Saturday, March 6, 2010

Beware of viruses and parasites

By now, most computer users know that they have to protect against viruses. You need a good antivirus support program running on your computer in real time, monitoring and checking as files are accessed, as well as running periodic scans of all files. You need to use an up-to-date virus definition file with this AV program (sometimes these are updated almost every day, so automated updating is preferable). The virus protection on your computer should be so solid that there is rarely any doubt that you are virus-free — the only room for doubt being whether a new virus snuck in before your antivirus software’s manufacturer had a definition file that would catch it. If suspicious, run your AV program to check the system as part of zeroing in on a problem that suddenly develops on your computer. You can also try one or more of the free online virus scanners listed on my Parasites & Other Computer Security Issues page.

But there are also non viral invaders that have become as big a problem as viruses. In fact (perhaps because people are less aware of these and less mindful of protecting themselves), these parasites may be an even greater risk to your computer’s proper running. Adware, spyware, browser hijackers, automatic diallers, and other forms of non viral malware — some intentionally if misguidedly installed by the user, some foisted on you without your awareness — are, at least in a few cases, as destructive.

And, since they often are badly written, they commonly announce themselves unintentionally by breaking some functionality on the computer. Therefore, checking for these is an important early step in troubleshooting computer problems, especially if the problems appear suddenly. If there is a serious browser or Windows Explorer/My Computer problem not related to a bad or damaged browser install, failing hardware, or user error, 90% of the time the problem will be the result of one of these parasites. Because Internet Explorer is integrated into the kernel of all Windows versions after Win95, these “browser problems” can manifest as general performance degradation or error conditions in the Windows shell. If you’ve ruled out the obvious in troubleshooting browser failures, the eruption of many error messages, inability to launch programs, or sudden (in contrast to gradual) serious slowing of your computer, checking for parasites should probably be your next diagnostic step.

For an onderly seven-step approach for identifying and removing these parasitic invaders, see Quick Fix Protocol page.

Several of these parasites are intentionally added to the computer by the user because the program looks like a cool toy. For example, Hotbar is a popular browser add-on that causes big problems on most computers. Many people install Gator (now renamed Claria) to manage online passwords. People install the insidious and pernicious IEPlugin to get “faster, smarter web browsing,” and live to regret it. And so forth. Other parasites are snuck onto your computer often without your knowledge. An important early step in all troubleshooting of Windows problems, therefore, is the isolation and removal of such parasites.

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