Spontaneous Unwanted PC Factory Reset?
May 19, 2020 12:50 PM   Subscribe

Spontaneous factory reset of an older (5 yrs) PC after shutting down/turning back on!? PC works fine now minus all files (luckily backed up) - wondering re continued use of PC (& back up immediately) or consider PC unstable (probably so after 5 yrs?; inevitable soon anyway) or likelihood that a malevolent cousin who has used the PC at my place hacked me and can do so again.
posted by Shane to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
 
EDIT: I guess mainly I'm confused and wondering at the likelihood of a computer glitch as specific as a factory reset and no other symptoms (since I've always seen old PCs glitch in small ways and slow down as they approach death or semi-fatality), which makes me wonder at the possibility of being hacked.
posted by Shane at 1:14 PM on May 19


Over a decade ago many computers started shipping with a couple of hidden partitions. One was for Diagnostics and had well vendor specific hardware diagnostics programs (usually DOS based). The second was the Factory Reset which replaced sending the actual installation CD's with the machine. The third and only normal partition would be the C: drive all set and ready for you to turn on and use.

When you're booting you can press some function key or something and get a BIOS menu that would let you either boot to the Diagnostics partition to debug your hardware, or to the Factory Reset partition which was setup to wipe that third partition and re-install the system just like it was when it came out of the box.

It's possible that somehow messing around someone could accidentally or purposefully make the machine boot into the Factory Reset partition and wipe everything out. It's possible it's a glitch, but I'm hard pressed to think of a specific glitch that would cause just that thing to happen.

As a Linux user who bought many Windows machines just to wipe them and install Linux.... I used to keep the Diagnostics partition, then I'd make an image of the Factory Reset partition just in case I ever needed it. I'd keep the partitioning information so I could put things back to normal and re-install Windows.

You could probably flip some options in Disk Manager or whatnot to show hidden partitions and see those two extra things that don't normally show up. I'd backup the Factory Restore one, then change it from it's hidden weird type to a normal partition type, format it, and use it as a D: drive for a tad bit of extra space.

Then if you ever need to, change it back and restore the image and do your Factory Reset.

Anyway, probably (unless your machine is even weirder than that), once you get rid of that Factory Reset partition what happened can't happen again.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:32 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


It's possible that somehow messing around someone could accidentally or purposefully make the machine boot into the Factory Reset partition and wipe everything out.

Almost impossible accidentally, and no way purposely by someone physically in-person. I think all I did was watch a movie, so the keyboard was only used to log in then was on a shelf under the PC where I wouldn't have bumped it, and all action occurred with the mouse.

It's possible it's a glitch, but I'm hard pressed to think of a specific glitch that would cause just that thing to happen.

That's what I was wondering and why I was tempted to think "hax0r3d."

Anyway, probably (unless your machine is even weirder than that), once you get rid of that Factory Reset partition what happened can't happen again.

Even if someone wants to make it happen?
posted by Shane at 1:41 PM on May 19


All I did was watch a movie.
Was this movie on a DVD?
Were you around for the reset?
Because I can imagine a circumstance / cascade of glitches where the PC was set to Boot From DVD if one is present (a common default setting back in the day).
While you were sleeping or not watching, something triggers a reboot. Automatic Updates, for instance. PC tries to reboot from DVD, fails, this starts a loop where the PC is unable to boot, this triggers a In Case of Boot Failure, Use Factory Partition.
Unlikely but conceivable.

More likely, have you checked C:Users? Is there a user listed that you don't recognize? Your regular username with .000 at the end or something? It's possible to mistake a Factory Reset for the more-common circumstance where something goes wrong in User Profile X, so it creates another User Profile X.1 with 'what it's able to remember' - which then looks like you're logging in as yourself, but with all your expected customizations gone, and the default settings present. Looks a bit like a Reset.

If you truly believe this PC has been hax0r3d:
Download fresh copies of OS media and driver files (the stuff that shipped on the Factory Partition, but that version is suspect now).
Remove the hard drive and destroy it.
Insert a new drive and reinstall the OS and all that, rebuild anew.
No more Factory Partition, no more hidden files left by a previous user, nothing on your hard drive that you didn't put there yourself.
posted by bartleby at 2:42 PM on May 19 [2 favorites]


Yeah, never mind. It sounds like we have a different definition of 'factory reset'. Mine is just like it came out of the box when you bought it, yours seems to be more all my files disappeared but it looks normal. And you were using it when it rebooted and came back broken.

