You, Robot

Asking for me by name, the caller identified herself as “Barney.” And who are you with, Barney? No one, just Barney, she replied, going silent. My assistant and right hand, a young woman who goes by the name of Seed, repeated the question just to be sure she had heard correctly and got the same response. Standoff. Faced with this act of stonewalling Seed gave up and tossed the ball into my court. Shrugging her shoulders and holding the phone toward me as though for inspection, she signaled that she needed an official ruling. Take or don’t take? When you are in business for any length of time, you become a target for all manner of operators seeking your time or money. Mostly your money. Dealing with them properly requires a certain artfulness. You could, in theory, simply tell all of them to take a flying leap. But that leaves […]

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An Open Letter to Lisa G.

Dear Lisa: I just became aware of your negative review of Computer Medic on Yelp. Thank you, I think, for your feedback. It is neither necessary nor appropriate to respond to every critique, but you have made some pretty damaging claims that more or less demand a rebuttal. This will follow shortly. In my original version of this post I referred to you by your full name. I did so in order to re-establish some balance. Perhaps I’m old school, but it just seems like there is something wrong with a system that allows people to fling hateful and destructive little verbal missiles anonymously, hence with zero personal accountability. It’s crass, rather cowardly, and absurdly unfair.  But at the urging of those whose judgement I trust, I returned you to anonymity. People, I was reminded, can be very unreasonable. Note that the vast majority of my reviews are strongly positive. […]

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City of Austin Sticks it to Small Business Again

I was sitting at my desk not too long ago, front door open to catch the breeze, when I noticed a car pull up outside, bearing the label “Corix Utility Services.” A mousy little man emerged from the car holding a leaflet. He wore a strange expression, seemed to have trouble expressing himself, and had nervous, darting eyes. I was instantly reminded of Andy Kauffman’s Foreign Man character, all weirdly inappropriate expressions and evasive manners. Foreign Man stands at full arm’s length and hands me one of those blue little hangers they leave on your door when they are about to cut off your electricity. Then he turns on his heel and departs about as fast as his skinny little legs can carry him. This kind of surprised me, because to the best of my knowledge I was current on the bill. So I went to the Austin Energy website […]

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Bad Business

Because almost everyone has a computer these days, and because almost every computer breaks sooner or later, my customers tend to be a microcosm of Austin society. I see people of every age, every race, every profession, and every income level. I also see people of every ethical disposition, including, just often enough to be considered anomalous, people who clearly have criminal intent. About three years ago Yolanda–her real name–brought me a computer that, she claimed, she had forgotten the password to.  This is actually a common issue, and normally not a cause for concern. But it can also be a red flag, for obvious reasons. So because of this I almost always politely ask the person to explain the circumstances by which they came to have this problem. And the vast majority of the time the customer tells a story that is believable enough to allay my concerns. So […]

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New Internet Scam Goes Retro

For several years now we have witnessed a parade of increasingly sophisticated scams involving various types of malicious software. In prior cases the software was typically spread anonymously, rapidly, through thousands of automated servers or through the use of suberfuge. But as the skill  and the reach of the attacks has increased, so has the sophistication of the countermeasures deployed in response. This has, of course, led the scammers to employ new approaches. The latest scam is a novel blend of old and new tactics, with a very personal touch. The newest scam is basically a confidence operation. The perpetrators initiate the con by calling the intended victim (the “mark,” in con parlance) on the phone. Claiming to work for Microsoft, the scammer informs the mark that “unusual activity” has been detected on their computers and that their personal information is at risk. They then ask the mark to allow […]

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FBI Virus Wreaking Havoc across US

The warning, delivered under an official-looking Federal Bureau of Investigation logo, goes something like this: Warning: Your PC is blocked for one of the reasons specified below. You have been violating Copyright and Related Rights law (Video, Music, Software) and illegally using or distributing copyright content, thus infringing Article I, Section B, Clause 8, also known as the Copyright of the Criminal Code of the United States of America. The text, which generally runs to nearly a full page, goes on to accuse the user of downloading and/or distributing illegal pornography, distributing malware, or other such abuses and specifies legal penalties including fines or imprisonment that apply. Scary stuff, made all the more compelling because, in many cases, the user has recently been on a porn or torrent site. Then comes the punchline: To unlock your computer, you must pay the fine through Moneypak of [$100, $200, $500, depending on […]

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The Good and the Bad of Customer Service

