when laptops go viral (or, “i’ve been slimed”)

What happened over the weekend reminds me of the scene from “Ghostbusters” when Bill Murray is rolling around on the floor covered in slimy goo. You know, this one…

My laptop didn’t go viral on the Internet, it went viral because of the Internet. My laptop got slimed! It picked up some nasty coded cooties ‘out there’ in cyberspace courtesy of some free wi-fi hotspot and not just one virus/worm/Trojan, etc. – 33 of them (count ’em) to be exact. I only noticed it when whichever malware it was took out my network adapter card (most likely just switched or disabled a connection port on it) and I couldn’t connect to the Internet even via a dedicated T1 line through Ethernet cable, not just wireless.

It wasn’t a matter of not having a good anti-virus, anti-spyware program on the laptop – that would be insane – it was that something compromised the anti-virus protection I did have… or came in through the proverbial ‘back door’ on a Windows PC. Much of the malware that is out there now can specifically go after any weaknesses in anti-virus software programs… and what better place to pick it up than from free wi-fi where anything goes! (“Dogs, cats living together….”, sticking with the “Ghostbusters” theme).

Fortunately, I sort of knew what was going on and took the laptop in the next day to have the offending virus(es) removed. Have to admit though, 33 viruses was a bit of a shocker. It cost $85 to remove them all and we didn’t have to wipe the hard drive (usually recommended in this case) because I try to keep the laptop as clean as possible – with the exception of what happened this past weekend – since it’s the controlling center and main sound generator when I play live as Nights on Venus. If you use free wi-fi spots and live in the Dallas area and have noticed some ‘strange behavior’ from your laptop, I can highly recommend Laptop Care PC Repair; Mansour will fix your ailing laptop/PC right up. Stay away from Best Buy – they’ll hit you up for a standard $200 to do this. Most cities of any size have smaller computer repair shops who do good work so check them out.

I’ve presented this incident in kind of a light-hearted way, but it’s no joke – it’s a real and serious threat that seems to be escalating and something to be aware of if you use free wi-fi hotspots (they’re alternately called “honey pots”, and yes, for a reason) – it really IS a friggin’ jungle out there so be careful!

Some general precautions apply and they’re pretty obvious, such as not doing any online banking or any other financial transactions on an unsecured wireless network, or any sharing of sensitive, personal information, such as a social security number on one… the common sense stuff (a good article can be found here from the TimesNews.net). But there are some other things to remember when using free wi-fi to make surfing a little safer, for example:

  • Always using the https prefix in the address for accessing websites that use and provide end-to-end encryption
  • Don’t store your passwords or usernames on your laptop for visited websites that use them, or clear them after your browsing session using the Privacy/Security tabs in the Tools options menu of your browser, or with a PC cleanup tool like CCleaner (it’s free through FileHippo)
  • And of course, always make sure your anti-virus program is updated frequently and additionally scan for rootkits regularly.
  • Minimize downloads or file sharing unless you’re sure of the encryption on the network (WPA is best)

This is not a complete list by any means – just my own personal observations over the years and some of the precautions I normally take, and yet I still got…  ‘slimed’. If you have any precautions you usually take at open wi-fi spots, feel free to share them. Today I’ve been doing ‘damage control’ on whatever I can think of, but I don’t store much, if any, personal info on the laptop and I don’t keep important files on it – I usually use a USB flash drive for work files. Still, this was a good wake-up call and a good reminder to not take anything for granted when using a free wi-fi network.

Musically speaking: Work continues and is progressing on the final mixdowns for the NoV debut album and they should be ready to go by next week, and I am still busy rehearsing for the upcoming wedding gig coming up on 5/21, finalizing the set list.


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Author: nightsonvenus

Musician and producer with the band Nights on Venus.

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