So, my wife was using her laptop one day to look up a word. She Googled the word and was taken to a dictionary site of some kind. Up pops a warning message saying her computer was infected and that she needed to run some scan or something. Not knowing that she was about to be taken by a classic “bait-and-switch” scam, she clicked it.

Laptop = infested with spyware. Held hostage by this thing such that everything I tried to run was intercepted.

NOTE: If a website triggers an ad about an infection on your computer, IT IS A FAKE. It is an ad which they design to look like a Windows application, but it isn’t. Do not click on it. Ever.

So, I was faced with fixing this laptop. It was an HP DV6000. It was running Windows Vista (I know, I know) and now it was completed screwed up (beyond the “screwiness” that comes with Vista normally). This computer was already junked through 3 years of use with little to no maintenance. My wife never defrags or does much of anything. Lots of “gunk” on this laptop.

So, I decided to start over. Here’s what I did:

  1. Boot the laptop into safe mode and back up all the data. Now, if you don’t have anything wrong with the computer, safe mode isn’t necessary. But, this laptop was pretty messed up with spyware, so I got around that by booting into safe mode. I then plugged an external hard drive into the USB port and copied all of my wife’s files to it. To boot into safe mode, just reboot the machine and start smacking the F8 button over and over again. Eventually, it’ll give you a menu with the option to boot into safe mode.
  2. Reinstall Windows. This laptop, like many of them on the market today, puts the backup of Windows onto a recovery partition. So, there was a “D” drive on this laptop which held the raw install files to reinstall Windows. To trigger the recovery mode, I again rebooted the laptop and, this time, started smacking the F11 button over and over again until it entered recovery mode. Go through the little wizard and put the machine on its merry way formatting “C” and reinstalling Windows.
    NOTE: If your computer came with a recovery CD (or DVD), then you’ll just boot your computer with that disc in the drive.
  3. Update Windows. So, I go into the newly installed Windows Vista. At this point, the laptop literally looks like I just bought it – 3 years ago. Microsoft has issued a lot of fixes and updates to Vista to try to make it suck less. So, first thing to do is run Windows Update and install everything. It’ll take some time, but you’ve gotta do it.
  4. Decrapify. New Windows computers often come loaded with crap. Trial versions of Office, stupid bookmarks all over the desktop, AOL software – you name it. Just crap, crap, crap. So, go grab a copy of PC Decrapifier. It is a free utility and it works very well. When you run it, have it create a restore point for you (it’ll ask, and you just say yes). Next, it will give you a list of the crap on your computer and you check off the ones you want to get rid of. What it will do is trigger the built-in uninstall routines of all these different programs, so you’ll have to run all of them separately. When you’re done, however, Windows will look quite nice and crap-free.
  5. Install your core apps. Simply re-install the apps that you use often. Since my wife pretty much does everything online, I installed Chrome for her (because Firefox is the new bloatware), Picasa (she loves doing pictures), and the Windows Live Essentials suite.
  6. Reinstall your backed up data. Time to put your backed up data back onto the newly fresh laptop. In my case, since I had backed up all that data from a rather fudged up system, I went ahead and installed AVG Free to the laptop and then ran a scan of all the backed up data on the external drive. I wanted to make I wasn’t bringing extra payload (i.e. viruses) with the data. It came out free and clear so I simply copied all the data back to the laptop.
  7. Drive Image Backup. This whole procedure took me a LOT of time. Mostly waiting for the laptop to do it’s thing, but still, a lot of time. Knowing full well that it could happen again, I want to save me some hassle. So, I used the free DriveImage XML utility to create a full backup image of the drive in its current state. If I ever need to re-do the whole thing, I can avoid doing the full re-install and re-update process and instead just restore the image.

My wife now says it is like using a brand new laptop. Score!