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Limiting Conficker Damage

With sources like the New York Times suggesting nearly 12 million PCs have been affected, Conficker (also known as Downup) has been a hot news item lately. Unfortunately, if you've noticed problems with your network or your normal Windows services like Windows Update, Conficker may be more than a news story - it may be affecting your life.

Understanding Conficker

Conficker has also been called Downup, Downadup and Kido, and essentially, it's a worm that is designed to affect most current Windows operating systems. A worm is a program that can replicate itself, then send those copies to others. In some cases, the only real harm from a worm is that they eat bandwidth. In other cases, though, worms like Conficker can be a bit more concerning.

Exploiting the MS08-067 vulnerability, it spreads from machine to machine and network to network. It can download and execute a number of files. Once you have it, Conficker makes a copy of itself with a random filename, then puts its code into the "services.exe" process to make it harder to get rid of. What's worse, though, is that it can spread with the popular USB drives that individuals often use to transport documents and other important files from one machine to another.

What Effects Conficker Might Have On Your System

If you do have Conficker on your computer, it's likely that you are going to notice several things. First, many Windows processes that you chose to run automatically long ago will no longer work. This can include processes like Windows Update, Background Intelligent Transfer Service, Windows Defender, and the Error Reporting Service. Second, your access to security type websites, like anti virus sites or anti spyware sites, might suddenly be blocked if Conficker has become part of your system. Third, you might notice a slowdown in the overall network processes. That can make everything run a bit slower and become a real source of frustration. Finally, you may notice that you are denied access to certain directories or admin shares.

Unfortunately, Conficker can have some effects on your system that you may not notice. If you regularly create system restore points to refer to in case of serious problems, Conficker can actually delete those points without your permission so you'll have nothing to fall back on. Moreover, it can place your computer on a hacker's network, making everything on your machine vulnerable and problematic from a security standpoint.

Perhaps the biggest concern among most computer security experts is the fact that Conficker's exact motives are still unknown. While there are lots of things that Conficker might be able to do and has the capabilities to do, no one is exactly sure what it will do. Moreover, the idea of mutation is inevitable, so even if you're taking precautionary steps, it's still possible that you could end up with some version of it.

Removing Conficker

If you do have Conficker, your best bet is to remove it before it causes you (or anyone else) serious problems. Fortunately, there are a few ways to do this. You can attempt to remove Conficker manually. This process, however, can be a bit complex for most users, and generally should be left to folks who have some experience with registry editing, restricting permissions, and working with individual processes. You can view the complex directions involved at Microsoft's support site. Alternately, you can also download a reputable program or helper tool to help remove Conficker from your system. Microsoft's removal tool is probably your best option. They've recently updated their Malicious Software Removal Tool, and it can help to delete the worm and any associated files or registry keys. It's available from Microsoft Update and Microsoft's support site.

Another option is to scan your PC with ParetoLogic's Anti-virus Plus tool.  It has been updated to detect the latest variants of this pest and will let you know for sure whether your PC is clean.  

Once you have removed Conficker, be sure to take a few preventative measures, like installing the patch released by Microsoft. Despite the fact that this prevention measure was released in October, many people still haven't bothered to install the update. Doing so immediately may mean the difference between having to remove Conficker again and happily staying worm free.

If your computer hasn't been affected, the patch is a good start in terms of prevention, but you may want to try a few other strategies too. Make sure that your security software is updates, and make certain that you have all of the components of a good security suite like anti virus software, anti spyware protection, and a good firewall.  As always, be sure not to open an attachment or click on a link if you don't know where it came from. Moreover, don't let your computer autorun any USB devices. Finally, use good administrator passwords at every turn. They can help keep you safe.

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