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It has now been about 5 years since I have installed Windows 7 in this PC, and thanks to Kaspersky Anti-virus + Comodo Firewall, I had everything working well and dandy... until today. After years of attempted hacker attacks and Trojan invasions, security has been compromised and things started to malfunction.
Although Kaspersky AV and Comodo Firewall hate each other's guts, they make a formidable pair to keep web attacks outside my workstation. I find it incredible that it took 5 years for external attacks to finally bring Win7 down over here. The most common case in the past was to get infected with viruses at least once or twice a year. There was a case in the past when a virus infected Norton AV and used it to spread itself in the background, waging havoc in small doses until Windows would eventually not boot anymore.
Website attacks have become cleverer too. Phishing attacks can now reproduce known sites, like banks and even the DA login page, with astonishing attention to even the smallest details, fooling people into giving away their passwords and personal information with ease these days. Fake emails from people you know can be fabricated by sniffing email traffic and stealing addresses and names that make sense to you, which are then used against you.
Fake websites create very convincing PC maintenance programs that promise to clean your registry and remove malware, while in reality they are used to do exactly the opposite. More recently I have found this "free" program called "regClean Pro" from a company called "Pareto Logic" that is advertised to make miracles in repairing your computer and removing malware, even claiming to be a "Microsoft Partner" all over the website and products.
To my surprise, they have countless forged websites containing fake reviews from fake users. Whenever you seek for "Windows 7 error 1406", which is the error I was having, about the first ten links point to their fake sites, where miraculous fixes are described by people who have supposedly tried their program. But when I looked at more known sites like Tom's Hardware, the reviews are pretty much the opposite, where people claim Pareto Logic to actually have multiple different company names, and the same program they offer is also found with several different names - to evade getting caught with their scheme.
Large companies like Adobe, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Apple have been victims of hacker attacks this year, where they had to publicly apologize after user account information was stolen from their sites. The worst part was that this was happening much earlier than they admitted to have realized. My Adobe account was stolen twice this year, Yahoo account once, and my DA account once - all this just in 2014!
Today my Win7 has finally been successfully damaged, and I will have to re-format and reinstall everything. I started this by claiming that Kaspersky AV and Comodo Firewall do a terrific job keeping things safe, so how did it happen? Well, some programs will not install without disabling the AV and/or firewall, and that creates a window of opportunity for attacks to get through. There were also some partially successful hacker attacks over the years that started to build up and affect performance.
Performance is also something that gets affected by this. Anti-virus, anti-malware, and Firewalls create an additional layer between what you want the computer to do, and what it has to go through before it can get it done. Every file has to be examined by the AV before you can actually do anything with it, and consider the hard drive is the slowest part in a computer. Every web transfer and site loading has to be examined by both the AV and the firewall to determine if it's safe, which of course, affects internet speed.
I was still a student when I first saw a computer virus, and I remember how simple things were before them. It took a while for the entire world to understand and cope with the idea that computers were now under constant stealthy attacks, apparently for no reason. The very first viruses were created by highly talented and skilled students from respectful universities, who apparently had nothing else to do with their time. While some were just harmless, others went as far as to erase your hard drive and show a message on the screen telling you there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Make no mistake - creating a computer virus requires deep understanding of low level computing and hardware architectures. Our modern computers and operating systems have changed drastically to accommodate security and performance, but so far attacks have always been cleverer than the defenses. New attack variants are created almost every day by highly skilled people with university degrees - and apparently a lot of free time in their hands.
The culmination of these ever-evolving attacks is us being held hostage of nearly every action we do in a computer. Open an email, execute a program, or just browse the web - all these simple things can be harmful. Over here, my current combination of AV + firewall has kept my PC safe for 5 years, which can be considered a heroic survival in this jungle, but not without drawbacks.
Although Kaspersky AV has been the best solution I have tried in the last 20 years, it can often be annoying and paranoid. When I am working with computer programming, sometimes I have to make changes to the Windows Registry, and the AV occasionally confuses that with some sort of attack, and automatically undo my changes and even delete my files in the way. Sometimes I create programs that need to load other programs, and the AV tends to think that is some sort of virus, and either deletes my files right away, or put them under quarantine for further examination.
Kaspersky's "heuristic" approach tries to identify possible virus attacks that were never seen before by examining what the program is trying to do. Most other AVs simply identify viruses by their file signature, which can easily fail to identify new variants. The problem with heuristics is that there is a lot of guesswork involved, and innocent programs can get caught in the crossfire. The solution is to add programs I know are safe to the AV's ignore list, in case they get caught. Annoying, but it works.
Even though I am a quite experienced user, sometimes even I can't tell if a program is safe, and that's where danger lies. Over the years, I have occasionally made mistakes and let dangerous objects pass through security, where bit-by-bit they accumulate some damage. Sometimes it can be fixed, and sometimes only partially. As a matter of fact, it has been increasingly difficult to identify what is safe and what is not these days.
As a side note, for as long as Steve Jobs was alive, to the best of my knowledge, he has always claimed Apple computers were not affected by viruses. Although that is not true, Microsoft holds a majority of over 90% of the market, so hackers obviously aim for the biggest share where they can do more damage. As Linux grows in popularity, chances are it will also become a target of attacks as well.
Although Linux security has been known for being top-notch, it is still not popular enough to become a target, so it's still probably the safest platform out there. Even social networks such as Second Life has been victims of hacker attacks. They have found loopholes and managed to steal large amounts of virtual money from people. Nowadays, even portable Android devices are attacked by viruses, Trojan horses, and phishing, so basically everything is under attack.
So today, this accumulation of years of little mistakes has finally damaged Win7 good enough so I will have to re-format and reinstall. This is the culmination of all the hard work and determination of all these people who create computer viruses. This is why they do what they do - to damage your software good enough so it brings your computer down. In most cases, this doesn't make them any money - they are just happy to bring our computers down. In other cases they can make money by selling your personal information, or stealing your credit card and banking info.
Anyhow, I will spend the next few days rebuilding my workstation back to usable state. Reinstalling and configuring things the way I like will take good part of the time. Kudos for all the hardworking hackers - their plan is working!