I just spoke with a member of our community who related a phone call he received. Out of the blue, he was called by a person who said that he was working with Microsoft and wanted him to know that there were a lot of viruses going around in this area. He then asked permission to log onto the person’s computer so he could help out.
The first mistake the user made was saying “OK.” After the caller logged onto the computer, he went to a website and proceeded to start downloading a virus scanning program. At this point, the computer owner started questioning the guy about his affiliation with Microsoft and how he knew there were viruses on his computer. The caller, of course, tried to keep him on the line and sell him a service.
The whole thing ended with the owner telling the guy he was not interested and hanging up the phone and, I believe, restarting the computer.
I, too, have received these phone calls. While the caller didn’t say he worked for Microsoft, he did say he was part of the Windows Support Group.
Object lesson: No one is legitimately monitoring your computer unless you allow them to do so. Do not fall for any caller claiming to be able to remove viruses or tune up your computer unless you specifically ask for this service. Allow no one to log onto your computer unless you know who they are and trust them. Once they are in your machine, who knows what type of software they will install or what data they will steal? Remember—your first line of defense is your common sense.
We’ve been telling you to have a good internet security program installed on your computer. Choose the one you like or get a recommendation from a computer professional. We are finding that people are listening, but not everyone knows just how to set up the protection.
A good internet security program will update its virus, firewall, and malware definitions every day and scan all the stuff that you load into the computer, including mail, attachments, programs, and documents–if you tell it to! Be sure you read the directions to enable all the protection. Note that the programs can scan known malware as you work on files or on the web. The bad guys, though, are always out there making more bad stuff. So what your program thinks is safe right now may no longer be safe. This is why a complete computer scan is necessary.
One feature of a good anti-malware program allows you to scan your computer on a set schedule. (Some free programs do not allow you this option.) On a desktop computer this works fine, as the computer is turned on for most of the day. On a laptop, however, the computer is mostly off unless you are actually using it. So—in many cases the program never gets a chance to scan your machine! The best thing to do in this case is to run a “manual” scan of your hard drive at least once a week. Just tell it to “scan now” and let it run. Should take about ½ hour–more if you have tons of data.
We’ve had several calls from people who have had their computer suddenly taken over by a screen that claims that they have violated some law or another and that this is a notice from the FBI telling them that their computer has been locked and will be released once the user pays a set amount of money. The last one I saw asked for $300. This was an interesting one in that it used the computer’s built-in camera to take a picture of the user and incorporate it into the notice on the screen. If you want to see all the permutations, google “FBI virus screenshot.” There’s a ton of them.
You can’t do a thing with your computer until you either pay the money (we definitely don’t advise that–once you give these people your credit card number your problems really start), or you remove the virus. It can actually be removed quite easily by an experienced person. If you wish to do it yourself, use another computer and google “FBI virus” and you will find plenty of instructions.
Interesting to note: In Canada, the virus claims it’s from the RCMP. In Great Britain, it’s the Metropolitan Police. See? We’re not unique here in the U.S.