Some suggestions to help disinfect your computer

Ask Jim

Plugged In

August 31, 2006|By Jim Coates | Jim Coates,Chicago Tribune

I am at my wits' end with my two sons' IBM laptop computers that are riddled with spyware and viruses to the extent that the computers are almost unusable. They use these computers a lot for gaming, surfing the Web, instant messaging and, of course, schoolwork. Ha!! I have purchased software that takes care of viruses and software that takes care of spyware, but it never seemed to work the way it should. I don't want to add more software to the mix and would rather have a disk that I can use on any computer that disinfects the entire machine. They have so much garbage on their computers that I feel adding an anti-virus/anti-spyware program will just complicate things.

- Trey Reynolds

The problem here, Mr. R., is that you are describing a magic bullet, and magic bullets go into the same mythical category as free lunches. If somebody could invent a DVD that could be inserted into any computer and clean it up to pristine condition, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet would have new company atop the Fortune 500's billionaires list.

I can offer a couple of suggestions, and even though you are down with more software fixes, I'll describe a new program that, as one Web-surfs, stops the computer from downloading anything through the browser. It's Aura, by ATKA Software ( The software preemptively blocks all of those tiny memory-clogging applications downloaded to make Web sites deliver many of their features, such as animations, sounds and videos. As you know, some of these applets also can be used by spyware operators to do nasty things such as monitor and report on which Web sites one visits, redirect default home page to a sales site and even monitor keystrokes.

The reason that I suggest you try a 30-day free trial of the new $70 Aura product is that it will give your two lads a look in real time at all of the stuff that Web muggers try to slip by them and, one hopes, scare them onto the straight and narrow. As you say: Ha!! Boys will be boys.

Still, running Aura will stop them from making a lot of mistakes even though they clearly are wont to risk-taking, which is as common as candy bars among Web game-playing youngsters.

The problem with Aura - also its strength - is that whenever anything is allowed to be written to the hard drive, the user gets a nagging pop-up message warning of possible dangers and asking for permission to accept the download. Most other anti-spyware and anti-virus products spare most interruptions by scanning the hard drive at the end of each day to find problematic downloads.

So, it doesn't hurt to run Aura and a traditional anti-virus package.

Meanwhile, you can eliminate a lot of this stuff by deleting the temporary folder where Windows stores most of the applets that are downloaded. Click on Tools in the Microsoft Internet Explorer menu, and select Internet Options. In the next display, open the General tab and you will find buttons to Delete Files from the Temporary Internet directory and to Delete Cookies in a separate operation. Cookies carry automatic log-on information and sometimes are necessary, but the Temp files are most certainly expendable.

Finally, it's not a magic bullet disk, but the DVD that came with those laptops holding the Windows XP operating system recovery tool can be used to get the machines back to their unsullied beginning state. You'll have to back up data files and any additional software you installed, but it may sound worth the bother.

Jim Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune. Contact him via mail at the Chicago Tribune, Room 400, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago IL 60611.

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