Battling the beast within – malware attacks my computer

I don’t know how I managed to get infected with malware, let alone this little beast (details about Antivirus 2008).

Some crazy things it managed to do to Windows XP:

1) Open itself up with a window that looked like a cross between a Microsoft product and Spybot Search and Destroy (a program I use to manage malware infections). It appeared to “scan” the hard drive for “infections” and proceeded to find 800+ infections (yeah right).

2) Remain open/active despite repeated efforts to close

3) Add gross desktop shortcut icons to porn-themed “applications” and then warn me about the “legal” implications of having them on my hard drive. God, I’d hate to be a n00b right about now.

4) Use the balloon window to inform me about “viruses found” (ala above screenshot)

5) Literally take over IE, in that any time I’d open it, I was confronted with several pop-ups prompting me to purchase “Antivirus 2008” to save my computer (blackmail anyone?)

6) Changed the desktop background to a warning message that says “Virus Detected!”. I liked my desktop background. This is pissing me off.

7) DISABLED THE TASK MANAGER! Why in god’s name would windows permit such an action, but somehow CTL-ALT-DEL resulted in a window with a disabled Task Manager button.

8) Unlink Explorer action: Somehow they managed to prevent Explorer from handling the directories – a double-click on the C drive resulted in a “How would you like to open this file?” dialog. For a freakin directory. And of course you can’t assign “always open this with explorer”. So each time I wanted to open a new window I’d have to call Explorer directly and type in the location. Sigh. This is not looking good.

9) Disable the Tools->Folder Options->View preferences screen in that “Show Hidden Files and Folders” was permanently disabled and unchangable. Presumably to hide its internals.

10) It changed the freakin “AM/PM” somewhere in the Windows language files to read “VIRUS DETECTED!!!”, so the taskbar time read “3:30 VIRUS DETECTED!!!”, and all the timestamps on my files as well. WTF? Why on earth can an application in XP possibly do this?

11) Bonus Round! It was horrible, but I had tools dammit! I managed to open Spybot, did a scan, and removed some items it found. Some couldn’t be removed, so it restarted to run on startup. The startup scan was interrupted by a Blue Screen of Death. Holy shit! We’re losing the battle, men! I’m beginning to think this sucker will force me to reinstall. So I forced the machine to hard-restart.

On next boot, good ol Spybot started scanning again, and sent me to a BSOD again. Crap! However, this time I waited a few minutes (to pout a little I guess) and the BSOD disappeared. WTF?? The freakin malware/virus actually EMULATED A BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH in an attempt to force me to restart in the middle of the scan (presumably by some background process that invokes the faux BSOD to get me to hard-reset the computer and therefore stop any scan that was delaying boot-up!!)


I wish I could say that I was successful in killing off this monster. I was eventually able to cut off its head by removing its main DLLs (thanks to Spybot and a tool called Unlocker), but I couldn’t seem to undo some of the underlying damage it did (like the annoying AM/PM change). So I just did what we’ve all become too accustomed to doing: reinstall XP.

To this day I can’t figure out how I got infected. I’m usually very careful about these things, don’t open attachments, and keep up to date on my Spybot checks. The only oddity was that I had JUST uninstalled “Avast! Antivirus”, a free antivirus program. Though the timing was suspicious, I hesitate to implicate them, as no one else has mentioned this and they come highly recommended, but I don’t plan on using that product again, just in case! A more likely case was that it was on my memory card when I returned from Peru, because I’d used it in an internet cafe there.

But I ask again: How did this little program possibly obtain enough permissions to make such fundamental and extreme changes to the OS and settings? Yeah, I’m planning on moving on to OS X someday soon to avoid this chaos in the future. But aren’t we all?


Synergy: An alternative to KVM switches for multiple computers

I have three monitors and two computers: one laptop, one desktop. The desktop is powering one of the monitors, and the laptop is powering the other two.

I used to use a simple USB KVM switch to move keyboard and mouse control between the computers, but then, almost randomly, I came across Synergy. It seamlessly connects two computers such that you can share a keyboard and mouse without a KVM switch.

The experience is fantastic. My two computers behave like they were one – as I move the mouse to the left of my middle monitor, the mouse and keyboard hop to the other computer as if they were the same machine. Better still, I’m using two different operating systems (windows on the laptop and fedora core 7 on the desktop).

It’s a little tricky to set up but there are tutorials on the web to lead you through it. I highly recommend this method of sharing a keyboard and monitor with two computers.


Trying out the new Likebetter embeddable

This won’t work out very well yet:


Funny iTunes error message

I know Apple thinks of me as just another fish in the sea when they send me this error message when I try to log into iTunes:


View my photo channel

A photo channel is a votable stream of images – they can have themes, and report back results. View my Likebetter photo channel now


Assess your personality

This is a really well done personality assestment site. They even have the same concept as the psychprint, though theirs is better developed than ours is right now. Here’s my report:


apply for ycombinator

the deadline for this winter’s program is October 18th. It really helped out my own project, and was a really well-organized and fun program. I can’t believe it’s almost over!

Musings launched

the likebetter game has launched for good. click on the pretty photos, and tell me what you think! thanks!


what is a psychprint

a psychprint is like a fingerprint for your personality. it depicts in an icon the personality traits that make you, you. it’s just one of the crazy new features we’ve rolled out on in the past few days before launch. come try it out.

this is my psychprint, it shows you my personality as it stands right now. as I use likebetter, it will grow and change as it learns more about me:

what’s your psychprint?


random acts of advertising

my cofounder and partner in crime, Brian, mentioned something interesting while we were discussing the story about the starbucks customer (below). starbucks could have made the whole thing up for the purposes of viral marketing.

think about it, what if they gave one out of a thousand drinks for free, and told the customer it was the car in front of them who paid? two things would happen: they would make a lot of customers happy for very little money, and people would start noticing a trend.

provided starbucks could keep it under wraps, this would undoubtedly make news – “starbucks customers a friendly lot!” the headlines would exclaim. In fact, I think running this campaign for just one or two weeks, before anyone had a chance to catch on to the ulterior underpinnings, would be enough to tip a fad, and regular customers would start paying for the people in back of them.

pretty soon, the movement would have wings and everyone would think of starbucks customers are these amazing people who do wonderful things (and in fact, they would be). heck, people would then attribute it to the company itself, and starbucks would shine their tarnished image.

Whoa, I just gave myself chills. I think I need to package this up and mail it to them or something.