Today I was tussling with a client’s computer in an effort to remove malware. During the process Windows XP decided it was no longer activated and during a reboot demanded to be activated or I would be logged off.
Windows Product Activation was either hosed and/or the malware prevented me from properly accessing the Internet. I decided against the 4-to-8 hour reinstall of Windows and application software while preserving existing user data. My shortcut? A spare hard drive and legit copy of Windows XP.
Cracking open the PC case I plugged in the spare hard disk, disconnecting the original one. The next hour was spent installing Windows XP to the same Service Pack level (WPA has changed over time). Without installing any additional updates I copied the WPA data file (c:windowssystem32wpa.dbl) to a USB flash drive.
Reverting to the original hard disk I booted into Safe Mode (which recognizes USB flash drives) and copied the wpa.dbl file to its respective location on C:. Reboot.
At login, Windows asked to be activated and prompted me with choices – I was no longer stuck. The rest of the process was quick and painless.
Regardless of your backup strategy consider keeping a copy of the WPA file. Lest I forget to mention it, the malware was successfully removed.