Winter 2004-2005:  Well, the XP SP2 is out.  This is a huge update - 271MB, but necessary overall.  But wait for the CD if you're on dialup - this will take 100 hours to download!!  2 - 4 hours on normal ADSL or cable modem.   Nonetheless, if you have practiced safe computing, have antivirus/antispyware/firewall configurations, and have kept Windows up to date, you do NOT need to upgrade to this initially.  You should probably wait at least some months as the bugs are worked out of it.  This Microsoft site discusses the XP SP2 improvements.  Stay tuned!! Go here for some XP SP2 information that I have compiled.

Most likely, post 2004,  your new PC came with an OEM version of XP SP2 with all the security enhancements.  Lucky you!!  If you are not lucky........ then   STOP! DO NOT PASS GO!  DO NOT COLLECT $100.  If you have a "older" PC with XP Pro or Home, and you have NOT upgraded to SP2, you MUST turn on ICF before you do absolutely anything, especially if you are not using a NAT/router to interface to the Internet.  Go here, turn on ICF, and then come back!  If you have no clue what I am talking about, just go there and do it anyway!!  OK?

For Christmas 2005, you will certainly have the SP2 included with XP.  So there has been some progress.  Don't forget to subscribve for the antivirus and practice the safe computing techniques explained herein!

Summer 2006:  The Internet continues to be a dangerous if you do not take precautions.  Our virtual world is resembling our real world more every day.  Sad....  On with the story..

Unless you have been very careful in your browsing/downloading/emailing habits, your computer is getting sicker and sicker from all the diseases and pests  in cyberspace making their way into your PC.  And these are all new diseases and pests that have come about [I should say ...invented...] over the last few years.  10 years ago, maybe even 5 years, none of this was hardly a problem at all.  It was bad enough that we had to suffer through all those early versions of Windows or MAC software, which were very unstable and crashed unwittingly at every turn.    These problems were all self-inflicted, or caused by the various software programs crashing into each other on that PC.  Nobody was writing malicious code back then [well, let's say there were extremely few doing that...]. 

The problem we are facing in the last few years, which is getting worse and worse is malicious code, such as viruses, spyware, scumware, "phishingware,"and tons of unwanted email, called SPAM which is bombarding your PC, and in many cases, finding a home on it!  This is why your PC is slowing down and doing very questionable actions!  The other major problem is of course literally a flood of porn, pirated software and music and videos and games clogging up the Internet pipes.  Some of this actually winds up on your PC, unbeknownst to you!  You really wonder how we are surviving all this.  Well, many of us aren't.  This may include you.  Go here if you want a quick education on all this trash filling up your PC.  But come back!!!

Is your PC starting to take forever to boot up?  Are you bombarded with lurid adds and pop ups?  Does your browser seem to have a mind of its own? Do some of your Windows apps all of a sudden look different, or just don't work?  Does your browser reset its home page to one of its choosing in spite of your best efforts to change this?  Does your PC just go to sleep for minutes at a time?  Is your browser caught in the infamous porn spin, where you close one window and it spawns another, equally offensive window?  And just keeps going and going....  These are all symptoms of PCs that have caught cyberspace viruses, PCs that are executing spyware and scumware programs not of your choosing, PCs that may be spewing spam for the spammers, probing other poorly protected PCs for vulnerabilities, serving up pirated music and porn and videos and software and games and you don't even know it!!!

Did these problems seem to start, or accelerate after you got that cable modem or that ADSL connection?  Ah ha!  There must be some connection there.  Well, there is, but it is only one of degree.  You dial-up was just a lot slower, that is all, and a lot less inviting for all the malicious people and sites out there in cyberspace.  You may have gotten away without keeping your copy of windows up to date, or running an active antivirus program using just dial-up, even if you had  pretty tame browsing and email habits. 

But I am here to tell you that you CANNOT any longer get away without running an antivirus program, or keeping your copy of windows up to date.  In ADDITION, there are now two other important things you must do - run a firewall, or operate behind a firewall of some sort to block inbound connections, and run spyware detection software.  XP now includes a simple firewall.  Microsoft also has a beta anti-spyware package, and a malicious software removal tool, and will introduce the real thing some time this year.   This website will help you tend to these ....small... matters.  Don't worry if you do not know exactly what this means...... Stay with me, we will explain it all here at PC Citizen University!

