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What To Do When . . .You Can’t Open Email Attachments

Maybe you’re expecting a photo of your newest grandbaby, waiting for a cute forward from a friend, or looking for an important business contract. Regardless of the contents, when an email message arrives, you want to open it. Unfortunately, that’s not always easy; attachments that accompany many emails can be difficult to open. To help, we’ve rounded up some tips and tricks to assist you in opening troublesome email attachments.

Safe & Saved
Because email attachments can contain viruses and other harmful files, the software installed on our computers often tries to protect us from attachments. In doing so, this software prevents us from opening those attachments, even if the attachment and email is legitimate. There are ways around this, but it’s best to proceed with caution. Because of the damage viruses can cause, it’s always a good idea to make sure that the attachment you are trying to open is legitimate and safe before opening it. Although most trustworthy antivirus programs scan your email and attachments, it never hurts to save an attachment to your hard drive and let the antivirus program scan it there. Never assume that an attachment is safe until it has been scanned; even friends may unknowingly send you an infected file. Use your email program to save the attachment to a location on your hard drive. Then, open your antivirus program and scan the file you just saved. If it’s too late, and you suspect you may have opened an infected attachment, see “What To Do When...Your PC Has A Virus” Some files are difficult to open as an attachment. In this case, you’ll want to save the file to your hard drive and open it from there. If you still have difficulties opening the file, right-click it and choose Properties. On the General tab, look for an option to Unblock the file. If available, click the checkbox next to Unblock and then click OK. Now, try to open the file again. Rather than trying to open a saved attachment directly, you may also try loading the program first, then clicking File and Open. Some users prefer this method to other methods of opening files. Use the method you feel most comfortable with.

An Overzealous Antivirus
Although we highly recommend having an antivirus program installed, updated, and running on your computer, especially when using email, some antivirus programs will stop you from opening certain types of attachments. When you can’t open a legitimate file, check your antivirus’ security settings. You may have to go as far as disabling the program temporarily. When you’re finished viewing the attachment, make sure you re-enable the antivirus program and restore any security settings you may have changed. For more information on working with antivirus programs.

Email Settings
Some email programs, such as Outlook Express, block potentially unsafe attachments. To open attachments that are blocked by Outlook Express, you’ll need to change your security settings. In Outlook Express, click Tools, Options, and navigate to the Security tab. Uncheck the box next to Do Not Allow Attachments To Be Saved Or Opened That Could Potentially Be A Virus. Click Apply and OK, then try to open the attachment again. After viewing the attachment, close it, and then re-apply the security setting in Outlook Express for best protection.

The Right Software
Sometimes, the lack of a software program stops your computer from opening an email attachment. When your email program can’t find an appropriate application to use in opening the attachment, you may get an error similar to the following: This File Does Not Have A Program Associated With It For Performing This Action. If this happens, you may also see the Open With dialog box that lets you choose a program from a list. If your computer has a program you know will open the file, select it from the list, and click OK. Assuming the file is compatible with the program you chose, the attachment should open successfully. If you’re unable to find a compatible program from the Open With dialog box, click the link for If The Program You Want Is Not In The List Or On Your Computer, You Can Look For The Appropriate Program On The Web to find a suitable program. For example, if someone sends you an image file in .EPS (Encapsulated PostScript) format, and your computer doesn’t have a program that will read EPS files, you won’t be able to open the attachment. In this case, you have two options: you can ask the sender to resend the document in a different format that is compatible with the programs on your computer, or you can install software that will read the file in its current format. Using the aforementioned link to search for a program that will open EPS files, we found a couple of applications that will let us view the file, including IrfanView (free; If you don’t know if your computer has the required software to open the attached file, look for the file’s extension, denoted by a period and three or four letters that follow the file name. A file’s extension will tell you what type of file you’re dealing with. You can then check to see if your computer has a program associated with that file type by clicking Start, My Computer, Tools, and Folder Options. Look for the file’s extension in the File Types tab. If you find the file format you’re trying to open in the list, but the program associated with that file type is incorrect or different from what you would prefer, click the Change button to select a different program to use in opening all files with that extension.

Missing Messages
Some ISPs (Internet service providers) limit the size of emails you can receive. If you’re expecting an email with a large attachment from someone and never receive the message, check with your ISP to see if it limits the size of messages you can receive. If your friend sent an email with a 5MB attachment, but your ISP limits email sizes to 2MB, you may never receive the message. Some ISPs will send a message to the sender to let him know that you never received his message. This isn’t always the case, though, and some messages are lost forever.

Ask For Help
When you’re unsure as to why your computer won’t open a particular attachment file, ask the sender of the message what program she used to create and view the file. If you have the same program, double-check to make sure it’s the most recent version and the program functions without errors. Occasionally, files can become corrupted during the transport process. If you receive an attachment in a format your computer can read, but the file won’t open, ask the sender to resend it.

Be Persistent
Email attachments aren’t always easy to open. Because email attachments come in many different formats and sizes, no single solution will open every attachment. With a little persistence and these tips, you should be able to open the majority of email attachments.

What To Do When . . .You Can’t Send Or Receive Email

Sending and receiving email is one of the fundamental expectations of any connected PC. It should be as easy to do as turning on your computer but sometimes it isn’t. Simple as it seems, emailing is actually a complicated procedure that has many possible points of error. When your email client starts delivering arcane error codes, a simple process gets complicated quickly. For these troubleshooting situations, we will be using the most common email client, Microsoft’s Office Outlook 2003. Many of the principles and fundamental fixes for these programs work similarly in other clients such as Outlook Express, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Eudora.

Email Just Won’t Start
You can’t get your mail if you double-click your Outlook icon and nothing happens. The most common cause of this problem is that Outlook didn’t close properly or entirely the last time you used it. A piece of the program may still be in your computer’s memory, so Windows may believe the program is already running. To fix this, just wait; Windows XP often cleans its own memory of remnant program code on its own, but this can take a while. Another fix is to reboot your PC, which restarts Windows with a clean memory slate. The shortcut fix to this problem is to end the Outlook “process” that’s still operating in the background. Press CTRL-ALT-DELETE to bring up the Windows Security window and click the Task Manager button. In the Task Manager, click the Applications tab and look to see if Outlook is listed under the Task column. If it’s listed and the status is “Running,” this means the program is active but for some reason it isn’t visible to you. Click your email program to highlight it and click the Switch To button to see if that opens the program. If that doesn’t work or if the program isn’t visible in the Applications tab, click the Processes tab and look for Outlook.exe, which should be listed under the Image Name column. Click your email program and then click the End Process button. A Task Manager Warning box will warn you that you’ll lose any unsaved data if you click the Yes button. Click the Yes button to end the process and then close the Task Manager window. There are times when Task Manager will list Outlook. exe several times; eliminate all of these listings in order to clear your PC’s memory. You should be able to open Outlook now.

Email Is Not Talking
One of the most common error messages you may get from the Outlook email client is Outlook Is Unable To Connect To Your Incoming POP3 E-mail Server. The first thing to do in this instance is to check your Internet connection. Open a Web browser window and try to navigate to a Web site. If the browser also is unable to connect to the Internet, then your problem is with your network connection or the connection to your ISP (Internet service provider), not with your email client. We won’t get into general troubleshooting of a bad network connection here, but you should first check your network cables, any router you may have, and your cable or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) modem to make sure that they are plugged in and connected properly. Before tinkering with your email client settings, you should also check your security software and firewall settings. It is possible that one of these programs is interfering with how your email client communicates with the Internet. Every security program works differently, but to check if this is the trouble, try temporarily disabling your firewall or security protection. Security suites such as Norton and McAfee have quick disable buttons, which will come up if you right-click their icons in the System Tray or click the first window of the program. If you do this and your email client works properly, then the issue involves your security suite and you need to consult its documentation for the fix.

Send & Receive Errors
If you succeed in isolating the problem in your email client, then you need to check out its configuration settings. In Outlook, click the Tools menu and E-mail Accounts to open up the E-mail Account wizard. Under E-mail, click View Or Change Existing E-mail Accounts and click the Next button. In the E-mail Accounts window under Name, click to highlight your default email account and then click the Change button, which brings you to the email program’s settings screen. In Outlook you need to confirm that the client is reaching out to the correct server addresses at your ISP. Every ISP will be different, so you need to get the right email setup instructions from your provider. In most cases, however, your Incoming Mail Server (POP3) listing should read something like and your Outgoing Mail Server (SMTP) should look something like smtp.yourISP Your ISP may have changed these settings because of an email client upgrade or a system change, so be sure to double-check them. If the settings look correct and the program still isn’t sending or receiving email, try deleting the Incoming Mail Server (POP3) and Outgoing Mail Server (SMTP) entries and retyping the correct addresses. Another possibility is that your ISP’s email server isn’t responding because it needs you to use SPA (Secure Password Authentication). If there isn’t a check mark in the Log On Using Secure Password Authentication (SPA) box, check it and then click Next and Finish. In other cases, you may get error messages from the server such as, SSL Negotiation Failed. In that case, uncheck the Log On Using Secure Password Authentication (SPA) box because the servers are incompatible with it.

