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Protecting Against Viruses

Dynamic Graphics can come help you update your business or home computer at your convince.
Call to make an appointment. Stop potential viruses before they run rampant.

Viruses and other similar threats are unfortunately an everyday part of the Internet.
The best way to avoid them is to install a good antivirus application and keep updated.

What Is a Virus?

The term virus is thrown around pretty loosely these days, and some of the malicious items
out that that people call viruses are actually other things, such as worms and Trojan horses.

A real virus is a file virus. It infects the boot sector of a disk, and loads itself into RAM when
the computer starts. Then it infects executable files by adding its own code to them, so
whenever the executable file runs, the virus does its mischief. When that executable file
is run on another computer, the virus spreads there too.

That type of virus is not very common anymore, however. Much more common today are worms that spread via e-mail or file-sharing programs. Rather than infecting individual files, they infect PCs. They typically spread themselves by either attaching themselves to your outgoing e-mail or automatically mailing themselves to everyone in your address book. Further, many of them spoof the From address, so the person that it appears to come from is not the actual sender, but rather appears to be from someone the receiver knows.

This lesson uses the term virus very generically to mean any of the threats out there -- worms, viruses, and so on.

Are You Infected?

If you don't have an antivirus application running, you probably have a virus on your system -- maybe more than one. Yes, they're that common. Some people get at as many as three e-mails that are infected, some more. If you have an antivirus program, it stops these from infecting your PC.

You might also have a virus if your antivirus definitions are not up-to-date (for example, if you let your subscription expire), or if you've disabled your virus checker for some reason (perhaps to install new software) and forgot to re-enable it.

Some viruses actually disable your antivirus software. These are called retroviruses. Nasty stuff!

So suppose you don't have any antivirus software yet. Go out and buy some antivirus software immediately, or download a copy of one of the more popular antivirus software programs, such as Norton Antivirus, McAfee, Panda, or some other reputable provider.


However, here's a minor gotcha: If you already have a virus infection, you might not be able to install antivirus software. Those retroviruses, just mentioned often prevent the installation. So if you can't install antivirus software, try an online virus detection utility to determine which virus (es) you have. McAfee offers one called FREE SCAN or use Trend Housecall for FREE SCAN. Then download a free removal tool for that virus, available at various places on the Internet, including Symantec's Web site.

The latest version of Norton Antivirus has a pre-installation virus check utility that runs during Setup. So if you're installing from the CD version of Norton Antivirus, you can check your system prior to installation.

If your antivirus software is already installed but not updated, you might be able to download an update for it and run a complete system check even if you have a virus. The viruses that disable your antivirus software typically only disable the automatic checking process.

An antivirus program is only as good as its last update. Good-quality antivirus software comes with an automatic update component that checks the company's Web site every week and downloads the needed files. The list of viruses and the instructions for checking for them are called virus definitions.

There are actually FREE antivirus utilities, one of which is AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition. Now you have no excuse; you should be protected.



Safe Mode and Other Alternative Startup Modes with Windows XP

Safe Mode starts Windows with a minimal set of drivers, and without any applications loaded into the background. It's useful when you can't start your PC normally because of a problem with something that's trying to load itself at startup, such as a background application or a device driver.

Once you enter Safe Mode, you can disable the device for which the driver is causing a problem (through Device Manager, as you learned in Lesson 2), or you can use MSCONFIG to prevent the problem program from loading into the background at startup (as in Lesson 1).


You cannot operate your PC normally in Safe Mode (or at least not very well). Many of the items you normally expect to have at your disposal are not there, such as your CD drives and modem. Use Safe Mode only for troubleshooting, and then reboot into normal Windows operation.

To enter Safe Mode, you need to display the Startup menu at Windows startup. After Windows has failed to start normally, it might display the Startup menu automatically the next time you try to boot. If it doesn't, press the F8 key as the PC is booting. It can be tricky to press it at just the right time. You can't just hold it down, or you'll get a Keyboard Stuck error message. Try pressing and releasing F8 at one-second intervals starting at the moment the PC begins its boot sequence. If you see the Windows splash screen, you missed it.

When the Microsoft Windows XP Startup Menu appears, select Safe Mode from it, and Windows boots into Safe Mode. Safe Mode takes longer than usual to start up; this is normal.

