I received a complaint from a relative, that their computer had crashed. Me, being the nice relative I am, agreed to take a look. They told me that just before it crashed they received a message from "the FBI" that said they were under investigation, and would have to pay to regain the use of the computer.

I tried to get the computer running again but it won't boot, BIOS won't even recognize that the hard drive is attached. It sees the CD/DVD drive, but not the hard drive. Of course when they purchased the computer they didn't make a recovery CD, so I can't even simply replace the hard drive.

First off. How could a virus/malware even achieve this?
Second. Is it possible to recover from this, or is the computer done for?

OS: Windows 7
Manufacturer: HP

  • Try connecting the hard drive as a secondary hard drive in another computer. – MDMoore313 Feb 17 '13 at 3:31
  • @MDMoore313 And risk spreading the virus? – Tester101 Feb 17 '13 at 3:31
  • You have a couple of options: If it is indeed a virus (true we don't know), setup a virtual machine, and attach the usb to that virtual machine. Or, use a 'throwaway' machine, so to speak. – MDMoore313 Feb 17 '13 at 3:36
  • or reset the BIOS – ratchet freak Feb 17 '13 at 3:36
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    I don't know of any malware that can accomplish something like this (would probably require corrupting the BIOS). Sounds like a (coincidental) hardware issue to me. Most likely your non tech-savvy relatives missed or failed to mention something. If the drive itself is not detected, obviously you can't even reinstall the OS as suggested below. – Karan Feb 17 '13 at 22:30

Chances are, its a virus. (Either that or they misunderstood a message that was ACTUALLY from the FBI to a piracy website viewer).

The best method of recovery: ubuntu live cd or usb.

  • USB

Check out Pendrivelinux. It is the easiest method to create a live usb (a usb dongle that you can boot an operating system (ubuntu) on).

All you have to do is download the .iso file onto your computer, run the pendrivelinux executable program, configure it, and let it write the operating system onto the usb.

Further instructions here: Instructions on how to create bootable USB Stick

  • CD/DVD

You can also write the .iso file to a cd/dvd using a live disk creating program such as FreeISOBurner

Start up the Burner program and configure it to write the .iso file to a disk.

Further instructions here (note: FreeISOBurner works better than program listed in linked instructions): Instructions on how to burn a DVD on Windows

The bottom line: Insert the finished usb or cd/dvd into the bricked computer and start it up. You may need to configure the BIOS to boot the alternate device before the faulty one.

Once you have ubuntu running, you can then start to take files off of the computer's hard drive in order to save them.

Further instructions here (see: 'booting from USB'): Installation From USB Stick

And here: Installation From CD

I hope one of these methods works for your friend. Good luck.

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How could a malware achieve this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BMWkr6uLR8 is a great example.

Sophos, Kaspersky, TrendMicro, McAfee have some free tools for some of those malware - it really depends on which one infected the computer.

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  • This sounds more advanced than simply encrypting data. The computer won't even recognize the drive is attached. – Tester101 Feb 17 '13 at 3:44
  • What do you mean by it won't recognize the drive? From what you described, Windows booted up - looks to me the computer recognized it since it booted from it. – ETL Feb 17 '13 at 3:54
  • It doesn't boot. Hence the use of the term "bricked" – Tester101 Feb 17 '13 at 3:54

step 1 get a windows7 install disk (you can get one from the dealer who sold the pc or even microsoft itself)

step 2 reset the bios to recognize the harddrive

step 3 format the harddrive fully (you can use a live CD for that I believe the disk windows instal disk contains a disk formatter)

step 4 use disk obtained in step 1 to install a fresh copy of windows

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  • Will I have to purchase a copy of Windows 7 (i.e. a few hundred bucks)? – Tester101 Feb 17 '13 at 3:53
  • @Tester101 not necessarily, the windows key can be reused a few times, you just need a instal disk that works with that key – ratchet freak Feb 17 '13 at 14:34

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