Common computer & virus FAQs

What is a Computer Virus?

A virus is a program that piggybacks on real programs. For example, a virus might attach itself to a program such as a spreadsheet program. Each time the spreadsheet program runs, the virus runs, too, and it has the chance to reproduce (by attaching a copy of itself to other programs in your computer). Many times a virus waits until a trigger event occurs and and then attacks your system. Some viruses are relatively benign (they only announce that have infected your computer). However. Many viruses damage your computer by erasing your data files or even destroying Windows programs preventing your computer from running. Viruses do not damage your hardware but can damage the software (applications) running on your computer.

  1. An Execusliderle virus is a program that hooks on to another program.
  2. A Boot Sector virus is a program that attaches it self to the program that runs when your computer starts.
  3. An Email virus attaches itself to an EMail message. Once in your computer, it uses your address book to send a message containing the virus to everyone in your address book.
  4. A Macro virus is written in a special language that is part of a document or spreadsheet. When one of these applications is run that contains a macro virus the macro virus runs and replicates itself.

A Worm is a small piece of virus software that uses security holes in computer networks (i.e. the internet) to copy itself into your computer. The worm then scans your network for another machine that has the security hole. It copies itself to the new machine. When worms run they may also damage your computer system.

A Trojan Horse is simply a computer program that claims to do one thing (it may claim to be a game) but instead does damage when you run it (e.g. it may erase your hard disk or damage system files). Trojan horses normally don’t replicate automatically.

How can I protect my computer from viruses?

Today, Execusliderle and Boot Sector viruses are not the threat that they once were when people transferred programs using floppy disks. However, EMail viruses are a major problem. There are some simple things that you can do to minimize you exposure to EMail viruses.

  1. Be very cautious when opening emails from unknown sites or emails that you don’t expect. This includes opening an attached file from a friend that sends you clever file or picture that he or she has found.
  2. Do not open an email attachment that has an .EXE, .COM, or .VBS extension unless you know where it comes from. Attachments with these extensions are programs that are or can contain viruses.
  3. Do not surf the internet and open sites that are not from well known organizations. Especially pornographic sites.

Purchasing (and running) Anti-virus software and keeping it up to date will protect you from almost all viruses. Since new viruses are written every day, keeping the anti-virus software up to date is very important. There are several repusliderle anti-virus applications: McAfee Plus, Webroot SecureAnywhere, Kaspersky, Bitdefender Plus, Norton. All of these anti-virus applications are subscription programs. PC House Calls recommends Norton Anti-virus (Norton Internet Security). We use Norton Anti-virus on all of our computers. All of the mentioned have daily updates of their anti-virus dasliderase. This is crucial since new virus appear daily.

Do not install more than one Anti-virus program on your computer. Two anti-virus program do not give you any additional protection and they interfere with each other.

For a more complete description of viruses, consult the “Wikipedia” web site.

What is Spyware or Malware?

Malware takes many forms: delivery of unsolicited pop up advertisements; theft of personal information (including financial information such as credit card numbers); monitoring of Web browsing activity for marketing purposes; or rerouting your requests to advertising sites. Although Malware is normally not deliberately malicious, it uses your computers resources slowing it down or interfering with its operation. Malware does not usually self replicate.

  1. Adware (note: not Ad-Aware) refers to any software which displays advertisements, whether or not it does so with the user's consent.
  2. Data Miners and Trackware monitors your web activity aimed at building up a marketing profile on you.
  3. Keyloggers record every key that you press and sends this information to someone else. This type of Malware is how your passwords can be compromised.
  4. Dialers cause a computer with a modem to dial up a long distance telephone number instead of the usual Service Provider. This can result in massive telephone bills.
  5.  A Trojan Horse presents itself as a useful utility ( a "Web accelerator" or virus or Malware removal software), however, when installed it does something quite different.

The most direct route by which Malware can get in your computer is to induce you to install it. Many Malware programs deceive you by either by piggybacking on a piece of desirable software, or by tricking you to install the software without realizing it. A few Malware programs install themselves in your system.

Computers can be rapidly infected with large numbers of Malware components. You will notice unwanted behavior and degradation of system performance. A Malware infestation can create significant unwanted CPU activity, disk usage, network, application or system crashes and difficulty connecting to the Internet. In one case, Malware has been associated with identity theft.

How can I protect my computer from Spyware or Malware?

PC House Calls recommends Malware Bytes as an effective tool to remove Malware programs. Malware Bytes and many other anti-Malware programs come in both a free version and subscription version. The major difference between the two versions is that the subscription versions guard your computer when ever it is running while you must run the free version manually to scan, detect and remove Malware. Major anti virus firms such as Symantec and McAfee have added anti Malware features to their existing anti virus products, however, they are generally not as effective as products specifically designed to detect and remove Malware.

