Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Tools, tips and techniques to prevent malware infections from reaching or impacting your machine.

'SymRealWinOpen is undefined' - why do I get this?

An update to your popup-blocking software may be in order if you get the message 'SymRealWinOpen is undefined' on your machine.

A technician resolved a bluescreen I was having by removing several anti-malware programs. Why?

Several anti-malware programs can cause conflicts if they are all trying to run real-time scans together.

Am I scanning for malware too often?

Scanning for malware regularly is a good idea. Whether or not you are doing it too much is a matter of opinion. What matters is that you are doing it!

Anti-Virus Software

Can I prevent a machine from ever sending mail?

Blocking all email on a machine is going to be tricky. There are some other ways to do online banking securely.

Can a flash drive transmit a virus?

If there is malware on the flash drive, it could very well be in the files from that drive that you are copying to your computer.

Can a virus be transferred into our system, or our router, from our granddaughter's smart phone?

For a virus to infect a smart phone, it would have to be written specifically for that smart phone and poses little danger to your network system. But what kind of protection do you need for (and from) her laptop?

Can compressing files reduce the chances of its being infected?

Compressing files for security can give you just a little bit of gain if done with proper compression software. A better strategy is to have a good security process in place.

Can just opening an email download both viruses and spyware?

It's extremely unlikely to get a virus by just looking at an email these days. The same applies to spyware.

Can ransomware impact my backups on an external drive?

Ransomware infecting an external drive is a danger if your computer itself is in danger of a malware infection.

Do I need to run anti-malware software on my smartphone?

Sophisticated viruses for smart phones are certainly predicted for the future. Do you need to worry about it yet?

Do I still need anti-virus software if my computer came with a security suite?

Many computers come pre-configured with security suites. I'll look at why you might or might not want to keep them, and why they might not be free.

Do you really need anti-virus software?

Does lapsed virus protection leave an open door for viruses?

Letting your anti-malware subscription lapse is never a good idea. I'll look at why that is, and the alternative you have.

Does leaving my external hard drive connected put its contents at risk from malware?

An external hard drive does run certain risks when it comes to malware, but often not the ones we think of. Avoiding malware remains the best solution.

Does minimizing the time data is spent in use improve security?

Improving data security is best done by keeping anti-malware scans up to date, and practicing safe internet policy.

Does turning off remote access keep me safer?

Turning off remote assistance is an incremental improvement. But it is a very small increment in a much larger puzzle.

Does using a virtual machine keep me safer?

By running a non-Windows OS within Windows using a virtual machine you can avoid some issues, but only certain types.

How can an anti-malware program possibly scan all my files in a reasonable amount of time?

Anti-malware software is amazingly tuned and optimized for doing what it does. On top of that, scanning all your files might not always be needed.

How did a website install malware on my machine?

An unfortunately common attack vector for malware is via malicious or hacked websites. I'll look at the signs, and the steps you need to take.

How do I avoid trojans like Win 7 Home Security 2012?

Win 7 Home Security 2012 is the latest in a long line of so-called "scareware" trojans. I'll review this malware and how to stay safe.

How do I block trojans and the man sending them to me?

Repeatedly getting trojans or any form of malware simply shouldn't happen. To resolve this, we need to drop back to basic security principles.

How do I get rid of this infection that keeps coming back on my machine?

It's frustrating to go through the steps of cleaning your machine of malware only to have it return almost instantly. We'll look at possible causes.

How do I keep malware from reaching my machine in the first place?

In an ideal world, we'd prevent malicious software from ever reaching our machines and thus, we'd never need to remove malware.

How do I keep my USB device from becoming infected?

When using a portable USB flash drive or disk it's important to understand the risk of infection; you may not be as safe as you think.

How do I pick the right tools to protect my system?

There are many choices when looking for solutions to protect your system. I'll review how I look for things and how I make my decisions.

How do I safely copy files from my old PC to my new one?

It's something we take for granted, but copying files from PC to PC is one avenue for malware to spread. I'll review the best way to stay safe.

How do I safely get security software onto my newly reinstalled machine?

