Computer Tips - September 12th 2011


Computer Tips


We have recently added a referral network member that specializes in home and business computer solutions. They have put together a few computer tips that we are sure will be of interest to you.


Question 1:

My computer recently crashed. How do I recover my data? I mean my pictures, folders and the other items on my C: drive. I did a recovery, but I was unable to recover any files.

Answer:

Restore from your backup

By far, the easiest, fastest, and most stress-free approach to data recovery after a crash is to simply restore the data from your most recent backup.

Oh. You do not have a backup? Well, then things get iffy.

At a minimum, I hope that you will learn from this experience and put a regular backup plan into place as soon as possible to protect yourself from a repeat of what is, in the worst case, a disastrous loss of all your data.

Do not use the hard drive

I am not certain what you mean when you say that you did a recovery, but if your files are missing after the recovery, then this is not a good thing. In fact, I would venture to say that at least some of your files are lost and gone forever.

The problem is that a recovery that involves something like reinstalling the operating system from scratch will almost always erase and overwrite whatever was on the hard disk. That means that your installed programs and your data may be overwritten by the newly installed operating system.

The good news is that it is possible that some of the data was not overwritten. However, continuing to use that hard drive decreases the amount of data that can be recovered with every moment that it is used. Hence: stop using it.

The alternative to using it

The safest approach to recovering files from a hard disk drive is to connect it as an additional drive. That might mean installing a new primary drive in your computer, or it might mean using a second computer for the data recovery process.

The easiest approach is to place the hard drive into a USB enclosure and connect it as an external drive.

Do not use that drive for anything but your data recovery efforts. In fact, do not even place recovered files back on it until you are absolutely certain that you are done. The process of copying back even one restored file can render some as-yet-to-be-restored file unrecoverable.

Recovery steps

In your shoes, these are the steps that I would consider performing to recover lost files:

- Start with search. It is possible that your files have not been erased or deleted at all. Perhaps your recovery was an install of Windows that preserved all of the files on the disk, but set up a new, empty "My Documents" folder. You might expect your files to be in this folder, but as it is a new, empty one, they are not. Use the Windows Search function to search the entire hard disk for one or more files whose filename you know. If found, examine the containing folder and you may find more of your documents. Copy them to a safe location.
- Run CHKDSK. Specifically, "CHKDSK /R" in a Command Prompt window (possibly run with administrative privileges in Windows Vista or Windows 7). If the file system has been corrupted by the crash, it is possible that CHKDSK may uncover lost files. If it reports that it has fixed something, repeat the previous step of searching for your files.
- Run Recuva. Recuva is a free file recovery utility that scans the currently unused free space on your hard disk for files and file fragments that used to be stored there. Any files which were deleted by the recovery process, but not overwritten by subsequent use of the hard drive should, in theory, be recoverable by Recuva.

If your files have not been recovered at this point, then chances are that they are gone forever.

Above all, learn the lesson

Whether you successfully recover your data or not, there is a key lesson here that it seems everyone has to learn once, the hard way.

Backup your data.

It is not as easy as it should be and people like me harp on it constantly, but I cannot overstate the importance of an up-to-date backup.

Backing up is the closest thing to computings silver bullet and cure-all. A good backup can save you from an amazing number of failures, errors, malware infections, and computer crashes.

If your important files are in one and only one place, then they are not backed up.


Question 2:

Is there any way of keeping Adware from getting ON the computer in the first place? I already have several programs that take it OFF, but that still gives it the opportunity to clog up my connection (which it does!). How can I keep it from getting ON the PC in the first place?

Answer:

You are the best defense

A lot of malware - I will guess perhaps even as much as half these days - is malware that you have explicitly invited onto your computer.

In other words, you may well be doing it to yourself.

How?

- Returning to sites that repeatedly install the software with which you are having problems.
- Downloading and installing software that includes the malware.
- Opening email attachments that turn out to include the malware.

There are probably even more ways that simply boil down to your allowing, or even asking, that the malicious software to be installed on your machine. I know it is not intentional - perhaps it is accidental, or simply not realizing that this might be happening - but it is frighteningly common.

That is why I say that you are the best defense.

The next time that you have cleaned something off of your machine and you expect it to return, take care to watch specifically what you are doing that might end up inadvertently inviting malware onto your own machine.

Removal tools are often prevention tools

Many of the tools that we would consider malware removal tools are actually malware prevention tools as well.
Anti-virus and anti-spyware tools sometimes have options to monitor your computer for incoming malware and stop it in its tracks if they are configured properly.

Firewalls prevent malicious software from entering your machine over the network.

Keeping your machines software - both OS and applications - up-to-date removes the software vulnerabilities that malicious software often exploits to infect your machine.

Tools like WinPatrol can also alert you to suspicious activity so you can choose to block it should you want to.

The take-away here is to perhaps take an inventory of how you have your machine protected and make sure that it includes all of the basic steps for internet security.

Sometimes, stuff happens

Even with the best of plans and tools, stuff can still happen. It should not be often, and it need not repeat, but as I have often pointed out, detecting and preventing malware is actually a race. Malware authors are always attempting to exploit unpatched vulnerabilities and devise new ways of avoiding detection. On the other side of the battle, software vendors are patching discovered vulnerabilities and anti-malware tools vendors are devising new techniques to detect all the new ways that malware can be hidden.

In the middle is a window where even a fully protected machine can still remain vulnerable to the latest malicious software.

Please note, backups are for more than hardware failures - restoring to a full backup taken prior to a malware infection is often the most effective approach to ensure that malware has indeed been completely removed.