Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 2003 / 3 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Browser captor nasty bug that's tough to banish; establishing home computer networks; "SMART failures"

By James Coates | (KRT) Q. After recently cleaning out a few virus-infected files, I did a significant update of Windows XP, including some 30 updates and patches. Since then, whenever I log on to my computer, the system automatically opens Internet Explorer. Worse still, I have my home page set to, but if the computer sits unused for more than 10 hours or so, the home page changes to something called LuckySearch. No matter how often I change the address in the Internet Options screen, this will happen after a period of time. Can you help?

Ron Casper, LaGrange

A. You have encountered a browser hijacker, which is just about the worst type among the pantheon of bugs, which include spyware, worms, viruses, keystroke loggers, jokeware and so on. There may be dozens of browser hijackers with different procedures, but all share the common trait of changing the home page on a victim's browser to something annoying or unwanted and then resisting all efforts to reset the home page.

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Hijackers work by secreting a small program for resetting the browser home page somewhere on the hard drive that gets run every time the computer is rebooted to re-do the mischief. There are two components--the nasty hidden browser hijack program and a line secreted in the Windows system registry files that orders the hijack software to run each time the computer is started.

Sometimes spyware prevention software like Ad-aware ( and SpySubtract/AdSubtract ( can find the gremlins, but not always.

So first of all, drop by those two Web pages and try the no-cost versions in the hope that they will help.

Another iffy but possible solution is offered by PCWorld Magazine called Browser Hijack Stopper, which includes a database of many--but not all--of these rogue files. The PCWorld software stands out because its main role is to act as a preventive, watching for future hijackings. You can find it at and use the search word hijack.

Your ultimate solution, assuming your machine has Windows Me or Windows XP, is to use the System Restore tool in those Windows versions to restore the computer back to before the trouble set in.

Q. You are the only one who can help me make my home network's two computers see each other. No one else has been able to. My primary computer with Windows ME has the Internet connection hooked to it through the cable modem and is connected in turn to a Linksys wireless access point router. The second computer, which has Windows XP, hooks into the network using a Linksys wireless USB network receiver.

I can connect to the Internet from both computers. The printers are connected to the primary computer and are set up to be shared. But I cannot access the shared printers or shared files from the secondary computer. Neither computer sees the other one on the network.

Bruce Wise, Elmhurst

A. Seek and ye shall find, Mr. W. That's your solution, and it's one that should make life easier for a whole lot of other newcomers to establishing home computer networks. This problem of networked computers not showing up on each other's screens usually goes away if you'll just use the built-in computer search function.

In Windows ME click on the My Network Places icon and then look for the Search icon in the Toolbar at the top of the window that opens. Click Search and type in the name of your XP computer and click the nearby Search Now tag. Your missing XP machine will pop up as an icon in the proper place.

The drill is identical in Windows XP except that XP's name for the networking feature is Network Neighborhood rather than My Network Places. The glitch is common and I have read several different theories of why this disappearing act occurs.

This search fix will also ensure that the network will be able to see your printer. But keep in mind that in this sort of arrangement you need to load the printer driver software on each machine in the network rather than just on the machine to which the printer is connected.

Q. Last night I started my Hewlett Packard Pavilion computer to check my e-mail only to get his warning: "SMART failure predicted on hard disk 0: Maxtor 53073H6-(PM) WARNING: Immediately back-up your data and replace your hard disk drive. A failure may be imminent. Press F1 to continue."

So, then I press F1 and the systems loads and my desktop screen opens. What is this message? My son seems to think that it is some kind of joke e-mail virus. I am trying to decide if I need to replace the disk or take some other action.

Ed Metz

A. That message from SMART is no joke, Mr. M. It's a standardized warning that your hard drive is displaying some kind of problem that may be catastrophic or relatively minor. Either way, action is needed.

Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology--or SMART--is a set of symptoms established by the world's five top hard-drive makers to track everything from relatively minor failings like bad error reporting right up to loose screws and surface gouges.

I hope your situation isn't severe, but if ever there were a time when one should back up all of their data and cross their fingers, you're looking at it.

You can find a diagnostic tool for your drive at the Maxtor Web site's downloads area ( or you can run the Windows ScanDisk routine to look for problems and maybe even fix them if they are pretty minor. ScanDisk looks for imperfections on the hard drive's surface and then closes them off from future data storage, and sometimes that's enough. You can find it in the System Tools folder reached in Windows XP by clicking on Start and then Accessories.

I recommend that you run ScanDisk after rebooting your computer in Safe Mode, which is a way to start up without having software running in the background that could interfere with the diagnosis. To start in Safe Mode wait until the monitor screen displays the first boot-up screens and then hit the F8 key.

Meanwhile, I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Tell your son to do the same.

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James Coates is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Let us know what you think of this column by clicking here.



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