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Antiviruses - What, Why and How they can or can not work, and the consequences of viral infections on our computers

Introspective look into today's problem with viral attacks on our systems, consequences of our actions and solutions to avoid this type of eventuality.

Techniques, solutions and consequences to avoid viral infection.

Episode #1-03 released on October 3, 2010

This is Technology Questions Answered, Episode 3: Antiviruses - What, Why and How they can or can not work, and the consequences of viral infections on our computers. This is your host, Steve Smith, Founder of Zed Axis Productions, and Digital Technologies Consultant.

Thank you for listening to our third episode of Technology Questions Answered, and today's topic, Antiviruses, Why we install them, use them, how they work, and why they can't always work like they are intended to. This topic makes nearly 60% of my business as we are asked to recover documents off hard-drives that have been contaminated by viruses, some even rendering the computer zombies for bot-nets, and I will get to that definition a little later.

All of us use antivirus software, install them on our computers, and run them whether automatically every so often, or manually. Most of us have no idea what it is used for, usually because we assume that they are perfectly suited to protecting us. An anti-virus scans your computer for viruses with known programming patterns that cause malicious damage to our operating system. Antivirus software compares known samples of virus coding to what is in your computer, and some are even capable of determining that some viruses exist on our computer by what actions it attempts to undertake in our operating systems. They are remarkable programs that can help use determine if our computer is comprised. They are not designed to remove advanced viral coding from our computers completely because of how viruses are designed.

Originally viruses were works of art, coding designed merely to annoy all of us, proving one's ability to create programming like forms of art. At one point, viruses evolved to actually steal bandwidth, our personal identities and documents. In other words, virus programmers stopped annoying us, amazing us, but started stealing from us, and really no one knows exactly when this happened. Of course, we aren't dealing with the same programmers anymore. Many of us merely started designing software to combat this new breed of viral coding, which are primarily new forms of terrorism.

Today's terrorism is started to be done online, and not offline. It is easier to crash to government servers, commercial servers and cause markets to crash because it is actually easier to convince millions of users to download videos, programs, photos and documents, that contain viruses within. Once your computer is contaminated, it is finished. I hope you made backups. Format, and reinstall your copy of Windows, do not wait for your personal information to be stolen, or to have your computer used against your will to send out millions of spam, or begin attacking government or commercial targets.

Most of the viruses originate from pirating, pornography, spoof web-sites, which are replicates of real web-sites, and hijacked web-sites. So you must be completely aware of were you are online. The more important thing you can do to protect yourself is not to access pirating sites, never click on links in our email, never divulge your password, change your password regularly. Don't download pirated materials, you can now listen to most episodes of shows, and many movies through publishers' web-site, or via iTunes, PSN, or Xbox Live, Netflix, etc... You may also rent most of the episodes and movies you want to see, as well through the same services.

A lot of the pirate sites also use Trojan viruses that introduce viral downloaders into our machine tof install root-kits, spy-ware, key-loggers, screen loggers, etc... All of these are viruses, even Spy-ware. No one wants you to know the truth about spy-ware, but it is viral in nature, even if they prefer to class it differently. It can record everything you do, diagnose your computers current state, and even record input and output information like your screen's current state. This is merely one of the many reasons I have opted out of commercial software solutions when open source option is available.

At one point anti-virus companies were even trying to remove spy-ware like they were virus but some companies complained, so they backed off. Then new spy-ware software came out, and it started saying things like if you remove certain pieces you may be violating Eula's, contracts, agreements, etc... Remove all spy-ware you are able from your computer, whether it was installed by viruses or a legal form of software. Many companies monitor ink levels in your computer, software usage, etc... I do not want them to know how many times I print using my computer, or open software. They can quite literally play in traffic. And you should also behave in this way because if we do not taking our rights back when it comes to our private lives, we will literally lose our private lives forever. Unfortunately, when it comes to software, its not just the supposed good guys that have access to this information, the bad guys use these holes in our computers to gain access and infiltrate the defences of our computers.

