Fixing a computer

Back in August I wrote about working on a co-worker’s home computer that was attacked by viruses and Trojans. At the time I wasn’t able to really fix it, just make things a little better. After a few months the computer became so busy running all of its viruses and processes that it ceased functioning and you couldn’t even start any programs. I knew this time that rather than try and fix the computer it was time to reformat the hard drive and start over with a fresh installation.


First I had to boot the computer in Safe Mode to do anything. I was able to use the CD writer to back up all of the Docuements and Settings for the main account set up in Windows XP. I was not able to get her older son’s files since he had protected those and they could only be accessed under his account, which didn’t work (safe mode wouldn’t let us log on to his account). Unfortunately he wound up losing all of his files. He was most worried about all of his MP3’s which he had painstakingly tagged by hand in Music Match. (Later I showed him how to get the tags over the internet using iTunes, but he still lost a few MP3’s that he doesn’t have the original CDs for). I feel like there is a good lesson that paranoia about privacy doesn’t pay off. I also pointed out that if he does have files he wants to keep secret he could just store them on his iPod. Lastly, if a file is worth saving, it is worth backing up. (Even worse, once he installed iTunes it had no songs and when he synched up his iPod, all the files were erased off of the iPod too.)

Once I had backed up what files I could, I went ahead and used the XP installation disk to format the drive and install XP. I brought a CD with Service Pack 2 Network Install (has all the files you could possibly need) rather than wait to download the updates over a 44 kbps phone line that would be subject to hijacking in the meantime (when I installed Windows 2000 on my computer I was infected while downloading the updates). Even so there were still another 16 MB of updates she needed since the release of SP2. To get those we had to install AOL 9.0. SP 2 comes with a firewall which we installed, though I’m not sure what good that does.

Next I wanted to install Norton Antivirus. Jenny had bought a full blown version in 2003. We installed it and then it had another 16 MB of updates to download for that, but it acted like it was a completely new installation and doesn’t expire until March 2006 now. That was a nice surprise. The problem with Norton is that it will bug you about updates until you actually install them. But Jenny’s son was impatient so he would just cancel the download. That meant he would just get bugged again and again until he finally disabled Norton. Better to just download them and be done with it.

Norton still bugs you a lot when “suspicious activity” takes place like a program trying to get on the internet (like Firefox or iTunes). If you don’t select “Always Permit” then it will bug you every time. But you don’t want to permit everything, so you just have to pay attention. I don’t know if it’s worth the effort and most people are going to pick the wrong thing at some point. The problem with computers is it is not good to be just a little bit competent on them. You have to be pretty competent. And Jenny’s son has already developed the male tendency to just click on stuff with great confidence and speed and then figure out what he did wrong later.

I also wanted to get the files back that we had backed up on CD. I scanned the CD and it was amazing the number of viruses on it. But none of the documents like Word files appeared to be infected, just stuff in the internet cache. Anyway, it appears to be working fine now and all but one of the Norton updates was installed when I left.

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