The Settings Are Correct
If you’re certain your email client is properly configured and network and Internet connections are working properly, but your Send/Receive process still fails, then try rebuilding your email account. Sometimes you have to delete and re-establish your email settings for them to work properly. First, make sure you have all of the necessary information for your account and ISP: username, password, outgoing/incoming server names, and any other settings the ISP requires. In Outlook, click Tools and E-mail Accounts to open up the E-mail Account wizard. Under E-mail, click View Or Change Existing E-mail Accounts and click the Next button. Highlight your default email account and click the Remove button. (This will not delete your old email messages.) Next, click the Add button. Most user email accounts use a POP3 email server (unless your ISP tells you otherwise), so select the POP3 radio button and click Next. In the next window, fill in your User Information (name and email address) and Logon Information (the username for the account and the password). On the right side of the window, fill in the Server Information we outlined earlier (incoming mail is mail.yourISP and outgoing mail is In Outlook you can test your settings by clicking the Test Account Settings button. The next screen tests all of your settings and reports where exactly the problem may be. If Outlook can’t find the network connection, then the problem lies with the ISP. If it can’t find the SMTP (Simple Mail Transfer Protocol) or POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) server, then the outgoing or incoming mail servers are probably mislabeled. Once your settings pass all of the tests, click Next and Finish to return to the client. If your account settings are working properly, you should receive a test message in your Inbox from Outlook the next time you click Send/Receive.

But I Put In My Password!
A common email frustration occurs when your client repeatedly asks you to enter your password and fails to make contact with the server. In many cases you already have your password embedded in the program’s configuration but the password window keeps popping up. In our experience, this has usually indicated a temporary problem with our ISP’s email servers and not a problem with our local email client. To fix this problem, close out of Outlook and try again later. If the problem persists, then use the steps we outlined earlier to search the client’s configuration settings and check to see that it still has your password entered properly. Otherwise, email or call your ISP to inquire about the status of its email servers.

Bad Host
Some email messages you try to send will return an error message indicating Host Unknown. Usually, it is most likely that the recipient’s email address is incomplete or wrong. If you’re certain the address is correct, then the message means there is a problem with the recipient’s email server. Later, try resending the email again.

Is It Better To Give Than To Receive?
Sending email often is more error prone than the retrieval process. You may get error messages from your email client that it Cannot Contact The SMTP Server or that The Server Connection Timed Out when trying to send a message. Sometimes, the client will alert you that it was trying to contact the outgoing server for one minute and asks whether it should continue. In some cases, this message is a result of your email client losing contact with the correct outgoing port on your computer or the SMTP server. The most common fix for this is to close down and restart your email client. The program may issue an alert and ask whether to send the unsent messages before shutting down; tell it not to send anything and close the client. Wait about 30 seconds to let any remnants of the program clear out of the memory and then restart and send the message again.

Shrink Your File
Your email may “time out” or return an error message from the server related to “attachment size.” Many ISPs put an upper limit on the file size you can attach to an outgoing message: sometimes 2MB, 3MB, or more. A large attachment can also produce an error message because the upload takes so long that the client drops the connection. To determine whether the attachment is the cause, try sending the same message after removing the attachment. You can also use Window XP’s native file compression program to stuff the file into a smaller package. To do this, right-click the file you want to attach to your email, select Send To from the dropdown menu, and click Compressed (Zipped) Folder. This process creates a new ZIP file that should be smaller and easier to send. Another workaround for sending huge attachments is to use a Web-based email service such as Google’s Gmail, MSN’s Hotmail, or Yahoo! Mail. Sign up for an account with these free services and you can send enormous file attachments that would otherwise choke your POP3 account.

Am I A Spammer?
When you send a single email to a large list of people, your ISP may return an error message such as The Message Could Not Be Sent Because One Of The Recipients Was Rejected By The Server. In order to block spammers, most ISPs limit the number of people to whom you can send the same message to usually between 25 and 50 recipients. With mass mailings, try sending multiple instances of the same message to only 20 recipients at a time. You can solve many of the most common email problems with one of the fixes we discussed in this section. However, you will need to keep in mind that the background processes for email can involve complex exchanges between your PC and the servers at your ISP. When all else fails, you may want to call your ISP’s tech support.

What To Do When . . .You Can’t Access A WLAN

Having a wireless connection to access your home network or a public network at an airport or other hotspot is a wondrous capability. Not being able to get your wireless connection up and running, or having your functioning network suddenly stop working, can be a thunderous inconvenience. The complex workings of WLAN (wireless local-area network) connections sometimes break. But there are some basic fixes you can try to get your network humming again. For the purposes of this article, we’re assuming you have Windows XP on your computer. We will walk you through steps to solve the three basic wireless connection problems you may experience: no connectivity, chronic dropped connections, and slow speeds.

No Connectivity
Connectivity problems can afflict your computer when you’re first installing your network. They can also occur after your network has been running perfectly for months and you’ve long forgotten how to access the network interface on both your remote PC and your wireless router. Perhaps it wasn’t even you who set up the network, further adding to the challenge of solving the problem. In most cases, you’ll begin your troubleshooting efforts by checking the configuration on your remote PC. Note that it is the frustrating nature of wireless connections that any one of the suggestions below or a combination of them may work, or not. In many cases, there is no definite “this solution fixes that problem,” only a series of “things to try.” You have to keep trying fixes until the network works. Open Network Connections by clicking Start, My Network Places, and View Network Connections. In the right pane in the window that opens you’ll see a list of all the possible ways you can connect to the network and the Internet based on the networking hardware your system is currently set up to work with. Our computer, for example, shows four types of connections: a dialup connection via modem, a 1394 FireWire connection, a 10/100BaseT Ethernet LAN connection, and a wireless 802.11g radio connection. The Status column shows whether the connection is enabled or disabled. If it’s disabled, it will say so in the Status column. If it is enabled, the status will be Connected, Not Connected, or Disconnected. When the system is working, the status of your connection of choice will be Connected. Unfortunately, just because it says it’s connected doesn’t mean you’ll actually have network access. If your Wireless Network Connection status is Disabled, you or another user (say, a co-worker if you’re using a laptop that co-workers share) has manually disabled it. To enable the connection, right-click Wireless Network Connection in the Name column and select Enable. The menu will close and a status box will show that “Enabling” is in progress. In a few seconds the status of the device should change to Connected, Not Connected, or Disconnected and the status box should disappear. If the status has changed to Connected, try opening your browser. You should be connected and running. If the status changes to Disconnected, right-click Wireless Network Connection again and choose Connect. In a moment or two the status should change to Connected. If it does, try accessing a Web site with your browser. Under most circumstances you should be on the ’Net. If there’s still no Internet connectivity, you’ll have to dig deeper. If the status is Not Connected, the problem may be as simple as the wireless radio being off. Check the physical switch (if there is one) on your notebook or type the appropriate key combination (for example, FN-F2) for turning on the radio. The status should change to Connected. If it does, open your browser. You should be connected and online. If, when checking the radio, you find that it’s already on, right-click Wireless Network Connection and choose View Available Wireless Networks. A new window, Wireless Network Connection, opens. This window offers a list of all the available wireless networks within range and prompts you to Choose A Wireless Network from the list and click Connect. You should recognize which network is yours. If the window doesn’t indicate any network as connected, you should first try your own network. If your network is not listed, the trouble could be that your router or modem is not working properly. Check them to make sure that all the indicator lights are on as they should be. If necessary, check the manuals for those devices to get them in working order. If your network is on the list, double click it. A status box will appears showing the attempt to connect. After a few seconds the network chosen will give the message, “Acquiring Network Address.” If everything goes well, a Connected message will appear. Open your browser and you should have access to the Web. If both the Wireless Network Connection and Network Connection windows show your network as Connected but you still can’t access the network or the Internet, your problems run deeper. The list of available networks will indicate which networks are secured and which ones are open. If you can’t get online using your own network, you can try connecting to one of the other open networks. Try to only connect to networks you know, however, because connecting to unknown and/or unsecure networks can open your computer to potential security hazards. In the list of networks, double click the open network with the best connection (that is, the one with the most green bars). A status box shows that your computer is attempting to log onto the chosen network. This attempt can take some time, so be patient. When the connection completes, try accessing the Internet. If you are successful, you know that the problem with your network is probably at the router, not the remote PC. If the attempt fails, the problem could be with your PC or with the network you tried to access. If there are other open networks available, try accessing them. If you can’t log on to any, the problem is likely the configuration of your remote computer. If your Wireless Network Connection reads Connected and the available network list also shows it as Connected, the problem could be with your broadband modem or your router’s connection to it. If the modem’s indicator lights all read OK, try replacing the cable between the router and the modem and try connecting. If you still have no Internet access, you’ll have to dig deeper into the Windows Network Connections interface. To go to the next level of troubleshooting, right-click Wireless Network Connection in the Network Connections window and select Properties. In the Wireless Network Connection Properties dialog box the General tab displays a list of items your wireless connection uses. In fact, depending on what’s listed and checked, your system may not be using all of the services, and one or two could be causing your headaches.

