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The Download Blog

Beat back that Trojan horse

Editor's note: This article was updated on February 21, 2008. The original was published on February 28, 2007.

Like its mythical namesake (dramatized in Lego), whatever crawls out of a digital Trojan horse will be a nasty surprise. A Trojan horse usually takes the form of an innocuous software program that unleashes a flood of malware or viruses after it's installed and run. Since attacks and ease of removal vary--an ad generator is easier to remove than a stealth rootkit--there's no one-size-fits-all solution. However, there are some common spyware removal techniques that can help you pick your way through the wreckage.

Reboot Windows in Safe Mode

What is Safe Mode? Safe Mode is a diet version of the Standard Mode of Windows that your computer ordinarily runs. Rebooting in Safe Mode loads minimal programs and disables most device drivers that manage hardware like CD drives and printers. The result is a more stable iteration of the Windows operating system that's better suited for disabling malware while you perform a system scan.

How do you use it? If you can, follow the necessary steps for a safe shutdown process and then reboot. When you restart Windows, as the screen begins to load, press F8 repeatedly until the Windows booting options appear. Select "Boot in Safe Mode" from the menu of options. Once in Safe Mode, you should be able to run your installed antispyware software with less interference from the malicious software that the Trojan brought onto your system.

System Restore

What is System Restore? System Restore strings out a safety net if everything goes kaput. Under default Window settings, System Restore saves a snapshot of your computer configuration once a day and on major upgrades that can be used to replace corrupted files. In the event of a Trojan attack, System Restore can revert Windows to a previous, uninfected state. It won't restore everything, like changes to your user profile, but it does reinstate biggies like your Registry and DLL cache.

When do you use it? When purging your computer of spyware, System Restore has an optimal time and place. You wouldn't want your computer including corrupted files as the reference point of the day, so it's important to disable System Restore before you start cleaning. You can reactivate it once your system is spick-and-span.

How do you use it? The paths for accessing System Restore differ by operating system. In Windows XP, disable System Restore by right-clicking My Computer and selecting Properties. Under the Performance tab, select File System, then the Troubleshooting tab, and finally check Disable System Restore. You'll be prompted to reboot. Follow these steps to uncheck the box before restoring your system.

To use System Restore after scrubbing your computer, choose Accessories from the program list in the Start menu. You'll find System Restore under System Tools.

This comprehensive article from TechRepublic demonstrates how to create and use System Restore in Windows Vista.

Scan with antivirus/antispyware apps Downloading diagnostic and removal tools with an infected computer is a huge time sink--spyware can cripple your speed and Internet access. The Trojan's payload could prevent EXE files from downloading or launching. Also, malware can affect the performance of installed security software on your PC. If you store your antivirus/antispyware programs on a CD or flash drive, however, those malware-busting apps can commence their swashbuckling unhindered.… Read more

Save your quick reads for later

Read It Later is a Firefox extension that should appeal to anybody trying to minimize bookmark and open tab clutter. As you peruse links sent from friends and RSS feeds that deposit little nuggets of truth that you just don't have time for right now, Read It Later gives you a one-click option for saving the links and keeping track of which ones have been read.

When you restart Firefox after loading the extension, it will automatically prompt you to install the two Toolbar buttons that are used to control the extension and manage your reading list. Users can also control adding bookmarks to their reading list via the context menu, the Bookmarks menu itself, or with hotkeys, making access to your daily detritus fast and painless.

Read more

Mash Facebook, MySpace into one application

As Meebo, Pidgin, and Trillian are to instant messaging, Sociagami is to social networking.

Enter your passwords into the brand new Windows application to manage your Facebook and MySpace accounts from the single, nonskinnable interface. Friends are represented by thumbnail images in two columns by default, but a slider enlarges them to fit single file or reduces them to three or four abreast.

There's some nice functionality here--you can retrieve and submit comments and messages, manage friend requests, view buddies' buddies, and flip through photos in a separate slide show pane. You can add contacts too, if you encounter … Read more

Ben Benjamin, 'Selective Periphera': Free MP3 of the Day

Ben Mullins' new project might be a vision of bedroom pop's future. Built of choppy drum loops and shiny synth leads, it nonetheless feels soulful in spirit, showing how, with the right melodies and mixing, a "sterile" vocabulary can make music that's far from it.

Killer Download: Organize, tag music collections

I get my music from several places. Over time I've ripped most of the CDs in my collection and have also bought songs on iTunes. Though file sharing is tempting--and fairly popular judging by our Most Popular list--I've only used those applications a couple of times over the years for long lost remixes. I guess I try to stay legal out of respect for the musicians, but this article isn't about the legality of file sharing.

The problem is, when you get your music from a lot of different sources, you end up with strangely tagged tracks … Read more

Cell phone users: Get pitas, haircuts for less

I like Cellfire, a mobile coupons app that's optimized for BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile, and has a WAP site for cell phones ( from your phone's browser.) They've got a smart business plan, good partnerships, and wide accessibility to users through support for multiple carriers and platforms.

Too bad some of the national offerings are so pedestrian, such as Cellfire's partnerships with Supercuts and Extreme Pita, announced Wednesday. That's only mundane if you're a snob like me. If you're most people, Cellfire's deals with local, regional, and national retailers … Read more

Dwight Yoakam, "Just Passin' Time": Free MP3 of the Day

Mixing uptempo quasi-rockabilly songs with introspective ballads that are heartfelt but never saccharine, Yoakam's got a rare ability to move both Nashville stalwarts and alt-country scenesters alike. This song's from his his stellar 2005 album "Blame the Vain."

Spyware Horror Story: Extra painful XP recovery

Published by Aaron; Monroe, Mich.

Hooray for an event-filled Saturday afternoon with FailDows eXtraPainful edition (Windows XP)! I have been having a Trojan problem for the last week, but thought it was no big deal. Its name was something starting with "CC/." I forget the rest, but it didn't show up in either Symantec or McAfee's databases.

I updated my Avira AntiVir and started a full system scan. After about 40 minutes of scanning, it found one Trojan in three different parts of my hard drive. One was in the system restore files, one in my … Read more

Zumobi ditches beta, gets its act together

Surfing the Web on a cell phone screen can be the laggy, draggy pits, but companies like Zumobi want to make it a rush. The announcement of Zumobi's first full release (for Windows Mobile 5 and 6) brings the Microsoft-birthed, now Microsoft-partnered platform for delivering mobile content closer to the dream.

I've been following Zumobi's young career for some time and happily, its character is catching up to its glitz. Version 1.0 corrects many of the beta's more glaring errors, including major functionality potholes that are now mostly paved over.

For the uninitiated, Zumobi is a grid of 16 thumbnails that users access by zooming into a quadrant and then zooming in again to an often-customizable "tile," each of which is populated by the content partner and updated several times a day. For instance, Amazon's tile operates a portable-book store that also links to Amazon's mobile site. AP News, MTV, Epicurious, and Flickr are other well-known brands.… Read more

Customize your Windows right-click menu

Who doesn't love to right-click, especially when browsing the Web? Whether saving images we like to our local drives, copying HTML links to send to friends, or scanning downloaded files for viruses, the right-click has become an essential part of most users' computing lives.

Yet how many times have you right-clicked on a file in Windows and then painfully scoured a long list to find the only option you need; sometimes it's the only one you ever use. Wouldn't life be much simpler to have only the items you want in your right-click menu? Well, for Windows … Read more