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Interesting Observations

Today I was tasked with fixing my buddy Matt’s computer. Matt is what you would call the average computer user. He uses his computer to surf the web, communicate via email, chat with friends, play some games, listen to music, watch some movies (probably pr0n), and get infected with viruses.

After working on this computer today, I got really irritated with Windows XP, to the point that I was disgusted at just how poor not only the system security was, but also the anti-virus software that it was using. Because of this, I needed to take a break, head up to the local Best Buy, and choke the first salesman who offered me a Windows computer. OK, wasn’t going to choke, but I wanted to talk to their tech support crowd and see what kind of work was the most popular there.

After speaking with the Geek Squad, which only one or two really qualifiedto be considered a geek, I now know I am not the only one who was irritated. Both of the gentleman I spoke with were Apple users, and were disgusted with Windows. Don’t blame them after today. We spoke for a bit and then I asked, what type of tech support is your biggest ticket. Oddly enough, removing viruses from Windows PCs, and fixing Windows PCs that are thrashed by your so-called “average users.” That is more virus fixing than home entertainment installations, which really threw me. Both of them said that with the quality of a lot of today’s hardware, they rarely get in a system where something has gone wrong with the hardware, and if they do, it is typically a power supply.

After that, I went to the Apple store just to see what kind of support they did. After talking to some of the techs and salesman there, who are all super knowledgeable and pretty damn cool, I was amazed that on average, they only get about 1 issue a week that isn’t hardware related. Just 1, that is pretty damn good. It was there that one of the techs said that Linux was by far greater than Microsoft Windows could ever be. I like to think the same.

A lot of people say that Linux isn’t for “mom or dad, or the average user,” and after having worked on this Windows computer today, I would have to say the same about Windows. Most people go to the local shop and purchase their computer because it was cheap. They are told they get this and that, one of those being virus protection, so they think they are golden. Little do they know that in 90 days, more than likely this virus protection is mute, just like my buddy Matt found out, and go about their business until a week or so goes by and their computer is pure garbage.

Within just a few days of the virus protection expiring on this computer, the hhard drive went from 160GB of free space to less than 300 MB, to the point that once you logged in, it would pop up errors and all 400+ Trojans took off. YES! 400+ Trojans. I plugged the PC into my network to try and get to a site but shortly after my ISP totally blocked my Internet connection. There was no connection in my house, I reset the modem and routers, unplugging the infected system first, and everything was back to normal. OK, so I wasn’t going to be able to fix Windows from within Windows, so I did what every good geek does, and whipped out the latest Knoppix CD and went to work.

Booted up Knoppix, mounted the hard drivee (sda1) with NTFS read/write support, went into the directory containing a bunch of fluff and deleted it. From there I did a simple apt-get install f-prot, updated the virus definitions, and went to town on checking out the drive. 400+ viruses, all pretty muchTrojanss of some sort, weredisinfected or deleted. But it didn’t get all of them, but it did get me to the point to where I could now boot into Windows, plug back in the network, and get to downloading some enamelware fighting software. 6+ hours into this adventure, and it still isn’t done. Right now eScan has found 8 more Trojans and 13 errors (01:27:21 so far, and still not done).

Now I know you Windows people who are above average, ya, those of you who say “I don’t have virus software and I have never gotten a virus.” Your trusty little operating system isn’t any better than Linux, actually I would have to say it is much worse than Linux for “average,” or your mom and pop users. Everything this person does can be done with Linux, and if he would use Linux, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. I switched my brother over to Kubuntu about 3 months ago, and within 3 months the only time he called was when he tried to get his Nokia phone working with Kubuntu. It didn’t work all that great and at the same time it didn’t work any better in Windows.

The results are in, and after today, I am sorry, Windows loses. This is absolutely ridiculous considering the amount of work I had to put in just to get the computer Trojan free. So from this point on, I could never in my life recommend Windows for a user that doesn’t know any better. The security is poor, but the support for fighting viruses and figuring out what every app running is doing is great. I think this will definitely be my last “will you fix my Windows” support ever.

