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Immediately after choosing an account, and starting to log in, it shows the logging out message and goes back to the account selection display.

This even happened in safe mode with the administrator's account. So I can't log in.

I'll be using a Linux Live CD to extract the laptop's data.

Could this be a virus or a hard disk problem? And what should I do?

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3 Answers 3

Could this be a virus or a hard disk problem?

it could be a virus or indeed a hardware defect. but there are other possible reasons such as corrupted system files or user profiles.

And what should I do?

you're doing the right thing by salvaging the data first.

then run a repair installation if you want to investigate the cause (or install XP from scratch).

to rule out a hardware failure, you may run diagnostic programs (e.g. Memtest86+, HD Tune, etc.).

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This sounds to me like malicious activity, either automated by a virus or done by someone else.

I had a job call out about 6 months ago on a server that had something similar - only it was shutting down instead of just logging off, and it turned out that a hacker had guessed a password and managed to place a command of shutdown -s in scheduled tasks to happen every login.

I remedied this by starting in safe mode as this bypasses pretty much everything and running Microsoft/Sysinternals Autoruns followed by a complete AV scan.

Autoruns enabled me to find the task that was doing this and delete it.

However, I did a complete reinstall on the machine after backing up data (and scanning through it thoroughly) as once a machine is hacked (not just a target of a random virus), you never know what back doors are left there.

This may be easy to remove by the method I said above, and you might be able to fix it, however whether to trust the system or not again is up to you!... If you only have a few files, it may be best to do as you said and backup the data then do a reinstall.

EDIT-

I know that you said safe mode did not work for you, however my answer covers some background information from a similar problem I dealt with. Hopefully it gives some background information, but if safe mode really does not work for you, I would look at using a AV boot disk if you do not want to do a reinstall, otherwise, doing as you said and backing up your data from scratch is probably for the best.

Lastly, it is possible that this is not a virus at all, but a corrupt system file and that would explain why it is happening in safe mode as well. Because of that, a reinstall is probably for the best.

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It's not necessarily malicious activity. I tried to copy Windows XP from one NTFS partition on one drive, to another NTFS partition on another drive. The transfer was done perfectly with rsync -avu in Linux, so the files should have been identical. However, when booting up in Windows, my keyboard wouldn't work at all at the login screen, and clicking "Login" would show a progress window that said "Logging off..." and stay at that screen, animating forever. It's unbelievable how after all these years Microsoft still doesn't know how to report errors... –  Neil Feb 6 '10 at 4:21
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Could be a virus. See here for more details.

Note, this is one example that can cause this program, but not the only one. I have just fixed a customer's virus infected machine with a similar autologoff problem, but the above link did not work. Instead I cleaned the machine and did a repair installation of the operating system.

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