10/26/09

Permalink 06:54:58 pm by Brendan, Categories: Web Software, security

There are a lot of ways to slip up and find your computer infested with Malware.  Well, whatever the circumstances, you?ll want to get rid of it once you know it?s there.

First off, you will want to figure out what?s on your machine.  Here?s a few of the online virus detection resources:BitDefender?s Online Malware Scanner, Kaspersky?s Online Malware Scanner, TrendMicro's Housecall, Mcafee?s Online Malware Scanner, Symatec?s Online Security Scanner.  You might want to use more than one of them, though not at the same time.

The first thing to do is download and install a legitimate antivirus-antimalware program with the latest updates.  After installation it will immediately run a scan of your system, give it time to work, and with luck it will find and with your permission remove all the malware.  Some good free antivirus programs with antimalware features too include AVG Free, Avira Antivir personal, and Avast Home edition.  There are also some standalone antimalware programs that can effectively supliment these, including Spybot ?Search and Destroy, Malwarebytes, and Ad-Aware Free.  The last two only have proactive functionality for their paid versions, but the free version offers plenty of power for Malware removal.

Even if your program can?t get rid of the malware, it should be able to identify it, and there?s a chance you could find a specially crafted tool to remove it with a google search.  Just double check the tool before downloading, to be sure it?s legitimate.

With a little luck, all you have to do is download the right cleaning program,and install and run it to clean out your computer.  Unfortunately, not all malware writers will make it that easy.  Many types of malware will prevent your system from installing antivirus software, or will make it crash when it tries to run, or will have been designed in a way that makes it hard for antivirus programs to get rid of them.

Time for the first escalation ? Reboot to Safe Mode.  Basically just shut down your computer, give it a few seconds to start booting up and start tapping the F8 key above your keyboard?s number keys.  This should offer the option to boot into safe mode, which boots your computer in the most bare bones almost nothing running setting as possible.  Which means that the malware you?re after is less likely to be able to interfere with your ability to install and/or run your antimalware program.

But if you can?t get rid of Malware even from Safe Mode, there?s another escalation to try ? System Restore.  There are a series of files and settings that control what programs work on your system and how they work together.  As a precaution against problems, your system periodically creates copies of these files and settings at various points.

Use the windows button to open the menu list, and go to accessories.  Then to System tools in the accessories submenu.  There you should see the icon to double click to open the System Restore option.  Open it, and assuming system restore was turned on (Which it is by default), you should have an assortment of restore points representing various moments when you installed different programs, changed settings, and generally made changes.  If you see one dated at a point when you?re pretty sure malware wasn?t installed on your system, select it and run the restoration.

After a few warning system restore will run and with luck erase all the connections the virus has to your systems.  Of course, it will also erase all the connections of any program you installed after that restore point was created so you may need to reinstall some of your programs to make them work again.  After running your antimalware program and hopefully getting rid of the now impotent malware file of course.

Sometimes though, even system restore will be compromised.  At this point, your pretty much stuck with the final option of reinstalling windows.  If possible, your goal should be to perform a Repair Install.  There?s slight differences for Windows XP and Vista.  A repair install will install the OS off the CD without getting rid of all the files on your disk.  Of course, it will remove most of the integrations between the programs and the OS and erase all the updates, so you?ll have to then invest a bit of time into updating the system and reinstalling all your programs.  I?d advise you to install your antivirus first, and let it take it?s time running it?s scans.  While the repair install should have rendered the malware impotent, it will still be there and should be eliminated promptly.

If every other option is lost, you can still run a clean install.  This will erase everything from your hard drive and reinstall the OS.  Naturally before you do this (And indeed before you try some of the earlier steps, just in case), you should download all your important documents and data off your current hard drive onto whatever sort of removable media you can use.  I myself would favor a portable hard drive, which are pretty affordable nowadays.  Just make sure not to try redownloading your data until after you?ve installed all your system?s updates and an antivirus.  And have that antivirus scan your portable drive for any virus?s that hitched a ride.

