Join Date: Apr 2006
Thanked 164 Times in 161 Posts
Rep Power: 12
Re: Computer Expert Help
In theory, a full system restore will format a drive, nuke everything on it, and put you back to factory new. In theory.
In practice? There are viruses that can be hidden in the master boot record (MBR) of a hard drive and they can survive a format. Malware could also load into the memory and in theory survive a format. Especially when we don't know just how thorough or what kind of format Dell does.
This is not hopeless though!
I'm going to ignore the question of asking Dell anything because I've found Dell to be useless. What you can do is to get one of the programs designed to do a secure erase of the hard drive. There are several on the web, free, and Dell may even have one for you. You download one to a bootable disk or other media, boot from that, and it patiently scrubs everything from all of the hard drive. (i.e. when you're giving away an old computer and don't want your bank passwords to go with it.)
Now you know, for certain, that you've got a clean hard drive.
In theory (indulge the paranoia) malware could be hiding in the BIOS, in practice, not likely. But you COULD also disconnect the BIOS backup battery for five minutes, AC off, and wipe out whatever is in there as well. I have not heard of any malware "in the wild" that requires this, just the theory.
At that point the Dell recovery/rebrick discs should set you back up. Now, IF the malware was in an email or stored with other "data" in your computer, of course the simple act of restoring your data would restore the malware, just waiting to be accessed to spring into life. I've seen malware in a year-old email do exactly that, any time it was opened--shazaam, system gone again.
So once you've done the factory restore? DO NOT restore your data files yet. First go online and install the latest updates for anti-malware software, and let it run a thorough scan on your computer, which should come up clean. Then restore your data, and scan AGAIN to make sure you haven't restored any malware.
This is doable, a small PITA and mainly a lot of time sitting and watching the computer between boring prompts. No need to throw out the computer, get a good book and relax.
Personally, I prefer Microsoft Security Essentials, a free download. It gets great ratings, has a low load on the CPU, and last time something snuck into my computer, MSE got rid of it when nothing else would.
I run my computer just short of "full paranoia" mode, i.e. scripting and other interactive technologies from web sites is disabled. And I still get security warnings that there is malware trying to attack from mundane web sites dealing with boring topics like air conditioning repair or hobby collections. You might want to install a second browser (doesn't matter which) just for your son's unsupervised use, and go over all the options in that browser to really secure it.
Last edited by hellosailor; 06-06-2012 at 09:45 AM.