Here's a complete list of the modes available from the Microsoft Windows XP Startup Menu and what they mean:

  • Safe Mode: This is the mode you've been reading about.
  • Safe Mode with Networking: Same as Safe Mode except the drivers for your network load. This is useful if the files you need to repair the problem are located on the network.
  • Safe Mode with Command Prompt: Same as Safe Mode except it opens a command prompt window. This is useful if the files you need to repair the problem are command-line utilities.
  • Enable Boot Logging: This starts Windows normally but logs information in NTBTLOG.TXT. This is useful if you want to see what's being loaded at startup (and if you're a big-time techie).
  • Enable VGA Mode: This starts Windows normally except it uses the plain VGA (Video Graphics Array) video driver. This is useful if you're pretty sure that the video driver is causing the problem. You can then remove and reinstall the video driver.
  • Last Known Good Configuration: Use this if you want to revert to the previously backed up version of the Registry. This is good if you make bad edits to the Registry that prevent the system from booting.
  • Directory Services Restore Mode: This is for domain controllers only; it's not used on workstations.
  • Debugging Mode: This is for programmers only; it's not useful for ordinary PC troubleshooting.



If your problems are with Windows itself (not an application that you can remove), and if System Restore doesn't help, you might need to repair Windows.

Before you get into this, though, go through this checklist and make sure you have already tried easier fixes, such as:

  • Run a spyware removal utility such as Spybot Search & Destroy.
  • Prevent unnecessary applications from loading at startup.
  • Remove the application that appears to be causing the problem.
  • Make sure your system is virus-free.
  • Install all available updates for Windows and for hardware drivers (especially the video card).

The next step is to figure out whether you have a copy of Windows XP on CD that will serve for a repair operation. You need one of the following:

  • A full version of Windows (either upgrade version or non-upgrade version): You have one of these if you bought Windows XP in a store, separately from your PC.
  • A bootable recovery CD for your PC. This is probably what you have if Windows XP came preinstalled on your PC.

There are huge differences between the recovery CDs provided by various manufacturers (and even by the same manufacturer at different times). Some recovery CDs boot to a menu system where you can decide to selectively reinstall or repair individual applications that came preinstalled on the PC, including Windows. You just select Windows from the list that appears and the Windows Setup program starts automatically. If you're lucky enough to have this option, you can follow along with the next section.

However, others boot to a recovery utility that has only one option: to completely wipe out the hard disk and reload everything from a disk image. You lose all your data files, and all applications that you've installed, and all settings you have configured. Needless to say, this is less than an ideal solution. You probably won't be able to use Windows Setup to repair Windows with such a disk.

PC makers often provide recovery disks that only restore the full disk image because it's cheaper than providing the full files, but it makes things much harder on the poor consumer. Complain to them! It's the only way they'll learn that this practice is not acceptable.

  • You have some horrible problem with Windows that you can't solve any other way.
  • You have a copy of the Windows XP Setup program, either on a real Windows XP CD or on a recovery CD provided by the PC maker.
  • If both of these conditions do not apply to you, skip this section (or just read it on an FYI basis).
  • Okay then. Put your Windows XP CD in your PC, and restart the PC. It should boot from the CD, into the Windows XP Setup program. (You might have to go through a menu system for the recovery CD first.)
  • When you boot from the Windows XP CD, or start the Windows XP Setup program, one of the first questions it asks you is whether you want to install Windows or repair an existing installation; you want to repair. Just follow the prompts, and Windows does its best to repair itself.

Reinstalling Windows

If repairing Windows does not work for you, or if you can't do it for some reason (such as perhaps you have a recovery CD instead of the real thing), you can either live with your Windows problems or do a clean installation.

With a clean Windows installation, you typically reformat the hard disk, wiping everything out and reinstalling Windows from scratch. This gets rid of all the problems you've been having, but it comes at a cost: you have to set up all your applications, hardware, and settings from scratch. You might need to download new drivers for some of the hardware, and you'll definitely need to reconfigure your system for e-mail, Internet, networking, and so on.


This is not a project to be undertaken lightly.

If you have the recovery CD that came with your PC, it probably has an option for doing a clean installation that restores the PC to its original factory configuration. If so, it'll be very easy to execute -- just a few clicks or key presses to get it started. This is one way in which having a recovery CD is actually better than a full version of Windows. (Okay, maybe better is stretching it, but at least more convenient in this very limited instance.)

If all you have is a regular Windows XP Setup CD, boot from the CD, and then do a new installation of Windows. When asked which partition and drive to put it on, select the existing one, but then select to reformat it through the Setup program. From there, just follow the prompts.


~ Katherine Allen ~



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