On our computer the items listed include Client For Microsoft Networks and File And Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks. Both of these services can be disabled, and in simple wireless networks where you mainly just want to share an Internet connection these services should be disabled. If they are listed and active in your network and you’re sure you don’t need them, uncheck them. Another item that you can uncheck, if listed, is Client Service For Netware. There can be other unnecessary items in this list to uncheck. The three basic services you want to have active at all times are QoS Packet Scheduler, Network Monitor Driver, and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) or Microsoft TCP/IP Version 6 (both may be listed; keep only one active).

Click the Wireless Networks tab to get a list of available networks. You should see an antenna symbol next to the network name. If you see a red X, the configuration has problems. In this event check the router for possible problems and/or try moving the remote PC closer to the router. Click your network and click the Properties button under the network list. The resulting dialog box will show the encryption standard in use and include a box in which you can enter your WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) key. Windows can occasionally lose this key. Try typing in your WEP key. While you’re here, click the Authentication tab and make sure that authentication for the network is enabled. In most cases it should be, and when used it must be activated on the router, too. Check the router configuration to be sure. Click OK to close each of the open dialog boxes. Chronic Dropped Connections Everyone who’s ever used a radio has experienced periods of static, white noise, and, depending on the location, other stations coming through on the current frequency. Common (802.11b/g, but not 802.11a) wireless networks use the 2.4GHz band of radio frequency, as do many other radio-wave producing devices, including wireless phones, microwaves, various household wireless devices, and some toys. If your work area is several rooms away from the router or on a different floor, wave interference can disrupt the signal enough to keep it from passing cleanly through walls and floor.

There are a few things you can do to improve reception and keep the signal clear. The easiest, but not necessarily the most convenient, thing to do is to shorten the distance between the router and the receiver. You can, for instance, move the computer to a spot near the router. This is easily done if your receiver is in a laptop, but although your signal may improve your computer may no longer be in an environment conducive to getting your work done efficiently. The next best thing to moving the computer is moving the source of the signal. Moving the router or installing an access point or range extender can move the wireless signal’s origination point to a direct line of sight to the receiver and dramatically shorten the distance the signal has to travel to reach the receiver. This requires an additional outlay of money (although neither piece of equipment is very expensive, and well worth the cost if they fix the problem) and some additional wiring (which is what wireless networks are supposed to help you avoid). You can get wireless range extenders or signal boosters, but you need to power these devices. So wherever you place them you’ll need an outlet nearby. Before you invest in additional equipment, check that the channel in your router’s setup utility is set for automatically finding the clearest channel. If the channel is assigned, the default channel is usually channel 11, and that channel often ends up being the most heavily trafficked. There should be a radio button or other selection method to choose the automatic channel selection option. Choose that and be sure to apply the change or click OK if your router software requires it. Then close the setup utility and try your connection again. If you want an assigned channel, try one that’s used less frequently than channel 11. Channels 1, 6, and 11 are normally used for public 802.11b WLANs and by many home networks. Optimally you want your channel to be as far away as possible from the others. If there are only a few other competing networks, try channel 1; the logic here is based on the probability that the others are set to the default channel 11. One of the utilities built into Windows, WZC (Wireless Zero Configuration), is smart enough to recognize when the access point you’re using may not be pumping out the strongest signal within range of your computer. Its job is to switch your laptop to the available access point with the same SSID (service set identifier) issuing the strongest available signal, all without any user intervention. That’s a great idea when all the access points are hooked into the same network. If, however, the new access point is on a different network, which in the case of a home network it will be, your connection to the network with the weaker access point gets broken. For a home network, all it takes is for your neighbor to have an access point in range to prompt the WZC to attempt to switch you to the access point with the strongest signal. This cuts you off from your own network and connects you to your neighbor’s. You can disable this service, but your best bet is to simply reassign your network a unique SSID, which is recommended in any case. You might also encounter a problem after installing WinXP Service Pack 2 or a Windows Update, in which your connection hangs when acquiring a network address or your connection becomes limited or nonexistent even if your radio is on. Microsoft offers a patch to fix these problems. It’s called the Update For Windows XP Service Pack 2 (KB884020) and is available for free from its download center. To find the patch visit, enter 884020 in the search box, and click Go. If none of the above suggestions fix your WLAN’s chronically dropped connections, try resetting the router, which will restore all its settings to the factory defaults. You’ll then have to set up the network as if it were new, including choosing a personal SSID, WEP encryption key, and other settings. Be sure you are familiar with all the terms and functions and closely follow the steps in the router’s documentation if you try this tactic. Resetting the router means that you also have to put the required settings in place in Windows, too, as we’ve seen throughout this article.

The Wireless Network Connection window offers a list of available wireless networks within range and prompts you to Choose A Wireless Network from the list.

Slow Speeds
Speed is a relative issue. In WLANs your actual wireless transmission speed rarely reaches the rated speed. Even so, when your wireless network has been tooling along at speed X and it suddenly slows to speed Y, you’ll find you’re waiting for Web pages to load and files to download longer than before. At that point it doesn’t matter what speed X is; you’re at speed Y and not happy. Unfortunately, if you’re getting the signal but the signal is not strong or clear, it’s more likely about airwaves than about anything else. If all has been well and now isn’t, the most probable cause is signal interference. There are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine possible problems and solutions. Have you moved the position of your remote PC? If you’re working on a laptop, are you in your usual workspace or have you set up in a different location? If you’ve moved, try going to your regular location and see if things are back to normal. If you are in your normal spot and you’ve notice the slowdown for a while, check the list of available networks in your area. If there are some new ones, they may be causing interference. Try not broadcasting your SSID. (You set this in your router’s interface.) Have you bought any new radio wave emitting devices recently? They may be wreaking havoc on your signal. Have you bought any new heavy pieces of furniture that happen now to be standing between the receiver and the router? Have you spoken with your neighbors? Perhaps one of them has a new wireless phone. Try changing channels on your router as described above. If that doesn’t work, try talking your neighbor into exchanging the phone for a router friendly one. Move the router and receiver close together.

Further Support
With most WLAN problems have to do with settings rather than equipment. If the solutions in this article don’t fix your WLAN problems, use a computer with working Internet access to visit Smart Computing’s Tech Support Center. Go to, click the Tech Support Center link, and under the Basic Troubleshooting Articles heading click the View ALL Basic Troubleshooting Articles link. You’ll find further information under the Networking Wired & Wireless heading.

What To Do When . . .Your LAN Isn’t Working

If you asked somebody how to successfully do a jigsaw puzzle, they’d probably tell you match whatever you can, and good luck. Think that’s a good analogy to troubleshooting LANs (local-area networks)? We’d need to throw in half a dozen or more puzzles, together. The field is filled with software and hardware designed to build and maintain networks, similar in generalities but often very unalike in detail. This makes offering problem solving adice that’s applicable to all LANs very challenging. But there are some difficulties that repeat between networks, and some conditions that hold true for all because they involve Windows XP or good basic maintenance practices. So while we can’t guarantee that this article will make your network problem free, we think it provides a good chance of fixing things before you get into the rocket science of unique network complexities.

