RealTime IT News

Malware: More than a Nuisance

I never thought I could ever get sick of the Internet. Any time of the day or night you can log on from the comfort of your home and read news, facts and opinion from around the world, on every conceivable topic. Indeed, for an information junkie like me, the Internet has been like the answer to a fervent prayer.

Last month, though, I was ready to go cold turkey. My home desktop machine had become so overrun with spyware and adware that I finally had to unhook my tower (barely resisting the urge to smash it against my fireplace) and haul it to a qualified computer professional for a vigorous scrubbing.

It cost me $180, a couple of years' worth of bookmarks and a bunch of songs I downloaded from iTunes. But it already had cost me much, much more between Thanksgiving and Christmas in terms of time and frustration as I tried futilely to purge my machine of these 'Net nuisances. And while no certifications grace my walls, I'm not exactly computer illiterate. For example, recently I installed a hard drive on that very desktop. OK, maybe I did it wrong (according to my computer pro); still, at least I wasn't afraid to try!

My PC runs great now, but the experience has left me wondering whether the industry will ever deal effectively with the garbage that increasingly pollutes cyberspace. I am not alone in my doubt and discontent. This growing deluge of malware is beginning to turn people away from the Internet. A fascinating article in the Los Angeles Times reports that a "small but growing number of frustrated computer owners . . .(are) giving up or cutting back their use of the Internet, especially at home, where no corporate tech support team will ride to their rescue."

The Times piece paints a depressing yet familiar picture, relating anecdotes of personal and business users losing data to viruses, having their computers freeze up from countless pop-up ads and enduring an unending onslaught of spam. (The only uplifting part of the article was the news that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates recently found spyware on his personal machine. Mozilla, Bill, Mozilla.)

The cost of malware in terms of manpower and lost productivity is huge. Now there's clear evidence that the cost also is being felt on the revenue side. The Times cites a recent survey showing that 31 percent of online shoppers are buying less these days because they lack confidence that their transactions are secure. When nearly one out of three online shoppers decide to spend less because they don't trust the system . . . well, that's an ominous trend.

Industry needn't bother looking to government for a solution to the malware epidemic, if the negligible impact of anti-spam regulation is any indication (which I think it is). Nor can it count on Microsoft -- which consistently produces software doubling as giant worm farms -- to come to the rescue: Microsoft's new Windows Malicious Software Removal Tool and AntiSpyware (both free) have gotten mixed reviews, and the company long has been criticized for shipping leaky software.

So that places a large burden on enterprise IT professionals. And while there is no magic bullet (you didn't really think there was one, did you?), there are some common-sense steps you can take to help protect your network and users from malware. These are outlined in this excellent eSecurity Planet article.

The Internet isn't going to dry up and blow away because of malware, but if the industry collectively doesn't do something to curb the problem, lots of Internet users undoubtedly will go away.