Of course, if you?re investigating Malware because it?s interfering with your systems performance, you may find it hard to extract your files and data.  Fortunately if you have any access to a clean computer with a working cd burner you?ve got a solution- Ubuntu.  I could talk a bit about Linux and Ubuntu, but all you need to know is that a Linux LiveCD is a freely available OS that can run off the cd, and can also access your disks just like your regular OS.  Just get whoever has the clean computer to download a recent Ubuntu Iso, burn it to a CD, and then you just have to load it into your PC?s optical drive and reboot.  At which point, I could go into the process of getting your data, but it?s been done with screenshots Here.

03/24/09

Permalink 12:24:10 pm by Brendan, Categories: Upgrades

There are a few ways to upgrade your computer?s hardware, but Memory is both the easiest, and the most likely to improve your system's performance.

Of course, you should know in advance whether or not more memory will aid in your system performance. Fortunately it's not that hard to find out. First open the start menu, then the control panel in the right column. Among the options in the control panel will be for System. The system menu has a lot of options, but what's important is that it will open to a summary page. Here you'll see information on your processor, your memory, and some details on your OS.

Which are interested in is a wine labeled Memory(RAM). This will be on number followed by either MB or GB. If it's MB, then additional RAM will definitely improve your computer's performance. In the GB range, additional memory will improve performance, but the degree of improvement will diminish with each GB.

Basically, if you're running Windows XP, 1 GB will be plenty to get by with most tasks. Though more intense applications will run better with more memory (My mother upgraded her Ram from 1 GB to 2.25 GB and found the improvement to XP's voice recognition software was noticeable and quite appreciated.)

If you're running Vista, the system has a lot more going on in the background, so it's usually a good idea to consider upgrading if your memory is below 2GB.  But if you?re thinking of a major memory increase, make a point to look at the OS information on the System menu.  If it doesn?t say 64, then you?re using a 32 bit OS, which means it can?t use more than 3.5 GB of RAM. 

As to what memory to buy, that varies from motherboard to motherboard, so you always have to do a little research. If your computer is brand name, then the odds are it's make and model are printed right on the front. If your system is more handmade, just open the side panel, and look at the motherboard to record it's make and model. Then when you go to wherever you're shopping for more RAM, either online or at a local source, there's pretty much always a location where you can input this data and get a list of the memory that fits it's requirements.

image

Here?s the underside of a stick of DDR2 Memory (Pretty common now, with the current advanced machine memory being DDR3).  While all the sticks of modern RAM are about the same dimensions, each standard is made with a differently located ofset slot.  This serves the dual purpose of both allowing the memory card to only be inserted into it?s slot the right way, and preventing incompatible memory from being installed in a machine. 

P4030020_cr

Once you have your appropriate RAM card, Installing is straightforward.  Open your system, and look for the memory slots on the motherboard.  The number of slots vary from board to board, but their design has been consistent through several generations of RAM cards.  Each slot has two latches on the side.  Besides clicking into two notches on the sides of each memory card, the latches also hook to small levers at the bottom of each slot.  This means that if you need to remove a memory card, pushing down the two latches will also pop the card from it?s slot.

In addition, this means that once you have the memory sticks lined up so the slot in the card matches up with the slot, pushing the card down into place will also close the two latches on the side.  And there will be a soft click when the memory card is fully in place.

That?s it.  Just reconnect your power, turn your machine back on, and it will recognize the upgrade and should handle memory intensive programs a bit faster now.

Of course, sometimes defective memory will be shipped out.  It?s not common, but when my mother upgraded her system?s memory, a few weeks later irregular instability necessitated a memory diagnostic that found an error on one of the sticks of RAM.  Though of course, the manufacturers warranty meant we simply identified the defective RAM and exchanged it for a new one.