Problem: I’ve got a wireless network, and my connection is spotty at best.
Solution: Wireless connections can be tricky. Sometimes they can work over relatively long distances but fail across the room. If your clients are within signal range of your router, begin by looking for other electronic devices that can generate electronic interference. Microwaves are frequent culprits; others are additional wireless units, such as wireless speakers, Bluetooth devices, and cordless phones. Even wireless mice, garage door remotes, and brick walls have been known to cause problems. In short, overlook nothing and test everything if your wireless LAN experiences periodic performance drops. Found the problem? Just because interference is present, that doesn’t mean it’s omnipresent. Try moving your router. Raise it several feet, or put it in an area away from other electronic gear. Even a difference of a few inches may make the difference between a good, solid connection and a poor, spotty one. Or lacking that, try moving your wireless clients away from interference causing devices. Another solution is to upgrade the antenna on your router, or add a range extender. Some antennas are removable, and you can purchase more powerful models.

Problem: We had a brief blackout, and I had to reset my main computer. When it came back up, though, I was unable to access the Web, and my personal LAN can’t, either.
Solution: It sounds as though your computer has temporarily lost its IP (Internet Protocol) address and can’t identify itself to your ISP (Internet service provider). Several conditions can cause this problem. The first thing to try is a normal Windows reboot, as the OS (operating system) doesn’t respond well to sudden interruptions in service and may not have come back correctly. Shut down your PC and manually turn off your cable/DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) modem and router. Wait about a minute, then start up your computer and turn those devices back on. Wait a couple minutes and see if the restart was sufficient to reset your IP address. If not, click Start and Run, then type ipconfig/ release in the Open field of the Run dialog box and press ENTER or click OK. This sends a request to your provider’s DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) server to blank or unconfigure your IP address. Wait a few seconds and then click Start and Run again, only this time type ipconfig/renew and click OK. The DHCP server will now attempt to establish a new IP address for your computer. You may need to reboot at the end of this process, but either way you should once more be able to communicate with your provider.

Problem: My networked computers have suddenly stopped communicating with one another. Are there any possibilities I can look into before getting help from someone more technically savvy than myself?
Solution: Sometimes the most straight forward solution is the right one, and because it’s so obvious it goes overlooked. So start by doing the obvious: Check the cables that connect your router or hub with your PCs. While unconnected cables should show up in your Network Communications window or as a faulty device in your Device Manager, a partially seated or damaged cable may not. Don’t just check visually. Make sure the cables are well-seated by hand. If you feel a lot of give, the plug or its corresponding port may be poorly secured. Try reconnecting to a different port, then try using a different network cable. Make sure that all devices are properly powered up. It’s not unheard of for power cords to come loose as a result of movement or the addition or subtraction of other power cords to or from an outlet, or perhaps someone “borrowed” the power outlet your small network depends upon. If this reveals nothing, check out the status of all your devices’ LEDs. Green is usually good, but orange, red, or anything that flickers between orange or red and another color isn’t.

Problem: I’m trying to print a document from a computer on my network other than the one it’s connected to and it won’t work. Everything else works fine.
Solution: This sounds like an issue with a Windows networking component called File And Printer Sharing For Microsoft Networks. Is it installed and enabled? Some people deliberately leave it disabled because of fears that it permits breaches to security. This is inaccurate, because you’d have to fulfill a number of other important conditions to leave your computer open to general access. Make sure that the files you want to print can be shared; use Windows Explorer to locate them, then right click each one and select Properties in the pop-up menu that appears. In each file’s Properties dialog box, click the Sharing tab and make sure the Local Sharing And Security option isn’t checked. Instead, select the Network Sharing And Security checkbox. Finally, note at the bottom of the Sharing tab whether your firewall is configured to permit network sharing of that file or folder. Windows Firewall has an option to disallow this because it assumes you might be accessing your computer at times in less secure locations, such as airports, offices, and cars. If you’re using a third-party firewall, you’ll want to make sure it’s set to allow network sharing, as well. Also note that some files and folders, such as program files and Windows system folders, cannot be shared.

Problem: One of the computers on my network repeatedly gets the message “The list of servers for this workgroup is not currently available” when I attempt to open its Network Neighborhood window.
Solution: It sounds like your Computer Browser service is disabled. Click Start, right-click My Computer, then click Manage in the context menu. In the Computer Management window that appears, click the plus sign (+) next to Services And Applications in the left panel, and then double-click Services. Scan the list of services in the right panel to find Computer Browser. If it lists Stopped in the status field, double-click the Computer Browser entry and click the Start button in the Service Status portion of the General tab in the dialog box that appears. You’ll also want to make sure Automatic is selected in the Startup Type drop-down menu and click OK. Some users who want more memory for applications disable these types of services because they tie up system memory whether they’re currently in use or not. If you share the system in question with other users, you might want to see if one of them has stored a profile that automatically disables Computer Browser upon startup. Click Start, Shut Down, and Restart, then watch to see if Windows offers you a choice of user profiles instead of simply starting up.

Problem: When I try renewing a DHCP lease it fails. I get this message: “An error occurred while renewing interface [NAME]. The system cannot find the file specified.”
Solution: This can happen when the DHCP Client service has been stopped and your IP address is showing up as To fix this, click Start and right-click My Computer, then click Manage. In the Computer Management window, click the plus sign next to Services And Applications in the left panel, then double-click Services. Double click DHCP Client in the right panel, then click the Start button in the General tab if the Service Status shows that it’s Stopped. Next, make sure Automatic is selected in the Startup Type drop-down menu rather than Manual or Disabled, and click OK.

Problem: How can I tell if my network card is working properly, or was installed correctly?
Solution: The easiest way is to use the PING (Packet Internet Groper) utility. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, and Command Prompt. Then in the Command Prompt window that appears, type ping and press ENTER. The numbers constitute the standard IP address for producing a loopback network connection (though you can substitute ping localhost, as well). It should produce a listing of several lines as replies, along with a few concluding lines of statistics. If you receive a message that transmission failed or an error occurred, you probably have network card problems.

Problem: I’ve tried using PING, but nothing happens at all.
Solution: Sounds like you don’t have your TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol) installed. These protocols facilitate network and Internet communication, so you’ll need to install them. Click Start and Control Panel, then double-click Network Connections. Right-click the connection to your network and click Properties, then check the list of items in the This Connection Uses The Following Items field for an Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) entry. If it’s not there, click the Install button below, then double-click Protocol. Now find TCP/IP (may appear as Microsoft TCP/IP version 6) in the Network Protocol field of the Select Network Protocol dialog, click to select it, and click OK. If after installing TCP/IP you’re still not getting a response from PING, check your physical connections (make sure your network cable plugs are properly seated in their ports) and then check to see if you have a firewall running that isn’t allowing your system to access the Web. Many firewalls can be configured to refuse access without inquiring of the user whether they desire it. If that’s the case, scan the program’s interface or check its Help files for the menus and commands you can use to configure your firewall to allow outbound access. (These vary from program to program.)
Problem: I can PING a computer by using its IP address. But if I use its name, I get the following message: “Ping request could not find host [NAME]. Please check the name and try again.”
Solution: This is probably a case of not having enabled NetBIOS Over TCP/IP. As a result, your client only makes sense of IP addresses, and doesn’t know what to make of names given to computers. To fix this, click Start and Control Panel, then double-click Network Connections. Right-click your local area network connection listing and click Properties in the pop-up menu, then double-click the Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) entry in the list of items installed for your connection on the General tab. Click the Advanced button in the resulting dialog’s General tab, click the WINS tab in the next dialog, and if the Disable NetBIOS Over TCP/IP radio button is selected near the bottom of the tab, select instead the Enable NetBIOS Over TCP/IP option. Click the OK button on each of the three dialog boxes to close them. Problem: I can PING computer B from computer A on my LAN, but not the other way around. Solution: The most usual cause of this is a firewall that’s incorrectly configured. Check computer A’s firewall and see if it’s set to allow access to computer B.

Problem: I can use my network to directly browse Web pages, but when I run a program that goes out to the Web, instead, such as Windows Media Player, Norton Internet Security’s LiveUpdate, and so on, Windows prompts me to create an Internet connection.
Solution: This can occur if you use WinXP’s New Connection Wizard to create a broadband connection. The problem is that the Wizard doesn’t enable proxy automatic detection for broadband connections requiring authentication. To solve this, launch Internet Explorer, click the Tools menu and Internet Options, and click the Connections tab in the Internet Options dialog box. Click your broadband connection’s listing in the Dial-Up And Virtual Private Network Settings field, then click the Settings button to the right and select the Automatically Detect Settings checkbox under Automatic Configuration. Click OK to close both dialogs, and you should be in business.

