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Light Virtualization and Instant Recovery Software: A great overall safety net for your computer

By: Tasos Laurentiadis | Security & Backup in Software | Posted: Feb 18, 2013 5:22 am

Important Notes on LV Software Usage


There are certain important steps that should be followed in order for users to make the most of the protection that LV technology can provide. Here are some pointers:


A full backup of your system disk/partition is needed first. Before installing LV software on your computer make sure to create a full backup of your Windows partition/disk first. This will be your lifeline that will bring your system back from the dead in the rare case that the new software proves to be incompatible with your system and messes things up. Copy all your personal files plus any valuable data from your favourite programs to another disk first and then perform a full backup of your system disk/partition. Save this backup on a different disk and make sure to verify it for errors after it is created (most backup programs will allow you to verify a backup after creation). Remember that having an unverified backup is like having no backup at all.


At this point you must also create a bootable start-up CD or bootable USB stick that contains your favourite backup program. Test this bootable disc/stick to make sure that your computer can boot from it and that your backup program can run outside Windows without any problems. Once your backup has been created and verified, you can then go ahead and install the LV program, safe in the knowledge that if something goes wrong later you will be able to boot from your start-up media and easily restore your system to its previous state.


You should install LV software on a 100% clean system. If you are not sure that your system is 100% clean and free from malware, then I would suggest starting afresh with a brand new Windows installation. First of all create a backup of your existing installation, following the methodology mentioned on the previous step. The backup is essential and will allow you to restore your existing installation in case you run into problems later. Create and test the startup media that contains the bootable version of your backup program, create the backup, verify it, then boot from your Windows DVD and perform a new Windows installation. Make sure to quick-format your system disk/partition before proceeding with the install: Unlike a Windows upgrade this is a fresh install, and as such it has to be performed on an empty disk/partition.


LV software is not supposed to be a substitute for a firewall or anti-virus/anti-malware software. They are designed to work alongside existing protections and will not stop malware from infecting your system. LV programs do not differentiate between malicious and non-malicious changes and as such they won't protect you from infections happening in the first place. For full real-time protection you will still need a good firewall with HIPS/anti-execution functions, plus anti-virus/anti-malware software, plus anti-keylogging software. LV programs can instantly undo user mistakes and system configuration errors and they also provide you with a quick way to undo most infections with just a reboot, and avoid the hassle of post-infection clean-ups. Essentially they serve as an overall safety net against any malware which may have somehow crept in through your other defences.


You should always activate LV protection for at least the Windows disk/partition before you go online, before testing new programs, or before trying a new tweak/setting that may mess things up. It's no good if the LV program has been installed, but the user has forgotten to activate the protection. It is best to activate the LV protection at least for your system partition, and leave it activated.


Very important: LV software doesn't automatically save changes for software installations that require a reboot in order to become functional. If you install a program while the LV protection is active and that program needs a reboot, then upon rebooting the new installation will be completely undone and the new program will be gone.


You can prevent this from happening by choosing to commit all changes to the real system before rebooting, as mentioned earlier. Most LV software will allow a user with administrator privileges to commit changes. Some LV programs will not ask you if you want to commit changes when you switch off/reboot your machine: They will just discard all changes by default, effectively undoing everything that has happened in the meantime. In this case you may have to go into the settings of your LV program itself in order to commit changes manually before rebooting - provided of course that your LV software allows the committing of changes in the first place. Some of them are designed to always reject changes no matter what. With those you can always follow the committing example below.


Committing example: This is an example on how to commit changes with LV software that do not offer a commit option. Let's say you want to install new Windows updates, or update your firewall/anti-virus suite to the latest version. Or you may want to install a new driver or any other program that requires a reboot. First of all you must be 100% sure that what you want to install is safe and compatible with your system. You must then temporarily disable the LV protection from auto-starting with Windows and then restart the computer as normal. When you're back in Windows keep the LV protection disabled while installing the updates, drivers, or any other software you want. Reboot when prompted for the changes to take effect. When your desktop appears again configure the new software to your liking, then re-activate LV protection. It's that simple.


Committing changes frequently and indiscriminately is something that is not recommended for obvious reasons. Do not choose to commit any changes to your real system unless you're 100% sure that whatever has happened in the meantime has been absolutely safe. Remember that when you commit changes to the real system those changes will stick for good. Once you commit changes the only way to go back to a previous state would be to restore a traditional backup, or to use Instant Recovery/Snapshot software (if such software has been already installed - more on that later).


