Security Essentials from Microsoft is a great anti-virus and anti-most-everything-else program. It detects and removes most Windows viruses, trojan horse programs, root kit viruses, and most other malware.
NOTE: Malware is an abbreviation for "malevolent software." Malware has many varieties, but all have the same purpose: to do damage to your computer and then (usually) ask you for money to fix it. This is a high tech version of kidnapping. It is illegal, but most malware creators never get caught.
I wrote about the free Security Essentials from Microsoft in the October 1, 2009 newsletter. It is free and does a good job. However, a new malevolent product is floating around with a similar name: Security Essentials 2010. Note the "2010" tacked onto the end of the name. The product from Microsoft has no date; it is simply called Security Essentials. The bad program written by unknown scam artists adds the date on the end: Security Essentials 2010.
Malware programs usually get loaded into your Windows by subterfuge. They may arrive as attached files in what looks like a legitimate email message. They could be copied to your PC if you fall for the "press F1" scam mentioned in yesterday's newsletter or by any of several other means. Once installed, the bogus program will appear to run a scan of your hard drive and then will report all sorts of "problems," including Trojans and adware.
The scan is also bogus. The malware programs I have seen claim to scan your hard drive in five or ten seconds. That's impossible. A real scan takes much, much longer, typically five to perhaps thirty minutes, depending on the amount of data on the drive and the speed of the computer.
Another clue is the spelling in the newly-downloaded program. Most of these programs were created by people who do not speak English as their native language. The spelling often is atrocious although I have seen exceptions.
The Trojan singled out by Security Essentials 2010 is called "Win32/Fakeinit" and is coupled with a screen informing the user that the Security Essentials 2010 software is a trial version and that "removal and real-time protection features are disabled".
Users are then duped into downloading the "full version" of the program. Once the full version is downloaded, the Alureon rootkit is installed to the system. The Alureon rootkit is a very nasty Trojan that has been blamed for many Windows XP machines exhibiting blue screens and constant reboots.
In addition to its fair share of misspelled words, Microsoft suggests that the biggest indication that a version of "Security Essentials" is a fake is in the "trial version" wording. Those familiar with the legitimate Security Essentials software already know that the complete version of Microsoft Security Essentials is available without charge. There is no "trial version" of the legitimate Security Essentials from Microsoft. If you see a pop-up screen that claims to be a trial version of "Security Essentials 2010," you have been victimized.
Sadly, most victims do not realize how easy it is to avoid these problems:
- Use a good anti-virus program and keep the virus definitions up to date. If your virus definitions are not updated every few days, the anti-virus program is worthless. Likewise, using an anti-virus program purchased two or three years ago may not provide much protection. Use a current program. Coincidentally, the authentic Security Essentials from Microsoft is one of the better programs to use and it is available free of charge. Using a good anti-virus program with up-to-date definitions won't block all the problems but will handle 99% of them.
- Always be suspicious. Don't open email attachments that you are not expecting and don't allow any web site to download unexpected files to your computer. If you are prompted for a download when you didn't expect one, always click on NO or, better yet, press Control-Alt-Delete and immediately close your web browser.
- Make a full backup of your Windows computer, and update the backups often. If you do get infected, an easy solution is to grab the latest backup copy and re-install. If you wait until after the PC becomes infected, it is too late to make a backup.
- Finally, for long-term solutions, you might switch operating systems. Linux and Macintosh systems are not susceptible to today's viruses and other malware.
I will offer one final hint: If you would really like to experiment and go to unproven web sites, first obtain a Linux "Live CD." These are complete Linux operating systems on a CD and are available from a number of Linux providers. They are available online at no charge. You follow the vendor's instructions to create the CD, insert the new CD into your PC's CD-ROM drive, boot down, then boot up from the CD. You will then be running Linux, not Windows. You will be safe to visit any web site you wish. I do this often when looking for new material for this newsletter.
Linux Live CDs do not change anything on your computer's hard drive. When finished, you boot down, remove the CD, then boot up normally in Windows. You will find that nothing changed on your Windows system.
My favorite Linux Live CD is from Ubuntu and can be found at http://www.ubuntu.com/GetUbuntu/download. Many other Linux providers offer similar free Live CDs as well.
In the meantime, beware of Security Essentials 2010.