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Removing Malware from Windows Vista (part 3) - Troubleshooting Internet Explorer

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3/28/2011 2:48:06 PM

Troubleshooting Internet Explorer

Although the Internet provides numerous benefits to computer users, it also provides a method for malware authors to distribute and collect information from users’ computers. A common target of malware is the Web browser. To protect against common attempts to install malicious software on customers’ computers, the Windows Vista Internet Explorer 7 Web browser contains numerous security features.

Malware that targets Web browsers is often designed to make configuration changes. Examples include the following:

  • Changes to existing bookmarks or the addition of new ones

  • Automatically redirecting users to other Web sites

  • Changing security levels for specific sites

  • Automatically downloading and installing adware, spyware, or other unwanted software

  • Installation of Browser Helper Objects

  • Accessing operating system files and user data

  • Collecting sensitive personal information such as logons, passwords, and credit card numbers

  • Creating or adding new toolbars

  • Tracking users’ browser behavior

Features included in Internet Explorer 7 have been designed to prevent many of these types of unwanted changes. However, to maintain compatibility with advanced Web-based user features, it is possible for users to agree unknowingly to install potentially malicious software. For example, the browser’s home page might be changed, or the user might start receiving an extremely large number of pop-up ads.

Deleting Browser History

When troubleshooting the installation of malware, there are ways to remove or undo unwanted changes. A quick and easy first step in troubleshooting browser-related issues can be to use the Delete Browsing History command on the Tools menu. As shown in Figure 10, this option enables you to remove files such as cookies that have been stored on the computer.

Figure 10. Using the Delete Browsing History feature in Internet Explorer

Managing Add-Ons

Another option for managing unwanted programs is to view and verify the list of browser add-ons that have been installed on the computer. Software vendors create legitimate add-ons to improve the browsing experience. They might add useful features and functionality to the browser or, perhaps, tasks that can make working with Web sites easier. Unfortunately, malware authors can misuse the same features to present advertisements or make changes to browsing behavior.

To obtain a list of add-ons that are installed in Internet Explorer 7, click the Tools menu, select Manage Add-Ons, and then select Enable Or Disable Add-Ons. Figure 11 shows the Manage Add-Ons dialog box.

Figure 11. Managing Internet Explorer add-ons

There are four main options in the Show drop-down list that specify which items are shown, as follows:

  • Add-Ons That Have Been Used By Internet Explorer

  • Add-Ons Currently Loaded In Internet Explorer

  • Add-Ons That Run Without Requiring Permission

  • Downloaded ActiveX Controls (32-Bit)

As a Consumer Support Technician, you should examine the list of items to identify potential malware. This can be difficult, however, because the names of some items might be missing, incomplete, or confusing. The Manage Add-Ons dialog box also provides the ability to enable and disable the listed items. Disabled items are prevented from running, but they can also be easily reenabled in the future. The Delete button in the Delete ActiveX section provides a way to remove controls permanently that have been downloaded to the system.

Resetting Internet Explorer Options

In some cases, you might find that standard troubleshooting steps are unable to resolve the problems that a user is experiencing. An example might include the installation of malware that caused numerous changes to search settings, the default home page, add-ons, and other configuration details. Alternatively, users might have made numerous changes to their security settings, and it is difficult and time-consuming to change them back. For those situations, Internet Explorer 7 includes a feature that enables you to reset all of the browser settings to their default values.

To reset the Internet Explorer settings, click Internet Options in the Tools menu of the browser. Click the Advanced tab. In addition to a long list of advanced options, the bottom of the dialog box offers a Reset button. When you click this button, a message box outlines the changes that occur if you start the process (see Figure 12).

Figure 12. Using the Reset Internet Explorer Settings option

As the warning message notes, this option is designed for use when other standard troubleshooting methods have failed. The primary reason for this is that users might have made numerous useful changes to their browser settings, and some of those revert to their original values. However, in some cases, performing a reset of all of the settings might be the quickest and easiest method of restoring proper operations.

Note: Modifying customers’ computers

As a Consumer Support Technician, customers trust you to detect and resolve problems that are preventing their systems from running correctly. They should also be able to assume that you will not make changes without their permission. When performing operations that could result in an inconvenience to the user, always attempt to explain the situation and obtain his or her approval first. This way, you can verify that it’s a team decision.

Other Methods of Removing Malware

So far in this lesson, you’ve looked at ways in which you can use features of Windows Defender and Internet Explorer to resolve malware issues. In addition to these tools, there are some other ways in which you can combat malicious software. In this section, you’ll learn about these methods.

Uninstalling Programs

Sometimes, the most obvious solutions are the ones technical professionals look to last. When troubleshooting malware, consider accessing the Uninstall a Program item in Control Panel. The display returns a list of installed programs and provides the ability to remove unwanted applications.

It’s unlikely that the author of a malicious program went through the effort to design a proper installer and removal utility. However, many pieces of software that might be considered adware or spyware by some users are designed to remove themselves properly. For example, if an Internet-based freeware download included unwanted software, the uninstall process might provide the option to remove it. Although attempting to uninstall programs won’t solve all malware-related issues, it does provide a simple way to remove some of them.

Reinstalling Windows Vista

Although this situation should be exceedingly rare, there might be cases in which you choose to reinstall the Windows Vista operating system completely. For example, some business environments might find that it is too time-consuming to perform in-depth troubleshooting. Some small businesses might not have the expertise required to clean malware from computers. In these cases, the organization might opt to perform a reinstallation of Windows Vista.

Caution: Choosing to reinstall

In most cases, consider choosing to reinstall the entire operating system due to a malware problem a last resort. Apart from losing configuration settings, users might have to spend a significant amount of time reinstalling and customizing their applications. In some cases, this potential solution might be worse than the problem. Always try to use all of the other troubleshooting methods at your disposal before deciding to reinstall Windows Vista.

An alternative to performing a full reinstallation is to use other standard diagnostic and troubleshooting tools. For example, you can attempt to boot the computer to Safe Mode to prevent unnecessary startup programs from running.

Keeping up with Security Details

Although you might not like their products, malware writers do often spend significant amounts of time coming up with ingenious ways of installing software on users’ computers. Consumer Support Technicians can provide a valuable service to their customers by remaining up to date on the latest security issues. A useful starting point is the Microsoft Security At Home Web site, which is available at http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/isv/default.mspx. Additionally, numerous third-party vendors and independent security researchers on the Internet keep computer users up to date on potential fraudulent activities.

Other -----------------
- Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 6) - Using Other Diagnostic and Troubleshooting Tools
- Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 5) - Repairing Windows Vista
- Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 4) - Troubleshooting Startup Problems
- Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 3) - Performing Windows Memory Diagnostics
- Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 2) - Using System Restore
- Diagnosing Issues in Windows Vista (part 1) - Monitoring Windows Event Logs
- Using Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore (part 2) - Performing a Complete PC Restore
- Using Windows Complete PC Backup and Restore (part 1) - Creating a Complete PC Backup
- Using the Backup and Restore Center (part 4) - Using Previous Versions of Files
- Using the Backup and Restore Center (part 3) - Restoring Files from a Backup
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