BULLDOGS AND ZOMBIES

Bullguard Bulldog

To protect your computer against spyware and viruses, we have often recommended the free versions of Avast, AVG and Anti-Malware. They were good when they were good, but times have gotten tougher.

Free programs catch 40 to 60 percent of known viruses, but new ones come out every day. A group of Russian malware writers reportedly is able to split a million dollars a month for putting viruses on your computer. Some steal identities and others spam people with ridiculous product offers. Worst of all, the malware writers send their viruses and spam out from tens of thousands often millions, of so-called “Zombie” computers.

Just what is a Zombie computer? Typically, it’s a computer that has a Zombie virus, which sends copies of itself to that person’s email and contact lists. It may also be attached to a video or text that goes out to your Facebook account. Everyone who downloads that video or comment or checks off a link for additional information, then also gets the virus.

What does it do? It allows a remote controller to send messages to all the computers that were on your mail lists, and then those computers transmit it to the ones on their list, and the whole thing becomes a cascade.

Why bother? Aha! You become a member of the Zombie army. Your computer and the thousands and perhaps millions that have been infected through the cascade of links can be used to send ads for worthless products, solicit contributions to fake charities, request help for some emergency relief, etc. The Zombies can also be used to generate so-called “Denial of Service” (DoS) attacks, the kind you sometimes read about in the newspapers. In this kind of attack, millions of computers are directed to log onto the same web site simultaneously. The resultant crush overloads their systems and forces a shutdown. This has happened to Google, AOL, large retail store chains, banks and government agencies.

How do you know you’re a Zombie? Difficult. If the computer seems much slower than it used to, or slows down markedly for short periods, that’s considered a likely, but not perfect, sign. Don’t panic, millions of others have the same problem. Sometimes your friends let you know, when they tell you they just got a reply from a company or charity they never heard of. Another sign is getting requests for information from banks you’ve never used. It’s estimated that 70 percent of all the spam on the Internet is sent by Zombies. The good news is that’s usually the only problem.

How can you clear out the Zombie? Again: difficult. The solutions we’ve searched for and asked about, nearly always come down to a complete factory restore. Remember that system disk that came with the computer? If you still have it that can restore your system to its original condition. It’s pretty drastic, though, because all the new programs you’ve accumulated will be wiped out. Faced with this prospect, you might elect to shrug and live with the Zombie.

We learned about this stuff from the makers of Bullguard, a British anti-virus program we use. It’s done a great job of protecting us against all kinds of virus attacks. For extra spyware protection we got the paid version of Anti-Malware from MalwareBytes.org, but so far, it hasn’t been able to find anything  — Bullguard had already removed whatever spyware was there.

One of the things we like about Bullguard is that it fixes things without nagging. Bullguard 12, the latest version, is even simpler to use than the last one and includes online backup. But be careful with its “PC Tuneup” feature. It’s supposed to scan and fix broken registry items, but this can sometimes mess up your computer. After we ran it just now, our printer stopped working. We used the “system restore” time travel machine to go back a few hours, when everything was working all right. (To do a system restore, click “start,” “all programs,” then “accessories,” “system tools” and “system restore.”)

Bullguard includes a “vulnerability scanner.” This prompts you to update old programs, like Adobe Reader, which are vulnerable to infection if they aren’t up to date. Bullguard 12 is available starting October 10, from Bullguard.com. The price is $60 for three users and comes with five gigabytes of online backup.

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