That PC wasn\’t broken, it was just spyware

I “repaired” a PC this weekend. Actually it wasn’t much of a repair. It had problems: disk errors, applications crashed a lot, the computer crashed a lot, startup times were slow, and at times the computer was really unresponsive.

At first I suspected viruses, but I quickly found the virus software was up to date, which was a good thing.

The problem was spyware.I found about 70 instances of it, which is right about average, depending on who you believe. I used Bazooka, Ad-Aware, and Spybot Search & Destroy (all free for personal use). It was necessary to use all three, because each found something the others had missed. I Bazooka to get an overview of the system since it’s fast. But I don’t do anything with the results since it’s not automatic. Then I run Spybot S&D first, since it’s automatic and faster than Ad-Aware. I run Ad-Aware to get what Spybot S&D misses, and last, I run Bazooka again and manually clean up anything it finds, which will hopefully only be two or three things.

The system could never finish a disk scan or a defrag, but after eliminating the spyware it could do it just fine. The system was too busy spying to do real work. I found disk errors, but all of it was consistent with a computer that crashed a lot.

I really wonder how many computer problems these days would go away if it wasn’t for this junk.

Incidentally, it took me three hours to get rid of all of it and then fix the damage it had wrought.

I recommended the owner ditch Internet Explorer, especially since he had Netscape 7.1 installed. With no ActiveX and no close ties to the OS, it’s a lot harder for a web site to install something without you knowing about it if you’re using a non-IE browser. Use IE just for Windows Update and nothing else. I also should have told him not to install free software, period, unless it’s licensed under either the GPL or a BSD license.

Just by following those two rules, I’ve been spyware-free for years.

4 thoughts on “That PC wasn\’t broken, it was just spyware

  • June 20, 2004 at 6:35 am
    Permalink

    The US has it bad, but some countries have it worse. My wife’s
    computer has a Korean version of Windows 98 nstalled (because
    just having KLS installed in an English version doesn’t cover
    everything). I’ve cleaned up the system but after she visits her
    Korean websites, the computer is trashed in no time with spyware
    and little presents that send her off to unwelcome webites, even
    though we run anti-virus and spybot. Every session the anti-virus
    software gets tripped at least once. Cleanup is complicated
    because the OS messages are all in Korean (which I don’t read, but
    from what my wife translates, system meassage aren’t anymore
    helpful in Korean than they are in English). And I can’t find out
    what half the stuff that gets installed in startup is. We may give up
    the Korean OS experiment and go back to English – just so I have a
    fighting chance.


    Some things you must love because they’re impossible to like

  • June 20, 2004 at 9:20 am
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    Believe it or not, I’ve set up the Korean version of Windows 98 once, for a journalism professor who was from Korea. Unfortunately, his system had a Token-Ring network card that was particularly difficult to get running, even when the error messages were in English. That made it even more fun when translated by someone who didn’t know exactly what the error messages mean.

    At one point I turned to him and said, "Don’t worry, Windows’ lies don’t make sense in English either."

    I ended up guessing the meaning of some of the dialog boxes based on the warning icon and the size and placement of the buttons, as I recall. We did get it working, but it took a couple of hours.

  • June 21, 2004 at 1:02 pm
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    To prevent spyware from auto installs, I’ve been using WinPatrol.
    http://www.winpatrol.com

    It may not find all spyware hijacking, but it does help!

  • June 22, 2004 at 1:09 pm
    Permalink

    I’ll add in a second vote for WinPatrol; I’ve added it in to the 12 year old’s machine he uses for school and it’s helped (well as much as is possible with a 12 year old).

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