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Digital Cowboys: A Serious Deworming

A screenshot of the “FBI Moneypak” virus, which mimics the FBI website.

Each week, we invite one listener to bring in his or her sick computer for us to work on. This week, Dale brought in an ill Dell with Windows XP, infected with the nasty FBI MoneyPak virus that demanded he pay $200 before unlocking his computer.

Dale brought his computer into the Corral yesterday and asked us to fix it without losing all of his personal files. “We’ll see what we can do,” Jon told him.

These sorts of things can be a real pain. This particular virus locks your computer, and in this instance even disabled Safe Mode. When Dale called us Saturday, we recommended he try running an antivirus program from Safe Mode to remove the malware – which was poor advice in this case.

Fortunately, there are ways around such roadblocks. They require a little patience and some additional resources. While not unheard-of, it’s rare that we receive a computer that needs to be wiped to deal with a virus. “Usually, a good carpet bombing solves it,” Jon says.

And that was the case with Dale’s sick machine. Jon pulled the hard drives and put them in another, uninfected computer, and ran Microsoft’s free Malicious Software Removal Tool (MSRT). MSRT cleared out the FBI virus and a number of other maladies.

Jon also defragmented Dale’s drives while they were out of the host machine. “Running a defrag is a good idea whenever you’ve got a Windows hard drive out of it’s box,” Jon says. “Some files can’t be touched while Windows is running, so when you’ve got the drive out for a virus-wipe it makes sense.”

Dale did have the latest version of AVG Free installed, but Jon said he isn’t surprised the virus got through anyway. “No AV is perfect. The black-hatters are always trying to outsmart the security folks. It’s classic whack-a-mole.”

The final step was to perform a clean install of AVG: even though Dale had the latest version, Jon uninstalled and reinstalled it. “Viruses can have a nasty way of lingering on after you think you’ve gotten them. Any time you have a serious breach, it’s a good idea to reinstall your antivirus.” He also used AVG to run a comprehensive scan on his test bench before releasing the computer back to Dale, which caught a few lurking bugs the Microsoft tool failed to.

“It never hurts to run a sweep from two different antivirus programs,” Jon says.

One final note — and we’ll repeat this one until we’re both blue in the face. Dale needed his computer recovered, not restored, because he needed all of his data. Always, always, always remember to backup your important files! For an easy, comprehensive solution, Pete recommends Carbonite, though if you want something free that requires a little more thought, Jon uses both Google’s Drive and the ubiquitous Dropbox.

But in the meantime, we’re glad to get Dale’s machine back to him in restored health. If you have a computer that needs a little first aid, drop us a line, or come see us Wednesdays from 11–noon at the Paramount Cafe, 1607 Capitol.

Contact the Digital Cowboys on Twitter @Digital_Cowboys, Facebook, email or over the phone at 307-632-4400. We’re on KGAB live Wednesday mornings 9:30–10 and Saturday afternoons 1–3. And come see us at the Paramount Cafe, 1607 Capitol, Wednesdays from 11a – noon. Even if we can’t fix your device, we’ll buy you a cup of the best coffee in town!

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