Virus/Trojan or Hardware? A Few Tips…

Your computer is acting up, and it’s not always easy to tell. Some of the symptoms of a virus and/or Trojan are similar to what is seen as a hard drive sings its swan song. 

Question #1.. Was it always that way? Most computers when first supplied work very well straight out of the box. If, for some reason, yours did not, then you would have taken it back, right?

If it worked well out of the box, this tells you that the OS and hardware were intrinsically ok. Unfortunately, problems occur in manufacturing of both elements, and both can fail for no obvious reason at all. When new, possible but not likely, hardware the most likely candidate.

When I ask you what you did or were doing at the point of failure, please do not throw your arms up in the air and say “IT WASN’T ME”. I have seen and heard it all before.

A quick look in the ADD/REMOVE PROGRAMS can say a great deal about one’s computing habits. Appearances by Limewire, WinMX, Zango, MyWebSearch and others will help in the initial diagnosis, and also help squash protestations along the lines of ‘it wasn’t me’ and ‘I don’t know how that got there’.

Virus and Trojans will attempt to stop any removal process or the seeking of help, so when one clicks on ‘Help and Support’ and nothing happens, suspect that something in there is doing its best to stop you. If it proves impossible to browse without being directed to some useless search engine, or one can no longer change the desktop scene, somebody is trying to spoil your fun. If your computer also slows way down, it is because it has become a reporting tool for your general computing, web surfing and online buying habits.

So what price now the desire for stupid animations in IM chat which made you agree to sponsorware, or believing that the web page managed to detect five trillion viruses in the space of two seconds, and unless you scan now with ‘SupaDupaAntiSpyware’, your computer will be compromised forever? Your mother doesn’t have a computer, and your friend has neither web cam or video camera, so what made you click on the link in the e-mail that suggested either or both parties had uploaded compromising videos to a web site?

There are well known programs that can help you avoid the pitfalls, and when run alongside equally well known and respected anti-virus programs, will protect you. However, the responsibility to ensure that they work for you is entirely YOURS. Use of free versions will entail manual updates in most cases. Paid versions will almost always have some auto update feature. No anti spyware program ever seems to be a cure-all on it’s own regardless of being free or not, so you will have to run more than one.

A personal note on Anti virus solutions.

I will admit to never having been a fan of Norton products, and nothing has changed in that respect. I did use McAfee in its early years, but both Norton and McAfee products have become as invasive as the stuff they seek to destroy. In what I see as an attempt to justify the cost, they both now supply a suite of applications which promise the world, and root like weeds, choking the system to death while delivering no better protection than anything else.

I have a shortlist of programs I think are ok, and it is exactly that.

  • Adaware

  • Spybot S&D

  • SpywareBlaster

  • WinPatrol

  • AVG

  • Avast

  • NOD32

  • Windows Defender

  • Hostsman  

Bear in mind that hardware failures are not vindictive. Like anything else electrical, electronic and mechanical, breakdowns are inevitable either through deficient manufacturing, inept handling or age.

Assuming that you have covered yourself well with software protection, kept it all up to date et al, and your computer is starting to act up, maybe slow or intransigent at times, you should be looking towards hardware failure.

RAM has two problems. #1.. It can partially fail, rendering some memory addresses/locations out of reach of the computer. For the most part, the computer will seem to be ok, but as soon as something calls for a memory address that is no longer operable, strange behaviour may follow. This can be seen when installing an operating system, where the installation goes so far and then throws up that a file can’t be read off of the installation media.

When this happens, there is a tendency to blame either the installation media itself or the optical drive reading it. Older optical drives can fail in this way, but if it was working ok before you decided to re-install the OS, there is a very good chance that it is still working. So why didn’t the bad RAM show up before? Simply because the processes and programs you were running did not access the bad memory locations. 

Installation of additional memory is #2. It has to be the right specification for your computer, that is it has to match the motherboard. In almost all cases, it should also match any memory already installed. Some mismatched configurations will not work at all, resulting in wild beeping sounds, and in other cases it will work but at reduced performance levels. If, after having installed additional memory of the correct matched type, you have strange things happening, run a memory test on both installed, and then one at a time, and in all memory slot positions. Two very good memory tests are:

  • Memtest86

  • Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool

Either need to be run more than once unless memory problems are found during the first pass, which says it all really.

Some notes on the installation of anything inside a desktop case.

 The integrity of most desktop cases is compromised as soon as you remove a side panel. Moving the unit around in this state can lead to twisting actions which may loosen cards in PCI, AGP and PCI-e slots and also memory, so before replacing side covers, always ensure that everything is seated properly. While you are reseating cards, you might also check to ensure that you have not loosened data or power cables. Do not ever apply excessive pressure while seating anything. If it doesn’t fit easily, it is either the wrong part, slot, or the mode you are using. And one other thing.. always fix the side back properly!! 

Hard drives can fail at any time and need not necessarily be old. Backup Backup Backup or risk losing it all. Bad performance can be down to cluster failure, improper handling (i.e. being dropped maybe or placed close by a strong magnetic force), excessive ambient heat inside the case, bad heat dispersion from the drive itself, a manufacturing fault, or misuse on the part of the computer user.

Programs and data will not forgive you for squeezing them into a tight space. Some of the utilities used to manipulate data and code will not only not forgive, they will sometimes give you a solid kick. Leave ample free space. A good rule of thumb is to have at least 15% free (this used to be the accepted limit for Windows Defragmenter to strut its stuff)  , and more if at all possible. When my drives have only 25% left, I look to either dumping stuff I no longer use or getting a larger hard drive. Squeezing the use out of the very last cluster on the drive is a false economy

Before resorting to repair installs, changing random settings et al, run the less stressful tests as found on the hard drive manufacturer web sites. Do not run the really tough tests on a drive containing valuable data. Back anything important up first. If the hard drive tests come up with zero faults after extended running, just keep a watchful eye, and start software diagnosis procedures. 

Optical drives have limited lives. A cleaner disc can be used much as one might on a domestic stereo unit, and can be purchased from stores selling computers and/or stereo. If the drive will not read properly after cleaning, replace the drive.

Power supplies are tough units, but here is a tip. If the computer starts up ok, but struggles to remain up and running when under a bit of pressure, take a look at the power light on the front of the case. Is it shining brightly, and maintaining its brilliance while the computer is working away. If it is not, replace the unit.

Computer hardware is quite resilient, and if given due consideration like cleaning the dust out, especially from the CPU heat sink and fans, will last a good few years. 

Why are there no URLs in this article? Well, the way I see it is this. I have given you names of stuff that will help you. Use the same technique to find and download them as you did when looking for a P2P client and those annoying animated things.


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