Jewish World Review Sept. 22, 2003 / 25 Elul, 5763

Turn for help to find firewall in Windows XP; "A Runtime Error has occurred. Do you wish to debug?" — huh?; Virtual Bouncer

By James Coates | (KRT) Q. You have written about the firewall that comes with Windows XP, and how difficult it is to find. I have XP Home edition, and I cannot find it. Unless I missed it, you never have explained how to find the firewall. Would you please?

Carol Oppenheim, Chicago

A. A most timely inquiry indeed, Ms. O., since each and every person who recently was laid low by the headline-grabbing "LoveSan" or "MSBlaster" worm would have been saved infection simply by switching on the built-in firewall in Windows XP and above. Better yet, your note presents an opportunity to remind readers that things involving the Windows operating system often can be found by using the Windows Help feature listed in the menu that pops up when one clicks Start.

So click on Start and then pick Help and type XP Firewall as a search term in the wizard box that appears.

You will be told to go to the Network Connections control panel by clicking on Start and then Control Panel. There you will be told to right-click on whichever device is connecting you to the Internet, such as a modem. Then look for the list of options in the pane running down the left-hand side of the display for the line "Change settings for this connection." Click that, and click Advanced in the tab list that comes up. There you will find the check box to activate the firewall component that will not let outsiders access open ports on your machine.

The LoveSan worm is among many that attempt to use a computer's listening posts or ports that constantly get monitored for incoming Internet traffic. It exploits a weakness in a Windows XP and 2000 remote-communications module that lets outsiders plant stuff like mischievous programs called worms on a vulnerable computer's hard drive.

In the case of LoveSan, once the firewall is activated, one needs to go to and download a patch for Windows to fix the underlying weakness. But again, the best thing to take out of this inconvenience is an awareness that the Help system built in to the operating system can often lead one to an answer to commonly asked questions as well as to some uncommonly strange ones.

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Q. Lately when visiting Web sites, I get a message saying, "A Runtime Error has occurred. Do you wish to debug?" If I click on "yes," I get what appears to be the HTML code for the site, with an arrow pointing at one of the lines. Is this telling me there's incorrect code in the site? If so, why would that be the viewer's problem? This has just started happening in the last two weeks or so.


A. I guess we'll just have to write it off as another head-scratching puzzle why Microsoft's programmers thought ordinary users could possibly understand--let alone fix--problems that crop up when the code for a newly visited Web page is faulty. But they did, indeed, write into the Microsoft Internet Explorer browser a couple of options that will automatically display the code (called a script) that doesn't work and offer to let one change it to create a proper display.

These script-error features can be toggled on and off in the Advanced area of the Internet Explorer's Internet Options tool. Click on Tools in the browser menu to reach the Internet Options command, and then open the Advanced tab in the next display. There you will find check boxes to "Disable Script Debugging" and to stop showing every error that crops up.

In most cases, these script errors amount to minor issues that have little impact on the way a page comes up, so there's no reason for anybody but a Web page manager to use these tools.

We'll just have to write it off to gremlins to explain how your browser got switched on for debugging, but if it ever happens again, you've got your own debugging routine to shut it down.

Q. You always explain things very well, even for us oldsters who are learning the computer. I get this Window pop-up with a yellow exclamation point and it says: Virtual BouncerError 91. This comes whenever I am exiting the computer. Why is that, and what does this mean? I tried to find out in the "My Computer" area but cannot seem to figure out where it is and how to get it corrected. Can you help?

Berka Palmer, Orland Park

A. It's hard to put a description on this widespread annoyance known as Virtual Bouncer. It's an unsolicited advertising scheme that installs a program to detect other unsolicited advertising schemes that promoters also have tricked computer users into installing.

Internet chat areas are full of complaints about the invasive nature of the Virtual Bouncer software. It is promoted by an outfit that calls itself Spyware Labs, and customers typically get involved when they get an unsolicited pop-up ad asking them to install Virtual Bouncer to, in essence, catch companies that offer to install software by unsolicited pop-ups.

The term for this in propeller-head circles is drive-by installations.

The Virtual Bouncer Web site says that the software can be removed by using the Windows Add/Remove software control panel, which is reached by clicking the Windows Start button and then Control Panel and then Add/Remove Programs and looking for Virtual Bouncer. But the fact is that most Web chatter is from people who tried that and found it didn't work.

This is nasty stuff that not only installs itself unasked, but also seems to reinstall itself every time the computer is booted up. I fear the only fix for ordinary folks who aren't into software engineering is either to get outside help to get Virtual Bouncer removed from the Windows Registry and Startup queue or just put up with this annoyance.

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James Coates is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Let us know what you think of rthis column by clicking here.


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