What Can a Technician with Remote Access Do?

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I called a number that I thought was the support center and was immediately connected with a technician who skillfully asked my permission to allow him access to my computer so that he could diagnose the problem and I agreed. After he informed me that I had over a thousand errors that needed to be erased and that he could do this for me for only $250.00 I realized that this was some kind of scam and I promptly ended the call. What kind of risk have I exposed myself to?

First, good on you for terminating that call. While it may have obviously been a scam to you and me, I continue to hear that many people fall for it.

But the big question is, you let a stranger with malicious intent use your machine remotely. How worried should you be?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer.

Read moreWhat Can a Technician with Remote Access Do?

How Can I Tell If a Download is Safe?

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Someone’s pointing me to a downloadable program as solution for a problem I’m having. I’m really hesitant to download and run unknown EXE files. Is there any way I can scan it with some program or otherwise ascertain if it’s clean or riddled with subtle spyware, viruses, or what ever else could be bad?

I was somewhat taken aback by this question. It’s a perfectly good question — it’s one that more people should be asking more often.

No, my reaction was due to the lack of a good answer.

It turns out that it’s fairly difficult to ascertain whether or not something you’ve downloaded is about to play havoc with your system, particularly before you download it.

But it’s getting better.

Read moreHow Can I Tell If a Download is Safe?

How Do I Know If My Computer Has Been Compromised?

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What are the signs that my PC has been compromised, if nothing is visibly noticeable? By that I mean that perhaps someone is quietly reading my e-mail, or even somehow sees my screen or logs my keystrokes?

You’re not going to like the answer to this one.

There may be no signs at all. It’s possible for a machine to be compromised even though it seems to be working properly.

That’s why we need help.

Read moreHow Do I Know If My Computer Has Been Compromised?

I’ve Been Told My Computer Has a Virus, But My Anti-Malware Program Doesn’t Remove It. What Do I Do?

I get variations of this question often. Someone has correctly determined their computer has some kind of malware, either by symptoms or some other means, but the anti-malware program they’re running fails to detect it — or perhaps detects it, but fails to repair it.

It’s a race, folks, and sometimes your security software isn’t in the lead.

Read moreI’ve Been Told My Computer Has a Virus, But My Anti-Malware Program Doesn’t Remove It. What Do I Do?

What’s a “Zero-Day” Attack?

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Can you tell me more about zero-day drive-by attacks? I experienced one on my fully updated and patched Windows computer (automatic Windows Update ON) which has the latest anti-malware tools. I saw the hacked behavior and immediately turned off my computer. Scanning both before and after this attack showed no prior or present malware infection. Is this the best response for such attacks as it appears to have successfully prevented malware infection by this drive-by attack that I experienced?

The very nature of “zero day” exploits is that your virus scanner would show that you were clean both before and after being infected.

It’s not until your anti-virus software provider updates their virus databases and you take that update that your scanner knows what to look for.

Yes, that means you may still be infected.

Let’s go through the timeline that got you here.

Read moreWhat’s a “Zero-Day” Attack?

How Do I Remove a Virus If It Prevents Me from Downloading or Installing Anything?

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I am trying to fix a computer that has malware preventing me from getting into regedit and task manager. It will not let me boot into safe mode. It will not let me install any anti-spyware or anti-virus software. I’m not sure where to go from here. It has stopped me from doing much of anything to get the malware off the computer. Any suggestions?

Sadly, this is all too common. Malware can be pretty sophisticated, and it can work hard to prevent you from removing it. That means you may be blocked from downloading or running anti-malware software, or be prevented from running tools already on your machine that might help.

I’ll save the “prevention is so much easier than the cure” missive for a moment. We just want this fixed.

There are things that we can try, but unfortunately, there are no guarantees.

Read moreHow Do I Remove a Virus If It Prevents Me from Downloading or Installing Anything?

How Do I Decrypt Files Encrypted by Ransomware?

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… some of my files are gone, saying they have been encrypted with a public key. Files like my photos and so on. Of course they have a high fee in order for me to get them back. Do you have a solution?

That was a question I received in my morning email from a friend.

And the news is not good, because no, I don’t have a solution; there’s just no good way to decrypt files encrypted by ransomware.

