A virus is computer code that exploits a security shortcoming in a computer system in order to perform some malicious task, called it’s payload. Viruses and malware have many similarities.


Removing ThinkPoint without Task Manager

A coworker brought me a laptop (accompanied by the required food bribery) and asked me to remove a virus that had started popping up.  I booted up the laptop and, not at all surprisingly, it was infected with a Fake Security Scanner of a new and particularly nasty variety. It was called ThinkPoint and it replaces explorer.exe as your Windows shell, so as soon as you login ThinkPoint is all you see and all you have the ability to interact with.

Other sites explain how to remove ThinkPoint and their instructions are accurate, assuming you can open Task Manager via CTRL+ALT+DEL or CTRL+SHIFT+DEL.  Unfortunately the variant I ran into disables Task Manager, so I had to find another way to interact with the computer.  Luckily, ThinkPoint is easily tricked.

  1. Inside ThinkPoint, click the Support button.
  2. The goal of malware like ThinkPoint is to get the user to purchase the “full version” of the software, and logically we know that purchasing the software will probably open a web page so we can input our credit card information.  So let’s play along… Click Install the Full Version with the required modules.
  3. This will open up an Internet Explorer page with no status bar and no menus. Click anywhere within the page, then press CTRL+L to open the Open Dialog. This will let us explore our computer from within Internet Explorer.
  4. Click Browse.
  5. Next to the File Name field, select All Files so we can browse all files, not just HTML files.
  6. Navigate to C:\Windows. Locate explorer.exe, right-click it and select Open. Congratulations, you can now do whatever you want! Now follow these instructions to remove ThinkPoint: http://www.2-spyware.com/remove-thinkpoint.html

Crash Course: Home PC Maintenance

Starting this spring I will be teaching a four-hour crash course on home PC maintenace at SUN Area Career & Technology Center. Because of the length of the course and the unavailability of a good, no-nonsense text on the subject, I’ll be creating the course materials myself and making them available for free online.

The main goal of this course is to teach home PC maintainence from a proactive perspective.  Users will learn safe computer use habits and how to utilize the tools they already have at their disposal to keep their computers running eficiently including defragmentation, firewalls, antivirus, and spyware scanners.

To sign up, please visit SUN Tech’s Adult Ed Schedule. Check back for free course materials, and we’ll see you in the spring!

How Long do you Try Repairing Before Reformatting?

As a small-time computer consultant I’ve dealt with dozens of customers who bring me computers loaded with viruses and spyware.  I’m of the school of thought that a reformat is never neccessary, that–given enough work–any infestation can be overcome.  But there is a point of diminishing returns, and I’d like to know where others think that point lies.

I’ve arbitrarily decided that at my current rates it’s no longer worth my customer’s hard-earned money to try and root out an infestation beyond two hours of labor. After that I suggest a reformat.  Where do you draw the line?

Computer Viruses Explained

It happens at least once a week: a client, friend, or relative calls me in a panic and proceeds to explain, often in colorful terms, that their computer is acting strangely and they’re afraid that they’ve caught a virus. I listen calmly, then make a trip to their home or business to diagnose the problem for myself. In my experience one, maybe two of these calls out of ten actually result in the discovery of a real virus. Admittedly that’s only part of the story, so before you start thinking that viruses aren’t a threat to your PC, let me explain.

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