From the Kenosha News on 12-9-07

Start here to fix a messed up Windows computer

      If your computer is connected to the internet frequently – and especially if you have children or teenagers using it – your computer may begin to show odd symptoms, including pop-ups and “warning” messages.  This recently happened to one of our home computers.  Getting it back to reasonable functionality took several steps.

      First, learn as best you can to recognize bona fide warnings from scam attempts and spyware.  Our computer, and several other computers I’ve seen recently, began displaying warnings that the computer must have spyware and that something should be downloaded to clean the spyware.  There is nothing that I know of built-in to Windows that would pop-up such a warning, so I concluded that this message is a result of spyware itself.  Getting beyond the message was more problematic since it kept coming up each time I closed it. 

      The first step of the clean-up was to kill the process(es) that was/were causing the pop-up warning.  To do this, press Ctrl-Alt-Del and click the task list button.   Click the Processes tab.   Look for tasks that have a CPU usage that is greater than 0 that you don’t recognize, and for which the User Name is not SYSTEM.  You can look up a process on-line at processlibrary.com to see if it’s something needed or desirable or troublesome.  If you find a process that looks to be causing the pop-ups or is otherwise a problem, click on it, then click the End Process button.

      The second step is to identify processes that are starting up when your computer boots.  To do this, click Start, then click Run.  Type msconfig and press Enter to launch the msconfig tool.  click the Startup button.  The more processes are checked, the more programs will start up at boot time, and the longer boot-up will take.  The only processes that are really NEEDED are your anti-virus and/or any firewall or network client you might have.  If you run Google desktop, AIM, or WeatherBug, these will be listed here.  You should be able to uncheck most of the items on the list.  Once you get the unwanted processes killed, restart.  (On your next restart, you’ll get a warning; click the “Don’t show this again” box.)

      Make sure you have an effective anti-virus program and also a spyware scanner.  You can get AVG anti-virus free at free.grisoft.com/doc/2/us/frt/0.  Remember that anti-virus and anti-spyware serve different purposes, and you need both.  Two free anti-spyware programs are AdAware (www.lavasoftusa.com.  Click the green “Free” button at the right) and Spybot Search and Destroy (www.safer-networking.org/en/mirrors/index.html.)  Make sure that your virus definitions are up to date.  Do a scan of your computer with both your anti-virus and a spyware scanner.  Clean and remove any viruses or spyware programs you find.

      Now make sure that your Windows installation is set to download and install updates on a regular basis.  In Windows XP, this is done in the Security Center under the Control Panel.  Finally, be prepared for a more serious melt-down by having a Windows CD handy just in case the situation deteriorates.

by Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 12-9-07