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Cleaning up a Windows 7 Machine (A story about viruses)

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This article is a short story about rescuing and cleaning up a Windows 7 Pro computer and is more to draw overall conclusions about rescuing a good computer than is to be fix-it article
This article is a short story about rescuing and cleaning up a Windows 7 Pro computer. The computer is a Lenovo T410 computer that came with Windows 7 Pro 64-bit that I set up for a person in our church in early 2013. That person left recently after a decade and half of excellent service, leaving the computer behind (as it is the property of the church). The point of this story, then, is more to draw overall conclusions about rescuing a good computer than is to be fix-it article.
 
About 18 months ago, the person said the machine had a pop-up virus and I quickly made short work of the virus with Symantec Endpoint Protection V12 and Malwarebytes. It seemed to run fine. Then he started some web work (small site) with some free tools. Shortly after, his email went nuts because it had been hacked. We changed the email password and allowed Outlook to run overnight collecting (downloading) over 100,000 emails (all “returned to sender”. We cleaned up Outlook and the computer again seemed to be fine.
 
Unfortunately, for this type of client, I have no choice but to make them administrators – otherwise I could never keep up with the calls. Still, giving administrative rights to ordinary users is not a good idea.
 
I picked up the computer in mid-August just passed, fired it up and it worked. I set about to upgrade drivers and Windows and no sooner was I done when IE 11 would not start (“Stopped Working” errors). Quick research suggested viruses, so I scanned again, Symantec picked up several viruses and after a restart, IE 11 worked fine. However, I saw add-ins that I did not want (including some well-known (nefarious) add-ins). I ran Malwarebytes which forced a restart which, in turn, removed the add-ins.
 
All seemed well, except that the battery had been fried from being constantly plugged in for nearly 3 years. I set up a profile for a possible new user, checked things out and turned off the computer. I ordered a battery and because of normal vacation reasons, I did not get the battery until Thursday September 3 (yesterday as I write this). I started up, continued to check out only to find that Word 2007 and Excel 2007 would not run.
 
I did a lot of work in vain. No matter what I tried (including removal and reinstall of Office 2007), I could not get Office applications to run.
 
Both from a feeling of desperation as well as recalling my own advice here on numerous occasions, I decided it would be better to reimage the computer and start over again (Windows, Office, Adobe and IE is fundamentally all it needs). I reached for the big Blue ThinkPad button and the recovery menu came up.
 
There are menu choices for a Quick Restore (Windows 7 Repair Install) and a Full Recovery. I tried the Quick Restore and it failed (hung up, no disk activity). So after enough time, I turned the power off and started back up. This time I selected the Full Recovery and it pointed to a 2013 Rescue and Recovery image that I had forgotten I had made when I set up the computer initially. I ran the Full Recovery and the initial estimate was 6 hours (it was 7:00pm), but 2 and ½ hours later it was restarting. I did a quick checkout, Word ran, Excel ran, I updated drivers, and all looked good. It was late and I was tired so I shut down and came back to it this morning. Updates would not run!
 
I tried the usual suspects, did not succeed and I had to leave for a client. Thinking that the driver updates (including some successful Windows KB updates) perhaps should not have preceded the basic updates, I decided simply to do another Full Recovery. The paint can dry while I am away at a client.
 
I returned and the log in screen awaited. Again all looked fine, but I reached for Windows Updates this time and again updates could not start. The message says to restart, and before I knew it, I had a black screen with CHKDSK running and deleting hundreds of orphaned files. It could have been from turning off Quick Restore – I am not certain, but the disk appears to be fine otherwise. I got the computer started, did some more research, turned Updates OFF, restarted, turned updates back ON and updates started working. The first update was the update to Windows Update. As soon as that was done, updates began to flow - 175 of them. It took 2 hours just to determine what to update, 3 hours to download and install, and another hour to “configure the updates” and start back up (6 hours in total starting at 1:00pm).
 
Now the computer is running. Updates work, Word works, Excel works and all seems well. I deleted old profiles and users and ran Disk Cleanup including “Clean up System Files”.  In Windows 7, when you clean up system files, it may force a black screen clean up or more update configuration on restart. I let this happen and all is well to continue updating drivers, Adobe, Flash and so on.
 
What did I conclude from all this?
 