Just so everyone knows, you can totally alleviate all of your viruses in Windows in less than 30 minutes with a Kubuntu Live CD. Boot up the CD, and when you get to the desktop, simply click the install button and follow the instructions. Yes, within 30 minutes your virus head aches will be gone, and that crap called Windows will be gone as well.

/me goes for the largest bottle of Tequila in the house

PS: Posted this with KBlogger for KDE 4. Pretty impressive little application, just a bit buggy still though. The spell checking is a little off, so if you notice some weird words, it wasn’t my fault this time 🙂

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  • jldugger

    Please don’t throw stones, because the world is a small place and if you throw hard enough it might end up going all the way around and hitting your own house. Are you trying to suggest that Ubuntu is somehow bulletproof? As far as I’m concerned, the only reason Ubuntu hasn’t been significantly hit is because it’s still too small a user base to bother with.

    Hell, KDE just underwent a massive rewrite, and you expect me to believe that all the fundamental problems have been checked? Ubuntu developers have a strong lesson to learn from Windows, but it’s deeper than Bug Number 1 or “Windows Sucks”.

  • Nothing is obviously bullet proof. The reason Ubuntu hasn’t been hit is the same reason that Linux hasn’t been hit. Linux has been around now for what 15+ years and yet there hasn’t been a major hit. Forget the hit, Microsoft is an easy target obviously. I mean come on, that many damn viruses? That is ridiculous, so much so to the point where the system is inoperable. The reason Windows gets hit isn’t because of its large user base either, it is because it is a very easy target. The threat of viruses and spyware are more than enough to make Windows easy to hit.

    As for KDE, there are still fundamental problems, it is a brand new code base, whereas Windows is far from new. Bug #1 is honestly nothing more than a joke, the same type of joke that both Apple and Microsoft have going on within their departments. But I am sticking to the “Windows Sucks” though, sorry if it offends you. After today, there isn’t anything that could make me change my mind, it was just nuts and so uncalled for.

  • Oh, and just so you know, I am a somewhat happy Windows user, Vista at that. I use it for a couple of things that I can’t do on Linux (CAD and Call of Duty 4) 🙂

    I have never had a virus in my life, why? Because I am not that “average user.” I guess I should clarify, for the average/new/mom/pop user who doesn’t have a clue, Windows sucks!

  • I like your points. The fact that savvy users can often run windows care-free without protection software while a typical user ends up with a trashed installation is a reminder of the fact that Windows was designed for business environments (with an IT staff to back it up), not the home.

    It’s easy to say Windows NT 3.1 onward should have been built with what we know today in mind, but I don’t think that is really fair. Home (and even Business) computing was a different world in 1992). But its a legacy path that the OS devs have accepted until Windows Vista. Unfortunately the new concepts clash with the legacy paradigms. It would be great if everyone running Windows could start over and use only well written, modern API-using, UAC friendly, programs but Its going to be a long road.

    Linux isn’t without its growing pains with AppArmor, PolicyKit, etc either.

  • Cleaning Trojans and fixing a infected system can be a pain in the a** on windows. More than 6 hours of work, like you said… That’s why most of windows users wipe the hard drive clean and reinstall windows as soon as anything gets wrong. A bit brutal, but doesn’t take more than 2 or 3 hours…

  • jldugger

    I’m sorry, but while there are major vulnerabilities in Windows, the truth is somewhat fuzzier. We get rooted and compromised servers all the time. Moreover, nothing stops users from installing things they think are neat. Have we learned nothing from Automatix? As bad as that was, it could have been far worse.

    Major hit? This’ll probably come down to a definitions game, but there have been proof of concept viruses release. If you’re claiming the mere UNIX security model is solid, the morris worm would be the canonical counter example. More recently, XML-RPC hit a ton of people. Wikipedia has an entire list of known Linux virii.

