When your computer begins to slow down and then do strange things, you really do need to pay close attention because it is trying to tell you something. In my case Vista was attempting to communicate in a very inept way that it had been attacked by some malware and was in the process of going down the drain.
First I noticed the hard drive LED flashing rapidly all the time. Next I found that the machine wouldn’t stay in sleep mode any longer. Browser windows would pop open for no good reason. It was time to make a trip to my old friend MSConfig and enable the clean-boot options. Only after booting into Safe Mode with everything disabled (and my system all but useless) did I find the culprit files hiding and renaming themselves in the Windows/System32 directory.
What followed were many reboots, the forced termination of IE7 and Explorer.exe, a reload of some critical OS files from DVD, then a determined and lengthy process of online virus scanning. Only when all of these processes were completed was the threat finally removed. I must once again return to my old paranoid ways: never install anything from the internet directly onto my critical PC AND always keep some kind of security (the dreaded User Account Control) turned on to slow down an attack.
And to think I was worried about being bored this holiday week. Shame on me.