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After Thanksgiving Weekend, I realize I’m thankful for a few things. First, I’m thankful I work in the ITS department where I had the opportunity to interview some great minds about computer protection and security. Second, I’m thankful my computer continues to live after the virus it caught this weekend. And finally, and perhaps what I’m most thankful for, is the amazing staff of the ITS Help Desk, for without them I may have a very different attitude when blogging today.

I don’t know what I clicked on, but somehow on Saturday night Win 7 Antispyware 2012 suddenly started running a scan on my computer and found 18 worms! “That’s weird,” I thought to myself, “because I’ve never installed any anti-spyware called Win 7 on my computer.”

After Win 7 kindly pretended to scan my computer and found an astonishing number of fake worms, a webpage popped open warning that if I did not buy their suggested $60 anti-spyware (or their deluxe package for only $10 more) my computer might explode. Okay, it never told me my computer would explode but it provide a list of other ominous threats.

When I tried to pull up my own legitimate, pre-downloaded anti-spyware (available for free courtesy of the USF eStore) I couldn’t access it. When I tried to access my patching program Secunia (once again, available for free courtesy of the USF eStore), I couldn’t access that either. Clicking on my file directory icon did nothing; no Microsoft Office products worked either. When I clicked on anything a warning popped up asking if I was sure I wanted to continue unprotected. I was locked out of my own computer. Win 7 won this round.

Don’t let the fact that I work at the ITS department fool you; I’m no tech guru. I’m going to be perfectly honest: I may have been more a threat to my own computer than that virus was. After a little bit of research told me how vicious this virus was, I thought it best to appeal to the tech expertise of the USF Help Desk Staff rather than try my own hand at it.

The next day was Sunday but I knew I had nothing to fear. Thanks to the newly adjusted ITS Help Desk Hours, I knew that if the library was open an ITS staff member would be there to assist.  A student worker immediately put my computer into safe mode and started running scans. When the scan shut itself down halfway through, he patiently started again, found a couple Trojans, deleted them, and started the scan over again.

When their shift changed, he efficiently explained the issue to the staff member taking over. She continued to work with me and, despite my computer shutting down several times before it could ever fully complete a scan, she calmly started it again. It took a few hours, but while she worked, I studied in a different part of the library. She occasionally called me to check-in and update me on the progress.

When my computer was finally restored to its healthy self, she explained how the scan worked, how I could run it on my own, and how to switch my computer to safe mode if such a thing were to happen again.

I’m sure my ramblings seem a bit arbitrary to you lucky people whose computers haven’t been affected in this way, but the point of this digression is to show that even if you have great anti-spyware, keep your programs patched, and are employed by the ITS department, you’re still susceptible to malicious programs and the people who create them. So make sure you’re always up-to-date on everything and even after all that, if something still happens, thank your lucky stars for the Help Desk.

To learn more about how to protect yourself, check out the following blogs:

Identity Finder secures sensitive data on your hard drive

Secuina and Sophos–Important FREE tools to protect your computer

Stop. Think. Connect.–Avoid getting caught by Cyber Criminals

How to avoid Identity Theft

The preceding post was originally published in December, 2011.

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