With some LV software you can specify files and folders which will be permanently excluded from LV protection. Many users choose to exclude their personal user folders which contain frequently modified data. These folders are: Contacts, Downloads, Favourites, Links, My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, Saved Games, Searches and also any folders that contain anti-virus definitions. Of course the Favourites folder is just for use with Internet Explorer, if you are using a different browser you have to specify the location where your browser stores its Bookmarks.


Once such exceptions have been defined then all subsequent changes to those frequently modified files/folders will always stick, regardless of the overall LV protection status. For example, if you add new Favourites/Bookmark entries while LV protection is activated and your Favourites/Bookmarks folders have not been excluded, then those new favourites will be gone when you reboot. If on the other hand you exclude the Favourites/Bookmarks folders from LV protection, then any new favourites you add will still be there when you reboot.


Move your user folders to a different disk/partition: Instead of defining such exclusion as mentioned above, many users opt to move their personal folders to a different non-protected disk/partition altogether; so any future changes to those folders will always stick. Of course you need to have a second disk attached to your system for this. Just remember that it is not recommended to use a USB 2.0 disk for this task, it is best to use an internal disk that is always connected to your motherboard. If you want to move your user folders to an external disk you have to make sure that this disk is connected via eSATA or USB 3.0, and that it is always switched on and available every time the computer starts.


If you only have one internal disk and no external eSATA or USB 3.0 disks, then you can always split your disk into two or more partitions, one of which will be the primary active partition that contains Windows, with the remaining ones being logical partitions. The easiest way to accomplish this task is to use a third-party partition manager. Once you define the partitions you want and apply the changes, you will then be prompted to restart the computer. Upon restarting the partition manager will kick-in before Windows starts and split your disk to the partitions you defined earlier. When back in Windows you will now have a primary C: partition and one or more logical ones. You can then proceed with moving your user folders from C: to one of the logical partitions you created.


Moving those folders is not a simple case of cutting them from their original location and pasting them to the new location. All those user folders are located within your main user folder, this is the folder that bears your Windows username and which should be on your desktop. If it is not there you must right-click on your desktop, click Personalize, and choose the Change Desktop Icons link from the top left. Make sure that the User's Files box is ticked, apply and OK the change. You can then navigate to your desktop and open the newly-created folder. Ignore any shortcuts or any other files that may be there. Your targets are the Contacts, Downloads, Favourites, Links, My Documents, My Music, My Pictures, My Videos, Saved Games, Searches folders. Just right-click on each one of those folders, select Properties and under the Location tab change the path to a disk/partition other than C:. Apply the change, and when Windows asks you if you want to create the folder at the new location allow it to do so. Windows will then ask you to move the contents of those folders to the new location; once again allow it to do so. Do the same for each one of the aforementioned folders.


An added benefit of moving those folders to a different disk/partition is that your C: partition will be much lighter because all your music and videos folders will now reside elsewhere. As a result your future Windows backups will be much smaller in size (since they will not contain any music and video files), and future backup restorations will take less time, too.


Install games on a different disk/partition: Most modern games take a lot of disk space and there is no need for them to be installed on C:. It is best to install games on a different disk/partition and use them from there. If you choose an external disk for your game installations make sure it is connected via eSATA or USB 3.0. Do not use USB 2.0 disks for this purpose, they are not fast enough for gaming and your games will take forever to load.


Make sure to deactivate LV protection before installing a game. This is because some games need to add registry entries and other files on C: and those changes won't stick if LV protection is activated while installing them. Most games also store data in your Documents or Saved Games folders. If you have already moved your user folders to another disk/partition (as mentioned earlier) then your game settings and saves will always be updated, regardless if LV protection for C: is activated or not.


If you get infected and LV protection is on, don't give the malware time to call back to its maker! As soon as you realize that something is wrong, disconnect from the internet immediately and switch your system off. Ignore any new screen pop-ups and messages alerting you to infections and prompting you to clean up: In many cases such messages belong to fake anti-virus malware or ransomware that have possibly infected your system. Only trust such messages if they originate from your existing antimalware programs. If LV protection was activated prior to the infection you don't need to clean anything up anyway, all you need to do is to switch off the computer. If your system is frozen you must hold the computer's power button for a few seconds until it switches off (hard reset). If this doesn't work just switch off mains power or unplug the power cord (and remove the battery if the system is a laptop/netbook). Wait 20 seconds or so and then power the system back on. All trouble should be undone and your Windows partition should be reverted back to its previous clean state.


Of course nothing is 100% fool proof. Certain sophisticated malware can infect the protected disk's boot sector and bypass light-virtualization protection, but such malware are quite rare. Most LV programs should be able to instantly reverse all changes caused by the vast majority of the more conventional malware out there. A select few LV programs are also sturdy enough to actually protect the boot sector from such sophisticated malware attacks.

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