Troubleshooting a client issue: IE and 3rd party application download files corrupt

Electrofreak

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Hi guys. I'm a Computer Science student and I do computer repair in my spare time.

I've run into a problem and I'm stumped. Maybe one of you guys will be able to figure this out.

A client came to me with a laptop that has a strange issue. He's been using Vista Service Pack 1 and IE7 and when he downloads any kind of binary file, after the download completes, it tells him the download is corrupt. IE won't allow any ActiveX controls to be downloaded, even after you allow a control to run. It fails silently, with no error message.

First thing I did was clear out the temp files, update him to IE8 and point him towards Firefox. Firefox will download files, but certain files (such as a manual download of the ActiveX control I was looking for) still refuse to run, stating the file is corrupt. I downloaded the file (which is used for Facebook.com's photo album creation) from a different source, and still no go. And this was attempted with both the updated IE8 and Firefox 3.5

OK, so maybe it's bad RAM? I did an extensive test of his RAM and came back with no errors. I scanned his hard drive, (nothing but a few orphaned files), defragmented his drive (was only at 2%), scanned for viruses and malware (finding 4 fairly common malware files), ran SFC scan, scanned and error-checked the registry, uninstalled his out-of-date McAffee that had run out of its subscription, and installed AVG.

AVG refuses to download updates. And this is on my own wired network. It provides an error message which is it's own version of "corrupt file" that fails every time. I even reinstalled AVG and it persisted. The customer reported that his iTunes won't update either.

I upgraded him to Vista Service Pack 2, downloading the standalone file and running it without any issues through Firefox. Now why would this work? Firefox will download and run the ActiveX Controls automatically, but wouldn't do it when I did a manual download, with a corrupt file error. IE still refuses to, and any 3rd party application that downloads updates fails.

Repair install of Vista isn't really an option since the OEM Gateway Vista CD has the feature disabled, and the client doesn't want a clean install performed.

Google hasn't helped me much; all the threads that describe this issue have been dead ends, and the people posting them have all posted obvious "solutions" such as bad RAM, bad router, etc. I know my network is just fine... this problem is PC-specific.

Then I decided to try activating the ActiveX Installer service (disabled by default in Vista), and it isn't on the list of Add/Remove Windows Features where it should be. Strange. I figured that the reason Firefox can install ActiveX controls automatically through the browser is because of some integrated ActiveX installer, while IE would have to use the Windows AxInstallService. This would also explain why a manual download of the control and attempt to run it would fail, but doesn't explain why an automatic download of the control fails silently in IE, an automatic download of the control succeeds in Firefox, and a manual download of the control in either IE or Firefox produces a corrupt file error. I think the only reason regular file downloads like the Vista SP2 file succeed is because of Firefox's download manager. If a download manager is not involved, Windows will always report that any file downloaded is corrupt. For example, I can use Firefox to manually download the AVG virus definition and install it, but the AVG updater cannot successfully download and install the definition file, and for that matter, neither can IE.

Not sure what to tell my client at this time other than, "you're going to need a fresh Vista install." I get this strange feeling that this is some sort of local PC network settings or port issue, but I can't find anything wrong. I've updated the NIC driver and there are no device problems. I don't have any duplicate devices or anything like that. Maybe it has something to do with a Windows file checksum issue?

So, assume that I'm not an idiot, I've been doing computer troubleshooting and repair for a few years now, and unless I missed something glaringly obvious (which I don't believe I have) then there's something more complicated going on here that I'm overlooking. I've even done a few things out of desperation, like a winsock fix, reset all services to default settings, and double-checked for missing service dependencies.
 
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Get rid of AVG and try either Avira Antivir or Avast. Then run Malwarebytes. Clear all temp files and all temporary internet files including cookies.
 

GreenMonkey

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I'd suspect memory or HDD except you've already ruled that out. The fact that you can't download/install antivirus updates is a red flag to me.

I'd start with an online / browser based virus scan if you can get it to work. I normally use Trend Micro Housecall as a first sweep enough to get proper A/V installed.

If that is clean, try running System File Checker. I haven't used it in Vista yet but it can help with XP:

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/936212

You'll need a Vista disk in case it needs to retrieve files from the disk. It can solve problems caused by file corruption..like maybe corrupted SATA/IDE driver files or something.
 

Electrofreak

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Get rid of AVG and try either Avira Antivir or Avast. Then run Malwarebytes. Clear all temp files and all temporary internet files including cookies.

I normally install Avira on customer computers, but when I told him I'd have to update his antivirus to Avira, the customer requested I install a different one since he'd had Avira and ditched it because he didn't like the pop-up ad you get with the free version. It is a superior anti-virus if you can stand that ad. I guess I probably should try Avast and see if it will update, since obviously AVG is not going to do much good if it can't update its virus definitions.