    My fundamental point is that Ubuntu doesn’t do nearly enough to defend itself when it gets to the position Microsoft is in. Anti-virus simply can’t keep up, and this crazy notion that you can recover from the live system is absurd. I’ve seen people in #debian moan about being rooted and watching them squirm as intelligent people inform them that “removing the rootkit” and “quarantining the virus” don’t work, and reinstallation is their only option.

    It’s a hell of a lot easier to call Windows crap than it is to actually do something better. Even Coverty and correctness proofs can’t stop users from installing spyware bundled with a Free Ubuntu Screensavers .deb. =(

  • Mark

    > I could never in my life recommend Windows for a user that doesn’t know any better.
    > I think this will definitely be my last “will you fix my Windows” support ever.

    You are SO right! I refuse to repair Windows-PCs, because in my opinion this hinders the Linux adoption.
    And by the way – with the so-called antivirus, antispyware etc. tools you will never ever bring the Windows-PC into its previous condition. In less than two weeks this PC is garbage again. So you’re wasting your time! The only solution is a clean reinstall and in this case why not try (K)Ubuntu. YAY!

  • Ya, I finally gave up and did exactly that, I was able to save My Documents fortunately with Knoppix. I just went ahead and wiped it and reinstalled. Left a huge “README FIRST” on the desktop that tells him to install the new Antivirus stuff with the key he received and to do it ASAP. I said if he calls me again because he didn’t follow instructions, his Harley is mine! 🙂

    @jldugger: Oh, I know people who have been root kitted in the past, and I know it isn’t fun. I know of the many proof of concept viruses that wikipedia has. One of our programming courses was to evaluate the viruses and see if they are still valid to this day. I don’t think many really were though. We shall see what the future holds though.

  • Bane

    The worst thing is, how do you know that you cleaned out all the trojans? I’m far from an expert but, as I see it, there only needs to be one trojan/virus/worm left and a week later he has all his buddies around again. As a madman once said: “paranoia is nothing but total awareness”.
    As for this *nix/windows inherent security debate, I’m more on the side to think that they are all equally vulnerable, even if it’s not exactly true. What is true, in any case, is that there are uninformed/stupid/lazy users and malicious crackers/virus writers and that’s not likely to change any time soon. We can lament that MS could have done more to stop the expansion of malware industry but that would gain us nothing. We should find a way to make ordinary users more paranoid.

  • Jonas

    @jldugger,

    While you raise some interesting and valid points, I do not think the comparison with Automatix (and similar solutions) is valid.

    Automatix can (could? Haven’t used it in ages and it has been rendered irrelevant by now anyway) indeed hose your system, but that was an oversight of those that implemented it. Worms, trojans, and what not are designed to do damage (depending on your definition of damage, granted).

    As far as the differences between Linux and Windows go, I think the major point is not market penetration. No, I think it boils down to the fact that Microsoft has in the past (and still to some degree) used the “If there is a clash between security and user-friendliness, the latter wins” motto when they’ve designed their software. That motto and “methodology” has given nasty software an unparallelled free reign, compared to just about everything else.

    Does that mean Linux is invulnerable? No, of course not. There are always a vulnerability here and there that could be exploited, especially when the software is brand new and hasn’t had the time to be time-tested (i.e. KDE 4).

    All in all, I think we Linux users are better off when it comes to viruses and the like even if it probably is technically possible to write a nasty one. The risk of worms and trojans starting to spread using .debs is probably low though even if Linux would overtake Windows in popularity (which I personally do not want it to do – I don’t want ANY OS to have that kind of near-monopoly). Why? Because most software is installed through the repos, and I somehow find it very hard to believe that a deb with an included trojan would be able to sneak into the Ubuntu or Debian repos as just two examples. If nothing else because the source code need to be included and the trojan can not be hidden away in the same manner as it can in Windows.

    True, debs found elsewhere could theoretically include a virus of some sort but I’m not sure how common it is for people to install programs in that manner. I know I don’t bother most of the time with the only exception being some proprietary apps I use, otherwise I only use what’s available in the Debian Etch repos.

