Saturday, August 13, 2005

Battling the Bugs

Interesting. I have done the same thing the two previous nights--that is, I have stayed up until 3am working on other's home computers. Long overdue. I have had both of these in my possession long enough. I needed to get them done and back to their respective owners. The interesting thing about this is, they are similarly spec'd in hardware and both running that ghastly OS, WindowsME.

The first one that I worked on is a Compaq AMD Duron 790Mhz; 20GB HDD, additional RAM install (standard 64MB); TNT2 video; 10/100 NIC . An older box to be sure but one that would suit the owner's purpose well. All he needed it for was to access a remote desktop at work and, while it used to work for him, something happened and he could no longer connect through our security features. Now, it is not our policy to service home systems, but I told him I would take a look at it (on my own time at home) so I finally got around to doing it after far too long (apologies to my friend).

I worked on it from 9pm to 3am cleaning off viruses, trojans, worms, and spy/malware--there is an obvious moral here, no unprotected Windows boxes should be connected to broadband without Anti-Virus; Firewall; and Anti-spyware/malware applications in place! Manufacturers and retailer should supply these items when they sell a box. I know most do provide a time-limited AV solution, but it should BLAST a LOUD message when it expires. And, where are the other security applications?! It's simply not fair to the home user to send them away with a brand new PC unprotected and uninformed.

Anyway, I applied all the available updates for WinME and the updates for the (freeware) security software I installed. This box looked ready to go. Still, I could not connect to the remote desktop under his credentials. In desperation, I tried my own and it worked! Ah-ha! I thought I had it (and I was right it turned out). Something was different about the server he was trying to connect to and the one that I use. I sent an e-mail to the network gurus and went to bed...

The next morning, sure enough, there was a difference between the servers. The one he connects only allowed him to do so for 90-days. Once that was up, he was done. He wouldn't be able to access it again with this box (barring some drastic measures on it). It was suggested I issue him a company box which will serve the purpose and eliminate the issue. Problem solved but now he had no use for this old(er) PC. He asked me how much he could get for it, $100? I told him at best, if it was me, I'd give him $20 for it—however I also told him that it was a clean (no malware) box and still in good working order. He might get more from someone else. He asked me if I could use it, put it to good use and I said yes. So he let me have it for $20...

It will probably end up either as a desktop box for my sister or as a OpenLDAP/SAMBA PDC File/Print server. I am already using some of the parts to fix the next my next 3am saga...

Mom's Computer

Similar system in most respects to the one mentioned above. Same wonderful OS (WinME), however this box connects to the net via dial-up, not broadband. I won't go into details, but somehow a dialer was surreptitiously installed on this system and caused no small amount of grief for my mother. (There ought to be a law, and don't tell there is because I had her call the FBI with the info on the company responsible and they said there was nothing they could do.) Anyway, she had someone look at the system, and this guy supposedly knew what he was doing. He also (again supposedly) killed off all the bad bugs on the system. I had her send me the box so I could take a look at it myself.

Sure enough, my own scans revealed that it was NOT clean, and I removed trojans and spy/malware from the system. It is clean now, so I started looking into the HW to see what I could do to increase the performance. What do I find but the HDD is dying. Many physical errors on the drive. Not to mention the capacity is far too small. So, here is my plan:
  • I removed the 20GB HDD from the PC above that I just purchased which I will install in my Mom's computer.
  • I will copy my family's docs to CD-R, and reinstall WinME on the new drive (unless she opts to purchase a newer OS).
  • I grabbed the CD-RW drive from the same newly acquired box and will put that in this one as well--they they need a backup solution for their user docs (especially for my sister's writings--backing up to FDD is soooo last millennium, and must be unbelieveably slow!).
  • Install at least 256MB more RAM in it.
  • Install an Ubuntu Linux partition. (They need a real OS and once they get used to it, I'll bet they dump WinME altogether. Ubuntu is by far the friendliest distro for newbies, IMO.)
  • Create a drive image for a quick restore CD (I'm hoping Mondo is available for Ubuntu) and send it on it's way.
Intriguing that a box connected via dial-up could be attacked so viciously. Who would have thought? That will be a non-issue (as least for a while) when I send it back. That is certain.

Funny. I'm dying from lack of sleep by staying up until all hours working on these two boxes, and what's going to happen? I am going to end up completely nuking the HDD with low-level formatting and reloading operating systems on them. Sounds just about like my usual luck. LOL

Recommended Security Software (free for personal/home use only, see the licensing agreements for more information):

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