Is Windows or Mac slow, getting pop-ups, seeing too many ads, or is it freezing?

You probably have some form of malware. I consider malware to be software that causes your computer to act funny when you know the hardware is in good working order. Whenever I get reports that a person’s computer is suddenly doing things out of the norm, I immediately suspect malware as the cause. If it boots up into safe mode and acts like it should, then that’s a confirmation something is wrong on the software side of things.

If it still acts shows symptoms in safe mode then I may be some other problem. It could be a bad hard drive, motherboard, memory, or even malware that’s embedded itself in the lower levels of the operating system. A hardware diagnostics will more than likely tell us if it’s hardware. Most big name manufacturers include diagnostics software. You just have to find out how to get to it. In most cases it’s in the form of interrupting the normal boot up process with an F-key. Those keys at the top of your keyboard – F1 through F12, usually. If that comes back with everything passing, then you have malware.

If a system restore doesn’t rid your computer of the malware symptoms, I have three anti-malware tools that I use often in situations like these. Other techs have theirs and there are several out there. Here are the tools I use.

1. Kaspersky’s TDSSKiller

2. Malwarebytes

3. ComboFix

All are free to download and use. I usually run Malwarebytes first. Nine times out of 10 it’ll find what’s infected your computer. If problems still persist then I run TDSSKiller and ComboFix.

While Malwarebytes is scanning away, I’ll do couple other things.

I’ll check add/remove programs and see if there are any recently installed programs. If they look suspicious, I just remove them. If I’m not sure, I ask the owner or user if they’re familiar with and use the programs in question. If not then it’s removed. I find a lot of coupon or shopping applications as well as so-called “tune-up” programs that aren’t really viruses but cause the computer to run really slow. These are usually culprits for slowness and freezing problems. If you downloaded freeware from an unknown site and right afterwards the computer started acting up, then guess what, you probably got a Trojan malware.

It doesn’t really matter how you got malware. By virtue of being connected to the internet, you are prone to get some malware sometime. The good news is that you can get rid of them most of the time. Even the dreaded CryptoLocker. The way to remove it that worked for me several times is this. Google how to remove it manually – seriously. There are steps you can follow. Follow them. Run a Malwarebytes and ComboFix scan. You may get some message that CryptoLocker has been removed or tampered with or something like that and that your files are still locked and you still need to pay to unlock them. You won’t be able to open any files. Before paying the ransom try this. Create a brand new user profile. I don’t guarantee it’ll work for everyone but it’s worth a shot.

Running these free malware removal tools is free and easy. If you feel like you might have malware, try using them. Other tools that are free to download and use are SuperAntiSpyware, Spybot Search and Destroy, Avast, and Ad-Aware by Lavasoft. Malware is a fact of life in the connected world but with diligence and knowledge as well as these free malware removal tools, you can get your computer back to normal in no time.

What about Apple’s Macs?

Believe it or not, there are malware programs directed at you too! Don’t worry, big name antimalware companies have products for you. There are a couple free ones as well. Sophos Free and ClamXav are two I’m familiar with.


Domain registrar contact verification – Don’t ignore

If you haven’t already done so, log in to your domain name registrar and verify your contact information. Each registrar’s method is different so you’ll have to Google or talk to your tech support to figure out how to do it if it isn’t obvious. Some registrars like Network Solutions actually pop up a contact verification screen. Some have “Pending verification” next to your domain or domains. Others may not be so conspicuous. Some may have sent out an email a while back that’s waiting for a response. Either way, don’t ignore the contact verification prompts. This is a new ICANN policy this year. Check here and here and here for more information.

Experience with Lenovo Tech support for my Lenovo Twist

Let’s get this out there first-off. I really like the Lenovo Twist. It’s solid. Performs well. Light. Perfect for what I do – IT consulting. I use it everyday, all day. It’s in my backpack in its sleeve when I’m not using it and it sees a lot of use when I do take it out.

So when my trackpad stopped working I was thankful for three things. First, it comes with the standard dual pointer devices on all ThinkPads – the  trackpad and trackpoint pointers. AND I have an external travel mouse from Logitech. Third, my company got the extended next day onsite support warranty which I recommend everyone pay for on their laptops. Get it for piece of mind. These things are prone to physical damage because they’re mobile and get tossed around so much that it makes sense that they may be damaged at some point. Dropped, spilled on, bent, slammed, stuffed, pounded on. I really think it’s a great investment and piece of mind especially considering how much we depend on our computers nowadays.