In this business you often have to deal with the customer service departments of hardware and software manufacturers. The experience can be easy and pleasant, frustrating and difficult to the point of enraging, or anything in between. After a while you get a pretty good idea of what kind of company you are dealing with based on their customer service. Following are two examples that illustrate how customer service ought to work, and how it ought not. First, the good example. I recently had to order a recovery CD for a customer’s Lenovo laptop. I went to the Lenovo website and easily located a number for customer service. Called the number and with two keystrokes was talking with a live, native English-speaking representative. I explained what I needed, they forwarded me once to another rep who gathered some information, then forwarded me one more time, where I confirmed the information […]

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On the Care and Feeding of Digital Devices

A woman came into the shop the other day, obviously frustrated, even upset. She had two laptop computers that weren’t working. Both were older machines. One simply would not start, and the other had, apparently, a broken DC connector (the device that carries power into the laptop from an AC adapter.) One computer appeared to have a failed mainboard, making it non-repairable at a reasonable price. The other computer was marginal because of the likely hefty labor cost to fix. I agreed to keep both machines and use them as a credit for a replacement laptop. The lady was complaining bitterly about the computer with the failed mainboard, claiming that it had been trouble from the very beginning. I was a little surprised, being familiar with that particular model and knowing that it had a pretty good reputation for reliability. Well, I thought, these things happen. The customer settled on […]

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Security 2010 Continues to Wreak Havoc

Since January, the Internet has been bombarded with the latest iteration of the Security 2010 scareware, with fresh outbreaks coming every few days. This blog has written previously about  it. This malware is the latest generation of a family of rogue software known by many names going back to at least 2006. The basic MO remains the same: On startup an infected computer’s desktop is taken over by a legitimate-looking program that seems to be finding all manner of malware. As this is unfolding, the software also declares that the computer has been hacked and that the user’s identity is at risk of being stolen, among other messages. The software almost completely monopolizes the system, essentially making it unusable. The hook comes when the program informs you that to get rid of the problem, all you have to do is to register this trial version. Simply click on this link […]

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Missed Callings

The phone message, left by by an obviously irritated male caller, was brief and to the point: “The only way to get through to you is to send a (bleeping) message because you’re never around to answer the (bleeping) phone. Well forget it–I’m going to take my business somewhere else.” The tone of voice was borderline hostile with hints of insulting. I had heard the call when it came in, on a Saturday about lunchtime, but had chosen not to answer because the special ring identified it as anonymous. It was an easy call (no pun intended). At Computer Medic we generally don’t answer unknown or anonymous calls for all the usual reasons. It’s policy. We are hardly alone in this.  It is, in fact,  a very common (and common-sense) policy. Apparently, this fellow had called previously, although he had never bothered to leave a message or a callback number.  […]

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New Twist in Security 2010 Outbreak

Lately, we’ve been seeing a great deal of the Security 2010 malware, the subject of an earlier post. It comes in a number of different flavors but is, so far, removable without major disruption in most cases. It continues to surprise, though, with its clever little wrinkles. We recently encountered two separate cases of Security 2010 that were, apparently, successfully removed. Yet the users continued to experience frequent browser redirects and tainted search results. Exhaustive examinations of each machine revealed no suspicious executables. Yet in monitoring the IP traffic,  we could see the computers consistently connecting to an address in Eastern Europe immediately before each redirect. How this was happening was a mystery. On a hunch I checked some settings and solved the mystery. The solution actually turned out to be simple. The malware had manually reset DNS primary and secondary values to the aforementioned Eastern European address. DNS stands […]

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A Matter of Personal Responsibility

A few days ago I received a phone call from a young man who said that his Mac laptop was damaged and could I possibly fix it. I said, yes, probably, but needed to know a bit more about the problem before committing. It turns out that he had carelessly dropped the laptop from a height, severely damaging the case. He said it ran, sort of, but clearly had some problems. He wanted me to replace the parts bearing obvious damage so that he could take it back to Apple and, claiming ignorance, have it fixed under warranty. Now I’m no saint, but I know a bright ethical line when I see one. This was no more a warranty issue than if the young man had worked over his laptop with a ballpeen hammer. I was genuinely offended that he had tried to recruit me into what was, in effect, […]

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Major Malware Outbreak

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a major outbreak of a type of malware known commonly as Security 2010. In our experience, the speed of this outbreak’s spread and it’s tremendous reach are unprecedented. For maximum impact, the authors of this pestware have been releasing updated versions every few days to stay ahead of the common database-driven anti-malware programs. This is the work of highly skilled, well-funded actors. The authors of Security 2010 have managed to infiltrate large numbers of legitimate, heavily visited websites with their infectious mother-ship software. Simply visiting a compromised website is often enough to deliver the malware. In other cases the user will receive an official-looking message stating that spyware has been detected, and that the user should download software to remove it. Following the attached link delivers the malware to the unsuspecting user. Infected machines will display an legitimate-looking program that runs on […]

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