Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How to Protect Your Computers From the Conficker Computer Worm

In my take on candidates for the 21st Century version of Dante's Inferno, developers of malicious computer software--viruses, worms, spyware, and so forth--are prominent candidates for damnation. (They rotate on the Infernal rotisserie along with terrorists, Ponzi schemers, predatory lenders, tobacco company executives ... hmm, there's another post in here somewhere.)

Now we face the Conficker computer worm, which is widely reported to have already infected many computers, with an activation date of April 1--that is, tomorrow. It seems that the worm has been out on the Internet for some time now, insinuating itself quietly deep within the operating systems of the computers that it infects. No one seems to know what will happen when the worm becomes active on a given computer, but computer security experts have noted that, in recent years, malicious software ('malware') increasingly has been used in identity theft schemes. Thus, Conficker might be looking for credit card information, Social Security numbers, passwords, and so forth. Or, maybe it simply wants to wipe our files clean and write ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY on every sector of our hard drives (written with a nod to Stephen King's The Shining).

To combat this threat, Microsoft offers the concerned computer owner the use of their software, the Windows Live OneCare Safety Scanner, for free. The program will scan for a wide variety of malware and other computer abnormalities (stuff that makes your computer run inefficiently). After the scan, at your option, the program will fix the problems that it discovers on your computer.

Microsoft also gives you the opportunity to purchase the program for about $50, which will activate the program to run "live" in the background any time that your computer is turned on. There is a free 90-day trial; Microsoft suggests that you de-install any other antiviral or firewall software that you may have installed on your computer at present.

However, you may use the program on an occasional basis, scanning your computer for current infections, for free, at least for now; the 'occasional scan' use of the program does not require de-installation of firewalls or any of that. This is what I tried. The program seemed to work very nicely.

The program can take hours just to scan your files; I estimate that the scan alone took about 6 hours to complete on my computer. Fixes went much more quickly. According to OneCare, my computer was not infected with the Conficker worm or other malware, although there were other abnormalities in my system. These were fixed in a few moments once the scan was complete.

If you do go the Windows OneCare route, please note that you probably should complete the use of the program altogether before midnight tonight, because the Conficker worm is reportedly set to activate on April 1. So, do not plan to just set the scan to work overnight, as I did. You'll need to set it to work as soon as you get home from work, and then go through the repair sequence before midnight. Inconvenient, true. So is getting your identity stolen, or losing all your files. Those of you whose blood pressure spikes did not just result in fatal coronaries will probably see the wisdom of my advice.

This type of scanning and repair does seem like a reasonable step to take. Taking action to protect yourself from malware is definitely On the Mark.

P.S.: Why is a post like this on a blog of social commentary? Because this sort of warning-with-solution reflects a fundamental philosophical position upon which this blog--a blog ostensibly "from a reflective perspective"--is built: we are all in this together. We should look out for one another, watch each other's backs; whatever the metaphor, we should take a proactive approach towards each other's welfare. Peace.

Disclaimer: Nothing on this blog should be as offering legal, medical, business, accounting, financial, or computer advice. The author specifically disclaims responsibility for any real or consequential or other damages that may result from following the advice given on this blog. Readers should consult with appropriate legal, medical, business, accounting, financial, computer, or other professionals before taking any steps recommended in this blog.

There! Now my lawyers are happy.


  1. here's hoping that Conficker amounts to nothing more than an April Fool's prank


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