Sunday, December 18, 2011

But it Was Only One Time....

So on Monday I headed over to the Barnes and Noble across the street, laptop bag in hand, to do some writing with Tara, a woman I met through NaNoWriMo this year. I get a lot of writing done at the bookstore, probably because I don't trust coffee shop internet -- it tends to have all the security of a dessicated sponge -- so I have far fewer distractions while I'm there. Good deal, right?

Except Monday was the day I was driving the bus over at my publisher's blog. I figured one time wouldn't hurt [eyeroll] so when I got there, before getting down to the fiction writing, I wrote up my evening blog post, then went online to post it, and stayed online to watch for comments.

Bad move.

I was online there in the B&N cafe for probably an hour and a quarter, in there somewhere, before I packed it in and went home. All seemed well, but under cover of that seemingly normal activity, malware was oozing through my system, getting a good grip before it showed itself.

All drama aside, I'm assuming something infected on to my system, then received some sort of activation order a couple of days later. Or heck, maybe it did take that long to get ready to pounce, I don't know. But a couple of days after, I started hearing weird noises, like the sounds the system makes when it finishes something, or runs into a problem. Except there was nothing going on, just the noise.

Then on Thursday night, I was reading e-mail (an advertising thing from an e-book store) and suddenly a new window popped up, something about men's health. I was all, WTF? :/ and some perky voice started babbling. I closed the new window, but the voice kept going. So I figured the window had been one thing, but the soundtrack was just a coincidental thing, from some auto-play ad on another page. So I scrolled up and down the ad-mail I was looking at, hunting for the video, but there was nothing -- just the usual static ads for books. I clicked on the other windows that'd been minimized and checked all of them too, but nothing. The soundtrack was just babbling on. So I figured, well damn, I'll just wait till it's done. Except it didn't finish. :( It just kept babbling on and on, like a freaking infomercial or something. I had to shut down my browser to get rid of the blathering commercial soundtrack.

I restarted the computer just for the heck of it, opened the browsers again, and was going along reading the usual stuff, and every now and then it'd pop up an extra window. I killed most of them before the graphics all loaded, and I never got another ghost soundtrack, but something was clearly borked. I ran the security program I had on there, AVG, but it didn't turn up much. I even updated Firefox -- and I hate updating stuff, because things I like and am used to always vanish or break -- and restarted again. I was still getting periodic windows popping up on their own.

I told my husband, who's a computer geek at work and handles stuff like this professionally, about it when he got up, and after he got to work he poked around and sent me links to some other free security programs. I downloaded Panda, which looked good and Jim said was well thought of, and ran that. It hopped online to update its virus database thing, and... froze. [headdesk] Even CTRL-ALT-DEL didn't work; I had to do a crash-shutdown with the power button. Started up again, started Panda again, and it started running. About 45 minutes later, it was 12% through and had found like 78 infected files. By then it was way past my bedtime, so I figured it wouldn't need me for a while, and I left it running while I went to bed.

Jim got out the flamethrower when he got home and fiddled with it for a while. He said something in there wouldn't let him load the page for Microsoft updates, so clearly whatever was in there was programmed to defend itself. (And that was after he'd run Panda through it for a second time.) He deleted Firefox all together (I'd saved my bookmarks before I went to bed, on his advice) and downloaded a fresh copy. The bottom line, though, is that I don't trust my laptop anymore; if there's something in there that can prevent my updating my OS, then it's got to be deep and a fresh browser -- even switching to another browser -- likely wouldn't get rid of it. Add to that the fact that it's six years old and the touchpad/mouse button thing is starting to wear out in a weird way which seems to be partially hardware and partially software, and that its weight -- while giving it a full size keyboard and a nice big screen -- is harder on my joints than is used to be, and I had to agree it's time to abandon this sinking ship.

I backed up my writing before I went to the coffee shop on Monday, and I did another backup of everything I want to save off the old laptop (onto a different flash drive, so in case the infection snuck aboard, I'll have a clean copy of my writing at least) and have (mostly) switched over to another, newer and lighter, laptop we bought when we moved, so we'd both have something to work on simultaneously while we were living in hotels and most of our stuff was in storage.

I don't like it. It has Windows 7, which I've been resisting (I never had Vista, either; I was still using XP and perfectly satisfied with it) but am now forced to deal with. I'm also fully updated on Firefox. Both have points of suckitude that are annoying me, but upgrading always sucks so I've been grumpily aware that it was coming. At least my bookmarks transferred over just fine. The plus side is that I'd been "temporarily" using IE as my second browser ever since the whole edema thing forced me onto the laptop most of the time, and I didn't have any significant bookmarks there. I've been planning to try Chrome for a while, and that should be a relatively painless transition; at least I don't have to worry about it eating my bookmarks.