I must also tell you, that once you catch some of these malicious viruses, trojans, and especially scumware, it is almost impossible to rid your computer of them.  These malicious code writers stay up late at night thinking of ways to infest your computer, and even to re infest it if you have the gall to try to remove the program, assuming you can even figure out how to do that.  Yes, that's right, some of this scumware is smart enough to survive all your attempts to remove it!   I know this is ....slightly.... depressing, unless you enjoy all this junk on your PC of course.  Maybe this is a good excuse to get a new PC - after all they only cost a few hundred bucks!  I can tell you that you can also restore this infected PC to its OOB (out of the box)  condition.  All new PCs come with the ability to do this - some easier than others.  You did save all those CDs you got with this PC, didn't you??   Stay with me, I will help explain this.

I am afraid I must also tell you that the scumware/spyware/spammer/phishware writers are keeping ahead of you, the antivirus/antispyware writers,  and certainly even Microsoft in their puny attempts to backhaul secure programming into their products.  If you frequent questionable web sites, download pirated material, open questionable emails, it looks like you will become infected even with all the safe computing practices spelled out here and other web sites.  That is a pretty sad state of affairs, right?  You are not only going to have to wear condoms (practice safe computing and networking), but you are going to have make regular visits to the doctor!

So there you have it.  Your PC is just going to get sicker and sicker without the appropriate visits to the doctor.  It is probably even going to stop running altogether, at least running code of any use to you.  And it is going to continue to get worse.  I have seen some of my customer's PCs take 10 to 20 minutes to boot up, and then when I run a spyware remover,  edit the startup programs, and clean the registry, it may boot in just a few minutes.  On the other hand, almost invariably some of the spyware will return, and the PC will start to slow down again. 

So what do you do?  You typically have to start all over again.  It is very hard to apply vaccines to PCs in an advanced state of disease!  So in short, here is what you have to do to CURE your PC.  Basically you have to kill it and give it a new rebirth!  Now don't get me wrong, if you are "somewhat" competent in this matters, you can start running antivirus and antispyware utilities, start cleaning out your startup programs, etc.  There may be a  small chance that you can recover your precious little PC without killing it first - if it is not too badly infected.  This whole website is dedicated to discussing these issues.  But if you do NOT consider yourself reasonably competent, then the best thing may be to just KILL your PC and start over.  Sorry to have to give you this news...

Follow these general steps:

-1) Well, this just means you should have done this a long time ago, OK.  If you are technically inclined, you can go thru some steps to actually try to clean up this PC.  DSLreports has a good checklist to start with.  Beware that this can get pretty complicated!

0) OK, OK, I know.  I forgot a few things ....again.  So it was easier to start from zero than renumber my whole list.  If you have documents you want to save, then now is the time to do it.  I am not sure I would do a backup on a PC in an advanced state of disease.  You are never sure what you may be backing up.  So save those award winning themes, and run the mail backup tools, and save your bookmarks and your favorites.  I would make sure to run a virus checker of some sort (go on-line if you have to to one of the free on-line virus checkers) and virus check what you are saving, before you save it.  I then recommend that you use the XP "file and settings transfer wizard,"  especially if you are doing this in an XP environment.  You need an XP machine to dig out this little utility - and then you can run it on your Win9X or most any Windows machine.  But you can only restore on an XP tho.  Bummer.  Maybe you should just use this opportunity to upgrade to XP!  This is a slick and easy way to do it if your PC can qualify.  Or maybe you should just make the transition to Linux, or ...God forbid, a MAC!

If you are still stuck with trying to restore your little Windows PC, then you will have to go thru the following: 

1)  Reinstall the OS, using the "system restore disk" that probably came with your PC.  This is probably NOT a simple Windows OS disk anymore.  Look for an appropriately labeled CD, and pop it in the  CDROM and follow the directions when it auto starts [if it doesn't auto start, open Windows explorer [Windows Key+E], go to your CDROM drive under my computer, and look for a "setup" file or something similar and double click it].  You want a complete, fresh installHere is an example I went thru on a Dell 8350 recently.   You will reclaim the PC exactly like the day it was when you pulled it out of the box those many years ago.  Remember, you can't get away with just reinstalling Windows - you have to wipe the disk clean and then reinstall Windows.  The system restore disk gives you this option, and also, especially includes all the drivers and special software [yes, even all those free promotions.....] that came with your particular PC.  If you just reinstall Windows over the existing installation, all the spyware and scum ware DLLS, and the rogue exe's aren't erased.  Only the Windows components are recreated.  Even worse, I don't think the registry is created fresh, the original entries are just created/recreated if necessary [I need to investigate this - let me know if you have experience here....].

