Fixing a Windows virus makes me appreciate my Mac

A good friend of mine called me on my cell this morning.

“Yo! Hey brother, I have a problem with my laptop. Can you help me out?”
Walt’s a really bright guy but isn’t into computers at all. Computers are just another tool for Walter, giving him access to e-mail and the web while he is out on job sites. He works from his truck so it has become his mobile office, with a little Sprint broadband device allowing him to get electronic access from nearly everywhere.
The company he works for is small and since he works hundreds of miles from the headquarters it’s up to him to maintain his own computer. He was not a happy camper because Windows was telling him that he had some virus infections and that he needed to clear them out. At this point his machine had become unusable and he wasn’t sure what to do next.
Since he was in the area I asked him to swing by so I could take a look at it. The machine itself was a newer Dell laptop running Windows XP. Sure enough, there were a bunch of dialogs popped up complaining of virus infections. But something seemed really wrong.
Though the dialogs looked like they came out of the Microsoft Security Center they looked… I don’t know… odd. I had never seen those particular dialogs before and had never had Windows prompt me to click a button to scan for viruses.
Apparently the latest trend in Windows viruses and spyware is to create windows that tell you that you are infected and to follow their steps to remove the crap from the machine. They masquerade as very official looking Windows dialogs. The giveaway for me was that I haven’t seen Microsoft use an Always on Top window for a warning before. They may make it system modal but never something that simply covers other windows.
When I asked Walt what he used the machine for he said e-mail through Outlook and looking up manufacturers web sites for information. That was it. Nothing else I asked? “Not even porn” was the smiling response. Obviously in one of his web searches he clicked on a link that he thought contained a legitimate site for his job but was wrong. Who knows, maybe he just clicked the wrong link in a search result.
I went to the PC Tools web site, downloaded and installed PC Tools Spyware Doctor with Anti-Virus. Sure enough his machine was infected with something that was generating all of these little error dialogs. After a couple of successive scans and repair cycles we were able to get the machine clean and I made sure the system was set up to keep the machine relatively safe, at least for the year that the subscription lasts.
While this was going on I mentioned that I had switched to Mac and that problems like this were not something I even worried about anymore. Walt looked at me with the “that’s nice” stare. This was a company supplied machine and he sure as hell wasn’t going to be getting them to buy him a Mac. He just needed this machine to be able to work so he could get his day back on track.
Walt of course really appreciated the help. It only took me about 45 minutes to get everything resolved for him before he was able to pull out of the driveway and head off to the next job site. While his truck drove down the street and I walked back inside I thought to myself, I’m so glad I’m not dealing with THAT any longer.
What, me worry?
Sure, there are viruses trojans that have been created for Macs though they are few and far between. Macs can be hacked and compromised and pretending they cannot be is just plain unhealthy. The reason Macs have been left relatively unscathed while Windows machines are easy pickings is because there are literally tens of millions of unpatched and unmanaged Windows machines just sitting on a live internet connection.
It is really hard to run a Windows XP based system without commercial virus protection. I don’t run any on my Macs because I’m very cautious about what I download and install. I do believe that the Mac will continue to grow in popularity and with that growth a bigger target will be placed on them. Until that happens though I’m going to continue to enjoy not going through what my buddy Walt just went through.