If Windows XP or earlier hangs when you plug in a USB device, read this, it may save your sanity.
If you’ve ever experienced this, you’ll probably do a Google search like I did, and go through countless forums and articles explaining how your device is duff and you should chuck it out and get a new one.
I knew my device wasn’t duff because it worked in other machines. But any time I hooked it up to this one machine, Windows XP would hang. The only solution was to reset the machine with the reset button. Not good. Especially after a few attempts to fix it blew up the ‘Windows Active Desktop’ and left me with a lovely white screen with some nasty diagnostic information.
I tried removing the devices – I even removed all the ‘hidden devices’ by going to Control Panel, System, Advanced, Environment Variables and adding a new System Environment variable called devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices and setting its value to 1. Then I logged out and back in (to make that change stick) and went to control panel -> System -> Device Manager and selected the ‘Show Hidden Devices’ from the View menu. I then removed all the greyed out USB devices (and some others I knew were bogus too) and rebooted.
But I then discovered an article at www.everythingusb.com which mentioned that you must do a SAFE MODE cleanup. This means doing a similar thing to what I had done above, but first you must boot Windows into Safe Mode. You can do this by pressing F8 when the PC is booting but before it gets to the Windows logos.
In Safe Mode (you’ll need at least a PS2 keyboard for this – preferably a PS2 mouse too because anything USB is about to stop working totally) you need to Uninstall all the devices in the following order;
USB peripheral devices (Scanners, Printers, Cameras etc.)
HID and/or Composite USB (Human Interface Devices)
USB Root Hub(s) (Universal Host Controllers)
USB Host Controller(s) (Universal Host Controllers)
When you’ve deleted them, reboot into normal mode. You MUST have a PS2 keyboard connected at this point, otherwise you probably won’t ever get your PC back because unless you can login, Windows won’t try to re-install the devices.
Login – Windows will re-install the devices, and then ask you to reboot. Reboot again.
If you’re real lucky (and I was) Windows USB will now function properly again. A Safe Mode cleanup forces Windows to do something a bit more thoroughly than a normal mode cleanup, and this worked for me.
Aside from the obvious Buy A Mac quotation that one might expect, I felt it necessary to outline some of the things people with a PC running a variant of Microsoft Windows can do to reduce their likelihood of contracting a computer virus or trojan.
In my recent experience, most ‘viruses’ actually turn out not to be viruses at all but are in fact either trojan horses or some kind of other malware. Usually adware. But since most people know the term virus, and apply it to all kinds of malware, that’s the term I have used here.
So, what are the steps to reduce your exposure?
- If you’re using a version of Windows earlier than XP on your desktop PC and you use the internet, upgrade it. This may mean having to upgrade your hardware but it will be worth it. Anything earlier than XP (ie, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME) is no longer supported by Microsoft and no more patches will be released to fix known exploits. And if you’re on Windows ME you really will enjoy an upgrade, trust me.
- Keep your PC up to date with Windows Updates. This can’t be stressed enough. If you do nothing else, you must keep your system up to date.
- Avoid downloading ‘pirated’ music, programs and films.
- Avoid the more seedy areas of the internet. This includes those areas that you can find things from #3 above, but also the even seedier places where you will find nude women / men. Like in real life, unsafe places will get you into trouble, often in more ways than one.
- If you want to download freeware/shareware/try-before-you-buy-ware then check it out on Google first. And don’t take Google’s first words for it – some of the newer trojan/spyware laden programs create fake web pages saying how great the software is – make sure you look for reviews of the software at various different places – and if possible stick to known good review sites such as cNet and zdNet.
- Don’t open attachments in e-mails unless you asked for them to be sent. Even if the person is in your Address Book, or you know them personally. Unless they told you in person or on the phone to expect this, then it could easily be a virus pretending to be your friend. If you’re sending an attachment to friends, call them first, or include something in your e-mail message that a virus could not know. Maybe a recent event that you haven’t entered into your computer is a good idea, such as ‘It was good to see you last Saturday at Uncle Joes fiftieth birthday party’.
- Don’t click on links that friends send you on Instant Messenging programs – unless the person sending the link can say something to convince you that they really did send it. See #6 for more on this.
- Don’t click on links in e-mails. In particular if the e-mail says it’s come from your bank, or Paypal or eBay. These are almost always scam e-mails trying to get you to visit a dodgy site. If you get an e-mail and think it might be from your bank, or eBay, then open your browser yourself and type the address into the address bar yourself. Do not click the link.
- Finally, install a reputable anti-virus solution and keep it updated. Good examples of this are Avira, AVG and Avast. However, if you don’t follow the other 8 principles, you are still at risk. It’s a cat and mouse game for virus/antivirus and if you’re the first person to see a virus in the wild, your anti-virus program cannot help you.
It should also be said, if you want a simple life and don’t want to waste half your horsepower and internet bandwidth with antivirus and antispyware solutions then I really do recommend looking at Apple Macintosh as they’re very easy to use, very reliable and do not suffer the same architectural flaws that Windows machines have. I expect to be burned in hot oil for making such a statement. And people will say ‘Of course Mac doesn’t have as many viruses because it doesn’t have the market share’ but whilst this is possibly part of the reason, Mac also has been built with a number of protections by virtue of its UNIX background.
There’s been a fair amount of articles written on the web regarding what can happen with certain spyware infiltrations which result in the immediate logoff effect. Such articles as this discuss various fixes for the problem but don’t show the way I managed to fix it earlier this week.
Basically after I’d run a spyware scan using SpyBot Search And Destroy I still couldn’t login. It turned out that the file mentioned all over these various articles, userinit.exe, had actually been deleted in my case. I booted up using the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, copied the userinit.exe from there and it all ran nicely.
Maybe that helps someone.