The free tool for diagnosing RAM can be found at http://www.memtest86.com/.  Download the ISO file, use any cd burning software to burn it onto a blank CD, then have it in your computer?s optical drive when it reboots.  It will open into a simple window showing very basic data as it? runs a series of memory tests.  Let the tests run for about half an hour, and if they haven?t reported an error, you know that there probably isn?t one on your RAM cards.  If they do report an error, to find what?s defective you?ll want to power down your computer, remove all but one of the Memory sticks, and reboot the memory tester, repeating until you?ve identified which RAM stick is defective.  Since virtually all memory has a manufactures warranty, it?s just a matter of trading it for a working stick of RAM.

03/19/09

Permalink 08:18:05 am by Brendan, Categories: Cleaning Tricks

Basic physics says that when electricity flows through any non-superconductor, it generates heat in the process.  Computers need to get rid of this heat in order to keep working, so cases are built to maintain an airflow across hot components to cool them.  Of course, another side effect of flowing electricity is that it generates an electromagnetic field, and electromagnetic fields tend to draw dust.

image

This photo of my mother?s computer is actually not the dustiest system I?ve ever cleaned out, that would be my older brother?s system which hadn?t been cleaned for several years when I opened it up.

Dust isn?t just an aesthetic problem for computers, it?s potentially much more serious.  First of all, dust can act like a heat barrier, reducing the effectiveness of your computer?s cooling systems.  Overheating makes a system less stable and more error prone.  Plus it pushes the fans harder making the system noisier.  Also, some dust is conductive, which means that exceptionally dusty systems actually have a risk of short circuits forming.

To clean your system, you?ll want to first power down and unplug your system.  And considering how much dust can be thrown into the air, it?s a good idea to consider moving your system someplace with good ventilation. 

P4030004In the case of my mother?s system, I was able to use the deck behind our house.

The first step is to open the side panel of your system.  The how varies from system to system, but the majority of computers made today try to simplify the process, securing the panel with either thumbscrews or some form of latch mechanism.  Once you?ve opened the computer, it?s time to start using the compressed air to blow away the dust.  Keep in mind, this is going to be blowing a fair bit of dust into the air.  Many sources recommend using a cheap dust mask you can buy at any hardware store.

P4030050Or you could improvise if you don?t think to pick one up.

Anyway, try working in short bursts, starting with the visible clumps of dust.  Next, you?ll want to go to work on the the hidden dust surfaces.  Look over the power source (The big box that your system?s power cord plugs into) and alternate blowing puffs of air into the openings both inside and outside the case (The changing airflow should help dislodge more of the dust.)  Now look at the CPU cooler.  It?s the big fan and assembly at the center of the motherboard.

Take a little time to look it over to figure out which direction the metal fins are lined up in (Note, if the style of cooler has the fins exposed, don?t touch them, their sharp.)  Direct a few shots of air from both sides to dislodge as much dust as possible.

Then you?ll just want to give a quick once over to the motherboard and peripherals with your can of air to blow off the remaining dust that you can?t see.  Then angle the air on the bottom of the case to blow the dust there out and you can close up your case, return it to it?s normal resting place, hook the cables back up and power it on. 

02/25/09

Permalink 12:29:43 am by Brendan, Categories: Web Software, security

When you're browsing on the internet, even with the good popup blockers incorporated into every modern browser, a few will get through. And when you get rid of them, you have to be careful because not all popup's are benign. One favorite malevalent popup looks a lot like the standard alert window and reads "Warning, your computer is infected with Spyware! Please Run a full scan" Or "Please click here to download Spyware remover."

Naturally, clicking yes will usually INSTALL spyware on your system, and often also a "Spyware removal" Program that does nothing useful, but keeps putting up big messages of how you need to pay to set up the full version.

And the nasty thing is that some of the malware writers have mannaged to set up commands to try and interpret anything, including clicking the shutdown button in the top right corner of the popup as a command to download the malware.