The antivirus scan I ran was a Kaspersky scan, and I ran two scans for malware, one with Malwarebytes and the other with Spybot S&D, (I know a lot of people like AdAware but I've just never been a fan). I used to run just Spybot but I decided to try Malwarebytes a few weeks ago for the first time and I found it did catch a few pieces of malware that Spybot missed, so now I run both (though I'm trying to decide if that is necessary at this point).

I did the temp files clear right off the bat, I forgot to mention that. Any issue involving a browser malfunction that's pretty much a no-brainer.

Greenmonkey, I had also tried the sfc scan as well, not long after I ran the RAM and HDD tests, thinking that maybe a windows system file was corrupt, but unfortunately no file integrity violations came up. Another little thing I forgot to include in my original post.

Seriously, I feel like I've tried everything. I hate getting stumped like this. This is one of those situations where I really get myself way too involved in finding a solution... while I'm done working on this system (I'm not getting paid enough to waste any more time on it), my curiosity has gotten the better of me.

EDIT - Updated my original post... also included a few other things I'd forgotten to mention, such as my registry scan, winsock, and windows services fixes.
 
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OldMX

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Give a full scan with SUPERAntispyware while on safe mode, and please, disable system restore and run CCleaner with everything checked, except the wipe free space option...report back.
 

Electrofreak

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CCleaner is what I used for the registry scan and temp files delete. Never heard of SUPERAntispyware though, I'd think a scan with Malwarebytes and SpyBot would catch most everything...

C'mon people, I'm not looking for obvious answers or "try xx other software that does the same thing as what you used". I'm not investing any more time running scans here unless it's something legitimate that I have not done already. I'm looking for a logical answer as to what could be causing this problem in Windows Vista!
 

Eva_Unit_0

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This is a long shot, but if the computer has an nvidia motherboard chipset, the stupid forceware firewall thing is a piece of shit that's known to cause problems like that. I had a problem with it once (back in the day on an nforce3 chipset) where it would corrupt anything I downloaded.
 

Electrofreak

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This is a long shot, but if the computer has an nvidia motherboard chipset, the stupid forceware firewall thing is a piece of shit that's known to cause problems like that. I had a problem with it once (back in the day on an nforce3 chipset) where it would corrupt anything I downloaded.

Worth taking a look at. Thank you. :)

EDIT - It just occurred to me that I don't believe I've scanned for rootkits yet either... I'll see if that turns anything up.
 
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GreenMonkey

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This is a long shot, but if the computer has an nvidia motherboard chipset, the stupid forceware firewall thing is a piece of shit that's known to cause problems like that. I had a problem with it once (back in the day on an nforce3 chipset) where it would corrupt anything I downloaded.

Along the same thought path, it could be motherboard / chipset drivers...did you install the newest chipset drivers for the PC? Seems unlikely for a Vista box though.

You could use pretty much any Vista disc, I believe, to do a repair install of Windows, as long as you have his proper key. That should be pretty transparent to him provided you re-update his Windows install. That would help to rule out any Windows issues.
 

Electrofreak

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Along the same thought path, it could be motherboard / chipset drivers...did you install the newest chipset drivers for the PC? Seems unlikely for a Vista box though.

You could use pretty much any Vista disc, I believe, to do a repair install of Windows, as long as you have his proper key. That should be pretty transparent to him provided you re-update his Windows install. That would help to rule out any Windows issues.

I just updated the network drivers, not chipset drivers. I'll be doing that shortly, particularly because of what Eva_Unit_0 suggested.

As for a Vista repair... I've been hesitant to do that since SFC showed me good system file integrity. In my experience, you can never really rule out the OS as the troublemaker without doing a full format and reinstall. But, I suppose it's worth trying.

Honestly, usually I don't take this long on a repair, or try this many solutions. It's just that this one has really gotten me wondering. I don't have much sympathy for the owner though, honestly, because working on this system (a laptop) has been a PITA because the LCD display is smashed, (he's a college student, it got stepped on at a party,) and requires me to plug in to a monitor. I also pulled out a CD that had been jammed into the system's interior above the DVD drive bay... like someone had tried to insert the disc without clicking it into the tray and had actually managed to wedge it inside the laptop. I wonder how people can do these things to such an expensive piece of equipment, particularly given that this is a fairly new high-end Gateway laptop.

I'm hoping I can solve this problem without telling the guy I've gotta do a full system reformat, because he's considering having me replace the LCD screen for him and that'll be good for some extra bucks.
 
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