bartleby's line of thinking sounds more plausible.
posted by zengargoyle at 2:51 PM on May 19


Oh, forgot to mention, if you're seeing the latter, your self-diagnose / repair DIY search term will be 'User Profile Corruption Windows [XP / 10 etc]'. It can happen without any hacking, just a bad sector on a disk or a registry entry has a 1 that's supposed to be a 0 and got misread. Can often be repaired. But I rarely discourage people from taking the paranoid approach - "what should I do if I don't trust this computer anymore" - so replacing the physical disk entirely and reistalling from scratch is the default "take off and nuke the planet from orbit, it's the only way to be sure" step.
posted by bartleby at 4:28 PM on May 19


zengargoyle, bartleby, thanks — by factory reset, I mean it looks like it did out of the box. Generic Windows wallpaper, junk on the start menu I had taken off, etc. NitroPDF, which I considered bloatware (shitware?) is the default for opening pdfs again. Etc. But Microsoft Teams runs on startup now, which wasn’t around 5 years ago? But it could have updated?

bartleby, yes I left a DVD at shutdown, but not nearly the first time I’ve done this. I’ll check C: Users.
posted by Shane at 7:17 PM on May 19


Since we’re here, here’s something really weird: This was a new Lenovo (ugh) 5 years ago, and shortly after I set it all up, well before I could have got a virus, I tried to install Firefox. The machine froze up and I rebooted. When I tried to log in again, each keystroke for my password stuck and hit the character multiple times. I had to enter my password several times before it quit and let me log in. Firefox installation failed. I tried installation again — SAME THING. This time of course I even changed out the keyboard. It NEVER let me install Firefox without this glitch. I bought this POS about the time MS was heavily pushing MS Edge. Call me nuts, but I still swear the damn thing came standard with a “virus” preventing Firefox. I was never able to install Firefox.

It also occasionally turned off the keyboard numbers lock (and no, I didn’t bump it), so when I typed my password (which contained numbers), I mistyped. The first time I did this it gave me this rude-ass error message that said “You can’t log in to Windows right now. Go to www.microsoft.com/accounts [or whatever the MS account URL is] to fix the problem.” SOBs. Just driving traffic to MS’s website. The entire time I ran this PC after that I was always careful to leave the keyboard numbers lock on at shutdown. Sometimes it was still on when I booted up, sometimes off.

POS.

I swear, Linux from now on.
posted by Shane at 7:32 PM on May 19


I swear, Linux from now on.
Sure, go for it! More power to ya, especially for a 5 year old system.
But if you don't want to take that leap just yet, adjust that to
Stock Windows from now on.

I've never had worse bloatware-like symptoms or weird general system obstreperousness than when I left whatever Lenovo (or HP or Dell but Lenovo's really bad) System Support Management Assistant Toolkit bullshit installed and running.

I get a new computer, I use that pre-installed software to create Recovery Tool Media, then wipe all partitions on the disk and start with a clean installation of stock vanilla Windows. Only add a component back if it's the only way to get Bluetooth working or something, which is rare these days. I've 'fixed' a lot of people's computers and the 'omigod, it works now, what did you do to make me like Windows again!?' is often built on a foundation of No More Manufacturer Pre Installed Software. Even if it means that special blue logo button above the number pad now does nothing when you press it.
posted by bartleby at 10:22 PM on May 19 [1 favorite]


> I mean it looks like it did out of the box. Generic Windows wallpaper, junk on the start menu I had taken off, etc. NitroPDF, which I considered bloatware (shitware?) is the default for opening pdfs again. Etc.

This is pretty much the type of thing I saw when I had the problem Bartleby outlines. In my case I just turned off, rebooted again, and magically the user it couldn't "find" before was right back where it belonged.

Anyway, this new user account it creates when it can't find your normal one looks an awful lot like a complete reinstall and fresh slate.
posted by flug at 10:21 PM on May 20 [1 favorite]


My Factory Reset looks like it asks you for a name for your computer, asks you for a user and password and makes you type it twice, and probably asks you for a timezone/language. You wouldn't miss it for the 'oops, something happened but I still logged in'. With a Factory Reset, it erased your entire previous OS and has no idea who you are, the computer is a new-born babe.

If you didn't notice this sort of flow, it's another bartleby sort of Windows weird, but you didn't do a Factory Reset for the Out Of The Box New because well... you wouldn't have even been able to login to the machine because it wouldn't know who you were.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:12 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


Chances I was hacked?
posted by Shane at 12:58 PM on May 22


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