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Tech Q and A: Battling the Conficker Virus

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Every other week or so, FOXNews.com tries to solve your most vexing technology-related problems. Send your questions to TechQuestions@foxnews.com and we'll reply to selected ones in our next installment.

Another inbox full of DTV questions — but last time I neglected my readers with other technology problems, so they go first this week.

Mysterious New Computer Virus

Q: We believe our home computer was infected with a virus. We were getting a pop-up wanting us to buy spyware. The spyware was telling us that our computer was infected with several threats.

We had Webroot Antivirus protection and it expired and for about a week we were unprotected. After about a week and a half, we renewed our Webroot Antivirus protection and after running it about two or three times, the Webroot finally picked up the spyware virus and quarantined it.

Does this mean our computer is now safe, or has damage already been done? If so, what can we do now?

A: An article about the virus you've referenced — more accurately, a "worm" — can be found at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,480857,00.html.

Some experts are suggesting that this variant of the "Downadup" or "Conficker" worm, which originally appeared last October, did not work as planned — that is, it did not do the damage its authors intended. But it has spread to more than 9 million systems (by one estimate) and has done so more quickly than anything they've seen in years.

To me, that translates to "get rid of this nasty pest as soon as you can!"

I'll assume that when you say "Webroot Antivirus" you're referring to "Webroot Antivirus with AntiSpyware" — a pretty good product.

When it "expired" it didn't just stop protecting your system cold turkey. It simply didn't get information on new threats. So any new malware that appeared between the expiration date and the renewal date could have gotten in undetected.

The good news is that the problem is found and quarantined. Assuming it's the same problem, you will notice that the outward symptoms of the infection have disappeared (no more pop-ups telling you your system is infected, at least from any program besides Webroot) and the renewed-and-updated Webroot isn't "re-finding" the threat. Unless you start seeing more symptoms, you're probably OK.

If you're still worried, Symantec has a removal tool. You can find it at http://www.symantec.com/security_response/writeup.jsp?docid=2008-112203-2408-99.

The next step is to have Webroot delete the quarantined file. Your Webroot user manual will have details on how to do it.

If you're the curious sort, Webroot also should tell you what problem it found in the quarantined file — if it's one of the two names mentioned above, then you were exactly right about the threat.

Modern anti-malware programs quarantine files, rather than automatically deleting them, because in some cases it's a better strategy.

You wouldn't want your antivirus product to delete your entire e-mail inbox file, for example, because it found a single infected e-mail. It's easier to just delete the bad e-mail.

Here's a basic protection strategy: First, make sure your Windows system is set to get automatic updates from Microsoft (or be religious about manually downloading and installing them).

Second, make sure you're running a good antivirus/antispyware setup, and that it is current and automatic.

Third, run your system behind a home router — even if it's the only system behind the router.

Finally, learn what messages from your antivirus/antispyware product look like, pay attention to them and be extremely paranoid about messages from any other source.

Putting Something in Your Palm Besides a Palm

Q: Palm is going the way of the dodo bird. But — I have a phone. I have a PDA. I like to keep them separate.

I have lots of books on my Palm T5, and I want to be able to watch some video and work on my next book, despite my bifocals. I have no need for Internet access anywhere but at work and home — leastwise none that I'm willing to pay extra for.

Who makes a PDA that isn't trying to be a nano-netbook? Where's that technology going? What are the chances of remaining able to move my data (books) across?

A: Don't count Palm out just yet. It's just unveiled the Pre, its next-generation smartphone, and the handset's generating a lot of buzz — especially among die-hard Palm lovers who have been waiting for a new product for more than 5 years.

It's been said that Palm bet the company on the Pre, and it may pay off. The Pre's as slick as the iPhone — but with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

More to your question, there aren't many companies, besides Palm, making a dedicated PDA, even though there are very good arguments for having two devices.

For example, who needs a PDA when you're out walking the dog? Just grab the cell and go. If it's lost — well, it's just a phone, easily replaceable. And with two devices, you can be on a call and still be productive on the PDA (not so simple on a convergent device).