Beware that there tend to be many options listed in the "system restore" splash screen.  You really need to find the one that suggests complete disk wipe/clean and reinstall.  There will be other options to "reinstall Windows," and "reinstall drivers," most likely.

If you are installing from a Windows CD, there are generally three options you can choose - 1) Repair Windows, 2) Reinstall Windows, and 3) Format disk and install Windows.  The 3rd option is the one we want in order to get a fresh start.

2) Once you have the PC back to where it was the day you got it from the factory, you get to spend the rest of the day doing "Windows Update." 

Beware that there is a real catch 22 here.....  If you have such an old version of Windows (and this means most any version prior to the XP versions that came with SP2 i.e. that didn't come with a "firewall") that you are restoring, there is a very real danger of catching a virus, or being compromised very shortly after you put that PC back on the Internet!  And this is Before you even get a chance to get it up to date!  There are so many security holes in earlier Windows versions, and there is such constant probing for the vulnerabilities by all the scum terrorists that you cannot put your PC on the Internet without protection.  You will need to buy yourself an inexpensive router to cover yourself.  You are going to want to do this anyway, so you just as well do it now!  And do it Before you put that PC back on the Internet.  With the original XP, you can at least turn on ICF before you put it on the Internet.  If you have the OEM XP with SP2 - likely any new PC after Fall 2004- you are OK.  Or at the very least, buy a software firewall such as Zonealarm to put on the PC before you connect it to the Internet.  You will probably have to go to the computer store and buy this, or ....somehow... transfer the setup file from another PC you have. 

Now go to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com  and have it check for needed updates and install them.  You will have to go through this many times - just keep going back to that site until there are no more critical updates available to install.  You will have to do the Service Pack installs first, and then come back and do the critical updates.  You get to watch Windows boot over and over, all day long.  The rest of the human race is doing this - you might just as well join them!  :-)

NEWS FLASH APRIL 2004:  In the spring of 2004, Microsoft has finally provided a "security update CD," which contains all the Windows update products up to March 2004.  This is a great solution if you are on dialup, and you don't want to suffer the download delays, or you have multiple PCs that you want to update.   Go here to order your free CD (shipping included!).  Please remember you will still have to go to Windowsupdate, because there are still updates after the "rollup CD!" 

NEWS FLASH NOVEMBER 2004:  You can go right to Microsoft and get the XP SP2 CD, or download it.  This will have all the security fixes listed above.

WARNING!! EARLY 2005:  Microsoft has removed the automatic reactivation of OEM versions of Windows XP when you do a reinstall.  Ugh!!!  This is apparently because too many people were figuring out how to steal the OEM keys, or some other reason.  See this for example.  There is a little trick you should use to save your key before you reinstall to bypass this pain. It involves saving a single file "wpa.dbl" and reinserting it after a reinstall.

Also beware that if you have an old PC, and the system restore restored an IE earlier than 5.0, Windowsupdate will not work.  You have to go update IE separately.  Go to http://download.microsoft.com  and download IE SP1.  After this, then you can go back and get the rest of the windows updates.  [But don't forget to purchase that firewall first!]

3) Make sure you install the latest browser, IE6, because this may not be included with all the security updates.  You can still run older versions of IE, maybe 5.5 or 5.0 and still be technically OK.  But IE6 has some new security features you need to control and manage "cookies," which can be used by spyware and scumware.

4) Install an antivirus software, and make sure to subscribe for the updates.  The system restore may have included an antivirus program.  It is probably an out-of-date version,  so you may want to think about uninstalling it [go to the START->antivirus program->uninstall], and installing a brand new one.  You can do this all on-line, or you can go to the local computer store and buy antivirus software.  Or, you can try using the same one - when you install it, it will probably  "phone home."  Hopefully the vendor will recognize the program that they installed some years ago, and do the updating.  If your antivirus program was running crippled before [not updated], and is still under subscription, you can reactivate it if you have the serial number/license number.  You may not even have to do this - just install the original licensed version of the antispyware.