Right Click Popup

Fortunately, there's a very simple way to shut down the problematic window without actually clicking it. In the toolbar at the bottom of the screen, a separate item opens for each separate window. Moving the mouse over the item and clicking it will reveal the menu.  As you can see, it not only offers a way to close the program, but also reminds you of the keyboard shortcut to do so(The Alt key is by default next to the keyboard, and the F4 key is above the number keys.  You work the shortcut by holding down the Alt key and the tapping the F4 key).  Clicking Close should shut down the popup without problem.  You can also use the keyboard shortcut to shut down the popup, but you have to first bring the popup to the front of the screen by clicking it?s button on the taskbar  (Which is why I tend to use the right button..

Either option will usually be all you need.  However sometimes, a popup can be engineered so that it's even harder to close, generating authorization requests that can disrupt the right click menu trick.  Now with a little patience and judicious use of Alt+Tab to target the bad stuff, you can use to Alt and F4 shortcut to whittle down the authorizations and popup's anyway's.  But if you can't remember the correct keyboard shortcuts (I usually have to right click to look it up myself), there's a fast alternative.  Ctrl+Alt+Del.

Task ManagerA lot of windows users called Ctrl+Alt+Del the three fingered salute back when it was used mainly as a shortcut to shut down the system in the earliest windows version.  In the modern operating system though it's much more versatile.  Holding down the Ctrl and Alt keys  (Which should both be on the same line as the spacebar), you then tap the Del or Delete key.  In XP this loads the Task Manager, in Vista you get a list of several options, including to load the task manager.

In any case, what you want to do is open the task manager.  It's actually a very useful program that not only let's you look at various programs running on your system, but also lets you review hidden processes, check how your system's performing and more.

But for now the goal is to kill the popup.  I'm demonstrating with a benign popup of course, but the task manager is also the best way of killing malicious popup's too.  Just click the popup so it's highlighted, then click the End Task button at the bottom of the task manager window.  If there's anything making it tricky to shut down the program it might open a message window saying that the program isn't responding and asking if you want to shut it down or wait.  Clicking Shut Down will basically override all the tricks and shut down the popup without offering any chance for other built in tricks to try to start.

06/19/08

Permalink 12:23:56 am by Brendan, Categories: Cleaning Tricks

In addition to routine cleaning, keyboards are often subjected to spilled liquids. If this happens, the very first thing to do is to disconnect your keyboards power. If it plugs into the back of your system, pull that plug immediately. If it’s a wireless keyboard, remove it’s batteries immediately.

Ok, now that you’ve unplugged the keyboard, you can take a moment to consider the problem. Spilled liquids bring two threats to the table as far as keyboard functionality is concerned. First of all, there’s the threat of a short circuit. This threat is the reason you want to immediately cut power to the keyboard. It’s also the reason that whatever other cleaning you do, you’ll want to let the keyboard sit afterward for at least 24 hours (longer on humid days) to ensure its internals are completely dried out.

Your other concern is residue. If the liquid you spilled was just an ordinary glass of water, residue will not be much of a problem. If it’s unsweetened coffee, tea, or diet soda, residue might give you problems, but the danger is not as severe as if there was sugar dissolved in it.

The key to blocking residue is to dissolve it with water. Since your keyboard is only vulnerable to short circuits when its plugged in, putting it in your shower and spraying down the keyboard is a very good precaution against residue. If you have a keyboard that was disabled by a spill, there’s a chance you might be able to clean out the residue using your shower like this.

I’ve even heard that some people has successfully cleaned out a spill disabled keyboard by running it through their dishwasher. I’ve never tried this myself, so I can’t offer any personal input on it. But rationally this would probably work best if whatever was spilled on your keyboard contained a fair bit of fat like ice cream. The most important thing to remember would be to put your keyboard on the top shelf of the dishwasher, since the plastics making it up are vulnerable to melting.

Now whatever method you use to wash the residue out of your keyboard, you’ll need to let it dry out afterward. Be sure that you let it dry at least 24 hours, and be sure to reposition it a few times during that drying period. Repositioning it will help ensure the keyboard doesn’t retain small pools of water inside it that could wet things again when you plug it back in.

And once you’ve waited the recommended 24 hours (if not a little more), you’ll want to plug it into your system and give it a test run.

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