This is very nearly the column that never happened. For 12 hours today, I have been wrestling with a laptop that stubbornly refused to do more than display its opening Windows desktop.
It all started at around seven o’clock this morning when I checked my e-mail. There was a security alert waving dramatically in the centre of my screen.
“That’s interesting”, I thought, “I’ll see what it is.”
I pointed the cursor at “More Details” and that spelled the end of the well-behaved, post Windows Service Pack (2) machine I was telling you about two weeks ago. My screen froze and the only means of restarting the machine beyond this point was to press the reset button.
Such is the vine-like action of anti-virus software, that it wraps itself around every hidden corner of the Windows Operating System. Without it, life on the internet, without Service Pack (2) will not last much longer than a quarter of an hour, roughly the amount of time it takes one of thousands of worms racing around the web to find an unprotected PC and drill a hole in it.
When anti-virus software fails, however, the results can appear near catastrophic to the owner. I’m not referring to the familiar consequences of an exploit finding its way on to your PC but what can happen when the program corrupts or is damaged, which can stop a PC dead in the water. I have now had four failures on different PCs in two years and on two separate occasions a total reinstallation of Windows was required.
In a way, we are all victims. Long-suffering victims of viruses, the security industry and the continued appeal of Windows. If you think about it, as each year passes, we have to invest more time, money and effort in protecting our PCs and, much like the evolution of tanks in the Second World War, the information security industry offers us heavier, armour plated vehicles with bigger guns to help fight this evolutionary arms race.
The information security industry spends huge amounts of money telling business and the public that the risk is under control - or will be if you buy its software - but my own experience tells me that keeping Windows safe is rather less about smooth, dovetailed software security solutions and far more likely to resemble hammering square pegs into round holes.
After all, if it takes 56 minutes to remove a single well-know anti-virus product, with expert help, it speaks volumes about the problems of trying to protect the Windows environment in the first place.
I have now reached the point where I am going to have to throw myself on Microsoft’s mercy, because the damage to my laptop is beyond my ability to fix it without a new installation of the Operating System.
In reality, I am between a rock and a hard place, in that the anti-virus supplier concedes that its software is the most likely cause of the havoc but only a Microsoft support expert is likely to be able to return the machine to a working state now that the last shreds of AV software have been manually removed from the system.
In most cases, security software works seamlessly and invisibly, even if it does have a habit of slowing down one’s system as it regularly checks the user’s files. My experience however, does suggest that the race to keep Windows virus free is also leading to the delivery of “badly-behaved” software, a twisting, crisis management answer to a constantly evolving problem and not the smoothly streamlined solution the industry wants us to believe it is.
Setting the world to rights with the collected thoughts and opinions of leading industry analyst Dr Simon Moores of Zentelligence.
Acting globally, Zentelligence (Research) advises governments, suppliers, business and the media on the evolution, application and delivery of leading-edge technologies, and specialises in the areas of e-government and information security.
For further information on Zentelligence and its research, presentation and analyst services, visit www.zentelligence.com