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Monday, May 16, 2011

MaxMyPC? CleanMyPC? How About InfectMyPC?

If you are not familiar with computers and software, then you may not be familiar with the good, the bad, and the ugly. And like they say, "knowledge is power" - once you familiarize yourself with "the bad" and "the ugly" (spyware, viruses, malware, trojans, worms, adware, etc) you'll be far less likely to fall for any of it, because you'll know when it's a scam.

In the meantime, however, there are countless promises of miracle programs that will solve any problem. When it comes to computers, you can't fall back on the sensible solution of "if it sounds too good to be true..." because if you are not aware of what can't be done quickly and easily, then you won't know what is an impossibly good promise.

When you see commercials on TV advertising sites such as "MyCleanPC", "MaxMySpeed" and "MaxMyPC" you may not realize how impossible the claim is that they are trying to make. These sites and similar ones like them (StopSign.com, DoubleMySpeed.com, etc) make extremely convenient-sounding promises. The commercials for these sites show people sternly warning you that if your computer is slow, it could indicate the presence of viruses, spyware, malware, trojans, adware, etc. Just as you're getting worried, the person in the commercial assures you that with one easy click of said program (MyCleanPC, MaxMySpeed, MaxMyPC, whichever) it would scan your PC for said programs and your computer would be sped up, with some supposed users claiming speed increases of 100%! Sounds excellent, right?

Of course it does. And this is where it gets hazy for non-technical computer users. If you have ever had to remove a virus, clean up spyware, eliminate a trojan or get rid of adware , you will know full well how difficult this process is. Any real computer tech knows what a headache it can be to remove malicious software (malware, also known as badware). Malware programs - adware, spyware, trojans, viruses, worms - can be a nightmare to acquire and even worse to remove. These programs literally infect your computer software - some on a very deep level - with their malicious code. This can cause a variety of symptoms, but a very common characteristic is that your computer becomes really slow. Sometimes it takes forever for programs to open. Maybe your computer locks up, or you get tons of popups (or tons of popups cause it to move perform slowly or lock up). When your computer is slow due to a malware infection, it's generally due to the processes the bad program is attempting to run in the background. These hog up your computer's resources therefore it runs slowly. Sometimes the program will only run a few processes and it's not too hard to find and stop them. Other times there could be many background processes and they can be very difficult even to locate.

With that in mind, think about the claims again: "Increase your computer's speed (up to 100%) with one program!" If that claim doesn't sound preposterous to you yet, consider this: no single program can clean up or prevent all infections. That's right, you can have expensive anti-virus software, keep it updated at all times, and have real-time scanning enabled 24/7 - it still can't protect you from everything. Likewise, if you were to get infected and run an antivirus or antispyware program to remove it, there is a chance it won't work. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. No antivirus or antispyware program can guarantee you perfect results every time. So when I hear those TV commercials making such preposterous claims, it is downright insulting to me as an experienced computer tech.

The truth is, any program like this is almost guaranteed to be malware itself. I've noticed that many flashy looking and heavily advertised antivirus and antispyware software programs are generally going to be scams. Some of the best antivirus and antispyware (note both words are often used as catchall terms to describe anti-malware) programs are small, generally unadvertised, free programs. MyCleanPC, MaxMySpeed, StopSign, MaxMyPC, all of these programs offer a free scan - a scan that, when finished, will hound you for money. The way scamware (another name frequently used) like this typically operate once installed is to run a scan, come up with a ridiculous number of "problems" discovered, and once you click the button to "Clean" or "Fix" those problems, it will take you to the scamware's website and tell you that you must pay first.

Let's say you pay for one of these fake antivirus software products - other popular variations include CyberDefender, WinAntivirus Pro, Antivirus 20xx, ByteDefender, and XP Defender (note the similarity to legit Microsoft products and other legit antispyware programs) - it should at least do what it says if you pay for it, right? Well, you wouldn't actually want it to work at that point. It's almost paradoxical. If it worked, it would have to delete itself. And if it did all but delete itself, it'd be deleting files you need. And either way, these types of programs are down designed to be helpful - no, this type of software is designed to convince you that you are infected with a virus by ACTING like a virus itself (because the program itself IS malware!)

CyberDefender (another name for many of these programs) after a scan
The way scamware works is it shows you "problems" that are actually real files. If you aren't familiar with the file names of the processes your computer normally runs, the list of file names is daunting. For example, several years ago a popular hoax email (not even a program) was convincing people to delete a file called "jdbgmgr.exe". The file name doesn't make sense initially (as compared to a file such as "outlook.exe") and the icon for that file was a teddy bear. People were deleting that file left and right only to find out they made a mistake, it was part of the Windows Operating System (at the time).

Fake antispyware and antivirus programs operate much the same way as those old email virus hoaxes when they "detect problems":

1. The fake antivirus/antispyware acts like it is superior in detecting viruses and/or spyware. (Email virus hoaxes will almost always claim that the said "virus" wasn't detected by Norton or McAfee, acting as though the originator of the email has some special inside knowledge. Example ".This virus was discovered by McAfee yesterday, and there is no repair yet for this kind of virus.")

2. The fake antispyware/antivirus warns you repeatedly of the irreparable damage these "problems" it's detected could do to your computer, and/or warns you that said "problems" could be making your computer vulnerable to hackers and the like. (Email virus hoaxes always use generic language to describe the horrible tragedy that will befall your system if you don't immediately remove the alleged "virus". They will use scare tactics with phrases like, "it has been classified by Microsoft as the most destructive virus ever," "This virus will destroy your [hard drive/computer/etc]," and "If you receive an email mail called [whatever] do not open it!")

So how do you prevent falling for a scam in the future, when the next "MyCleanPC" or "MaxMySpeed" type product rolls around?
  1. If the software is being advertised on a TV commercial, especially one that uses scare tactics ("If you're computer is running slow, it could be riddled with VIRUSES! SPYWARE!") it's almost guaranteed to be bad.
  2. If the software makes it sound like it is simple and guaranteed to work (it doesn't have to specifically say it's guaranteed but they may imply it) then it's almost guaranteed not to.
  3. If the software makes superior sounding claims that other reputable programs (Norton, McAfee, TrendMicro) do not make, you should be suspicious.
  4. Contrary to what you may think, some of the best software is advertised most via genuine word-of-mouth. If you find people suggesting it in the forums on MajorGeek.com, BleepingComputer.com, TechSupportGuy.org, TechSupportForum.com, or MalwareBytes.org then you're probably safe, especially if you see it recommended many times over.
  5. If you aren't sure, always remember - you can't pay for advertising with a free program, they have to be getting their money from somewhere. You don't want to wait until it's installed to find out how.


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