If you are not familiar with a piece of software that you want to load on your system, use one of the search engines (i.e. Yahoo or Google) and look it up to find out exactly what it does. Another source for identifying Malware is to examine the license agreement (especially the last clauses in the agreement). These are places that companies get your permission to install their Malware. Many Malware programs disguise themselves as Malware removal tools. Do not put software products on your system without knowing what they really are.

You can install more than one antiMalware in your system but if more than one is running they will consume additional computer resources. You should have both an anti-virus and an antiMalware programs running on your computer.

For a more complete description of Malware, consult the “Wikipedia” web site.

I just got a message that my computer is infected what should I do?

If you suddenly get a message that your computer is infected and the message does not come from your installed anti-virus or your installed anti-malware software, do not respond to this message. It is a computer scam. When you use the “X” to close the application, the application doesn’t close. The reason that this happens is that when you use the “X”, to close a application, a message is sent to the running application to stop. It is the running application that decides how to stop. If the application doesn’t want to stop, it just keeps running.

The way around this problem is to go to a higher authority, the Windows Task Manager, to terminate the application. Since th task manager is the part of windows that starts applications, it can also stop them without their permission. You should only use the Task Manager to terminate applications as a last resort. If you make a mistake using the task manager, you could crash Windows and have to restart Windows. To use the task manager to stop a application, go to the Task Manager window. The way to find the Task Manager depends on the Version of Windows that you are using. Use the HELP slider for directions on how to find the Tasjk Manager. On the Task Manager, Applications slider highlight the application that you want to stop. Then go to the bottom of the page and select “End Task”. It might take a while but the application will stop.

The latest computer support scam is to call you on the telephone and caller to tell you that your computer has sent a message that it is infected. This is not true. Your computer does not spontaneously send messages to anywhere. If you want to play with the person (usually with an Indian accent), go ahead and string them along. Otherwise just hangup.

For more information go to the US Government, Federal Trade Commission web site:

What is the Internet?

It is easy to be local in your thinking about the Internet and only consider the Internet to be an United States of American facility. This is the way that most people use it. This is not true. “www” stands for World Wide Web and that is what is true. Things are placed on the internet by individuals and companies from any where in the world. We have sold items to people in other countries. The reason that we bring this up is that many pieces of Malware are placed on the internet from countries that do not have the restrictions and protections that exist in the United States.

Although the Internet is a very powerful and useful tool, you must use it with care. If you are using the internet and something happens that is unexpected, examine it carefully before proceeding. You can always close your browser (the application that you you use to access the Internet), restart it and try your project again. You can always use one of the search engines to research unexpected things or names that happen to find out more about them. You can then decide what to do.

Where is my data stored?

A modern computer uses three types of memory: working memory (RAM memory), permanent memory (disk drives), and auxiliary memory (CD and DVD drives).

Working memory (or RAM) comes on small printed circuit boards called “memory sticks”. They install into the main circuit board (motherboard) of your computer. Data in this type of memory is stored electrically in integrated circuits. All computer programs are brought into this memory where they do their job. The advantage of RAM memory is that it is very fast (allowing your computer to execute programs effectively); the disadvantage is that when you turn your computer off, RAM memory forgets everything. So where is your data when the computer is turned off?

The permanent memory of your computer is on your disk (or hard) drive. In this type of memory, data is stored magnetically on rotating disks. This memory is slower than RAM memory but it never forgets what is put there. Before your computer turns off, it saves everything important to your computer’s hard drive. When you install a program or create a data file, it is placed on the hard drive. Your data (and programs) on the hard drive are organized into folders (directories) and files. A file generally contains one thing: a program, a document, a song, a picture, etc. You can arrange your files into folders so that all related files are together. Folders can also contain other folders. The Program Files folder contains a Folder for each different application installed on your commuter. Each program folder contains all the files (and possibly other folders) for that program.

The hard drive is also used in conjunction with RAM memory to temporarily store data while a program is running. This data is stored in the “swap file”. Using the hard drive this way, lets you run programs that use much more RAM memory than you actually have. This type of memory is called “virtual memory”. If your hard drive becomes very full, this can slow down the operation of programs or in extreme cases cause your computer to work very erratically.

I have called the last type of memory “auxiliary” memory. It is also permanent memory. In addition it can be removed from the computer and stored somewhere else. In most computers this consists of CD or DVD drives. These drives are used mostly for more permanent storage of information: backups of data on the disk drive, programs that can be installed, libraries of pictures, songs, and videos. Information on this type of memory is also organized into Folders and Files.

There are other types of auxiliary memory available. There are small devices containing a special type of non-volatile (non-forgetting) electronic memory: flash driver or thumb drives, digital camera memory, MP3 players, etc. There are several type of removable cartridge disk drives as well as a number of high capacity tape drives. These are all used for special purposes. {slider How can I preserve my data in case of a computer failure?|blue} Disk drives are very reliable devices. They run for years without any problems. However, they are rotating mechanical devices with moving parts inside of them. Any mechanical device, however reliable, will eventually wear out and fail. Since most computer users keep important data on the disk (hard) drives, when the drive eventually fails, their data is frequently lost. Periodically making a copy of your important data is insurance against the time when your hard drive fails. Recovering data from a failed drive is costly or may even be impossible.