Problem: I connect to a networked PC using my WinXP Remote Desktop Connection, then try to copy and paste data from one system to another. Either it doesn’t work or I get a message stating, “Cannot copy file: Cannot read from the source file or disk.”
Solution: This can occur if drive redirection isn’t enabled. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, Communications, and Remote Desktop Connection. Click the Options button at the bottom of the dialog that appears, then click the Local Resources tab. Click to select the Disk Drives checkbox in the Local Devices portion of the tab, then click Connect.

What To Do When . . .Your PC Has A Virus

Whether you suspect that a virus is causing your PC to behave oddly or your antivirus software finds a bug lurking on your computer, it’s hard to think about anything else until you’ve removed the virus. Because your computer isn’t healthy, your valuable documents, music and video files, and email are at risk. In theory, removing a virus should be easy: Run your antivirus software’s virus scanner until it locates the bug and then zap it. Although antivirus programs can indeed catch and kill many of the viruses that find their way to your PC from the Web, there are plenty of elusive bugs that can evade your antivirus software for one reason or another. We’ll show you how to use two popular antivirus applications to catch and kill viruses, and we’ll also provide tips for removing the bugs that refuse to budge.

Step 1:
Back Up, Back Up, Back Up If your PC has any files you don’t want to lose, resist the temptation to hunt for that virus right away.
Although your antivirus software may be able to remove the problem without disturbing your OS (operating system), you can’t predict the sorts of trouble you may run into. This is an especially important step if you haven’t yet installed antivirus software. Although most program installations go smoothly, we’ve experienced more than our fair share of software and hardware installations that crippled our test PCs’ operating systems. Back up your files to a CD, DVD, or other removable media not to another PC. Some viruses infect documents and other popular file types, which means that your own files may carry the virus to the removable media. You’ll need to scan your backup media with an antivirus program before you return the files to your computer or move them to another PC.

Step 2:
Update Your Virus Definitions Antivirus software publishers create massive databases of virus definitions that help your software identify the bugs.
Because malicious users regularly create new viruses (and publishers regularly create new virus definitions to catch them), your antivirus software is out of date as soon as you install it. You’ll need to download the latest definitions from the software publisher before you run your antivirus scan otherwise, the program may miss a new virus. Many antivirus applications include a 12-month subscription to the publisher’s antivirus definitions; if your subscription has expired, the software may instruct you to pay for a new subscription. McAfee Virus Scan Plus. Virus Scan updates definitions automatically, but you can check to make sure you have the latest updates. The McAfee Security Center, which is the software’s main window, lets you know whether your system’s virus definitions and other components are up-to-date. To download virus definitions and any other updates, click the Update button. A small icon that has an arrow will appear in the System Tray while McAfee searches for updates. The process won’t take long (about 15 seconds, in our experience) over a broadband connection. Once the definition update completes, you are ready to scan your computer for viruses. Symantec Norton Anti Virus 2007. Norton automatically updates its definitions, as well. If your virus definitions are out of date, The Norton Protection Center will display a red X next to Protection Updates (which includes the virus definitions). To download the Protection Updates, click Run Live Update in the Quick Tasks menu on the left side of the Norton Protection Center. When the Live Update tool opens, click the Next button and then wait for the tool to check Symantec’s servers. The tool will display all of the components it can update, including your virus definitions. When you click Next again, the tool will automatically download and install all of the definitions. Once you click the Finish button, Norton Anti Virus may restart your computer. You are now ready to scan your computer for viruses

Step 3:
Scan Your Computer When you run a virus scan, your antivirus software scours your computer in search of files that match its virus definitions.
You don’t need to sit by your computer as it scans: It will identify viruses and display a report once it completes the scan. McAfee Virus Scan Plus. To scan your computer for viruses, click the Scan link, which appears on the left side of the Security Center (if you’re-using Security Center’s Advanced interface, the Scan link is under Home). Once the Scan page opens, you can configure your scan. Check the My Computer box in the Locations To Scan area if you want to ensure that the entire system, including any removable media in your optical and floppy drives, is included in the scan. The Options section lets you fine tune the scan. If you want to run a full-system scan, check all of the boxes in this section. However, if you’re searching only for viruses, uncheck the Scan And Remove Tracking Cookies box. Once you’ve configured the scan options, click Scan Now. You can work on other programs while your virus scan runs in the background. Simply click the Minimize icon in the upper right corner of the window. If you need to devote your PC’s resources to a particularly resource intensive application, click the scan’s Pause button. Click the Resume button to start the scan where it stopped. Symantec Norton Anti Virus 2007. Norton Antivirus offers two types of scans: a Quick Scan, which checks commonly infected files, and Full System Scan, which offers a thorough scan of your entire PC. To run a Quick Scan, click the Scan Now link, which appears under Quick Tasks in the Norton Protection Center. To run a Full System Scan, click the Norton Anti Virus tab (next to the Protection Center tab) and then click Tasks & Scans. Next, click Run A Scan and then click Run Full System Scan. Scan times vary from one PC to the next the scan may finish in a minute, or it may take several minutes. If you want to work while the scan runs in the background, click the Minimize icon at the top of the scan window. When the Perform Background Scan? Window appears, check the Do Not Ask Me Again box and then click the Yes button. Now you can minimize the scan at any time and focus on your other tasks while the scan runs. The scan’s window will pop up again when the scan completes. The Results Summary page appears in the scan’s window when the scan finishes. If the scan finds viruses, you’ll see a number in the pink Total Items That Require Attention bar. Click the Attention Required tab at the top of the window. You’re ready to remove the virus.

Step 4:
Remove The Virus Today’s software makes removing most threats a breeze.
Many applications can automatically remove minor threats or suggest removal actions. McAfee Virus Scan Plus. Once the virus scan completes, an alert will appear and the Security Center will display basic information about the threats the scan found and actions it took. To view the individual threats and specify actions, click View Details. This page names each threat, displays its category (such as Potentially Unwanted Program) and displays the file path so you can see where the threat sat on your computer. Virus Scan Plus can automatically fix some problems (including unwanted tracking cookies), but if you want to take a particular action, you can use the I Want To section. Virus Scan automatically removes some unwanted threats. Rather than deleting these files, it moves them to the Quarantined Programs And Tracking Cookies section. To view the files and delete them (or restore them, if you decided you want certain cookies, for example), click the Advanced Menu link at the bottom of the Security Center and then click the Restore button. You can now view information about quarantined items without harming your PC. Symantec Norton AntiVirus 2007. The Attention Required tab in the scan’s Results Summary window lists each threat (including nonvirus threats, such as cookies) and suggests an action in the Action column. You can use the drop-down menu to select an action (such as Fix, Ignore, or Exclude), or you can leave the suggested action in place. When you’re ready to remove the threats, click the Apply Actions button. In some cases, Norton Anti Virus may not be able to automatically fix the problems it finds. If it finds virus infections in system files, for example, it may recommend that you use your OS installation CD to replace a damaged file. You’ll find information about the problem in the Attention Required tab. If you think that a particular file is infected, but Norton doesn’t flag it as suspicious, you can move it to the Quarantine, which is a protected environment that won’t let the file do any further damage. Click the Norton Anti Virus tab and then click Tasks & Scans. Click Manage Quarantined Items and click Go To Quarantine. When the Security History: Quarantine window appears, you can click Add Item To Quarantine to use the Manual Quarantine tool, which lets you browse for the suspicious file.

Online Resources
Don’t panic if you think you have a virus but don’t already have antivirus software. Some antivirus software publishers offer free online scanning tools that can search your computer in minutes. McAfee, for example, offers McAfee FreeScan ( and Symantec also has a Spyware & Viruses scan ( You can also use these tools if you think your existing antivirus software hasn’t caught a virus on your PC. Some lesser-known publishers also offer online scanners. If you choose to use a scanner you don’t recognize, search the Web for other users’ opinions. Malicious users can create legitimate looking security programs that “find” phantom viruses and ask you to pay for the software to remove it. Once you know the name of your PC’s virus, you can search for information about removing it. Some software publishers offer special, downloadable tools for nasty viruses In some cases, you’ll need to install a full antivirus program to destroy the virus.

Viruses vs. Adware & Spyware
Many antivirus applications don’t search for adware and spyware. If you’ve run antivirus scanners without any luck, the program that’s causing your computer to behave oddly may fall into the adware or spyware category. Several security publishers offer free antispyware/ adware programs such as Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware SE Personal ( and Grisoft’s AVG Anti-Virus Free (

When All Else Fails
If your antivirus and other apps fail to remove your PC of its malady, it may be time to wipe the system clean and reinstall your OS. Be sure that once your fresh OS is installed, you update Windows completely and install your antivirus software before you reintroduce your backed up files to your PC. After all, they may still carry viruses.

