Home > Software > Delousing the Tween’s Windows Laptop… and Tales of Recovery & Prevention

Delousing the Tween’s Windows Laptop… and Tales of Recovery & Prevention

My lovely tween daughter really hosed her laptop weekend before last and was infected with a rather insidious piece of malware called XP Smart Security (also masquerades as Vista Smart Security, and various Windows 7 variants). It appears as a legit microsoft-type applet, so at first the casual user just assumes that the behavior is normal. My first round of delousing this took about 5 hours, and I’d thought I’d nabbed it using a couple of different anti-malware remedies, only to have it quickly reappear a few days later. Here’s what it looks like, so if you see something like this come on your computer…. run!

You Need Multiple Remedies
In addition to being careful regarding where one treads online, the real lesson is that one needs to use multiple remedies for these types of things, as the bad guys are really crafty and it’s hard for any one of these solutions to cover it all. In fact, there are many out there who will tell you that if you are infected with this type of malware, the best remedy is to wipe the machine and restore to the system’s original state using the manufacturer’s restore partition or CD/DVDs. I was absolutely ready to do that, but the pains of bringing the system back up to its current state software and configuration wise was not anything I was looking forward to (especially with an impatient  almost 12-year old hanging over my shoulder). And yes, if she were running an Apple machine, or Linux like her Dad, she would not be subject to this type of infestation, but let’s not cover that here.

For the working masses who own Windows machines (still in the ~90% range by all accounts), I would highly recommend running 2-3 of these malware remedies regularly (perhaps once a week, or at least once a month), and not just in a time of crisis. Trust me, if you are running Windows, preventative maintenance is necessary. And in spite of the false sense of safety you might get by running McAfee, or Norton, or the security suite of your choice, your anti-virus software being up-to-date, and running utilities like Ccleaner (really has no impact on these kinds of things), are not enough. And I can guarantee that when you run these remedies they will find stuff, regardless of how careful you think you are being.

This Week’s Windows Toolkit
Malwarebytes helped irradicate daughter’s issue. I also used A-Squared and Spybot Search and Destroy. These programs all have a free version (the real difference about the free versions is that they often don’t come with real-time protection or scheduling). I’m by no means religious about these brands, and there are many other good programs that can help. And while one can truly try to stay away from bad websites and never click on stuff you’re not sure about, it’s increasingly hard and almost impossible to avoid. My larger point is that you should use multiple products and do it regularly.

If you are little bit technically inclined, I really like Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, which allows you to create a completely free and comprehensive recovery environment that boots from a CD or USB drive and includes both anti-virus and anti-malware tools. If your machine is really sick, and your are you can follow some basic technical instructions, this CD can be a life saver (e.g. it can allow you to get your data off of a machine that just won’t boot up).

Make sure that when you install any of these programs that you run the updates for each of them. In the case of the anti-malware tools, once you run them, make sure that you execute the sequence that will actually remove or quarantine the issues it finds.

Image Your Machines. It’s easier than you think
Also, once you’ve done this, I would highly recommend “imaging” your machine (e.g. NOT backup, but a restorable image). For Windows, I like Macrium Reflect (also free), which can run from inside of Windows and image to either external USB or network drive. Backing up your documents regularly is a given, but by making an image you can then get your system back to a known good state is easily if you ever completely hose your machine (and chances are that could happen). I try to make a system image once a month.

Yes all of this sounds like an incredible pain, but if you rely on your computer for business, entertainment, balancing the checkbook, or whatever your needs are, this is kind of like changing the oil in your car.

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