5) Install a spyware detection program, such as "Ad-aware," available at www.lavasoftusa.com .  You will probably have to install Spybot as well, since they are often both needed to detect and remove all variants of spyware/scumware/malware.  See this page for more details - this is the trickiest part, since it is really a new requirement over the last few years.  Set it to run a quick check at startup.

NEWS FLASH SPRING 2005:  Microsoft now makes a beta version of an anti-spyware tool.  Get this beta version and use it!

6) If you are not running XP, and if you have not done so yet, make sure that you have a firewall installed on that PC, or that you  have a NAT/router sitting between you and your cable modem or ADSL modem connection.  You must have something to block incoming attempts to "connect" to your PC.  See this for more info.  This is an extremely critical setup for the safety and security of your home network setup.  If you are running the original XP, then you need to turn on ICF, or better yet, upgrade to SP2, with its more capable firewall and security additions.

At this writing, it is guaranteed that your PC will be probed within minutes of it being placed on the Internet.  "Probed" means that Internet terrorists and hackers will be probing your IP address - your address on the Internet - for vulnerabilities.  If you have un patched vulnerabilities, you will become infected!

7) Make sure that you update Windows regularly - like every week.  If you have XP or Win2K this can be done automatically in the OS.  If you have Win95/98/ME, you will need to do it manually on a routine basis.  Support for Win9X has been extended for several more years.  I thought it was the end of 2003, but am not sure anymore.  You should check. 

8) Make sure that you allow the antivirus database and program updates, which pester you at very regular updates. On some antivirus checkers, you can set this for automatic.  Go into the antivirus program and verify that it has updated, and that there is a very recent date on the updates.

9) Regularly update your spyware definition database as well.  This is not generally automatic, like with antivirus programs.  Ad-aware has a "check for updates" button. 

NEWSFLASH:  If you use the Microsoft antispyware beta, it will autoupdate for you!!

10) Finally, you can start reinstalling all your applications.  This could be days later.  By the time you are done with all this, you know a lot more about your PC than you did when you began.  And you will seriously start investigating some safe computing practices, and some backup procedures.   The "image backup utilities" are very powerful tools to make backing up your PC much easier and complete.  Just try to make sure that you are not backing up a compromised, spy-infested PC, OK!!!!  Welcome to this web site...... Follow the NEXT TOPIC below.

11) Well, there is one more thing you should really do..... You need to stop visiting those questionable web sites, downloading those pirated treasures, stop reading all those "virus/trojan/scumware disguised as email."  Let's face it, there is a war going on here, just like in the real world.  The scumware/virus/spam  writers are managing to stay abreast, and I would even say ahead of all the antivirus/antispyware writers. 

12) Well, there is another thing you should do - you need to start practicing safe computing!!  Go to the next topic, and then on into the safe computing page, where I have made a pretty complete list. 

13) New addition summer 2004:  It looks like we may have to give up on Internet Explorer.  The exploits have been coming fast and furious, and many experts are now recommending to switch to another browser.  Firefox or Opera is a great start.  Firefox, which is a browser only, can be found at www.mozilla.org .  Mozilla is a full package which contains an email client and newsgroup reader as well as the browser.  Thunderbird is mozilla's standalone email client, and well worth a look at the same location.

So there you have it in one page - what your problem is, and what you can, or must do to solve it.  This whole web site is dedicated to convincing you that it is a dangerous place out there in cyberspace.  You need protection, and you need to practice safe computing.  Wireless is becoming a very popular method of building home networks, and as I will show you here, the early implementations of wireless are completely without security precautions in the default installs.  Just follow the yellow brick road........ to the NEXT TOPIC.

There are 4 or 5 main pages in this web, and many many more that surround these to explain various details.  You can always go back to HOME by punching the button in the upper left.  I have also spent considerable time explaining some basic Internet and PC concepts which are contained in the "TCP/IP Stuff", "PC Stuff," and "wireless stuff" parallel tracks which may help explain many side issues. Also don't forget the Basic Networking Course, and the Basic Wireless Networking Course.









Copyright John D Loop Wednesday October 26, 2005