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Properly Format Your Computer

Updated on March 30, 2013

Introduction

Is your computer running really slow? Are you having trouble loading web pages or other applications on your PC? If so chances are that you have come in contact with viruses or Trojan horses. Most certainty you have encountered spyware and malware, as it is quite inevitable after long enough. These are the types of malicious programs that invade your computer and hide themselves somewhere on your hard drive. This is no doubt the reason for your computer acting temperamental and losing processing speed. There is a simple fix to restore you PC “back to new” again. The method is called: Formatting (Or Reformatting.)

Viruses Are Quite Abundant

The chances that your computer is infected are good. The more internet browsing that is done on your computer, the greater the chances that your infected.
The chances that your computer is infected are good. The more internet browsing that is done on your computer, the greater the chances that your infected.

Be Careful...

Avoiding infections as much as possible is your number one best line of defense. This can be achieved by being cautious and careful. My general rule of thumb while browsing is to never click on the inside of a browser window that you did not open yourself. Meaning, if you were in the process of perusing through a page, and another page just “popped-up,” then you should not access it. This is undoubtedly how many computers are infected with adware and malware. Advertisers use methods like this to trick consumers into going to their sites as to attempt to make some sort of sale. Avoiding inappropriate downloads can also be a strong line of defense. This would be in reference to downloading executable files (.exe) or any other unsafe files. Unsafe meaning, files that are not guaranteed safe by a trusted site. Trusted sites will do their own pre-scans of files before posting them for download. Otherwise you can pre-scan the file yourself after downloading, but before opening by simply right clicking the file and choosing to scan it with the desired anti-virus application. As long as you don't extract the file you should be safe from infection. (In most cases.)

However, a threat usually exists beyond the virus, worm, or Trojan itself. Often, the virus or worm itself is merely the carrier of something more malicious, and most current infections leave the computer open to further compromise. Following are examples:

W32.Mytob.JI@mm

W32.Spybot.WON

W32.Bobax.AJ@mm

PWSteal.Reoxtan

The first two examples actively open a backdoor, through which other malicious programs can be loaded. The third turns an infected computer into a proxy, which allows someone to direct Internet traffic through in order to obscure the source of the traffic. The last installs a monitor that attempts to capture passwords and uploads them to some remote computer.

In all these sample cases, removing the infection (the virus) still leaves problems:

In the cases of W32.Mytob.JI@mm and W32.Spybot.WON, the backdoor allows material separate from the worm to be installed. Removing the backdoor does not address what may have come through it in the time between infection and removal.

W32.Bobax.AJ@mm and PWSteal.Reoxtan modify registry entries and files. Those changes cannot be undone by Symantec's antivirus products, and must be manually restored.

PWSteal.Reoxtan keeps password and other information it steals on a text file on the infected computer. Unless these files are found and deleted, they pose a security risk. Any future infection that allows access to files on the infected computer will also allow access to the password(s) in that text file.

It is extremely rare for a virus, worm, or Trojan not to permit or produce a further compromise. In the case of infections that install backdoors, it can be nearly impossible to determine what came through before the backdoor was removed, and how compromised a computer is as a result. Erasing your Windows installation and reinstalling it is the only sure way to guarantee that no further compromises remain.

Antivirus Software

Antivirus Software can help keep your computer clean of some of these possible threats but there are no guarantees, as there shouldn’t be. Each antivirus program on the market has a virus database or “virus list”. These virus databases are constantly updated by the service provider because so many new viruses and other harmful material is created everyday. If the antivirus software you have installed does not contain the virus that you have come in contact with in their virus database then it won’t see it. In most cases you wouldn’t even know it was there. Until your computer starts acting strange like taking forever to boot up or not loading applications. These are common symptoms of a corrupted hard drive.

Having more than one antivirus program installed is always a wise choice to increase the chances of catching the culprit before it can infect any vital sections of your hard drive. (Two different virus databases doubles your odds.)

Find The Product Key

The product key for your operating system will either be located somewhere on your computer, on the operating system disc sleve or on the disc itself. You may need this to register your copy of windows.
The product key for your operating system will either be located somewhere on your computer, on the operating system disc sleve or on the disc itself. You may need this to register your copy of windows.

What You Need

There are a great number of sites that offer programs that are supposed to do diagnostic scans and repair your system. I have never had much luck with these. Even some of the leading antivirus applications are not capable of cleaning some infections from you computer.

There is a much simpler solution than to try to take on hunting down these infections and destroying them.

Formatting your hard drive will wipe out anything and everything on it in one simple process. Including the bugs hiding deep in subfolders.

I find that the most reliable way to do this is with the installation disc that came with your computer. This disc contains a copy of the operating system installed on your PC. (A new copy of Windows works as well if you have misplaced your installation disc.) The appropriate disc will say something like: “Reinstall” or “Operating System” and may have a serial number on it which you may need.