  1. The computers is just over three years old, and is a well-engineered business (commercial) laptop computer. It has a life span of 6 to 8 years. So it is a good candidate to fix and save.
  2. So many times I hear “there must be some way to fix this without reimaging”. If I could have reliably fixed this, I would have, but after several hours of work, it seemed wiser, faster and more reliable to recover from a backup or recovery DVD’s. Wasting time is foolish. Starting again with a fresh install in this case was wiser.
  3. Always have a way home. Purchase recovery DVD’s when you buy a computer and make a backup when you get it set up. So many times I hear “I cannot reimage – I lost my software and don’t have a Windows DVD or a recovery DVD”. Do not fall into this trap and have a way home. I did and the computer is working.
  4. The computer has Intel Centrino Wi-Fi (Windows 10 capable), Intel Graphics (Windows 10 capable), and an Nvidia video component (I need to check this). However the odds are that this machine is a good candidate for upgrading to Windows 10. I learned from my own upgrade that all my software was preserved, so getting the Windows 7 computer in strong pristine shape is a good idea. The machine has sat closed in a dock for 3 years and the keyboard, screen and case all look like new.
  5. Going forward then, I will make another Rescue and Recovery backup plus a full Ghost backup onto a USB Hard Drive. Once done, I will consider upgrading to Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. If the video will work, the rest will work as well.
  6. If at all possible, make ordinary user to be Standard Users with no install rights. You and I will both live longer.
  7. Why did Office 2007 not work? I suspect the web work with free tools introduced add-ins and changed the normal templates. When Malwarebytes deleted the nefarious add-ins, Word could not start and Excel would crash when closing.
  8. The easiest way to avoid these problems is not to get viruses and malware. Think about what might happen with free tools and cool web sites.
 
 
Taking good care of your computer will result in more reliable operation for you. In this case, it looks like I can extend the life by upgrading to Windows 10.

So now you will know the rest of this story – An update.
 
This update was posted on September 7, 2015 about a week after the original article.
 
As I noted earlier, I decided this computer would be a good candidate to upgrade to Windows 10. There were some steps to take before proceeding with the upgrade:
 
  1. The church has a 5-user license to Office 2013, so I uninstalled Office 2007 and installed Office 2013. That was no problem.
  2. I uninstalled Adobe Reader 11 and installed Adobe Reader 2015 (DC) and that worked fine.
  3. At this point, I ran a Symantec Ghost backup onto my USB hard drive so that I have a complete backup in case of a disaster.
  4. I uninstalled Lenovo Rescue and Recovery, Power Manager, and Access Connections because all these products stop at Windows 7. I uninstalled some smaller and older Lenovo applications that I do not use.
  5. I uninstalled Flash, Shockwave, and some older, little used software. Flash is integrated into Windows 8.1 and 10 and not installed separately.
  6. I went to the Microsoft download link for Windows 10 and let Windows 10 Pro install. 
    Here is the link for installing Windows 10:
     
    http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10
     
    Inevitably, there is some cleanup to do. I repaired Symantec Endpoint Protection (latest version), ran updates, updated the Lenovo Windows 10 software and restarted several times. Video (Intel and Nvidia), Audio (Conexant), Wi-Fi (Intel Centrino), and LAN (Intel) all worked. There are no problem or unidentified drivers. Windows 10 did not have to uninstall any software during the installation, so my initial cleanup was good.
     
    Conclusion:
     
    The T410 laptop was a good candidate for Windows 10 upgrade and the upgrade went well. The results were successful and the computer is operating smoothly.
     
    Lenovo T series commercial laptops are strong machines and this one should go for another two or three years with the most modern software on board.
     
     
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Author:John
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18 Comments

Expert Comment

by:R_Bruce_Morris
Hi John: Congratulations on an excellent, very informative, and timely article.
I have Windows 7 Home Premium under Boot Camp on my MacBook Pro Mid-2012 under Mac OS 10.10.5 (Yosemite).  I am operating Microsoft Office 2007, Quicken 2007 XG, and FrontPage 2003 (since I continue to support two websites).
I had to switch to that mode in January 2015, when the Geek Squad in Clearwater, FL were unable to rescue my system using Windows Parallel 7 (hence I lost the capability to have the virtual machine mode simultaneous with Mac OS 10.8.5 - Lion).
Given this situation, would you advise that I attempt to upgrade to Windows 10?
Appreciatively, Arbyem
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Author Comment

by:John
Thank you.

If the machine is working correctly then it may be worth a try.

I am just now backing up the T410 above with Symantec Ghost. It just started. When the backup is done, I will probably upgrade it to Windows 10.
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Expert Comment

by:Danny Child
Was it a bit disturbing that a laptop used for church purposes was as riddled with viruses as it was?
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The Five Tenets of the Most Secure Backup

Data loss can hit a business in any number of ways. In reality, companies should expect to lose data at some point. The challenge is having a plan to recover from such an event.

Expert Comment

by:etronics6
I am running boot camp on my imac & I did do the win 10 upgrade & everything is working pretty smooth, there are a couple of glichy things from time to time, but nothing a shut down & restart won't fix.  I really like win10.  Hope that helps! :-)
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Expert Comment

by:sdhonea
Not a big fan of Norton's security products.  In my experience, they were resource intensive and unreliable.  I have been running Avast Endpoint Protection in two medium businesses for over four years now (130 client machines) and have yet to have an infection.  The cost is extremely competitive, especially for non-profits.  Just something to consider.
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Expert Comment

by:etronics6
Also, thanks John for your article!  Very Helpful.  Good to know it's not just me that spends hours & hours on machines... lol.... glad you got through it & everything is working properly!
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Expert Comment