How do you safely install virus protection - when you don't yet have virus protection? A firewall is very good security. That plus one other practice should keep you safe.

How do I stop popups?

Popups that appear in your internet browser are usually fixed using a good popup blocker.

How do you use more than one anti-virus program?

While no single anti-virus program can catch all viruses, running more than one anti-virus program can cause problems. And it also might not help.

I'm being notified of an intrusion attempt, what should I do?

Intrusion attempts are actually common - you'd be surprised at how much internet traffic is due to infected machines trying to infect other machines.

I've installed anti-virus software, but Windows says I haven't. What do I do?

Windows tries to ensure that you have anti-malware tools installed, and warns you if it thinks you don't. Sometimes it's wrong.

I've received a popup telling me I'm infected and recommending a download to fix it. Should I?

Messages that indicate you have a problem and recommend a specific download as a solution are immediately suspect. There's typically a safer solution.

If I have all the recommended security in place, is my computer safe and un-hackable?

After following all of the recommendations to keep your machine safe and secure, it's tempting to think that you're done and you are now safe. You're not.

Installing Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is a basic anti-malware package that's available for free from Microsoft. I'll demonstrate how to install and configure MSE.

Is autorun really that evil, and if so, how do I turn autorun off?

Autorun is an increasingly used attack vector for malware. Common techniques to turn it off are incomplete. I'll show you how to turn it off, and recommend you do so.

Is it OK to turn off email scanning in my anti-malware program if it causes a problem?

Scanning email downloads in real-time can interfere with a smooth download. Sometimes you need to adjust your settings.

Is it okay to run several malware scans at the same time?

I tend to avoid simultaneous virus scans. What's more important is to make sure your several tools are not competing as they search for various types of malware.

Is it safe to connect a drive infected with a virus to my computer?

Mounting a disk drive on your system can expose you to various types of malware, most notably viruses. We'll look at steps to do so safely.

Is it safe to have other browser tabs or windows open while I do my online banking?

Websites open in different browsers, windows, or tabs should be unable to interact or see each other. Emphasis on "should".

Is it safe to leave programs opened on my computer when I go onto the internet?

Basic internet safety is about protecting your computer from viruses and malware. Once that is in place, it's safe to browse the internet.

Is my anti-virus database up to date?

Keeping the database of viruses that your anti-virus program uses up to date is critical. Here's why.

Is my computer secure now that I'm running anti-virus and anti-spyware software?

"Is my PC secure" really has only one answer: no. A more practical question is: what steps can you take to be as secure as possible?

Is online banking safe?

With all the reports of sniffing and malware and hacks ... is it even possible to bank online securely? Yes. If you're careful.

Is real-time anti-malware scanning really needed?

Stopping real-time anti-virus scans opens you up for sudden virus attacks that you don't see coming. Sometimes, email scans are a different problem.

Is there a safe way to follow a link in spam?

It's best not to click on spam links. But if you must, there are a few steps above and beyond a sandbox that can add some more protection.

Is there a way to bypass keyloggers?

Keystroke loggers can log a lot more than just keystrokes. We'll look at a couple of ideas for bypassing them, and the chances that you can.

Is there an anti-virus for XP that doesn't require SP3?

There is a reason that virus protection developers are not offering installations for systems still running XP SP2. The upgrade to SP3 protects your system from numerous security problems.

Just how dangerous is it out there?

With daily dire warnings and admonitions, it's easy to believe that the internet is dangerous. With appropriate and simple safeguards, it needn't be.

Microsoft Security Essentials got a bad rating. Should I switch?

The Microsoft Security Essentials rating recently released was testing the tool in a way that ignored basic security practices. You can draw your own conclusions.

Microsoft Security Essentials says I'm at risk, but won't scan because it's out of date. What do I do?

Normally, Microsoft Security Essentials should handle updating itself properly, but reinstalling might do the trick.

My anti-virus performed a virus removal but I still have a symptom, how do I get rid of it?

Your anti-virus program may claim successful virus removal, but if symptoms remain then clearly the job's not really done.

Should I reboot into Linux to do my online banking?

Using Linux for banking can certainly increase your online security a notch. Is it necessary? Well, that's a matter of opinion.

