Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Irresistible Cuteness of Wallpapers and Screen Savers - *sigh*

It's such a temptation when we see some of the wallpapers and screen savers that are geared for the holidays. It doesn't matter much which holiday it is... Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Independence Day... but the Christmas wallpapers and screen savers are the ones that are really, really enticing.

Normally, I can resist this sort of stuff because, like sweets, I know they aren't really good for me or my computer. But, this last Christmas season was particularly difficult. I have never seen so many tempting wallpapers and screen savers. I was passing by a colleague's desk one morning and saw that he had this really great animated Christmas wallpaper. The smoke was curling out of the chimney, snow was on the ground, and bunnies, deer and birds were frolicking in that winter wonderland. It was lovely. I expected carolers to come 'round the corner of the beautiful country home at any moment. Each time I had to pass his desk, that wallpaper called out to me. Finally, I asked my colleague where he had found his holiday wallpaper, and he gave me the address of the website. I jotted it down and decided I'd take a look at home that evening.

Well, I keep my home computers locked down pretty securely, and one of the things I use for security is the MVPS Hosts file, which keeps known bad sites from loading. When I tried to access the website in question, my Hosts file blocked it. That was a big "Ooops!" Things weren't looking too promising for my adorable holiday wallpaper at that moment.

Determined not to be so easily deterred, I decided to look around for another wallpaper site. Surely, I reasoned, there had to be a site that had wallpaper that was both adorable and safe. Right? Sure there was... I found exactly what I wanted on what looked to be a clean website, downloaded it, and then I started to install it. At that point, my trusty anti-virus, NOD32, reared up and said, "Oh, no you don't!" and promptly quarantined the installer file. Ooops! again. Two "ooops!" in one day were just too much for me. I decided I could live without the adorable holiday wallpaper. I didn't need it enough to risk infecting my computer.

The next day, I noticed that a number of people had my colleague's holiday wallpaper on their computers. Apparently, my colleague had been generous in sharing the bounty of his discovery. That was the last day before Christmas vacation. Oh well, at least by the time I returned, I reasoned, the holiday wallpaper should be long gone and I could stop obsessing about it.

I was right. The wallpaper was gone on my return. What wasn't gone were the unpleasant things that came along with the wallpaper. It seems those computers that were running the adorable holiday wallpaper were not equipped with a Hosts file nor protected by an anti-virus as strong-willed as mine. To make a long story short, for two or three days, there was a lot of computer clean-up going on.

There's a lesson here... although cuteness is often very tempting, it's important to keep in mind that cuteness may be masking something very ugly. Malware vendors discovered quite some time ago that they can get the public to click on or install just about anything as long as it's cute enough, like dancing pigs and flying monkeys. But cute just doesn't do it for me... not unless it's both clean and cute.

You can learn more about the MVPS Host file here:

Jane Edwards, MS-MVP
Consumer Security 2006 - 2011