computer virus 88.
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Feeling sluggish lately? Tired? Feel like you can't get anything done? Well, it's certainly the season for it; surely you've heard that there's a virus loose.
Not a human virus - a computer virus. It's put the whammy not on you, but on your PC, and the reason you're tired is because you've spent long hours, night after night, trying to get it back to working the way it used to - the way it's supposed to. Your machine used to be a roaring lion; now, it just sort of limps along, like a cat that's visited one too many dumpsters.
The truth of the matter, though, is that your computer is as peppy as ever. It's just got some other stuff to do, besides the tasks you've laid out for it. Possibly it's being used to mail tons of spam to e-mailboxes all over the world; it might be a way-station for illegally traded files; or it might have been turned into a guinea pig, with hackers using it for some insidious experimental software they would never dare run on their own computers.
When people hear the term "computer virus," they tend to associate it with some destructive force that will erase their hard drive or commit some other act of wanton destruction. But those kinds of random acts of cyberterrorism are actually very rare; it takes a truly committed sociopath to take joy in the trashing of hard drives on anonymous computers, and if there were as many such terrorists as there are viruses, the world would have gone up in a puff of smoke a long time ago. Most viruses are actually sent out by "normal" people, for very logical purposes - to hijack your computer's resources, getting it to send out spam or perform some other rote task.
Of course, if you had been asked to donate your processor and hard disk to the cause of the illicit computer economy, you probably would have said no thanks. But nobody asked - and instead, the sponsors of the scam you've been duped into running are pulling the strings, by means of a program they've hidden somewhere on your computer.
Here's the most important thing to remember about viruses: They're not supernatural forces that randomly descend upon you from above. Actually, they're just run-of-the-mill computer programs, just like your copy of Office, Outlook, etc. The hacker has set his program up on your computer, and most probably it goes into action when you open your computer, just like dozens of other legitimate programs (sometimes in the form of "services"). Actually, the only difference between a legit program and a virus, when you think about it, is location, location, location. You know where to find properly installed programs (usually in c:/program files). Virus programs can be just about anywhere, with most hackers sticking them somewhere inside the Windows folder, where even experienced computer users fear to tread, fearful of trashing something important and killing their computer.
But there's one thing the hackers can't hide - and that's the process resulting from the running of their program. The process is there for all to see on the Task Manager (in Windows 2000 and XP, just right-click on the taskbar to bring it up). An observant computer user often can, while looking at the list of processes running on a PC, determine that something is not kosher on his computer.
Or maybe not; virus makers, who want to squeeze as much usefulness out of your PC as possible, often do a good job hiding not only the program, but the process - by naming it something that "looks" legit. LSASS.exe is usually okay; LSSAS.exe is not. Think you could pick out the rogue process on a list of maybe 60 that are running on your computer, many with very technical-looking names?
I think we both know the answer. But that doesn't make you bad - just normal. Weeding out the bad seeds that are doing the bidding of another master on your computer isn't a job for you and me - it's a job for the pros, like the people at the Process Library (http://www.processlibrary.com), the Internet's premier database of phony and funny processes that invade your system.
While there are many programs that will patrol or analyze your system in real time, there are viruses that install their own protective measures to prevent you from checking up on them. If you install a program that checks out all processes on your computer, the virus, knowing that the program will detect it, will prevent the checking utility from even loading - leaving you wondering why the program doesn't load, even though you've clicked on the program icon a dozen times. This is not an example of artificial intelligence, by the way - the virus is simply programmed to recognize the names of the processes associated with the well-known process utility programs, and works its own little registry magic to nip those "good" processes in the bud.
But if a virus is running, it can't prevent its associated process name from showing on your task manager. All you have to do is surf to the Process Library and type in the name of the suspect - whereupon you'll be taken to a page with everything you need to know about the rogue process, including how to get rid of it. One very cool tool you can download from the site (click on the Free Tools link) is a "quick access" utility that will enhance your task manager by putting a little information button on the side of each process - that will send you to the appropriate library page when you click on it. And the best thing about the Process Library - you don't even need a card (library, credit or otherwise) to get in.