    Still, it is impossible to always be 100 % secure for all potential threats. Now and in the future. I do think, however, that Linux is safer when it comes to viruses of all kinds than Windows could ever hope to be.

  • fa

    I think you’re a little over the top here. I got Windows pcs (behind dsl routers) at my parents and at my uncle, and they haven’t gotten a virus since the late 90s. Although I switched my parents to Firefox, even my uncle’s system is still 100% clear even with MSIE.
    Not speaking of the windows (gaming) boxes in my own flat, also never had anything.

    So I still think that the “average” user doesn’t in general has a major problem with windows.
    a) help about stuff is equally available on the web
    b) some people need Windows. plain and simple. Don’t say that OpenOffice is on par with MSOffice – it’s not and then there are a ton of other software you can’t get for Linux. Just thinking of various (satellite) map programs, games etc. Ofc there is Google Earth, but not everyone has broadband (or even internet access).

    It all comes down to the right tool for the right job. No way I would use Linux on my home desktop, there’s just some stuff I can’t have 100% with WINE – and I’m no MS fanboy, I’ve been using Linux for over nine years. But before Ubuntu it wasn’t a choice at all for the desktop, now it’s on my (work) laptop – but not for the home box.

  • Tom

    I use nothing but linux at home, but I’d be crazy to think that trojan problems would not follow your “average users” where ever they went.

    Case in point:

    Next time you get an “update your ebay password” or “Bank of America account update” email, do a wget -S on the ip address of the link they want you to follow. I almost guarantee it is a Linux box running apache. And the problem will be that apache hasn’t been updated for a year, and some autohack took over the site. That’s a virus, not even a user assisted trojan.

    Why wouldn’t your average user click on a “sexylady.jpg.sh” or “banksite.com.bin” they receive in their inbox?

  • Jonas

    @Tom,

    At the risk of sounding pedantic, I would argue that your example is an example of a hacked server and nothing else.

    But yes, your average user may be tempted to click on whatever attachment come their way. However, it would be a rather brain-dead e-mail client or alternatively a brain-dead distro if it would allow potentially dangerous attachments to run straight from the client – especially since Linux isn’t fooled by just altering the file extension. The user may be, but the software isn’t – at least not in examples such as yours. Linux knows perfectly well that it’s a shell-script and not a picture.

    Besides, you explicitly need to give the script in question execute rights so even if someone would click on Greatpic.jpg.sh, the user would most likely get to see the code of the script in a text-viewer instead of the code trying to well, do it’s thing.

    There are several barriers to exploits that often works in Windows (not always, since most Windows e-mail programs are smarter than Outlook in that regard).

  • @fa: If I was over the top, then why would this type of issue be the #1 ticket for support at the local shop? If I was over the top, why are there at least a 1,000 different spyware, virus, and malware tools strictly for Windows? As for machines being behind a home router, that isn’t saying much anymore, all that means is it is much harder for stuff to come through the ports, and routers don’t stop music, movie, and other downloads from occurring. Like you, my parents are in the same situation, and never have gotten a virus, at least one that I can remember, but my parents aren’t your “average user” who typically has no clue.

    “We can lament that MS could have done more to stop the expansion of malware industry but that would gain us nothing.”

    @Bane: I can honestly say I never thought about this, but it is true unfortunately.

    Don’t get me wrong, I know Microsoft has done a lot for the IT world and I am thankful that they did what they did, even some of their dirty, unfair tricks to rule the world. They had the guts to try and innovate in the 90s and early 2000s. If it wasn’t for their advancement who knows where the computer world would be today.

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  • xabbott

    Everyone will be helping / taking advantage of all these average users no matter what OS is installed. Ubuntu forums are full of people who blindly add repos, execute commands from strangers, and download/install packages to try out. I recently posted something similar to this on another blog. These are, as someone else pointed out, the same people that fall for phising.

    Desktop Linux and Mac aren’t big enough targets yet. When and if they ever reach that point we’ll see the same results but in new ways.

