Much of tutoring seniors involves helping students overcome (1) paralyzing fear of contaminating their computers with some horrible virus, or (2) their complete trusting of the Internet and the kindness of strangers.

Even when a student has a fully protected system and safe surfing habits, things can sometimes go wrong. This week one of my clients had a problem that I was able to handle by email — which is ironic because the problem originated in email. She had received a warning from her anti-virus software that she had an infection. She didn’t know what to do, so she re-booted. The same message came up again. She was very concerned.

After making sure she had not sent me a surprise package, I responded and asked her if she had told the software to fix the problem — if not, then when the warning came up again to say to fix it or quarantine or whatever the option was for her stuff. An hour later she sent another email and said that she had done it, but now she had another problem. The software said that the infected file was in quarantine. She did not want it to be there at all. What should she do? She wanted the damn thing off her machine!

The obvious answer was to delete it (having assured that the subject file was not valuable), but when she went to delete it, she software asked her if she really wanted to do that stupid thing. That warning froze her again. I assured her no harm would come from the deletion. She should do it. Then when everything was back to normal, I wanted her to think really hard and try to remember exactly what she was doing before she got the message and help analyze how she picked up the nasty beast.

This is surprising, but common: she was not interested in how she got it. She just wanted it gone. I suggested that knowing where it came from was a good way to keep from having the same thing happen again. She has not yet responded to that last message.

This was a case of a person mixing traits of paranoia and carelessness at the same time. She violated my serious injunction about not opening email from unknown parties because she does it all the time and never had a problem — at least not until now. Unlike some clients, she is on the Internet every day, so she has the ease of familiarity. But all that faded away and she turned paranoid when her protection did what it was supposed to do.

Part of the reason for her meltdown was never having to disinfect her computer before. This realization has given me an idea that might already be common with other tutors. I am thinking about procuring a family of various types of benign malware (yeah, I know, oxymoron) to deliberately infect students’ computers and then have them practice proper procedures to clean things up. When my old company trained technicians to handle problems in the field, we would deliberately break sample products and have them analyze the failure to see if they could fix them or if they required sending back to the factory. It was a great training tool. Why not do the same with malware — for consumers, not professionals? I just want to give them some self-confidence, not train them for a profession.

Maybe such a program already exists. I just spent some creative time searching for a link, but could find nothing. Maybe a reader will have an idea.

Click here to read about my new tutorial on helping seniors. The new version has grown considerably over the original. It has more topics and anecdotes, and fewer typos. While you’re at it, check out my expanded tutorial on decision theory.

[tags]virus, anti-virus, malware[/tags]