Good From Malware?

Well, it’s happened again. A client I see occasionally to help with her business and general computer literacy called in distress and asked if I could come over – today! She had a problem with the computer she uses for her business. Norton was giving her strange responses and IE didn’t work right. When I got over to her office, it only took a view minutes for me to tell her that she had a Trojan. “You mean my computer is infected with a virus?” “Not exactly. You had to do something to get this. Have you opened any e-mail attachments or things like that?”

She was adamant that she had taken my warnings to heart and had been extremely careful, so she didn’t know how she could get a virus. “It’s not a virus,” I repeated.

So I scratched my head and tried to decide what to do next when she said, “The closest thing to an attachment that I’ve opened were the cards I got for my birthday. That was a few days ago.”

“Oh. You got those cards just before the problems started?”

“Yeah, one was from someone I don’t know.”

By this time, I had decided her hard drive was getting full anyway, so I bought her an 80 gig drive cheap with rebates. It was both considerably bigger and faster than her old one. Then I re-installed most of her system on the new drive after physically removing her old drive. Once it was up and going, I installed the old drive as a slave and did a complete scan and sweep on booting. A lot of junk got deleted from her old drive. Once that was done, I copied her addresses, e-mail, My Documents, etc. across to the new drive. Then, just because I’m that type of guy, I scanned again. I suggested that we let the old drive be for a while until she was satisfied with the performance of the new drive and system. Then we could use the old one for archiving or whatever.

She promises not to open anything from anyone unless she independently confirms that the sender meant to send whatever she got, and even then probably not open anything.

So for a minimum cost, she got significantly improved performance and a clean machine. But there was a cost, and she was offline and her business might have suffered from it. This is a woman who has picked up computer literacy piecemeal and suddenly found her income was dependent on it, but she had not invested the mental discipline necessary to protect her business. In short, she was skating on thin ice with a lot of wishful thinking. This incident’s primary benefit to her was to heighten her awareness of how to handle herself in cyberspace with more caution.

This is a common evolution of people, particularly seniors, who start small businesses in their homes and find they need e-mail, Internet, and maybe their own site.

I’m pleased to report that she has not been discouraged by this event. To the contrary, she wants some private tutoring on more subjects that can help her in business. That is the sort of thing I like to do one-on-one instead of in a group. So maybe some good comes out of the malware after all.

For more in-depth tips on tutoring seniors, see the complete tutorial here. I also have posted a tutorial on elementary decision theory for those who might question a physician’s diagnosis (important for seniors) or anti-terrorist activities (important for everyone) but haven’t had the framework to analyze the data. That tutorial can be found here.