Jumpshot Q&A -- The automated tool that unleashes minions to fix your PC problems

Being a tech-savvy Windows user can be both a blessing and a curse. Yes, you can fix whatever software issues arise on your own, without calling for help when you need it the most but, at the same time, friends, family, coworkers, neighbors or even people that you don't even know directly ask you to "come over" to mend their "broken" PC. And, there is a very good chance that no compensation is involved for all those hours spent in front of someone else's computer (hence why some of us tell the other person we're busy for the whole year, and always working or on vacation -- I'm exaggerating, but you get the picture).

Jumpshot is a company that promises to fix this perennial problem for both sides, through an automated tool which is designed to be used by tech-savvy users and beginners alike. How? Well, I chatted with the company's CTO and co-founder Pedram Amini to find out how it works, what it can do for you and, most importantly, whether it can solve the "tech support" issue that users have been dealing with since malware (or grime, as Jumpshot likes to call it) first hit Windows PCs.

BN: What can you tell me about Jumpshot? How did you get started?

PA: My co-founder, Dave, and I had been working together in the security industry for almost a decade. Like most tech savvy people we frequently found ourselves playing IT consultant for friends and family. Exhausted with losing hours of holiday time resolving PC frustrations, we set out to automate all of the things we typically do... in 2010, we started Jumpshot.

Our goal with Jumpshot was to fully automate the removal and repair of all the typical PC headaches which frequently lead users to simply purchasing a new PC or switching over to a Mac. This includes viruses, spyware, bloatware, or grime as we refer to it all, that accumulates over time. It also includes the junk that comes pre-packaged with every new PC. We spent two years building a powerful solution, then wrapped it all up in an elegant and unique interface easy enough for grandma to use.

We worked with a top notch local design firm in Austin that helped us build our brand and the Jumpshot character set, who we call "minions". The response to our minions has been extremely positive. We launched our idea on Kickstarter in July of 2012 with an initial funding goal of $25,000. We were overwhelmed to have met that goal in two days, and at the end of the campaign, we had raised over $160,000 from supporters all around the world. As a thank you for helping to support us, we gave out USB drives in the mold of our minions. Thanks in part to this support, we launched Jumpshot to the world in May of 2013 and have been building momentum ever since.

BN: What's the purpose of Jumpshot? To who is it addressed to?

PA: Jumpshot is addressed to both the users who need help removing grime from their PC's, and to the tech savvy users who help them. We designed Jumpshot to empower users. Here a couple of common situations we think Jumpshot is perfect for:

  • You purchase a brand new Windows computer and want to get rid of the annoying pre-packaged junk software that came with it.
  • Your Anti-Virus has failed to remove a virus and nothing seems to be able to get rid of it.
  • Your PC performs sluggishly in comparison to friends and co-workers with similar computers.
  • You want some insights on the health of your computer hardware and network connectivity.
  • You're a savvy technogeek who gets called by friends and family with PC problems and need something simple to empower Grammie with.

BN: Can you tell me how Jumpshot works?

PA: The main premise behind the functionality of Jumpshot is that we are "sedating" the PC prior to doing any work. Technically what this means is that we are turning Windows off and booting off of a custom Linux-based OS. This allows our software to run without interference from any viruses etc. If your infected PC has lost Internet access for example, Jumpshot will still be able to connect from this sedated state.

There are two options for getting the PC sedated. I'll start with the less common method which is to boot directly from a Jumpshot USB or CD. In some cases, such as when you're infected with ransomware, this is going to be the only way to take back control of your PC. The more common method is to start the sedation process from our Windows app (winapp). Whether you plug in a Jumpshot USB while Windows is running, or download and launch our winapp from jumpshot.com, you're presented with a simple window with a large primary button to start the sedation process. Behind the scenes this works with a patent-pending one-time boot modification.

Once sedated the user is asked to login and start the scan, which can take anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours, depending on the system. During this time the user can browse the web through our secure browser, or as we recommend, take a break from the computer. There are no options to check, no decisions to make. You start the scan, we'll take care of the rest. The minions each perform their specialty autonomously and give you a report at the end. Sir Jeffrey checks the health of your hard drives and batteries. Nikita cleans up your web browser (currently IE only, Firefox and Chrome support are right around the corner). Torque will tweak common Windows settings for security and performance. Beef will toggle settings in Adobe and Java to improve security posture. Kobayashi kills malicious software... every minion has a specialty.

