Monday, July 18, 2005
In The Throwing Out The Baby With The Bathwater Department
Sunday's New York Times (registration required) had a very interesting article about spyware-infected PCs being thrown out instead of being repaired. The introduction to the article provides much fodder for comment
On a recent Sunday morning when Lew Tucker's Dell desktop computer was overrun by spyware and adware - stealth software that delivers intrusive advertising messages and even gathers data from the user's machine - he did not simply get rid of the offending programs. He threw out the whole computer.
Mr. Tucker, an Internet industry executive who holds a Ph.D. in computer science, decided that rather than take the time to remove the offending software, he would spend $400 on a new machine. He is not alone in his surrender in the face of growing legions of digital pests, not only adware and spyware but computer viruses and other Internet-borne infections as well. Many PC owners are simply replacing embattled machines rather than fixing them.
"I was spending time every week trying to keep the machine free of viruses and worms," said Mr. Tucker, a vice president of Salesforce.com, a Web services firm based here. "I was losing the battle. It was cheaper and faster to go to the store and buy a low-end PC."
My initial reaction was sheer amazement that the holder of a Ph.D. in computer science would not invest any effort in trying to salvage or repair the machine. Admittedly the spyware wars are getting much nastier, where the active countermeasures against removal have been accepted and implemented by the more "mainstream" malware providers (e.g. Direct Revenue's Aurora, a nasty piece of work that is the constant topic of discussion on spyware removal forums), however, isn't it odd that someone who should be providing thought leadership toward academic and commercial computing wouldn't wish to even take the simple expedient of formatting his hard drive and reinstalling his operating system? Surely as an Internet executive he has access to some resource in his company capable of performing that relatively simple task, or his academic connections could certainly find him an intern or student willing to wipe and restore the machine. The idea of throwing a perfectly good computer out merely because of a spyware infestation is so astonishingly wasteful (perhaps some student or deserving organization could use it?) that it boggles the mind.
Although many organizations (especially in financial services) will swap out a PC at the first sign of this kind of trouble, the infected PC will quickly be wiped and reimaged and put back into service as soon as it's needed by another user. It's somewhat instructive that a computer science Ph.D. could not think of taking the simple precaution of having something like Norton Ghost at the ready to reinstall his operating system in the event of a massive meltdown, nor is there any mention of his data protection strategy. There are many, many good and dedicated volunteers on various anti-spyware forums that give many hours of their time to eradicating these pests from strangers' computers, and yet I find it interesting that someone such as the gentleman mentioned in the article would not even expend the effort to keep his own system free of malware much less even try to seek out a solution to his issues and share that experience such that hopefully another person will not be as impacted as he was.
Then again, consider the environmental impact. Lord knows I'm not a tree-hugger, but I really am appalled that someone would simply throw out a computer, fill up landfills, and not consider his actions - it's obvious that more people are taking this course of action, and it says something rather sad about our society's need for immediate gratification and not taking the long-term view.