Tuesday, October 11, 2005

How long can your computer last without antivirus?

One question I usually get once I return a computer after repairing it from a virus attack is "how long before I get another virus?". Since there are so many new variants of a virus that some spyware can be considered virus-like, it is very difficult to come up with an actual time as to when you will be hit with another virus. One thing for sure, if you let your antivirus definition subscription expire, you will not be receiving any new virus definitions so it is safe to say you are more at risk, especially since you could receive a virus and not even know it since your antivirus no longer "sees" the virus.

I am currently working on a computer that I have not seen for 1 month shy of two full years. I know this because my client is quite proud to say "the computer has been working great ever since the last time you were here", which was 1 month shy of two full years! At the time, I had pretty much rebuilt the computer since it required a new motherboard/cpu, hard drive and memory. Along with the upgrades and repairs, norton systemworks was installed which includes Norton Antivirus. This means you have one full year of virus updates at which point you will be notified that your subscription is running out and it is time to renew. (At this point typically I would get the phone call/email stating it is time for the annual update and cleaning). Since it has been a year, and if everything has gone well, then wonderful, you made it another year... But two... What happens if you don't renew? Two things, first you will inevitably be warned that your antivirus subscription is coming to an end and that you should renew and once you don't do this, you will continually get the warnings and second, your computer will get infected with whatever new viruses arrive since you are no longer protected. The "autoprotect" feature of any antivirus will continue to work but it is only protecting you from the definitions it finds in its database.

At this point, don't forget about the spyware/adware issues either, since each and every client of mine has a number of icons strategically placed on their desktop that will (hopefully) be run on a daily basis.. To keep the computer free and clear from the spyware/adware threat that is constantly there when you surf the internet. Even though these programs will continue to work, they too require updating (thus the blogs stating there is a new version available), but without knowledge that you are supposed to be upgrading the spyware components how is one to know for sure? I guess a simple email or phone call to your local computer tech might be a suggestion.

The end result on this computer that has gone 11 months without any new virus protection:

17 trojan horse viruses upon the installation of new antivirus. These were viruses found running processes on the computer.
227 total viruses detected on first complete virus scan, 11 of which had to be removed manually.

Then the spyware scans were done:
on the first pass with ad-aware and spybot search and destroy, just over 500 items were found in total with some still found running processes which required the system to be rebooted and scanned on start up. An additional 27 items were found and removed.

This is pathetic. Not only that there were this many viruses found but the simple fact that the computer was still running. Bring back the old days when a virus knocked your computer for a real loop and shut you down! This computer was like a walking disease.. Walking because it still had full internet access, something the spyware trojans love since it has full reign of the computer having no antivirus to worry about.

I forgot to mention that the antivirus component of this particularly computer had been completely removed! Yes, I figure the annoying warnings got the better of my client and they decided they would simply uninstall that component. I know this because the rest of systemworks was still running. In fact they had actually started the "system monitor" in start up to, what I can only surmise as their method of knowing if everything was working correctly. What was truly funny for me was the comment that "everything has been working well as I have been running the spyware thing".. Oh, you have? Could have fooled me. When I clicked on Ad-aware it told me it had been 442 days since the last time I used it and when I opened spybot, it was still the same version that I had installed almost 2 full years ago, with many new versions available, there is just no way this program was doing any good.

Why let this happen? I guess if you "think" the computer is working fine, then why the need for any further expense... Why not wait until it has been run right in to the ground and no longer works at all.

This is certainly one way of using your computer, but if your computer is used for any sort of "work" environment where, what I would say is "anything valuable" on the computer that you really do not want to lose by the "accidental" virus, then what is it that you are thinking?

I always used the analogies a dentist might use. When I return a computer, cleaned and updated, I make a point of going over the spyware components that require DAILY use, not to mention the antivirus scans that are automatic.. So long as you leave your computer on! Yes people, your computer must be turned on in order for any sort of maintenance to get done, therefore if you are unsure (ask me), but I will tell you to leave it on and make sure you run your scans routinely. This, to me is like the dentist telling you that if you do not brush your teeth you will get require a filling and eventually if they are not looked after, the teeth will have to be pulled out! The programs are there for you to use, but it is up to the owner to make sure they get done.

The main reason I actually got the service call was because "the computer just won't go on". There was a power outage in the area, even though the computer does have a UPS, if the power outage lasts any length of time, then the computer will eventually shut down. In this case, it didn't come back on because the power supply had had enough. No wonder really, since the computer was chalked full of some serious dust and dirt. The type of "sticky dirt" that had stuck to the fins of the power supply fan and weighed it down enough to basically burn it out. As for the CPU fan...After cleaning the system, it whirred without a problem.. But knowing what this computer was put through, I would seriously be concerned with the life of the CPU fan, therefore this client will be warned of potential future fan issues. Some might say, just replace the fan, but I am a firm believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" maintenance and the preventative maintenance as being the key.

So, how long can your computer last without any sort of maintenance? I guess it all depends on where you live, whereas the amount of dust and dirt that will eventually smother your computer.. In this instance, 1 year and eleven months!

Preventative maintenance is definitely the moral of this story. Reading the TIPS from my website can certainly help, especially learning how to OPTIMIZE your computer, as well as making sure the SOFTWARE is up to date.