Prevention before the fact is the only guaranteed peace of mind on this one.

Read moreHow Do I Decrypt Files Encrypted by Ransomware?

How Do I Remove a Website from My Computer?

I get this question surprisingly often.

Unfortunately, it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of exactly how things work. Unless you’re an actual website developer, websites aren’t on your computer.

I’m not saying there isn’t a problem or something annoying going on – there probably is. But a website “on” your computer isn’t it.

Let’s look at why the difference matters, and what kind of problem this might really be.

Read moreHow Do I Remove a Website from My Computer?

What’s the Best Anti-virus?

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What’s the best anti-virus program? There’s been so much talk on just how each one works and which has the best protection; it’s really hard to decide which one to choose. One day you might read a review that says one thing and the next day says another, so it really gets quite confusing.

This question comes up all the time. The problem is that it’s both trivial to answer and it’s impossible to answer. There’s a strong argument that says there’s no objective answer at all.

It’s all about opinion, so let me tell you mine: there is no best anti-virus tool. There are several good ones, but none are perfect. And in fact, one that works well for your friend may not work at all for you.

Read moreWhat’s the Best Anti-virus?

Is anti-virus dead?

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Hi, Leo. Do you have any observations, comments or advice about the recent Symantec talk given to Wall Street Journal? They seem to say that only 45% of computer viruses are caught. Are we as home users more prone to attack nowadays, or is this comment mainly directed to companies as an earnings increase tactic? I’m sure we’ll be interested in their falling profits.

Yeah, this actually made the headlines a couple of weeks ago. The headline that was being generated of course, was “Antivirus is dead”.

No.

Antivirus is not dead.

In my opinion this is just another case where somebody chooses an exceptionally sensational headline or position in the hopes that it will get people talking. Apparently they succeeded, because here I am, talking about it.

Read moreIs anti-virus dead?

Can I get malware from a picture?

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Leo, I am terrified of getting a virus or some form of malware by clicking on a photo on the web such as an image in Google Image Search or on a forum where someone has posted a thumbnail image to a larger photo. I frequent a photo sharing website and asked the webmaster about this and he sent me this reply: “Well, technically speaking, a picture cannot contain malware. A picture can contain malicious code, which can only be executed by computers, which are already infected with a special virus designed to execute that malicious code. The name of that virus is “Perrun” and it’s more of a proof of concept than an actual virus. If you’d like to be on the safe side, I suggest you look for a freeware online to verify that you are not affected with the “Perrun” virus. Then you can click any photo you want on the web and not worry about catching anything.”

Now I use Google Chrome as my default browser and I frequently use the right-click “Search Google for this image” feature and find the highest resolution of a photo. I have even installed the VirusTotal.com VTchromizer extension to my browser and use it to pre-scan every photo. But still, just the act of right-clicking a thumbnail image worries me. Please help me. Am I worrying for no reason or am I at risk?

This is an interesting question for a number of reasons.

The pragmatic answer is no. You’re not going to get malware from a picture and it’s not something I’d worry about at all.

However, behind that answer are a few very important assumptions that I think people need to understand.

Read moreCan I get malware from a picture?

Why Doesn’t Malware Appear in the Add/Remove Programs List?

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I have a page that somehow embedded itself with a corrupt software program that I downloaded from an American university. I understand that this thing is a parasitic browser that provides a route to viral contamination. With the help of Norton, I eventually managed to remove it. Why is there no indication in the Control Panel for removal? Using “search” brought out the offending program, but it did not allow me to delete it. What advice can you give for tracking an unwanted and intrusive browser? The normal Norton 360 failed to protect my laptop, but thanks to one of their online agents, after an exhaustive analysis of the registry, it was removed with a more powerful scan made available by them.

What you’re dealing with is a form of malware. It may not be the malware per se; meaning that it’s not doing anything specifically bad itself, but it’s a vector for malware. It installs itself on your machine, so malware can download without your permission or interaction.

I’ll talk about the malware in a moment. First, let’s talk about the Add/Remove Programs list.

Read moreWhy Doesn’t Malware Appear in the Add/Remove Programs List?