by:pbeddy
Hi John
A very useful article indeed. Yes, when I have a PC that is due to change ownership, I too find that re-imaging is preferable to fighting with malware that may have crept in.
Another observation from my environment (IT Manager in a K12 campus of some 750 learners and staff): In lab machines and most of the notebooks issued to teachers, I install DeepFreeze from Faronics. It means that no matter what software has been run on that machine, when I reboot it is exactly as I left it. It means that I don’t install any antivirus software on Lab workstations – just train users to restart when a new user logs in. For staff notebooks I create a DATA partition on their hard drives and I can  make them administrators on their machines, but they cannot permanently install any software. Only IT staff know the DeepFreeze password to install software and updates. Also, without the memory overhead of antivirus software, machines have a MUCH longer lifespan.
Works for us!
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Expert Comment

by:HKVP9
That sounded quite familiar indeed. I work for a small law firm and whenever I have an employee leave the firm I take their workstation and just immediately run the factory restore to get it back to out of the box condition. Then I configure and install everything that I know the WS will need for someone to work on it in our daily office chores. It is so much more efficient and quick to just run a restore than to try and piece meal the machine back to normal function. You just don't know what the previous user did with the machine and trying to determine whether it is salvageable or not is a lesson in futility.
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Expert Comment

by:R_Bruce_Morris
Hi etronics6: I still have not upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 on my MacBook Pro mid-Aug 2012. Given my suite of older Windows applications (FrontPage 2003, Quicken XG 2007, and MS Office 2007), are you aware of any potential problems with these apps under Windows 10? Also, are you aware of any potential problems running Webroot anti-malware under Windows 10 in Boot Camp?
Appreciatively, Arbyem
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Expert Comment

by:HKVP9
R_Bruce_Morris I am not sure about the other software but Webroot is no problem. I have it running on my Win10 test machine without issue. There is a Win10 preinstall scan that you can run that will tell you whether or not you are good to go or not. I unfortunately don't have a direct link to that currently but just Google Windows 10 pre-install check.
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Expert Comment

by:R_Bruce_Morris
Thanks HKVP9.  I will definitely consider attempting the update to Windows 10.
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Expert Comment

by:Thomas Zucker-Scharff
John,

Great article!  Thanks.  This is well written and informative and I like the way you presented the problem, the reasons for the problem, the steps to the solution and the solution, as well as the afterward about upgrading.  

Tom
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Expert Comment

by:etronics6
Bruce,

I know Microsoft has worked hard to make sure legacy softwares work, but of course they could not do it all, but hopefully they will work.  I have installed some REAL old software after the Win10 upgrade, which it actually took & I was surprised.  I use Avast, but as HKVP9 said he uses Webroot, which is great!  I would also do the pre-check like HKVP9 said, that sounds like a great idea.

This is the tool I use:  https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/software-download/windows10
I am pretty sure it does the pre-check...

Good Luck!

etronics6 :-)
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Expert Comment

by:Matt Corcoran
What HKVP9 said. The challenge is not how to remove insidious malware, in my opinion. The challenge is to get the machine up and running into a workable state as quickly and effectively as possible. Every machine I get I set up as perfectly as possible, then take a system image of it. Getting back to pristine condition should never take too long. (Although waiting for Windows Updates can obviously take a lot of time).
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Expert Comment

by:hawker11
Doing the same on a 3 year old Dell for another non-profit on their equivalent person. (Working with their website amongst other responsibilities.)  Office 365 started mysteriously crashing.  Repair, reinstall etc. not working.  Updates failed then fixed, an obscure fix involving the removal of "Send to Bluetooth" that seemed to work for a couple of days. Etc.  Finally done spending time and we are reimaging from scratch (as I am writing this).  Very similar situation with very similar results.
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Expert Comment

by:JMBrooks
Your patience is wonderful.  Just curious how much time you spent (at heavenly rates of course) since new machines are now under $500.
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Expert Comment

by:frugalmule
I like your comment here "The first update was the update to Windows Update."  In my experience, this little problem appears to be one of the biggest culprits of Windows issues.  

If you are in a corporate environment and have the ability to see that is always up-to-date, I think it would be very wise to do so.. Fixing that, even if machines are often not using it, instead opting for SCCM (A Microsoft product), or other third-party products, not having the latest update to windows updates, could cause many update processes to stop working unexpectedly.

This begs the follow-up question. Is there a single Microsoft link where I can always find the latest "update to Windows update"?
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Author Comment

by:John
This machine has turned into a wee bit of a saga. I did all I said above including the upgrade to Windows 10.

Two weeks ago, I turned it on and got "Fan Error" on a black screen. I had removed the keyboard before to install memory, so I removed the keyboard but did not disconnect. I carefully started, the fan started whirring away, and then rattled to a halt. Fan Error on the screen.

I took it to the service company we use, left it there, and picked it up about an hour ago. The machine was in warranty!  I had forgotten that I purchased a multi-year warranty when I purchased the machine. I just fired it up and it works fine.
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