Cleaning Off Windows Computers

Argh, I hate being a geek sometimes. When I see a computer belonging to a relative that’s in such bad shape and instead of just leaving it alone I have to volunteer to “fix it up and make it better”, leaving me to be here at the computer at 9 at night on a Sunday running virus scan after virus scan on an old and busted laptop.

This laptop is in bad shape. Going to download programs like HijackThis.exe or AVG result in popups and being redirected to other “search” sites. The computer is slow as a dog, and while it’s not the newest of hardware (and AMD XP1700 or so), it’s not supposed to be that slow. There are all sorts of odd exe’s running in the task manager that re-appear after you kill them and after I installed TeaTimer, a tool to prevent malicious processes from doing nasty things, I simply got popup after popup after popup of “do you want xxx process to [add|change|remove] xxx?” After hitting the ‘don’t prompt me again’ button I basically got a constant barrage of the little information windows telling me that xxx process was blocked from doing [something nasty].

Honestly the computer needs to be nuked and repaved, but it’s not mine and I don’t know how much important data is actually on there, so I really would rather not risk deleting the family fortune accidently.

I really wish there was a “do everything / clean everything” disk or program out there. I’ve run spybot search & destroy few times, adaware, and have downloaded and used Hiren’s Boot CD and MiniPE to run scanners, cleaners, and the like. Way to much work in my opinion.

What I’d love to see is a CD or DVD image that you boot up with, it goes into it’s own environment, then downloads the latest adware and virus definitions, then auto-scans and auto-heals / deletes all the badness. Also it would have to delete all the nasty files, even after running multiple anti virus and anti adware programs I still had a bunch of oddly named .exe files in the c:\ root.

Would be a huge boom for places like FutureShop where they charge $75 to de-virus your computer. Though they probably have their own version of this already come to think of it.

Things that I’m doing now to make the whole process easier:

  • Always always always run in Safe Mode or under a different environment (ie: a boot CD).
  • Scan everything two or three times, rebooting in between. Then reboot and scan some more.
  • Don’t depend on just one scanning tool…. grab both adware and spybot s&d, get AVG and norton and fprot, just to be sure.
  • Don’t forget to update virus definitions from the start.
  • Clear out the recycle bin, and IE cache at the start, this’ll make sure that there’s a) less files to check for the anti-spyware and anti-virus programs, but it’ll nuke any nasties that are living in there from the get-go.
  • If it looks suspicious throw the filename into google, more than likely you’ll end up on a page like this telling you if the file is nasty or not.
  • Update to the latest service pack and hotfixes. Not sure if this is best to do before or you’ve done your scanning and cleaning, I’d wager after. No sense in patching a computer that’s half hooped already.
  • A defrag certainly can’t hurt, might even give a little extra boost of speed.

And when you’re done and getting the computer ready to send back to it’s owner:

  • Ensure that everything is up to date and the firewall is turned on.
  • Enable auto update.
  • Use an alternative browser, possibly with an IE skin. Or update to IE7 if they insist on using IE. Make sure that the new browser is set as the default one.
  • If they’re using outlook / outlook express… well, I’m not sure if these still need help to prevent viruses. I’d probably say install Thunderbird, set up the adaptive spam filters, and show them how to set a message as spam/non-spam.
  • If they’re anything like my uncle-in-law they have a wide variety of what I like to refer to as “crap” installed on their system. Random file viewers, etc. Go through them (potentially even with the computer owner 🙂 and ask them if they actually use the program. If not, get rid of it, it’s just safer/cleaner that way.

Depending on the users use and experience with computers, converting their system to something like Ubuntu Linux might be possible. Your average user who only surfs and emails probably would do well with something like this. Of course, the sort of people who let themselves get infected with nasties aren’t generally the type of people who are linux people…..

Anyone know where I can get a magic CD like that by the way?