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Win XP System Hiccups
by chris

"Ever since I upgraded to Win XP, (and more so since installing SP2), when shutting down my computer I get dialog boxes regarding programs and/or websites in IE that aren't closing down. Additionally, I have been having a lot of problems with "hung applications" or non-responsive websites when clicking on links. The only thing that has stopped the repeated non-responsive websites from continuing is to reboot. Do you have any idea what is causing this and how it can be corrected?"
- Ron - Westerville, OH

The first thing I would suspect is that you have some sort of "spyware" on your computer trying to report information back to remote websites. You might have more malicious ("mal-ware") programs tracking keystrokes or collecting information from your computer. Another possibility would be a virus or background "zombie" type program using your computer to access the Internet. Even if you don't have some sort of evil application resident in your computer, the isolation and identification process would be the same.

First, look to see if some program has been installed in your Windows startup settings. Windows XP has a diagnostic configuration utility called MSCONFIG. To use this to try and troubleshoot your problem, click on Start, Run, enter MSCONFIG in the "Open:" box, and then click OK. For a quick test, select "Selective Startup" and remove the checkmark from next to "Load Startup Items." This removes checks from all items listed on the "Startup" tab. This does not remove the program; it only temporarily blocks it from loading. To see if your problem lies in one of these programs, click OK to make the changes. Restart the system when prompted, and then try to replicate your shutdown problem. If the problem is gone, then the culprit is either one of the programs you prevented from loading, or is something that is in conflict with one of the startup items. At this point, you may also notice that one or more programs that you DO WANT to be running (like antivirus or firewall software), have not been loaded. Restart MSCONFIG and start turning startup items back on one at a time until you identify which program is causing your system hang.

Next, scan for spyware. There are numerous spyware detection and removal programs available, many are free trial versions or are shareware (send money if you continue to use) programs. I would obtain WebRoot SpySweeper and scan your system to see what turns up. These programs should find something, even if it is only the standard entries for Microsoft's web search or Windows Media Player, both of which track and provide some feedback on related activity.

Finally, scan for viruses. If you have an anti-virus program, like Norton AntiVirus, make sure you have all the current definition file updates and scan the hard drive for problems. This is not as likely, because if it is a virus and you have kept your program definitions current, it should have detected a virus before it was saved or in the process of loading through a web script. If you don't have an anti-virus program, you should.

Take additional precautions against future attacks with a firewall. If you don't add a third-party application, make sure that the Windows XP firewall is turned on. Windows XP Service Pack 2 installed an enhanced Firewall and several other security patches for Windows and Internet Explorer. You can access the Security Center and Firewall settings from the Windows Control Panel. While Service Pack 2's firewall is better than what shipped with the original Windows XP, the Windows Firewall application is not as comprehensive as many third-party Firewalls such as Zone Alarm, Symantec Personal Firewall, Symantec Internet Security, or McAfee Personal Firewall. These applications will generally detect the type of activity from both legitimate programs (email, games, etc.) as well as spyware and display an alert with an option to block the activity. Blocking the Internet communication does not remove the cause, it only prevents it from reporting out. Once you identify a particular program or undesirable application, you would then have to take whatever steps necessary to remove the program.

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