Going Viral

Dennis relaxing at the cottage after a hard day

I agree with John McAfee. Actually, let me qualify that. I do not agree with John McAfee that Russian roulette is fun for the whole family. I do not agree that poisoning your neighbour’s dogs is a appropriate way to handle a property line dispute. And, I do not agree with evading taxes. Avoiding, maybe, but not evading. But there is one area where Mr. McAfee and I do have a meeting of the minds. McAfee anti-virus software is a bloated scourge that takes computers hostage.

As you may know, John McAfee launched his eponymous company in 1987 to sell his invention of the first commercial anti-virus product. However, as opposed to his association with criminal activities, he is completely blameless for the rogue path his software progeny has taken, as he sold his stake in the company in 1994, and McAfee was eventually acquired by Intel in 2010, where it still resides today. 

My new laptop came preloaded with a “trial” version of McAfee. During the first month, it took pride in informing me of all the selfless acts it had performed to protect the integrity of my computer. “Malware intercepted! Unsafe website! Trojan horse!” However, when I looked more closely, what it actually said was “Malware (would have been) intercepted (if there had, in fact, been malware). This might be an unsafe website. Some of them are, you know.”

While minding my own business, scrolling up and down between news stories, everything would inexplicably slow to a stall, then a blood red pop-up window would rise up from the right-hand corner of the screen like an emissary from the un-dead. “McAfee is speeding up your app,” it said helpfully. As the end of the free month approached, a pop-up would appear in the middle of my screen about every fifteen minutes, obscuring the bulk of the real estate, to remind me our good times were about to end unless I forked over $49.95. It was impossible to close this window until McAfee determined sufficient time had passed to ensure I had read and understood the dire implications of ignoring the message.

Then it appeared to go dormant for a while, but it was only preparing for the next onslaught. This consisted of a window that covered the entire screen. It said, “McAfee is having difficulty activating your subscription! Please click here immediately.” There was also a “close” button on the bottom. The close button did nothing. The link the evil software wanted me to click pulsed enticingly. It did not fool me. I knew what do. I rebooted my computer.

Mr. McAfee was very vocal about urging consumers to uninstall McAfee anti-virus. Unfortunately, he never told us how to get rid of it and now we’ll never know. He died last week in a Spanish jail under circumstances some call suspicious. He was probably smothered by a pop-up window that slithered under the door. I extend my sincere condolences to all forty-seven of his children.

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