The smaller laptop is smaller, with a keyboard that I keep wanting to put my hands down on one key to the right of where they should be. The screen is smaller, which is very annoying, and it also has a very narrow optimal viewing angle, so it goes dark and fuzzy if you're not Right There in front of it. And its touchpad is less sensitive than the old one, which gets frustrating.

It's not infected, though, so I'm dealing. And I'm not logging in from Barnes and Noble again, like, ever. :(

Anyway. Don't use coffee shop wireless.

Angie, who's going to be grumpy for a while


Charles Gramlich said...

Scary. I never knew that could happen. Hope you get things straightened up.

Angie said...

Charles -- check out this article on Firesheep. I've never been a coffee shop sort of person, but I read about this when it first popped up in the news a couple of months ago, so when I started going to B&N during NaNo, I kept my browsers shut down. Should've kept it that way.

The thing is, Firesheep couldn't have done what was done to my laptop. But Firesheep exploits some serious security holes, and it's only one cracker-tool that everyone knows about. I'd be willing to bet cookies that whoever borked my laptop was using some other system that takes advantage of the same security holes, or similar. Maybe someone figured out how to follow the internet connection back up into the computer, rather than just being able to take over online accounts you're currently using while you're on the public wifi.

I don't know, but obviously someone is doing something, and Firesheep just proves one aspect of what can be done. :/


Kathryn Scannell said...

My cube-neighbor at work is our office IT guru, and spent a week this summer at a computer security bootcamp. He came back with some amazing and frightening things, and the conclusion that the only really secure computer is one that's turned off. Nothing is hacker-proof - you just have to try to make yourself not too soft a target. And have backups early and often. Also it's a good idea to have a suite of anti-virus tools on a CD, so if something goes wrong you can boot in non-networked safe mode and run them from the CD.

It may not even have been anything on your system. Someone might have hacked the router

Angie said...

Kathryn -- computers that aren't networked are also safe; there just aren't many of them. [wry smile]

At the time my laptop started going weird on me, I was on our home wireless. I would think that if it was the router that was hacked, all our home computers would've been having similar problems. [crossed fingers]

I'm on a different laptop now -- exercising my cussing skills as I try to figure out updated versions of the software I was used to (don't suppose you know how to turn off auto-spellcheck in Windows 07? :P ) -- so at this point I'm actually hoping it was just my old laptop that was infected. If someone cracked our firewall at home, which is pretty good since my husband is a professional IT guru, then we're seriously hosed. :/


Rick said...

Angie, you are seriously keeping me from ever taking a computer to a coffee shop, Angie. Normally I read real books there, which seems safer, unless the pages have been dusted by nanobots which are as bad as viruses!

Angie said...

Rick -- go ahead and take your computer, just don't use their wireless. [wry smile]


Suzan Harden said...

Eek! I liked it so much better when you had to pay for Wi-Fi at B&N. It kept me off. *grin*

I'm sorry you had to upgrade to 7, Angie. I'm like you, clinging to my XP for as long as possible because I know where everything is located.

Angie said...

Suzan -- where stuff is located, how it works, what it can and can't do.... [sigh] My current quest is to find something that works like the Recent Documents list. [mutter] I used that all the time and it seems to be gone. If it's still there, they're hiding it really well. :/

Did you read the bit above in my comment to Charles about Firesheep? Definitely check out that article if you haven't heard about it before. I probably should've blogged about it, but I was buried in writing in mid-October.


Jessica Freely said...

That sucks. So sorry it happened to you.

I got rear-ended coming home from a Barnes & Noble last week. Hmm...

Angie said...

Jessica -- maybe there's a curse on B&N...? [wry smile]


Suzan Harden said...

Yes, ma'am, I read about Firesheep. It makes me even more glad that I don't have a FB account.

The only place I ever used public access was B&N, and the first time I tried, I had a worm attack. I definitely learned my lesson!

Angie said...

Suzan -- I'm not on Facebook either, and yeah, this is just another reason. :/

This was the first time I'd been on B&N's wireless for more than the few minutes it took me to sign in, update my NaNo numbers and shut it right back down again. From now on I think I can do without public wireless. [nod]

It really sucks that such a convenient and free perk has become so dangerous. There are jerks everywhere, though. :(