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TMCNet:  Not just a nuisance: Viruses get nasty

[October 04, 2012]

Not just a nuisance: Viruses get nasty

Oct 04, 2012 (The Decatur Daily - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- When Danita Miller's husband Quincy came home from a tour of duty in Iraq, he brought a computer virus with him on their laptop.

"We couldn't even get it to turn on," she said.

Miller, a Decatur resident, took the computer to an electronics repair store and had it fixed.

"Quincy lost pictures of when he was overseas," she said. "We had to wipe it clean." Robert Martin, founder of computer repair store FavGeek, said many of his customers are victims of computer attacks, whether by hackers or viruses.

He said the latest virus gaining ground is the "FBI Virus," a program that installs itself onto a computer and displays a message purportedly from the FBI telling the user that his or her computer is blocked because pirated music, child pornography or other illegal content was found. The message tells users to pay a fine using a prepaid money card service to unlock their machines or face criminal charges.

"We actually had one customer who called the FBI," Martin said. "They told them it wasn't real." The FBI, the real FBI, calls the virus "Reveton ransomware." Agents said the virus first appeared in 2011 and began spreading quickly in May. The FBI recommends taking the computer to a professional to have Reveton and its distribution program, called Citadel, removed.

Martin said Reveton can turn on webcams to display the user's picture on its fake message. The FBI confirms that.

"Most people have a computer in a private area in their homes, like bedrooms or a dormitory," he said.

Martin said the best course of action is to find a trustworthy repair shop and never give credit card information to dubious sources. If someone puts in credit card information, he said, they should cancel the card immediately.

Martin said viruses have grown more sinister through the years.

"In the early 2000s, you would get Trojans that sent sketchy links to everyone in your email address book," he said. "Now they're stealing identities. It's gone from a nuisance to a crime." Miller said she had several viruses and learned the importance of prevention. Backing up data and staying away from shady parts of the Internet is key.

"You have no idea where it comes from," she said. "You don't know if someone has tampered with your personal information." FavGeek's standard turnaround on repairing a device is three to five days, but "the turnaround time on phones has been reduced to same-day service because people can't live without them," Martin said.

Martin recommends Microsoft Security Essentials to his customers, because it is free and because it performs better than most anti-virus software that comes pre-loaded on computers. Martin said most of the pre-loaded software is "bloatware" that can sometimes actually reduce the performance of a computer.

"Computers don't come out of the box at peak efficiency anymore," he said.

A reasonably priced repair shop will charge about $30 to clean up bloatware and install beneficial software, Martin said.

Athens Police Chief Floyd Johnson said police typically file a report when computer crime happens to a resident of their jurisdiction.

"The victim lives in the city, but the crime probably happened out of state or even out of the country," Johnson said. "We usually send it to the agency that would actually be working on the case." Johnson said victims are usually one of a string of attacks by the same suspect.

Not every computer criminal has hacking or programming skills. Although Martin said few viruses exist for smartphones, they are common items in thefts, Johnson said.

"Many times, they steal them so they can use them for a little while," he said. "They download purchases, make 900 calls. Some of them actually call out of the country." Martin said apps exist for major smartphone operating systems such as Android and Apple's iOS that can remotely wipe all the data from a phone, rendering them useless in thieves' hands.

Computer crime does not discriminate, Johnson said, although different age groups seem susceptible for different crimes. Middle-aged victims are more likely to have their phones swiped or credit card numbers stolen via the Internet. Older people are more susceptible to email scams that ask for money with a false promise of multiplying the investment.

"But on the other side, elderly people are less trusting of putting their credit card number or information online," Johnson said.

___ (c)2012 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.) Visit The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.) at www.decaturdaily.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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