Backups are easily made using a CD or DVD writer. CD’s can hold up to 700MBytes of data and DVD can hold 4.7 Gbytes of data and programs. How often you make a backup depends on how much data you are willing to loose (e.g. if losing one weeks worth of data is OK, backup once a week).

Backups should be made to several different disks (e.g. if you are making weekly backups, backup to four different copies - one for each Friday of the month). This way if one copy does not work properly, you have several others to fall back on.

Backups can be made by simply copying the files (or folders) to be saved to the CD (or DVD). However, many systems have a Backup application that was supplied by Microsoft. You may also purchase Backup software from other software vendors. The advantage of using backup software is that it automatically uses multiple CDs (or DVDs) if what you are saving doesn’t fit onto one. The same software can be used to retrieve single files or folders or the entire backup set.

What can I do to keep my computer running?

There are a few things that you can do to keep your computer in top shape. The first is to get some “canned air” or use a compressor to blow out your computer. Many of the components in your computer generate as much or more heat than a 100 watt light bulb. If this heat isn’t removed, the temperature sensitive components would be permanently damaged. As long as your computer is on, fans are pulling air from outside the case to cool these components. The problem is that along with the air, the fans also pull in dust and lint. This lint and dust clog the cooling mechanisms and reduce their efficiency. Before damage occurs, this dust must be removed.

Two or three times a year disconnect your computer, remove the side panel, and take the computer outside. Use the canned air or an air compressor to blow all the lint and dust out of your computer. The temperature sensitive components have “heat sinks” attached to them. A heat sink is usually an aluminum fin and possibly an additional fan. A heat sink works like the radiator in your car. Look for the components with aluminum fins or fans mounted on them. Make sure that the aluminum fins are not clogged with lint and dust. The front of the computer has holes or spaces used to let air into the computer case - blow them out. Blow out the tops of your DVD, CD and Hard Drives. And finally blow air through the power supply. The power supply is usually found in the back top of the computer case. Blow out both the front and back of the power supply. Keep the process of blowing out dust until no more dust comes out of the computer. If your computer is in an unusually dusty location or you have pets, you make have to do this more often. Take the dust free computer and reconnect it to all of the equipment. If you feed uneasy doing this process, call us and we will come out to do it for you.

A second thing that you can consider is to leave your computer on all the time. Anti-virus applications and other similar applications use quiet time to update their dasliderases. Later versions of Windows also use this time to reorganize the files on the hard drive for more efficient operation. If your computer is not running this can’t happen. It is not essential that you leave your computer on. A

running computer takes as much electricity as 2 or 3 100 watt bulbs. PC House Calls computers run 24/7 all the time. The only time we shut them down is if they seem to be a little sluggish or something doesn’t seem to work right.

Rebooting a computer reinitializes it so its starts with a fresh copy of Windows.

Many mechanical devices experience stress during startup. The first few seconds of starting a car engine, the engine runs without oil. The longest running light bulb has never been shut off for decades. The start up current for electrical devices is higher during the first seconds placing stress on the electronic components. Your hard drive also has to go through special steps when starting up this could also place extra stress on it. As I stated earlier, this is a personal decision. What I have done here is to give you information about the pros and cons of leaving your system running.

Windows XP Support is ending. Do I need to upgrade my Windows XP system?

Ending Windows XP Support means that Microsoft will no longer have a team of programmers dedicated to looking for and correcting small problems in Windows XP. Microsoft will not issue improvements to Windows XP. If Windows XP was working while Microsoft was supporting it, it will continue to work after support stops. What you must do is to make sure that your anti-virus software is kept up to date. Your anti-virus software will continue to protect your system from being comprised. Your system does not need to be upgraded. Upgrading to a new Windows Operating System may require you to upgrade your computer. The newer Windows Systems require larger memories, and/or larger hard drives. They may also not run on older processors. Including more memory and more hard drive space. Also you will probably need technical support to transfer your personal files (pictures, emails, letters, etc.) onto your new computer.

Consider the impact of upgrading Windows on business and government. Many businesses including public organizations (Federal, State, City , including Schools, etc.) have an enormous investment in Windows XP They can not junk all their computers to upgrade them to one of the more recent Windows Systems. Windows XP will continue to be a viable computer system for many years. (Note that there are still computers in use that used Windows 98 the precursor to Windows XP).

Your Windows XP Operatring System will continue to operate just like it has in the past. Anti-virus and Anti-Malware programs will still protect your Windows XP System as long as you keep them up to date. . These applications are not part of the Microsoft Corporation. As long as there are a significant number of Windows XP system in use, the companies that make Anti-virus and Anti-Malware systems will continue to sell and support them.

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