Power User: XP Service Pack 2, Chapter 2

John McCormick

GCN readers who saw my recent column about a mysterious resource-eating problem on an aging Microsoft Windows XP Pro system might like to know the outcome.

The system, on a dial-up connection, should have been less vulnerable to attack than a networked PC. Nevertheless, something bad got in and constantly tried to contact pubchat.us. Whenever it did, there was a surge of Internet traffic even with the browser closed.

Symantec Corp.'s Norton Internet Security 2004 utilities, firewall and antivirus software were all installed, but something got by them even though I haven't opened an e-mail attachment for years.

Firewalls won't stop most spyware or adware.

The obvious thing to do was configure the firewall to block access to pubchat.us, but the firewall wouldn't recognize any variants of that as acceptable addresses to block.

Next I reverted the system using Symantec's Norton GoBack utility. I tried multiple reversion dates but only succeeded in losing a few files and all my custom settings and macros in Microsoft Office.

This was the second time GoBack failed me. A couple of years ago when it failed, I was told the problem was incompatibility with other Symantec security tools, but this version came bundled with the Norton software and still didn't help.

I then installed the free Ad-Aware utility from www.Lavasoft.com and found 60-plus questionable adware or spyware cookies and utilities. I cleaned them all out but still had a problem with system resources.

After copying critical files to CD-ROMs, I swapped in a new hard drive, formatted it and installed a new copy of XP Pro, followed immediately by the XP Service Pack 2 upgrade.

I was up and running in about an hour. I'd already wasted two hours trying to diagnose and fix the problem, so even counting the cost of a new drive, it would have been more cost-effective to rebuild the XP system immediately instead of troubleshooting.

Then began my adventure with XP Pro SP2, which refused to install XP Office Pro. So I installed old copies of Word 97 and Excel 97 just to get productive.

Later I went back and tried again. This time, XP Office Pro installed flawlessly although I hadn't rebooted or made any changes to the system except for the intervening installation of Word and Excel 97.

Power users also need to know how to force a system to rebuild Winsock, which requires you to edit the Windows Registry by deleting Winsock and Winsock2 under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE. Otherwise, altering Winsock will cause the system to reload the existing version at reboot.

Incidentally, rebuilding Winsock finally killed off my pubchat problem.

I'm currently running Ad-Aware and Symantec antivirus software on the rebuilt XP SP2 system, but not the rest of the Norton suite. Instead, I'm testing the more limited XP SP2 firewall.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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