The home PCs that run Windows always seem to be attracting the wrong kind of attention.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Mamas, don't let your PCs grow up to be zombies

September 14, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   Just like Waylon and Willie did with their hit song 30 years ago, I'm aiming my plea at all the moms out there. Mamas, don't let your PCs grow up to be zombies.
   Pleading with guys isn't working. Dads are too macho to care much about this. Kids are tuned out anyway.
   So it's clear who's got to take charge here. Are you ready, ladies?
   No geek stuff. None of that "Click here and press a key there" stuff. That's not why I'm asking you for help.
   Let me explain.
   Home computers have a problem. The home PCs that run Windows -- that's most of them -- are like those goofy kids you went to school with. You know, the ones that might as well have walked around wearing a sign on their backs that said "KICK ME." They always seemed to be attracting the wrong kind of attention.
   These Windows PCs attract the wrong kind of bad guys. This might sound like a movie you saw at the drive-in, but everything I'm telling you is real. Everything is true. And it's scary.
   The bad guys I'm talking about send out robotic little programs that steal their way into computers. These robots, or "bots," can do just about anything with a Windows PC. Usually, they do three things. They steal credit card data and send it back to the bad guys, they set up the infected PC to relay spam in the middle of the night, and they get these infected PCs to act together in a huge ad-hoc network. The network can then be used to attack government computers and knock them out.
   These robotic programs are even able to turn a Windows PC on when it's totally off. (This ability is built into Windows PCs. As long as the computer is plugged in, a timer inside the PC can be activated to turn it on at any time.)
   Computers that are infected this way behave like a creature from a bad movie. They respond to someone else's bidding. Appropriately enough, robot-infected PCs are called zombies.
   The networks these bots create are called botnets. The numbers seem impossible to believe, but they're true: A single botnet can have hundreds of thousands of computers in it, all of them hijacked to follow the orders of a bunch of bad guys out to steal your stuff and do nasty things with your Windows PC.
   This is hard to believe, right? And I'm not even exaggerating a tiny bit.
   Experts who try to track botnet activity say millions of Windows computers worldwide have been taken over this way. Antivirus software sometimes does a good job blocking botnet infections, but many Windows users either don't use antivirus software or don't keep it up to date -- and if only one-third of all Windows PCs are unprotected, botnets still have millions of PCs they can infect. (About 900 million Windows PCs are in use worldwide.)
   So here's the conundrum, ladies. There's no way at all that you're going to get your husbands, brothers and sons to pay more attention to antivirus software. Guys are that way. They "know" that what they're doing is right, even when they don't know. Isn't that the truth? And besides, if they were going to do something, they'd have done it already.
   But you can do something more effective and save a little money along the way. You see, the bots that turn regular Windows PCs into zombies can't do anything if the computer is unplugged. Or -- better yet -- if the computer is plugged into a power strip that's turned off.
   Very simply, the bots can't turn a Windows PC on by remote control if that PC isn't getting any power.
   So here's what I'd like you to do if you don't want your PCs to grow up to be zombies. Go to Walmart or any other big discounter and get a switchable power strip for every Windows PC in the home. Unplug each PC from the wall and plug it into a power strip. Make sure everybody knows the drill -- turn the power strip on when it's time to use the computer, and turn the power strip off when it's time to power down.
   Here's the best part. You can tell them they're saving electricity. Saving money. Don't tell them they're battling zombies. There are some things guys never have to know.