What To Do When . . .You’re Pestered By Pop-up Ads

Pop-up ads are intrusive, bothersome, and annoying. Given that many pop-up ads contain scams, it’s no wonder we don’t like these unfriendly windows. Whether your computer displays large quantities of pop-up ads incessantly or you see one pop-up ad while browsing the Web, all of us want to eliminate pop-ups so we can use our computer in peace. Fortunately, you can remove and prevent pop-ups. Let’s explore some of the things we can do to eliminate and guard from popup ads. If you’ve ever tried to close persistent pop-up ads, you know it can be a futile effort. Instead of clicking the red X located in the upper-right corner of most windows, press ALT and F4 on your keyboard to close a pop-up ad. Alternatively, you can use the Windows Task Manager to close pop-up ads, but be careful not to close critical Windows processes or legitimate applications that are currently in use.

Play I Spy
Many persistent pop-up ads are the result of spyware or adware on your computer In addition to displaying pop-up ads, these malicious programs can wreak havoc on your machine. They can slow down your computer, change your home page settings, and report activity from your computer, including username and password information, to the writers of the spyware or adware. Spyware and adware are serious threats to your computer and to your personal identity. To check your computer for spyware or adware, download and install an antispyware program. There are a number of free antispyware programs, including Lavasoft’s Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition ( and Javacool’s Spyware-Blaster ( You may also want to install an antispyware program that can guard your computer from spyware before it is downloaded to your system, such as Spybot - Search & Destroy (free; or CounterSpy ($19.95; www.sunbelt Unlike antivirus programs, you can have more than one antispyware program installed on your computer at the same time. Although it doesn’t hurt to have more than one antispyware program, there’s no reason to go overboard and install countless antispyware programs, either. Before running a scan using your antispyware program, update the program with the latest malware definitions. Most antispyware programs will examine all running processes on your computer. If you’re curious as to what programs and processes are running on your computer, use the Windows Task Manager to find out. Open the Windows Task Manager in Windows XP by right-clicking the Taskbar and then selecting Task Manager. The Applications tab will list all running programs. On the Processes tab, you’ll see all of the processes running on your computer. Because many of these processes have vague names, do not end a process unless you’re sure you know what it does. Stay Healthy In addition to adware and spyware protection, you’ll need an antivirus program that will check to see if there are any viruses, worms, or Trojan horses on your computer. Viruses, worms, or Trojan horses can cause popup ads and can prevent your system from functioning. Just as a cold can pass from one member of your family to another, a virus can transfer from your computer to other computers on the network or to your friends via email or IM (instant messaging) programs. Pop-up ads caused by viruses can be more harmful than other pop-up ads because of a virus’ ability to spread and cause additional damage. If you don’t already have one, install a reliable antivirus program, such as Norton AntiVirus 2007 ($39.99;, McAfee VirusScan Plus ($39.99;, or AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition (free; In addition to virus protection, McAfee VirusScan Plus includes firewall and antispyware protection. In order to be effective, you must update an antivirus program on a regular basis. Because most antivirus programs conflict with one another, never install more than one antivirus program at a given time. If you choose to switch from one antivirus program to another, first uninstall the existing program and then install the new program.

A Toolbar With Protection
Another way to shield from pop-ups is to install a toolbar that has built in pop-up protection. The Google Toolbar (free; and the Yahoo! Toolbar (free; have built-in pop-up blockers. These toolbars will automatically block pop-ups. When necessary, you can allow individual sites to display pop-ups. This allows you to see pop-ups when necessary, and avoid them otherwise.

Built-in Protection.
Many Web browsers now protect against pop-up ads. The Microsoft pop-up blocker for Internet Explorer comes with Windows XP Service Pack 2. Microsoft claims the Internet Explorer Pop-up Blocker is smart enough to know not to block pop-up windows that you have opened intentionally by clicking a link. For example, if you are on a shopping site and click a link to open a pop-up window containing your receipt, the pop-up window will open because you opened it on purpose. When Internet Explorer blocks a pop-up ad, you’ll see a notification in the Information Bar located below the Address Bar. If you want to allow a pop-up for a particular site, you can click the Information Bar and choose whether to allow pop-ups from that site on a temporary or permanent basis. You can also access other settings for the pop-up blocker through this Information Bar.

Stop Immediate Loading
Some spyware and virus programs will run automatically when you boot your computer. In addition to antispyware and antivirus programs, advanced users may want to look at the number of programs that start up automatically when you boot your computer. Click Start and then select Run. In the Run dialog box, type msconfig and click the OK button. The System Configuration Utility will appear. You can prevent certain programs from starting up automatically using the Startup tab. When you’re finished making changes, click Apply and then click Close. Next, close any other open programs and files. When the System Configuration dialog box appears and asks you to restart the computer, click the Restart button

Add-ons Can Cause Problems
Add-ons are special programs that work inside of Internet Explorer and other browsers. Add-ons can include search toolbars, games, and programs that let you view Web sites offline. However, add-ons can also invade your privacy, especially when spyware or adware installs them without your knowledge or permission. The Internet Explorer Add-on Manager lists all add-ons installed on your computer that are used by Internet Explorer. You can use the Internet Explorer Add-on Manager to enable or disable each add-on individually To access the Internet Explorer Add-on Manager in Internet Explorer 7, click Tools, Manage Addons and then select Enable Or Disable Add-ons. If you want to disable an add-on, click to select it and then click the radio button next to Disable in the Settings area of the Manage Add-ons window. When you’re finished changing the add-on settings, click OK. You may need to restart Internet Explorer in order for the changes to take effect

Pop-up Free
Although everyone is likely to see a pop-up ad from time to time, pop-up ads should not overrun your computer. By removing adware, spyware, viruses, and other malicious software from your machine, you can decrease the amount of pop-up ads you see. With fewer popups, you can use your computer and surf the Web without interruption.

What To Do When . . .Your Browser Has Been Hijacked

You open up your Web browser, just like any other day, but something’s not right. The page that always loads when the browser starts is different. There are shortcuts in your Favorites folder that you can’t recall putting there, and other abnormal things happen when you browse. Worst of all, even though you manually switch everything back to the original settings, the changes don’t stick. Or maybe the options to revert to the old settings aren’t even there at all. Your browser has been hijacked, and although most hijackers are not interested in destroying files or doing the malicious things associated with other attacks, such as that of viruses, a hijacked browser is still a major problem that must be handled immediately. Hijackers are designed to redirect your Web browser to Web sites of the hijacker’s choosing to direct more traffic to specific sites so that they can generate more advertising revenue.Hijack Basics Browsers may be hijacked in a number of ways. The most basic attack is triggered when you view a Web page and code within that page (or code that is automatically downloaded when the page is viewed) uses a security loophole to change your default home page, default search page, and browser settings. It doesn’t do anything other than that, meaning you can fix the problem by changing those entries back to their original settings (which we’ll discuss later). Many hijackers rely on users installing software, either inadvertently or on purpose, that gives them broader access to the system. Some of these hijackers prevent you from changing your home page or search engine back to what you want by completely disabling those settings in Internet Explorer. Others do even worse things, for instance, causing pop-up advertisements to appear even when you aren’t browsing the Web.

An Ounce Of Prevention
One of the easiest ways to practically eliminate the potential for being hijacked is to switch from Internet Explorer to an alternative Web browser such as Firefox 2 (free; or Opera 9 (free; Hijackers focus their efforts on IE because so many people use it, and programs designed to exploit flaws in IE won’t work when applied to other browsers. Firefox and Opera continue to gain in popularity, and this may increase to a point where those browsers become targets, as well. But for now, if you currently use IE, switching over to a different browser comes with immense security benefits. If you use IE, make sure to keep it as up-to-date as possible because Microsoft constantly identifies and fixes security holes. To do so, open IE, expand the Tools menu, and click Windows Update. Click either Express or Custom (or update the Windows Update software, if necessary) and install all of the patches that are available for Internet Explorer. No matter what Web browser you use, it is extremely important to install multiple antispyware applications on your computer and regularly update them. These programs scan for current problems, and many of them also lock down the computer so hijackers can’t easily use the most common routes of entry. You can use as many antispyware applications on the same computer that you want to (unlike antivirus software, where you must stick to a single program). We recommend Windows Defender (free;, Spybot Search & Destroy (free;, Ad-Aware (free;, and SpywareBlaster (free; Update these programs at least once per month if they don’t come with the ability to do so automatically. Also, we recommend downloading and running BugOff (free;, which fixes a lot of exploits commonly used by hijackers.

