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How to clean up and reset Google Chrome

Internet browsers are prone to getting compromised. It can happen by opening an infected e-mail to viewing a malicious ad on a web page. But knowing how to get your browser back to normal is the key. Here's how to clean up and reset Google Chrome.

How to clean up and reset Google Chrome

Of the top three (3) browsers out there, Google Chrome is by far the most popular. One of the main reasons is that it needs to be installed to use some of Google features, like Google Earth. And since it is the most popular, it is also the biggest target for adware and malware. In fact, in the past the Chrome web store has gotten compromised with infected apps. Google is now scrutinizing the Chrome extensions harder than ever because of it. So knowing how to clean up and reset Chrome comes in really handy.

Cleaning up and resetting Chrome

Google has made resetting the Chrome browser fairly simple. Just open Chrome and click on the Customize button in the upper right-hand corner (it looks like three (3) horizontal bars).
The Customize button inside of Google Chrome
Go down and left-click on Settings, which will bring up a new tab with all of the user configurable settings. On the left-hand column you will find four (4) links; History, Extensions, Settings and About.

The History page inside of Google Chrome
The History page inside of Google Chrome

Clicking on the History link brings up the History page where you can clear the browsing data. You have two (2) options on this page; you can remove all of the browsing data by clicking on the Clear browsing data ... button or you can select the individually items on the list that appears and then click on the Remove selected items button.

The clear browsing data windows inside of Google Chrome
The clear browsing data windows inside of Google Chrome

When you click on the Clear browsing data ... button, a window appears with the different items that you can remove. On top of the window is an option to choose the time frame in which you want to delete the data, from the past hour to when you first installed Chrome. These items include browsing and download history, cookies, cached images / files, passwords, autofill form data, hosted app data and content licenses. Remember that once an item has been deleted, you cannot get it or them back (like passwords), so choose wisely. When it doubt, just remove the default items (browsing and download history, cookies, cached images / files).

The second link down is Extensions. This where you will find all of the installed apps that run inside of Chrome. These extend the functionality and usefulness of Chrome. This also where you'll normally find malicious apps have installed themselves without your knowledge (usually in kiosk mode). It's here that you can either enable, disable or remove them from Chrome. If you're not sure about an extension, you can always disable it to find out what it did or didn't do inside of Chrome. And when you're sure you don't need it or you don't remember installing it, just select the little trash can on the right of the extension to permanently remove it. If you accidentally remove an extension and want it back, you will have to go through the process of reinstalling it, so be careful.

One of the extension options is Allow in incognito for private browsing. Chrome has the ability to run is what is called Incognito mode, where it does not save any record of where you have been or what you may have downloaded. If an extension has the option to select Allow in incognito mode, it can be enabled for it. If you use incognito mode, I would defiantly recommend enabling any type of virus, adware or malware application extension.

The third link down is Settings. When you click on it, it brings up almost all of the user configurable settings. If you have used a program like AdwCleaner to clean up your system, there may be a warning about your user data being corrupted by another program and that Chrome has had to reset your user settings back to default. This is normal behavior when you use a browser cleaning program outside of Chrome to clean up an infection. What I do when this happens is just scroll down the tab and click Advanced settings, then go all the way down to the bottom and click on Reset settings and do a full reset.

The second section down is titled On startup, and is the first place I look for evidence of browser hijacking. Allot of malicious apps will try and get your browser to automatically open up their website(s) when you start up Chrome. They will also try and take advantage off another setting further down this tab that allows apps to be run even without Chrome being open (more on this one later in this article). If Open a specific page or set of pages is selected, click on Set pages to view these pages. If there are any page(s) you didn't add yourself, hover your cursor over it and click on the X that appears on the right hand side of it. You can also add any page you would like to automatically when you start up Chrome here too.

