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Today’s Techie Tuesday is brought to you by J. N. Hups.

Techie Tuesday

Edition 1, Volume 4

How S-l-o-w Can You Go? 
How to improve the speed of your PC and laptop

Part 2: Malware and Viruses: So you already have a problem. Now what?

Last week I talked about how to prevent malware (aka spyware) and viruses from getting into your computer in the first place. This week I’m touching on what to do if they’re already there. But before I do, I first need to clue you in on a few signs that will tell you whether or not your computer might be infected.

Signs of a (possibly) infected computer

  • S-l-o-w computer. A common symptom of being infected is a slow computer. By that I mean your computer is running much slower than normal. Slow computers can also be caused by a hard disk that needs defragmenting, insufficient memory (RAM), over-full Internet cache and temp folder, etc., but treating those problems will be discussed later in Part 3.
  • Programs (including Windows) shut down  or restart automatically. If programs (including Windows) show erratic behavior by shutting down or restarting for no good reason, then take heed. It’s probably a virus at work.
  • Error messages. In most cases error messages are legit. But when you get ones asking you to “click here” to access the Internet to resolve the issue or “click here” to close the error message box, you’re better off hitting CTRL + ALT + DEL and getting out of there.
  • Lack of response. Your computer freezes or seems to become unresponsive to a program or basic commands.
  • Hard drive or modem working overtime. Does your computer’s hard drive sound like it’s continually in overdrive, or is the activity light on your modem constantly lit? If so, your computer might be infected.
  • Security settings have changed. If you notice your firewall has suddenly disappeared, then there’s a good change  a nasty bug has infiltrated your machine.
  • Missing files or weird fonts. If something you worked on is no longer there, or the fonts have changed, or your file cannot be loaded because it’s “not in the correct format,”  chances are a hungry virus has taken a bite.
  • Missing hard drive. Honestly, a hard drive cannot go MIA unless you physically remove it. So if you are unable to access it or it seems to have disappeared from radar, chances are your computer is infected.
  • Strange looking desktop. A virus can cause your desktop fonts and icons to take on a strange appearance, or change the appearance of your wallpaper and mouse.
  • Unexpected messages. Another sign of infection is a pop-up message that appears out of nowhere. Understand not all pop-up messages mean your computer is infected; however, if you are not connected to the Internet and messages start popping up out of nowhere, you need to take note.
  • Unexpected changes. New toolbars, links, or favorites that you did not intentionally add to your web browser. Your home page, mouse pointer, or search program changes unexpectedly.
  • Web redirect. You type the address of a specific website into your web browser, but you are taken to a completely unrelated website.

Understand, not all the above symptoms indicate infection. Some can actually mean there are other problems with your system. However, that being said, I recommend proceeding as though it’s infected and go from there.

I think I’m infected. Now what?

First, DO NOT PANIC! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked at an infected computer only to discover its user panicked and started deleting every file under the sun. Please don’t do that! Some of those files (especially system files) are required for your machine to run.

Second, follow these steps:

If you can connect to the Internet, go to http://www.microsoft.com/security/scanner/en-us/default.aspx and download the Microsoft Safety Scanner. If you cannot connect to the Internet, follow the instructions under step #7.

  1. Open your anti-virus/anti-malware program and do a manual update. After the update has finished, run a full system scan and quarantine all infected files.
  2. Run Microsoft Safety Scanner.
  3. If this does not do the trick, then reboot in safe mode and run the scans. To get into safe mode:
    • In Windows XP, hold down the F8 key as soon as the machine reboots. If the computer starts making beeping sounds, tap the F8 key instead. In Windows Vista or Windows 7, rapidly tap the F8 key as the machine reboots.
    • Windows Advanced Options menu will appear. Choose “Safe Mode” and press your Enter key. Note: Do not choose “Safe Mode with Networking” or “Safe Mode with Command Prompt” at this point.
    • Log in with a user account that has administrator rights.
  4. After scan is complete, restart computer.
  5. If this still does not do the trick then reboot in safe mode with networking and try one or more of the free online scans:

7.  If you cannot connect to the Internet, do the following:

a. In Windows 7, click the Start button. In the search box, type run, and then, in the list of results, click Run. In Windows Vista, click the Start button, and then click Run. In Windows XP, click Start, and then click Run.

b. Copy and paste or type the following text in the Open box in the Run dialog box:

reg add “HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings” /v ProxyEnable /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f

c. Click OK.

d. Follow step “a” again, this time copy and paste or type the following text in the Open box in the Run dialog box:

reg delete “HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Internet Settings” /v ProxyServer /f

e. Click OK.

f. Restart computer.

To Remove a Virus Manually

Sometimes a virus must be removed manually. This should only be done if you have experience with the Windows registry and know how to view and delete system and program files in Windows.

First, identify the virus by name by running your anti-virus program. If you don’t have an anti-virus program or if your program doesn’t detect the virus, you might still be able to identify it by looking for clues about how it behaves. Write down the words in any messages it displays or, if you received the virus in email, write down the subject line or name of the file attached to the message. Then search an antivirus vendor’s website for references to what you wrote down to try to find the name of the virus and instructions for how to remove it.

Prevention, Prevention, Prevention!

Of course the best line of action to prevent viruses and malware is to have a full version anti-virus and/or anti-malware program running on your computer at all times. Make sure auto updates are on, and have your computer set to automatically run a short scan daily and full system scan at least once a month.

Oh, and be smart! Don’t open files or emails from people you don’t know, don’t open attachments you’re not expecting to receive, and don’t go to mass marketing websites that have give-aways, freebies, or deals too good to be true.

Next week: How S-l-o-w Can You Go? Part 3: Internet cache, temp files, download folder, recycle bin, and system updates