During my recent trip to Juba I encountered an office which was suffering from a collection of viruses on its computers. The AVG installation had a license which had expired some months before and this had left most of the computers exposed. A new license had been bought but this was too late for some machines who had already succumbed to a number of viruses.

One particular machine was being used by a good friend and he kept a collection of important documents on a USB stick which he carried round with him everywhere. Unfortunately in the past couple of days this had been attacked by a virus and all of his folders on the stick had been converted into shortcuts which pointed to a copy of the virus stored away in a hidden “Recycler” folder. The aim here was to infect any PC on which he tried to open a folder from the USB stick.

Having asked for my assistance I had a quick look and offered my sincere condolences at his loss of files, explaining how a virus had changed the folders into shortcuts and potentially removed the files within. At no point did I think of firing up a command prompt and delve deeper into the structure of the memory stick. For a moment I relied on what Windows was showing me, and I believed it to be the truth. Plus, I had a few other things on my mind at the time. My first reaction was to enquire about backups, then, a little while after so as not to come across as preaching, to educate on how backups are exceptionally useful in this scenario.

The next day I was invited back into the office to see all the folders returned into their pre-virus state. “How did you do this?”, I asked. “There were no backups!”

Of course, had I opened a command prompt and delved a little further into the drive I may have got a bit more information. Had I then looked for both system and hidden files via the command prompt it would have shown all the original folders still there. Follow that up with a quick “attrib” change on the folders and hey presto, all the folders would have returned. Had it not been so long since I’d had to manually run an “attrib” command I might have thought about it sooner. A young and fresh-faced employee had managed to do what I couldn’t and had thankfully brought all the folders back.

The experience led me to realise that over the years some of the basics of using a Windows PC has been pushed to the back of my mind. Yes, all those commands and references are still there. All the old tricks to get programs running again, all that time messing with autoexec.bat and config.sys just to get the latest and greatest program to run – it’s all still there, but with little or no use in the recent years I’ve begun to forget that they exist. Sometimes stopping to do things the old way might help refresh our minds of commands and hacks we no longer use on a day-to-day basis. One day they might come in very useful.

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