Bundle this! Bloatware, viruses and other computer pests

computer-sick_MH900141055Don’t want it, never asked for it, and it’s bugging down my machine… except, oops, I didn’t uncheck that little click box…

At our student support service, we spend an awful lot of time cleaning up computers that are virus-ridden and otherwise so slow as to drive kids just to walk away from them or compel parents to give up and buy another computer. By definition, anything that runs on your computer that you 1) don’t want; 2) don’t need … is a virus.  Do you know what’s running on your computer?

A malicious virus will hijack or destroy your computer, but by my definition a program you don’t want and didn’t ask for is a virus. Happens all the time. If you are in better control of your machine, that dreaded “circle of death,” your computer’s groan and moan that too much is going on at once, can largely be avoided.

Two very common programs are a common source of these viruses, and, yes, I will call them what they are, viruses: Java and Flash, brought to you by two monster tech companies, Oracle and Adobe. Here, try out this little poll to see if you have been victimized by these punks:

When updating Java or Flash on my computer I inadvertantly installed

View Results

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Here’s how it works:

Flash Player downloader screen shot. All set, or are you sure about that?
Note how the Google “free” toolbar offer is pre-selected. Not ethical, and user beware.









Did you unclick the already checked check box? Hmmm… Okay, repeat after me:

“I [state your name], will never again NOT UNCHECK the little already-checked box that installs third-party programs when updating or installing programs that I want.”

See here for more on this, truly, unethical practice by these major companies: Java scam: How Oracle and Ask profit from sneaky add-ons: Every time users update Java, traps in the program try to trick them into installing useless toolbars and add-ons.  And, of course, if Oracle and Adobe do it, so do others. Just about every little downloaded program follows this ugly practice. All you can do is BE CAREFUL and stick to your oath not to accept anything without unclicking the check boxes.

Cure worse than the disease?

So, if a virus is a program that does things we don’t want, don’t need, and make us lose control of our computers, what, then, are those programs that are supposed to defend us from these dangers themselves dangers?  Nortan, McAfee, AVG, etc., act themselves like viruses, taking over our computers at random, slowing everything down, and just getting in our way.

Equally obnoxious are the bloatware programs that come with Windows laptops and PCs from sellers such as HP, Sony, Acer, Samsung, and so on. These makers try to “add value” to their Windows machines by pre-loading them with various programs, especially those from our friends, the anti-virus viruses. I once restored a Windows 7 computer to original “factory” state and couldn’t believe how slow it became, because all those programs I had deleted were running again. Jeez.

So what’s running on my machine?

All you know is that the damned thing is slower than when you first got it. Without expertise, it’s hard to really know what’s happening, but there are a few easy tricks you can pull to speed things up. Try these:

  • Control your startup programs
    Win 8 Task Manager. Notice how I have most startup programs disabled. I have Adobe reader enabled because I use it all the time.
    Win 8 Task Manager. Notice how I have most startup programs disabled. I have Adobe reader enabled because I use it all the time.
    • Win 7: type into the “Run” section above the start button: msconfig.sys
    • this will bring up “System Configuration” window
    • select the “Startup” tab
    • these are the programs that are set to load automatically when you boot up your computer.
      • most new program installations set themselves to start automatically, which you do not need
      • if you need the program, great, but usually you can get all the functions by running the program occasionally instead of loading it at startup every time.
    • Programs usually have a “settings” tab that includes “Run program at startup”  De-select this unless you really want that program every time you run your computer.
    • Win 8 makes it easier to control. Search and select “Task Manager” and you will find the “Start” tab there now with a list of all the programs that are set to run.
  • Manual updates
    • programs such as Flash and Java want to update themselves.
    • I always select “manual” update so that I know what is happening on my machine and to keep these programs from re-setting themselves to run at startup.
  • for the expert: “Processes”
    • In addition to startup programs are “processes” that run automatically.
    • Knowing which processes are valid, which are needed, and which are unnecessary is more complicated than just keeping a program from starting up. Here’s a quick article on Win 7 processes.

Some programs that are really helpful for resolving problems include:

  • Malwarebytes
    • Download it for free and you can run occasionally, always, or only when you are concerned about something.
    • It’s a very lightweight, easy to use and powerful program.
    • It will find ads, malware, and some bloatware from legitimate program installations. You can pick and choose what you want it to destroy.
  • Sophos Anti-Rootkit
    • I found this program recently when trying to clean a student computer. Nothing else could find the problem, which was an imbedded “root” virus.

Catching a cold

When you really get in trouble and your machine has a virus or has been hijacked by span operators (here for Has Your Computer Been Hijacked?”) you need to get busy.  Again, going back to our definition of a virus, when your machine is doing something that you don’t want, you have a virus. In my experience, the Windows Defender program along with the Windows firewall is sufficient to protect Win 7 and Win 8 machines. (XP has more vulnerabilities). If you want the extra defense, go with the commercial anti-virus programs — which I don’t like.

If you do have a virus, you need to get busy:

  • Most anti-virus software will identify and remove the virus.
  • System Restore: Win 7 and Win 8 machines can be reset to an earlier date:
    • be sure to have “Create a restore point” option on
    • go to “restore to earlier date” to put your Windows operating system back to where it was before your problem started.
    • System restore will not delete any user files, only new programs and other system settings that have been changed since the Restore date.
    • you will need to run Windows Updates again after you have restored to an earlier date (which can take a while, 1-2 hrs sometimes).

Not Catching a Cold

Above all most viruses and bloatware get on your machine because you clicked on something. Here are some ways to avoid it:

  • Browser protection
    • use default security settings in Internet Explorer, including Active-X filtering
      • If the website doesn’t load, use another browser
    • Use different browsers for different purposes and sites
    • Mozilla has an excellent protective addon called NoScript, which lets you choose the “scripts,” or commands that a website runs, one by one. If you are browsing a “dangerous” (ahem) website, USE THIS PROGRAM.
    • All browsers have vulnerabilities, so BE CAREFUL!
  • DONT’ JUST CLICK on email links or program downloads.

    Microsoft's phishing symptoms page offers this example of a fake link to entice user clicks. Note how the name of the link is different from the actual link. BE CAREFUL!!
    Microsoft’s phishing symptoms page offers this example of a fake link to entice user clicks. Note how the name of the link is different from the actual link. BE CAREFUL!!
  • Hover your mouse over or right click the link to see what the real location of the link is. “Phishing” scams pose links as a legitimate website but have a link to a different site that can run malicsious scripts on your simple click.


Apple has largely avoided these problems by containing its operating system and browser to its own rules. But that makes the Apple OS expensive and limited in functionality. Microsoft is very, very aware of these problems, which is a big part of the new system, Windows 8. The older systems, XP and Win 7, are easily compromised by legitimate vendors of equipment and programs, which the Win 8 “app” style avoids. You can now add all these programs as apps without compromising your entire operating system.

Above all, be aware!  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if you are having trouble with your machines. You can’t get done what you need to do if your tools are working!

– Michael

The A+ Club from School4Schools.com LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.