A Cure for Your Ailing PC!By Gary Eimerman
Remember when you got up in the morning, pushed the power button on your computer, went to the kitchen, poured a cup of coffee and returned to a computer where the icons on your desktop stood there proudly? Your taskbar was a thing of beauty, waiting to do your bidding — like checking your mail to see what goodies came in overnight or surfing the web bright and early.
Recently, this scenario has changed. Nowadays, you push the power switch on your computer, go the kitchen, brew the coffee, wash the dishes, do a load of wash — and the computer is still trying to load your desktop. The icons that grace your taskbar are lumbering slowly into position. The hard drive activity light is on non-stop. You quizzically stare at your computer and wonder what has happened to your once-zippy PC. Your Ferrari has turned into something that the junkyard wouldn’t want. Well, you’re not alone! This is what many computer users also wake up to every day. However, with a little bit of time and effort, you can cure your ailing PC and bring it back to life again.
Before showing you how to do this, first let’s do a virtual show of hands, as when I poll my students at the beginning of any one of several one-day, computer-related courses based on online content that I teach at a local college:
- First question: Are you running anti-virus software? — most students raise their hands
- Second question: Do you know if your anti-virus is up to date? — fewer students raise their hands
- Last question: Do you own – and run – anti-spyware software? — here, students generally give me a blank stare
Yet, this is where a slow computer merges with the absence of knowledge about anti-spyware software — because malware, spyware and viruses are chiefly responsible for the dramatically slower pace at which a computer boots up and runs. Perhaps the best place to begin our journey into these computer maladies is to understand what comprises each type of PC illness.
Malware … Spyware … Viruses … Why is Your Computer Aching?
Malware, short for malicious software, is any unwanted program that is transmitted to your computer without your knowledge or consent. You can wind up with malware in a variety of ways, some of which may surprise you. For example, you open your web browser and innocently type in www.ebay.com to check on an auction that you bid on a couple of days ago. However, when you typed in ebay, you made a typo (which all of us do) and typed in rbay. Fifteen popups and seven web browsers later, you have so many windows open that you cannot keep up with all of them. AARGH! You have become infected!
Let’s take a minute and dissect what just happened. While all of these windows were opening, your computer was simultaneously downloading the contents of the website that you mistakenly arrived at. You should always remember that whenever you go to a website, the contents of the page that you navigate to are loaded onto your hard drive, simply because the contents can be called up quicker from your hard drive than from the Internet. Concurrently, a myriad of programs that were encoded into the source code of the page that you downloaded made themselves at home on your hard drive and just that quickly ran themselves, writing their malicious code to your registry, your start-up folder and your Windows directory. Even worse, your computer could be turned into a bot (short for robot) and perform such activities as attacking legitimate corporations or websites continuously.
As for spyware, there are a bunch of ways that it can infect your computer. As the name implies, spyware is software that installs onto your computer and allows someone else to spy on you. Once again, spyware can be included in the coding of an infected website, but a more common way for spyware to become an unwanted resident on your computer is to install a program that has spyware built into it. Many times, computer users download and install software from unknown sources and, as a result, they unwittingly install the spyware that comes with it.
Last, but certainly not least are viruses. Simply stated, viruses are extra bits of code that attach themselves to an executable and change what an executable does. Program files such as winword.exe (the executable for Microsoft Word) become tainted, and usually stop working totally when the extra bits of code change the program itself. As you open the executables for other programs, such as iexplore.exe for Internet Explorer, they too, become infected. Your computer becomes totally bogged down as a result of the virus exploiting one executable after another until finally you can’t even click your mouse to do anything. Additionally, viruses can spread due to infected e-mail attachments and especially, through programs downloaded using P2P programs such as Kazaa and LimeWire.
Bringing Your Computer Back to Life …
So, how do we cure these infections? All you need to get your healthy computer back is one piece of software, installed and running real-time (meaning that it runs all the time — so you need take no action but to install the software), accompanied by running a few others on demand, every week (meaning that you double-click on the icon to update and run the program every week). They will go far to keep you surfing safely and sleeping soundly at night.
First, about the software: you should have an anti-virus program installed and running. Before installing it however, you might want to visit Symantec Security Response (Symantec is the maker of Norton Anti-Virus) and scan your computer for viruses. The scan is free, and I highly recommend it for all users. Here, you can also take advantage of a security check-up (also free) that will check to see if your computer is vulnerable to attack due to open ports.
There are numerous anti-virus programs available such as Norton, F-Prot and McAfee. However, you might want to consider an anti-virus program with real-time anti-spyware such as Norton Internet Security. Spybot Search and Destroy, available for free and Ad-Aware Free 2007 are two on-demand programs that you should add to your anti-spyware arsenal. Be aware that Spybot and Ad-Aware are a bit different than Norton. They are not real-time and, should you choose to use them, make sure to religiously update and run them every week. Doing so won’t take long at all, and will obliterate any of the nasties that have taken up residence on your hard drive. Spybot will even run in safe mode to disinfect your PC from programs that don’t want to budge from your start menu. It’s worth noting that all the programs mentioned here will not change or remove anything that is required to run anything else that is installed on your computer, including the operating system.
Of course, malware, spyware and viruses can target your computer in many other ways. With all due respect, even the savviest of PC users should not be naive (or overconfident) enough to believe that they are safe! Symantec, the makers of Norton Anti-Virus and Norton Anti-Spyware, estimated that the “Storm worm” that was released in January 2007 had turned 8 million computers world-wide into malicious bots! As a computer consultant for a number of corporations, I have been called in to look at hundreds of computers that have been infected (see below for an unbelievable example!), most of them a result of the above actions. These infections are insidious and even the most knowledgeable are not immune from them.
So, take a little bit of time and invest a little bit of your own money — and I won’t have to come to your home or business and charge you a LOT of money to cure the spyware, malware and viral infections that are wreaking havoc on your computer!
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About the Author
Gary Eimerman (MCTS, MCP, A+) is an experienced Computer Hardware Technician and Support Technician. As a graduate from the University of Iowa, Henry B. Tippie College of Business with a B.B.A. in Management Information Systems, Gary brings hands-on experience with Network, Database, Project Management and Web development to the Train Signal team. He also brings 5 years of teaching experience with Enhance Inc. where he taught technology in a hands-on environment. You will greatly benefit from his passion, aspirations and knowledge towards technology.
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