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November 23rd, 2016

Malware Found on New Windows Computers (Not What You Think)

An investigative team for a Seattle television station discovered that finding malware on clean computers to be an everyday practice at Office Depot.

computer doctor

It appears that the office supply giant, Office Depot, isn’t adverse to tarnishing its reputation if there’s a buck or two to be made in the process.

KIRO TV in Seattle reported on November 15 that it had taken brand new out-of-the-box computers that had never been connected to the Internet to Office Depot stores, both in Washington state and Portland, Oregon, and told the repair desk staff that “it’s running a little slow.” In four out of six cases they were told the computer was infected with viruses and would require an up to $180 fix.

After declining the “fix,” they took the “virus laden” machines to a Seattle security outfit, IOActive, which reexamined the machines. “We found no symptoms of malware when we operated them,” an employee with the firm, Will Longman, said. “Nor did we find any actual malware.”

In the two cases where undercover reporters weren’t told that their computers showed evidence of an infection, they were advised to install antivirus software. In one of the two stores, a technician evidently noticed that the machine was new and told the reporter to “ignore the test results.”

Two days later KIRO’s sister station, WFXT in Boston, duplicated the test with similar results. Of the three new computers they took into Office Depot locations for testing, two were found to contain viruses and would require $149-$199 fixes to get them cleaned up, while one store told them they could find nothing wrong with the machine.

When KIRO contacted the suits with Office Depot corporate, they were given a nothing-to-see-here-move-on response.

“‘The Free Tune-up goes through 30+ variables when doing a system check,’ Julianne (Carelli) Embry wrote. ‘In addition to the basic scan, it’s also looking at virus software and definitions updates. As an example, a machine that is out of virus definitions for more than 7 days will alert.

“‘Typically we see that the customer is either not running or has failed to update their Antivirus software.'”

The way I read this, it means that if the customer hasn’t updated AV definitions in seven days they’re automatically assumed to be infected and told to cough up $150 or more.

The power of television caused all hell to break loose. On November 18, the Associated Press reported that Washington’s Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell had asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Office Depot’s practices.

That seemed to catch Office Depot’s attention. Later that same day, the company suspended its “PC Health Checks” with the announcement that “Office Depot in no way condones any of the conduct that has been alleged in the reports. We have commenced a full review of the assertions and will take appropriate action. Office Depot is committed to providing the best possible service to our customers, and we are suspending the PC tune-up services throughout our retail chain pending our review.”

Nothing was said about refunding the money pilfered from customers for unnecessary repairs, however. That remains money in the bank for the office supply chain.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t plan to be spending any money with Office Depot or its sister chain Office Max for a while. I think there should be a price paid for being a fraud.

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Christine Hall has been a journalist since 1971. In 2001, she began writing a weekly consumer computer column and started covering Linux and FOSS in 2002 after making the switch to GNU/Linux. Follow her on Twitter: @BrideOfLinux

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10 comments to Malware Found on New Windows Computers (Not What You Think)

  • Mike

    Well, they were running Windows so there was malware present…

  • tracyanne

    Mike… Indeed. 🙂

  • ponked

    There were definately virus like files on the machines. An antivirus is an automatic recommendation if the one on the machine is out of date or not a full copy. this is because windows needs an antivirus or it will become infected very quickly.

  • YO

    It might be good idea to ask for those Albanian based guys that are trained by Bobama Man…
    to help you out….
    … how I see it now, if price is right…

  • tracyanne

    >>this is because windows needs an antivirus or it will become infected very quickly.

    Well actually Windows becomes infected even with Anti Virus… Anti Virus is merely “after the fact security”, and is nothing more, according a Google Security expert, than a box ticking exercise, designed to appear as if something is being done.. in other words “Security Theatre”, which makes it possible to blame the victim, if they haven’t kept their AV up to date… and just as often even when they do.

  • Nonya

    Of course these computers had malware/spyware on them…its called Windows 10! And the only cure is wiping the hard drive and installing a real OS instead of the malware/spyware that is Windows 10!!

  • Formert Al

    @Nonya, right on, use Linux and you will be safer, although being careful never hurts 🙂

  • Worker O'depot

    To be fair, I work for said company. And this is not the policy of the shop, but there are some unscrupulous stores like the rest of the Anti-virus industry. The company NO LONGER uses the program that was being abused. I can tell you that the lions share of computers I touch I do not charge a dime to work on.

  • jymm

    I get a kick out of Office Depot. They ask me if I want a computer tune up everytime I buy somehting from them. I ask if the do Linux tubneups, the answer is a stunned look and NO we don’t. I do run Linux, but it is an easy way for Windows users to shut them down too. LOL

  • tracyanne

    We don’t have Office Depot here. But when I buy any hardware from a retail chain, the first thing I do is open the package and remove the CD/DVD that comes with it, ND Hnd it back to the sales person. There’s usually a stunned look and sometimes a question like “Don’t you want the free copy of XYZ”

    My reply is usually something like “I use Linux, I don’t need any crippled proprietary software, thank you.”