BugOff is trickier to use than the other programs mentioned because you must enable or disable entries manually and doing so can have impact on programs you actually want to use. When running BugOff, the goal is to click Disable for as many entries as possible but check the Side Effects text closely to make sure doing so won’t interfere with your applications. For example, disabling the Microsoft.XMLHTTP Object closes a hole that a hijacker can use, but it also prevents Windows Update and Gmail from working properly, so leaving it enabled is probably worth the risk. Clicking the Disable button instantly makes the change, so simply close the program when you are finished. Finally, always be on your guard when browsing or clicking links in emails or other documents that open Web pages in your browser.The worst hijackers gain access to the computer because people unknowingly install them on their computers by clicking a button or link in a pop-up window that appears while browsing or by installing downloaded software that lets the hijacker get a piggyback ride onto the hard drive. Don’t blindly click links included in emails and never click anywhere in a pop-up advertisement (you can press CTRL-W to close an IE window without having to click to close it). Also, be on the lookout for pop-ups that look like alerts from Windows but are actually disguises designed to get you to click a button, inadvertently giving your permission to download whatever the hijacker wants to install.

A Pound Of Cure
Heading off the hijackers doesn’t take a lot of work, but you have real problems if the browser has already been infiltrated. Before getting into specific fixes, it is important to note that the steps provided in this article apply to the latest version of Internet Explorer 7. If you use an earlier version of IE, you should upgrade to the latest version or use an alternative browser for security reasons. If you’re lucky and the hijacker simply changed your IE settings without installing any other software on your computer, you can easily revert to the settings you want to use. To establish the default home page, open IE, navigate to the page you want to use for a home page, expand the Tools menu, click Internet Options, and select the General tab. Click Use Current, and the page you navigated to becomes the default home page, or you can enter it manually (such as entering if you want to use Google as your home page). Click Apply when you’re finished. Click the Settings button in the Search section to re-establish your default search settings. Click to highlight the incorrect search entry, click Remove, and then highlight the entry you want to use and click Set Default. Click OK. If the search service you want to use doesn’t appear on the list, click Find More Providers, click the entry for the service you want to add, follow any prompts that are provided (if any), and the service should now be available when you establish default settings. There is also a Create Your Own option on this page that lets you add any search service that isn’t represented on Microsoft’s master list. If you think your browser has been hijacked, checking to see if the culprit is the oft-used CoolWebSearch hijacker or one of its myriad offshoots should be your first priority. These hijackers are designed to drive Web traffic to (don’t type that address into your Web browser!) or other advertising sites. They accomplish this using many means, ranging from making the computer think that popular sites such as Yahoo! Search don’t exist (and instead redirecting you to an ad site) to making IE think that restricted Web sites should be trusted. Fortunately, there is a free tool called CWShredder that will detect and remove all known versions of this annoying hijacker. To use the tool, download it from, double-click the file’s icon, and click I Agree. Click Check For Update, click Fix, and then click OK to scan the computer for the CoolWebSearch software and eradicate it if it is discovered. Sometimes hijack attempts aren’t reversed this easily, and you’ll need specialized tools and a lot of help to complete the job. The best tool by far is HijackThis (free;, which thoroughly scans the computer to find everything that is taking advantage of a known security loophole in Internet Explorer and Windows. HijackThis is an extremely powerful tool, which is its biggest drawback. Scans return information on legitimate programs, as well as hijackers, and there’s no way for a novice to know what to fix and what to leave alone. Fortunately, there are loads of experts ready to offer free help, day or night, at the Web forums. If you’ve just performed a spyware scan using any antispyware tool, reboot the computer before using HijackThis. To download the software, go to the aforementioned Web site and click the HijackThis download button. The software is stored in a compressed ZIP file, so you’ll need to use a utility such as IZArc (free; or the built-in ZIP utility included with Windows Me/XP to extract it. Once the HighjackThis.exe file is moved from the ZIP archive to the Desktop (or any other folder you like), double-click HighjackThis.exe and click Do A System Scan And Save A Log File. Wait for the scan to complete, and a new file should appear on the Desktop (or in the folder where you ran Hijack This) that is labeled Hijackthis.log.

This is the magic data you need to get help at the forums. To use the forums, go to and click the Forums link near the top of the page. Look for a Register link in the Welcome screen, click it, and sign up for a free user account (you can’t post about your problem unless you register) Be sure to enter a valid email address when signing up because a confirmation email is sent to make sure your registration is legitimate. When the email arrives, open it, click the activation link, and sign in using the information you entered during the registration process. Scroll down to the Computer Help section and click the HijackThis Logs And Spyware/ Malware Removal link. Be sure to read the Welcome New Members post in the Important Topics section before proceeding. To post your specific log, click the New Topic button. Enter a brief description of your problem in the Topic Title box and then provide more detailed information in the white text box. You now need to copy and paste the contents of the log file you just generated, so double-click it (it should open in Notepad), open the Edit menu, click Select All, open the Edit menu again, and click Copy. Switch back to your forum post, click in the white text box where you want the log file to be inserted, open the Edit menu, and click Paste. Click Post New Topic when you are finished. Be extremely patient and courteous when waiting for a response. The forums are run by volunteer experts and are extremely busy, and it may take days for them to get back to you, so check the forums every so often to see if your topic has any new posts. When you do get a response, follow the Instructions the expert provides to the letter, and they’ll let you know if they need any additional Information or logs to get to the bottom of the problem. Once you know what to disable, fixing things using HijackThis is very easy. Run the program, perform another scan, and select the checkboxes next to any entries you want to remove. Click Fix Checked, click Yes to delete the items, and then click Yes again to reboot the computer and see if the problem is fixed. If it isn’t, you can always head back to the forums.

Bottom Line
Avoiding a hijacked browser is not impossible if you take preventative steps and use caution while browsing the Web. The bottom line is that you don’t want to let your browser be hijacked, and if it does happen, you want to fix the problem as soon as possible.

What To Do When . . .You Can’t Get Online

Getting online is fast becoming the main reason people use computers these days. Sure, we still do our taxes, write letters to loved ones in Microsoft Word, and play computer games occasionally Still, perhaps the most interesting activity on a PC is browsing the Web, finding unusual news stories, chatting over instant messaging, or just checking our email. Perhaps that’s what makes a dead connection so frustrating. You double-click your browser’s icon on your Desktop, wait a few seconds, and nothing. For some unknown reason, you can’t tap into your favorite shopping Web site or search What do you do when you can’t get online? Often, the easiest fix involves rebooting your hardware. You may also have to reboot your PC. Resetting these hardware devices works in many cases because in most cases the Internet connection has a conflict on your network or with your PC, and resetting your equipment can resolve these issues. Of course, this solution doesn’t always work. In this problem-solving guide, we’ll cover some of the common problems that prevent you from getting online, including how to reset hardware. Most of these instructions apply to Windows XP, but the concept can apply broadly to Macs and will work with most makes and models of modems and routers, such as those from Belkin, Netgear, and Linksys.

Hardware Trouble
If a problem with your system’s hardware prevents you from accessing the Internet, rebooting hardware will reset the device and may correct any problems. Modem and router fixes. Whether you have a cable or DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) modem or a home router, you’ll want to unplug the power cable, wait at least 15 seconds or up to a minute, and then reinsert the cable. The device will refresh itself and the IP (Internet Protocol) address (a unique number the device uses for the Internet) will reset. An IP address is almost like a home mailing address or telephone number; the hardware might get occasionally confused about which address to use. Some hardware, such as the Belkin Pre-N Wireless Router, requires that you leave the device unplugged for as much as a minute for the refresh. If you are having trouble accessing the Internet and you recently configured your home router, you may need to perform a hard reset, which returns the router back to its factory default state. For many models, this means unplugging the power cable from the router, holding down the reset button (located on the back of the router), and plugging in the power cable as you hold down and release the reset button. Consult your router manual for the specific steps because some routers require that you press the reset button for a few seconds to perform a reset. Also, some cable modems, such as those made by Belkin, come with a button on the modem that disables Internet access; make sure that button is not activated so you can get online. If you tried resetting your hardware and the device is still not working, you may need to call technical support and send the unit in for repairs. It’s a good idea to inquire about warranties (many routers have a two- or three-year warranty) or repair costs, especially because you may be able to spend less on a new model than to pay for shipping and repair. Cable issues. Another common reason you may not be able to make an Internet connection is because your network cable is unplugged or it isn’t firmly seated in the LAN (localarea network) port. Check the back of your desktop or the LAN port on your laptop and make sure the cable is connected. On most computers, if the network cable is inserted correctly, you will see a green light indicating an active connection. After you confirm the cable is secure and that you have an active connection, try your browser again.