    As far the security of packages from a distro itself. It works now because the scale is small (per distro) and offers little to no commerical applications. I could only imagine the kind of anti-trust talk that would happen if MS switched to central repo.

    The only real way a computer/os will protect the user 100% is very strong control. Authorized apps, authorized content download locations, etc. Similar to the current model many cell phones use.

    I of course would never like this kind of system..

  • I hate windows so so very much. I use Linux for everything except for when I play my videogames, most of which nowadays can be found on a console.

    Still, a few bring me back to this platform when I need it. I find it to be barely tolerable if I turn off all the “effects”, but still one of the most frustrating things, other than completely lacking a decent terminal, is that I can’t alt-click drag windows around to move and resize them. It’s such a simple window management task, that I often get lost and frustrated with windows installs to the point where, if I am forced to use windows even to play games, there’s usually a nice little debian VM in the background.

    Also, I’m going to add to this with another feel-good story of having successfully switched my folks to Ubuntu for a solid comfortability test. So far it’s been a few weeks without any calls, but then again, maybe they *arent* using it.

  • @fa:

    I have to agree with nixternal about the #1 support issue at the local store. I’ve worked professionally in IT since 2000, and our time used to be much more dedicated to setting up networks and dealing with some bugs in programs that were causing users trouble. Now a lot more of our time and energy is spent doing the following:

    – Cleaning up after a malware infection (which is far worse than cleaning up after a typical virus infection)
    – Mitigating malware infections

    With the second, it is always an uphill battle. We constantly get complaints that so-and-so cannot install an application on their computer and therefore we are hindering their productivity to even accusations that we are working to promote our own job security by requiring them to call us to install said applications. We refuse to give blanket adminstrator access for the users to their machines, and instead only do so when some (retarded) program requires that we do so (*cough* Quickbooks, for example) or when management has been thoroughly warned about the consequences of fulfilling the request.

    There is a cultural problem here that Microsoft has not figured out a real solution to. The average American does not want to have to think about what they’re doing; he simply wants the computer to do what he wants without any effort and without any thought required. Thought and minimal effort is considered bad these days (just watch TV anytime, you’ll get the drift). Windows has always shipped with the assumption that the average home user is always going to be using administrator rights at all times. It would be a big travesty if, in order to install something, the average user had to log off and log back in. Now they tried to fix this with the UAC in Vista, but I am skeptical about how well this will really fix the problem. It does the opposite – bombards the user too often with warnings that the user gets desensitized.

    At least in a more unixy environment you are less likely to hose an entire system if you install or run a malicious program, and this is a difference in engineering.

    And on a note about the parents never having gotten infected: A truly good virus or malware application can hide itself so well you won’t notice it. Also, even a former employee of mine always said the same thing about his own machine. He ran his machine at home (or maybe it was at a different job he was working at) without an antivirus, and eventually he did get infected. Basically, and especially on a Windows machine of any type, running on a network without any antivirus protection is like going to a brothel and not using a condom… It’s not a question of if you’re going to get a virus, it is just a matter of when.

  • jim

    I love “windows sucks” posts because it’s so true and everyone is so busy trying to be polite that the message isn’t getting across to “average users”. However, I’m really sick of the” Linux doesn’t get viruses because it isn’t popular enough” line of reasoning. True, if 90% of computer users used Linux I know you would see more phishing attempts aimed at Linux users but you would not see a marked increase in viruses. On most Linux boxes a virus won’t run and if it can’t run it can’t spread. You have to chmod a download to make it run so it would be hard to trick someone into doing that. The most likely path to Linux infection would be to get people to add bogus repos. Bogus web sites “might” be able to inject something but it would only go to user space. It still isn’t going to infect the system (unless you run as root). So you basically need a dumb user to infect Linux. With windows, you just need a user. I have been running Ubuntu for 2 years now without any anti-malware software and I have no indication of any infections. Granted, in my 10 years with windows I never had a real virus either (anti-virus caught the few I had) but I used to get a lot of spyware…until I switched to Firefox. That alone should speak volumes.

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