They're Coming to Take My Machine Away

Michael Vizard

Somewhere in the world, there is a box coming to take away my relatively new Hewlett-Packard Pavilion dv7 system.

Why this is happening, however, doesn't seem to be ascertained with any real certainty. For the past few days, the machine is operating under the impression that a Toshiba hard drive is about to fail. It's not exactly sure when this is going to happen, but it's sure that it is imminent.

Of course, that kind of message generated a call to the HP service desk. The nice folks at the HP service desk had me run a series of disk tests that at first seemed to come back negative, but sure enough then said a disk drive had failed.

IT veterans would normally chalk all this up to a bit of bad manufacturing luck. But late last night, a call came in from the folks at Armorize telling me about how malvertising was being spread via Google's Double-Click advertising distribution service. Malvertising is nothing all that new. But the fact that Google and a host of others had fallen victim to this particular variant was particularly noteworthy.

Oddly enough, Armorize CTO Wayne Huang says this particular variant of drive-by malvertising software tricks a Windows machine into thinking that a hard drive is about to fail. What else it is up to is anybody's guess. But repeated updates to the Symantec Norton security software on the machine have this far seemed to make no impression.

All of this should leave you wondering one of three things:

1) Is a large quantity of relatively new Toshiba drives actually failing? It turns out there are a handful of complaints about that very thing on a couple of PC support forums.

2) Perhaps there is nothing wrong with the drive at all, and this is just some cruel hoax being foisted on PC manufacturers and Toshiba, which may be in the process of taking back a whole lot of perfectly good systems.

3) If it is malware, how long might it be before Symantec sees enough of it to do something about it?

We're supposed to be living in an age when PC systems are easier to manage. But if you're working on a help desk right now, chances are you have no idea how to deal with this kind of issue, especially when it involves conflicting information from multiple vendors. The better part of valor is to back up the files and wipe the whole system clean.

Maybe the whole thing will magically resolve itself before that box from HP gets here. But somehow that seems doubtful. In the meantime, how often is malware at the root cause of a PC problem, and just how much does this kind of activity drive up the cost of PC support? Inquiring minds are starting to suspect that it's a lot more than any of the vendors care to admit or may even want to know.

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