Copyright 2005, Rick Macmurchie - June 1, 2005

My computer runs like a bag of manure, its slow, it crashes and I get pop-up adds all the time.

If your computer is not running like it used to, something may be broken but there's a good chance these days that your computer has some sort of 'Malware' running on it.

What is 'malware', 'spyware', 'adware'? 

'Malware' is the general term used to describe software programs that have malicious intentions, viruses, worms and Trojan horse programs are the best known types. Recently several new types of programs have emerged to be added to the list of malware programs. Spyware and adware are software that once running on your system watch what you do and may use the information to steal your personal information or just to display targeted advertising.

How does this software get into my computer? 

There are a number of ways that these programs can get loaded on your computer, most viruses get in through email attachments or sometimes through programs downloaded using peer-to-peer file sharing programs. Spyware and adware usually come from the web.

Some 'free' programs that are available on the web install spyware, adware or other malware either as a way to generate advertising income from your free use of the software, or in the worst examples to steal personal information for possible identity theft, or to trick you into paying for a removal program.

Other adware and spyware install themselves just by visiting certain web pages either with your permission or in some cases without any sign that they are being installed (by exploiting security vulnerabilities in your web browser.)

What can I do to protect my computer from these programs?

There currently does not seem to be any way to be absolutely safe, the people that are writing these programs are (in some cases) very good at it, and they update their programs frequently to evade detection and removal.

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk, and in most cases these steps will provide enough protection to keep your computer working well even if you can't keep it entirely clean.

  1. Educate everyone that uses the computer to be very careful about downloading and installing new programs.

  2. Keep your operating system (eg. Windows XP) and web browser (eg. Internet Explorer) updated with security (critical) update patches.

  3. Install a utility to prevent, detect and remove spyware and adware.

  4. If you are still using Windows 95, 98, ME, NT4 or 2000 consider upgrading to Windows XP
    Versions of Windows previous to Windows XP will never get the security upgrades that have been added to Windows XP in Service Pack 2. (It necessary to upgrade your computer to run Windows XP but generally if you have at least 256mb RAM memory and 10Gb of free hard drive space Windows XP will install and run, even if a bit slowly)

How do I remove these programs if they are already on my computer?

Many of these programs deliberately try to prevent you from removing them from your computer, in some cases you will need to call on professional help to remove the most stubborn ones, it may even be necessary to reinstall Windows in some cases because changes to the system configuration may break internet access during removal.

It should be reasonably safe to use the removal tools in your antivirus software and the removal functions in the Yahoo Antispy and in Spybot Search and Destroy. There are extra steps that you can take to improve the chances of successful removal.

The first thing to do, is to check 'Add/Remove Programs' in Control Panel to see if there are any programs installed that you don't want. Try removing any programs that you don't want or need, be sure to read any messages very carefully, often the wording of the messages will be convoluted to try and trick you into cancelling the uninstall.

Once you have tried (successful or not) to remove the program in the normal way, you should continue with the following steps to clean up as many remaining problems as possible. (These instructions are specific to Windows XP)

  1. Print these instructions for reference as the next steps will close your web browser.

  2. Save any files you have open and close any programs you have open.

  3. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del - (On some systems a Windows Security dialog will pop up, click Task Manager)

  4. Click the Processes tab to display a list of the programs currently running on your computer.

  5. Right-Click on explorer.exe and click End Process Tree (This will end all tasks started by explorer.exe, which is the Windows desktop, including your web browser)

  6. Repeat step 5 for each process in the list except taskmgr.exe and anything listed with a user name of SYSTEM, LOCAL SERVICE or NETWORK SERVICE (Some clever malware programs will restart themselves making it very difficult to close everything, this may make it necessary to repeat all steps 1-11 in 'Safe-Mode' {See Below})

  7. Click File then 'New Task (Run...)' type C:\Program Files\Yahoo!\YPSR\yspr.exe and click OK (This will start the Yahoo! Anti-Spy program.)

  8. Click 'Begin Scan', let the scan run and then click 'Remove All' to start the removal of the detected items. (If prompted to reboot, do not reboot.)

  9. Return to Task Manager (Repeat Step 3 if necessary) then click File, 'New Task (Run...)' type C:\Program Files\Spybot - Search & Destroy\SpybotSD.exe and click OK (This will start Spybot Search and Destroy, if it's the first time you've run it it will start with a wizard and lead you through the update, immunize, and scan.)

  10. When the scan is complete click 'Fix selected problems' to start the removal of detected items.

  11. Spybot Search and Destroy may not be able to remove everything and may want to run again on reboot, select to not run again on reboot and instead repeat all steps 1-11 in safe mode {See Below}

If you are not able to remove everything, even in Safe Mode, don't panic, try using the computer you may have gotten rid of enough that the computer runs normally again. If the system still has problems, you should probably call on the services of a professional who can use a program like Hijackthis (Best downloaded from and other more complicated manual cleanup to get rid of remaining pests.

Starting Windows XP in Safe Mode

To start Windows XP in safe mode, restart your computer and press F8 just before the Windows logo appears, it can be difficult to get the timing right so it's best to turn on the computer and just press F8 repeatedly until the boot menu appears and pick Safe Mode from the menu. See Microsoft's page for detailed instructions.

What is JAVA?

Java (at least as far as computers are concerned) is an add-on for web browsers that allows programs to be run as part of a web page within your browser. Java was developed as a system that would allow a single version of a program to run on any computer or web browser rather than having to have different versions of a program for each operating system and web browser.

Java programs come in at least two types, scripts and compiled programs (Applets). Script instructions can be read in the source of many web pages, the compiled Java applets require a Java Virtual Machine to run. Microsoft used to include a Java Virtual Machine with Internet Explorer but they do not anymore, so you may need to install one from the Sun Microsystems web site.

Java was specifically designed to be safe, limiting what scripts and applets can do on your system, but security problems are sometimes found and fixed so it is important to keep your Java up to date (the current version will automatically tell you when an update is available).

Back to the article IndexBack to the Great White North Home Page

Did the information on this site help you solve a problem?
Consider making a donation to support the site.

Rick Macmurchie
(250) 658-6319

Hit Counter