Published on July 24th, 2013 | by The Town Crier0
Technology A cautionary tale
In a dark corner of our spare room sits a desk with an elderly desktop computer on it. This computer is so ancient that it runs Windows XP but it works perfectly well and, besides, I like Windows XP; it is very simple to use and is infinitely superior to the dire Windows Vista system that replaced it. This sturdy old computer is used by the kids to do their homework and by my wife to surf for cheap holidays and buy shoes. The other day I fired it up to do some online banking and as soon as I opened Internet Explorer I noticed some strange things.
The first thing was that random bits of text were underlined and highlighted in blue. This was rather distracting when I was trying to read an article about the cricket and, to add to the annoyance, every time the cursor went over one of these highlighted bits of text a small advert popped up offering me anything from a cheap hotel room to saving money when I renewed my car insurance. The second was that every time I went on a new website, another window opened up inviting me to take part in an online survey on something I wasn’t remotely interested in. Curious as to what was going on, I took a closer look at a couple of the popup adverts. At the bottom of both of them was the legend “Powered by Top Arcade Hits.”
I did a quick bit of research on Top Arcade Hits. It is a fairly common bit of software that downloads itself onto computers without the owner’s permission, usually when a free game is downloaded from Download.com. Some interrogation of the family pointed the finger of blame fairly at my youngest son, who had downloaded a free version of the arcade classic, Pacman – can’t hold that against him. Strictly speaking, Top Arcade is a form of malware but it is not a particularly vicious form; it just bombards you with unwanted adverts every time you go online. My Google search advised me that it was very easy to remove Top Arcade; I just needed to download a programme called Malwarebytes and it would take care of it. Now, I know all about Malwarebytes; it is probably the leading anti-malware programme on the market and, better still, there is a free version that is perfectly good for most user’s needs. I hit the download button.
Then catastrophe struck. I’m not sure whether something went wrong with the download or if Malwarebytes is incompatible with XP or whether I was downloading from a dummy site that actually redirected me to another piece of malware, but the download completely froze the computer. I switched it off and rebooted it, but it was still operating at glacial speed. Eventually though, I managed to persuade the control panel to open, then the add/remove software pane and, finally I removed Malwarebytes. The computer returned to normal and I breathed a sigh of relief. A thought struck me; I scrolled down the list of installed software and there was Top Arcade, sitting there as bold as brass. I removed that too and got rid of the annoying popups.
There are three morals to this tale. The first is to be very wary of downloading free games from the internet; this is one of the most common ways for malware to get onto computers. The next is to install a good anti-malware system on your computer now, rather than waiting to get an infection and responding to it. A traditional anti-virus programme is no longer enough; the vast majority of infections are malware rather than viruses now. There are plenty of good free systems out there. Finally, once you have chosen an anti-malware system, make sure that you download it from the official website. There are a lot of dummy sites out there just itching to put some intrusive malware onto your computer. Happy surfing!