As you scroll down this tab you will a section titled Search. If you click on Manage search engines ...
The default search engine setting inside of Google Chrome
you can add or remove the search engines that Chrome uses. This is one place to check and see if your default search engine in Chrome has been hijacked. If you're not getting the search results you are expecting from the address bar,
The Google Chrome address bar
more than likely your default search engine has been changed without your knowledge.

At the bottom of this tab is a link titled Show advanced settings. When you click on it, the Settings tab expands down to reveal even more user configurable options. Under the section tilted Privacy you'll find two (2) buttons; Content settings ... and Clear browsing data .... If you click on the Content settings ... button, it brings up a window with various advanced options. The preset defaults on this page are recommended and should only be modified by advanced users, because these settings can and will change the behavior of Chrome. Remember that if you use the Reset settings button at the very bottom of the advanced settings, these will all be reset to their default settings.

Further down is a section titled Passwords and forms. Here is where you can actually manage the autofill information and passwords that Chrome retains, if you have that option selected. Remember that if you remove them from the Clear browsing data ... under the Privacy section or History tab, they will be removed from here as well.

Second to the last section is titled System. Remember how I told you Chrome can be run without it actually having to be started? This is where you'll find the setting to disable this feature. Now, if you are using any Google apps that require Chrome, like Google Docs Offline, you will need to leave the Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed
Enable or disable Chrome from running after being closed
selected. If not, I recommend that you turn this feature off. I've seen adware / malware use this setting to start Chrome up when the computer starts up and then control it remotely. If in doubt, turn it off until you are prompted by a Google app to turn it back on.

At the bottom of the advanced settings is the section titled Reset settings. The button labeled Reset settings will do just that, reset Chrome back to its default, 'out-of-the-box' setup. I'll be just like when you first installed it.

The last option to get Chrome back to default and working correctly is to uninstall and then reinstall it. I only use this option when all else fails to get it back to full functionality. It can take a little time to do, but if you really need to get Chrome fully reset, this may be the only option. To do it, go into the Control Panel and select Uninstall a program (if viewing by category) or Programs and Features (if viewing by icons). Highlight Google Chrome and then select Uninstall.

Once Google Chrome is uninstalled, restart your computer. When your computer has restarted and you are logged back in, you will need to remove any traces of Google Chrome prior to reinstalling it. There are two (2) places that you will need to look for any leftover files; inside your user profile and inside of the program files directory. The files inside your user profile are hidden by default, but you can get there quickly by bringing up a Run dialog box (Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R) typing or copy / paste the following code:

%userprofile%/AppData/Local/Google

This will open the File Explorer to the location of your Google user settings. If there is a folder named Chrome, go ahead and delete. Next you will have to navigate to the location of the Program Files directory and check under the folder named Google. Its location is usually C:\Program Files (x86)\Google, but may be different if your version of Windows is 32-bit (C:\Program Files\Google) or if you installed Google Chrome on a different drive. Once you get there, if you find a folder named Chrome, go ahead and delete it. Now you can download and reinstall Google Chrome.

How to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer

In repairing computers for a living, the one thing I find myself doing constantly is cleaning up and resetting web browsers. Removing adware, malware and viruses can really screw up the Internet Explorer. So here is how to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer.

How to clean up and reset the Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer (IE) has been included every version of Windows since Windows 98. Microsoft has made cleaning IE fairly easy, but there can be some tricky items. All of IE's settings are accessible from either inside of IE or from the Control Panel. The best way is to go through the Control Panel because that is when IE is not technically running. If you use Outlook or Windows Mail, you will need to close these programs too before attempting to clean up IE, as they actually use IE to rendered HTML formatted e-mails.

When it comes to resetting the IE, you have to first get into the Control Panel. With Windows Vista and Windows 7, the easiest way to do it is to type Control Panel into the search box above the Start button and select Control Panel from the search results. The easiest and fastest way in Windows 8 and Windows 10 is to use the Power Users menu (Windows logo key Windows logo key + X) and then select Control Panel. Once you have the Control Panel up, select Network and Internet then Internet Options (if viewing by category) or just Internet Options (if viewing by icons).

