First aid packages for the PC
May 25, 2008, 9:42 GMT
Hamburg - Unprepared computer users get hit the hardest: if your operating system refuses to load up one day or unwanted pop-up ads make your desktop look like a bulletin board, or the entire system crawls along at a snail's pace because spyware is busy reading from your hard drive, it's probably too late for easy advice.
All the more reason to have an effective first aid package ready for the PC. These packages can be key tools when you're trying to get misbehaving computers back on the straight and narrow.
'If disaster strikes, then you boot up from an alternative operating system,' explains Klaus Dembowski, an author and engineer at the Institute for Microsystem Technology at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg.
One recommended solution for regaining access to the computer and the data on an operating system is the Knoppix Live CD. The Linux distribution can be downloaded for free and then started directly from a self-burned CD or DVD. Knoppix Live contains a series of programs to help PC owners regain control of their computers, or at least save their files.
A different version of Knoppix known as Knoppicillin is specifically intended to hunt down viruses. Its developer, IT security expert Christiane Ruetten, says: 'It is designed from the ground up to set a virus scanner running, and otherwise you can launch the Firefox browser to go onto the internet.'
Ruetten, a contributor at Hanover-based c't magazine, has made Knoppicillin available for free on the internet. 'The downloadable version is primarily intended to work together with a virus scanner,' Ruetten explains. Linux knowledge is required, though.
In many cases certain settings must be changed for the Live CD to actually boot the machine back into life.
'Set the boot order in the BIOS so that the CD drive comes first in the book order,' recommends the German Federal Agency for Security in Information Technology (BSI) in Bonn.
Otherwise the computer will continue vainly attempting to boot from the hard drive. Before reaching for the CDs, it can often be worth an attempt to boot the Windows computer and virus scanner into what is known as Safe mode. This is triggered by pressing the F8 or F5 key when booting.
If it is a corrupted file and not a virus dragging down the computer, then neither virus scanner nor Live CD are much good. 'You should make an image when the system is functioning well,' Klaus Dembowski strongly recommends.
'Then if something goes wrong, you can completely restore the system,' he says. The image DVDs are automatically made boot-ready when burned by programs like Acronis True Image or Symantec Norton Save & Restore. The Ultimate, Business and Enterprise versions of Windows Vista includes an imager called Complete PC Backup.
If the virus scanner doesn't turn up any odd behaviour on the PC, then a rootkit may be to blame. Rootkits are malicious software hidden away from the user and anti-virus software. Special software is required to sniff out the intruders, software like Blacklight from F-Secure or Helios by Miel. Those programs reveal rootkits and can delete them as well.
Erratic behaviour by a PC can point to malware or spyware, programs that try to damage the computer system or spy on it. Help is offered through freeware like Spybot Search & Destroy or Lavasoft Ad- Aware. It's also helpful to see and control which programs launch up when Windows starts: CodeStuff Starter is one program to help with that. When outfitted with the proper utilities, users can survive their next PC crash without having to hit the panic button.