But the bottom line is this: On stand-alone PDAs, your choices boil down to a painfully dated Palm OS or the periodically updated Windows Mobile. If you decide it's time to try the latter, take a peek at the ASUS MyPal 626. You can find a review at http://products.howstuffworks.com/asus-mypal-a626-pda-review.htm.

If you decide to stick with the Palm, at least for now, take a peek at the PDA report at http://www.consumersearch.com/pda-reviews/review.

Can't See the See-Dee

Q: I installed a bunch of Microsoft updates to my Dell PC, and afterwards I couldn't find my printer or CD drive, even when I pulled up my desktop. I can't do any reinstallations, since I can't use the CD driver. Any suggestions?

A: The answer, from fellow Nerd Ben Wiper, up in the Halifax, Nova Scotia, area: Go to the Dell Web site, download the chipset drivers (the software that runs the innards of your particular model) and reinstall them.

Should clear the problem up in no time.

Back by Popular Demand: Here's More 411 on the DTV Conversion!

First, some updates.

Last installment I wrote that the move might get delayed. That legislation cleared the Senate, but didn't make it past the House, though the House might try to pass it again.

As far as I know, the conversion will still happen on Feb. 17, as planned. Yes, I realize "planned" might be a poor choice of words.

For those of you writing about antennas — especially about affording them — you might be interested in a short video which shows how to build a do-it-yourself digital antenna out of a board, some screws and washers, six wire coat hangers, and an inexpensive part from Radio Shack [http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2009/01/maker_workshop_dtv_antenna_steadyca.html].

Q: A quirk in the FCC regulations permits a "local network affiliate" to veto people's right to get that network off of satellite — even in cases where the customer can't get a usable picture from the local affiliate. There is an appeal process, but, by the FCC's own admission, it is ill-defined and risky (huge penalty if you lose).

The net result is that some people who live in some areas may be left after the digital conversion with absolutely no way to get some networks. Is there any chance the FCC will eliminate this restriction on receiving network television off of satellite?

A: Two chances, actually: "slim" and "none."

There's also the problem of simple greed. For example, in the Salt Lake City area, local station KJZZ — among other things, it carries Utah Jazz NBA programming — is no longer showing up on DirecTV.

Why? Depends on who you ask. The KZJJ Web site claims that "DIRECTV has still not made a fair and reasonable offer [for a 'retransmit fee'] to carry the station's signal."

On the other hand, DirecTV claims "the [KJZZ] station owner is asking for rates well beyond what is customary and reasonable."

What's the truth? Probably somewhere in-between.

Q: Can I hook up the converter box at any time, or do I need to wait until the switchover?

A: Hook it up any time between now and then. But before the switchover, you might not see everything that will be available after the switchover because not all stations will broadcast at full digital power until then.

Q: My digital television, a Sony Bravia 46-inch XBR2, failed the 1/27/2009 4:59pm test. I called the help number, 1-888-MI-DTV09 and was told not to worry, that the test was bad. Is this true?

A: One of the great things about tests is that problems show up before the cutover date. Based on the toll-free number, I'm guessing this was a test conducted in Michigan. Start to worry if the Sony fails the next test and the help desk tells you the test was valid.

Q: Why on Earth was I under the assumption that I would not need my rabbit ears any longer once I hooked up this converter box? So do I need my rabbit ears???

A: If you needed 'em before you hooked up the converter box, you'll need 'em after. Or a suitable replacement. The converter box doesn't replace the antenna — it merely converts the new signal into something your old TV can understand.

I am curious, however: What did you connect to the input jack on the converter box if you didn't think you would need your rabbit ears?

Q: I have a very simple question: With the "old" analog TV, all we had to do was plug the TV into an electrical wall socket, push the power button on the TV and, presto, we could watch all the local TV stations with no problem.

Is that going to be the case with these newfangled HDTVs, or will we HAVE to have one of those converter boxes or some kind of special antenna??? This seems to be a very basic question, but I have searched numerous Web sites and cannot find the answer.

A: Plug it in and it will work. If you're not a cable or satellite subscriber, you'll probably need an antenna. Unless, of course, there's one built into the TV. Your newfangled TV dealer will be able to tell you whether it does or doesn't.

Guy R. Briggs is a member of the Nerds On Site international IT service team and is based in Los Angeles.

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