Beware spyware

Two days ago, we realised our home laptop was infected with spyware. Whenever we did a Google web search, the results page titles would all be reasonable, but the actual websites returned were rubbish. The results would take you to pages full of advertising, rather than useful content. Clearly, something was very wrong.

We are running an up-to-date copy of the McAfee scanner, but it hadn’t picked up anything, and a full scan resulted in a verdict of all clear. Sorry, McAfee, you fail.

Yesterday, I downloaded Microsoft’s Windows Defender – software that is designed specifically to find this sort of thing. It didn’t find anything.

I also tried downloading Symantec’s Norton AntiBot (free for 15 day trial). It was worth the money I paid, i.e. nothing. AntiBot couldn’t find the spyware. At this point, three big guns – McAfee, Microsoft and Symantec – had completely failed.

The only other symptom with our infection was that, under Firefox, when the Google search results page was being returned, “Connecting to …” was briefly shown in the browser. Doing a search for that returned some results with titles suggesting that people at the CyberTechHelp forums had similar problems on their PCs.

The helpful support guys there recommended the free Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware software to fix it. A scan quickly found something named Trojan.Agent hiding in a fake sound driver in the c:\windows\ directory, which it then removed. Everything was back to normal!

You should never know if your anti-virus tool is any good. Ideally, you should never find yourself infected, so never find out if your tool has a weakness. Unfortunately, we did find our PC infected, so we did learn that our anti-virus tool was no good. The lesson for me is that the free tools can be superior to the big name, expensive tools. I won’t be renewing my McAfee subscription.

The cost of borrowing

Today was a very special day. Today, about a year after we first wrote the applications, we’ve finally received notice from the bank advising us that we now have the home loan we wanted.

Yes, we first met with our mortgage broker from Aussie on the 20th October 2006, and gave him the go-ahead to take out a loan for us with HomeSide (a division of NAB) on the 29th October. Everything had gone brilliantly up until then, and went disastrously from then on. In hind-sight, I’d never recommend anyone use HomeSide, and especially not when you aren’t dealing with them directly, i.e. through a broker. It has been a story of frustration and pain for us.

We’ve seen about half a dozen different loan documents, all with different mistakes in them (most were basic primary school maths mistakes). When the day of settlement came in December 2007, the lender’s solicitors demanded an additional payment or they wouldn’t settle. Then when we moved heaven and earth to make the payment, they waited a couple of hours, and demanded another payment. It was grossly unprofessional and made a stressful situation very unpleasant for us.

On the positive side, our broker from Aussie was caught up in the whole mess of the last year, and valiantly tried to fix the problem for us. In the end, we’ve managed to get a loan with a fixed rate component, using the rate that applied back in December, honouring the original deal, only nine months late.

Don’t buy from Dirty Microbe

Sadly it looks like I’ve been scammed. Back in May, I ordered a couple of t-shirts from an online T-shirt company called Dirty Microbe, but they were never shipped. At the time, I had seen their ads for a few weeks, I did some web searches to research them, and found nothing negative. In short, they seemed reputable. And when I didn’t receive anything, I told myself there must be a temporary problem. A three month temporary problem. Hmmm.

So, now I’m seeing complaints pop up around the web from others having the same problem. Looks like I’ve been had. With any luck, others will find these posts before losing their money to a t-shirt company that seems to have gone bad.