The Internet Properties General tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties General tab inside of Windows 10

The Internet Options haven't changed much over the years, so the tabs on the Internet Properties will look similar in Windows Vista as they do in Windows 10. When you first open Internet Properties, the General tab appears by default. From here you can go down to Browsing history and delete everything from temporary Internet files and cookies to form data and passwords. Remember that once you delete something like passwords you cannot get it back, so choose carefully.

The Internet Properties Programs tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties Programs tab inside of Windows 10

Once you're done with the General tab, go over to the Programs tab and select Manage add-ons. Here is where you enable, disable and sometimes delete add-ons that have been installed into the IE. There are times when all you can do is disable an add-on, so that is when you'll need a third-party program like CCleaner from Piriform. In fact, CCleaner can cleanup all of the major browsers, but the only one I've had issues with getting rid of third-party programs is IE.

The Internet Properties Advanced tab inside of Windows 10
The Internet Properties Advanced tab inside of Windows 10

The last tab in Internet Properties is Advanced and it is the most powerful. It has only two buttons, Restore advanced settings and Reset. The first one you click is Restore advanced settings then click on Apply in the lower right-hand corner. Then to completely reset IE click on Reset. You will get a screen warning you that you are about to reset IE back to its original defaults settings. Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10 users will also have the option of deleting personal settings. Remember that these cannot be undone, so choose carefully. If in doubt, leave the personal files check box empty. You can always come back and remove them if need be.

Now if after you have reset IE you find you cannot get into some secure sites, like bank websites, go back into Internet Properties and select the Security tab and deselect Enable Protected Mode. When you click Apply you will get a prompt telling you that your current security setting might put you at risk. Then try the website you were having problems with. If you can now get into it, you are all set.

The Windows features menu inside of Windows 10
The Windows features menu inside of Windows 10

There is one option that is not available to IE and that is to uninstall and reinstall. As I stated earlier in this article, IE is integrated into the operating system as a feature and is used by other programs like Outlook and Windows Mail. The only thing you can do is turn off the IE feature in the Control panel, restart your computer and then turn it back on. To do this go to the Control Panel and select Programs and Features, then Uninstall or change a program. In the left-hand column left-click on Turn Windows features on or off.

How to change default programs in Windows 10

The default programs that Windows 10 uses to open different file types are pretty good right from the start. But maybe you'd like to change what program opens music or photos? Here's how to change the default applications in Windows 10.

How to change default programs in Windows 10

As with Windows 8, Windows 10 has two (2) applications for almost every file type, one Universal and one Windows. That way Windows 10 can run on both a tablet (Universal apps) and desktop (Windows apps). In fact, there are two (2) different programs to modify the default applications for Windows 10. The Universal application is quite easy to use, but the Windows application has more features.

How to change the default applications in Windows 10 using the Universal program

The Universal program for changing default applications in Windows 10
The Universal program for changing default applications in Windows 10

This is the easiest way to change a default program there is. Just left-click on the program listed under the file type (music player, photo viewer, web browser, etc.) and a list of programs will pop up. Just left-click on the program you want used to open that type of file and you are ready to go.

  1. Left-click on the Start button to bring up the Start menu.
  2. Left-click on Settings.
  3. Left-click on System.
  4. In the left hand column, left-click on Default apps.

The most common file types will appear in the right column. On the bottom of the right hand column, you will find three more advanced ways of modifying the default applications:

  • Choose default apps by type (Universal)
    Warning! By choosing the wrong application for certain file types, you can make your system unusable. This method of setting the default program requires you to know the extension of the object you want to open. Be certain of the file extension before making any changes. When in doubt, don't play around with these.
  • Choose default apps by protocol (Universal)
    Warning! By choosing the wrong application for certain protocols, you can make your system unusable. This method of setting the default program requires you to know the protocol of the object you want to open. Be certain of the protocol before making any changes. When in doubt, don't play around with these.
  • Set defaults by app (Windows)
    When you choose this option, you are presented with a list of installed programs and you can choose what each one does or does not do. You can set an application to open all of the types of files it can or select which types of files to open with that particular program.