Should I report this malware that I just encountered, and to whom?

Clicking on an email with a Trojan can be dangerous. I explore some immediate steps to take to check your system and mark it as spam.

What are (and how do I get rid of) "Antivirus 2010" and "Vista Spyware 2010"?

Antivirus 2010 and similar are malware that tries to fool you into installing viruses or spyware, and then charges you for the promise of removal.

What are Warez? They appear to be free, but are they safe?

Warez, or pirated software, while free often comes with an exceptionally high cost in the form of viruses, spyware and more.

What does "To help protect your computer, Windows has closed this program" mean? And what do I do?

"To help protect your computer, Windows has closed this program" is a sign that Data Execution Prevention has been invoked. I'll look at what that is.

What's a port scan, and should I be worried about them?

Infected and malicious computers out on the internet are continually looking for ways to infect your machine. A firewall is an important barrier.

What's the best way to bank online using a dedicated machine?

Using a dedicated machine is one approach to significantly improving the security of online operations. I'll examine the approach and alternatives.

What's the difference between a "quick" and a "full" scan, and which do I want?

Many anti-malware products offer both a "quick" and "full" scan. I'll examine the common difference, and outline what I generally suggest you do.

What's the fastest safe way to abort a malware download?

If you realize that an unexpected download has begun and think it might be malicious, it's good to try and stop the download right away.

What's the minimum amount of internet security software I need?

It's common for machines to be overloaded with security software. Too much, however, can cause problems. I'll look at the minimum needed.

What's the risk of connecting to the internet without protection?

Connecting to the internet without protection in place is a very dangerous thing to do. Fortunately, this danger is very easily dealt with.

Where is Windows Defender's Vault?

A vault is a place where programs like Windows Defender put suspected malware rather than deleting them. Typically, it's managed right in the program.

Why am I getting a network attack from China?

Internet connected computers are constantly probed for vulnerabilities. Many come from China, but safety steps are the same no matter where from.

Why are my two anti-virus tools giving different results?

It comes as no surprise that different computer protection tools operate differently. Here's a short rundown on my recommendation.

Why did I get infected even though I run anti-malware software?

Anti-malware doesn't always stop infection - especially if it is not up-to-date. It's all about keeping yourself safe on the internet.

Why didn't I have to tell my firewall to allow a technician remote access?

A firewall traditionally protects you from threats coming from the network. A technician's remote access session might well have been invited in.

Why do I still get viruses even though I run Norton?

You may still be getting viruses even though you run Norton because of your own computer habits. There are a few steps to take to increase security.

Why is my bank sending me secure messages as attachments?

A bank sending messages as attachments doesn't understand security. This sounds like phishing.

Why, in IE's Tools, Internet Options, is the Home Page selection grayed and unusable?

In an effort to prevent malware from hijacking your browser's home page anti-spyware software may inadvertently prevent you from changing it as well.

Will Roboform or Lastpass bypass keyloggers?

A password tool may bypass a few keyloggers - but that's no reason to use it. You should be thinking of your overall computer and account safety.

Will not using the keyboard fool key loggers?

It sounds counter-intuitive, but avoiding your keyboard will not bypass keyloggers. I'll look at why, and what you need to do instead.

Will turning off programs save me from hackers when I get online?

Many computers are online all the time, receiving no additional threat from hackers. It's your browsing habits that matter.

Will using an on screen keyboard stop keyboard loggers and hackers?

Using an on screen keyboard instead of a real keyboard might stop some logging, but there's no guarantee that other techniques aren't also being used.

Will using history or remembered passwords bypass malware and keyloggers?

The best (and only) way to stop keyloggers is to prevent malware from installing itself on your computer. Malware can see everything...

With Microsoft providing Microsoft Security Essentials do I no longer need to purchase malware protection?

Microsoft Security Essentials provides basic anti-virus and anti-spyware scanning for free. It appears to be a reasonable anti-malware tool for many.

Would temporarily unplugging from the internet protect me while I work on something sensitive?

While it seems like temporarily unplugging from the internet would block much of what malware might do, in reality it doesn't stop much.