Often, the easiest fix involves rebooting your hardware.

Issues Specific To The Internet
If your troubles stem from the Internet or specific Web sites, read on for possible explanations and fixes that will have you surfing again in no time. Unavailable Web site. Occasionally, you may be unable to access a Website that you visited previously without any troubles. This can happen if the Website’s ISP (Internet service provider) temporarily disabled the site, if the administrator failed to renew the Web registry data, or if too many people try accessing the site at the same time. Often when a site you access is unavailable, you will receive the “HTTP 404 Not Found” error message.

One way to know if a site is temporarily down is to check another commercial site to see if your Internet connection is active. If you can access some sites but not one particular site, you may simply need to try accessing the site at a later time. You can also try deleting your Internet temporary files. To do this in Internet Explorer 7, for instance, open the Tools menu and select Internet Options. Next, click the Delete button under the Browsing History section and click Delete All. When you delete these temporary files, IE can access Websites instead of using possibly outdated local files on your computer for a particular site. Contact your ISP. If you checked the common causes of Internet connection problems, such as a loose network cable or a disabled LAN card, consider contacting your ISP for technical support and ask about possible outages. Some ISPs experience occasional problems in certain areas. In fact, when you call for technical support, you may hear a recording that will list the affected cities and estimate timeframes for when the ISP will have the problem resolved. If there is a connection problem between your modem and the ISP, your provider may need to send out a technician to inspect the line. Before you request a technician, be sure to turn off the modem and wait a few minutes to refresh the settings and then turn the modem on again to see if you still experience problems. Also, try rebooting your computer and router (if you are using one). Trouble with IE and Firefox. If you experience frequent system crashes while surfing the Internet using IE or Mozilla Firefox, it is possible that the person responsible for designing the site didn’t use the correct coding when building the site. This also may be the cause if you only see a few graphics load, before your browser closes suddenly or displays an error message. The solution: Either avoid the site or try using a different browser. If you are using IE, for example, try downloading and running Firefox instead. A second common reason for crashes has to do with Windows XP. If other programs you use, such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop, also tend to crash, you may have spyware or a virus loaded on your PC. It is also possible that your system has become unstable due to corrupted files or memory problems. If programs you use frequently tend to crash just as often as a Web browser, consider rebuilding the system by reinstalling WinXP or upgrading to Windows Vista. If your troubles are primarily with your browser crashing, you may need to reinstall IE. (You can download IE from Microsoft [] and download Firefox from Mozilla [].)

If you see “HTTP 404” in your browser, it’s likely a sign that your computer can’t connect to a specific Web site because the site is temporarily unavailable.

Web site comes up blank. When you visit a Web site that appears to be working but only shows minimal text and no graphics, it’s possible that the entire site runs as a pop-up. If your browser automatically blocks pop-ups, then you won’t see the Website. To disable pop-ups in Internet Explorer, just type the URL, hold down the CTRL and ALT keys, and press ENTER. For Firefox, type the URL, hold down CTRL and press ENTER. Holding down the CTRL key will temporarily disable pop-up blocking. Of course, you can disable pop-up blocking for most Web sites (which will also display banner ads) permanently. In IE 7, open the Tools menu, select Internet Options, and click the Privacy tab. Under Pop-up Blocker, click Settings and change the Filter Level to Low. Then click OK twice. In Firefox, go to the Tools menu, select Options, and click the Content tab. Deselect the Block Popup Windows checkbox and click OK Now, all pop-ups will appear for most sites. A site takes an inordinate amount of time to display. If you get online and the Internet is running slow, your surfing experience might not be enjoyable. Sometimes all the connections, cables, and hardware work properly, but there are other reasons for the slowdown. One reason may be that you are accessing a popular Web site that may be experiencing high traffic at the time you visit. Another cause for a slower Internet could be because many people in your neighborhood are accessing the Internet at the same time. A cable modem, for example, will run slower if numerous visitors connect at the same time.

To resolve these issues, you can choose to access popular Web sites or browse the Web at different times of the day (such as late at night) or call your ISP and request a faster throughput speed. If you upgrade from 3Mbps (megabits per second) to 5Mbps, you’ll notice that even popular sites load faster. Using a Web accelerator can also help. Google offers a free Web accelerator at However, accelerators are known to cause problems with some Web sites and can actually cause slowdowns. You can easily check the speed of your connection by visiting a site such as Click the Download Test link to perform the test. A plug-in is necessary. Some sites won’t load because they use a plugin, such as Adobe Flash or Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format), or because they require ActiveX (a Microsoft add-on for applicationrich Web sites). Often the best solution for loading plug-ins is to just let your browser download the plug-in and follow the on-screen prompts. For example, Firefox will prompt you to download Adobe Flash when it visits a site that uses Flash. You can also install plug-ins manually. For example, if you visit, you will see a link for Flash.

Other Adjustments
If you ruled out hardware issues and still have problems connecting to the Internet, don’t despair. There are a few more things you can check. Check firewall settings. A firewall is useful for making sure a virus or a spyware client doesn’t invade your computer while you’re online. However, sometimes a firewall can also prevent you from accessing the Internet. A firewall blocks Internet ports that control the flow of information from your PC to the Internet. Some firewalls might be too aggressive in blocking ports, especially if you decide to use a file-transfer program or swap photos over an instant messaging client. In WinXP, a common firewall problem is that the system is configured to not allow firewall exceptions. To change this, right-click the Local Area Connection icon in the System Tray and select Change Windows Firewall Settings. Deselect the Don’t Allow Exceptions checkbox and click OK. Try accessing the Web again. If you use a different firewall, such as Zone Alarm or the Symantec Internet Security Suite 2007, consult the manual for advanced firewall options that might block unknown sites. Check the IP address. It is possible that your computer is set to use a static IP address. For example, if you bought a Web cam that runs on a wireless or wired network, the setup may have instructed you to configure a static IP address Most computers are configured to use a dynamic IP address, but a static IP forms a direct connection between your PC and another device for installation purposes. To see whether your system is using a static or dynamic IP address, begin by opening the Control Panel and doubleclicking Network Connections. Next, right-click Local Area Connection and click Status. In the resulting dialog box, double-click Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), select the Obtain An IP Address Automatically Radio button, and click OK. Click OK again and then reboot your PC. Your computer LAN adapter is disabled. A common issue that prevents some people from connecting to the Internet is a disabled LAN. In some instances, if you or another user decided to use a wireless connection, someone may have disabled the LAN card. Another reason your LAN card may be disabled is because your laptop may be configured to save power by disabling devices that use extra power. To enable the LAN card, open the Control Panel, double-click Network Connections, right-click Local Area Connection, and select Enable. If the card fails to enable, there may be a physical problem with the card or the network cable may be disconnected. Check the cable connection. If you continue to have trouble with your LAN card, contact technical support. The wireless connection on your laptop is not configured properly. You may have trouble connecting to the Internet because your system isn’t connected wirelessly to a router. In this situation, your laptop connects to the router, which itself connects to a cable or DSL modem and then connects to the Internet. So, if your laptop can’t make the connection, the Internet will be unavailable to you. Often, a wireless connection configured incorrectly is the cause of this type of problem. For example, you may be connecting to the wrong SSID (Service Set Identifier; the wireless network name that the router uses) or attempting to connect to an 802.11g network with an 802.11b client adapter. The solutions: Connect to a wireless router that provides Internet access or configure the router to allow clients to connect over 802.11b. Router configuration is an advanced process but usually involves enabling or disabling options. You can access your router by typing its IP address into Internet Explorer. To find the router’s IP address, consult the router’s manual.

Often the best solution for loading plug-ins is to just let your browser download the plug-in and follow the on-screen prompts.

Get Back Online
For many of us, getting online is something we do every day without any trouble. When problems do arise, such as a loose cable or a Web site that is temporarily unavailable, the fix is usually quick and solves the problem completely. Some pesky problems do persist, but you can resolve those issues with a repair or by replacing the device. And then it’s back to Web surfing, instant messaging, and all the other activities we rely on during our online escapades.


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