Q: I have a program called WinPatrol. I have not learned what it can do for me, but it gives warnings as to certain programs that are loading...

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Q: I have a program called WinPatrol. I have not learned what it can do for me, but it gives warnings as to certain programs that are loading. Recently I have been getting a warning indicating that a change has been detected in my Internet hosts file. It then asks if I’d like to examine the file for changes. I know what it says, but do you know what I should do with it?

Greer Allen, Kirkland

A: WinPatrol is just doing its job. It is a security program that looks for changes in your computer that might be caused by viruses, Trojan horses, spyware or other nasty critters. When it finds a suspicious change, it alerts you.

The host file is a file stored on your computer that is used to look up IP addresses of devices connected to your network. When you try to access a device by name, your computer will first check the host file to see if it can find a mapping of that name to the appropriate device. If not, the computer will then check with a DNS server for a mapping.

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The problem is, some pieces of spyware and some Trojan horses alter your host file to redirect you to their sites. In some cases, viruses might also edit the host file to prevent you from visiting sites that help you remove the virus.

WinPatrol is alerting you that your host file has been altered and that it may have been the result of a virus or spyware. You would be well-advised to follow the program’s instructions for examining the file for changes.

Q: I have a Hewlett-Packard laptop running Windows XP Home with MSN as my Internet service provider. When using Internet Explorer I regularly get a drop-down saying the requested page cannot be displayed. The reason given is “cannot find server.” Following instructions I go to Tools/Internet Options and check the settings, which seem to be OK. But the only way to get back into IE is to shut down and log on from scratch. All the while the desktop shows I am signed in online. What am I doing wrong? My brother who lives out of state and has a new HP PC and different ISP has the same problem. Any suggestions?

Richard Larson

A: First thing, check with your ISP to make certain you have the correct DNS servers specified. DNS servers translate the URLs you put into your Web browser’s address field into the correct IP address so that you can find the correct Web site. If you don’t have the right DNS server specified, or if there is a problem with that DNS server, you’ll run into exactly the problem you’re having.

Note: In a recent column I advised a reader who had encountered numerous problems with his computer after a relative had used it for a period of time to reformat his drive and start over. A number of readers sent e-mails suggesting that the reader should instead use Windows XP’s System Restore feature to return the computer to its state before the relative’s arrival.

Indeed, if the reader had System Restore functioning, it would be an easier solution to his problem than reformatting and reinstalling.

System Restore can be accessed in Windows XP by going to the Control Panel and selecting the System icon. Next, click on the System Restore tab. There you’ll see options to set the amount of disk space reserved on each drive to store data for later restores.

Once you’ve set System Restore, if you need to perform a restore go to the Start button and select All Programs, then Accessories, then System Tools and, finally, System Restore. A wizard will start that allows you to select the appropriate restore point.

The main downside to using System Restore is that it will consume space on your hard drive. That’s why I generally don’t have the feature turned on. But if I was expecting house guests getting on my computer, I think it definitely would be a wise move to turn this feature on.

Questions for Patrick Marshall may be sent by e-mail to pmarshall@seattletimes.com or pgmarshall@pgmarshall.net, or by mail at Q&A/Technology, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.