One in five Macs has malware–but read the fine print

Sophos claimed today that 20% of the people who’ve installed their free Mac antivirus has malware.  That’s not altogether surprising, but it’s also not nearly as big of a problem as it sounds.

One in 36 systems has Mac malware, which means the Mac has an infection that could actually be harming the system itself. That number is low but believable. In my experience, the people who seek out antivirus software are usually the ones who need it the least.
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What’s going on with Macintosh security?

The latest figures I’ve read say there are perhaps a half-million infected Macintoshes still floating around out there, an improvement from the high of 600,000 that I was seeing a few weeks ago, but probably not what Apple had hoped after releasing its most recent fix.

I argued three weeks ago that the end of the innocence was either here or very near. I’ll argue now that it’s gone: There are now 250 known Macintosh OS X viruses in existence. In 2003 there were none. Read more

The old days of viruses

Blogging pioneer John Dominik, inspired by my Michelangelo memories, wrote about his memories of viruses later in the decade. So now I’ll take inspiration of him and share my memories of some of those viruses. I searched my archives, and at the time it was going on, I didn’t write a lot. I was tired and angry, as you can tell from the terse posts I did write.

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How to clean viruses off other people’s systems safely

What should you do when someone hands you a computer, tells you they think it has a virus, and asks you to clean it?

Proceed carefully, that’s what. You don’t want to infect your other computers with whatever it has.

To get it gone safely and effectively, you really need two things: an antivirus live CD, and a spare router.
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Fix host hijacks or host file hijacks for free

Sometimes your antivirus will tell you that you have host hijacks or host file hijacks, but not elaborate on how to fix them. Some people charge way too much to fix them. Here’s how to fix host hijacks or host file hijacks for free.

A former classmate’s computer suddenly stopped letting him get to search engines. Aside from that, his computer appeared to be normal.

Fortunately he had some antivirus and antispyware software installed, so he was able to run it and get a relatively clean bill of health, but he still couldn’t use Google or Bing or Yahoo.

One of the pieces of software he ran mentioned a host hijack or hosts file hijack, but didn’t offer to clean it up without ponying up some serious bucks.

That was enough to tell me how to clean it up though. You don’t have to buy anything. Read more

Hey! I’m famous!

I got mentioned in a post about Adblock Plus on Lifehacker.

In a comment about something else, I mentioned that you should install Adblock Plus and turn on the Malware Domains subscription to give yourself protection beyond what your antivirus software does. If intercepting bad-guy software is good, not even downloading it in the first place is better.

I guess someone liked the advice.

First impressions: HP Mini 110

I spent a few hours last night with an HP Mini 110 1012NR. It’s a model with a 16 GB solid state drive (no spinning mechanical hard drive) and Windows XP.

My biggest beef is the keyboard. It’s undersized, and I can’t touch type on it. Try it out before you buy one.

The rest of the system isn’t bad, but there are some things you’ll want to do with it.The system acted weird until I removed Norton Antivirus 2009. By weird, I’m talking not staying on the network, filesystem errors, chkdsk running on reboot, and enough other goofiness that I was ready to take the thing back as defective. The system stabilized as soon as I removed Norton Antivirus, and stayed stable after I installed ESET NOD32.

The system also ran a lot faster.

Don’t believe the hype about Norton Antivirus 2009. Use ESET NOD32. This is the second HP laptop in a month that’s given me Norton Antivirus-related problems.

McAfee is better, but only sufficiently better to use if your ISP is giving it to you for free. I still think NOD32 is worth the $40 it costs. The Atom CPU in the Mini 110 feels like a Pentium 4 with NOD32 installed. It feels like a Pentium II or 3 with something else installed.

The SSD isn’t a barn burner. I have OCZ Vertex drives in my other PCs, and this one doesn’t measure up the Vertex. Reads are pretty quick, but writes can be a bit slow. Windows boots in about 30 seconds. Firefox loads in about five. Word and Excel 2000 load in about a second.

