It was the scariest thing I’d seen in a long, long while. Sunday evening, and I’d just fired up Firefox; instead of the familiar home page, the screen became black for a few seconds, turned blue, and then displayed a long message to the effect that my PC was infected with a virus, it had converted my anti-virus software (which it named correctly) to malware, and that it would delete all my files. Launching Google Chrome brought up the same message.
It was my 12-year-old son who had told me something weird had happened to Firefox, and after dinner he offered to try and fix it. I wondered how he could do anything, but let him try anyway. In the meantime, I’d used my netbook to Google the message that the virus displayed, but had drawn a blank. That was strange! And my son came down to say that the virus had now removed the Control Panel and Run options from the Start menu. Later that night I found that those options had indeed disappeared.
Fortunately, I discovered that Firefox would load in its safe mode. I downloaded various virus and malware scanners and checked out my system. None of them could find anything wrong. It was mildly reassuring that I was able to run these programs in the first place; the virus I’d got a couple of years ago had not allowed that. In fact, then I’d had to format my PC and reinstall all my programs and restore my data from backups, a painful and time-consuming process that was staring me in the face now. I decided to call my PC technician the next day. I psychologically prepared myself for a format of the PC.
On the way to school in the auto the next morning, I was discussing the virus with my son. I’d found out that Firefox was executing a batch file upon loading. I’d peeked into the batch file, and all it contained were commands to display the text I’d read earlier and then scroll through C: drive. There was no indication of malicious activity. My files were intact. This was looking like a prank, not a virus. Probably my son had unknowingly downloaded prankware that had hijacked the browsers. My son was intrigued by my theory.
It then occurred to me that it was my son who’d discovered the virus, and it was he who’d offered to try and remove it. On a hunch, I asked him: “Son, was it you who played this prank?”
To my surprise, he answered yes. He’d wanted to impress me with his technical capability. He’d simply pointed the Firefox icon to the batch file he’d created.
I then gave him a piece of my mind. I told him I had been seriously worried, and this was not a good joke. What if I’d played this prank on his PC? And the best way to impress me with technical capability was to master a programming language and show me what could be done with it.
I think he saw my point. He apologized and promised never to do it again.
I briefly wondered if this is how virus writers of the world get started. I’ll be watching him like a hawk for signs of this kind of sneaky behavior.