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Issue #266: August 26, 2012

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Q: I’ve read your remarks about the danger of running our personal computers in “administrator mode”. What happens if we run them in whatever the alternative mode is? How will that affect everyday usage? Our household has 3 PC’S, running XP, VISTA, & WIN 7.

Louis A.
Niceville, Florida

A: Now that’s what I call a question!  I say that because it is not a declarative statement, or other type of syntactic phrase.  Still, it is an excellent question, because the answer will be useful to so many of I.G.T.M.’s readers.  Let’s get some terminology straight first, shall we?  When you talk of running a computer in “Administrator mode” what you actually mean is that you are signed-in with a user account that has Administrator privileges turned on.  Many people seem to use a thought process that goes something like “It’s my computer, therefore I am in charge of it, which makes me the administrator.  Since I am the administrator, my account should have administrator privileges.”  What people don’t understand is that it’s called “Administrator privilege” because it is intended to be used only when performing administration functions on the computer – not while surfing the internet, reading e-mail, composing documents, downloading movies, or whatever else you do with your computer.  Doing any of these things simply does not require you to be an administrator, so to answer your question; it has no affect on everyday usage.  What running without Administrator privilege does do is prevent any programs that you launch from using that privilege to make modifications to your computer’s configuration.  That includes any malware that arrives via e-mail, or that you accidentally trigger through casual web browsing or other use.  Many of these require higher level account privileges in order to hide themselves on your system, so running without privileges that you don’t need anyway is just one more level of protection.

Q: A couple of weeks ago I received a notice that I had a malware program which included a bunch of viruses attached to it. It happened right after I downloaded an update to Adobe Flash. It took a week using various programs to kill the malware and viruses. My problem is the damage it caused before I could kill it. Windows Installer is missing and each time I try to re-install it will not; Registry.exe is not working correctly; Cannot get McAfee scan or update to work even after I reinstalled it; Windows Defender will not work even after I reinstalled it; I can update MS programs but not .net Framework 4. MS Essential is working and I am using that to protect my laptop. I also cannot run Dell PC Checkup and Dell Dock which contains shortcup to McAfee scan. Do I need to re-install Vista and can I do that if Windows Installer is not working correctly? Do I install from Disc or from installed backup on E drive? Will I also need to reinstall the Dell programs to get my Dell Dock and Dell PC Checkup to work? I believe I may have had this same Malware/virus on my desktop but was able to delete it before it became active with System Mechanic.

Regenia D.
Niceville, Florida

A: As you’ve discovered, there are many levels to some malware infections.  Sometimes they can be easily cleaned off, and other times they can’t even be detected, much less cleaned.  When a system is so bad that your tools can’t find or clean off malware that you know is present, just about your last resort is to re-install Windows.  Believe it or not, many people simply give up at this point and go buy a new computer.  Unless it’s actually time to upgrade your computer, I don’t recommend that!

You may not realize it, but when you receive a version of Windows with a commercially-built PC, it has usually been customized by that manufacturer.  This is called an OEM, or Original Equipment Manufacturer version.  It may include extra hardware drivers for the particular machine it’s installed on, along with software that the manufacturer agreed to distribute with the computer (which, while it may be annoying, helps to keep the cost of the computer down, because the software manufacturer paid to put it there).  Many manufacturers pre-install this software in location on the computer that usually has its own drive letter.  Using this “recovery partition” as it’s called, it may be possible to repair your Windows installation.  Worst case, there is usually an option to return your computer to the state it was in when it first came out of the box.  If you do this, remember that you’ll have to re-download all the security patches that have been released over time, as well as any non-OEM software you’ve installed.  To initiate a repair, you can either boot from the CD you have, or, as the system boots, it will display a prompt that says to press a certain key sequence to initiate recovery, which should be F5.  I don’t have access to your specific computer model, but I’ve read that CTRL+F11 will work, or even holding down the keypad 0 while powering-on the machine.

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