So it’s not bad. But an OCZ Vertex would be a nice upgrade. Drop it in, use it for the OS and applications, and use the stock 16 GB drive for data.

A memory upgrade would also be worthwhile. With the stock 1 GB, it’s hitting the pagefile to the tune of 400 MB.

Unfortunately, to really make the computer sing, you’re looking at spending $200 in upgrades ($40 for NOD32, $40 for 2 GB of RAM, and $120 for an OCZ Vertex). Spread it out over the life of the machine and it wouldn’t be so bad though. And you’ll be paying $40 a year for antivirus no matter what you use.

The build quality is typical HP. I have lots of aged HP and Compaq equipment that’s still going strong. I don’t get rid of HP stuff because it breaks, I get rid of it because it’s so hopelessly obsolete as to be useless. I hesitate to buy from anyone else, except Asus. And Asus, of course, is HP’s main motherboard supplier.

If you can get used to the keyboard, I think the Mini 110 is a good machine. It weighs 2 pounds and is scarcely larger than a standard hardcover book, so it fits almost anywhere. And having an SSD, there isn’t much that can fail. The battery will eventually fail, and probably the AC adapter will too, but I think other than that, one of these computers could last 20 years, assuming it would still be useful for anything then.

Read this if you are using the free AVG 6.0 antivirus software

Grisoft has offered a free edition of its AVG 6.0 antivirus software for several years. Unfortunately it has discontinued the product and will stop offering updates on 31 December.

The solution is to download their new free version.It’s a pain, but unfortunately, free things almost always have some kind of strings attached. To be entirely fair, for-pay antivirus software often has some strings attached too.

So if you’ve been using AVG, or you have friends who have been, download (or get them to download) the new version and update it.

Some people have been complaining lately about AVG not updating their definitions as quickly as the other vendors. The result is that some viruses that Norton Antivirus would catch go undetected by AVG. If you can afford better virus protection, buying it is probably worthwhile. If not, the AVG free edition is still better than no protection at all.

Outsource your home e-mail to keep viruses at bay

I’m going to be spending most of Saturday patching servers at work, and Microsoft just kindly dropped four new patches I didn’t want in my Easter basket (so run Windows Update on your home PC if you haven’t recently), and that reminds me of something.

End users are notoriously bad about running Windows Update and updating their virus definitions, both of which really need to be done on a regular basis in these terrible times. Microsoft doesn’t seem to realize not everyone has broadband and this takes some time, but that’s the price of running Windows, I guess.

I have a suggestion for people who aren’t very technical.Those of you who are technical and provide help for friends and relatives, get your friends and relatives to quit using Outlook Express to read their ISP’s mail and move them to a webmail-based solution, such as Yahoo Mail. Yahoo’s spam filtering is pretty effective, and Yahoo keeps its virus definitions up to date. Since most viruses transmit through e-mail these days, this may provide adequate protection for most people. Yahoo limits the size of attachments you can send, so configure Outlook Express for sending large attachments using the ISP’s SMTP server, but change the return address to point at the Yahoo address. If the person is reluctant about changing e-mail addresses, call the ISP’s technical support line and see if the ISP will forward the account’s mail to the Yahoo account.

Those of you who aren’t technical, get someone to help you do this if it sounded like Swahili to you.

Hotmail works too, but when you register for Yahoo mail, you get access to Yahoo’s discussion groups too, and Yahoo has a discussion group/forum for just about everything imaginable. Way back in the dark ages before the Internet was in every household, the discussion groups were one of the major draws of online services like CompuServe, GEnie, and Delphi.

Google’s GMail will be better than Yahoo’s mail, allowing people to search on their inboxes, but it’s not ready for you and me yet. I still don’t understand the big to-do about Google targeting text sidebar advertising on your e-mail–they already do it when you search using their site. But that’s another discussion.