Anyway, my trackpad died. I called Lenovo support and they were prompt at shipping out the parts and scheduling out their tech which was from a third party. I highly respect hardware technicians which I am not. I do some hardware but not really laptop hardware. Maybe a hard drive or memory installation, but not screen replacements or trackpads. They deal with physically taking these complex machines apart with dozens of tiny parts all over the place, then put them back together. And “voila!” they work when they assemble them together – most of the time. I would never trust myself to do that. I lose parts easily and I don’t have the eyes or steady hands for that.

Anyhow. the technician proceeds to take the Lenovo Twist apart and puts it back together in under 30 minutes. The screen comes off, the keyboard, the palmrest, the trackpad. They all come off. Then they get put back together – new trackpad and palmrest. Everything works. The tech leaves.

Then I examine the Twist after about 30 minutes using it. Hey! What’s this? A missing screw. Umm. Where did this come from? A gouge on the lid. No big deal. Cosmetic scratch and a missing screw. I have the extended warranty. I call tech support and explain the situation. They are helpful, apologetic, and quickly get parts out and dispatch a tech. The screw comes in fast and the tech (a new tech per my request) gets the screw replaced. But he was sent the wrong part for the gouge. For the next 3 weeks it was a series of wrong parts and rescheduling with the new tech. There was no way I would let the original tech work on it.

Finally after almost a month, the parts that are needed come in but not completely. The tech had requested I create a new ticket and get the parts people to send out everything from the hinge up. That means the lid cover, the screen and all the little parts. Buttons and such. They sent everything but the touchscreen. Well that’s a little concerning for the tech because of how tight everything fits together. It would have been much better to get the entire thing sent out as a unit but he did his thing and proceeded to work on the Twist.

An hour and about 45 minutes later the Twist was put back together…BUT…the tech had some bad news. The bezel around the screen was a little warped. It’s such a tight fit that putting the screen back together is tricky and in this case can’t be done perfectly. That’s the reason he wanted the entire screen and plastic parts sent as a unit. The trim that wraps around the screen had nicks on it before unwrapping it and installing it. And to top it off, the BIOS doesn’t see a serial number! He tries to use a bootable USB stick to fix the serial number issue. Apparently it happens from time to time and a BIOS flash fixes it. But it doesn’t work – the Twist won’t boot off the USB stick. AND he also notices that the first tech used a slightly longer screw to install the palmrest and a little bump has formed. Man! I thought that bump was a standard feature – maybe an improvement in design or something like that. No. It’s a mistake.

Now the tech advises that a full replacement is warranted. Just get a new unit and take the hard drive and memory from my current one. All the time spent rescheduling, getting the right parts out, and now having a less than perfect Lenovo Twist. Makes perfect sense to me. So I once again call support, get a new ticket started and must wait for a tech to contact me.

Am I frustrated? Sure. But this can happen when dealing with support and service for anything. Cars, refrigerators, washers and dryers. The bottomline for me is getting the issue finally resolved. Lenovo has so far proven that they don’t want to leave a customer unhappy. The process of getting my trackpad fixed should not have resulted in this prolonged service call – almost a month. But every time I’ve called and dealt with their reps and techs (albeit third party) they have been friendly and courteous and moved the process forward.

If this were a client’s computer, I would have a lot more frustration and be way more aggressive in getting it done. Even then though, the unit is still mostly functional. The Microsoft button under the screen only works sometimes due to the warpage. As a matter of fact, I’m typing this article on the Lenovo Twist.

Being in their place many times a day, I always try to remember to treat techs and service people with respect and when things go wrong, try to focus on what to do now. It’s no use yelling at someone who may have not been the cause of the problem. If they were, I go to a supervisor or manager. I believe most people do what they do because they are capable of doing their work and with so many people involved in a process like this, it’s hard for me to justify pinning it on one person. Yes, I do get upset or raise my voice but when I feel it’s appropriate especially when it’s a client’s computer that needs work. I know of some people whose first response is a scream and a cry. It may work for them which is fine. That’s not the way I work.

Stay tuned and wish me luck that the next appointment is the last for this issue

-John Gamboa