May 16, 2007

Note: Always make a backup of your data before doing any major work to your computer.

Why is my computer running slow?

So all of a sudden you windows computer is starting to run slower than normal, you are getting more pop-ups than usual, and programs aren’t working the way they should. Don’t worry; it’s not the end of the world. The following is a down and dirty guide to first cleaning your computer of all the garbage that is slowing it down, and then keeping it clean.

Before we start talking about how to get your system back up and running like the beast it is, we should discuss what could be causing the problem to begin with. Today’s internet is filled with tons of garbage, it’s sad but true.

Two of the most common reasons for sudden computer slowdowns are vicious types of hidden software called adware and spyware. Both are usually installed under false pretences claiming to be these great pieces of software that will speed up your internet connections, give you free games, or pretty screen savers. And while they may do some of the stuff they claim, they also send information about you, your computer, and your internet browsing habits back to its creator (or more likely the person who paid the creator) and they use this information to trigger pop-ups on your computer and in some cases get your email address to send SPAM to.

Aside from these two types of hidden software there is the world of viruses that we must discuss. Viruses come in a wide variety of types and can do many things (almost none of which is good). Viruses are defined as any software that can replicate itself and spread throughout your system or to another system. Viruses have functions that range from sending out SPAM, collecting email addresses from your address book to aid in spamming, turning your computer in to a “zombie” (a computer that is remotely controlled by the attacker to aid in Distributed Denial of Service Attacks), turning your computer into a proxy for a hacker to route his traffic through in order to protect his/her identity, and data loss among many other things.

What can be done?

Now that we know the 3 most common software threats on the internet you may be asking “How do I get rid of this stuff?” well the solution is much simpler than computer shops want you to think. There are a wide variety of tools available for free on the internet to help you with removal of this type of problem. I like to refer to the following as the Holy Trinity of the computer world.

Adaware – made by a company called Lavasoft, Adaware is one of the most popular and most successful programs I have come across on the internet for removing adware and spyware from your computer. The personal edition is available for free download from http://www.lavasoftusa.com/ download the latest version of this software and get the latest definition updates.

Stinger – made by McAfee, stinger is a stand alone virus scanner that scans for about 50 of the most widespread (not necessarily the most recent) viruses out there. It saves a convenient log of what it found so you know exactly what was going wrong. Stinger can be downloaded from http://vil.nai.com/vil/averttools.asp

House Call – a web based virus scanner that is about as up to date as you can ask for. Now with a vulnerability scanner as well as a scanner for Spyware/Adware added this has gone from being a better than average virus scanner to an extremely powerful tool. It can be accessed at http://housecalll.trendmicro.com

Once you have downloaded your tools and have updated them, restart your computer into safemode. This is usually done by tapping the f8 key on your keyboard right after the computer begins to start up. Starting in safemode is strongly encouraged because while in safemode the computer only starts essential services, and loads essential drivers. If a file is in use it sometimes cannot be scanned and even when it is scanned it cannot be removed. So safemode accesses the fewest files needed to get the computer going. Run your scanners in safemode, and delete everything they detect (unless you know that it is a legitimate program, sometimes false positives do occur) chances are you will find a handful of stuff even if you think your computer is clean. After you have run the offline scanners you may want to reboot your computer connect to the internet and run Housecall"s scanner. After this is done the basic scans of your computer have been completed. If you feel the need you can repeat the previous steps as many times as you want until you feel your system is clean (I normally go through two times, just to be sure, with a reboot after the first time around)

How to keep it running well:

So now your computer is Clean, so let’s keep it that way. The most important thing you can do to keep your computer clean, is educate yourself. Be careful of the sights you visit, remember the saying “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is” and don’t download software from untrusted sites. Even if the software seems harmless it can cause a great deal of damage. Secondly, get an antivirus program installed on your computer; many good products can be purchased from a computer store including Symantec’s anti-virus and McAfee to just name two of the bigger ones. Or you can opt to download a free anti-virus like AVG (available at http://www.grisoft.com/)

You may also want to install a firewall on your computer. A firewall is another layer of protection between your computer and the internet. Firewalls come in both software and hardware form, and when configured correctly are very effective in protecting your computer. Sygate is a free software firewall and can be downloaded from http://smb.sygate.com/products/spf_standard.htm but like I said before you must keep this software updated and configured correctly for it to be effective. Do not “allow all connections” or you are just wasting system resources. Take the time to configure the firewall correctly and it will pay off.

Now all the software in the world can’t protect you if you don’t take the basic steps of patching your operating system. Microsoft provides a nice little program called “Microsoft Automatic Update” which comes pre-installed on all windows computers. USE IT. It will keep your computer up to date with the latest OS patches and help in keeping your computer a bit safer on the internet. I cannot stress enough how important it is to keep all of your software up to date with the latest security patches. The companies have only a handful of programmers creating the software and have THOUSANDS trying to break it. Holes will be found, so it is your responsibility to patch them.

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