January 31, 2005
Q: We have had to reformat our 16-year-old’s computer four times in the past six months. Shortly after we connect her to the Internet, she gets the message "Trojan Horse detected," and then the computer stops working.
She also seems very susceptible to third-party browsers like SEARCH2000. She AIMs a lot; could it be coming from the instant messaging? We recently did not connect her to the Internet for 60 days, and the computer was fine. Two hours after her Internet connection was reestablished, BANG Trojan Horse again. — Jannie
A: There are a number of things that I can think of that are contributing to your problem. One is that you are connecting to the Internet without adequate security in place, and the other is that you have a teenager in the house.
Let’s start with securing your system, which will be the easier of the two to deal with. If you simply reformat and reload Windows whenever it gets attacked, you’re not doing anything to protect the computer before you send it back out onto the Web. Windows XP, in its "original" state, is very vulnerable to attack from the Internet, sometimes within a few minutes of connecting.
Thousands of malicious users around the world are using automated "port scanners" to find unprotected vulnerable users like you. You must have some form of "firewall" protection from this type of exploit on today’s Information Superhighway.
The easiest way to make sure you have the latest protection for Windows XP is to install Service Pack 2 (which has a firewall) immediately after you install Windows XP. Download it from Microsoft’s Web site to a friend’s system and burn a CD to run on your system before you connect to the Internet.
If you connect to the Internet through any of the highspeed networks, you are more likely to be targeted for attack, so I highly recommend that you add a broadband router (starting under $50) to add another layer that makes your computer invisible to the bad guys.
Now, when it comes to your "screenager," we have seen a very distinct pattern emerge in our service business. Households that have active teenage computer users are far more likely to experience debilitating computer problems than those that don’t.
Teenagers are not afraid of technolog y and tend to embrace anything that comes along that looks "cool" or a buddy suggests that they try. Their willingness to try most anything is what makes them the most likely to engage in illegal file sharing, software piracy through the use of "cracks" or a number of other shady practices that they don’t feel are dangerous.
Anyone who is a parent must understand that computers are not fire-and-forget devices. They have to be monitored and maintained. Get up to speed on what is going on in your teen’s computer, or the problem is just going to get worse. As long as your teen can technologically run circles around you, you’re at a distinct disadvantage.
Make a list with them of everything that they want to have on their computer, then make sure you know what each program does.
Once the system is set up, monitor the Programs list on a regular basis (about once a month) so you are aware of any new entries as they get installed.
In the technology age, ignorance is far from bliss, so ask friends, family, co-workers or do Google searches to help you better understand what is being installed on the system so you can prevent major problems in the future.
Major issues don’t generally occur with a single program. They’re usually the result of many programs that get casually installed over time, so don’t let them build up!