The Real Malware Cleanup Problem Is at Home

Opinion: What Microsoft said about re-imaging instead of cleaning up malware was obvious, but it leaves the real problem unaddressed: What about home and small business users?

Can you believe that a Microsoft representative actually said were getting to the point where its not worth cleaning up malware-infected systems? The hand-wringing was so extreme the whole industry has blisters! Surely this shows how far weve sunk, or its an admission of failure by Microsoft or some such dramatic thing, right?

Personally, I saw it as an acknowledgement of what reasonable people have known for years. Cleaning up malware has always been a major feature of anti-virus software, but its become increasingly undesirable (Ill stop short of "useless"). There are better options, as Mike Danseglio, a program manager in Microsofts Security Solutions group, said. The solutions are out there for enterprises. The goal should be to make them reasonably available to consumers and small businesses.

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Even the anti-virus guys agree with Danseglio, at least in private. I asked a couple of anti-virus industry people and they said that of course its more desirable to re-image a system. The advantages are huge.

  • Theres a very high likelihood of success with re-imaging. There are theoretical ways for an attack to slip past a re-imaging, but theyre highly unlikely and most of them, such as EFI-based attacks, can be dealt with through thorough procedure.
  • There are many good systems available at an enterprise level for managing system images, including tools that come with Windows. If you manage them correctly, recovering a system image can be relatively quick and easy.
  • Good management practices dictate a system in which all data and user customizations are stored in the profile on the server. Being able to swap in a new image with ease is one of the benefits of following this good practice.
  • System cleanups can have adverse consequences, breaking applications in some cases. Even where they appear to succeed, the cleaned-up system can not be trusted as it was before infection.
  • Cleanup can be a long and complicated process, often involving much expert time. Re-imaging, when set up properly, can be a relatively automatic procedure performed without any complicated decision making.

Im sure most enterprises dont actually live in the neat-and-clean world of best-practices that Ive described, but they know its what they should strive for. They also know, or should know, that cleanup is a sub-optimal process.

Next page: Home users have it tough.