SANDY BERGER: Be on Alert for Foreign-Made, Often Cheap Computer Gadgets
The real cost of cheap electronics is being revealed as experts find that some of our most widely used gadgets are coming with unwanted parasites.
The Associated Press reviewed several cases in which equipment made in China came pre-loaded with viruses. All of these devices -- including Apple iPods, digital picture frames sold by Target, Sam's Club and Best Buy, and TomTom navigation equipment -- are attached to the computer for transferring and/or updating information.
Unless the computer is protected by good anti-virus software, the virus can be spread to the computer when the gadget is plugged into the USB port.
The AP story reports that Jerry Askew, a Los Angeles computer consultant, bought a Chinese-manufactured Uniek digital picture frame at Target. Upon hooking it up to his computer, he found that it was infested with four viruses, including one that steals passwords.
We do not know how many infected devices have been sold. However, when you consider how many products are turned out by China's mass manufacturing, the number of infected products could be huge.
As more and more companies turn to Chinese factories to keep prices low, the American public is becoming aware that Chinese standards do not necessarily meet American's expectations, needs or wants. Last year's tainted dog food, and harmful lead-painted toys, may just be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to depending on China's quality control.
Investigators seem to think that the factory-installed viruses found so far were caused by lax security and infected testing computers. While they do not think that these viruses were purposely aimed at infecting computers, how long will it take for hackers to figure out that this is an easy way to steal passwords and take control of computers?
Organized hacking in Chinese factories is certainly not out of the question. Who will start taking responsibility for the quality and safety of goods imported from China?
While many parents are currently boycotting toys made in China, this type of action would be very difficult for gadget purchasers. The number of gadgets and components manufactured in China may make it almost impossible to boycott them.
Two things are for sure:
Products "Made in America" are looking better and better.
Remember that you need to watch out for yourself when others are not. Make sure that you have a good anti-virus program running on your computer at all times.
Sandy Berger welcomes all of your comments and questions on today's column. Please post them on the Compu-Kiss Message Board at www.compukiss.com/happycomputing.
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