Locate Your Disc

Here is an example of a operating system disc for a Dell computer. The disc containing your operating system may look similar.
Here is an example of a operating system disc for a Dell computer. The disc containing your operating system may look similar.

Backup Your Data

Before you get started, do remember that all saved information on your computer will be erased. With this in mind backup any data that you want to keep. Including pictures, videos and documents. DO NOT save any programs or applications. Use the original discs to reinstall these apps. If you have downloaded a program from a trusted site that you wish to keep, you can go back to the site after the format and download the program again. Pictures, video and documents are safe to keep because malicious software is too complex to be hiding in them. Put your saved stuff on a disc or flash drive to access later.

Now The Technical Stuff

After all data that you want to keep has been backed up, you are ready to begin formatting.

There are TWO ways to reformat your computer using the installation disc. “Method One” involves inserting the disc and following the prompts to install a fresh copy of Windows. However, this is where many people make a mistake. Using this method will only install a new copy of Windows and KEEP all the programs and files that are on your computer. (Including the bugs that are slowing down your performance.) This is not the method to use when trying to eradicate an infestation. “Method Two” is basically the same process only there is one major difference. After you insert the installation disc YOU MUST RESTART your computer before continuing with the installation and boot from the disc drive.

Method one: Full format

Most experts say that choosing the full format feature (preferably NTFS over FAT) is better suited for your computer. For a handful of reasons, this is correct. A full format completely wipes your hard drive. After a full format, there shouldn’t be any recoverable data left that a program could sniff out.

A full format also checks the hard drive for bad sectors. If you haven’t switched out your hard drive for a newer one, your old computer will have a hard drive that will most likely be, well, old. Old things, as we know, tend to break more often, depending on what it is. Therefore, old hard drives are more prone to getting bad sectors (although the possibility can still exist for brand new hard drives, provided data was written onto the hard drive in a way where it becomes corrupt.

If the full format finds a bad sector, it will attempt to fix it. A successful fix means that your hard drive is once again fully functional and all space on it can be used. Finally, the tables of the new file system are carefully constructed on the hard drive and checked before the actual installation begins.

Method two: Quick format

On the other hand, we have a quick format. A quick format is almost the complete opposite of a full format (it’s almost because it has to do something to even be called a quick format). Instead of treating your hard drive to a nice manicure, pedicure, and what else, a quick format will only delete the journaling part of the file system. In case you don’t know, NTFS, ext3 and ext4, as well as HFS+ are all journaling file systems. This means that a “journal” is kept in order to keep track of what files even exist and where they can be located on the hard drive. A quick format simply wipes this journal, and lays a new, simple, and blank file system on top. That’s it.

It doesn’t really rebuild the file system, it doesn’t scan for bad sectors, and it doesn’t delete the data that’s on there. Therefore, assuming that no new data has been written back onto the hard drive to overwrite the “hidden” old data, one could use a file recovery program to find and re-save virtually every file that was on the hard drive before the quick format. As you may have guessed, this isn’t the best choice if you’re concerned about security.

If your intentions are geared toward getting rid of any possible infections and improving the overall performance of your PC then method one is the right option for you. The full format is the solution.

Restart

After executing the boot options you should see a screen that looks something like this. Select “Boot From CDROM.”
After executing the boot options you should see a screen that looks something like this. Select “Boot From CDROM.”
You will be prompted to "press any key to boot from disc."
You will be prompted to "press any key to boot from disc."

Partition Selection

First thing first.

You must be quick. Immediately after the reboot your screen will go black and then come back on again. You will be looking at a black screen with white writing. Usually at the bottom right hand side of the screen, you will see some options. You want to hit the appropriate key to launch the boot options. This is commonly “F3” or “F12” and sometimes the spacebar. Press this button rapidly until it opens the boot options. If Windows begins to start then you went to slow, missed it, and must restart the system to try again.

Once you have selected “boot from cd rom” your computer will access the disc and begin reinstalling. You now should be looking at a blue screen. (In most cases.) The computer will proceed to setup the files required for the install and prompt you shortly.

After executing the boot options you should see a screen that looks something like this. Select “Boot From CDROM.”

Select the right partition.

Soon you will be prompted to select the partition you wish to format and install your new operating system on. The easy way to know which is the right one is by looking at the size. The LARGEST number will be the right partition. A message may appear notifying you that there is already a copy of Windows installed on that partition. That is the partition you want so continue to write over the existing copy of Windows. If asked DO NOT keep the other copy of Windows.

After selecting the partition, Windows will begin with the installation. This may take several minutes. Follow any prompts from this point on and make the appropriate selections. During the installation your computer may reboot on its own. Allow the installation to kind of do it’s own thing until you are prompted.

After everything is done, the very first thing you will want to do is UPDATE Windows. This will likely take quite some time depending on how new your copy of Windows is. After all new updates are done the next thing you will want to do is install your antivirus. After that you are ready to get back to it.

I hope this lens has helped you and corrected any problems that you may have had with you PC. This process can be repeated as often as needed.

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