How to change the default applications in Windows 10 using the Windows program

The Windows program for changing default applications in Windows 10
The Windows program for changing default applications in Windows 10

This way of changing default programs is the most familiar for anybody who has used Windows 7 or Windows Vista. You have to go to the Control Panel to access these options.

  1. Right-click on the Start button to bring up the Power Users menu.
  2. Left-click on Control Panel.

or

  1. In the search box to the right of the Start button type Control Panel.
  2. Left-click on the Control Panel (Desktop app).

or

  1. Left-click on the Start button and left-click on All apps.
  2. Scroll down to Windows System and left-click on it to expand it out.
  3. Left-click on Control Panel.
  • If you are viewing the Control Panel by category, left-click on Programs, then left-click on Default Programs.
  • If you are viewing the Control Panel by icons, left-click on Default Programs.

You have four (4) different ways of modifying the default applications:

  • Set your default programs (Windows)
    When you choose this option, you are presented with a list of installed programs and you can choose what each one does or does not do. You can set on application to open all of the types of files it can or select which types of files to open with that particular program.
  • Associate a file type or protocol with a program (Windows)
    Warning! By choosing the wrong application for certain file / protocol types, you can make your system unusable. This method of setting the default program requires you to know the extension / protocol of the object you want to open. Be certain of the file extension / protocol before making any changes. When in doubt, don't play around with these.
  • Change AutoPlay settings (Windows)
    This is where you change what happens when you insert removable media (CD/DVD, memory card, flash drive, etc.) into your computer. If you check Use AutoPlay for media and devices and don't choose a default, you will get prompted on what you would like to do every time you insert that type of media.
  • Set program access and computer defaults (Windows)
    This one has been around since Windows XP and has to be the most familiar way to change default applications. Just left-click on the Custom radio button and expand the choices by left-clicking the double arrows on the right hand side. Then just left-click on the radio button next to the program you want as default and you are ready to go.

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

I was thinking the other day about what program I use the most in doing computer repair. The one program I use the most on Windows based computers would have to be System File Checker (SFC). SFC checks for system files that may have gotten corrupt or replaced with incorrect versions. Here's how to check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker.

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

SFC has been included in every version of Windows since Windows XP. In fact, you can also build it into the Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT). There is no shortcut or link to SFC in Windows 10, as it runs inside of an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

SFC running inside of Windows 10 Administrative Command Prompt

The following is the syntax and switches for SFC. The most commonly used syntax / switch is: sfc /scannow.

SFC [/SCANNOW] [/VERIFYONLY] [/SCANFILE=<file>] [/VERIFYFILE=<file>] [/OFFWINDIR=<offline windows directory> /OFFBOOTDIR=<offline boot directory>]

/SCANNOW (Scans integrity of all protected system files and repairs files with problems when possible.)
/VERIFYONLY (Scans integrity of all protected system files. No repair operation is performed.)
/SCANFILE (Scans integrity of the referenced file, repairs file if problems are identified. Specify full path <file>.)
/VERIFYFILE (Verifies the integrity of the file with full path <file>. No repair operation is performed.)
/OFFBOOTDIR (For offline repair specify the location of the offline boot directory.)
/OFFWINDIR (For offline repair specify the location of the offline windows directory.)

