Working on computers as much as I do and seeing how commonly they can be infected, I can really relate with other people’s concern about keeping their computer infection-free. Therefore, it’s important to keep a clean machine. Having good protection software on it, and more importantly, practicing good online habits can go a long way towards keeping your PC healthy. Sadly, many of you will be reading this after you’ve been infected. So, let’s see if I can provide you with some techniques to resolve the infection and get back to a clean state.
To start this series, I want to say that some of you will have such a badly infected computer that these techniques may not work for you. If Windows won’t even boot up, not even in Safe Mode, then you’re probably done at that point and your only hope is a repair shop or an extremely competent computer friend. In other cases, some infections have side effects that inhibit what we want to clean and how we use our computers.
For example, it’s common for some Spyware and Viruses to disable the RUN command or the TASK MANAGER. They can block some or all of the Display Properties functions so that you can’t change your desktop wallpaper. They can even change the way the clock in the lower right looks or the System Properties window appears, usually indicating that you are infected. In some extremely difficult cases, it can block most applications (.EXE files) from running. Another tactic is to hide your DVD/CD-ROM’s from Windows or by disallowing programs to run from them. In many cases, even if you remove the malware that caused the situation, these side effects still linger and affect your continued use of your computer.
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Lastly, some infections pretend to be protection programs that claim to be able to find and remove infections if you pay them $$ to download their software. This is a case of different levels of malware working together against you. To start, you get the minor infection first that gives you these warnings of the bad software it has found. Then, if you follow its procedure, it will want you to pay for, and then download, the main application that actually opens the door to other malware out there. Of course, it will tell you about all the (imaginary) things it has found and removed in order to protect you, but it never actually cleans your computer of anything.
A well-protected computer relies on a four-part protection plan. First, you should have good Anti-Virus software that you update regularly. Second, you need Anti-Spyware software that you will update regularly and use to scan your computer at common intervals. Third, a good Firewall on your computer. Make sure you get updates for it when they become available. Granted, Windows comes with a firewall if you have XP or Vista, but the level of control leaves a bit to be desired. Fourth, you need to practice safe computing habits. Oh, and did I mention that you want to update these programs regularly? The first three are relatively easy to accomplish. The forth is just a matter of learned habits and practice and is probably going to need to be it’s own article separate from this series.
Here are some good default settings you should consider. If you use Internet Explorer, go to the Control Panel and bring up the Internet Options icon. Then, go to the Security tab. One by one, click on each of the four zones you see and then click on Default Level. If you have a button that says ‘Reset all zones to default level’, click that instead. Next, go to the Privacy tab and click on the Advanced button. A window will pop up. Put a checkmark in the ‘Override automatic cookie handling’ and then set First-party Cookies to ‘Accept’ and set Third-party Cookes to ‘Block’. Now click on the OK button. Lastly, to help optimize Internet Explorer, go to the Advanced tab and scroll to the very bottom. Look for the line that says ‘Empty Temporary Internet Files folder when browser is closed’ and put a checkmark in front of it. Now you can click on OK and you’re done here.
If you have FireFox, a very helpful plugin is called NoScript. It normally blocks any web page scripts by default and you can then grant only the sites you approve of permission to run. You can get it here.
For more protection, you might want to try using software that will lock things into a virtual sandbox with the intention of preventing any malware you download from affecting the rest of the computer. Currently, the most popular app is called SandBoxIE. It is very well thought of and it’s free, too.
Good Scanning tools: SuperAntiSpyware, MalWareBytes, Spybot, AVG, HiJackThis, CoolWebSearch, online scanners such as Trend-Micro or Panda Soft
Good Copying tools: Unstoppable Copy, TeraCopy, Norton Ghost, and Acronis True Image
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By the way, if you are a dial-up user you might fall into the habit of putting off getting needed Windows and program updates. Getting those updates can be critical to avoiding bigger infection problems down the road. And disappointing as it is, you have to realize that whenever you go online, you're going to bring back at least a little bad stuff back with you. Think of it as washing your car at common intervals to keep the gunk from building up on it.
Realizing that and keeping up-to-date on your protection software will go a long way towards keeping your computer in good shape. In the next part of the series, I'll walk you through the main steps to clean up your PC.