Defrag scareware

This isn’t exactly news, as word has been going around for a couple of weeks, but if you haven’t heard about it elsewhere, there are some fake defragmenters going around.

I heard mention of it today, and it reminded me that I saw one last week when I was working on my mother in law’s computer. This was especially obnoxious, considering that at the time, I was running Firefox and I was visiting a mainstream site.

So there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind.
First of all, installing Adblock Plus with the malware domains subscription or better yet, doing the hosts file hack helps protect against these kinds of things. I’ve done one or the other on all of my computers, and I’ve never seen one of these fake defraggers pop up on my machines.

If you see one, immediately close all your browser windows. Hit ctrl-alt-del, and search for your browser process (whether it’s firefox.exe, iexplore.exe, chrome.exe, or opera.exe) and shut them down if they still show up. Then re-launch your browser and install Adblock Plus.

So do you even need to defrag?

There definitely is a perception out there that you don’t need to defrag anymore. Data recovery experts (Steve Gibson among them) argue that having contiguous files really makes data recovery a lot easier if it’s ever necessary. Which makes sense. It’s been a few years since I’ve pieced files back together with a sector editor, but that’s his point. If the file is contiguous, anyone who knows how to use a sector editor can locate and recover a file. If you even have to go that far–wizard-based software can probably recover something like that, very quickly. Someone making my hourly rate or less can recover a contiguous file. The guys at Ontrack and Drive Savers cost considerably more per hour than I do.

Proponents of not defragging say NTFS is much better than FAT was about not getting fragmented. But NTFS hasn’t had a major revision since Windows 2000, and very few people made that argument then, as I recall. What has changed is that disks are bigger today, and they’ve grown faster than the ability of the average user to fill them up, so on average people use a smaller percentage of available space now than they used to, and in turn, fragmentation happens less than it used to. It’s true that NTFS was designed not to get fragmented, but after Microsoft added data compression to it, it became much more prone to fragmentation–even if you don’t use compression. (And just because you don’t use NTFS compression, Windows itself does compress files. Particularly its patch archives.)

I will say that if you use the right defragmenter, you don’t have to defragment very often. By the right defragmenter, I absolutely, positively do not mean the one that comes with Windows, and I don’t mean Diskeeper by Executive Software. I speak of MyDefrag early and often and continue to do so; it’s free, and you can get by using it as little as once a year, particularly if you use its long process with file reordering. The file reordering bit is important, as it helps to prevent further fragmentation by creating large, vast fields of open space for new files to populate.

If you have an SSD, use its flash memory disks option, and once again, I’d only do it about once a year. I’ve seen severely fragmented SSDs and I’ve seen misaligned SSDs, and while this is just my opinion based on a small number, not aligning the partition harms performance much more with an SSD than fragmentation.

As for error scanning, which some of these fake programs also talk about doing, NTFS is indeed much better than FAT ever was about preventing errors. And the tool that you get from right-clicking on your drive in an Explorer window actually does a very good job. So much so that legitimate third-party utility makers have all but given up on producing utilities that fix filesystem errors. Norton Disk Doctor was once a must-have; now it’s useless, if Symantec even bothers to include it on the CD anymore. It should tell you something that I dedicated an entire book chapter to utility suites in my 2000 book, and today I don’t own one. Not a single one.

Know your system

Chances are if you’re reading me, you know that any kind of popup talking about fragmentation or even disk errors isn’t legitimate. Windows doesn’t work that way. Defragmentation is something you initiate, and if Windows is going to initiate a disk check, it does it at boot time, long before you get to see the desktop.

If you support other people, install some protection for them and educate them on this behavior. At the very least, tell them that if they ever get a popup demanding money to fix something, it’s a scam. Close it down and call somebody. If it won’t close, unplug the network cable and then call somebody.

One thought on “Defrag scareware

  • January 6, 2011 at 1:05 am

    The readability analysis in MS-Word is useful and usable, despite the source. If I optimise the last three lines it reports, readability gets a lot better. Of course, that may not be what is needed. Academic writing is often downgraded if it’s simple, forceful, and clear. Rewards are based on how much effort it takes to extract the message from the medium. If you cut down passive-voice sentences, increase the Flesch Reading Ease index, and lower the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level (maybe to high-school grade seven or eight), possibly treating your treatise a paragraph at a time, then the message hits harder and more crisply.

    The above paragraph was an example of one difficult to optimise though, although I improved it.

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