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Cleaning my filthy computer - Ed Brock

It's like having brain damage," said my friend Brad, looking up from the monitor.

"It's bad, really bad."

My hard drive was like an open sewer, filthy with viruses and creeping, verminous spyware.

It had come to the point where I had to bring it to the "hospital," which is to say Brad's office in Birmingham. Brad is the computer magic man, a guy who knows how to cause problems and, therefore, how to solve them.

The crisis began about two weeks ago as the two of us tried to yank a particularly nasty spyware program out of my machine. It fought us, causing an error that prevented Windows from rebooting.

But all was not lost. My most important information was there still, but everything had to be restarted and Brad just couldn't walk me through it on the phone. Also, since he wasn't planning to come to Atlanta any time soon, and since it was my problem I figured it was only fair that I make the arduous two and a half hour trip.

I say arduous because the state of Alabama seems incapable of fixing that stretch of Interstate 20 with the mysterious bumps that shake the teeth out of your skull right around Talladega. Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about, and the rest of you should just consider yourself warned.

Well, over the river and through the woods I went to Brad's E-bay drop-off store where he was, like most small business owners, putting in a lot of overtime on a Saturday. In a back room crammed with shelves where computer guts and components were stacked in a random order (paradox!) we plugged in my ill-used machine and set to work.

Brad did most of it, but I clicked "Next" in the installation of Windows 98. And once we had breathed life back into the dusty circuit boards Brad found some very interesting programs operating illegally in my cyber world's back alleys.

One was a proxy server that allowed the person using it to "steal my bandwidth," or basically use my computer to access the Internet. This can have a variety of uses, none of them good for me.

I'm still not 100 percent, and neither is my machine. I only hope and pray that my little hard drive will some day recover its ability to read Web sites, but when it does I'll try to stoke up my firewall more to keep it safe.

There are several programs available to clean and prevent spyware, some of it for free. It behooves all of us amateur Web surfers to pick some up and keep it updated.

As for those who create this evil, I say they should be sent to jail where they are only allowed access to a Radio Shack TRS-80 with the letter "e" absent from its keyboard.

Ed Brock covers public safety and municipalities at the News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or at ebrock@news-daily.com .