Examples

sfc /scannow sfc /verifyfile=c:\windows\filetobereplaced.dll sfc /scanfile=d:\windows\filetobereplaced.dll /offbootdir=d:\ /offwindir=d:\windows sfc /verifyonly

Once SFC is done scanning the system files, it will give one of four possible results:

  • Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations.
    All system file are fine and you're good to go.
  • Windows Resource Protection could not perform the requested operation.
    There may be another program preventing SFC from running. In this case boot the system up into safe mode and run SFC from there.
  • Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files and successfully repaired them.
    All system files are now correct and you're ready to go. If you want to view the repair details, see below.
  • Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them.
    If you get this message, SFC found a file or files that it wasn't able to repair. The next thing you will need to do is find out what the name of the file(s) are. Using the Find String utility, you can filter out the SFC results with only the components that were scanned and create a text file with that information on your Desktop called sfcdetails.txt. Just copy the following code into an Administrative Command Prompt:
findstr /c:"[SR]" %windir%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log >"%userprofile%\Desktop\sfcdetails.txt"

Manually replacing a corrupt system file in Windows 10

Note: To replace a corrupt system file, you will need to have a known good copy of the file(s) in question. A good source for files is another computer or virtual machine running Windows 10. Since I do computer repair for a living, I have all of the versions of Windows that are still supported by Microsoft running inside of Oracle VirtualBoxes.

First thing to do is make note of the location (path) and name of the file(s) that need to be replaced from the sfcdetails.txt file. Once you have another copy of the corrupt file(s), you will need take administrative ownership of the file(s). To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

takeown /f path\filename

Example: takeown /f C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll

Next you will have to grant administrators full access to file(s) being replaced. To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

icacls path\filename /grant administrators:F

Example: icacls C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll /grant administrators:F

Third thing to do is copy over the new file(s) and replace the corrupt one(s).To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

copy path\filename path\filename

Example: copy C:\Temp\FileToBeReplaced.dll C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll

Maintain your hard drive with SpinRite

When it comes to maintaining a hard drive, running a disk check will usually find any software related issues. But when I need to check the hardware inside of a hard drive, I will use SpinRite from Gibson Research Corporation.

Intro screen from GRC SpinRite
Intro screen from GRC SpinRite

SpinRite is a magnetic storage data recovery, repair and maintenance program and works only on HDD's (Hard Disk Drive) and not SSD's (Solid State Drive). SpinRite includes a feature called DynaStat that can reassemble missing data from bad sectors. SpinRite is a self-contained program that runs on top of a version of FreeDOS (Free Disk Operating System).

Graphic Status Display screen from GRC SpinRite
Graphic Status Display screen from GRC SpinRite

SpinRite has five (5) levels of operation, each building on the previous level.

  1. Examine the hard drive surface. This level will read every sector of the selected partition(s) psychical surface looking for areas that appear to be healthily but could possibly fail in the future.
  2. Recover unreadable data on drive. This level will read every sector of the selected partition(s) psychical surface looking for unreadable data. Spinrite will then attempt to recover unreadable partition data using the built-in advanced recovery technology.
  3. Refresh the hard drive surface. This level will read and write every sector of the selected partition(s) psychical surface, essentially exercising the hard drive. It basically test and verifies every sector on the partition(s).
  4. Locates surface defects. This level will read, write and invert every sector twice of the selected partition(s) psychical surface. This tests and verifies that every 'bit' on the selected partition can be successfully written to and retrieved.
  5. Restore known good sectors. This level does everything that all of the other levels do and restores any areas that may have been previously mark as defective, but now are found to be reliable.

DynaStat Data Recovery screen from GRC SpinRite
DynaStat Data Recovery screen from GRC SpinRite

To run SpinRite you will need to create a bootable media, either a CD or USB drive. Normally, if your computer is running Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7, all you have to do is insert the bootable media and restart your computer. If your computer doesn't boot up to the SpinRite media, you may have to change the boot order in the system BIOS (Basic Input/Output System).

If your computer has Windows 8, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10, more than likely your computer has UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) enabled BIOS. To run Spinrite on one of these systems, you defiantly have to go into the BIOS and turn off the UEFI boot functions temporality.

Now, if in either scenario SpinRite doesn't recognized your hard drive, you may have to also change the drive mode in the BIOS from AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) to ATA (AT Attachment) temporarily.

SpinRite is available from Gibson Research Corporation for $89 (as of this writing). For more information on SpinRite, just follow the link below.

Gibson Research Corporation SpinRite

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