New breeds of Antivirus software like McAfee and CA Internet Security are now being designed in response to today's new reality, most anti-viral software now includes anti-spy-ware software, anti-root kit software, dynamic viral scanning of incoming and outgoing traffic. For this, it is important to have them installed. It will slow down computers, and you will lose access to certain sites because of this, mostly pirated sites, so nothing lost. However, no anti-virus is able to prevent or remove 100% of all viruses. And many viruses are still not identified, and they dig deep into our computers replacing system files, and dynamic libraries required for our Windows Machines to work. Removing these files would render the computer dead, so antivirus software also contain virus vaults and notification software to tell us we have been infected. The sad fact is many of the virus infections can be prevented by doing our updates regularly, updating software and drivers whenever there is an update, and using hardware firewalls or encrypted wireless signals. You may also be infected by accident via emails from friend's computers that have been compromised by these viruses, or even by network sharing protocols. Never open documents, files, or programs you do not know.

All this will eventually lead to Sand-boxing the operating system. Unfortunately this may lead to the death of Windows as the primary operating system. Due to the ineffective nature of Microsoft Windows to create a security scheme that would protect us, virus programmers will continue attacking Microsoft machines, continue taking control and attacking others once they are done with you. We will have to migrate to Linux and Unix based operating systems like Ubuntu, Debian, Apple, etc... Unless Microsoft takes a page from Apple and makes a locked down operating system, and contains the user environment within an unbreachable shell, or a sandbox, that prevents viral coding from accessing the Windows Kernel, otherwise known as the brain of the operating system, or accessing the registry, the system files or dynamic libraries. This will require all programs to be signed with authorized private keys that can be verified by the operating system. This will also ultimately affect driver installations, because they will also be required to be signed to confirm they are authorized software.

I am sorry to say, we will all have to get used to the idea of confirming actions, and program activations. Those of us that use Apple Computers, or PC with Unix or Linux installations are already used to that fact of life, and we have virtually virus and spy-ware free computer systems. We will also have to learn to use encrypted hard-drives using Trusted Platform Modules, or using self-encrypting operating systems to protect our personal data. This is the only way we will fend off the onslaught of viral damage and subsequent use of our machines in a new world order of digital terrorism, fraud, theft of information, etc...

The only problem with these future operating systems is the very fact that the user is going to have to learn how to use them. This is one of the reasons people hated Windows Vista which was an attempt at locking down the operating system. I believe that they didn't go far enough, and should have made it mandatory to upgrade to hardware that is signed with authorized private keys, in order to stop virus programmers from finding holes in coding. I'd like to point out the Apple is known for doing this, And because many Windows users refuse to buy new hardware and learn how to use the internet carefully, we are forced to have defective operating systems that barely work. This is why informed users, and those who care enough not to have their personal information and hardware exposed to illegal activities should be proactive in their attempts to protect themselves from viral infection by updating all software, including anti-virus, anti-spy-ware, drivers, operating system security updates, to the latest versions.

You need to have up to date software, and be careful when your online to protect yourself from those who would do you harm. At least until operating system companies, and hardware companies start working together to making our computers secure and virus free.

Next week, we will be talking about the different operating systems like Windows, Apple or Linux. Comparing each one to the other, and if you have any questions, comments or stories, you may find all the necessary contact information or list of sources, software, hardware suggestions on our web-site at Triple-W-dot-Z-E-D-A-X-I -S dot-NET, as well as a list of important pod casts that you should also listen to. This has been a podcast, hosted by Steve Smith, Digital Technologies Consultant for Zed Axis Productions, Stay Safe and Online. This has been Technology Questions Answered.

This show was recorded using audacity, an open-source, sound recorder and editor, head over to audacity.sourceforge.net and support Audacity by donating or buying exclusive merchandise, or head over to our site and view the links in the show notes of this episode.

This show was recorded: October 3rd, 2010 and is now available on iTunes and our web-site at http://www.zedaxis.net/.

Host : Steve Smith | Music : Steve Smith | Editor : Steve Smith | Producer : Zed Axis Productions

Sources & Resources