperate, I downloaded the trial version and let it run before going to bed. The next morning, I should have been thrilled to learn that I had a clean computer; and would have been if that were truly the case.

I learned that Microsoft had a free download called the Microsoft Malicious Malware Removal Tool, or something to that effect. I downloaded it, let it run for most of the day, but it didn't find anything either.

Curses!

A co-worker from the Internet directory that I'm working for suggested a program called Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware, which I had never heard of before. Since he was the one who had earlier suggested the Trend Micro product that didn't work, I won't say that I was enthusiastic, but I was willing to try anything short of giving me "Ok" to the trojan.

I downloaded the trial version of Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware and set it to run. Within a minute, it had found a trojan by the name of "Trojan Zlob." During the course of its run, which lasted about four hours, it had found another trojan as well, this one known as "Trojan BHO" and another, obviously related, program called "Adware BHO."

Better yet, it had removed them and my MIE searches were no longer being hijacked to places that I didn't want to go. It's a winner, as far as I'm concerned. In looking into the program prior to using it, someone suggested that Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware was like bringing an M4 to a knife fight. I don't know about that, since I've used it only once. Time will tell me how efficient it is overall, but it fixed this particular problem when so many others had failed.

Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware is not an anti-virus program so I suppose I'll keep the VIPRE program since it's paid for and all, but I'll know from the start that I can't depend on it for everything. It has some features that I like, so it's not a complete waste of my money, but the fact that it failed to accomplish its first task doesn't sit well with me. Plus, VIPRE costs $29.95 per year, while Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware is less expensive.

If you have a similar problem, you can buy Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware here and I'll get a finder's fee, but that's not the purpose of this article. In this case, as is most often true in products that I recommend, I applied to become an affilate after I had tried the product and found that it worked. In other words, the thought process was not that I can make money selling this product so I'll say something good about it; rather, it was that this is a product that works so I want to recommend it. If it didn't work, I wouldn't be selling it.

Before long, my wife and I hope to each buy a Mac, which should solve all of these problems and more.


Editor's Note: The above was the largest reason for my absence over the past few days, and is unrelated to the problems we are having with the Katahdin Commons forum, since the forum doesn't run on my computer. That's an entirely different issue, and one that I hope is being worked on by those who have the power to fix things there. On a far more positive note, my wife and I have both been offered regular work online, with a forty-hour work week at a reasonable hourly rate, which would leave us time for some of the contract work that we've been doing, as well as maintaining our other interests from which we derive a lesser income. If this continues throughout the winter, we intend to move back home to Millinocket.

In this economy, we hesitate to take anything for granted, however; so we'll be keeping our current jobs outside the home as long as we can find the time to do so, or until it comes time to move back to where we really live. Hopefully, the Northern Forest Center won't have taken over the entire town by then. In the event that you're not aware of these people, please be wary of them. They'll put the nails in your coffin if you let them.

-- Ken Anderson


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