The minions are supported by our cloud infrastructure, which we call "the brain". The software that empowers each Jumpshot scan runs partially on the PC and partially in the cloud. We use a combination of white lists, black lists, heuristics, statistical analysis, signatures, sandboxing, and emulation to detect and remove malicious software. One of our users said it better than I ever could: "This program is like a Komodo dragon dressed up like a teddy bear". We built on Amazon for scalability in handling bursts of users and ability to spontaneously dedicate new hardware for behind the scenes processing.

BN: What sort of malware can Jumpshot remove?

PA: We can remove all kinds of malware. Browser hijacking, desktop hijacking, fake anti-virus, botnet infections, key loggers, adware, etc. We can remove all the same malware that anti-virus engines try to block and even some that they can't because we have the edge of running "out of band", in the sedated state. The most deeply rooted infections today are known as bootkits. A re-emergence really of an older infection mechanism that hooks into your PC at a very early stage, before Windows loads, and therefore can bypass all the typical Windows security and verification features. We currently handle this via a minion in training named Recon. We hope to release him in full autonomous mode to all our users in the near future. He'll pop-up on our website with a dossier like all the other minions when the time comes.

BN: What's the difference between the download and USB drives that you offer? (Pricing, functionality, etc.)

PA: There are no technical differences between the software that runs on the USB and the download. The Jumpshot software operates exactly the same regardless of which character you choose (or if you choose to go straight to the software). It's just a matter of aesthetic preference. Our winapp has the ability to create a Jumpshot USB or CD from blank medium as well. In addition to my minion USB (Kobayashi is my favorite), I personally carry Jumpshot on my car keychain for example.

BN: What gave you the idea of minions?

PA: Along the same line of thought as automating what we typically do for friends and family, we also wanted to automate the communication. The typical user doesn't care about or even understand the concept of registry keys, persistence hooks, master boot records, etc. So we sat down with our design firm and really wanted to "break the paradigm" so to speak on the user experience. When we came up with the idea of the minions, everyone reacted positively with smiles and laughs. We thought it was a winner and ran with it.

BN: Why would someone choose Jumpshot over a free tool? What are the Jumpshot perks over similar solutions?

PA: The immediate answer is that most users won't be able to navigate the free tool set, whereas Jumpshot is entirely automated. Digging deeper, this is a question we get a lot from our technical users. There are many free tools that can be bundled together into a custom bootable environment. If you have the time and interest to do that, it's certainly plausible to do so. That's what both Dave and I did for years. Jumpshot has replaced all that for us and is easy to pass along to relatives. No learning curve. The free tools also rely on free sources of information. We're providing enterprise grade analytics and feeds for the benefit of all our customers, data sources that otherwise would not be accessible to them.

We put together this infographic that touches on the comparison of free tools or stacking paid tools against Jumpshot.

BN: What kind of new features are you working on?

PA: We're constantly pushing new code to the brain and to the minions. I don't think a single week has gone by without a new code push. In the near term we're hoping to unveil Recon, our bootkit removal minion as well as give Nikita the ability to apply her skills to Firefox and Chrome. Looking deeper into the crystal ball we have grand aspirations for constructing an equally elegant UI for our technical users. This will allow them to peer under the hood and individually research, review, explore, and modify decisions. It is our hope that this will become the de-facto tool of choice for technical users looking to dig deep and manually discover infections. Eventually we'd love for Jumpshot to become a platform, with an API, for others to build tools on top of.

BN: Is your tool suitable for enterprise/business use? Are there any bulk discounts, if that's the case.

PA: The decisions the minions make are tailored for the home users but should be sufficient for business desktop use. Jumpshot is definitely not suited for server use. We're aggressive about turning off unnecessary features for home users. If after running Jumpshot, something isn't working quite right, there is an option to undo all the changes in one quick swoop. We encourage our users to explore their desktop after returning to Windows to get a feel for everything. We have a tiered enterprise structure, anyone interested can write to us.

BN: Do you have any plans for a Linux or OS X cleaning tool? There were a couple of major piece of malware affecting the two platforms, lately.

PA: Our software is architected in a manner that we can add more supported platforms. That said, we'll likely be focusing on Windows for the foreseeable future as that is where grime is most dominant. As global usage of Mac OS grows, the malware problem will grow with it. We've had many users ask for a Mac version, after we've achieved our goals on Windows we will likely shift our focus to expanding laterally.

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