New anti-virus software misses corners

Accumulated bits: Take care when clearing PC clutter. Photo: Jane DysonWhen the web browsers on one of the PCs on our home network conspicuously slowed last week, the usual paranoia kicked in. The download speed on our PC is more than 2 Mbps, and this one was throttled to 2 Kbps per second. We immediately feared an accumulation of spyware or perhaps even a virus.

That particular computer is used by some of the less paranoid members of the family, and although most of their activities are conducted through a Windows Remote Desktop connection to a carefully maintained secure network, it did seem possible that some local connections could have exposed a chink in our armour.

Firefox’s default search engine had been switched from Google to the inferior and highly irritating Ask, which indicated a certain degree of inattention.

Oracle’s Java software update very sneakily includes the Ask software as a default, but alert users generally spot it, and if they do succumb, will quickly remove it (here is how) to avoid such inconveniences as being bombarded with unwelcome banner ads.

We would have been surprised to encounter a virus. The computer in question has ESET NOD32 anti-virus software; the definitions were current and it had been recently scanned.

Just to be sure, we installed a copy of Kaspersky Internet Security, for which we have developed a liking recently, and in the process removed ESET. Kaspersky found nothing amiss.

With two virus checkers giving the PC a green light, we moved on to other forms of unwelcome software.

We use MalwareBytes to guard against spyware and other bits of nastiness on our main PC, but this one didn’t have a copy. We downloaded the free version and the scan proved negative.

We’d read a positive review of a clutter-clearing program called SlimCleaner Plus in PC Magazine, so we decided this was an opportunity to try it.

We downloaded it and scanned the system. It reported thousands of cookies and other bits of junk. We started to lose faith in the PC Magazine reviewer when we discovered that the free version removed only a fraction of the junk. We would have to pay to clean out the rest.

At that point, we should have uninstalled it and looked elsewhere, but we had the bit between our teeth. We paid almost $US55 for a two-year licence, which turned out to be a ticket to a would-be fleecing.

We expected to be given a registration number to activate the software but what popped up on the screen instead was a 1 300 number and instructions to call it to complete the registration.

We felt slightly uneasy about it but we made the call, half expecting that it would be an overseas number and that no one would answer. Someone did answer; someone with a vaguely foreign American accent and a laid-back attitude.

After several attempts, he finally got our email address right, and then directed us to a website that made us even more uneasy. It was, essentially, a remote access site, which would have allowed our laid-back friend to take control of the computer.

Our laid-back friend assured us that it would allow him to ”see if there was anything wrong with the computer and help you fix it”.

In our experience, allowing someone you don’t know to remotely check or take control of your computer amounts to an invitation to have something particularly nasty installed on it. We declined the offer and terminated the call.

This seems to be a variation on scams in which users receive an unsolicited phone call, allegedly from Microsoft or a computer security company, offering to remotely repair a fault they have detected. The scenario is absurd, but inexperienced users all too frequently succumb to it.

A Google search throws up numerous complaints about the company in question.

We don’t know whether SlimCleaner Plus has any connection with that company, or if its installation procedure has been hijacked, but neither alternative engenders confidence. We immediately uninstalled SlimCleaner Plus and cannot recommend it.

The problem with the PC turned out to be a faulty network switch.

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