A few days ago, I received a notebook computer to review. Whenever I get sent things to test, I always laugh about how different I am than my techie friend Bill Goldstein. When Bill gets some new tech product, he shreds open the package and dives into configure it to his exact specifications faster than most people would think possible. Me, I've been known to let the box sit in the corner for days after the FedEx guy has delivered it. This drives Bill nuts. He can't even conceive of someone leaving the box untouched for an hour, let alone days. (Sometimes I'm not even 100% sure what's in the box, but figure I'll find out soon enough.) I just don't want to deal with the thing until I know I have the time to read through everything and get it right, especially if there's some hiccup setting it up. (Bill, being a techno-whiz, tends not to have tech hiccups, but when he does he can figure them out quickly. Me, I call Bill. Or Ed Bott...)
Anyway, in this case, Bill was beside himself that I can leave an actual computer unopened for three days. But as it turned out, I'm glad I waited until I had the time. Ohhhh, what a mess. To be clear, it wasn't the computer's fault. In fact, it's very impressive. That's why I'm not even going to say what it was here, but wait until later to discuss it. I don't want anyone conflating the two issues, and think that a seriously good laptop was tainted by the problems of a hellish night.
So, as I was playing around with the laptop, and loading programs and doing some configuration, I started noticing annoying problems with my browser. So I tried another browser. Same problems. Everything else was running impressively well -- but when I got to the browsers, it turned to sludge and worse.
It became clear what had happened. With a new computer, there’s so much garbageware on it that's trying to install. "Garbageware" is the polite phrase for what the industry term of it is,,,
(For this, I do blame the computer -- though it's not a technical issue, and in fairness, this is true of most new computers, though most-especially the low-cost ones. Computer manufacturers get paid for loading demo versions of software on the system, which helps keep the cost down. That software, also called "bloatware," is usually fine. The problem is that it has bundled itself with third-party "garbage" software that gets loaded along with when the respectable-ish stuff does. And while you're asked about installing the main software, there isn't a word about its Little Friends. Unless perhaps it's in the very fine print you never read.)
What happened is that I probably figured that some of programs imposing themselves on me was worthwhile or that I was supposed to install it as part of the default installation in order to be fair in my review, or whatever – and obviously a bunch of "junk malware" (still the polite term) got installed that was taking over my browsers. To be clear, had I not chosen to click on any of these programs that the mainstream manufacturer offered as demo's, I'd have been fine.
The good news is that I think I got rid of it all. While this isn't one of my areas of expertise, I was able to figure out what the malware programs were and did a lot of research online about getting rid of them. And the whole thing only took a mere three hours of what was supposed to be my relaxing Sunday evening…
It was pretty insidious. Google wouldn’t load, but kept getting blocked because it said it looked like something might be trying to access it inappropriately. (So I couldn't search for solutions there. Happily, I had my desktop computer to assist.) The Metro version of Internet Explorer wouldn’t load because of “Proxy” issues. And no, I didn't know what Proxy issues were, either. Pop-up windows kept popping up all over the browsers. When I’d click on one of the tabs at my own Elisberg Industries site, (not to worry,just the insignificant one that says, "Blogs"...) it would open some other site with an offer. And something even kept trying to change my homepage. (Fortunately, I had a program that asked me if I'd like to allow that or not.) Eventually, the word heard through my home most often was, "Arrrgggghhhh…"
But as I said, I think I got everything resolved. We’ll see. But it looks that way. But it did take a lot of research, downloading anti-malware programs (additional to what I had), some uninstalling, and a good deal of scanning. I did get some additional tips this morning from the aforementioned Bill Goldstein -- who in a previous life before recently becoming an attorney had built, repaired and magnificently maintained computers, so he knows a thing or eight about this issue -- so, I'll run those suggestions, too, for extra safe cleaning.
(Whimsically enough, in sending along his tips, he including a link to an old article here about the problem. And it happened to be written by my afore-and-oft-mentioned friend and techno-whiz, Ed Bott!)
At a certain point through all this, you look at all this pure junk loading and you wonder, “What on earth are these people thinking?? Do they think people will like this and actually go buy their junk products????” (Actually, okay, I sort of know what they’re thinking. Some of the junk that get surreptitiously loaded are offers to help you get rid of problems if your computer is having issues or running too slowly. Problems, of course, that they themselves caused. And some make it seem like they’re from Windows, appearing to be official in some way without actually saying "Windows", hoping people will click on them.) At a certain point, one does begin to think of whether a well-placed incendiary device might have some effect on them continuing to operate…)
I can’t quite believe that I figured out how to resolve things (I think…), but at least the three hours were well-spent and had a good resolution.
And the larger point in all this is that if you do happen to get a new computer during the holiday season -- be careful.
And if you'd like to prepare yourself, just in case, the good programs to have handy are Malwarebytes (which I already had), along with either Adwcleaner, PCDecrapifier or Decrap -- okay, you can now figure out the industry term, which Ed also refers to in the title of his article. These should be run upon boot-up and when disconnected from the Internet. The sure solution is doing a clean re-installation of everything, but I'm going to guess that most people reading this (or in the world) won't do that. So, this is the next best things.
Of course, the best thing would have been for me not to click on anything to load unless I had chosen to get it first. Trust your instincts, Luke...
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor